Friday, August 27, 2021

New Mexico Part 4: Los Poblanos Afternoon Tea

Click here for Part 3.

I had a full afternoon tea in San Francisco a decade ago, and I've enjoyed a tea room here in Arizona, as well. But when I was in New Mexico, I had what I imagine will remain hands down the best afternoon tea as well as one of the best culinary experiences of my life. Los Poblanos in Albuquerque is a family-owned historic inn with some of the original ranch and farmland still in use, though lavender is now their primary product. It was designed by architect John Gaw Meem, and has plenty to wander through and discover. More of that later. For today we'll focus on the tea.

The Afternoon Tea at La Quinta takes place, as you would imagine, outside of the La Quinta building. The tea was recently designed to showcase this place and give guests an opportunity to view the building; there is an optional tour of the space after tea to learn more about the history, art, and architecture. Los Poblanos has a commitment to organic and sustainable practices, so the tea, besides being a culinary delight, also focus on seasonal ingredients. 

I arrived to my table delighted to find all of our names printed on the menus at each place setting. The settings are elegant while also varied; while you won't find any chipped cups, you also probably won't find matching ones on the table. My only bit of a complaint I'll get out of the way first: it did take a while for us to get our tea and then even longer to get the food items. Especially given that we were on a bit of a timeline being one of the final seatings before the last tour, I would have preferred to spend that time sitting and enjoying my tea instead of waiting. 

The first course was an amuse bouche: Chilled Summer Squash and Turmeric Soup served in a delightful gold-rimmed cup. Do you ever drink turmeric tea? This was like a distant cousin of that. It came with the same rich, life-giving quality and was just as flavorful, though without the autumnal spices. But the squash as well as the cool temperature lended also freshness and lightness. 

Our tea arrived next. Our waitress offered both iced and hot tea and suggested sharing tea pots if we wanted the chance to try more than one flavor. All of the tea is from local Albuquerque company tea.o.graphy. I had seen Cat's Pajamas (herbal) in my hotel room already, so I chose to share Lavender Peach (black tea) and Clouds & Mist (green tea). All three are excellent. I have quite a shelf of loose teas, herbs, flowers, etc. at home, so I don't praise tea lightly. 

When the serving tiers arrived, everything for the table was together. So we didn't have multiple tiers taking up space. The top tier had the Classic Scone with Lemon Curd and Clotted Cream. Perhaps the bottom tier was the starting place, but I was excited for the scone and started there. You can really start anywhere, though, since nothing is hot (usually hot items are the ones to start with at a tea). The small triangles were like a shortbread-style take on a scone. They were decadent and buttery and, while dense, not dry. The lemon curd was excellent.

Though the middle tier was heavier than the bottom tier and therefore probably would have gone better to go after, I worked down the tiers and was also especially eager to get to the Lamb Slider on Rosemary Roll. The bread was fresh and the lamb thin and seasoned. Next to them were the Cauliflower Custard Canapes, which were like a light cheese over more fresh bread. 

I passed on the Shrimp with Tomato Aioli in Lettuce Cup, though I did take an extra Classic Cucumber Cream Cheese sandwich in its stead. This is the advantage of going with a couple more people: you can trade if, for instance, one of you doesn't like shrimp and another doesn't eat cream cheese. Though we didn't all eat everything, among the three of us we didn't leave anything. A cucumber sandwich may be a simple object, but it was nonetheless delicious and I was glad to have a second. Again, though, the lighter nature of this one would have been better in the beginning instead of at the end; I was just too eager to get to the scones. 

As we were finishing the tiers, our waitress brought one final plate with the desserts. So technically you might say this was a four tier tea (though the scones were alone on a plate, so there may have been room for the desserts there, as well). This was a nice way to enjoy the "main courses" on their own without the tempting desserts being there until you're ready to give them full attention. 

And attention they did get. Though they're both beautiful, I was hesitant over the Orange Cream Cake with Strawberry Mousse because I'm always hesitant about citrus desserts. The hesitation was unfounded. The orange is sweet as in something like Turkish delight. And the strawberry mousse is the gourmet, adult version of those strawberry shortcake ice cream bars (which I had been craving). Excellently sweet and fruity. The Chocolate Mousse Pate a Choux would have been wonderful on its own, but the Cream Cake was the star for me. Happily, I also got to have a second cake. 

As you can see, it is quite a bit of food what with all of the different bites and breads. You can definitely make a lunch out of it--in fact, I would probably recommend doing so just so that you are able to eat and enjoy everything. It would be a shame to be too full to partake in it all. Of course, you can certainly take things to go, but they're much nicer all together and while you're there. The atmosphere is part of it. Sipping tea and eating and looking out at the original pool and the open lawn. Added plus for some groups: while many afternoon teas are frilly and feminine (which I certainly enjoy), this one does pair normal-sized tables and an open, outside atmosphere with the floral teacups. So it's easier to bring men along, too, who might otherwise want to pass on frilly, feminine tea services. 

The La Quinta Afternoon Tea is pure, elegant decadence. 

Click here for Part 5.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

New Mexico Part 3: Canyon Road

Click here for Part 2.

When one is in New Mexico, some time around the plaza in Santa Fe is welcome. Maybe a limeade from the cart in the afternoon (or even some tamales if you please), or perhaps a gander at the Southwestern jewelry. 

This time I discovered a new (to me) store. Passementrie sells artisan clothing made with fabric with hand-blocked patterns. For the materials and quality and style, their prices are reasonable, too. I liked their Santa Fe Dress with Cap Sleeves (actually I think it's the Top, but it's dress length, too). Feminine shapes, colors, and patterns that stand apart from trends. You can dress them up or down and fit them into a variety of styles. (The dress I'm wearing in the picture is not from there, though I am standing outside the shop.)

And then of course nearby the plaza area is Canyon Road, home to the art galleries. You could spend hours there visiting each one during the day if you like, or simply stroll on the outside in the cool evening. The buildings and the landscape are classic Santa Fe. 

For classic Santa Fe fine dining, Canyon Road is also home to Geronimo Restaurant. The 1756 adobe has fresh white walls and tablecloths paired with muted lighting. Pictured is the Mocha Caramel Tart, which was perhaps a bit more like a mousse than a tart. But it was still pretty, a quiet way to finish off a Santa Fe day.

Click here for Part 4.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

New Mexico Part 2: Sazon

Click here for Part 1.

Food can be nourishment, and food can be pleasing, and food can be fun. On my visit to New Mexico last month, an evening at Sazon in Santa Fe was a course of curious adventures and a chance to peek around each corner in wonder and delight at what new flavors might come up next. Chef Fernando Olea takes traditional Mexican cuisine and molds it and gives it flourish so as to create a unique effect.

Our adventure began with tiny tortillas and coin-sized circles of four different moles. A good tortilla is already enough to get me excited, though of course in this case it's the mole that's the center of attention. The tasting makes for a conversation piece for the table as everyone shares their favorite of the four. My favorites were the green (as my preference is generally for green) and the orange one, which was made with fruit and white chocolate and reminded me of a sweet empanada. If you order an entree with mole, this is also your chance to be sure that you choose the mole you personally like best. 

My beverage was the Sazonrita, which came with a red chile salt rim. For appetizers, we had the Xochimilco, the Oaxaquenos, and the squash blossoms. The latter were a pleasant surprise as they weren't on the regular menu. These were not the first squash blossoms I've had, but they were definitely my favorite. Even with the batter, you could still taste the light squash flavor of the blossoms. 

I decided that Sazon would be the best place for the Oaxaquenos, which are baby grasshoppers with olive oil, garlic citrus, and chile de arbol on a corn tortilla with avocado. I've only had crickets in chocolate before (here's the link to that review), so this was going to be a bit different. But again, if you're going to try something that feels a little strange, it's nice to taste them in a place where you know things are prepared well. So yes, it's visibly a grasshopper taco, but the taste is nothing strange. In fact, though, I also didn't find an abundance of layered flavor here. So I preferred the squash blossoms. 

The Xochimilco is corn truffle also on tortillas. This was the most beautiful of the three on the plate with a colorful flower to accompany each serving. Because we ordered three appetizers, they were also a chance, like with the mole, to compare everyone's favorite. 

My entree was the Berenjena, which is a stuffed eggplant with zucchini, corn, tomato, and gruyere. Though it looks petite in the picture, in person it was sizable. Though an entree is generally the heavier element of a dinner, it worked out nicely for me that the vegetables made for a lighter dish given that it was just one in a series of things that I ate. 

Because by this point I had found faith in the cuisine, I decided to have the signature dessert, the Dolce Sinfonia. Avocado ice cream with jalapeño beet puree and piñon nuts, like the chapulines (grasshoppers), sounded adventurous compared with what I normally eat. But goodness was this dessert intriguing. The chef likes to play with hot and cold and with texture and development of flavor, and this dessert showcases that style. The texture of the ice cream is slightly different from typical ice cream; it's fluffier and more substantial somehow while also seeming not as cold. There is initially avocado flavor, and the touch of spice develops in so that each bite is a layer of flavor. Though this isn't a traditionally sweet dessert, the beet adds in a hint of sweetness, as does the decorative sugar piece. As I ate it, I pictured it to be just an intriguing dessert to try, and yet I have found myself craving it since then. It was the perfect finish to the evening. 

Sazon's reputation is well-deserved. You will receive not only excellent food but an entire adventure of flavor. The food is the destination and the journey. 

Click here for Part 3.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

New Mexico Part 1: Kakawa Chocolate House

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe has special meaning to me because, in a way, it launched my chocolate blogging path. That is, I was doing so-called practice reviews for some months before summer of 2008. But it was after that visit to Kakawa that I pitched myself to and began writing for them (for about five years). 

My most recent visit to Kakawa Chocolate House last month will this time launch me back into blogging. In fact, there was quite a bit from that trip to set the spark again after my recent blogging break. But we all need a break sometimes, right? And now that I'm coming back in, I have plenty of content, so those posts will be showing up in the coming weeks. 

Now back to Kakawa. Arriving in Santa Fe, I thought a chocolate stop would be the perfect afternoon pick-me-up and time-filler before hotel check-in. While Kakawa Chocolate House also has iced tea and ice cream, their specialty is drinking chocolate. There are contemporary blends but the historical ones are more fun. I favor the feminine, European ones, but the closest thing on the day's menu was a Mesoamerican option, the Rose Almond. It's made with almonds, roses, Chipotle Morita Chili, and Mexican vanilla and sweetened with coconut sugar. One of the advantages with the historical chocolates is that they're mainly made with water (versus milk), so you sidestep the whole milk/milk-alternative question.

The drinking chocolates come in these lovely Oaxacan cups, which you can also purchase. Even if the small size seems too small at first, I definitely recommend it: these drinking chocolates are rich. The rose and almond gave some sweetness to the hefty chocolate, and the chili flavor developed in as a life-giving spark. It's chocolate to savor and to energize both. And of course if you want to take some home (or order from home), you can buy dry bags of the mix and make some at home.

I also got two truffles to enjoy there and a caramel for later. The Goat Cheese & Sage Truffle was quite the flavor experience. The sage gives the earthy quality (and also the Santa Fe/Southwest touch), and the goat cheese gives the creaminess. It was only perhaps a little too cheesy for me, so I would have preferred to split it with someone. But the flavors were wonderful to experience. The Horchata Truffle, made with canela and rice milk, felt very classic to me but is also uniquely Mexican-inspired for anyone especially wanting region specific flavors. Caramel and milk chocolate flavors carried out in a gourmet way is a sure winner for me.

The Rose Caramel I didn't photograph since I took it with me. It was a generous square covered in chocolate with I believe a touch of rose sugar on the corner, if memory serves me correct. And I'm sorry I didn't take a picture because I absolutely loved it. I've mentioned how I very much like rose and it doesn't show up in chocolate as often as other flavors like lavender do these days. And usually when you do find rose, it's paired with something else (like raspberry or cardamom). This was just a pure, strong, rose-flavored caramel dipped in chocolate. If I could get this where I live, it would be one of my go-to treats. It exactly satisfied my desire for rose flavor. I don't believe I've had Kakawa's caramels in the past. From this one, I'll definitely be tempted to try a few more flavors next time I'm in Santa Fe. 

While there, I also purchased a couple of chocolate bars from other companies that I'll get to reviewing after I make my way through the New Mexico trip posts. So whatever it is you're after, Kakawa Chocolate House is a definite place to stop if you're in Santa Fe. Whether it's just a cup of drinking chocolate or some caramel or ice cream or a stash of chocolate bars, you'll be glad you stopped at the little brown adobe-style building on the corner. I always am. 

Click here for Part 2.