Common Fire in Taos
The flatbread crust is by far the best I’ve had in the state, with an ideal amount of hot-oven char and an initial chewy tug that gives way to a mildly sweet and tender interior.
On the brick-paved patio at Common Fire, a new restaurant on the road to Arroyo Seco and the Taos Ski Valley, you feel like you could sit forever and watch the gold of the changing aspens roll, hour by hour, down the mountain. There’s plenty to draw you here in the first place — nigh-perfect pizza-like flatbreads, robust classic American dishes, stunningly complex and satisfying Asian-influenced plates and bowls, a respectful but neighborly staff, and a carefully curated wine and beer list (when co-owner and sommelier Andrew Lynch mentions, off the cuff, the relative “breathlessness” of a Vin de Savoie, you know he knows what he’s talking about). There’s little to make you want to leave, either — only fall’s increasingly chilly temps, perhaps, and the pesky demands of the workaday world.
Recently, a long, brilliant Sunday brunch at Common Fire easily earned a spot in the top five dining experiences I’ve had in New Mexico in the last few years. You could try to chalk that up to ambience, but crisp fresh air, warm sunshine, majestic mountain vistas, and bright blue skies can only go so far toward satisfying a rather demanding girl’s appetite.
Alfresco dining at Common Fire is recommended but not required. The inviting open dining room has the urbane-rustic feel of bigger-city hipster-run joints — knotty-planked wood floors; stalwart ceiling vigas; wood-topped tables accompanied by blondwood benches, ladder-back chairs, and metal stools; and industrial-style pendant lighting. Dark-hued walls conjure the oddly comforting feel of a cave. In one corner is the command center: a brick-and-clay wood-burning oven for which the place is named and on which everything that can be is cooked.
Most notably, what comes off that fire is a changing array of flatbreads. On the day we visited they were topped with oyster mushrooms, exceptional mozzarella, and a sublimely balanced marinara; caramelized onions (not the red variety the menu described, but still delightfully savory-sweet) and a confit of whole garlic cloves; and thin portions of lamb and beef strewn with feta and tzatziki in what amounted to an open-faced gyro. The crust is by far the best I’ve had in the state, with an ideal amount of hot-oven char and an initial chewy tug that gives way to a mildly sweet and tender interior.
But there are also eye-opening bo ssäm, Korean “cabbage tacos” that are complex in texture and flavor: fork-tender and gamey slow-cooked pork butt, sticky-soft and sweet sushi rice napped with ssäm sauce, and crisp, funky-vegetal cabbage and kimchi from Pojoaque.
Common Fire’s version of the increasingly popular kale Caesar salad is respectable. Tender young red kale leaves — flatter and less abrasively frilly — are slathered in a rich dressing (we couldn’t detect any heat from the Sriracha mentioned on the menu) and tumbled onto the plate with ingratiatingly crunchy croutons from Common Fire’s house loaf. If you look closely, you’ll see that this plate, like most others here, has been given a sprinkling of pyramidal Maldon sea salt crystals, like a fanciful shower of pixie dust from Tinker Bell’s wand. Our salad needed a bit more of it, which the kitchen willingly obliged us, and we chomped down every bite.
In a combination that seems like delicious medicine, Rancho Gordo Christmas limas — looking like beans camouflaging themselves as tiny zebras — lurk beneath turbid chicken bone broth. Similarly cloudy and rich is the broth of the pork and noodle soup, a dish claimed as a handsdown favorite by at least one of Common Fire’s staff members. Denizens of that magical, meaty sea include Kyzer Farm roast pork belly, a poached egg (when you break the yolk, it turns the broth into a velvet emulsion), egg-white noodles, marinated Thai green chile, and a scallion-ginger sauce.
Aunt Bernie’s macaroni and cheese gets back to basics, seeming more true to its name than other restaurant-fancified versions of the American classic. The ingredient list is simple — penne, Wisconsin sharp and Tillamook extra-sharp cheddar, mustard, thyme — and the flavors were direct and elemental. Still, somehow, the robust, addictive whole tasted like far more than the sum of its parts.
The dessert list is short, but please don’t dismiss it. A beautiful rose-like galette looks like the perfect present of fall apples gift-wrapped in fine flaky pastry and given a golden burnished glow. In a small clear cup comes a nutty-sweet butterscotch budino topped with salted caramel and crème fraîche. The custard was a bit less fudgy than it should have been, but it was riveting nonetheless. A crisp almond toile offset the sheer pudding-like creaminess.
In an interview with The Taos News earlier this year, Lynch explained that “for most of our history, humans have cooked and baked together. If you go camping, everybody sits around the fire. So my idea was to build this hearth as a common fire … a place for all of us to come around.” When all the leaves have fallen and winter’s true chill has finally descended on Northern New Mexico, come in from the cold and let Common Fire warm you from within.