Friday, July 30, 2010

Dining in the Wild Wild West

We recently returned from a lovely, relaxing vacation to New Mexico (Santa Fe & Taos) & Napa Valley. Going into the trip, we expected lots of Mexican cuisine in New Mexico, and lots of vino & modern American cuisine in Napa. What we weren't expecting was to have arguably the best meal of the trip at a non-Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe!

Since a lot of meals were consumed on this trip, we'll stick to listing the highlights:


Love Apple - A great first meal out & turned us on to some delicious "New Mexican" cuisine. What's the difference between Mexican & New Mexican? We're still not sure. Either way, the Tamale that we ordered had the perfect amount of heat & loads of flavor. It's a small spot that you could easily drive right past, but don't! Instead, eat outside under the lights and find out why Taos residents are "weird," as our waitress insisted. I would replace the word "weird" with "in their own artsy, laid back, simple world."

Hot Tamale!

Casa Benavides - This is not a restaurant. This is the Bed & Breakfast we stayed at, and they make homemade granola that is the best I've ever had. It's moist & chewy, with a crunch here & there from the nuts dispersed throughout. It has coconut shavings & dried fruit and it was so good that we bought a pound of it for the road.

Santa Fe

Max's - Arguably the best meal of the trip. The chef at Max's used to work under Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, and the guy has tons of talent! He was even so nice as to come out to our table at the end of the evening & chat it up with us. The owner was also there that evening & was speaking to us throughout the meal, and even provided us with some great reco's for the following day - Frito pie anyone? (Yes, that's what you think it is - the owner described her favorite Santa Fe treat as splitting open a bag of Fritos and dumping in cheese, chili and fix-ins! They sell Frito Pies in the square in downtown Santa Fe).

The staff's friendliness definitely contributed to the great experience we had, but the meal would have fallen flat if the food didn't deliver.

The heirloom tomato salad with goat cheese sorbet appetizer was a hit. Who knew that cheese could be in sorbet form? It melted and spread it's flavor all over the delicious, locally-grown tomatoes.

Everyone loved their entrees with Chicken Two Ways & Beef Sous Vide being the most memorable.

If you're ever in Santa Fe, you need to go to Max's!

Chatting it up with the owner

Ore House - You could put their Charred Salsa on just about anything and it would taste good.

La Boca - Tapas. We got 12 different plates & all of them were wiped clean by the end of the meal. Eric's favorite: bruschetta w/ mushrooms, fried egg, truffle oil and reggianito.

Extra dirty martinis for The Hoppers


Taylor's (Gott's Roadside) - So good we went here twice! In the fried department, the sweet potato fries & garlie fries were top notch. As for sandwiches, they are known for their Ahi Tuna Burger & it lives up to the rep - it's paired with a great wasabi mayo and asian slaw. The patty melt & chicken club were also being raved about. On top of great food, you are eating on picnic tables with the Cali sun at your back & lush green grass at your feet. After some morning wine tasting, a stop at Taylor's is just what your belly ordered.

Elm House Inn - The Bed & Breakfast we stayed at served warm chocolate chip cookies to their guests every evening at 6 PM. Amazing, right? Even better was that these were the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. I thought Levain Bakery was tops (Battle Cookie), but not anymore. These cookies are like Levain's, only they have pecans instead of walnuts, add in a dash of coconut & cinamon, and remove the $4 price tag. I know what you're thinking - the best granola AND the best cookies, both found in the same week? Are you sure you weren't just on a vacation high? No. It's true.

I guess baked goods are their thing because every morning they served a different muffin/loaf/cake with breakfast, and each one was better than the next.

On to the highlights from our dinners in Napa:

Market - Our first dinner in Napa and it totally kicked the city off right. Great flavors and a cool bar. Everyone loved the chicken roll appetizer and their respective dishes (filet mignon & lamb short rib to name a couple) - you can't go wrong here.

Mustard's Grill - An institution in the Cali wine country - this place is packed every night serving up delicious meat. Three out of four diners got the mongolian pork chop (listed on Food Network's "Best Thing I Ever Ate Series") and we do not normally eat pork chops but it was DELICIOUS. Another must is the onion rings - not traditional, but thin and piled up high on the plate.

Morimoto - One of our favorite NYC Iron Chef hotspots just opened in Napa, so we were anxious to try it. The decor is great - almost as cool as the one in NYC. I love getting the spicy king crab to start, because it's just SO GOOD and they give you a lot of crab meat. We got the tuna pizza as well, which is another popular dish there. As a main dish most of us got tuna that they cook for you in a really hot bowl in front of you at the table, along with delicious sushi rice and an egg mixed in. We all agreed that the dish delivered & left us very satisfied.

Bottega - One of our favorite meals on the trip was at Michael Chiarello's Napa hot spot. Our waiter was truly amazing and made the meal a fun experience, with the food doing its part as well. The polenta under glass is a must and the ribolita appetizer was delicious as well. Most of us got salmon, which was very tasty, as were the short ribs. I would make sure to come back here next time I'm in Napa.

Tra Vigne - Short Rib takes the cake for best entree of the night. It's a beautiful restaurant with lots of great options, but we were wine'd out. We did get lots of amusement from Carrie Underwood & her hubby dining two tables away.

Goodbye Napa, we'll miss you!

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