Viewing the Rio Grande Rift (Taos, NM)

There is no indication as you’re driving northeast along Highway 68 to Taos that the Rio Grande River will reveal itself in the middle of one of Earth’s biggest geologic rifts. About halfway out of Espanola, the river at this time of year was lazy. Several rafters were making their way down river near Rio Grande Gorge State Park.

The Rio Grande is a lazy river in New Mexico

The Rio Grande River flows from Colorado to Texas for almost 2,000 miles. It defines the border between Texas and Mexico all along the southwestern edge of Texas until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Through all of New Mexico, running north-south, the river flows through the middle of a gigantic rift in the earth’s crust, the second largest outside of Africa’s Great Rift, the result of a splitting apart that began 30 million years ago. The rift extends from central Colorado to northern Mexico, part of unstable geological activity that produced the volcanoes and lava flows that are still evident today. Cities to the south, such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, sit on top of basins that were formed after the split. A spectacular view of this geological phenomenon can be appreciated from Rio Grande Gorge Bridge outside of Taos.

Rio Grande rift

Rio Grande rift (from Apple Maps)

Ramen at Shibumi Ramenya (Santa Fe, NM)—CLOSED

Tonkotsu ramen

Tonight, we were in the mood for Asian food, so I came across a Yelp review of Shibumi Ramenya in Santa Fe. There wasn’t anything revealing about the reviews, but we went anyway. As soon as we walked in, the interior exuded a minimalism that is classic Japanese. Although the name ramenya means a ramen restaurant, Shibumi also serves izakaya and has an impressive sake menu.

According to our waiter, the chef (Eric Stapleman) trained in kaiseki with Seiji Yamamoto and that he attempts to make genuine ramen. The chef, it turns out, owns an Italian restaurant next door (Trattoria Nostrani), but claims Japanese food is his first passion.

Both my wife and I ordered the tonkotsu ramen. It was very good (☆☆☆½), the tonkotsu broth gelatinous and milky as you would expect, though not as porky as some versions. The broth is cooked over two days, following a prescribed sequence of adding pork parts at strategic moments. There were thin coins of daikon, steamed spinach that had been previously squeezed dry, green onions and sliced fatty smoked pork that practically dissolved in the mouth, and the noodles were cooked just right. There was no option to add an egg. This was a welcome meal after a steady diet of Southwest food, not to mention a complete surprise in the middle of New Mexico.

On a special menu, there was a “special pork ramen” for $30!!! We had to ask the waiter what made it so special and so expensive. It turned out that it is the chef’s effort to reproduce the cult ramen in Tokyo (Fujimaki Gekijyo). Astonishingly, there is only one way you can eat this special ramen (which costs 100,000 yen, or about $115). Chef Shoichi Fujimaki has to invite you. Fujimaki claims there are 26 ingredients, and Stapleman, after watching videos countless times of the master making the special ramen, feels he’s nailed 23 of the 26 ingredients. We will never buy ramen for $30, but we have to admire the chef for his dedication to the craft.

Update: (11-27-13) I have learned that Stapleman has moved to my neck of the woods, Seattle, Washington, to try out his ramenya-izakaya concept there. This is good for Seattle for it will up the ante on who makes the best ramen in the Evergreen City.

Shibumi Ramenya *** CLOSED ***
26 Chapelle St
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Léona’s Restaurante (Chimayo, NM)

Carne adovada burrito

Leona’s was a little gem in Chimayo, across the walkway from the Santuario. Since 1977, Leona Medina-Tiede has been serving delicious snack foods, primarily burritos and tamales. I ordered the carne adovada burrito, very different from the adovada I had at El Bruno’s. This was a wonderful adovada, more tender than Bruno’s, more garlicky, shredded and salty, and lightly combined with red chile sauce. Her red chile sauce, also served on the side, was pure, unadorned chile powder and water, with a hint of natural sweetness. We purchased a jar of the green chile sauce, it was so good.

Chicken burrito

Green and red chile sauces

At checkout, for later eating, we purchased biscochitos (anise-flavored cookies) and a tub of real chicharrones, not the “chips” that are sold in cellophane packages in supermarkets.


Unfortunately, as of October 16, the restaurant portion will be closed when Leona retires from the cooking business. But the shop will continue selling gift items.

Update: The restaurant, after being closed for a few years, has re-opened. Unfortunately, Leona is no longer with us, but her legacy continues through Leona’s eldest daughter and her family.

Leona’s (Restaurant now closed, gift shop still open)
17 Santuario Drive
Chimayo, NM 87522
(505) 351-4569

High Road, Taos to Santa Fe (NM)

Going up?

To get to Santa Fe, rather than returning the way we arrived in Taos along the Rio Grande, we drove an alternate route, called the High Road, which winds through small towns in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. All the towns are at least 7,500 ft in elevation (with Truchas at an amazing 8,000 ft), many of them homes to artists and craftspeople, some descendants of the original Spanish settlers. A portion of the highway south of Truchas hugs a mountainside, a ridge that provides spectacular views. The entire highway is designated a New Mexico scenic byway.

In Las Trampas, the cemetery alongside the San Jose de Gracia church has plots of what I assume are the ancestors of my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Leyba, who came from New Mexico.

San Jose de Gracia church in Las Trampas

The most popular community is Chimayo, where we visited Chimayo Trading & Mercantile (affiliated with Chimayo Trading del Norte in Ranchos de Taos), Santuario de Chimayo, and Leona’s, a restaurant across the walkway from the church.

Ristras outside Leona’s

The Santuario is a pilgrimage site after curative powers and other miraculous legends have been ascribed to it. It is also a National Historic Landmark.

Santuario de Chimayo

Pottery of Mata Ortiz

In 1976, an American anthropologist, Spencer MacCallum, sought out and found Juan Quezada, a potter in Mata Ortiz, a small town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, approximately 100 miles south of the U.S. border. Years earlier, he had been impressed with and purchased one of Quezada’s pieces at a general store and began a search for the artist. With MacCallum’s encouragement, Quezada produced more pottery with the guarantee that all his output would be purchased. As his fame grew, others in his immediate and extended family took up the craft, which is now considered a movement and a genuine folk art.

We ventured into Chimayo Trading del Norte in Ranchos de Taos, where we were immediately struck by Mata Ortiz pottery. The proprietor took the time to explain the distinguishing features of the pottery after we expressed interest and amazement. It is entirely handmade without the use of a potter’s wheel, using a coiling technique that is commonly used throughout the Southwest by native peoples. It is also shaped, polished and painted entirely by hand. The painting technique, often done with brushes made of children’s hair, involves exquisite geometrical and other shapes symmetrically drawn on vessels that are often tapered and rounded at the bottom, requiring ringed collars to support them. The constant experimentation by both male and female potters produces new forms of expression all the time.

We saw more examples of the pottery in Chimayo (affiliated with the gallery in Taos) and Albuquerque.

Brunch at Doc Martin’s (Taos, NM)

Doc Martin’s sits inside the Historic Taos Inn. It is a well regarded restaurant in Taos, having been in business for over twenty years. Two nights ago, we scarfed down margaritas and chips in Taos Inn’s bar area, Adobe Room. This morning, we decided to do brunch here, served only on the weekends, before heading out of town. We split the Kit Carson (☆☆☆½)—poached eggs over yam biscuits—and fruit plate. The eggs are a sort of meatless Southwestern version of eggs Benedict but for the substitutions of yam biscuits for English muffins and a cheesy sauce for Hollandaise. The biscuits were tender and good, the eggs perfectly poached. The red chile sauce served on the side added flavor and bite.

Kit Carson

Doc Martin’s
125 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico 87571
Menus: Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Margaritas