Archive for February, 2004

Taos, New Mexico

Saturday, February 28th, 2004

The Mountains of Taos

The Mountains of Taos

Taos is a charming town in northern New Mexico that offers culture, history, outdoor adventure and great food. This region in the southwestern U.S. is beautiful because the Rocky Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the flat Taos valley. As seen below, the mountains almost glow at sunset. The town of Taos is small, about 4,500 people, only 1/10 the size of its better known cousin Sante Fe. But Taos is a terrific place to visit because it’s quaint, friendly, and well proportioned in size allowing you to truly experience all it has to offer.

In the 1890s Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschin were passing through Taos. Thankfully a faulty wagon wheel forced them to stop long enough to appreciate the unbelievable light, and how it reflected off the mountains. This natural beauty made them decide to stay; and subsequently set up the Taos Art Society. Artists have been flocking to the town ever since. Today there are many art galleries, museums, and numerous cultural exhibits. The style of art varies dramatically from early American, dating back to the days of Kit Carson, to the ultramodern paintings or metal sculptures of today. Taos is also know for its collections of silver and turquoise jewelry and Indian pottery.

The architecture of Taos is an art form in itself. The buildings, whether business or residential, are almost all adobe. The town square becomes a cultural gathering spot for many events, concerts, and unique festivals. Taos continues to be proud of its history, and two inns that are representative of this heritage are: Hotel La Fonda and the Historic Inn of Taos which has small pueblo fireplaces in most rooms.

Taos Town Square

Taos Town Square

But the beauty is not just found in the art galleries. Taos sits in a wide valley, filled with fields of sagebrush, and is framed on three sides by majestic mountain peaks. The Rio Grande River cuts through the center of the valley in a gorge that is hundreds of feet below the valley floor. Several hundred years ago the river carved a path through this rock, leaving behind this amazing feat of nature. Taos is blessed with over 300 days of sunshine, which brilliantly showcases the red rock in both the mountains and the gorge. Although the valley looks almost barren with miles of the ubiquitous sagebrush, it provides an excellent canvas for the dramatic changes as you near the mountains. Along the riverbeds which are fed by melting snow from the mountains, there are rows of cottonwoods and aspens that provide unbelievable foliage spring through fall.

Bavarian Restaurant

Bavarian Restaurant

These mountains soar to over 13,000 feet and provide a huge playground for outdoor adventure. Taos Ski Valley Resort is about 30 minutes from downtown and offers excellent skiing. It has 110 runs with 51% of them expert. It may not be as large as Vail or St. Moritz, but it has tall peaks, challenging well-maintained runs, and the shortest lift lines you have ever seen. A true highlight is the Bavarian Restaurant located about half way up the mountain. Imagine sitting outside at a large picnic table looking up at the slopes, while the sun beats down on your face. You are served a delicious bowl of goulash, and a pint of good German beer….heaven. After lunch, there are lounge chairs out front to rest and soak up the sun. There are two inns located right on the mountain: Hotel St. Bernard and The Inn at Snake Dance. Each provides the perfect combination of convenience and luxury

As we think of the Southwest, hot spicy chilies come to mind. Orlando’s is an excellent restaurant that serves authentic New Mexican cuisine. Enchiladas, burritos, and tamales are served with red chili sauce, green chili sauce or Christmas (a combination of red & green). But the food in Taos is not all beans and chilies. The Inn at Casa de Las Chimeneas had a five course wine tasting dinner which illustrates it’s sophistication and culinary capabilities. Joseph’s Table was my favorite restaurant, perfecting such dishes as seared foie gras and venison with a port wine sauce. Doc Martins and Lamberts are two other restaurants that stand out as well.

Taos is not for those that want total r&r. It’s a place for those that want to see the mountains, experience the culture, enjoy the art, and eat great food.

Three tiny gems… museums

Friday, February 27th, 2004

The Louvre, the Uffizi, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art are certainly some of the finest museums in the world. However I prefer the tiny gems. The small museums that focus on only one, or perhaps a handful of artists; yet their collections will amaze you. I have three favorites: the Villa Borghese, the Frick, and the Rodin.

The Villa Borghese, which is located in the Borghese Gardens in Rome, is absolutely breathtaking. The Villa was designed in 1605 for Cardinal Scipione Borghese and exhibits sculptures on the ground floor and artwork on the second floor. The collection of Bernini sculptures, including Apollo and Daphne, is the most impressive I have ever seen.

The Frick Collection on Fifth Ave in New York City is housed in a mansion built for Henry Clay Frick in 1914. Paintings and sculpture are placed throughout the mansion in much the same way as Henry Frick did when he lived here. It is this relaxed atmosphere that makes the Frick so unique. The Living Room, Dining Room, East & West Gallery are adorned with such masters as Rembrandt, Degas, El Greco, Turner and Vermeer.

The Rodin museum in Paris is another treat. A beautiful chateau built around 1730, surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens, provides a great venue to appreciate the works of Rodin. He actually lived there for 6 years prior to his death in 1917. He donated all his work, including his private collection with pieces by Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh. Rodin’s sculptures are fabulous, and the collection includes The Thinker and The Kiss. During the warmer months, a walk through the garden of boxwoods and roses intermixed with sculpture is particularly enjoyable.

Sometimes it is much more moving to visit a tiny museum and appreciate just a few pieces of exquisite art, than diluting the experience by being overwhelmed by too many choices.

Worth seeking out…

Thursday, February 26th, 2004
  • Chicken can get tiresome if always cooked the same way. Try cooking your next chicken on a clay cocorico, which looks like a sombrero. The chicken cavity is placed over the point of the sombrero, which allows the juices to drain and marinate any vegetables you cook along with it. Available at www.napastyle.com.
  • Bacon can be a fabulous treat, but you need to explore beyond your supermarket shelf. Visit www.gratefulpalate.com to see the dozens of varieties available. Two I enjoyed recently were: Nodineєs apple flavored smoked bacon which was great with eggs, and North Country cob smoked bacon, a thick cut bacon with a strong smoky taste, perfect for a BLT.
  • Perhaps you can’t visit Mark Miller’s excellent Coyote Café in Sante Fe N.M.; but you can eat his outstanding salsas, Coyote Cocina. Two of my favorite salsas are the Fire Roasted Salsa and the New Mexico Green Chili Salsa. Available at many grocery stores and dozens of food web sites.

Wine of the Month: Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso($18)

Thursday, February 26th, 2004

Arnaldo Caprai is one of the better known producers of Umbria, based in the town of Montefalco. Umbria, like Tuscany, produces Sangiovese; but it also grows a magnificent blockbuster grape called Sagrantino. Caprai produces a cellar worthy Sagrantino, but it costs around $50. The good news is that Caprai also produces a delicious Rosso which is perfect for drinking today. This Rosso is a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Merlot. It is a medium bodied wine with a deep red color. The wine is a well balanced blend of dark berried fruits, made in an earthy old world style. The Sangiovese makes the wine fresh and alive while the Sagrantino provides backbone and complexity.

A Food Memory – Head Off the Beaten Path

Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

When living in New York City, you can get spoiled by so many excellent restaurants choices. But sometimes I find that the restaurant reviewers raise my expectations sky high. And for highly anticipated openings, the “in crowd” makes the experience more about the scene than the food. And how ridiculous is it that we need to make reservations weeks or sometimes months in advance?

I love to go to a restaurant and be wowed by good food. The experience is even that much better when it comes as a complete surprise. I am not talking about seeking out the next 4 star chef. I’m just recommending that we experience something unique by looking in out of the way places.

I remember having lunch in a tiny hill town Pico, located in northeastern Tuscany. It was a small restaurant at the top of a hill, with little round tables set up outside, protected from the sun by a canopy of trees. They offered no menu; and we had no expectations. The first course was antipasti with perfectly ripe melon, slices of procuitto, and a couple local cheeses. Next was the pasta, 4 types all made that morning which you could have with you favorite sauce: tomato with basil, a meaty ragu or fungi (mushrooms). The freshness made the pastas outstanding. Next was the secondi, plates of chicken, rabbit or beef. I chose bistecca, a traditional grilled steak. With wine, lunch for 2 was $28.

The good news is that you do not need to go to the remote ends of the planet…just head off the beaten path and try something new. Restaurants in the most upscale sections of town will generally be good, but also expensive, crowded, and over-hyped. Head to the less fashionable neighborhoods where new chefs are trying to establish names for themselves. Check out the menu, the ambiance, and the crowd; if it looks interesting, try it. Pico is a true memory, and I will continue to look for places that exceed my expectations …and I will share them with you.