Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lone Suvivor

The restaurant, La Posta de Mesilla, occupies an adobe building in Messilla (NM) constructed in the 1840’s by Sam Bean and his brother Roy Bean. It is the only surviving stagecoach station of the Butterfield Overland Mail route from Tipton, Missouri, to San Francisco.

In 1850, John Butterfield convinced Henry Wells and William Fargo to consolidate their express companies with his own Butterfield & Wasson Company to form the American Express Company.

In 1857, Butterfield won a $600,000 contract to deliver the St. Louis mail to San Francisco in 25 days, a trip of 2,812 miles.

In establishing the service, Butterfield had said, “Remember boys, nothing on God’s earth must stop the United States mail!” And nothing did. During its two and one-half years of service, every eastbound and westbound stage arrived within the 25-day contract time. It was an unqualified success.

In 1860, Butterfield was forced out of the partnership because of debts that he owed Wells and Fargo. The operation of the twice-weekly mail and passenger service was effectively stopped.

“The La Posta Compound is on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The building is Territorial Style with a zaguan (the entryway into a house that leads in turn to the larger, light-filled interior patio) leading into a patio (left) now used as a lobby for the restaurant and displays tropical plants, birds and fish for all to see. Constructed primarily of adobe bricks, the north and west sides of the building have doors and windows retaining the Greek revival pediments so typical of Territorial style” (from the La Posta web site). Today, this space is dominated by a sombrero-topped Christmas tree.

Our forty-five minute wait for a table gave us time to explore some of the building’s nooks and crannies that have now been converted into small intimate dining and drinking spaces. “The quaint and relaxing Cantina was once the lobby to the famous Corn Exchange Hotel.... Looking around you notice a beautiful stained glass window with over 700 pieces depicting a wagon and team as they ride down from the Organ Mountains” (from the La Posta web site).

The Blacksmith Room (photo below) was once used to repair horseshoes and other equipment associated with the Stagecoach, and the tiled fireplace contains the original hearth.

We were seated in the Lava Room, La Posta’s “most requested dining room…with walls of centuries old lava rock, tropical plants, and warmly accented lighting…. It is hard to imagine that during La Posta's famed years of the 1870's and 1880's, this room served as a stable caring for the horses used for the Stagecoach of the famous Butterfield Stagecoach Trail (from the La Posta web site).

The room was magni-ficently decorated for the Christmas season with a massive and brightly-decorated Christmas tree and flat painted figures of Mary and Joseph with a somewhat Hispanic mien. Carved wooden parrots hung from the ceiling and one wall held a print with multiple colorful parrots.

As soon as we were seated, our server Justin appeared with a basket of tortilla chips and a dish of medium hot and cilantro-free salsa. Justin explained that the salsa would be the hottest (aka spiciest) thing we would eat that day and that the red chile is hotter than the green.

“Had we eaten there before?” he asked. “No.” we replied. “Would we like him to bring us samples of each chile?” What do you think? Justin was right. The red was hotter than the green, but the green had such a nice vivid flavor that both of us chose the green with our entrees.

The menu is a comprehensive list of traditional New Mexican dishes made from century-old recipes handed down over the years from the Fountain, Chavez and Griggs families and includes enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and combination plates.

Specialty meals included: Specialty of La Posta—a starter of chile con queso and corn tortillas, followed by guacamole salad or tossed green salad and an entrée of one rolled red enchilada, tamale, chile con carne, rolled taco, frijoles, rice and a sopaipilla; La Posta Grande—again with a starter of chile con queso and corn tortillas, followed by guacamole salad or tossed green salad and an entrée of one folded taco, chile relleno, green enchilada con carne served with frijoles, rice and a sopaipilla; and Banquette Elegante—a starter of chile con queso, corn tortillas and guacamole salad and an entree of carne adobada, camotes (sweet potatoes) Jalisco, refritos, rice and a sopaipilla. All came with an empanada served hot with ice cream.

I seem to be in a predictable routine and again ordered the Chile Relleno plate that included two whole medium hot green chiles filled with Monterey jack cheese, then dipped in whipped egg white batter, cooked on the griddle rather than being deep-fat fried, and smothered in green chile and cheese. This came with refritos, rice, and a garnish of “Mexican” slaw. The chiles were nicely coated, and I think that the use of just the whites instead of both whites and yolks lessened the eggy taste that can ruin a good chile relleno. The beans were good. The slaw, which had been tossed with a mild oil-based dressing, gave just the right textural balance to the rest of the meal. The only disappointment was the rice. It looked and tasted like it had been sitting on a steam table—and it probably was.

Chuck started with one Tostada Compuesta (these are ordered individual-ly), the recipe for which originated at La Posta in 1939. The dish consists of a toasted corn tortilla cup filled with frijoles and red chile con carne and is topped with chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes and grated cheddar cheese. This was a texture and flavor riot. The beef, which was cooked in a cumin-scented red chile sauce, was fork-tender and the soft beef and soft beans were balanced by the crispy tortilla cup and crunchy lettuce.

For his main entrée, he chose the beef and bean burrito smothered in green chile, which came with the same not-so-great rice. Chuck was especially happy with the green chile, which he proclaimed had a level of heat that was “just right.” It was a little mild for my taste, but I guess I don’t need to have smoke puff out of my ears at every meal.

For dessert, we ordered four of the lightest, puffiest, most delicious sopaipillas ever. (If you notice that the spelling here changes from blog to blog it is because I honor the spelling used on each restaurant’s menu.) Drizzled with a small amount of honey, they were the ideal ending for our meal.

I would love to give La Posta the full 5.0 Addies for their atmosphere, professional service in the midst of a busy day, and food. But I can’t forgive the rice and am compelled to lower the rating to 4.5 Addies.

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