Farm to Table: Culinary Delights in Northern New Mexico
The geography, scenery, and culture in Northern New Mexico are fascinating. And so are the local culinary establishments. Barb Shaw scouted out—some were easier to find than others— just a few of the amazing places to grab a tasty bite in this part of the country.
The famous Four Corners, where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah all meet, is one of the most fascinating parts of the US, with native cultures thousands of years old and Spanish history dating back to 1598. The natural setting is spectacular and, with a dry climate, it’s nearly always sunny. We explored picturesque tribal pueblos, gorgeous mountains, and truly amazing desert and canyon scenery, all protected by national and state parks.
At the heart of the cultural riches of the region lies Northern New Mexico, and the arts meccas of Taos and Santa Fe. Excellent food from local organic ingredients sets the tone here, for everyday consuming and for special occasions. We were delighted with the farmer's markets and great meals on offer these days.
Love Apple is on the main highway about a mile north of downtown Taos. The antique term for tomato was coined when the strange fruit first arrived in England from the New World.
Love Apple founder Jen Hart grew up in Taos and managed an acclaimed local restaurant before opening her own here after traveling Europe. Chef Andrea Meyer arrived with deep experience working with local growers and uses only organics and grass-fed meats and poultry in her recipes.
You pass by the kitchen staff’s busy stronghold on your way to the dining room. Step into the interior of the former Las Placitas Chapel, with its high ceiling with open viga beams. The setting is ancient, elegant, and intimate. We came on a warm evening, so chose a table on the roofed patio under big trees.
Outdoor seating, embraced by thick adobe walls that block road sounds, allows bird chatter to mix with the soft music. Fresh flowers and candles on every table made for a romantic atmosphere. During a short but intense shower, fat raindrops drummed on the roof.
In addition to tempting appetizers, soups, and salads, the menu at Love Apple includes all sorts of drinks, wines, and brews. We savored our very generous servings of grilled salmon plated with a mixed green salad from local organic farms and dressed to perfection. People near us enjoyed the grilled asparagus and mushroom appetizer, and the blue corn muffins, quinoa fritter, and baked tamale all earned raves the night we visited.
Our waiter said the most popular meat dishes include tender antelope, lamb albondigas (meatballs), wild boar tenderloin, and quail en nogada—meat-filled mild chilies with walnut cream sauce. If you cheer for seasonal fruit desserts, don’t miss the apricot crumble in early summer, topped with vanilla ice cream. The decadent chocolate torte will not disappoint, either.
Service is entirely professional and friendly. They treat you right, making this a good spot for a special occasion. We just showed up and had a fine meal outdoors, but in chilly weather only the small chapel interior is available for dining. Make a reservation to be sure, since events and celebrations can fill the place.
This café is incredibly hard to find until someone tells you it’s across from Motel 6 on Cerillos Road, right behind the owner’s café called Modern General, which is behind El Unico Dry Cleaners.
Owner Erin Wade grows 70 per cent of the food served in her two Santa Fe restaurants and one in Albuquerque at the family farm called Los Portales. On 10 acres in nearby Nambé, the farm was a project that began with renovating the 300-year-old house, clearing land, building the soil, and researching a lot because it’s a huge challenge to farm on high desert land with its clay-based soil, very low humidity, and short growing season.
Chickens roam free, eating fat bugs and laying eggs with deep orange yolks for Vinaigrette kitchens. Restaurant food waste comes home to feed the farm pigs or is composted in a network of vermiculture piles.
Vinaigrette is most popular for lighter meals and to-go orders. The small but airy interior includes an eight-stool wine bar. The feeling is casual, with bright colors all around and seating on red metal chairs or wood benches.
We were warned Vinaigrette can be crowded, chaotic, and noisy at peak lunch and dinner hours (11:30 am-2 pm and 6 pm-8). So, we showed up in late afternoon and sat in the large brick patio under spreading trees, relaxing with light classic music beneath strings of white lights.
Generous, delicious, super-fresh salads with unique combos of ingredients are what Vinaigrette does best. Any salad can be ordered with added meat or seafood. The mushroom stew, short-rib Cuban sandwich, duck tacos, and green chili pozole soup rate high with regulars. Portuguese lemonade and the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting win kudus too. Manager Aaron Sanchez does a fine job here.
Dr. Field Goods Kitchen
I walked in alone just after the noon rush and sat at the bar with a good view of a dozen on-tap beers. Alfonso tossed whirling pizza dough and popped decorated pies into the wood-fired oven near a tall rack of fresh-baked breads and pastries from their own bakery.
Executive chef and owner Josh Gerwin could be seen at work through the kitchen door. He’s also behind the selection of great classic rock songs. But who chose the wild and crazy, blaringly colorful paintings crowding up the walls, along with signature black T-shirts for sale? A bit much, but all atmosphere.
The place was hopping. This is a very popular creative, innovative, energetic, and fun café in the least obvious corner of a small and decidedly unfashionable shopping center.
I ordered a big salad highlighted by one of the fat and flavorful heirloom tomatoes that sat on the counter. To go with it? A goat meat sandwich on toasted potato bread, sauce on the side. I’m no chili wimp, but one touch to the tongue of that hell-hot sauce and I had to give up on it, leaving my meat a bit dull, though perfectly tender and juicy.
Plenty of other scrumptious options are on the menu—starters, pizza and calzone, burgers, breakfast burrito, Dr. Field Good’s Pho with duck comfit, steak with frites, and the “Bad Ass BLT.” Veggie options look good too. Six dessert choices include crème brulee. It may be casual, but the food is top-notch, everything from scratch, no microwave on site.
Manager Chris Milligan earlier ran a craft cocktail bar and loves to serve organic fresh fruit in drinks like a mango-raspberry that link to what he calls his “affinity for the golden age of cocktails.” Fruit syrups and cordials for the year are made on-site in season and also served up in alcohol-free fresh beverages.
After lunch Chris took me to visit their butcher shop a few doors down. It’s the only old-style butchery in the Santa Fe area. New York-trained manager Gabe Archuletta brings in whole animals raised by local farmers and carefully transforms them into delicious delicacies including in-house charcuterie, salami, pickled pigs’ feet, stocks, and bone broths.
The pork bone broth is the basis of the restaurant’s pho. Zero waste is the rule here, as they come up with marvelous uses for every part of every animal. All meat served at the restaurant starts with Archuletta, and folks can stop in here for meat and bakery items to take home.
If you go:
Address:2860 Cerrillos Rd. Santa Fe
If you’re planning on being anywhere close to Taos or Santa Fe, you’re close enough to try the fab food at these and dozens of equally tasty eateries in the area. Go for it and go with it.