I’m not thrilled about it, but I do it.
Make a trip south.
To Fanta Se — the city that declares itself “different.” And different in a whole bunch of ways that are completely obnoxious.
Ah, Fanta Se: The adobe theme park, a place jam-packed with Fantaseans and their wide-eyed, gullible acolytes.
The closest we get to the detestable Fanta Se stereotype here in Siberia With a View is the fake cowboy. You know the ones, we’ve got plenty of them: He or she is always dolled up in some phony and most often gaudy quasi-cowboy getup — the big and clean hat, the western attire and embellishments. They like log homes and western art. Any bets on how many of them are running cattle this summer?
Kathy and I take the trip to Fanta Se to flee the high country for a couple days and indulge the only two things worth doing there: eat, and take in some quality entertainment. We skip the crummy galleries for the most part, and avoid the vendors of Fanta Se crap. We work to minimize exposure to the stereotypes — and, make no mistake, they are creeping all over the place.
We go to a concert: Madeleine Peyroux.
And, unfortunately, we collide with some Fantaseans.
They sit two seats away from us, center balcony. Good seats.
Good, but for the coosome twosome next door. They arrive just before the house lights go down. He has fashionably long hair, a bit of a ponytail — post-hippie avec Southwestern jewelry. She is Mother Earth, right down to a crust of mud on the sandals, and she emits a mystical scent.
The opening act starts to perform.
Shame we can’t hear them. Peter Fonda and Gaia have brought their dinner with them. They fumble around in paper sacks, crinkling foils and making an incredible racket.
Right in front of the No Food or Drink in the Auditorium sign.
And, since they are dining, well, why not have a loud conversation?
We cast nasty glances their way, as do all their immediate neighbors but, classic Fantaseans, they do not respond to ordinary human signals. They crinkle, crackle, slobber and yap, light sparkling off their silver and turquoise jewelry as they ruin the event for everyone around them.
I suggest we relocate to vacant seats down the row.
“I paid big bucks for these seats,” snarls Kathy. “There is going to have to be another solution.” Kathy was raised in a frightening and very rough neighborhood; I can only imagine what that other “solution” might be. I have a vision of spending the night in the Fanta Se jail.
Ordinarily, I would not be averse to standing, making my way to the delightful duo, and suggesting two alternatives: cut the crap and let people enjoy the music, or take in your green chile burgers from the stern. Unfortunately, with recent surgery, the prospect of a brawl does not bode well for me.
As I prepare to suggest once more that we relocate down the row, a noble gent in the section below our uncivil pals gets up, comes up the stairs, leans across the rail in front of the bozo with the burrito and — I presume — says much what I would have.
The concert is great.
Better yet is the food, from the minute we enter Fanta Se. This, Fantaseans do well.
For lunch the day of our arrival, we go traditional, for old times sake (after all, the first time I came to Fanta Se was 1955): Northern New Mexican cuisine. Kathy downs some flautas and I put away a stack of chicken enchiladas with a hefty slathering of green and a poached egg that drips its yolky glory everywhere.
For a light dinner prior to the concert we share artichoke/potato soup, calamari, greens with a citrus vinaigrette, tempura tiger prawns, a couple glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.
Next day, Kathy insists on walking around downtown, near and at the Plaza — goofball central. The place is awash with folks dolled up in Southwestern clown suits, all of them filled to overflowing with the spirit of the city different.
I peel off from Kathy and take a seat on a bench in the Plaza, keeping an eye on the legion of goofs, thrilled to death to be in the adobe theme park as they get fleeced by vendors selling cheap knockoff crud. Others exit nearby stores, arms loaded with booty — cheesy artifacts that will bring a bit of the fake Southwest to their living rooms back home. Many of them are wearing cowboy hats.
I am thinking: Folks, clear your heads and arms of Fanta Se, and get to the food. Eat! There’s a universe of options here. Put down your Fanta Se paintings and mundane interior design geegaws and get serious!
We get serious at lunch. We stroll down Marcy Street and find a hole-in-the-wall Spanish restaurant, a joint with a truly European feel to it.
Eureka! We strike gold!
An hour later, we stagger back into the sunlit afternoon, somewhat bloated and completely satisfied.
The restaurant features an appealing tapas menu, but we vow to return for dinner with friends and we opt for a couple of the lunch entrees. We wolf down crusty bread dipped in a superb Spanish olive oil as we make our choices.
Kathy: a bowl of curried carrot soup and a salad. Me: the greatest sandwich I have ever had.
I kid you not: the greatest.
And a glass of a high-end Granacha, on special that day.
The sandwich: a lamb burger — the thick patty of perfectly cooked ground lamb (spiced with a North African twist) on grilled ciabatta, accompanied by a roasted poblano, goat cheese and olivada. The sandwich is sliced on the diagonal and served on a long skewer, with a side of pickled onions and peppers, and some greens.
I was so pleased, I felt no desire to insult anyone on the walk back to the hotel.
That night, a trip to a favorite French restaurant on Old Santa Fe Trail (or is that Old Fanta Se Trail?).
Again, we score. Kathy opts for the onion soup (made with duck stock, and one of the best I have ever tasted) and I go for a Caesarlike salad, topped with calamari. Kathy enjoys perfect roast chicken with asparagus; I order a roasted beet and goat cheese tart. For dessert (after finishing glasses of Viognier and Pinot Noir) we have a pot du crème and an apple caramel tart the likes of which I have never experienced. I will return to Fanta Se if for no other reason than to order this concoction again.
On our final day in the city oh-so-diff, we get real. We make a trip to Target (where the real Fantaseans go) and to Trader Joes to load up on delights not available in Siberia With a View.
On the drive home, I mention to Kathy that I intend to reproduce The Greatest Sandwich in the Universe.
Since Kathy detests lamb and goat cheese, she informs me I will eat alone.
So be it.
The ground lamb will be kissed with cumin, minced onion, mashed garlic, salt, pepper and oregano. I will char a poblano on the grill, pop it in a paper bag for five minutes or so, then peel off the blackened skin and remove the seeds. I’ll slice a major hunk of ciabatta in half and slather the soft interiors with extra virgin olive oil. I’ll grill the bread until golden and remove it from the grill, immediately coating one half with a thick layer of goat cheese. The other half gets paved with olivada.
Olivada is kin to tapenade (absent the anchovy and capers), and very easy to make. Take a bunch of pitted kalamata olives and, for fun, a bunch of pitted green olives, and throw them into the processor. Toss in a clove of garlic, minced. Add a touch of extra virgin olive oil and process to a chunky paste, adding oil to get the desired consistency. Salt, pepper, herbs du jour, perhaps a sprinkle of ground red chile and the deed is done.
I will make a hefty patty of ground lamb, season with a bit of salt and pepper and grill the patty until nicely charred on the exterior and slightly pink within. On to the bread with the poblano it will go, the masterpiece will be closed and I will dive in.
I should wear a bib, since this baby is going to be juicy.
Perhaps I can find one with a spiffy Southwestern design.