Heritage Hotels and Resorts, the hospitality company with an addiction to stretching the bounds of history and culture in its boutique properties, has opened a Chimayó-themed hotel in downtown Santa Fe, complete with a complementary restaurant and a lowrider bar.
Heritage is the company that reworked the historic Hotel St. Francis into something bearing a minimalist, monastic vibe and is the same company that owns The Lodge at Santa Fe. The business has now reinvented its Hotel Plaza Real as the Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe, thus saving tourists the pesky drive north. According to advertising materials, the hotel itself offers "a glimpse into the magical culture of Chimayó." One of the laudable actions Heritage took when giving the St. Francis its brutal makeover was to enlist chef Estevan Garcia to craft a locally sourced menu of classic New Mexico dishes. Now, Garcia has been tasked with bringing the restaurant at Hotel Chimayó under the same tent, but with more intimacy and attention to detail.
Garcia's menu at the St. Francis' Tabla de Los Santos is about as homey as you'd think would be allowed at an upscale joint, but for Tia's Cocina at Hotel Chimayó, he's done significant research to go beyond traditional northern New Mexico cuisine and dig into some granular-vernacular Chimayó recipes and practices.
Yes, you can grab enchiladas or tamales or a green chile cheeseburger, but you can also steer your mouth toward a breaded cornmeal trout with calabacitas ($21); a torta de huevo (chile-slathered egg fritters with chicos and baked macaroni) worth salivating over ($16); and lengua con chile rojo, a slow-cooked, thin-sliced beef tongue drowned in classic Chimayó chile ($19).
If there were a trustworthy version of El Santuario de Chimayó in the hotel, I might offer a quick prayer for richer, deeper, longer-lasting flavor in the beef tongue, but the miracle of its tenderness and the flavor of the chile cannot be denied.
The queso blanco salad ($10) is a rustic symphony of big, fresh tomato tempered with local cheese—almost as fresh as plucking from your own garden and milking your own cow. The downstairs bar promises to soon provide the late night wood-fired pizzas that were one of the Plaza Real's best-kept secrets, but they'll now be served atop tables made of glass and lowrider steering wheels at the Low 'n Slow Lowrider Bar. If the drunk, tattooed Germans I saw there are any indication, the lowrider theme is a hit with tourists, but it's hard to imagine it being the local's joint the Plaza Real was.
It may be the same with Tia's Cocina—local fare served up to visitors—but any locals who eschew the new restaurant (most likely because the touristy décor is just too over-the-top) will be missing out on a subtly inventive menu made up of great ingredients and significant consideration.
As a village, Chimayó has successfully sued those who infringed on its brand in the past, but in this case, much of the décor and arts and crafts (often for sale) are straight from village residents and artisans, so the threat of lawsuits is probably tempered. Whether or not this new venture will be a point of pride and a good marketing tool for the old village remains to be seen. Hopefully, it’s more than a cash-seeking simulacra.
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