Return to Rancho de Chimayó Restauranté….
Latest visit: August 19, 2012
First visit: September 7, 1975
In 2012, I returned to this magic place that I visited in 1975 while on an extended camping trip in the Santa Fe National Forests and Bandelier National Monument with the lovely who was soon to become my beautiful bride. I hadn’t an inkling then what New Mexican Cuisine was. I had my first sopaipilla then (“What’s this?” I asked.), and spent the intervening years searching fruitlessly for another as good as I remembered those to be. I rediscovered them (the originals) in 2011 upon my long-overdue return to Rancho De Chimayó. To me, there still is no better in New Mexico, and therefore, the universe. Flaky tender triangular pillows of perfection.
But I get ahead of myself. The restauranté’s Web site’s history page states
“The Chimayó valley is a verdant oasis extending from the foothills of the majestic Sangre de Cristo mountains to the expanse of the Rio Grande valley.The name Chimayó itself is from the Tewá Indian language meaning superior red flaking stone.
“In October 1965, the home of Hermenegildo and Trinidad Jaramillo became Restauranté Rancho de Chimayó. Arturo, Hermenegildo’s grandson, and his wife Florence had an idealistic vision in their plans for the house and land. Their restaurant would preserve the rich traditions of their family and its proud culture.
“The setting is comfortable and romantic. Fireplaces radiate warmth into cozy rooms and family photographs hang on the white washed adobe walls. The lovely terraced patio beckons you to exquisite outdoor dining.”
Well, exquisite is also the appropriate designation for the food. It is probably the best New Mexican food north of La Bajada Hill. My lunch companion, lovely and effervescent Thelma Hulka (the mother of my son’s lovely and effervescent bride, Debi) is a neophyte chile eater, and ordered the Combinación Pequeña, a plate with a shredded (not ground) beef taco, cheese enchilada, Spanish rice and beans served with chile, which she got on the side. She pronounced her meal to be fabulous. She loved the Guacamole appetizer, which was just right served with large, fresh, tasty chips.
I asked our fine server if I could go off-menu and get a Carne Adovada Stuffed Sopaipilla smothered with Red. Sure enough, it showed up sitting atop rice and some of the best pinto beans I’ve had. The pork cubes were tender, tasty, and fell apart under my fork. The red chile is made from locally grown Chimayó chiles, and is the very best I have encountered in Northern New Mexico. By far. Rich, complex, deep, and just a shade short of fiery, it compares favorably with the world standard served at Mary and Tito’s in Albuquerque, the acknowledged best in the universe. Superb plate of food.
We shared a plate of flan that was among the very best I have ever had anywhere. Thirty-five years ago, this superb dish was the first flan that Jane and I ever had, and it was today as spectacular as i remembered it to be.
Return with some family
Jane’s brother, Bill, and his wife, Stephanie and their amazing daughter, Susan Grace came to New Mexico from back east to attend the Santa fe Indian market and other attractions. Susan wanted ti see Indians, and she saw plenty. We decided to not eat lunch in Sanya Fe, which is crazy crowded at Market time, and decided to make the short drive to Rancho de Chimayó. Good choice. Not crowded, and we sat on the indoor patio. These are neophyte chile eaters, so I guided them carefully through the menu.
Guacamole and Tortilla Chips
Fresh guacamole is always a tourist favorite. Natives, too. Guacamole is an avocado-based sauce that originated with the Aztecs in Mexico. In addition to its use in modern Mexican cuisine it has also become part of American cuisine as a dip, condiment and salad ingredient. It is traditionally made by mashing ripe avocados in a molcajete with sea salt. Most New Mexican recipes call for tomato, onion, garlic, lime juice, chiles, yogurt and/or additional seasonings. The version here is lightly garlicky and very smooth with only a few chunks. It is delicious, and you should start every meal here with this magical mixture.
Kid’s Taco Plate
If you are a little girl from south of Pittsburgh and your tastes run to hamburgers and french fries, being confronted for the fist tine with a menu devoid of burgers and replete with New Mexican cuisine can be a daunting experience. Our server suggested a kid’s taco plate, and that’s what the kitchen put together. Shredded beef taco with some salad stuff and a dish of beans. Susan gobbled it up and declared it better than good. Could we have broken the hamburger spell? Nah.
A traditional combination plate with carne adovada, rolled cheese enchilada, beans and posole served with red chile. This combination plate is a good way for neophytes to sample several of New Mexico’s best and most popular dishes. The carne adovada may be the best north of La Bajada Hill. The red, made with legendary Chimayó chiles (the best in New Mexico, ergo, the world) is superb. Sop up all the sauce with a sopaipilla and leave your plate clean.
Carne Adovada Burrito
Carne Adovada wrapped in a flour tortilla topped with adovada sauce and melted cheese.
Served with refried beans.
The Carne Adovada — marinated pork cooked in a spicy red chile caribe sauce, is a Rancho de Chimayó Specialty, and should not be missed. It is among my favorites in all of new Mexico.
A large rainbow trout grilled golden brown topped with toasted almonds and served with baked potato, French fries or rosemary potatoes, calabacitas and a tossed green salad, with your choice of dressing. Trout prepared in any manner is always Jane’s first choice wherever it appears on a menu. She declared this to be among the best around, and gobbled it up voraciously. Beautiful dish with fantastic taste.
People call them little pillows, but the name really means “holding soup.” Sopaillas are one of many foods that New Mexico can call it’s own -The New Mexican Quick Bread. The history of the sopapilla is over 200 years old, originating in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area. It is often as much a staple of many New Mexican meals as the tortilla.
My introductions to sopaipillas was at this restaurant thirty-eight years ago. They are now a staple with every New Mexican meal I order. I think that the best sopaipillas in New Mexico are made by Marlene Mondragon at Marlene’s New Mexican Restaurant in Albuquerque (unfortunately closed now) and at Rancho de Chimayó, which now by default are the best in the state. They are, simply, perfect.
Natillas is a term used to refer different delicacies in the Spanish-speaking world. In Spain, this term refers to a custard dish made with milk and eggs. The version here s a soft custard, covered with crema dulce batida, with some powdered cinnamon on top. This is an excellent choice when you grow weary of the ubiquitous flan (even though the flan ere is world class).
Don’t be put off by all the tourists eating there. Rancho de Chimayó Restauranté does not serve “tourist food,” but serves some of the very best New Mexican Cuisine you are likely to find. Now that Jane and I have settled in Corrales, and the restauranté is just two hours up the road from Casa de la Vieja Escuela, we will return here often.
The visit with Thelma recalled some of my fondest memories from that camping trip thirty-eight years ago. Jane and I then bought, together, our first Santa Clara black-on-black pot, one of many that we now own. It was our first joint purchase. This “commitment pot” brought us through our marriage and back to this enchanted land. The Spirits brought us back.
Rancho de Chimayó Restauranté