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’” (vinaigretteonline.com).

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…” (vinaigretteonline.com).

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” (nmgastronome.com).

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.

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