VEAL WITH STRAWBERRIES AND BASIL-BLACKBERRY SAUCE
This is no time for a big red or a white with a high acidic punch. A slightly sweet Riesling, such as Ponderosa Valley Riesling, or La Chiripada Special Reserve Riesling (in the distinctive blue bottle) are good whites to try. The Milagro 2010 Zinfandel has fine tannins, lighter body, and red berry fruit to complement this dish.
SALAD WITH CABRALES BLUE CHEESE DRESSING
Cabrales is an exciting cheese for many wines. This Spanish cheese can be very strong and acidic, and a timid wine will find it hard to hold its own. Spanish wines can handle this, so consider a Casa Abril Sol de Abril Tempranillo from the Vigil Spanish family, which has been in New Mexico for centuries. The Casa Abril Sangiovese will also cause this dressing to sit up and take notice. A Milagro 2008 library selection Chardonnay or Milagro 2010 Chardonnay can pair well, too.
CHERRY “POP TARTS”
Although you might raise your eyebrows, Don Quixote Desire Cherry Wine with Almonds just sounds like it found the perfect match in this dessert, don’t you think? The almond flavor comes from making an extract from cherry pits. Now that’s recycling! For a bit more of an alcoholic bite, try the Mon Cherie Cherry Port, made with 100 percent dark cherries. For something more traditional, Don Quixote Angelica is based on a 400-year-old New Mexican recipe that was so good it was outlawed in Spain. Jim Hammond is the author of Wines of Enchantment: A Guide to Finding and Enjoying the Wines of New Mexico (available at mynm.us/nm-shop).
THERE’S NO DOUBT about it: Silver City has emerged as an essential dining destination for anyone who’s seriously interested in exploring New Mexico’s restaurant universe. Quirky, eclectic, surprising, and pioneering—the chefs and their restaurants fit right in to Silver City’s ethos.
Originally an Apache campsite, the high country around Silver City roared to life in the 1870s with the discovery of silver. The nascent tent city spawned by the silver rush typified the rough-and tumble Wild West of Billy the Kid days. Eventually, Captain James Bullard, whose property intersected the initial silver strike, helped bring order to the town by laying out real streets for the increasingly wealthy community. Later, copper mining and ranching helped Silver—as it’s often called—prosper further through the early 1900s. (To this day, copper mining is a robust business in Grant County.) Twentieth-century economic downturns in key industries meant the town stayed rough around the edges. Coupled with the remote southwestern locale, the economic slowdown helped its historic low-key character remain intact.
Through preservation and repurposing, the town (pop. 10,500) now boasts a plethora of shops and galleries full of art, crafts, antiques, and curios in and amid Victorian, art deco, and frontier-rustic buildings. Artists have flocked to the area for its inspiring setting, camaraderie, and affordable cost of living. Western New Mexico University is here, too, contributing to the town’s cultural mix. The nearby Gila attracts lovers of the outdoors. It makes for a casual mix. In one day, I spotted folks in camo, cowboy hats, hiking boots, Birkenstocks, and Spandex bike gear. I even saw a tweed-jacketed, blue-jeaned professor.
Almost a century and a half after Captain Bullard laid out the downtown, his namesake street, Bullard, has morphed into a culinary miracle half-mile, bracketed by College Avenue on the north end and Spring Street on the south. A trio of eclectic chef-owned eateries forms the cornerstones of this central food scene. Each of the chefs has a strong independent streak, a belief in locally and sustainably raised foods, and the desire to make a culinary mecca of this off-the-beaten path town. They’ve trained their small service staffs well, so that a full dining experience here is on a par—at least—with many a big-city meal. Expect decent options, too, for vegetarians, vegans, and those on gluten-free diets. You can check in to a hotel in the same vicinity, park your car, and not have to worry about enjoying wine or a few beers. Let’s dig in.
This 18-seat restaurant has one of the most imaginative interiors of any place in New Mexico, an artful mash-up of Asian and Mexican art, crafts, and music, with similarly eclectic food. The menu is ever changing, depending on the whims of chef-owner Jake Politte, a heavily inked veteran of the biz. Upon arrival, you’ll find just one server, and only Jake in the kitchen. You might guess that the barebones staff would make for chaos on a busy night, but the kitchen is calmly Zen.
At one time, Chef Jake owned a restaurant called Spaghetti Western in this same storefront location. The regular menu featured Italian classics, but on Saturday nights, Jake cut loose with whatever he wanted to whip up. When the daily grind of years in the business was wearing on him, the chef thought about the popularity of the Saturday meals, and how much he enjoyed the creative freedom they offered. “That inspired the limited schedule for meals at 1zero6. I’m open only for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday dinners. The reduced hours keep me energetic, and give me time to travel and source ingredients and new dishes. I’m headed to Oaxaca, Mexico, next,” he says.
In-the-know diners check the restaurant website on Thursday, when Jake posts the weekend’s menu. It’s wise to call immediately and reserve the appetizer and entrée that appeals most. Jake might be offering something like Isaan pork sticks: ground pork loin with northern Thai spices, onions, and chile, and served with a fiery dipping sauce. Perhaps there will be a salmon fillet with spicy pomegranate salsa, or chicken in red pipián sauce of pumpkin seeds, fresh herbs, wild mushrooms, and chile. To finish, maybe a curried apple cake.
Dinner only, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Call ahead. Reservations a must. Beer and wine. 106 N. Texas Street, south of Broadway; (575) 313-4418; 1zero6.com.
SHEVEK & COMPANY
This eatery combines two old storefronts near the midpoint of North Bullard Street. The entry/bar area once housed a Chinese laundry, a familiar sight in Old West boomtowns. The long windowed dining room was once a grocery. The 1920s-era building still has its original tin ceiling, floor planks, and some vestiges of leaded glass. Out back, a patio beckons on mild evenings.
Chef-owner Shevek Barnhart grew up in Brooklyn. As a child, he showed an aptitude for cooking, so his grandmother saw to it that other grandmothers in the diverse neighborhood showed him their specialties. He literally ate it up. As a young man, Barnhart backpacked and traveled throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East, learning more about food as well as a lot about life. He returned to New York long enough to get a degree from the Culinary Institute of America.
Shevek & Company specializes in “casual haute cuisine” in the form of tapas or small plates reflecting the chef’s exposure to the ancient world of flavors around the Eastern Mediterranean, in particular. He changes the menu six times a year.
I love the cauliflower salad, which is punched up with capers and bits of red bell pepper. The gnocchi, made with hearty buckwheat flour in the winter months, is replaced in summer with lighter couscous and a topping of Moroccan-style roasted vegetables. The last time I was there, in winter, I sampled meatballs made with Talus Wind Ranch lamb from Galisteo and cloaked in a silky Greek lemon sauce. This summer the meatballs will be replaced with a Lebanese kibbeh. In true Lebanese fashion, the spice-scented ground-lamb dish will be served as a tartare the first day, then cooked on the second day.
A pomegranate-cayenne sherbet, with the tiniest touch of dairy, was a brilliant finish. He should be able to do wonders with summer fruit. The wine list is my favorite kind, with plenty of mid-priced selections from Southern Europe and South America.
Dinner only. Closed Wednesday and Thursday. Beer and wine. Reservations recommended. 602 North Bullard; (575) 534-9168; silver-eats.com
THE CURIOUS KUMQUAT
The curiously named Kumquat started life as an alternative grocery store, near the university. The name reflected the notion that this was not your average Safeway. Tyler Connoley ran the grocery while spouse Rob Connoley engaged in his nonprofit management career, raising funds for and supervising several social service agencies. Rob loved cooking in his off hours, exploring sous vide and other serious techniques. When a chef who had been renting the space’s kitchen left, Rob jumped in to make lunch dishes to serve in the market. Demand led to increasing food service. Over a half-dozen years, the Kumquat has bloomed into a full-scale restaurant. Earlier this year, Rob received a James Beard Foundation award semifinalist nomination for Best Southwest Chef, all the more significant because he is self-taught.
The Kumquat sits at the north end of Bullard, where the street dead-ends into College, in its own low bungalow surrounded by stately trees. The simple dining spaces are spread throughout the small house and, on warm days, spill out into the shaded beer garden. I especially like the front room, with a bay window for the sun to stream through at lunchtime. For an evening glow, a cloud of Japanese-style paper lanterns and tiny white lights hangs from the ceiling.
If you can have only one thing on the lunch menu, make it the fabulous and omnipresent Oaxacan sandwich, a soft roll piled high with shredded chicken in a black mole sauce with avocado, apple slices, and some popped kernels of amaranth. Chef Rob forages the amaranth grain, as he does many of the ingredients, from the nearby Gila Wilderness. He even finds crawfish in the waters of the Gila. Among his many local farmer suppliers are 4-H students, whose prize livestock is always among the meat selections. Desserts are special here, too, with a deeply flavored chocolate caramel cake, or a butterscotch pie redolent of New Mexico’s own Don Quixote blue corn whiskey. The whimsical “Pop Tarts” are scrumptious, and make a good take-home treat, too.
As tasty as the lunch and à la carte dinner menus can be, Rob’s set-price tasting menu dinners are what really show off the full range of his cooking skills. He creates changing flights of fancy using quite a few tricks from the modernist cuisine—or molecular gastronomy—playbook. Chefs like Rob blend physics and chemistry to transform tastes and textures, often in the form of foams, gels, spheres, and more.
In 2013, Saveur magazine selected the Kumquat for its annual “Saveur 100” roundup. The menu might say simply “grilled lamb chop” or “chile-rubbed rabbit loin with raspberry sauce,” but it will come in an artful presentation, with surprise flourishes, and a parade of appetizers that help prime your palate for the main event. Even these five- to seven-course extravaganzas will only set you back around $45. Know, too, that the restaurant is casual enough that you can pop in late some afternoon for a New Mexico craft beer or choose from an extensive list of other drink options.
Lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Beer and wine. Reservations recommended. 111 East College; (575) 534-0337; curiouskumquat.com
AND DON’T MISS …
Diane’s spaces include a restaurant, a parlor, and a bakery. Diane Barrett’s son, Bodhi Werber, runs the kitchen. You can find one or the other spaces open most any time of day or evening. The restaurant and adjacent parlor share a Victorian-era ambience. The bakery is across the street. I particularly like to stop in for the restaurant’s weekend breakfast or brunch for the Hatch green chile–laced eggs Benedict, using chile-cheddar toast as its base. This magazine named the dish New Mexico’s “Best Road Food” in 2011.
The simple Masa y Mas, just down from Diane’s Bakery, makes organic blue corn tortillas, tamales, tacos, and more. Tre Rosat Café, the Albanian name for “three ducks,” serves imaginative salads, burgers, and pizzas, made from well-sourced ingredients.
Nancy’s Silver Café, a classic “Main Street” eatery, offers solid American comfort food, with a few New Mexican and Mexican touches, at breakfast, lunch, and early supper. I especially like the piquant, almost stew-like red chile sauce, loaded with chunks of potato (514 N. Bullard). At the nearby corner of Broadway and Hudson, look for Mi Mexico Viejo, a funky food trailer with a few tables scattered under nearby trees. It’s well regarded for its breakfast burritos, in particular, but serves real Mexican antojitos (tacos, tamales, and more) all day.
In between meals, sample one of the diverse coffeehouses offering drinks and nibbles. Try the Three Dogs Coffeehouse and Eatery, in a brick abode (503 N. Bullard), or the Javalina Coffee House, where the locals play checkers. It makes its home in a spacious old storefront in a corner of the Palace Hotel (201 N. Bullard).
On Saturday mornings, mid-May through October, the Silver City Farmers’ Market attracts locals and visitors to the midst of downtown (707 N. Bullard), alongside the Big Ditch Park. The memberowned Silver City Food Co-op (520 N. Bullard) offers plenty of products made or grown in New Mexico.
VEAL WITH STRAWBERRIES & BASIL-BLACKBERRY SAUCE
Shevek Barnhart created this dish out of the desire to make something he had never seen on a menu. “Fresh strawberries were abundant and luscious … and the basil I was growing was starting to bolt from the New Mexico heat. I needed to use it up fast. It quickly became a guest and staff favorite. The veal is warm against the chilled strawberries and the room temperature sauce and fresh basil, making an interesting contrast of temperatures as well as flavors and textures.” He emphasizes that Shevek & Company uses only humanely and sustainably raised milk-fed veal. The sauce will last up to a month refrigerated, and tastes best at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6
1 rounded tablespoon dried basil
1 cup boiling water
1 cup seedless blackberry preserves
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¹/8 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
Pinch of salt Pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
1½ pounds veal cutlets, pounded thin
Black pepper, freshly ground Salt, optional
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pint fresh strawberries, thinly sliced and chilled
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, shredded just before serving
Prepare sauce. Place dried basil in heatproof dish and pour boiling water over it. Let mixture steep for 20 minutes. Strain off excess water. Stir together basil and remaining sauce ingredients in small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until preserves are fully melted. Remove from heat and cool for about 20 minutes. Scrape into blender and blend on high. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water, if mixture is too thick to spoon out easily.
Slice veal into approximately 1-inch squares. Lightly sprinkle with black pepper. If you wish, sprinkle with a bit of salt.
Add oil to large non-stick skillet and heat over medium. Lay veal in pan and cook a couple of minutes until lightly colored with golden edges. Turn pieces over and cook about 1 minute more, until all have lost their raw look.
To serve, neatly divide veal slices among plates. Arrange strawberry slices around veal. Drizzle sauce sparingly over both berries and veal. Garnish with fresh basil and serve right away.
CABRALES BLUE CHEESE DRESSING
Shevek’s thick and rich blue cheese dressing is so popular that it is sold at the nearby Silver City Food Co-op. Simple to make, it features the pungent Spanish blue cheese Cabrales, but can be made with any other blue cheese. Serve it with sturdy greens, perhaps dolloped over romaine ribbons or whole inner leaves from a romaine head, or over thick wedges of icy cold iceberg lettuce. Try it with cold beef tenderloin slices, too.
Makes about 2 cups, enough for 4 to 6 servings
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1½ tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced or 1½ tablespoons dried dill
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¹/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
½ cup Cabrales blue cheese, or other blue cheese, crumbled
Whisk together in small bowl mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic, dill, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Fold in cheese. Chill covered, preferably for about 2 hours. Dressing is best used within a couple of days.
CHERRY “POP TARTS”
You may not have noticed, but “pop tarts” are currently a hot item in trendy bakeries and restaurants, mimicking the style of the ubiquitous Kellogg’s breakfast food. Some aficionados turn a pair of the pastries into ice cream sandwiches. You might even find them stuck on sticks to make “pop tart pops.” Leading rather than following the pack, Rob Connoley of the Curious Kumquat perfected a version of the pastry a few years ago. It has become one of his signature dishes, one simple enough for a home cook to master. He makes various fillings, but cherry sounds perfect for summer. However, because the tarts use dried cherries, you’re not limited to cherry season. If you want to pack the tarts high with filling, you can make double the amount of cherry mixture called for. Makes 6 to 8 large individual tarts
13 ounces unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)
¹/ 3 cup plus
1 tablespoon whole milk, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature (save white for filling)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface and dough
½ cup dried cherries
½ cup almond flour or meal
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg white
1 large egg
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk, or more as needed
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped dried cherries, optional
Make dough. Combine in food processor butter, milk, egg yolk, sugar, and salt. Pulse until roughly blended. Stop processor, add flour, then pulse again in short bursts, until dough just starts to come together. Transfer to floured surface and pat dough into 8- to 10-inch disk. Cover in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours or up to overnight. Let dough sit at room temperature about 20 minutes, until soft enough to roll out.
Make filling. Combine ingredients, except whole egg, in food processor. Blend in bursts until mixture is well combined and mushy. It takes a couple of minutes. Scrape mixture out into bowl, cover until needed. Refrigerate if not using within an hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Assemble tarts. Whisk whole egg in small bowl and reserve. Dust dough with flour, then roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. This may be easier to do by first dividing dough in half and rolling out 2 separate sections of it. Trim off ragged edges of dough, then cut into 12 or more equal rectangles. Chef Rob cuts his approximately 4 x 6 inches. Brush outer edge of a rectangle with a bit of whisked egg. Spoon on portion of filling. Top filling with another dough rectangle and press edges of both dough pieces together firmly. If you wish, crimp decoratively with fork tines, though real Pop Tarts don’t have crimps. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tarts. Chill on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Bake for about 15 minutes or until pastry dough just begins to turn light gold. Cool on baking racks.
Meanwhile, make frosting. Combine in bowl confectioners’ sugar with milk. Stir and add a bit more milk, if needed, for smooth, spreadable consistency. (If you overdo milk, simply add more sugar.) Use cake spatula or table knife to spread icing across each tart. Before frosting sets, scatter each with chopped dried cherries, if you wish. Eat right away or save for another day. To serve as a plated dessert, I recommend cutting tarts in half to show off filling, and arranging halves at angles, one partially on top of the other.
Cheryl Alters Jamison is New Mexico Magazine’s contributing culinary editor. Read her blog at nmmagazine.com/tastingnm.