Monday, August 14, 2006

a taste of TAOS: de la Tierra at El Monte Sagrado

We arrived in Taos yesterday for two nights and really had to eat at our hotel El Monte Sagrado, the only super luxury hotel north of Santa Fe in New Mexico. We were here for a quick day visit three years ago when they were just opening, and knew the restaurant (de la Tierra) was going to be a star.

We were right and wrong.

The dining room is intimate in that the black marble tables are few, and far apart. The room is huge with its sky high ceilings and skylights and massive iron chandelier. The black suede and fringed chairs are so huge I needed a pillow (they got a goose down one from a hotel room!), and I felt the light levels could have used increasing so I could read the menu and wine list a bit better.

We warned our waiter that we wished to dine slowly, and there were only three tables occupied, so it should not have been a problem. The manager/sommelier Chris came by and suggested the Babcock Eleven Oaks Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara. It took quite some time to appear, and when poured by the waiter, we realized, was corked. After 5-7 minutes Chris returned all apologetic saying that was the last bottle and suggested bthe Iron Horse T Bar T Sauvignon Blanc; we were game. After what seemed a lifetime, he returned to say that there was no more. I noticed these were both 2001 vintage which was quite old for Sauvignon Blanc, especially in a restaurant. Chris then offered a Domaine Caillot 1999 Grand Vin de Bourgone which I got excited about; but after another 10 minutes, it came, was opened, and was corked as well. Finally, he gave us a more expensive DOMAINE du MAISON BLANCHE CHABLIS 1er Cru 2000 Mont de Milieu which was minerally and yummy and NOT CORKED. This was so bizarre as I can remember only having one corked wine in the past dozen or so years when dining out!

I decided to start with the Chef TAPAS Selection: a creamy yummy, SPICY CHILLED CUCUMBER Soup, a dry and sad DUCK CONFIT on Napa Cabbage, and a winderful FLANK STEAK with Rosemary Plum Chutney. Will chose the EL MONTE CAESAR, billed as a traditional Caesar with Red Chili Croutons, White Anchovies and Poblano Pepper Pesto. It was decent, but seemed to be missing the exciting bite expected from the chili and poblano. As our courses were cleared, we reminded the server to please give us 15-20 minutes, and he said he would fire up the entrees only on our cue. 10 minutes later the entrees arrived, before we had even ordered our red wine. We sent them back and ordered a bottle of BERNARDUS 1996 Marinus from Carmel. I asked Chris what the grape blend was, and he had no idea at all, but the wine was superb, and again, we were amazed that such an older vintage was available at a reasonable cost.

The entrees were much better with Will's CHINESE BBQ DUCK BREAST, Sauteed Shrimp and Cabbage Slaw coming in second behind my TAOS TWO STEP on BEEF: Tenderloin and Braised Short Ribs with Caramelized Onion, Potato Hash and Grilled Asparagus--it was an excellent dish and made so perfect by the demi-glace sauce.

We remembered the desserts from 3 years ago and both chose the TEQUILA LIME PIE with White Chocolate Ancho Chile Crust and Prickly Pear Syrup---this is a dessert worth traveling for. I only wish they had some dessert wines by the glass.

I must also mention the restrooms which sport "billion" year old walls made of limestone with fish fossils embedded therein behind the totally automatic sinks and modern flow basins. The entire resort is actually run largely on solar power and the water is all recycled and managed as a micro-bio-climate. It's cool.