Sunday, January 25, 2009

Santa Fe: Pink Adobe; Kakawa Chocolate House

Pink Adobe restaurant, Santa Fe, NM

The Pink, as it is known locally, has been a fixture in the Santa Fe restaurant and nightclub scene for decades. I had eaten there only once before, and we sat in the bar and had bar food. Very nice bar food, I seem to recall.

My friend Mongoose convinced me to try it again, and it was a winner from end to end. A warm sourdough baguette came out first with some fresh butter. Simple, but perfect.

For the salad course, I chose the goat cheese salad. It came out in a beautiful bowl with three thumb-sized pieces of herbed goat cheese atop first-rate mixed baby greens. To one side were several pieces of roasted squashes and bell pepper. All was adorned with a subtle but tasty vinaigrette.

The lobster, crab, and shrimp enchilada is one of their best-sellers. This is a typical sort of Santa Fe crossover dish, with deep roots in New Mexican cuisine presenting ingredients that can't be found within a thousand miles. Mine came with a goodly dollop of excellent guacamole on a few large chips, black beans, and an upscaled version of the standard "Spanish rice" that appears on just about every "Mexican" plate in the state. The rice was separate, not covered up with tomato sauce as is usual around here, and quite tasty.

The enchilada itself was heavenly. Generous bites of seafood, lots of cheese, and one of those cream sauces that defies analysis because it was so well-balanced and subtly spiced.

Nice staff, nice room, beautiful place-settings—everything I could ask for. Located directly across the street from San Miguel Mission, the ancient and beautiful Roman Catholic church.

No doubt the desserts are every bit as good as the other courses, but Mongoose had other plans.

Kakawa Chocolate House

It was worth a two-hour round trip for this part alone!

New Mexico magazine had a feature review of this world-class artisanal chocolatier. Have a look at their web page for general information, and please note that they do ship.

Their specialty is chocolate drinks, hot chocolate and also warm and cold. Mongoose had the Sciscenti's American, which was extremely tasty, smooth, and rich, with a long series of pleasant aftertastes, based on the one sip I stole of her drink. I opted for one of their historical Mesoamerican drinks, the “chili (mild)”. I am a fan of pretty spicy food, and even though this was supposed to be mild, it was too hot for Mongoose. I was able to detect small levels of heat (relative to my preference), but that was only part of an amazing spectrum of gustatory and olfactory effects. My drink had a lot more texture to it; it was thick and had a lot of small bits blended through it, all quite delightful. The aftertastes went on for several minutes in a long and complex series. I was reminded that chiles are fruits, after all, and the subtle sweetness was not just from the agave nectar that was the only specifically added sweetener. The menu described this drink as bittersweet, and that's accurate: not bitter, but far from oversweetened. Very much to my taste. This is the other end of the chocolate universe from Hershey Bars, my friends: a complex, adult bouquet of flavors and aromas.

I took some items from their mind-boggling chocolate cases home with me. So far I have tried two of them. The Aztec Brownie was another immersion in deep, complex chocolate flavor. Lots of nuts, quite crunchy, but nothing got in the way of the depth of the cocoa flavor.

When I saw the bacon truffles, made with wild boar bacon, I had to try them. It may seem outrageous, but it was tasty and balanced, another interesting data point in my recent quest for foods that qualify as both sweet and savory. The dark chocolate ganache was outstanding, of course, and the bacon did not struggle with it. It was not so much chocolate-covered bacon, as a truffle with just a hint of smoky bacon flavor and a few bits of tender bacon texture.

Seating is rather limited, and most of it was taken up by two groups of people lounging around: several people in a side room playing Celtic music, and another group playing chess. The server had to do some shuffling of furniture to liberate a table and two chairs, but she was very accommodating. Later we had a chance to meet and talk with Mark Sciscenti, the owner. The level of his scholarship and devotion to authenticity and creativity were apparent. A few of his “elixirs” were said to include ambergris. I was unaware that ambergris was historically used for flavoring, although I knew it was ridiculously expensive. Sciscenti has found an equivalent from botanical sources.

If you are getting the impression that this guy is a fanatic, that's accurate, but I mean that in a very good way! The one overarching principle of everything I tasted was that the amazing flavors of the chocolate always shined through.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Kakawa when I went up last time. My choice was the rose-almond elixir. David had the Mayan Full Spice.

I really enjoyed the complexity of the various flavors, and the richness of the 3-ounce drink was quite unexpected. The man working behind the counter (I don't recall if it was the proprietor of the establishment) also shared various small pieces of chocolate with us.

Glad to hear that you approved! :)

Bill Weiss said...

I haven't been to the Kakawa Chocolate House yet, even though I've heard nothing but good things about it. Yet another vote for it :)

Tony Perreault said...

Sounds like a place I'll have to visit when I'm in Fanta Se over Spring Break for a Santa Fe Photographic workshop.