Restau­rant Re­view Ran­cho de Chi­mayó Res­tau­rante in Chi­mayó

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Pa­tri­cia West-Barker

Let’s be clear be­fore we even pick up a fork: Ran­cho de Chi­mayó Res­tau­rante is leg­endary in North­ern New Mex­ico. Opened in 1965 by Ar­turo and Florence Jaramillo in a ha­cienda built by Ar­turo’s fam­ily in the 19th cen­tury, the restau­rant has en­dured many tri­als on its way to lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional ac­claim — from a scarcity of cus­tomers in its early days to trucks re­fus­ing to de­liver to the re­mote lo­ca­tion to a dev­as­tat­ing fire in 2008. Known for its warm hos­pi­tal­ity, ex­cel­lent ser­vice, and a menu that re­flects the foods Ar­turo grew up with, Ran­cho de Chi­mayó is now part of the New Mex­ico True cam­paign: “Serv­ing time­less fla­vor,” says the ad, with a strik­ing photo of a lovely young waitress dressed in the restau­rant’s sig­na­ture white blouse, black skirt, and red sash.

Set near the wind­ing High Road to Taos, the restau­rant was quiet on a re­cent Sat­ur­day morn­ing. The break­fast room, to­ward the back, with a view of the pa­tio, was sunny and serene, the cast-iron fur­nish­ings adding to the feel of din­ing in a con­ser­va­tory. The small break­fast menu fea­tures many of the usual morn­ing sus­pects, but we opted for house spe­cial­ties that would show off the tra­di­tional dishes the restau­rant is known for: chile, beans, posole, and the carne adovada that helped it score a 50th-birth­day present from the James Beard Foun­da­tion ear­lier this year: recog­ni­tion as one of Amer­ica’s Clas­sics, a restau­rant with “time­less ap­peal” and “qual­ity food that re­flects the char­ac­ter of its com­mu­nity.”

Our carne adovada came rolled into a flour tor­tilla with scram­bled eggs and hash browns. The pork was well cooked and per­me­ated with the fla­vor of red chile. That sauce con­tains beef (a veg­e­tar­ian ver­sion is avail­able upon re­quest) and is one of the best we’ve tasted: sweet, earthy, and deeply fla­vored, with not a hint of the bit­ter­ness that can haunt lesser, more in­dus­trial ver­sions.

The Chi­mayó omelet was made with three scram­bled eggs and filled with chorizo, mush­rooms, cheese, and hash browns, all in good bal­ance. The huevos rancheros were per­fectly re­spectable — two eggs over easy on a corn tor­tilla, topped with ched­dar cheese and red and green chiles and sided with pinto beans and more hash browns. The beans were per­fectly cooked — soft and creamy but fully in­tact — as were the eggs in all three dishes. The green chile sauce, made with less tra­di­tional ad­di­tions of toma­toes and ground beef, was as tasty as the red. The sopaip­il­las were the star of the morn­ing — very hot, very airy, and very fresh, with al­most no trace of the fat they were fried in. We de­clared them the best we’d ever had.

Din­ner on a Fri­day night had a to­tally dif­fer­ent feel. Most of the ta­bles were filled, the wait staff bus­tled, and mu­si­cians wan­dered through, stop­ping by ta­bles that en­cour­aged them. Founder Florence Jaramillo was on the premises as well, dis­play­ing her fa­bled hos­pi­tal­ity. The Hor­ni­tos mar­garita was ex­cel­lent — cold, strong with its name­sake 100 per­cent blue agave te­quila and Pa­trón Citrónge, and tangy with lemon juice. It’s a per­fect drink for those who like their cock­tails more tart than sweet. The san­gria was less suc­cess­ful. A blend of red wine, juice, and brandy, it was dull and for­get­table, the only fruit an odd gar­nish of chopped raw or­ange rind.

Then the na­chos grande ap­peared — thin and crisp house-made tor­tilla chips, per­fectly cooked beans, a chunky gua­camole, shred­ded let­tuce, pale chopped toma­toes, olives that seemed to be from a can, and an anony­mous cheese. The jalapeños on the side added some needed kick. Though we de­bated the qual­ity of some of the in­gre­di­ents, we left not a morsel on the plate.

The fa­ji­tas were the stan­dard fare, a siz­zling com­bi­na­tion of grilled chicken and beef strips, red and green bell pep­per, onions, and more beans. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing pico de gallo was a big hit, and when we com­pli­mented its fresh fla­vor, our server told us how to make it at home. The trout aman­dine was prop­erly cooked, but the side of cal­abac­i­tas that ac­com­pa­nied it was mushy and bland. When asked in which wa­ters the fish might have swum, our server blushed, tucked her head into her chest, and mum­bled, “It’s frozen.” But, sen­si­tively han­dled by the kitchen, it turned out ten­der and moist, show­ing none of the dry­ness or card­board-like tex­ture that can mar pre­vi­ously frozen fish.

The carne adovada, this time plated with Span­ish rice, fea­tured very large chunks of pork napped gen­er­ously with that won­der­ful red chile sauce. The toothy posole, stud­ded with cubes of braised pork, was fla­vor­ful, if oddly salty.

The din­ner sopaip­il­las were good but not as ex­tra­or­di­nary as those at break­fast — per­haps be­cause of a busier night­time kitchen. But a driz­zle of the Bosque Farms spe­cial wild­flower-al­falfa honey (sold in the restau­rant’s gift shop) dis­solved any com­plaints. A shared flan was also ex­em­plary: smooth, creamy, and just sweet enough to sig­nal an end to a clas­sic New Mex­i­can meal.

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