Friday, January 9, 2009

Second Most Favorite Cuisine

I think it is no secret by now that the food of Cajun Louisiana is my all-time favorite regional American cuisine.

Until this week I couldn’t decide whether the food of the New England seacoast or the food of New Mexico came in second. I have decided – although this is a close call – that New Mexico beats out New England. Not only do you have tacos, enchiladas, flautas, or burritos, often with your choice of beef (ground, shredded, or brisket), chicken, pork or cheese. Enchiladas can be stacked or rolled. The enchilada tortilla can be yellow or blue corn. Tacos come in hard or soft shell varieties. And with all of these, you have your choice of chili rojo (red chili sauce) or chili verde (green chili sauce). And, for those who cannot decide, do what native New Mexicans do, ask for “Christmas,” both red and green sauce. And I have yet to mention chili relleno, karnitas, carne adovada, stuffed sopapillas, tamales, tostadas – the list goes on. And for sides you can chose beans, rice, papas (fried potatoes). And then there are chicharrones – the Mexican version of fried pork rinds.

After three long days on the road, we awoke on Tuesday tired and lazy. But we were out of food and grocery shopping was a necessity. But heeding all advice that grocery shopping on an empty stomach leads to impulse buying, we felt that lunch before shopping was an obligation.

When in Albuquerque two years ago, we ate a number of breakfasts at Garcia’s Kitchen on Central Avenue and had fond memories of the food and friendly service. So off to Garcia’s we went.

The restaurant looked just as we remembered from the colorful mural on the exterior wall

to the interior decorations for every holiday under heaven.

Looking at the menu, it didn’t take me long to decide on the carne adovada plate with chili rojo and beans, rice, and flour tortilla. Chuck went all al a carte and ordered two beef enchiladas with chili rojo, a brisket taco in a hard shell, and a side or beans. All of Chuck’s lunch was very good, but to me, the star of the lunch was my carne adovada. This dish is cubes of pork that are marinated for twenty-four hours in a chili rojo sauce and then cooked in that same sauce until tender. I have made this at home and it is quite simple. All you need are either whole red chili pods or good quality seasonings (red chili powder, some onion, oregano, salt, and pepper.) Garcia’s pork comes to the table as a mixture of bite sized pieces and shreds coated in the wonderful red sauce.

Garcia’s red sauce is not burning but potent. Some red chili sauces have a harsh, biting, hasn’t-been-cooked-long-enough unpleasantness. Garcia’s has never disappointed and is potent while not being burning. Both of our noses were running as we devoured lunch.

And let me tell you about the flour tortillas. Garcia’s make their own every day and they are soft, chewy, and marvelous eaten alone or used to sop up your chili verde or chili rojo. I tore off some small pieces and wrapped them around cubes of meat – making sure that I left enough tortilla to completely clean my plate.

Next to the cash register stands a stack of day old flour tortillas which are usually sold out by 1:00 p.m.

As we left, I noticed that Chili Relleno is one of the Friday lunch specials. Guess where we had lunch today! Chuck again ordered the beef enchiladas with a double side of beans. I had the Chili Relleno with chili rojo and a double serving of rice – cooked firm, not watery, and just seasoned enough to balance with the chilies. New Mexico has its own variety of chilis which are similar to anaheims or poblanos, the most famous coming from the Chimayo region. My plate contained two medium-sized and unbattered peppers, stuffed with cheese and ground beef and topped with the red chili sauce. These were real fire-roasted chilies and the smoky flavor came through the heat of the peppers and the heat of the sauce.

Now the staff at our campground has told us about another small and authentic New Mexican restaurant that is close to our campground. So before I assign an Addie score to Garcia’s Kitchen, I want to eat at this other restaurant by way of comparison.

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