Go Fish

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Lau­rel Glad­den I For The New Mex­i­can

Any­one ob­serv­ing Lent is in luck in Santa Fe. Sev­eral es­tab­lish­ments of­fer spe­cial meat-free or fish-cen­tric dishes, some of which are avail­able daily, oth­ers only on Fri­days. I prac­ti­cally jump for joy at the prom­ise of the lim­ited-time Fri­day fish tacos at El Chile Tore­ado.

Maybe be­cause I grew up at­tend­ing a run- of-themill sub­ur­ban Protes­tant church, I’m fas­ci­nated by religious rit­ual and tra­di­tion — es­pe­cially as they ap­ply to food. My hus­band is half Jewish, so we keep matzo in our pantry dur­ing Passover, and my arse­nal is equipped with recipes and tech­niques for chal­lah, kugel, latkes, and rugelach. Around Christ­mas, we make sugar cook­ies, sure, but also panet­tone and stollen. For Mardi Gras, I’ll bake a king cake, and in the evening we’ll have some spicy New Or­leans-in­spired din­ner (and OK, maybe a hur­ri­cane or two) to kick off the Len­ten sea­son. As Easter ap­proaches, I spend my free time bak­ing tra­di­tional breads, from the Ital­ian colomba pasquale to Bri­tish hot cross buns.

My child­hood church of fered c o mmu­nion only around Easter, and I was never re­quired to ob­serve Lent. Th­ese days I usu­ally give some­thing up, though whether I do de­pends l argely on my frame of mind, not the de­mands of litur­gi­cal canon. Many de­vout Catholics, on the other hand, gen­er­ally ab­stain from eat­ing meat on Fri­days through­out the year and give up some­thing else for roughly six weeks ev­ery spring. Some only sur­ren­der their car­niv­o­rous­ness on Fri­days dur­ing Lent (and even then, fish is al­lowed).

Any­one ob­serv­ing Lent is in luck in Santa Fe. Sev­eral es­tab­lish­ments of­fer spe­cial meat-free or fish-cen­tric dishes, some of which are avail­able daily, oth­ers only on Fri­days. Those of us not bound by religious law are the un­in­tended ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

For ex­am­ple, I prac­ti­cally jump for joy at the prom­ise of the lim­ited- time Fri­day fish t acos at El Chile Tore­ado, the colorful truck on Cor­dova Road. Chock-full of spicy grid­dled fish and yel­low corn ker­nels, piled high with cab­bage and pico de gallo, and doused with their mys­te­ri­ous, mind-blow­ingly com­plex sig­na­ture green sauce, th­ese tacos will make you happy to give up meat for Lent.

Furr’s Cafe­te­ria (522 W. Cor­dova Road) fa­mously pro­motes seafood spe­cials (this year’s in­clude tilapia, white­fish, and two kinds of shrimp), and pop­u­lar spots like Café Cas­tro (2811 Cer­ril­los Road) and Sun­rise Fam­ily Restau­rant (1851 St. Michael’s Drive) also have Lent menus. If you live out­side of town or find your­self on the in­ter­state head­ing north on a Fri­day, stop by Pan­cho’s Gourmet to Go in Pe­cos (9 S. Main St.) for its beer-bat­tered pol­lock fish and chips.

If you’re pressed for time, Blake’s Lotaburger, with sev­eral lo­ca­tions around town, serves a Lent-sea­son fish sand­wich and fish-and-chips “boat.” The sand­wich — with its win­ter-pale tomato slices, pas­tel let­tuce leaf, slather­ing of tangy tar­tar sauce, and crusty brown planks of breaded fried fish — has a “so bad it’s good” qual­ity (tech­ni­cally it meets the Len­ten cri­te­ria, but can this re­ally be vir­tu­ous?). The filets and abun­dant fries in the boat are crispy and hot and best anointed lib­er­ally with salt.

At El Para­sol, most Len­ten Fri­days bring some kind of meat-free spe­cial, pro­moted on the counter near the reg­is­ters. The week we vis­ited, there was an en­chi­lada plate heady with rich, de­li­ciously bit­ter red chile and served with an ice­berg- and- t omato “salad”; re­fritos; a cup of soupy, salty rice; and a soft, pip­ing-hot f lour tor­tilla. The spe­cials may change from week to week, so call ahead to find out what’s on of­fer.

Santa Fe Bite breaks out of its iconic green- chile- cheese­burger mold to fry fish and chips on Fri­days. This spe­cial is avail­able through­out the year, not just dur­ing Lent, and is worth seek­ing out: pip­ing hot hunks of snow-white cod in a sturdy, crispy crust ar­rive atop a pile of lightly bat­tered, gen­er­ously sea­soned, and highly ad­dic­tive wedgy steak-fry-style chips. Both get an acidic punch if you dunk them in malt vine­gar, and a side of mildly sweet chopped slaw makes a nice palate cleanser.

Of course, you can in­quire about Lent spe­cials at any of your fa­vorite restau­rants. Sev­eral places I called, how­ever, abruptly an­swered, “No, I’m sorry,” and left it at that, while oth­ers were ea­ger to point out ap­pro­pri­ate dishes that are on the menu year-round. Shake Foun­da­tion (631 Cer­ril­los Road) di­rected me to its mushroom veg­gie burger. The staff at Plaza Café South­side (3466 Za­farano Drive) en­thu­si­as­ti­cally noted that its menu al­ways in­cludes wicked spicy fish and chips as well as fish tacos and veg­e­tar­ian op­tions like av­o­cado tacos. The kitchen will hap­pily sub­sti­tute cal­abac­i­tas for meat in many dishes.

For the record, a num­ber of other pop­u­lar restau­rants around town have Lent-pos­i­tive dishes on their menus ev­ery day — you just need to look closely for them. Fish tacos and a hand­ful of veg­e­tar­ian op­tions are avail­able all year at The Shed (113 E. Palace Ave.) and La Choza (905 Alarid St.). Maria’s (555 W. Cor­dova Road), un­der rel­a­tively new own­er­ship, adds daily spe­cials to its reg­u­lar menu, and th­ese of­ten fea­ture shrimp and seafood. In so many ways, Santa Fe is a spir­i­tu­ally minded com­mu­nity, so if you bother to ask, you’ll find there are lots of fish in that sea.

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