Sunday, January 27, 2019


Today we re-visit the service guy and inveterate restaurant critic, namely me. This weekend has been one of wanton indulgence, indulgence that included two fine dining meals, a hot tub and a custom massage. It’s not the way we conduct our lives most weekends but, courtesy of a gift certificate we bought at a benefit auction for the Taos Historic Museums we found ourselves at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in La Cienega just south of Santa Fe for the weekend. Think of it as $650 of goodness (room and breakfast for two days) for the winning bid of auction price of $400. Not cheap to be sure but quite fair considering the amenities.

Because Peggy had to have her windshield replaced, we suffered through two-hour wait and an unremarkable New Mexican fast food meal at El Parasol a couple of blocks from Safelite. Peggy was unimpressed whereas I was relieved that didn’t have to eat my shoe.

With amazing foresight, we had made reservations at our current favorite restaurant Martin at the corner of Galisteo and Paseo de Peralta. In 2017, the last time I reported on the place, Martin and it’s owner Martin Rios had been nominated as Best Chef Southwest by the James Beard Foundation, the only restaurant in New Mexico to receive the honor. In 2018 Restaurante Martin took home First Place. Saludos to Chef Martin and his wife and partner Jennifer.

On this occasion Jennifer was a warm presence throughout the evening as she delivered food and touched tables. Touching tables is the waning practice of the owner or manager visiting every table to show appreciation for your patronage. It matters. A lot.

Julian from Chihuahua was our engaging and skillful server. And to that subject I must proselytize on the importance of casting servers and bartenders. I call it casting because the great ones walk in with the tools and attitude they need. You can help them with rote knowledge like using the cash register and knowing the menu but the great ones are born with IT.

I observed that Julien was serving the entire dining room which as active but not full. It’s not a staffing call I would make but with Jennifer delivering the food as needed, he never broke a sweat. I also calculated that he was going to walk with $300 or more for his efforts. Maybe much more if he turned the tables another time.

We were blessed by a total pro at Sunrise Springs on Saturday night, too. Chris, a native New Mexican was affable, knew the menu cold and could proudly describe the food and the ingredients and tell us where they were sourced. The greens and vegetables come Ojo Caliente’s farm and garden. Sunrise Springs is the sister property to Ojo Caliente. I ordered the Filet of Ribeye despite having never heard of that cut of meat. If the cut was anywhere in proximity to my beloved ribeye it had to be good. It was flavorful and cooked rare as ordered but as tough as the aforementioned shoe. I did not complain but asked Chris, “What the heck is a Filet of Ribeye. He explained that it’s the cut of that that covers the ribs. Methinks that Chef Rocky Durham has taken liberties in renaming the lean, fatless, firm flap steak that is often sliced for fajitas. Nice try, Rocky. I like a low food cost as well as the next person, but I needed chain saw to cut the thing.

At speaking of near misses, Sunrise Springs was full of shortcomings big and small. It clearly aspires to lofty things but falls short here and there. On the conceptual level, it needs a lobby and a gathering place to have a glass of wine. Ideally, that would be adjacent to the restaurant though it’s not clear how they can pull that off. We were disappointed not to be able to have a beverage before dinner and were relegated to opening a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in our room. The house lost the sale and we didn’t have the social scene we would have preferred. In fairness the resort does have al fresco drinking in the warm months but it’s serious oversight when the high is 30.

Then there are small things like not serving a soup spoon with porridge. One assumes they would provide a larger spoon with soup. What not oatmeal?

Then back to the big picture. Being different for its own sake is not enough. It only works if different is better. How is it even possible that breakfast menu doesn’t have a single omelet and when it did it was ham and cheese? Is it breakfast if you can’t get bacon and eggs? Really? Does the porridge have to come with coconut milk? Does the green chile have to be so hot only a fire-eater can swallow it?

Our Sunday breakfast, the one with the porridge, was marred by a spilled ramekin of maple syrup that ran all over Peggy’s coat, chair and table top. The bus boy made a middling effort to clean up his mess. But the mishap was deftly handled by Ben, the manager, who gave us his heartfelt apology and offered to make it right, hinting at a free meal down the road. We told him it was very much appreciated but unnecessary. Moments later we saw Ben walking toward the front desk where we deduced that something was afoot. When we checked out some five minutes later, he had comped the previous night’s dinner.

We were so surprised and impressed that we went back to the restaurant to express our thanks. I told Ben that I had been in the business and that he had gone above and beyond in handling the awkward situation. I offered the theory that “You can’t lose a customer if you give a damn.” and he was evidence of that. Further, I suggested that dealing sympathetically and genuinely with an aggrieved guest can make a guest for life. That's called ending on an up note and we will return. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Wonderland 87571

This winter has been a gift. The best early snow year anybody can remember promises a hefty snow pack, a great ski season and a wonderland of photographic opportunities. Here are the latest.

It's often been said that artists of all stripes should favor the subjects and environments closest to them. Advice taker that I am, all of these are from the remarkable Immel Rancho just 1.5 miles from the corner of Main and Main in beautiful Taos, NM.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The mother of all winters

Mother winter has made a bold return Taos after years of scant snow. Within ten days we’ve had two 12” snows and a -19 morning. The curator at the Millicent Rogers Museum told us it’s the most snow she’s seen in decades. What is this Maine?

Saturday the snow abated in early afternoon by which time we’d photographed at the Immel Rancho, the historic Torreon and at the Overland Sheepskin complex in El Prado. Add those to a somewhat abstract image of the frozen ice shot Friday at the Millicent Rogers and I have a disparate bunch for this post. I even threw you a color number. This one is all photographs and little text. Is that applause I hear or a massive sigh of relief?

Sunday, January 06, 2019

And the winners are

#1 The New Sherman, Salida CO

#2 Perros on Diego Rivera's Street, Guanajuato, Mexico

Tie #3 Bicicleta in the Rain, Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico

Tie #3 Caught, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

#4 Hank's,San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

#5 Kara and Eero, Santa Ana Pueblo, NM

Lucky Strike Extra

#6 Bicycle, Taos, NM

It goes to show that judging art is purely subjective and one person’s winner is another person’s dud. And so it was in this year’s sweepstakes. Beyond the numbers are the surprises. For example, Fire Truck received no votes and I like that a lot. One participant called it too processed and too different than my other stuff. Campo, the one of riders headed to San Martin de Terrero for The Blessing of the horses also got no love. I loved the gesture and the angle of that one. What the heck do I know?

On reflection I should have included the second bicycle shot at the bottom and haven’t the foggiest why I didn’t. To make up for the slight I’m adding it to the winners list. So, we’re having a top six this year.Or is it seven since there was a tie for third?

I included iphone images from my daily Instagram posts and several others are from a pocket camera, so only three in the original group were taken with a full frame DSLR and just one of those made the final cut. That is fascinating and instructive. It foretells that smaller is better is our future. Richard Feynman had it right. I don’t have the guts to give up the big gun quite yet, but I do see the writing on the wall. Hell, I want to travel light without sacrificing image quality. By the way, any image with a frame around it was made with an iphone7. Only Kara and Eero is from my Canon 5D MIII. Caught is from my new Sony Rx100 VI and it really does rival a full frame DSLR. And I can carry it in the front pocket of my jeans. Looking back, and I wrote this in a post years ago, if I could have a small camera with a 24-200mm lens and a large sensor I'd rule the world. Be very careful what you wish for.

The rub with the iphone is sensor size. It’s tiny and won’t stand up to a major enlargement. The images are more contrasty and jiggy than those from a “real” camera. But maybe it’s an advantage. They look like they were created with some nineteenth century alternative process. They are somehow more painterly.  What do you think? But wait, five of seven were shot with an iphone. Seems like you've already told me.

Thanks to everybody who played.