Food


Not Always Rosy

 

Lest the reader believes I find every travel experience wonderful, magnificent, enjoyable (generally true), today I share a dinner that did not live up to expectations. The last time we were in Tucson we had dinner at the original El Charro Cafe, the original downtown location, and were pleased with the experience. El Charro claims the title of the oldest continuously family owned Mexican restaurant in the US. I was determined to return during this trip.

 

I’ll take responsibility for some of tonights negativity. We arrived a little after 5pm on a Saturday evening. We’d had a pretty intense day with plenty of sun, exercise and no lunch; plus we were probably slightly dehydrated. The sidewalk outside the restaurant was already crowded with would-be diners waiting for a table. After placing our name on the list we headed to the bar only to find it much too hectic for our comfort level, so claimed a sidewalk waiting location.

 

El Charro - Bob

When our name was called we were given a table just inside the door on the porch. A support pillar stood less than 16 inches away, a pillar that requires waiters, the rare bus person and new customers squeeze between it and our table. Service was sloooooow, probably 15 minutes to get a drink, napkins and silverware didn’t appear until we begged and 10 minus after the appetizer arrived. Of all evening when we needed a calm, relaxing dinner we were in the middle of chaos, witness to unhappy staff and diners. And, the view out the window was the constant stream of arriving customers jockeying for position.

 

The guacamole was tasty but I bit into two different stems, couldn’t help but wonder what else was “accidentally” included. Bob order El Charro’s signature dish, Carne Seca – lean Angus beef dried in the Sonoran desert sun, marinated, shredded and grilled with green chile, tomato and onions.    The serving was generous but Bob felt it was under spiced and over dried.

El Charro - Nancy

I ordered Enchiladas Banderas, a trio with three different fillings each with a different sauce. This sounded like a good sampler but turned out to be two many flavors all run together with little distinction. By the time we finished our entrees we had no patience to wait for a dessert, waiting for the bill was painful enough. Disappointment all around, a Tucson experience we will bypass in the future.

Elvira’s Restaurant – Bar – Tequila

Tubac, Arizona

 

Elvira's Shop Entrance

Elvira’s exterior fits into the artist community of Tubac perfectly – tan plaster walls, red tile pieces, colorful pottery, unusual metalwork. Walk through the door to find absolutely nothing usual. Stunning would be an understatement.Brightly colored light fixtures, baubles of blown glass reflect magentas, blues, crimson, gold and silver.

 

Magenta Baubles

 

Seeing Stars

Chef/owner Ruben Monroy has a graphic arts and interior design background. Combining traditional and contemporary Mexican arts he shares the colors and culture of his native country. From every angle, in every nook and cranny there’s a new detail to note and admire. One’s tempted to play a game of I Spy With My Little Eye.

 

Elvira Mirror    Chandaleer    Face

 

Ornately framed mirrors, flying cherubs, Mexican tin star lamps, multi-globe chandeliers, creative flower arrangements – what do you spy?

 

Flower Arrangement

 

The original Elvita’s served customers in Nogalas, Mexico from 1927 – 2008. Monroy reports 95% were coming from north of the border. The Tubac restaurant opened in 2009. The menu displays Monroy’s creativity as much as the decor. Among the five or six mole choices Mole Negro remains “The King”, 34 ingredients in perfect balance. Seafood selections include at least eight shrimp preparations, Chilean sea bass, flounder, cabrilla and ahi tuna.

 

Elvira's Diners

 

When visiting Tubac let yourself be dazzled by the cuisine, service and decor of Elvira’s.

 

When You Go: Elvira’s is located at 2221 E. Frontage Rd, Building A-101, Tubac, AZ, 520-398-9421, http://www.elvirasrestaurant.com. Open Tuesday – Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday 11am – 3pm. Closed Mondays.

Chile & Spice and Everything Nice

Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co.

Santa Cruz Chili

 

Chili in every form imaginable  plus a few more calls customers to the Santa Cruz Chili Company a few miles south of Tubac, Arizona. I find it interesting to watch people enter: some come with shopping list in hand, other are totally intimidated even leery of sampling something from the tasting table. Many are awed at the multitude of products. Today a woman with cell phone in hand was calling a friend in Wisconsin for her requests. In addition to their own products, grown and processed in the fertile Santa Cruz Valley, they carry selections from  other companies featuring Mexican and Southwest flavors.

 

Santa Cruz Tasting

Looking for cookbooks, regional history or adventure? A wide variety awaits perusal. After taste testing I must leave with a mango salsa, spice bbq sauce plus several packets of seasonings for pork, tacos and beans. Once discover Santa Cruz Chili is a must stop in Southern Arizona.

 

 

 

When You Go: Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company is located just north of exit 29 off of Interstate 19 on the East frontage road, 520-398-2591. Store is open 8am – 5pm Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm Saturday (Summer 10am – 3pm), Closed Sundays.

 

Santa Cruz JarsSanta Cruz Soices

Old Martina’s Hall

Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

Old Martina's Hall - Door & WindowFor seven years visitors to the famed San Francisco de Asis church south of Taos saw a massive, achingly-slow renovation in progress across the street and wondered about its future. The multi-million dollar project finally came to an end last September with the opening of Old Martina’s Hall, a restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a facility for special events, live music, dance hall, meeting and workshop rooms.

Thick adobe walls and the massive vigas above the great hall are original to the Ranchos fortress dating back to 1769. All settlers were required by the Spanish Governor to live within the two acre Ranchos Plaza to protect against attacks by raiding Comanches. The neighboring much photographed and painted church was built in 1812.

Old Martina's Hall - InteriorWe stopped for dinner last night and were awed by the historic property. Although the great hall was not in use last night we looked up to the soaring ceiling and marveled at how the enormous logs were raised into place and their continued strength today.

The spacious dining room reflects traditional New Mexico design, such as a corner kiva fireplace ,combined with simple contemporary detail. Banco seating along one long wall was surprisingly comfortable with the multitude of turquoise-colored pillows adding a dash of color to the surrounding earth tones.

We were greeted by our cheery and attentive waitress, Pamela. She later told us, “I love working here,” which was evident in everything she did. While many of the menu items have a Southwestern overtone this is not a Mexican restaurant. I selected chicken schnitzel with a lemon butter caper sauce, accompanied with fresh asparagus. Generally served with frites I could substitute either the mashed or fingerling potatoes. Bob chose the grilled Atlantic salmon served atop a gazpacho sauce with roasted fingerling potatoes and topped with spears of tempura asparagus. He didn’t leave a single bite.

Old Marina's Hall - Salmon Old Martina's Hall - Chicken

 

When it came time to see the dessert tray we were once again awed by the selection and presentation. An European pastry chef begins each day at 3:00 am to create the assorted, decadent treats. This was not a night to share one dessert. Bob opted for a fresh apricot tart. My piece de resistance was chocolate ganache in a phyllo pastry cup topped with creamy sea-salt caramel sauce. OMG! Heaven, but extremely rich. I actually had to box some for a bedtime snack with a tall glass of cold milk.

Old Martina's Hall - Dessert Tray

During our current stay in Taos I will definitely return to try the breakfast menu and Old Martina’s Hall’s pastry case will be a temptation every time I pass the historic landmark serving modern day tastes.

Old Martina's Hall - Dessert

A Day in Santa Fe

Shopping, Sculpture and Frivolity

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We weren’t the only ones kicking up our heels in Santa Fe today. We met these high steppers created by Jim Agius at Ventana Gallery on Canyon Road. We stopped at the venerable gallery to see the whimsical watercolors of Tom Noble and enjoyed the works of numerous other artists. Memorable to Bob where the mixed media creations of Debra Corbett.

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Shopping started with a quick visit to a true Santa Fe original - Jackalope. We didn’t wander the multiple buildings and acres of pottery and “stuff”. Our purpose was the broad selection of World Music. New CDs play as I write.

Bob always likes to stop at Books and More Books to check out the shelves of used art books. Brushes and a book by artist Nancy Reyner were purchased  at Artisan on Cerrilios Road.

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In the afternoon we drove out to Tesuque Village for a leisurely stroll through the sculpture gardens at Shidoni Foundry and Galleries. The variety of styles, materials and creativity never ceases to amaze. We note numerous additions since our last visit seven months ago. A great way to spend a sunny spring afternoon.

New to us, but certainly not to the locals, was dinner at Andiamo! in the Rail Yard District. The highly recommended crispy polenta in a rosemary gorgonzola sauce did not disappoint for a starter. The well-dressed Caesar Salad was fresh and enough for both of us. Bob finished off his eggplant Parmesan with tomato basil spaghetti. As much as I liked the linguine with spicy grilled shrimp there is a box of leftovers going home with me tomorrow. We passed on dessert, however, the tiramisu looked most promising. Next time.

The big decision of the evening is a choice between relaxing in our favorite room at Inn at Vanessie or drinks and jazz piano next door. Frivolity anyone?

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Trading Post Cafe

Ranchos de Taos

 

We joined friends Dolores and Orell for dinner at the Trading Post Cafe tonight. Unbeknownst to any of us the Italian restaurant offers Mangia Festa, 3 course meals between 4- 6pm, Tuesday – Thursday for only $12. Such a deal!

 

The Mangia Festa features a cup of soup of the day, salad and the choice from six pasta entrees or pizza of the day. Pasta offerings include farfallel primavera, pasta bolognese, fettuccine alla carbonara, angel hair pasta with chicken and mushrooms in gorgonzola cream, portabello mushroom raviolis and penne arrabbiata.

 

Tonight’s soup was a chilled cream of avocado which Bob (surprisingly) really liked. Next was a fresh green salad with creamy Italian dressing. Bob and I both ordered the carbonara, on the advice of local friends, and were not disappointed. Dolores and Orell had the angel hair pasta dish. The servings were not large but the three courses were a very nice balance.

 

When Bob and I had dinner here on Saturday night we indulged in the marvelous flan. Because I baked a peach and cherry crostada today we bypassed the Trading Post desserts – with regrets.

 

They have an excellent pastry chef and there are many selections each day. If I’d known we were going to the Trading Post Cafe I would have put off my baking until tomorrow. Although that might not have worked because Bob says he’s going back tomorrow night for round two of Mangia Festa!

 

Art & Photos

Bob started the Stephen Kilborn week-long painting workshop today. Visit Art by Robert Yackel to follow the week’s workshop activities.

My favorite Taos restaurant was tonight’s destination, hard to believe we’d been in town and hadn’t had our first Orlando’s fix. We studied the menu over salsa, chips and guacamole even though I knew before I left Denver what I would order – the shredded beef burrito smothered with green chile with sides of beans and posole.

 

Bob selected the shredded beef chimichanga. Orlando’s shredded beef is not for the weak of heart or tastebuds – it packs a real punch. So delicious. Smooth flan soothes any lasting zing.

 

 

Evening photos were on the agenda after dinner. Stopped by Ed Sandoval’s studio of pictures of his antique trucks.

 

As the sun set we strolled the historic mabel Dodge Luhan complex, lots of ideas for future paintings. Just as the pigeons flock in to roost for the night we head to the casita. Day is done, gone the sun.

Day of Surprises

While traveling from Moab to Torrey, Utah we encountered several pleasant surprises.

 

Somewhere I’d seen a brief reference to a river museum in Green River. We stopped at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum expecting to have a quick look/see. We left 1 1/2 hours later. Our introduction came via a 20 minute film, Journey into the Great Unknown, which chronicles Powell’s first voyage from Green River, Wyoming through the Grand Canyon. The extremely well done film with surround sound and presented in a comfortable theater was worth the price of admission. In addition to river related exhibits there’s an art gallery featuring the work of Utah artists, dinoaurs including one that was found just miles from the museum, the River Runners hall of Fame and museum store. Appropriately, the museum sits on the banks of Green River.

 

While exploring the Fruita Historic District in Capital Reef National Park we found that in the heritage homestead Gifford House they sold fresh-baked pies and scones. An unusual feature in a National Park. At a shaded picnic table we eagerly dug into a mixed berry crumb-top pie for two. Excellent!

 

Without knowing anything about the restaurant we chose Cafe Diablo for dinner. The imaginative menu was a surprise but the real surprises came with the extraordinary artistic presentations and inspired culinary creations. Attentive and friendly service added to the enjoyment. We learned that Cafe Diablo has an international reputation and following. Who would have guessed you could  find something like this in a town with a population of 182 in the middle of Utah? Surprise!

 

 

A day of pleasant surprises!

 

Fantastic Formations

 

Today was a continual slideshow of fantastic formations – arches, buttes, canyons, bluffs, spires – the list goes on and on. The eyes and mind almost go on overload there’s so much more than one can imagine.

 

After a bit of shopping for supplies and a UV protection shirt we make Arches National Park our first stop to capture pictures of east facing formations. We’ve spent two evening photographing at sunset but some sites are much better morning shots. A stop at the visitor center also seems in order. Displays relate both the geological and human history of the Arches area. Attractive, roomy and well organized, the book store offers a wide variety of titles.

 

The Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park was our next destination. Utah 313 traverses 25 miles of high desert from US191 north of Moab to the park boundaries. Near the entrance  we’re surprised to see a new visitor center since our last visit when the ranger facilities were in a trailer. We take advantage of a shaded picnic table for a bit of lunch.

 

From Island in the Sky we look down onto the White Rim and deeper into the rugged canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers, ribbons of the rivers sometimes visible as they loop through the almost other-worldly geography.

 

Short walks and photograph fill the afternoon until we both determine the sun and heat has zapped our energies. We miss a visit to Mesa Arch and to Dead Horse Point State Park, from earlier visits we know they are worthy of our attention but the effort isn’t there today.

 

 

Dinner at Moab Brewery – We split a garden salad, a Jack Daniel Burger with slaw, Smoked Sausage Grill (Italian, brat and cajun spice) with sauerkraut, garlic red potatoes, sautéed fresh veggies served with their Brewery Stout Mustard. Bob skipped a beer in favor of their Moab brewed root beer. On the way out the door the case of house-made gelato was too tempting to pass up – I highly recommend the caramel candy bar, the best gelato I’ve ever tasted. A soothing end to a fantastic day!

 

Vance Johnson’s Outlaw Ribbs

Parachute, Colorado

If you cheered for the Denver Broncos twenty years ago you remember the most flamboyant of the Three Amigos – Vance Johnson.  Wide receiver Johnson played from 1985-1995. A few years ago a friend told us about a good barbecue restaurant on Colorado’s Western Slope in the small town of Parachute. Since the friend was a Kansas City native we figured he had a credible recommendation. Since then we’ve stopped several times for lunch at VJ’s Outlaw Ribbs.

 

I don’t think we would have ever paid attention to the unassuming building right along Interstate 70 but now we know to turn off at Exit 75. VJ’s opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today’s breakfast special was a jumbo smoked sausage, 2 eggs, home fries and toast. Besides the typical breakfast fare selections include Toby’s Burrito, a Denver Omelet, grits and bone-in ham slice.

 

The lunch special was pure southern – catfish platter with blackened peas, rice, collard greens and cornbread. I note most of the locals were indulging in the special. I bypass the catfish for a shredded smoked pork sandwich with their basic barbecue sauce and a side of beans. Bob opted for the pulled pork on bun – Southern style (hot and spicy) topped with coleslaw. There is also a tangy barbecue sauce.

 

If you’re with a group order “The Trough” which VJ’s promises to feed four or more. There’s baby back ribs, St. Louis ribs, smoked sausage, pork, brisket, whole chicken, 6 sides and garlic toast. Pull up a chair and dig in.

 

Fresh cut prime rib is on this weekend’s special board plus live 70s music on the patio. Every time we’ve stopped at VJ’s locals greatly outnumber the tourists. There seems to be a loyal following of gas and oil field workers, ranchers with their brand on their license plate and those just shooting’ the breeze. I’m happy we didn’t just breeze on by.

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