Friday, December 01, 2006

A Taste of the Southwest

My handsome hubby and I plan to eventually move to New Mexico. Six years ago, we spent our honeymoon in Santa Fe, and fell in love with the scenery and the spirit of the land. While there, we ate a good deal of tasty local cuisine at places like Maria's, Tortilla Flats, the Corn Dance Cafe at the Hotel Santa Fe, La Cantina at Coyote Cafe, and The Anasazi Restaurant.

Every once in a while, I get a hankering for green or red chile (or both - Christmas style!) with pork, and I have to make it myself. There doesn't seem to be anything like Southwest food in my area, although I think when Taste first opened, there was mention of Southwest cuisine in their PR info. And Blue Agave has authentic Mexican cuisine, which may come slightly close. There are green chiles (albeit not Hatch) on the menu, at the very least.

So when I'm in another city, and I see a restaurant that bills itself as serving cuisine from the Southwest, I'm all over it. In New York, there's Agave, on 7th Avenue in the West Village. Alas, the menu has what seems an awful lot like Tex-Mex food to me: tacos, quesadillas, but they also have Hatch green chiles in a chowder with corn and chicken. And squash blossoms are featured in one of the tacos. I figure I should take what I can get and allow myself to believe that I will find a taste of my future homeland somewhere beyond those front doors.

That said, I've been to Agave twice. The food is actually quite good, and even better, it's cheap. By NY standards. On my first trip, expecting miniscule portions for the reasonable prices, I ordered both the Hatch Green Chile, Corn & Chicken Chowder and the Autumn Leaves salad (caramelized apples, cabrales blue cheese, and spiced Texas pecans, with cider vinaigrette over baby greens) as appetizers. I was also naive enough to request that both the soup and salad arrive at the same time. Well, both plates barely fit on the table, especially with my DH's appetizer (that I've since forgotten) taking up a fair portion of real estate on the opposite side of the table. The soup was thick and rich and served in a large wide bowl. The salad was practically of Cheesecake Factory-proportions, with a huge mound of greens, slices of apple, and a good handful of nuts. At least they didn't go completely over the top with the application of cheese.

I couldn't tell you what I had for my entree; I was already in a food coma by the time it arrived. Neal had the "Santa Fe Shepard's Pie." (Why is it that people can't seem to spell shepherd correctly? It's just like "sheep herd" but with one less "e.") It was a rich and tasty mixture of chile and macaroni and shredded Jack cheese. I'm not sure it got finished. We were, after all, saving some room for dessert - gelato from a shop across the street.

I was in NY with my Dad recently and we stopped into Agave for an early dinner. Having recently had a slice of pizza from Pizza Box and some miscellaneous cream-filled things from Rocco's Bakery, we weren't exactly starving, but part of this trip to NY was a birthday dinner for me. We planned to hit the Turnpike soon, so this was to be the last chance for that celebratory meal.

At least I knew not to order both a soup and salad, so just had the Autumn Leaves salad. It was again enormous, and I made Dad eat some of it to help me out. I opted for what seemed like a lighter entree, the Skirt Steak Carne Asada Tacos. Dad, after inquiring if I liked chorizo, opted for Pan Roast Pork Tenderloin filled with a chorizo & caramelized apple stuffing lacquered with a maple cider treacle.

Again, we were not disappointed by the portion size. I had three tacos, each filled with a tangle of strips of skirt steak, cooked medium, with blobs of salsa, sour cream, and guacamole to one side, and the standard "Mexican" rice on the other. The meat had a satisfying chew and a pleasant piquant flavor. Dad got the equivalent of half a tenderloin, sliced and slightly fanned out next to a large assortment of roasted vegetables including butternut squash, summer squash, and what may have been parsnips. All seemed to be glazed with the maple cider "treacle." It was all very flavorful, and the pork was tender and juicy.

The best part of the meal, however, was the number of times my water glass was refilled - 10. Two cups of coffee and no other liquid consumed over the course of the day had left me dehydrated, so I appreciated the attention to my need.

So...Agave is pretty darn good, regardless of what it calls the cuisine it serves. Does anyone else out there have recommendations for restaurants serving good Southwestern food outside of the actual Southwest part of this country?

An aside: Because it sounds so horribly fusion, I was drawn to the "Tesque Seared Ahi Tuna Tataki Tostaditas" A Google search for the word "tesque" brought up a recipe for that exact menu item, as featured on Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels. Ack! Anyway, I think that "tesque" is just an innocent misspelling of Tesuque, a pueblo just north of Santa Fe. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Ahi tuna is indiginous to New Mexico. But if Rachael pronounced it "yum-o!" then it has to be good, right?

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