HG/BSK chose El Paragua, in nearby Espanola, as the farewell dinner site for visiting daughter Lesley R.. HG dines at least once a week at El Parasol Restaurant, the wondrous casual restaurant in Pojoaque. Down home cooking. Delicious. It is run by Jose and Alicia Atencio, warm and gracious hosts. Jose Atencio also owns and runs El Paragua. Another El Parasol is adjacent to the restaurant and there are other El Parasols throughout New Mexico and franchised to the Atencio family members. El Paragua is a bit upscale (but very affordable). Excellent steaks and seafood in addition to the staples of New Mexico cuisine: Enchiladas, tacos, tamales chimichangas, menudo, etc.. There are also wonderful cocktails and an extensive and modestly priced wine list. El Paragua is housed in a cluster of old buildings that once housed the Atencio family and their plumbing business. It is very evocative of New Mexico’s rich past. Gentle lighting and friendly and efficient service add to the dining experience. HG/BSK drank a pleasant Dubeouf Beaujolais-Villages (2014) priced at $21. Lesley R. opted for Tecate Beer served with a slice of lime in an icy glass. Big, robust, yummy meal. Carne adovado burrito smothered in green chile and cheese, menudo for HG, guacamole. Big sirloin steak for HG/BSK (smothered in cheese and green chile plus roasted green onions and chimichurri). Sides of charro beans, warm tortillas and sopapillas. Flan and natillas for dessert. A WOW of an experience!
Pork rinds are crisp, crunchy chips of pork skin that have been fried in lard. Sound unhealthy? HG (like George H.W. Bush) loves them, but eats them in moderation. There is a growing trend of dieters hoping to lose weight on high protein, low carb diets and they are eating pork rinds in abundance. That’s because pork rinds have no carbohydrates (but lots of cholesterol, sodium and fat!). Doctors are beginning to issue warnings as pork rind sales have soared over the past few years. The porky tidbits are called “chicharrones” or “cuchifritos” in Spanish. They are an omnipresent accompaniment to many Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian and Mexican dishes. HG’s favorite meal, when activist BSK is not cooking but busy saving the blessed New Mexico environment: HG gets a package of Bueno pork green chile stew out of the freezer. Adds an eight ounce take out container of green chile menudo from nearby El Parasol Restaurant. When piping hot, HG tops a big bowl with chopped onion, slices of avocado and squeezes of lemon juice. Eats this with chicharrones made by local women and sold at Pojoaque Super Market. Drinks shots of 100% Agave Tequila chased with icy Samuel Adams Ale. Jolly solitary feast.
Guacamole is omnipresent in New Mexico. Every supermarket sells a version of the avocado dip. Best of the bunch is the fresh packaged guacamole at Whole Foods. This is good guacamole, not great guacamole. The same could be said about the guacamole served in HG’s favorite restaurants dispensing authentic Northern New Mexican cooking: El Parasol, Sopaipilla Factory and Tia Sophia’s. Great guacamole is served at Gabriel’s, a large restaurant with a spectacular terrace, located 15 miles north of Santa Fe on highway 285. The guacamole is prepared table-side. A cart is pulled up to the table and a server scoops guacamole into a Molcajete (a round, volcanic stone bowl with three short legs). The server adds garlic, chopped onion and tomato, jalapeño peppers, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Pounds the mix with a Tejolote (stone pestle) into a proper consistency. Splendid. Even greater guacamole is prepared Chez HG/BSK. A swift and simple preparation. The Pojoaquë Super Market, a few minutes drive from HG/BSK’s, prepares fresh tomato based salsa, tomatillo salsa and pico de gallo daily (as well as ceviche). All are made by local women and have a down home taste. For a spicy (not fiery) guacamole, HG mixes (to taste) spoonfuls of the two salsas and adds an exuberant amount of freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice. Salt and pepper. Using a wooden fork and spoon, HG chops the mix into a smooth but chunky texture. HG serves pico de gallo (heavy on jalapeños) on the side for those who like fire in their mouth.
It’s Monday and HG is enjoying lunch at El Parasol, HG”s favorite dining place for earthy, down home New Mexican food. (Located on Highway 285/84. Pojoaque, N.M., minutes from HG/BSK’s home and 15 minutes driving time north of Santa Fe). El Parasol is presided over by Jose and Alicia Atencio, gracious and welcoming hosts. Customers step up to the counter, order and pay for their food. (Big takeout business). If you are seated at an indoor or outdoor terrace table, a smiling staffer brings the food to your table. All the standards (tacos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas,etc.) are delicious (even addictive). However, HG’s favorite is the robust green chile menudo (tripe stew). Hot, hearty, spicy bowl of goodness. That was HG”s Saturday lunch (plus a shredded beef taco) when lovely Alicia stopped by HG’s table to welcome HG back after HG’s four month absence enjoying sea and sun on Prince Edward Island. The welcome was typical of Alicia (and Jose). They treat each customer like a valued guest. The customers are diverse–Latino families, Native Americans from the nearby pueblos, farmers, ranchers, artists, bikers, travelers, etc. Everyone is treated with smiles and efficient service. El Parasol is immaculate (including the restrooms). What the restaurant business needs is more Atencios, people who combine human warmth, culinary skills and professional management discipline. Upon leaving El Parasol this Saturday, Alicia presented HG with a bag of fresh produce from her garden as a welcome home gift. Hungry Gerald is also Lucky Gerald.
The breakfast burrito is a hearty culinary staple of western USA. Favored by physical laborers and desk bound executives (and everyone in between). A big BB devoured in the morning makes lunch superfluous. Effete east coasters may never have tasted one so let HG explain: A BB is a big rolled flour tortilla enclosing potatoes, eggs, onions, peppers, bacon (or ham, sausage or chorizo). The BB, looking like a small football, is smothered in green or red chile. Heat factor is mild to blazing. HG was introduced to the BB at Pete’s Kitchen on Colfax and Race in Denver. HG’s office was two blocks away from Pete’s so breakfast (or lunch) was, inevitably, the mild green chile smothered BB. HG loved it (as did SJ when SJ resided in the Mile High City). Since moving to the Santa Fe area, HG has learned that New Mexico is the true home of the BB. There are exemplary BB’s served in more than a score of restaurants and from some dozen roadside trucks. The best BB can be found at Tune-Up Cafe in Santa Fe (El Parasol in Pojoaque is a close second). Inventive BSK serves up BSK’s own version of the BB. Not monstrously large but very satisfying. Here’s how BSK does it: Warms a modest sized tortilla. Tops it with a browned layer of left over smashed potatoes and fried onions. Adds crisp bacon. Tops it with a sunny side fried egg. Then smothers the tasty work of art with plentiful warmed 505 Green Chile Sauce (Medium). Medium is mouth tingling. Hot is numbing. Where did the name “505” come from ? That’s Santa Fe’s telephone area code. If you want to attempt a New Mexico BB at home, order 505 from Amazon.
HG is referring to the interior of animals (aka offal). Brains, kidneys, livers, sweetbreads, tongue, hearts, intestines, tripe (stomach lining). These wonderful tastes seem to have disappeared from mainstream restaurant menus (as a corollary the interest in “head-to-tail” eating has been growing within the ranks of sophisticated and adventurous eaters). Is it the work of the health police on the alert for elevated cholesterol levels? Or have Americans become so spoiled that offal is seen as a remnant of poverty cuisine? The Europeans (especially the French) continue to devour these good things. When in Paris, HG eats lots of rognons (kidneys) in mustard sauce or grilled until the interiors are pink. A very good Left Bank bistro, La Ribouldinge, makes a specialty of offal. Pharamond serves classic tripes a la mode de Caen (Very good. However, HG prefers the Mexican tripe stew known as Menudo. As noted in many posts, HG is a fan of two versions of Menudo served at restaurants in HG’s New Mexican neighborhood: Green Chile Menudo at El Parasol and Red Chile Menudo at Sopaipilla Factory). HG’s daughter Victoria and husband chef Marc Meyer tried to introduce Menudo to New York diners at their sparkling Mexican restaurant, Rosie’s, in the East Village. Few takers, Removed from menu, alas. Sweetbreads (thymus glands) are on menus everywhere and are one of HG’s favorite treats. Best version ever was at the Oak Room of New York’s venerable Algonquin Hotel. Sauteed sweet breads with a slice of Virginian ham and an exuberant amount of Sauce Bearnaise. Pan broiled medium rare calf’s liver (enlivened with a dash of sherry vinegar) is served in scores of Paris bistros. Delicious. When HG lived in Colorado (first on a mountain horse ranch and then in Denver), HG often had splendid liver with onions and bacon at 240 Union Restaurant in nearby Lakewood. Very Parisian. 240 Union is a great, creative restaurant (A must if you ever travel to Denver or on your way to ski country). HG checked 240’s current menu. No liver. Must have met the same fate as Rosie’s Menudo. In bygone days, liver was a staple item on New York menus. Well done liver, onions and bacon (liver too well done for HG’s taste) on diner menus. Thick slabs of calf’s liver at steak houses. Chopped liver, of course, at Jewish eateries. Broiled chicken livers over saffron rice at Greek restaurants. The Schrafft’s chain, a bastion of WASP cookery, served an appetizing dish of gently sautéed chicken livers over softly scrambled eggs. Sammy’s Romanian, the flourishing homage to garlic and chicken fat Jewish cuisine, once served broiled chicken livers with unborn eggs. The livers are still on the menu but the eggs have disappeared. Only time HG ever had gizzards in New York was when SJ took HG to a little Japanese place on the West Side. Good, But, not as good as the duck gizzards in Paris. Rarely see brains in black butter in New York. Loved it at Le Veau D’or in New York (no longer on the menu but you can get a good version at Chez Napoleon in the theater district). HG ordered the dish at a nice restaurant in Paris 16e. Thoughtful owner was surprised an American ordered brains. Wanted to make sure HG knew what to expect. HG tapped HG’s skull. Owner laughed. Big, savory platter arrived. Tongue is still available at the less than a dozen (used to be a hundred) Jewish delicatessens in New York. Best tongue dish ever was served at long closed Al Cooper’s near New York’s garment center. Thick poached slice with creamed spinach and hot mustard. Sublime. Hearts have disappeared everywhere. Not for the delicate eater. In HG’s impecunious youth, HG ate big bowls of calf hearts stewed with onions, garlic and red wine. Hearty dish (to say the least). A staple at the funky far West Side French bistros that catered to the French seamen off the Ile de France and other liners. A.J. Liebling recounted in his book “Between Meals” that he would eat this dish when he was young and cash poor in Paris. Tete de Veau (calf’s head) is a feature of many French eateries.The dish is shunned by Americans. HG loves it. It consists of poached brains, tongue, mouth lining, etc.and other delectables from the calf’s head. Served with a Sauce Gribiche enlivened with chopped cornichons and capers. (Sauce Gribiche is a version of mayonnaise where mustard, cooked egg yolks and vinegar are emulsified until creamy). HG draws the line when it comes to intestines. Tried chitterlings in Harlem. Vile. The fecal stench of French Andouillette is off putting. (SJ once made the error of ordering them at Le Stella, a favorite Paris brasserie. Was unpleasantly shocked The funny food blogger Grubworm,calls the sausage:’the dish of death”). Innards do not appear on HG/BSK’s dinner table. Though a very adventurous cook and eater, BSK does not like innards. You can take the girl out of the midwest, but you can’t., etc. etc.
Thursday was Cinco de Mayo, a major fiesta in Hispanic New Mexico. HG celebrated at El Parasol, the delightful little restaurant on Highway 285 in Pojoaque (six minutes from HG/BSK’s home). HG’s favorite dish there is green chile menudo but, given its high cholesterol level, HG has to limit the intake of this lush treat. So, HG had a big bowl of the home made green chile stew with warm tortillas. Fiery and savory. HG ate on the sunny restaurant terrace with Toby, The Wonder Dog, at HG’s side. Little fellow was much admired by staff and diners. Toby accompanied HG to the bank where he was given a substantial dog biscuit as a Cinco de Mayo treat. The doggy is now a fan of the financial sector. The dinner theme tonight was Japanese/Chinese. BSK sliced a pork tenderloin into thin slices. Further thinned them by putting them between sheets of wax paper and pounding them with a rubber hammer. Now they were ready to become Tonkatsu. BSK dipped the thin little cutlets in beaten egg and panko crumbs. Fried until golden in hot canola oil. Meanwhile, HG made a “Chinese Grandmother’s treat.” Boiled some wide egg noodles. Sauced them with a hot/sweet sauce of green onions, butter, garlic, oyster sauce, Maggi seasoning, brown sugar and a discreet amount of sambal. BSK added crunch to the meal with a salad of sliced fennel and radishes. HG drank Guiness Stout. Perfect quaff with this collaborative effort between HG and BSK.
Lent is ending. Easter Sunday just a day away. The Holy week is very special in northern New Mexico where HG/BSK live. The Pentitntes (Members of the religious brotherhood, Los Hermanos Penitentes) have started to appear trudging along Highway 285/84. They walk for many miles to El Santuario de Chimayo, the church in the little town of Chimayo. The taxing walk serves to link them with “the passion and pain of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” They believe El Santuario has curative powers (Some eat a bit of the earth upon which El Santuario stands). Los Hermanos was founded in Spain and Italy some 800 years ago. It has been active in New Mexico for 400 years. Many New Mexican restaurants like Pojoauque’s El Parasol and Sopaipilla Factory offer Lenten specialties. HG’s favorite is El Parasol’s crisp fried cod on a bun lined with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise. Though an atheist, HG celebrates the Passover Seder meal (Aprill 22 this year). HG/BSK’s Seder is a rather irreverent affair featuring plenty of drinking, laughter and song. After all, Passover is like most Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us. They failed. So, let’s eat and drink a lot.” Traditionally, HG/BSK start the meal with jarred Manischewitz gefilte fish. HG is not fond of this product (It is a mere shadow of the savory, handcrafted gefilte fish–think of it as a Jewish Quenelle– made by HG’s late Mom.) HG is lobbying for Baba Ganoush, a wonderful Middle Eastern eggplant dish made from scratch by HG. (It’s nice scooped up by matzos). The Seder main dish will be brisket or lamb kefte (Garlicky cigar-shaped meatballs). Dessert: Passover cookies plus strong drink–Slivovitz, Vishniak, Grappa, Limoncello, Cognac. Hey, Pharoah. Gotcha!! If there was a Jewish order of Penitentes, HG would join. Might help atone for a sin of HG’s youth: When HG was ten, HG and his pals paid a visit to a large appetizing store in the Bronx. Besides traditional smoked fish, the store offered nuts, dried fruit, hard candies–all in big, open burlap bags. Maxwell House Coffee Company distributed free Hagadahs (the little book used for the story and songs of the Seder) to stores in Jewish neighborhoods (a PR gesture). Having the sunniest and most honest face, HG approached the owner (who worked behind the smoked fish counter) and asked for some free Maxwell House Hagadahs: “We all want to study them before the Seder.” The owner praised the pious lad and while he searched for the religious tomes, HG’s buddies filled their pockets with many goodies. HG believes HG’s diversionary chat with the store owner was the seed which later sprouted into HG’s successful career as a public relations counsel for New York’s mightiest landlords and real estate developers. All goniffs. Like HG’s childhood pals.
“Keep it simple, stupid.” That was the mantra that guided the communications strategy of one of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns. BSK follows the simplicity principle in BSK’s daily cooking. HG/BSK like to drink wine before and with dinner. (HG also likes a snifter of brandy, Limoncello or Sambuca after dinner). Following this regime at good restaurants results in a check of $200 plus for dinner a deux. This is too self indulgent so HG/BSK rarely dine out. The exception is lunch at modestly priced Sopapilla Factory and El Parasol (both in Pojoaque, 15 minute drive north of Santa Fe) and Saigon Cafe in Santa Fe. Invariably, dinner is at home. BSK cooks an array of simple dishes that satisfy and delight. Often, cunning BSK enhances these dishes with an unexpected and savory addition. Here’s a partial list of BSK dinner dishes. Pastas: Linguine with oil, garlic, anchovies, parsley, red pepper flakes. Penne with broccoli. Spaghetti with black olives, tomatoes, garlic and anchovies. Spaghetti with tomatoes and Italian canned tuna. Chicken: Marinated, spatchcocked chicken roasted in the oven. Chicken curry (from Vikram Vij’js recipe). Lamb: Pan broiled New Zealand lamb chops. Kefte (Middle Eastern cigar shaped burgers pan broiled or roasted in the oven). Beef: Pan broiled burgers served with fried onions or smothered in 505 Green Chile Sauce. Pan broiled New York strip steak (a rare indulgence). Soups: Sorrel soup (in summer). Green soup (a BSK invention of everything green in the refrigerator plus chicken stock, onions and herbs, all pureed into tasty all season soup). Fish and shellfish: Quickly sautéed sea scallops served over salad greens. Prince Edward Island Mussels steamed with clam broth, white wine, garlic, parsley, olive oil, onions, red pepper flakes. Pacific sole, dusted with fish fry, and quickly sautéed in Canola oil with a bit of butter. Pork: Mo Pu Tofu, a Chinese dish featuring ground pork and tofu. Thick Frenched pork chops dusted with Goya Adobo and pan broiled medium rare. Served with sautéed onions and peppers plus Goya Black Beans covered in chopped sweet onion and Mexican Crema. BSK’s repertoire contains many more simple good things. Main dishes are usually followed by green salad and cheese. Dessert: Trader Joe’s chocolate almond biscotti and Belgian-style butter almond cookies. Candles lighting the table. Flames dancing in the fireplace. Yo Yo Ma on the Bose. Dinner a deux at Chez HG/BSK is celestial.
Sunday. That’s the day when HG gathers the week’s accumulation of garbage, newspapers, bottles, magazines, junk mail and drives it off to the nearby Pojoaque Waste Disposal Facility a.k.a. The Dump. A few Sundays back, it was cold with a hint of snow in the air. (No, not the murderous East Coast freeze but cold enough to chill aged HG). So, after the weekly chore it was off to warm and friendly El Parasol in Pojoaque. Earthy, down home New Mexican cuisine. HG’s favorites have long been El Parasol’s menudo, posole and arroz con pollo. Some time ago, HG mentioned to the proprietor Jose Atencio, a very genial and efficient host, that it would not be amiss if he added some vegetarian dishes to the menu. This might prove particularly attractive to the vegetarian Sikhs who live close to El Parasol in large ashrams, reasoned HG. And, so it came to pass. Señor Atencio now provides vegetarian enchiladas plus a very lush chile relleno burrito. On this frigid Sunday, surrounded by joyous Hispanic families, HG dug into the health food dish supreme: A Calabacitas burrito smothered in fiery real deal New Mexico green chile sauce. The big flour tortilla was stuffed with zucchini, yellow squash, corn and a bit of onion. A lusty layer of cheddar cheese was added, Rolled up and heated, the burrito put on a heavy overcoat of El Parasol inimitable green chile. Farewell, cold. Hello, savory satisfaction.