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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Santa Fe

July 10, 2006

Santa Fe

SANTA FE— Travel notes and food quotes from my dining diary the week of July 8th:

Have you ever wished for something for so long that there is no way the experience will live up to the “build up?” For 15 years, one of the restaurants on my “get-to list” has been the Coyote Café in Santa Fe, N.M. I am a big fan of Southwestern cuisine. It is one of my favorite regional/ethnic cuisines.

Chef Mark Miller is one of the foremost authorities on Southwestern cuisine. Actually, he has been credited for starting the Southwestern food movement in the early 1980s. I used to frequent his Washington, D.C. restaurant, Red Sage, and enjoyed many fine meals there.

Although Coyote Café was the restaurant that started it all, it has been surpassed by many. The meal I paid for at Coyote Café and the lunch at Miller’s neighboring Rooftop Cantina didn’t live up to the billing or acclaim.

I was in Santa Fe to meet with a movie-director friend who is helping me with a TV project. I learned a lot in two days. I learned that movie making is not magic. Watching the filming of a movie is akin to watching water evaporate. Even if it’s an action-comedy, it’s long and slow and boring. I watched two days of filming that will amount to 10 seconds on screen. In addition to that epiphany, I learned that John Travolta is tall and friendly, William H. Macy is even friendlier (and had a grandmother that lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that made fine gumbo), Ray Liotta is intense, Martin Lawrence is gracious, and Tim Allen is difficult.

Note: I hesitated to write the above column for fear that some might think I was dropping names. Actually, I believe that one earns the name-dropping moniker only when the names that one drops happen to be friends or acquaintances. The actors listed above have no idea who I am, and had forgotten me within seconds of meeting me, possibly while meeting me.

I did, however, meet a veteran actor and Jackson, Mississippi native, M.C. Gainey, who has friends in Hattiesburg and eats in my restaurants when he is in town (Now that, my friends, was a first-rate name drop).

Two restaurants that were pleasant surprises, and one meal that will certainly make my 2006 Top 10 List, were Café Pasqual and Geronimo. The former being an example of one of the best Southwestern breakfasts I have ever enjoyed and the latter being one of the finest lunches, of any style, I have enjoyed this year.

The breakfast consisted of an organic breakfast quesadilla made with top-notch chorizo, scrambled eggs, guacamole, cheese, salsa, in a grilled whole wheat tortilla, and an impressive order of French toast. Beautiful.

Geronimo, in my opinion, is tops in Santa Fe. The multi-course lunch began with sautéed morel mushrooms served with an English sweet-pea potato cake finished with first press New Zealand olive oil. A second course of macaroni and cheese, was the highlight of the meal, it consisted of Eliche semolina pasta, aged Asiago, Sage Derby, and Fontal cheeses, a julienne of smoked country ham, white truffle essence, English peas, and fresh herbs. A mesquite-grilled flat-iron steak with New Mexico roasted chilies, pommes frites, and veal sauce was the main course, and a banana tart ended the meal.

Possibly the most interesting entrée on the menu was one my dining companion ordered. The entrée was listed as “Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup.” However, just as with the macaroni and cheese, it was nothing like your standard lunch variety grilled cheese and soup combo. This entrée featured Artisan smoked cheddar cheese, prosciutto ham, and black truffles sandwiched between two slices of delicately toasted brioche and served with a frisee salad and a roasted Roma tomato soup with burgundy and grilled calabacitas (Southwestern squash and chilies). Amazing.

Geronimo was a stark, yet elegant, space located on Canyon Road among hundreds of art galleries and studios and is a not-to-be-missed dining experience when one is visiting Santa Fe.

The disappointment of the Coyote Café and the bursting of the bubble of movie-making magic were not trip killers as they were surpassed by two excellent meals, beautiful art, and 70-degree weather.

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