Friday, August 31, 2012

Good News!!

This will be the last time that I write about pizza for awhile. Why? First, we know from experience that our travels over the next month or so will take us out of range for good pizza. Second, it is getting hard to find anything new to say about pizza. In fact, I almost didn’t write today’s blog, but there were some interior visuals that I couldn’t let go to waste.

“Pizza Espiritu, filled with the wonderful aroma of baking pizza and simmering sauces, has a neighborhood restaurant feeling to it. The ambiance…is surprisingly sophisticated….
The subdued lighting makes it a little hard for aging eyes to read the menu but sets a relaxed tone…. Espiritu has a loyal following, based on reasonable prices, friendly, efficient service and a flexible menu with something to please most everyone…” (Anne Hillerman at

“The name Pizzeria Espiritu reflects the deep-seeded faith of its founder and owner Tom Berkes, the liturgy and music director at St. Joseph’s Church in Cerrillos since 1990…. (I)t is Berkes’ goal to create a fun atmosphere where people can come in and enjoy themselves while they partake of good food. To that end, he has created a beautiful space, which, aside from the frontage’s stucco exterior, is so un-Santa Fe-like…. Pizzeria Espiritu looks more like a restaurant you’d find in a larger, more cosmopolitan city, maybe even a city in Italy.
The centerpiece, a fourteen-foot original oil painting by artist Gary Larson, hangs not on one of the restaurant’s walls but on the ceiling…. That painting is based on Michelangelo’s
“Creation of Adam,” a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted in 1511. The painting illustrates the Genesis story in which God the Father breathes life into Adam, the first man” (

But my eyes were drawn to the (Do I say strange? Do I say unique?) art on the walls, which bore the signature (in block letters) of someone named Brumble. An online search for information on the artist proved futile, so I can provide nothing by way of biography. Suffice it to say, this is not art—especially the piece with the hands on a keyboard—that I would want hanging in my living room.

Pizzeria Espiritu’s menu offers a full range of Italian items, but we were there for pizza which can be had in thin crust or deep dish styles. (I don’t consider deep dish to be pizza. It’s a casserole!) We decided to order one small (ten-inch) cheese and Italian sausage and one small cheese and fresh basil.

Gil Garduno describes the sauce used at Pizzeria Espiritu thusly:
“Unlike at many pizzerias, the tomato sauce at Pizzeria Espiritu isn’t baked in completely into the bread or cheese where it’s lost among the other flavors. It doesn’t run off the pie either. Instead, there’s a perfect amount of sauce–enough to be discernable, but not enough to dominate the pizza either. It’s a perfect complement to the other ingredients” (

I hate to quibble with my authority on all things food New Mexico, but both pizzas suffered from an excess of sauce. And a sauce that was, in my opinion, way too sweet. How I long for the uncooked crushed San Marzano tomatoes sauces used at Settebello in Salt Lake City and at Ancora in New Orleans. The sauce was particularly overpowering on the Margherita where there were no mitigating flavors other than a little basil to ease the sweetness.

The Italian sausage pizza was more successful. While it still had more sauce than we would have liked, it was topped with plenty of good mildly fennel sausage and just enough cheese—we, as always,
specified light cheese—on top of a wonderfully thin and almost cracker-like crust.

Pizzeria Espiritu has been named as one of Pizza Today's Top 100 Restaurants and their pizzas are among the best we have eaten in New Mexico.

Still, in a city full of foodies, you would think that there would be a market for good wood fire oven pizza. We can only hope that one will open before we make a return visit to Santa Fe.

With some tweaking—like reducing the amount of sauce—we think that Pizzeria Espiritu could produce a cheese and sausage pizza that we would enjoy. But for this lunch, 3.5 Addies is all we can grant.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Puye Cliff Dwellings

Near Española, New Mexico, about a hour northwest of Santa Fe, are the Puye ("poo-jay") Cliff Dwellings. These ruins of an abandoned pueblo are located in Santa Clara Canyon on Santa Clara Pueblo land.

From the Visitor Center parking lot, the cliffs appeared imposing.
Some 1,500 Pueblo Indians lived, farmed, and hunted game there from the 900s to 1580 A.D.

"Puye Cliffs comprises two levels of cliff and cave dwellings cut into the cliff face, as well as dwellings on the mesa top. Over one mile long, the first level runs the length of the base of the mesa.

The second level is about 2,100 feet long. Paths and stairways were cut in the face of the rock to connect the two levels and allow people to climb to the top of the mesa" (

The paved trail from the Visitor Center to the dwellings was a fairly steep climb. I was grateful for the "Granny stops" that our tour guide Judith made. At an elevation of about 7000+ feet, the dwellings provided a challenge for those of us more comfortable at sea level.

From the trail in front of the dwellings, we had stunning views of the Jemez mountains to the west,

the valley, which had been the site of the farmlands for the cliff dwellers, and

to the east, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains.

When we completed the initial climb, we were able to follow a relatively level trail along the living areas.

We had about a dozen people in our group. On more than one occasion, I heard, "Mr. Green (the color of my shirt), you're taking a lot of photos" (read: "You're slowing the group down.")

Among the handful of reasons for my tendency to fall behind the group was the opportunity to photograph the petroglyphs shown in these photos.

'The dwellings are part of natural volcanic caves high on the cliff walls. The row of circular holes in the side of the cliff served to anchor logs that served as the roof over the first level and the pathway for the second level.

"This hour long trek takes visitors along paved and non-paved paths, moving along the cliff face to see the dwellings carved within.

"These cliffs are comprised of rock that, while hard, has a layer on the surface that is easily broken. The inner tuff is “soft and crumbly,” making it ideal to work with simple stone tools" (

The ancestral puebloans used ladders to reach the homes and rooms. A trail was cut into the rocky cliffs for carrying water to the dwellings.

Each room was created by a bubble in the volcanic basalt.

"It’s an amazing contrast from the precisely built, squared off buildings we know in our culture, to then move on to rounded, organic, hand-carved homes in a cave style.

Most of them are small, but feel rather comfortable as far as holes in the wall go.

The earth is certainly cool inside in the summer months and would be relatively easy to heat up in the winter, so the practicality of these houses is easy to see.

Shown below are pottery shards that have been found in the course of excavations, which "began in the summer of 1907 by Adolf Bandelier,.... It was the first of the ancient Pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley to be systematically excavated, and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966" (

The lichen on the rocks and cliffs added a but of color to the sandstone-colored cliffs.
"This National Historic Landmark has been called 'one of northern New Mexico’s most awe-inspiring cultural attractions.' ...In this 'place between earth and sky,' the wide open views of the New Mexico landscape are enough to catch anyone’s attention" (

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

“We’ve Been There!”

I exclaimed to Chuck. “And I can tell you exactly what I ate!”

Let’s back up a few days. When I was writing about The Shed (8/23/12), I mentioned picking up a postcard listing the Santa Fe restaurants participating in the Farm to Restaurant program. One of those was Joe’s Diner, and since we are always on the lookout for a good diner, I added Joe’s to the “musts” list. But it wasn’t until we inadvertently drove past it on our way somewhere else, that I realized we had breakfasted there two years ago.

“What really distinguishes Joe’s is…passion for a sustainable, local food supply. Roland and Sheila established Joe’s in 2002 as a diner…to offer an unpretentious comfortable atmosphere for locals who demand high quality local food and uncompromising quality of ingredients offered at a fair price.

“We are indeed the biggest restaurant buyer of Farmers Market goods in Santa Fe. The farmers say this.... What our guests demand is clearly in line with our passion for a local healthy sustainable food supply. This is what drives us to continue in this direction” (

While we could have eaten on the front patio which was surrounded by flowering plants, the morning was chilly and there was a strong chance of rain. So instead we went inside where for most of the time the diner remained fairly empty. But we were there at 9:30 am on a Sunday morning.

“The name, Joe’s Diner, conjured up a decades old memory of the diners I used to frequent in New Jersey. Great places for comfort food reasonably priced, plain and simple, and with a staff that often greeted me with a friendly, ‘What can I get you?’ greeting. These traditional features, with the exception of the New Jersey-accented staff, can be found at Joe’s, blended with a menu created by a master chef” (

With its black, red, and grey décor, Joe’s was reminiscent of a 50’s East Coast diner although in a more sleek and stylish way.

And some clever wag had dubbed the perpetually stopped clock
“Timeless” in a take-off on Timex.

As we are sitting and reviewing the Sunday brunch menu, some tenor who was not Pavarotti could be heard over the sound system singing “Nessun Dorma” while the kitchen staff was yelling to each other in Spanish. And now for a Digression Alert. I can never hear that song without being reminded of the first (and in my opinion the best) of the Three Tenors Concerts on PBS. While Pavarotti had earlier sung the Nessun Dorma aria in his part of the program, the three—Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti—reprised the piece as part of the encore. At one point, the camera angle is from behind the singers and you see the conductor (Zubin Mehta, who, next to Chuck, is the sexiest man in the world) with his arms outstretched and behind him you see the Baths of Caracalla and the magnificently lit trees. I would watch every repeat just for that one scene.

But back to brunch. Joe’s house-smokes their salmon and uses for a number of brunch items. It was the smoked salmon and potato latke plate that I fondly remembered from our previous visit, and I was determined that my meal choice would include the salmon.
In addition to the salmon and latke combo, I could have chosen Joe’s Benedict (two potato latkes topped with poached eggs, Joe’s house-smoked salmon and hollandaise and served with salad greens) or Eggs Royale (an eggs benedict variation with toasted English muffins, house-smoked salmon, two poached eggs, and hollandaise and served with home fries). This latter was my choice.

I am of the opinion that smoked salmon needs to be very thinly sliced and Joe’s earns an A+ on that score. But the dish was not without its faults. I will admit that I didn’t specify the degree of doneness for the poached eggs but I feel that these had been overcooked. While
I like the whites firm, I like the yolks liquid and here they were close to solid. And while the hollandaise had a nice light lemon flavor, I wish that there had been more of it and that it hadn’t come lukewarm.

Chuck selected the Cowboy Jack with two scrambled eggs, two blue corn pancakes, two slices of bacon, and home fries. Joe’s makes their blue corn pancakes with a mix of blue corn, wheat, soy and oat flours with New Mexico pine nuts (piñon). The pancakes in particular were excellent--light, yet substantial, with the creamy and at the same time crunchiness of the piñon giving a bit of texture. The
accompanying home fries were made with skin-on red potatoes and were cooked with a bit of onion and fresh parsley.

This was a good breakfast, but not as good as that we had two years ago, and Joe’s Diner earns 3.5 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It’s All Because of…

a (ugly) chartreuse van. We are driving down Cerrillos Road, and I happen to see this green van with the word Vinaigrette painted on its side. Thinking that this was a delivery van for a local salad dressing company, I didn’t think too much about it.
It was a few days later when, leafing through The Santa Fe Reporter, I saw an ad for Vinaigrette—A Salad Bistro and thought that this warranted more investigation.

My Google search brought forth a review by Gil Garduno, my authority on gastronomy New Mexico. Was it his mouthwatering prose or his equally mouthwatering photographs that seized my imagination? Whichever, this was a place we must visit.

“Vinaigrette is a chic and green Santa Fe bistro that raises the ‘salad bar’ with bold and delicious entrée salads. Featuring innovative flavor combinations and the option to add savory protein
accompaniments like diver scallops, lemon-herb chicken, or grilled hanger steak, these tantalizingly hearty yet healthy creations allow for guiltless and delicious eating at the same time. Much of the restaurant’s organic produce is grown on owner Erin Wade’s 10-acre Nambe farm, Los Portales, harvested within hours of arriving at Vinaigrette’s kitchen. When not grown at the farm, the restaurant strives to source local and organic ingredients. As one local publication put it ‘Eating well never tasted so good’” (

Vinaigrette seems to have filled a niche in the Santa Fe food scene. When we arrived at around 12:30 p.m., all of the tables on the back garden patio were filled, and there would be about a half hour wait for seating. No problem, we’ll take one of the two empty tables inside and be thankful. “The restaurant décor is whimsical, casual, and inviting with a distinctly modern flair.

Vermillion bistro chairs and simple butcher block tables pepper the bright dining area,
anchored by a green-tiled wine bar that features a dozen salad-friendly wines by the glass.
And from April to October, the elegant back patio offers an intimate and secluded option to dine under the shade of an old apricot tree…” (

The menu is based on a long list of seasonal and specialty salads, plus at least two daily house-made soups, a short list of sandwiches, and maybe four or five desserts. But as I look around the room, all I see are diners happily chowing down on salads.
“Wholly unlike the middling quality all-you-can-eat salad bar restaurants dotting the fruited plain, Vinaigrette offers a menu showcasing healthful salads in bountiful, but not profligate portions. You won’t waddle out of this restaurant wondering how salad can be so filling. Nor will you find such un-salad-like offerings as chocolate muffins, focaccia bread and other high-carbohydrate, high-calorie offerings. That doesn’t mean every plate is heaping with barely edible ‘rabbit food’ lacking in flavor or imagination.

The only rabbit-like aspect to Vinaigrette is the tendency for diners to hop from option to option unable to decide which salad to order, so replete with creativity is Vinaigrette’s inspired menu” (

To list just a few of the options: The Omega Aka Avocado with chopped greens tossed with sweet corn, diced bell pepper, tomato,
avocado, red onion, cilantro and toasted pine nuts and dressed with blue cheese vinaigrette; The Chop Chop with tomato, bell pepper, crisp romaine, garbanzos, salami, roast chicken, and provolone and tossed in a creamy balsamic dressing; Spinach-Mushroom with baby spinach tossed with sautéed mushrooms, bacon, hardboiled egg pieces, and honey balsamic vinaigrette; and The French Frisee with frisee greens, poached egg, bacon lardons and a warm shallot vinaigrette.

After a long deliberation over a glass--or jar--of hibiscus iced tea, I selected the Tuna Salad Salad with line-caught tuna salad, avocado, bell pepper, radish, celery, corn and romaine. But, at additional cost, I swapped out the tuna salad for rare seared tuna steak. The salad, with the exception of the sliced avocado garnishing the top and the thin sliced tuna, was chopped with the individual pieces roughly the same size as the corn kernels.
I couldn’t tell whether the corn had been lightly cooked or was served fresh from the cob. But this was the kind of sweet and tender corn that we haven’t seen since leaving the Phladelphia area where the Silver Queen variety rules. The salad had been very lightly tossed in a lemon and dill vinaigrette that never obscured the flavor of the vegetables.

Chuck’s selection was the Asian Beef Salad with sliced grilled marinated steak over baby arugula, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, and rice noodles and served with Thai peanut vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. First, the beef had been cooked perfectly and had a red but warm center.
The arugula was proof that fresh organically grown vegetables possess a level of flavor that you can never find in a grocery produce department. And like with my salad, the Thai vinaigrette enhanced rather than masked the taste of the arugula.

Now it was time for dessert. But let me back up a few minutes. While we were eating our salads, a woman with her small daughter came and sat at the next table and inquired about the day’s soup selections. Cold roasted tomato and basil and roasted corn chowder were the choices. Well, when Chuck heard roasted corn chowder he immediately rued the oversight of not inquiring. Why not have soup for dessert? And that is what he did.
The chowder contained roasted corn kernels in a light cream base that I suspect had been embellished with a bit of dried red chile for heat.

I went the more conventional route and ordered the “Rockstar” carrot cake. I usually suspect that this ubiquitous restaurant dessert often arrives at a restaurant frozen from a food purveyor. The little orange and green carrot decorations on the top that also serve as portion control measures are a dead giveaway. But not here. This was marvelous.
First, it was not overly sweet. Second, it was packed with walnuts. Third, it was light on what I call the “Thanksgiving spices” of nutmeg, cinnamon, and/or clove. And fourth, the cream cheese icing was sweet, rich, and smooth without being cloying. This is the best carrot cake I have ever eaten.

This was a wonderful meal, and with the arrival of the check in a galvanized pail, the Farm-to-Table trip was complete.

We hope that time will permit our returning to this 5.0 Addie bistro.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.