Ah, An After Dinner Drink

cognacbackweb(Story by Caitlin Richards)
romance: noun
a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.

Step aside, hipster cocktails; take the empty wine bottles away, it’s time to make space on the table for an after dinner drink (or digestif). Why? you ask?  Because there is nothing more enjoyable, more romantic, more of a remoteness from everyday life, than extending the intimacy. In these times of fast food, meals on the fly with electronics in hand (remember in the 1970s when Amy Carter made headlines for bringing a book to the dinner table?), and skipping mealtime altogether, sometimes, we need a reminder to slow down, to stop and smell the cognac. To allow ourselves to linger.

The digestif was created to be taken at the end of a hearty meal in order to aid digestion. To simply look at it that way, one might just take an Alka-Seltzer and call it a night, but where is the romance in that? Just as there’s a language to flowers, there’s a language to dining. Everything from where you dine to what you wear to dine sets a mood. So when you’ve had the perfect meal, the table set with linen, flowers and candles, Louis Armstrong in the background singing “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” and the evening is drawing to a close, (Too soon, too soon!) what do you do? This is the time to look into someone’s eyes and suggest an after dinner drink, and to have that suggestion means, “I am here with you now, and there is nowhere I’d rather be.” And to accept that offer is to say, “Nor am I ready for this night to end. Let us linger on.”

But as everything romantic is at once simple and impossibly hard, so, for the novice, is this choice. What do I choose? Bitters and herbals are traditionally known for their ability to aid in digestion (bitters is often called “the bartender’s Alka-Seltzer”). Our ancestors used to eat bark and bitter herbs as a regular part of their diet. Later, the herbs were made into a liquid and put in a bottle, and were known as restorative tonics; now, they are gaining popularity as something to sip rather than an ingredient in a drink which is mixed to mask their bitter taste. On the other hand, dessert wines are often thought of as too sweet, and people can shy away from pairing them with a sweet dessert thinking it might be too much. (Not so.) Then, of course, there is Cognac, steeped in romanticism, bringing to mind Downton Abbey with women draped in pearls, men in dinner suits, secret liaisons all around and evenings that lasted late into the night.Camus_XOweb

Time for a few suggestions from some experts. Mark Spradling and Karen Easton of Kokoman Fine Wines tell us they have a huge amount of digestifs to offer, many unusual and hard to find. A few of their favorites are Jan Becher Becherovka, a Czech herbal liqueur, with its own romantic story that includes princes and pirates; Sibona Amaro, Amaro is Italian for bitter—though there are similar products made throughout Europe, only those from Italy can be called Amaros; and a Mexican herbal liqueur, Fernet-Vallet created by Henri Vallet who emigrated to Mexico from France. They like Gaston Rivière Pineau des Charentes as a dessert wine, “not too sweet, it has some tart as well!” And they suggest Nocello, a walnut liqueur, which the better-known Frangelico aspires to be. For Cognac, Mark says Camus Borderies XO is “absolutely incredible, why drink any of the others after trying this.” (It’s $175.00 a bottle, that’s why.)  They also make a VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and VS (Very Special) at a lower price. (The other Cognacs and digestifs mentioned are in the $25 to $40 range.)

Jasper Jackson-Gleich and Aline Brandauer of Susan’s Fine Wines and Spirits also had some suggestions: Green Chartreuse, which is “syrupy and herby” (and made by monks, who seem to know their alcohol); Amaro Montenegro, which Jasper describes as a “beginner’s approach” to Amaro.  Fernet Branca from Italy; and Noble Dame Calvados (France). Calvados is an apple brandy that can trace its roots back to Charlemagne in the 8th century. Their Cognac pick is Delamain, which Aline describes as “light and refined’” ($117.99) Delemain is one of the oldest Cognac producers.

Back to our evening around the table (it doesn’t have to be a table for two): Louis Armstrong is singing “Cheek to Cheek” in the background, the candles are getting shorter, the dinner plates are gone, the wine is empty, it’s getting late but we don’t notice because the company is good, the conversation is flowing, the evening is not ready to be over, yet it doesn’t feel right to open another bottle of wine. Or let’s imagine ourselves dining al fresco in Tuscany on a warm summer night, or at a tapas bar in Madrid. Or in fancy dress at Downton Abbey. Our phones are put away because the only people we want to share our evening with are at the table with us, and everything else can wait for the moment. Or let’s go further back, to our ancestors who have just discovered fire, to the first man who handed a piece of bark and some herbs to his dining companion. Let’s embrace the feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life, because that is romance. Let’s linger. And back at the table for two, which one of us will look the other in the eye when the wine is gone and the plates are cleared, when what remains is the yearning to linger, and wonder, as did T.S. Eliot in his “Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

The Mighty Buzz

(Story by Mia Rose Poris / February 2018)

ALBUQUERQUE: That’s right. The Old Duke is among the hippest cities in the nation. So declares thisisinsider.com, which cites Albuquerque among other hip cities to which folks under 30 would like to move. The site calls the Que a “more under-the-radar hipster city,” ranking cities based on factors that make them appeal to young people, like “density of tattoo parlors, vegan stores, microbreweries and thrift stores, as well as any increases in rent,” according to the Dec. 1 story at thisisinsider.com. Albuquerque came in at No. 19 after Reno, Nev., and ahead of Seattle, Wash. “Downtown Albuquerque is full of breweries, cafes, and art galleries,” the article reads, “making it the perfect spot for young people to explore and enjoy the local culture.” Hey under-30s, what do you think? Are they right? What makes ABQ rad for you? Buzz us.

Many would say, for example, that Effex Nightclub on Central Avenue contributes to Albuquerque’s cool. And now we have another awesome addition from Effex Co-owner Carri Phillis at 6001 Osuna Road NE, Ste. A, just east of San Mateo Boulevard, where Carri’s Blue Agave Republic recently made its home. As of press time, B.A.R.’s Facebook page said they’d be opening soon—and a Jan. 18 post reads: “We had fun playing in the Sysco kitchen yesterday! How do you feel about a build your own Guacamole and Salsa Bar to go with your Tequila?!?” Well frankly, we feel pretty great about that. The tequila and tapas bar joins the likes of Breve Crepes and Coffee and Devons Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill at the Osuna spot in Northeast Albuquerque. We’re excited to check B.A.R. out. You can find them on Facebook.

While we’re on a roll here, we’ve got another reason why the largest city in the Land of Enchantment is out of this world. Aside from an elevation of 5,300-some-feet, the Duke City is, of late, home to its very own astropub. The restaurant, called The Kosmos, and owned by Jerry Miller, is located at 1715 5th St. NW in the Wells Park area. With a great local beer celestion—oops, selection—plus “high quality comfort food,” as a five-star Jan. 2 Facebook review puts it, the service is also stellar and the atmosphere extra-terrific/terrestrial. Earthlings, visit the Facebook page of “the home of the Kosmic Burger,” or visit the spaced-out (in its galactic sense, of course) dig in person.

And get this. While The Kosmos may be out of this world, upon this very planet, only 246 terrestrials claim the title: Master Sommelier. With that said, big congrats to Albuquerque-area resident Tim Gaiser for being among such wine elite. The process involved in passing the Master Sommelier exam may be “more arduous and difficult than studying for a medical or law degree,” a press release says. And Greg O’Byrne, executive director of the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, adds, “Tim has been an instrumental part of the success of the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. For the past 20 years, he’s traveled here from San Francisco to lead wine seminars and instruct industry personnel at annual Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory classes and Certified Sommelier exams. I speak for many of us in the New Mexico wine community in that we can’t be more excited for the wine-related educational opportunities with Tim now living here full-time.” Among other endeavors, Tim’s an internationally renowned wine expert as well as adjunct professor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. You can find his blog at timgaiser.com/blog.

Word has it a double whammy of delight is arriving on Montgomery Boulevard just in time for Valentine’s Day. We’re talking about Tap That, a taproom of local brews, owned by Huy Nguyen, which opened last month, and its neighboring Sweet Tooth—owned by Dao Pham, who also happens to be Huy’s sweetie and business partner—which will open up on or around Valentine’s Day. With love in the air and spring around the corner, Sweet Tooth, with its front and back patios, might just be the perfect spot for sunshine, ice cream and some Boba Tea. Therefore ladies, after your man treats you to something sweet next door this V-Day, might as well buy that bro to a beer at Tap That.

Photo by Kim Jew

Jim Long / Photo by Kim Jew

And if you’re looking for a local haunt away from home this Valentine’s Day night, consider Hotel Chaco. Last month, the Old Town hotel made the list of the Best New Hotels in USA Today’s “10 Best Readers’ Choice” travel award contest, ringing in at No. 10. The 118-room luxury hotel, part of the Heritage Hotel & Resorts group formed by Jim Long, “celebrates American Indian heritage through a collection of works by contemporary Native American New Mexican artists,” according to USA Today. “The hotel features a rooftop restaurant and lounge, outdoor swimming pool with hot tub and 24-hour fitness center.” Wm. Mulherin’s Sons in Philadelphia, PA, came in first, followed by Lodge Kohler in Green Bay, Wis. Hotel Chaco opened in 2017, and we’re super excited for the 2019 opening of Heritage’s Sawmill Market, an artisan market of restaurants, food vendors, galleries and beyond, in the old lumber warehouse just across from the hotel. Visit hotelchaco.com.

SANTA FE: Lest you worry about those post-Valentine’s Day blues (surely someone must have this worry…), a mere four days afterward, Restaurant Week returns to Santa Fe, before heading to Taos on the 25th. From Feb. 18 through 25, restaurants all around the capital city (we counted 40 of them) are participating in the most delicious week of the year. The event is an awesome way to check out restaurants you might not otherwise have tried—or simply love way too much—and save a little dough while you’re at it. Plus, you don’t need tickets to attend, though definitely consider making reservations, since after all, we all want to partake of this tour de taste. As nmrestaurantweek.com puts it, “Restaurants get to ‘put their best food forward’ in order to gain new fans and can experiment with menu items. Above all, it showcases New Mexico as one of the world’s premier dining destinations.” Most restaurants offer a three-course, prix-fixe dinner option that ranges from $15 to $45 per person (you can order off the regular menu for the regular price, too) depending on the restaurant, and a specially priced, two-course lunch offering, to boot. After the trek to Taos, Duke City’s restaurant week begins March 4. Visit nmrestaurantweek.com to see the lineup and learn more.

March 1 and 3 bring us three events made possible by the Châine des Rôtisseurs and the Santa Fe Community College Foundation that your taste buds won’t want to miss. On the 1st, a Guest Chefs Culinary Arts Dinner, with paired wines(!), supports the SFCC Culinary Arts Scholarship Fund/Châine des Rôtisseurs Endownment Scholarship and celebrates the  college’s culinary students who’ve been selected to compete in the Châine’s Far West Regional Young Chef Competition. With that said, the $100 price tag is totally worth the splurge—not to mention, there are only 100 such golden tickets to be had…therefore hurry! But if you can’t make the dinner, on the 3rd, free of charge, the Châine’s Far West Regional Young Chefs Competition is followed by the Châine Culinary Arts Ribbon Cutting. And the guest-chef lineup is impressive, comprising local faves Jen and Evan Doughty of the Palace Restaurant and Saloon; Mark Connell of State Capital Kitchen; and Cristian Pontiggia of El Nido, who join SFCC Co-Lead Chef Instructors Patrick Mares and Jerry Dakan. Made up of nearly 25,000 members, the Chaîne “is an International Association of Gastronomy,” reads its website, that brings “together enthusiasts who share the same values of quality, fine dining, the encouragement of the culinary arts and the pleasures of the table.” Visit sfcc.edu/foundation/events for tickets to the dinner.

Meow Wolf is making big moves. Few locals and tourists—it’s after all top among myriad reasons to visit Santa Fe, right?—are unfamiliar with the interactive art installation located in the old Silva Lanes bowling alley, which has garnered national attention and help from the likes of George R.R. Martin. And the ever-expanding art collaborative is branching out to the Mile High City, with an opening of a new concept set for 2020, as well as to Las Vegas, Nev., set to open late 2019. The Denver exhibition will be even larger (by far) than that in the City Different, with 60,000 square feet of exhibition space—we’re talking triple the size of the House of Eternal Return here—while the Vegas permanent exhibition (more details will be available later this year) is looking to be about 40,000 square feet. The Santa Fe install opened in March of 2016, and is going ever strong. Exciting stuff for our homegrown art scene! Look out for more project updates throughout 2018, and check out meowwolf.com.

Photo by Gaelen Casey

Leonardo Razatos / Photo by Gaelen Casey

Plaza Cafe Southside’s doing the impossible. And it’s bloody delicious. Or at least, alt-bloody delicious, but delicious nonetheless. The Café’s bringing in “a much-hyped meat alternative that looks, cooks, tastes, smells, and yes, even bleeds like the real thing,” the folks at the Cafe tell us. Their Impossible Burger is a 100-percent plant-based alternative to the real deal (with an even higher protein content) that, according to “chefs, farmers and scientists,” recreates “the experience that meat-lovers crave.” Plus, the creation of such Impossible patties calls forth fewer natural resources than does beef. Leonardo Razatos and Belinda Marshall, whose family’s been serving tourists and locals at their Plaza Café locations since 1947, plan to offer tasting samples before adding the Impossible Burger to their menu full-time. Visit plazacafesouth.com or find them on Facebook and Twitter to make sure you’re among the first to grab a bite!

What’s really, literally quite hot in Santa Fe? Louis Moskow’s homemade hot sauce. Seriously, since the Buzz is all about what’s hot, let me just tell you, you might want to to hit up 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar for some of that sauce…which you can purchase ($5) and bring home and enjoy on just about everything. And while you’re there, the dinners are darn good, often locally sourced, the wine list is amazing, and the half-off happy hour oysters (try one with that hot sauce) are so fresh. Last time I was there, I heard a diner put it like this: “If I’m not on my couch, I’m here at this table…” To which I’ll just add: If I’m not on my couch eating hot sauce, I’m here eating oysters.

Guess what, guys. Santa Fe Brewing Co. has gotten approval to open a new—that’s to say, its fourth!—taproom on Galisteo Street. According to Brewing Co. General Manager Alana Jones, it’s looking like they’ll open the doors of the new downtown dig in March. “It’s exciting to have a little spot downtown that fits our taste,” she tells us. The brick Galisteo Street building, which recently housed Santa Fe Cigar Co., has about 1,600 square feet of space, a central bar and a shaded outdoor patio—just perfect for upcoming spring and summer sips outside (plus, Alana says, they’re thinking of having food trucks stop by, too). Speaking of sips, on Jan. 20, the Brewing Co. launched their Black IPA 2.0, part of the Winter In & Out Series. It’ll be on the shelves for a couple months, Alana says, so grab it while you can. Checkout their Facebook page or visit santafebrewing.com.

Have you heard of the Double Up Food Bucks program? It’s a truly wonderful opportunity for folks with SNAP/EBT benefits to make use of a dollar-for-dollar match to get free New Mexico-grown produce at participating markets, groceries and farm stands. “It’s an awesome thing, to take out $50 in tokens and then be able to buy $100 worth of fruits and vegetables and beans, for example,” a local customer at the Santa Fe Farmers Market tells us. It works like this: if you spend $10 (or any other amount) from your SNAP EBT card at a participating outlet, Double-Up gives you another $10 to buy fresh fruits and veggies grown in New Mexico. Double-up’s available even in the winter, when something fresh out this local earth tastes as sweet and fresh as ever. Check out doubleupnm.org to learn more about the community wide program and find participating locations across the state.

TAOS: In January, Chokolá Bean to Bar, among 20 national finalists, was a winner of the Good Foods Awards for its Guatemala, Verapaz 70% & Maya Mountain, Belize 70%. The awards are “a three day-long celebration of the exceptional food and drink crafters who are pushing the envelope in both craftsmanship and sustainability,” according to the Good Foods website. Owned by wife-and-husband team Deborah Vincent and Javier Abad, Chokolá’s been around since 2012, and Javi and Deborah have since taken the shop to true chocolatey, Taos-style heights. “Every morning, the pure Alpine air is laced with the rich aroma of our freshly roasted cacao beans,” their website reads. “By ethically sourcing beans of the highest quality and by crafting small, select batches, we follow the bean to bar process to bring out each bean’s unique, nuanced flavors and aromas, yielding our premium single origin chocolate bars.” Visit chokolabeantobar.com or stop in for a treat and watch them in action in their open kitchen—they’re just off the Plaza. And check out goodfoodawards.org to learn more. Congrats!

And don’t tell anyone, but… Chef Chris and Valerie Maher of Cooking Studio Taos have a secret supper up their sleeves. This means participants know they’re in for a treat, but they won’t know the supper spot until the day of the event. Go solo and meet new friends or bring your sweetie along for a belated Valentine’s treat. Learn more and book your spot for the Feb. 16 dinner ($78 per person, plus tip the night of) at cookingstudiotaos.com. The rest is a secret, so we’ll leave it at that.

The Twelve Wines of Christmas

Emeritus-Hallberg-Ranch-Pinot-Noir__15894.1422574729The 12 days of Christmas are rarely celebrated as such, but 12 is indeed, it just so happens, the usual number of bottles in a case of wine. With enough people on our holiday lists, and plenty of parties and family get-togethers to attend, why not put together that unusual case of wine…to have on hand, just in case? And the timing is perfect, as new labels, releases and categories of wines continue to make their way into New Mexico shops and cellars. This holiday dozen selection includes wines you’re not likely to find on the grocery store shelf, but you should be able to get them from your favorite local, independent retailer, and if they don’t carry it, they can get it by special order. So here we go. Whether you’re thinking Christmas or Hanukkah; New Years or mere Monday; “what’s new?” or what’s classic; house-gift or holiday; we’ve got just the Twelve Wines of Christmas for you.

Pinot Noir is gaining steadily in popularity as a special event and dinner wine. It can show joyous fruit or sophisticated restraint. The grape must grow in a cool climate to maintain its acidity and bright, cherry-like fruit and Green Valley is the coolest sub-region of the famed Russian River. Brand new to New Mexico is Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir 2014. It’s estate bottled; the grapes are grown in a dry farmed vineyard on the famous Gold Ridge soil in Green Valley. Because the grapes are dry farmed, the berries mature earlier and the resulting alcohol content of the wine is lower. This wine has a crisp California appeal without being “over the top” and is a good choice for that friend looking for “what’s new?” Continue reading

Pro Party Tips – What the Caterers Know

LL-Blue Plate01If you’re anything like me, your holiday dance card is full of late-afternoon, early evening and dinner-time parties. Plus, the occasional brunch or all-day open house. And that doesn’t count the shindig you’re throwing yourself! ’Tis the season for grazing, drinking, gobbling and noshing.

How will it all get done, you ask? Professional caterers seem to keep their cool, even when practically every day arrives with a new menu to create, dishes to deliver, setup, serve and clean up. The pros must have secrets to pulling off a casual get-together or a swanky soiree with ease, grace and finesse. So I asked them how to avoid the overwhelm when putting on anything from an informal open-house to a fancy sit-down dinner yourself.

Mindie Huntington, Rebecca Montoya and Catherine Lind keep Blue Plate Catering humming along all year. Their calendar is booked with breakfast, lunch and dinner events ranging from elaborate dinners to low-key receptions.

“Appetizers, smaller foods and finger foods are definitely the trend this year,” Huntington says. “People can walk and mingle more.” Blue Plate’s finding variety is in demand, too: gluten-free and vegetarian options like stuffed mushrooms, tomato caprese on skewers with balsamic drizzle, and cranberry compote on flatbread with goat cheese. Bite-size is the watchword for desserts. They say they like to pass around little cookies, cheesecakes and mini brownies. Huntington says, “It’s a way for people to indulge but not feel like they’ve overindulged during the season.” Continue reading

The Cellar

Cellar18Angelica Robinson, responsible for every selection in the shop, is clearly unafraid. She claims it’s her sister’s fault. Before they ever opened, sibling Genevieve Oswald was sorting and sifting and finding winning wines and profoundly impacting the direction of the store. Angelica’s world of Old World wines uniformly shows high quality and many bold choices. Safety in the known does not seem to appeal to her palate. In the world of wine sales, wines that are delicious but obscure are a “hand sell.” Customers won’t find these gems by themselves. They need an informed sales person to sell it “by hand.” It’s a rewarding encounter for seller and buyer, but absolutely requires that the saleswoman know what she’s talking about. Angelica knows what she’s talking about. And her staff does, too. Now that’s service. 

Designed and built by all-local firms, the shop reflects the same care evident in the product selection. Angelica and her husband, Lee Backer, who describes his role as “support services,” both spoke of their wish to create a shop that was inviting, accessible and engaging. New Mexico liquor stores are notoriously depressing, and our supermarkets overrun with predictable, national-brand schlock. The Cellar’s purpose-built environment, with its high ceilings and high windows above handsomely arranged racks and stacks of well-chosen wine, is a relief. The long wall given over to the 10-door beer cooler offers a quiet shout-out to the beer geeks: you are welcome here, too. And in a final, defiant refusal, The Cellar declares its independence from New Mexico liquor store convention by refusing to stock minis. Instead, they have a well-curated liquor selection. No surprise.

Continue reading

Flights of Fancy

ChiliLineBrewing-Beer_DSC3846Northern New Mexico has an astounding number of craft breweries, and more are opening all the time—far too many to discuss here. While the sheer volume of breweries can be overwhelming for consumers, competition can brew creativity. To stand out from the crowd, breweries here will often specialize in and excel at a specific style of beer, or a particular method of brewing.

Two new breweries in particular are carving out a niche for themselves in the diverse New Mexico brewing landscape: Alexander Pertusini’s Chili Line Brewing Co. in Santa Fe and Shyla Sheppard’s Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. in Albuquerque.

As the son of restaurateur Lino Pertusini, Alexander grew up in the restaurant industry. By contrast, Shyla is blazing a new path as the country’s only female Native American brewery owner. Chili Line is one of the smallest breweries in New Mexico, both in terms of brewing system and its classically compact Santa Fe building, while Bow and Arrow is housed in a spacious Wells Park warehouse in Albuquerque. At first glance it would seem these two breweries could not be more different, and they do each have a distinctive personality. But scratch the surface, and the similarities are striking. Both owners draw inspiration from the past, and their beers are deeply influenced by personal heritage and historical perspective. Continue reading