one from the heart

Pasatiempo - - AMUSE-BOUCHE - Molly Boyle The New Mex­i­can

Have you ever been seated at a large ta­ble of peo­ple while a cou­ple of them awk­wardly ar­gue over who should take the left­overs home? It in­duces a spe­cial kind of squirm­ing, hav­ing to watch each per­son strug­gle with the per­ceived so­cial stigma of car­ry­ing a doggy bag out to her car against the de­sire to stretch one meal into two — es­pe­cially if you’re the carb hoarder (though I pre­fer the term “carb con­nois­seur”) who has al­ready wrapped an es­pe­cially thick tor­tilla in a nap­kin and care­fully stashed it in the small pocket of her purse.

That’s why it’s a re­lief to be at Valentina’s in the Solana Cen­ter on a Wed­nes­day night, where no one has any such shame and ev­ery ta­ble ul­ti­mately wants a box. The group of ami­able gray-haired guys who or­dered sev­eral ex­trav­a­gantly stuffed bur­ri­tos will def­i­nitely be tak­ing their re­main­ders home, along with the fam­ily of four who are hav­ing their huge sopaip­il­las boxed up to go with a few honey pack­ets. By the end of my own tri-col­ored chips and salsa at the be­gin­ning of one din­ner, I wanted the bright red chile, spicy green ranchera, and ver­dant tomatillo sal­sas put in sep­a­rate con­tain­ers, bound for my re­frig­er­a­tor and the next morn­ing’s soft-scram­bled eggs.

The seem­ingly uni­ver­sal com­pul­sion for Valentina’s pa­trons to take their scraps home is a tes­ta­ment to the gen­eros­ity and care that owner Al­berto Aboytes has poured into his vo­lu­mi­nous menu. Aboytes, who hails from Queré­taro, Mex­ico, and opened the restau­rant in 2013, has put a de­pend­able spin on dishes at pop­u­lar es­tab­lish­ments around town like Lu­cia’s and El Co­mal. At Valentina’s, named for his daugh­ter, he ex­panded a list of the usual chile-soaked sus­pects (enchiladas, stuffed sopaip­il­las, bur­ri­tos, and com­bi­na­tions thereof) to in­clude more tra­di­tional Mex­i­can of­fer­ings like tor­tas, mole, menudo, and steak and seafood plates.

A meal here can be like join­ing a large party that has been go­ing on for a few hours, es­pe­cially on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day nights, when Santa Fe’s ven­er­a­ble all-fe­male mari­achi en­sem­ble, Mari­achi Bue­naven­tura, loudly delights din­ers for an hour start­ing at 6:30 p.m. The long mod­u­lar ta­ble in the cen­ter of the room is of­ten at ca­pac­ity with a fam­ily cel­e­bra­tion, adults hap­pily slurp­ing on salt-rimmed mar­gar­i­tas and micheladas roughly the size of their chil­dren’s heads. The restau­rant’s bright-orange walls, which boast a large mu­ral and sev­eral painted it­er­a­tions of Frida Kahlo, add to the fes­tive vibe.

One din­ner date be­gan with a bucket of six icy ponies — 7-ounce Mex­i­can beers. We divvied them up be­tween us with slices of lime, three Sols and three Coroni­tas each, and the fun con­tin­ued from there when we dove into a heap­ing plate of chicken enchiladas de mole rojo. The per­fectly shred­ded white meat was rolled into rich, rus­set-sauced tor­tillas sprin­kled with a fine dust­ing of cotija cheese. An­other en­tree, a hu­mon­gous carne adovada bur­rito soaked in both red and green chiles and cov­ered in a molten layer of Jack and ched­dar, car­ried a sub­tly

in­ten­si­fy­ing heat, and the red chile in par­tic­u­lar lent it­self well to the ten­der, flak­ing pork. Both plates were ac­com­pa­nied by good por­tions of fluffy Span­ish rice, let­tuce, tomato, and pin­tos or re­fritos, and ev­ery­thing was pretty lov­able, in­clud­ing Bue­naven­tura’s cover of Se­lena’s “Como la Flor.” A plat­ter of chiles rel­lenos was the lone dis­ap­point­ment, their soggy-spongy bat­ter sheath­ing a pair of out­size, but not quite ten­der enough, cheese-filled poblanos.

One staunch sup­porter of Valentina’s break­fast said she al­ways or­ders the pa­pas rancheras (break­fast pota­toes topped with two eggs, cheese, chile, and sour cream, served with beans, let­tuce, tomato, and sopaip­il­las or tor­tillas) and that she fre­quents the place on week­end morn­ings for its no-frills yet re­li­able food and ser­vice. In­deed, a Sun­day brunch here is a goal-ori­ented pur­suit, if your aim is to roll back out the door thor­oughly stuffed by a sat­is­fy­ing break­fast bur­rito the girth of a chubby tod­dler’s up­per arm. With fluffy scram­bled eggs and spicy sausage snug­gled up to creamy pota­toes in­side a thick tor­tilla blan­ket cov­ered with more of that re­ward­ing red chile and cheese, ours proved a re­ward­ing un­der­tak­ing that lasted us for most of the day ahead. We also en­joyed the less sub­stan­tial but equally tasty mi­gas, which lay­ered an abun­dance of crispy tor­tilla strips with scram­bled eggs, cheese, green pep­pers, toma­toes, let­tuce, and more semi-slick home fries. Valentina’s coffee also turns out to be much bet­ter than the term “no frills” might por­tend.

Most plates come with a choice of sopaip­il­las or tor­tillas. The sopas are some of the best in town — large not-too-oily clouds of fried dough that are per­fectly suited to scoop up more of that sneaky red chile. But I’d sug­gest or­ga­niz­ing with your din­ing com­pan­ions to get both op­tions on the ta­ble, so that when the im­pulse strikes, you can fold your own se­lec­tion into a box in an­tic­i­pa­tion of happy snack times to come.

A meal here can be like join­ing a large party that has been go­ing on for a few hours, es­pe­cially when the ven­er­a­ble all-fe­male en­sem­ble Mari­achi Bue­naven­tura loudly delights din­ers.

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