Red harvest

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Alex Heard

The first two ap­pe­tiz­ers I tried at The Love Ap­ple — a small, ro­man­tic res­tau­rant housed in a con­verted Catholic chapel on the road head­ing north out of Taos — were as good as any­thing I’ve eaten in a while, and they were sur­pris­ingly sim­ple. One was a plate of four corn­bread muffins — two made with yel­low corn­meal, two with blue — ac­com­pa­nied by tasty lit­tle blobs of honey but­ter and herb but­ter. The other was a que­sadilla that con­tained ap­ple, onion, asadero cheese, and blue cheese, served with a de­li­cious chipo­tle or­ange crème fraîche.

Both were first-rate, and though I think I could mimic ei­ther one at home and get an ac­cept­able re­sult, deep down I know mine wouldn’t be as good. The corn­bread was soft and toasty and moist in a way that’s hard to achieve con­sis­tently. The que­sadilla was a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of crunchy flour tor­tilla, cheese, and the cooked ap­ple and onion. Some­times, you just have to leave it to the pros.

The Love Ap­ple, named af­ter a French phrase for the tomato (la pomme d’amour), was launched in 2008 by Jen­nifer Hart and An­drea Meyer, who were early pro­po­nents of the now-ubiq­ui­tous farm-to-ta­ble con­cept. On their web­site, where Hart and Meyer talk about their ded­i­ca­tion to us­ing the best re­gion­ally sourced in­gre­di­ents, they some­times sound like they’re run­ning for of­fice. (“We do it be­cause it’s chal­leng­ing and fun to work within pa­ram­e­ters of in­tegrity.”) But here’s the thing: They mean it. The site goes into de­tail about where The Love Ap­ple gets its meats, cheeses, eggs, but­ter, flour, corn­meal, spices, and sweets, and you’re in­vited to come back­stage and peek into their pantries and fridges. I skipped that of­fer, though. I didn’t want to be away from the ta­ble when the next round of food came.

The res­tau­rant’s set­ting is beau­ti­ful — the old chapel was con­verted in a way that trans­formed the space for its new role while re­spect­ing its past. The din­ing room is long and nar­row; at the end where the al­tar pre­sum­ably used to be, a raised area houses an ar­ray of small ta­bles. Most of the seat­ing is be­low that and lines the walls — a com­bi­na­tion of padded benches, square wood-top ta­bles, and com­fort­able chairs. The in­te­rior fea­tures — white walls, a ceil­ing made of vi­gas and planks, plank floor­ing, re­cessed win­dows and niches — are co­zied up with warm light­ing, stored bot­tles of wine, and flow­ers. Out­side, there’s a large pa­tio, with a high wall that screens the res­tau­rant from the busy road on the other side.

The menu is meatier than you might ex­pect — the web­site lav­ishes praise on “Rick, An­to­nio, and John, our beef, lamb, and bi­son ranch­ers re­spec­tively” — but there are am­ple op­tions for vege­tar­i­ans. On a typ­i­cal visit, count­ing vari­a­tions and spe­cials, you’ll see roughly two dozen sal­ads, ap­pe­tiz­ers, and en­trees, about half of which will work fine if you can eat dairy and eggs. (Ve­g­ans will have a pretty hard time here.) The most pro­tein-rich of­fer­ings in­clude grilled an­te­lope loin, lamb meat­balls (I had these, and they were yummy), and a char­cu­terie plate — avail­able in two sizes — that con­tains tasso (a spicy Louisiana-style ham), sausage, cheese, and sour­dough bread (I had this, too — ditto). But you can go lighter than that. Over the course of three vis­its this sum­mer, I tried two Love Ap­ple sal­ads: one made of greens, fresh peach slices, pecans, and a cap of slightly browned goat cheese and one that com­bines raw beets, av­o­cado, and cu­cum­ber. Both were great.

Which isn’t to say ev­ery­thing at The Love Ap­ple is a win­ner. One ap­pe­tizer we tried — grilled lo­cal oys­ter mush­rooms — fea­tured sliced mush­rooms, ba­con strips, Parme­san cheese, and a fried egg, but it was an un­usual com­bi­na­tion that didn’t mesh well to­gether. Another dish, a baked tamale with “Oax­a­can-style mole,” used a mole sauce that — for me, any­way — was too heavy on dessert spices, and it was topped with a fried egg that had been over­cooked. For a res­tau­rant that cham­pi­ons re­gion­al­ism, the New Mexico of­fer­ings on the beer list are lim­ited and unin­spired: Mar­ble IPA, Santa Fe Pale Ale, and Monks’ Ale.

But don’t get me wrong. The Love Ap­ple is a spe­cial place. Fall is a good time to make the drive up from Santa Fe to check it out, and be sure to try a dessert. The last thing I or­dered dur­ing two re­cent trips was a peach crum­ble with wal­nuts and vanilla ice cream. Re­mem­ber those two ap­pe­tiz­ers I was go­ing on about ear­lier? It even trumped those.

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