New Mexico #4: Reading a Menu

by Zora O'Neill on July 6, 2010

I drove around in the middle of nowhere for quite some time: Chama, Tierra Amarilla, Cimarron, Clayton, Springer, Wagon Mound.

In those places, menus say “Eggs” and “Steak” and “Side of bacon.” It’s pretty straightforward.

So by the time I rolled back into fancy-pants New Mexico, where they use figurative speech and throw their adjectives all over the place, I felt like my critical-reading skills had withered away to nothing.

At a great cafe near the Pecos (La Risa), I read the whole menu and fixated on the “Grilled cheese with pinon pesto.” Ooh, clever! I thought–what a great adaptation to local ingredients.

Only much later, after my grilled cheese with perfectly normal pesto, did I remember that, uh, yeah, pesto always has pine nuts in it.

The next day, I was reading the menu at La Casa Sena. Oooh, halibut ceviche! I thought. I ordered it, and gagged. Murky, dirt-y fish. The guy next to me asked, “How is that, anyway?”

I said, “Honestly, it’s nasty–it’s got that dirt taste.”

“Yeah, I thought that was a weird choice for ceviche, halibut being a bottom-feeder and all.”

Argh! I knew that! It had just been erased from my brain by driving a thousand miles through landlocked country. The guy got up and waltzed away, looking smug.

Later that same day, after my nasty ceviche, I wandered over to the Rooftop Cantina, the place upstairs from the Coyote Cafe. I already knew the Coyote Cafe was a total disaster. But I’d heard the cantina had less ambitious food that hit the mark more often.

I flipped open the menu, gave it a quick glance, and ordered the vegetarian tacos, because I’d been eating a lot of “Steak” and “Eggs” and needed some greenery. I saw something about “olive-oil-macerated tomatoes,” which really makes no sense at all, but ignored it. (Maceration usually implies making a texture change by soaking something, and really, there’s no way you can change a tomato’s texture by soaking it in oil.)

My plate came, and it was hideous.

Terrible Dinner

I swear it had been beamed straight from Wolfgang Puck circa 1988. Not only were those “oil-macerated tomatoes” really sun-dried tomatoes, but they were swimming in pesto dressing. There was some kind of deep-fried something on top of all the lettuce, and two slabs of mozzarella on either side. My god–how many food cliches can they pile on one plate?! Oh, and there was some squishy flatbread stuff, which I guess was supposed to be the tortilla part of my “taco.”

I felt dumb for falling for ridiculous menu-speak, and letting my craving for vegetables get in the way of sensible ordering. After that, believe you me, I eyeballed my menus very carefully, mentally combining all the described ingredients to ensure they added up to something that would not be the festering fever dream of a 1980s chef-to-the-stars.

After that, the eating got much better. More on that in the next post…

New Mexico #1: Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn
New Mexico #2: A Tale of Two Stews
New Mexico #3: B Is for Bizarre
Flickr sets here and here

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah July 6, 2010 at 10:02 am

what a ridiculous looking salad. It seems the more asjectives the menu adds the worse it is. If you want a good salad come to Israel.

2 Zora July 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

Sarah, one of these years I will make it to the fabled land of milk, honey…and salad! Truly, fresh greens are a major travel motivator for me.

3 c-mon July 6, 2010 at 10:26 am

general rule of life: stay away from ceviche in land-locked states.

4 Zora July 6, 2010 at 10:33 am

Ugh, I know, c-mon! I don’t know what came over me! Too long in the wilderness…

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