I’m a food snob, I guess. I don’t understand why anyone would eat fast food. I’ve always been amazed that there is a Taco Bell in Espanola when there are such great New Mexican restaurants to choose from. (OK, I’ll admit to a guilty secret: when I’ve been cooking for a lot of people and I want someone to FEED me, I’ll ask Randy to go and get me a Wendy’s #6. I can eat it practically lying down before I collapse from standing on my feet in the kitchen all day.) I know a chef of a really fine restaurant who admits to eating nothing but fast food on his days off.
But not me. Food is an art and a joy. Living in Nashville, some of the people I “came up with” in the restaurant business have started and maintained some world class restaurants. THAT’S where we’d go eat on our days off, some place always on the cutting edge of really great food. It was exciting to see the food scene as it began there.
Fourteen years ago, I moved to northern New Mexico. Instead of a 5 minute walk in Hillsboro Village to a great restaurant, it was now at least a 20 minute drive. Espanola surprised me with a some exceptional restaurants. But they were all New Mexican. Otherwise, it was an hour’s drive to Santa Fe for something that WASN”T New Mexican. I had been spoiled by the wealth of cuisines within walking distance of my apartment in Nashville. Fourteen years ago in northern New Mexico the debate over whether or not to allow Wal-mart into Espanola had just ended. Coming from a big city, I was amused to see that the Wal-mart opening was the social event of “the season.”
“Are you going to the Wal-mart opening?” my new friends would ask. “There’s gonna be food.”
Oh, wow, hors d’oeuvres at Wal-Mart.
I didn’t go. I probably would now. To see friends, to get out….
Fast forward to seven years ago. The chain restaurant, Chili’s, opened in Espanola. I was thrilled – and then horrified at my excitement. Something new and different! If Wal-mart caused a buzz, THIS opening was really something. I went the first day they were opened. People that had waited on me in other stores and restaurants were now corporately trained by a national chain. I almost didn’t recognize them. They had a new confidence, a feeling of being a part of something larger. It was great!
Here’s the thing about a chain. Once you walk in you could be anywhere. Northern New Mexico has such a unique culture that it was disorienting to walk into Chili’s and – not be in northern New Mexico! Chili’s had become exotic and novel! It’s like a Star Trek (the Next Generation, of course) episode where the crew walks through a revolving door and finds themselves someplace totally different.
It’s become my place to go. I can get a salad with something besides iceberg lettuce. I can get tilapia and items that aren’t New Mexican. I can sit with a glass of wine and write in the slow of the afternoons. The place is still doing a bang-up business without a dent in the business of our wonderful New Mexican restaurants. Espanola has a wonderful sushi restaurant now too. And our own little Ojo Caliente has a really fine restaurant at the hotel. Green chili appears on all the menus to honor the time honored traditions here yet we’re stepping out into the larger food world.
Well, my food just arrived. My new favorite is, get this, their spicy shrimp tacos. I know, I know….but the tortillas are light, not oily and they serve the tacos with a fresh lime cilantro slaw that’s really good. I need to eat and get out of here before the Monday night football crowd….