Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dinner at Gabriel's near Santa Fe.

Many years ago, one of our favorite stops on the road from Santa Fe to Taos was Las Brazas. It sat high on a rise overlooking the highway to the south and east to the mountains and the Santa Fe Ski Basin.

Today, Las Brazas is gone and the road has been super-sized. Enter Sid Gabriel, former restaurateur from New York City and San Francisco. Gabriel closed his New York and San Francisco versions of Pancho Villa’s restaurants and bought up the former Las Brazas.

Now, Gabriel’s, named for the owner, sits on that same rise, but with significant improvements in just about everything, which we notice as soon as we pull into the parking lot.

The entrance to Gabriel's

Among the improvements, as Route 85/284 became more heavily traveled at interstate speeds, the property converted its vista more to the east, adding a wall and an area with additional seating to enclose the courtyard patio.

The view east from Gabriel's to the mountains.

General Manager, Joe Barrientes, graciously greeted us. We chose a courtyard table, under a large white tent. Barrientes says the tent was added to provide shade, but this year, with numerous storms passing through north central New Mexico, it has become more of an umbrella. We are spared raindrops on the canvas as dark clouds gather all around us, but not overhead.Joe Barrientes, General Manager, poses in front of the art and the fireplace inside.

The restaurant seats about 150 between its comfortable interior and the courtyard. Come September, the tent is taken down and the New Mexico autumn is spent under blue sky and starry heavens. In October, everything moves inside for the winter, as diners gather near the fireplace. A new addition will be opened then to bring capacity back up to 150 guests.

Miguel Moya squeezes a lime as an ingredient in our table-made guacamole.

Our order starts with guacamole made at the table. Miguel Moya, the guacamole master, rolls his cart upto our table, splits avocado and removes the pit and asks what condiments we want included. As we watch, he mixes up an absolutely fresh and tangy bowl of guacamole to accompany our pre-meal salsa and chips.

A couple of glasses of wine help us settle in. Barrientes recommends the Carnetas. Our choices are more traditional chimichangas and chiles rellenos. These classic Mexican dishes are prepared with refritos frijoles (refried beans) and rice, sour cream and guacamole. We loaded up the remnants with the last of our table-made 'guac.'

Our custom-made guacamole meets its natural end.

Barrientes tells us that he has been with Gabriel for 29 years, only the last 13 in New Mexico, having been his manager at Pancho Villa’s in NYC for 16 years before the restaurant operation was moved to New Mexico. Chef Saul Valdiera has been running the kitchen at Gabriel’s since it opened, transferring from the San Francisco Pancho Villa’s.

We, of course, are in town for the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. According to Barrientes, Indian Market weekend is the biggest weekend for Gabriel’s, augmented by the crowds that gather to enjoy the Santa Fe Opera, just down the road. Reservations for Indian Market start to come in around July 4th. Operagoers make up about 50% of the patronage while the season is underway.

Many of them also spend time at the neighboring art gallery that Gabriel opened about two years ago, according to Barrientes. For art, the view, good food and table-made guacamole, we will make Gabriel’s a regular on future trips to Santa Fe.

Tribal Artery is the blog about tribal art offered periodically by Aboriginals: Art of the First Person and its allied web sites at Native-JewelryLink, with gorgeous, genuine American Indian necklaces, bracelets, pendants, pins and earrings; ZuniLink, for hundreds of authentic Native American fetish carvings by Zuni , Cochiti, Navajo and San Felipe artists; Tribal Works, offering a wide selection of tribal art from Africa, Aboriginal Australia, the Arctic and Native America, including Navajo folk art, and Native-PotteryLink, home to the finest in contemporary and historic Native American hand-created pottery, storytellers and nativity sets.