Delightful Eclectic Food in a Gorgeous Location
October 15, 2011
The Laughing Lizard Inn & Cafe closed on February 25, 2012.
The Laughing Lizard Inn & Cafe is located only an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque or Santa Fe (and 45.9 miles from my house at the geographical center of Corrales) , in the stunningly beautiful Jemez mountain range. It is a perfect weekend get-away spot, as well as a favorite hangout of local residents. When you visit the Jemez Valley along NM Rte 4, a lovely scenic drive with golden cottonwoods along the river in October, you need to stop here and relax with a good meal served up by lovely people. Pretend you’re a local, and longneck a Moose Drool. Sit on the patio and stare at the mountain. It stares back. This is sacred territory.
Designated a National Scenic Highway in 1998, the road meanders through wide valleys, past the Jemez Pueblo and its startling red rock cliffs and through the charming village of Jemez Springs with its ancient cottonwoods, adobe buildings and sheer canyon walls. Just north of the village, Hwy 4 passes the Jemez. State Monument, Soda Dam and Battleship Rock (pictured at left). The road rises some 3,000 feet, moving through the pinon-oak-juniper belt to the Ponderosa-Douglas fir forests. Then, it reveals the openness of the 100 square mile Baca Land Grant; the Valle Grande, plume of the largest volcanic calderas in the world and on to Bandelier National Monument and Los Alamos. <
The inside is kitschy pseudo rustic with creaky unpolished wooden floors and a white pressed tin ceiling. There is a wood stove sitting in the missle of the tables waiting for colder weather to come so it can warm the cockles of your heart. And your feet.
The menu is an eclectic combination of Moroccan (yeah, really), New Mexican, stir frys, burgers, gourmet pizzas, ribeye steak, meal-sized salads, house made desserts. If you don’t see it on the menu, ask anyway. You mught just be surprised.
Jane, the finder of this place, had grilled pesto chicken – chicken breast on fresh mixed greens, topped with tomato, carrots, onion, sprouts & croutons with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Delicious, she said. She also had a cup of the green chile chicken soup, which tasted better than comparable versions that we have had in the big city. This is like home-cooked stuff.
I decided to try Moroccan chicken. There are as many ways to make this national treasure as there are cooks in Morocco. Common to all are stewed chicken, spices (any collection you want — cumin, ginger, cinnamon, or whatever savory spices are at hand), sometimes carrots, and just enough stewing liquid of your choice to create a rich, complex sauce. Slow-cook the whole thing. This is usually served on a bed of couscous. Rice, in a pinch, if you must.
The version at Laughing Lizard started with a half chicken stewed (slow is the key) with spices with raisins and julienned carrots (about 1 mm.) and mushroom caps had been added. Since neither rice nor couscous are yet allowed on my diet (4 pounds to go!), I had the kitchen add steamed broccoli. The chicken was falling-off-the-bone tender and had absorbed much of the flavor of the stewing liquid. The sweetness of the raisins is a delightful complement to the savoriness of the spices. This is a complex and rich tasting sauce.
I had a bottle of Moose Drool with this chicken. It’s chocolate brown in color with a creamy texture. A malty beer with just enough hop presence to keep it from being too sweet. The aroma mostly comes from the malt with a hint of spice added by the hops. Moose Drool is brewed with pale, caramel, chocolate, and whole black malts; and Kent Goldings, Liberty, and WILLAMETTE HOPS., 5.3% ABV. I told our lovely server that this is a perfect complement to the Moroccan chicken, and she grinned as if she already knew that.
I would make this drive often just to have this meal. It’s that good. Maybe in a few weeks when I can have couscous again…. Oh, well.
Laughing Lizard Inn & Cafe
Gourmet pizzas, ribeye stake, meal-sized salads, house made desserts.