Sunday, January 18, 2009

19 Pueblos Honored on a Menu

It was getting to be late morning and we had seen very few people touring the exhibits or watching the demonstration at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. So where were the people whose cars were parked in the two parking lots? As we passed the Pueblo Harvest Café and Bakery which is a part of this complex, we soon realized where everyone was. They were eating either a late breakfast or an early lunch. Now I normally view restaurants inside museums or cultural centers as something to avoid. They have a semi-captive audience, so attention to detail is often missing. But all of these people couldn’t be wrong – could they?

Fortunately, no, they couldn’t. Scrapping our other plans for lunch, into Pueblo Harvest we went. The first thing you notice is the understated, but culturally appropriate, décor. Reminiscent of a New Mexico pueblo, the room is decorated with earth tones offset with colorful art pieces. Settled into a roomy booth, we began to read the menu. The server described the food as “Pueblo Fusion,” using the traditional ingredients and recipes from the nineteen pueblos in northern New Mexico. As a result, the menu items honored many of the pueblos by including Cochiti Cobb Salad, the Zia Burger, the Santa Clara Burger, the Tewa Taco, Nambe Rellenos, Pojoaque Carne Adovada, Isleta Quesadilla, and Jemez Enchilladas. This would have been hokey had the food not been so good.

I chose the Carne Adovada and Chuck the Jemez Enchiladas with green chili sauce. Each came with beans a green and yellow squash mixture. Chuck’s plate contained two large ground-beef-stuffed corn tortillas generously covered with a medium-hot green chili sauce and cheese. My Carne Adovada was a generous serving of pork pieces bathed in a mildish red sauce and sitting on two small tortillas. Given that the pork in my entrée was on the dry side, I think Chuck had the better of the two entrees. The beans were whole not mashed and were served with a small amount of their cooking liquid. The squash side was surprisingly good. Both squashes were served al dente, and to my surprise, we both finished the veggies.

Along with our meals, we ordered a small Indian Fry Bread and the blue corn dusted onion rings. Both were excellent. I’ve had fry bread before, and it has been a six-inch diameter round of fried bread about a half-inch to an inch thick. Instead, this was half of an approximately fourteen inch diameter circle no more than a quarter of an inch thick – if that. This was perfect for wiping any remnants of my red chili and Chuck’s green chili sauces. The very large serving of onion rings came with a dipping sauce of sour cream, ranch seasoning, and green chilies. This is a sauce that will find itself in my cooking repertoire.

Enjoying our lunch, we resolved to return someday for breakfast. And so we did. Being a big fan of Huevos Rancheros, my decision was a no brainer. These came with beans, hash browns, and two slices of toasted “oven bread.” Chuck chose the Zuni Blue Corn Pancakes with pinon (pine nut) butter, maple syrup, and sausage and added an order of hash browns.

First for Chuck’s breakfast. His large plate contained three eight-inch diameter pancakes which were light and tasted faintly of the blue corn meal. The sausages were perfect. Enough seasoning to be interesting but not so much that you wonder what they are trying to hide; they were browned to the point of being cooked through but retained all of the good pork juices.

My only complaint about the Huevos Rancheros was that I would have preferred a red chili sauce with a little more heat – if you know what I mean. The hash browns weren’t as crisp as I would prefer but again I didn’t specify crisp. But they were seasoned – with what we didn’t know and unfortunately neither did our server. (Big peeve – why don’t restaurant servers know enough about the food to answer questions?)

As we left, we perused the pastry case and lost any will power we may have had. The case contained giant blue berry scones, chocolate chip cookies, sheet pastries filled with apple, blue berry, and either apricot or peach filling. But we couldn’t resist the giant cinnamon sweet rolls and two came home with us for supper’s dessert. For those of you who were lucky enought to enjoy one of Caroline's (Chuck's mother) sweet rolls, these were her sweet rolls . . . only three times bigger.

So to rate. We enjoyed both meals, but since this restaurant is on the pricey side and there were some lapses, we have agreed that Pueblo Harvest warrants 4.0 out of 5.0 Addies.

We will "revisit" those sweet rolls.

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