Santa Fe Report in several parts, Part Two
Since posting the original "Santa Fe Report in several parts" a few days ago, we've been to Tesuque Village Market (TVM) again, Aqua Santa, and Joseph's Table in Taos.
TVM: It has changed hands, but the food is as good, possibly better than before. My GF had the blue corn pancakes with blueberries and bananas embedded and her face glowed. I sampled and agreed. Her huevos rancheros and my breakfast burrito the last time both met expectations: TVM is an excellent place for a good breakfast, the New York Times (and Wall Street Journal), and coffee. They've added an espresso machine so you can also have a (non-fat) latte.
Aqua Santa: I've been driving past this place on Alameda just below Guadalupe for years and always thought it was some sort of tiny deli place. Turns out to be a first-class, locally-famous-chef restaurant (Brian Knox, ex-Cafe Escalera, which I never made it to before it closed in 1996). It wasn't a great start because this is one of those restaurants that won't seat you until everyone arrives. The waiter who greeted us was barely friendly, so we were concerned the outdoor patio would fill up and the inside (all three tables) was hot and stuffy. But our friends arrived and we did get a table outside, very crowded. After that, the food made it all worthwhile.
I had an arugula and fig salad with the special option that night of quail legs added. Don't remember the dressing (I should write this stuff down!) but it was as good as I've had. I had the roast quail stuffed with mushrooms and sausage, also excellent. GF had pan fried oysters on a bed of greens and "Georgia" pan-fried shrimp. This occasioned much conversation since none of us remember how Georgia would have shrimp; excellent nonetheless. Our companions had Aqua Ceasar salad, being a signature starter for the restaurant, and confirmed that it was terrific. We didn't order dessert, but for some reason the owner decided we were worthy of all three on the menu (perhaps because no one had enough room to order dessert and he needed to unload them, but we suspect that he was charmed by the lady half of our companions). We were overhwelmed trying enough of the desserts to honor his generosity. The panna cotta with bittersweet chocolate was divine. I didn't try the strawberry shortcake, but the third dessert, a tarte with filling that we can no longer remember, was also really good.
We had a bottle of Merry Edwards' sauvignon blanc. It was $75, possibly the most expensive sauvignon blanc we've encountered. I'm a major fan of Merry Edwards' pinot noirs, so we ordered it. It was very good, but it is possible to find very good sauvignon blancs for a lot less moulah!
Joseph's Table (http://www.josephstable.com/): This is a very interesting restaurant inside the Hotel La Fonda in Taos Plaza in Taos, NM, about 90 minutes north of Santa Fe. We've been before and just wandered into town last night after fishing on the San Juan River and managed to get a table. The Joseph is a fellow named Joseph Wrede and the restaurant's motto is "The World is Our Country, Cooking Good Food Our Religion, Organic & Wild Our Mission".
Kind of pretentious but we've liked everything we ordered here. I had a "Taos Mountain King Bolete Soup", which is based on a type of mushroom called the King Bolete (www.mushroomexpert.com/boletus_edulis...). The waiter, Carlos, said that it's rare you can get this kind of mushroom because they're usually only available a few days a year. But this year, there's been tremendous rain in New Mexico and they've had a fabulous season for the King Bolete. How could I NOT have that! The soup was based on a relatively bland broth, presumably to focus on the flavor of the mushroom, which was -- a mushroom. Anyway, I can now say I've had King Bolete Soup!
I had a dish described as "Spice Rubbed Grilled Wild Sockeye Salmon With Tomato Chanterelle Cream Sauce and Potato Hash". The fish itself was great, the spices were a real complement to the fish, and the underlying potato hash and tomato sauce just rounded out the whole thing. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish.
My GF had three starters for her whole meal, starting with "Polenta Fries & Grilled Radicchio with Gorgonzola Creme". Wow! I was tempted to eat the whole thing, but had to save room for my salmon (and GF took care of it anyway). She then had a "Lobster Tamales with Roasted Corn Puree & Golden Trout Caviar" as well as "Tuna Carpaccio with Horseradish Aoli & Wasabi Roe" for her main. She reported that the Lobster Tamale was unexpectedly sweet (since you expect something called a tamale to be spicy), but still delicious. We both agreed that the tuna was as expected and the Aoli&Roe condiment was too sharp as an addition.
We shared Panna Cotta with honey and blue and black berries. Most excellent. And I'll observe that the wine list was extensive and 95% below $50 a bottle, which I thought was impressive. We had a Truchard Roussane ($38) from Napa that was excellent in itself and as a complement to our choices. The waiter was helpful and attentive; the junior staff was mainly clueless but numerous.
I'm the GF mentioned above. Wish we could remember more Aqua Santa details, but I am clear on one thing: at the end of dinner, we both agreed this was the best food we'd had in Santa Fe this trip, and perhaps in recent memory.
As for Joseph's Table, although we didn't see Julia Roberts, who hides in a corner table near the kitchen on her frequent visits(once a month when she's in town, we hear), its reputation as her hangout made me nervous about our arrival on a Friday evening wearing our fishing gear -- tshirts, sneakers, etc. We were made to feel welcome, it's the kind of place you can get dressed up for (we saw a couple of people overdosing on Santa Fe style) or be comfortable in grubby gear as we were. And my aforementioned polenta fries cost $6 - the food bargain of the year, as there were 6-8 big sticks, I was pretty full after polishing those off.
Great comments and delighted that you share our enthusiasm for every effort Brian Knox has made in Santa Fe. He was not likely "unloading" unsold desserts; he probably, truly, thought you might appreciate them. He IS that kind of guy.
And, as to the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc; wasn't it great ? I buy it from her mailing list. It is about $30, $32 off the mailing list so, while at $75 on the restaurant list it IS pricey, it is only 2X retail. I shudder to wonder what Geronimo would charge. Probably near $100 ! There are several excellent $30+ mailing list SB's now and I buy several (Spottswoode, Arajuo) but year in and year out Merry Edwards has a a unique flavor profile that I really like. Hope it matched your food well and that you liked it.
My take on Aqua Santa is that it is deliberately NOT haute cuisine but simply, very well prepared, intensely flavored everyday, "ordinary" food made better. Monkfish, say rather than salmon/halibut/opah/lobster whatever. Want those ? O.K. go to Geronimo. You will pay but you will not be disappointed. Most nights I'd rather have what Aqua Santa offers.
As for Joseph's Table in Taos... I love this place and his food. That said, I always have a devil of a time putting a meal together of his many offerings but I never stop trying and I am amazed that he continues on in a town that is barely 5,000 population; full-time, year round. As for not seeing Julia Roberts; just be glad you didn't see Rumsfeld ! Forgive me if I'me being/ injecting something non-food, someting political.