Comfort Food in the Midst of Winter - January 16, 2018

Where to find fare that warms the spirit

Winter is coming...or, at least we hope. At sunrise yesterday, the temperature at my house was 10 degrees, with the wind chill factor. This morning's low sank even lower, registering at zero, thanks again to that wind. During the day, the temperatures climb up into the 50s, but the nights bring on the bitter cold, reminding us that we are, indeed, in the midst of January. If we're lucky, snow will fall this weekend, depositing more than a disappointing dusting. If it doesn't, no matter. This time of year, we instinctively crave the foods of winter. Foods that nourish and warm us, foods that comfort us and calm us.

We may need a bit of calming as we nervously scan the skies, wondering where winter is. The real winter, the season that brings significant snowfall along with snowball fights, snowshoeing and sledding straight down your backyard. The season that calls us—all rosy cheeks and red-rimmed noses—back inside for a cup of hot chocolate, a bowl of simmering soup, or a fresh out-of-the oven apple crisp. These are the seasonal foods that give us sustenance. This is the fare we should be seeking out this winter if only to comfort us while we wait for the season's first real snowstorm. What follows are a few suggestions of comfort food to be found in Santa Fe restaurants. May you savor it with hopes that the 2018 snowstorm arrives soon!

You might start with a beloved Santa Fe dish that comes down through the centuries. It's also one of the house specialties at Atriosco Cafe—green chile stew, thick with beef, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs and spices and served with a tortilla for dunking. Equally hearty and also reflecting local culinary lore, the spicy black bean soup will take the chill out of the air. Or, go for this restaurant's version of a long-loved comfort food classic, the meatloaf, prepared Albuquerque-style with locally raised beef, jalapeño mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day. Of course, no one could say you're making a bad decision if you order the irresistible green chile cheese fries. It's winter, so you don't have to worry about how you'll look in a bathing suit next summer.

The Compound Restaurant offers an upscale spot to take the chill out of winter. Warm your spirit with a bowl of potato and leek soup, with focaccia-smoked bacon Charlotte and Parmesan espuma, or foam à la Spain's famed chef, Ferran Adrià. It's hard to turn down the wild mushrooms and organic stone ground polenta enhanced with black truffle relish, shaved Parmesan and organic arugula. For a sea change, feast on Maine lobster carbonara, concocted with bucatini pasta, pancetta, a farm egg & Parmesan. Would you be willing to trade the afore-mentioned hot chocolate for a Valrhone flourless chocolate cake with miso caramel and mango basil said? Of course, you would!

Over at Midtown Bistro, where the motto is “gourmet dining with a Southwest influence,” you might start with autumn vegetable tempura with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. For a savory soup, try the ream of broccoli and potato bisque with truffle oil. Roasted sweet potato soup might also beckon. You could dig into a grilled hanger steak, served with blue corn mozzarella cheese enchiladas, red, green or Christmas, calabacitas, guacamole and sour cream. Or go for the chicken breast stuffed with Spanish goat cheese, served with buttermilk polenta cake, sautéed vegetables, pancetta and balsamic butter pan sauce.

Nestled on a corner spot up on Canyon Road, The Teahouse offers an array of dishes designed to take the bite out of winter's air. Try the Posole Rojo, a spicy Mexican stew of hominy and pork as well as guajillo and ancho chiles. You should also consider braised brisket, a slow-cooked grass-fed cut accompanied by polenta. But don't rule out lasagne Bolognese, as The Teahouse's version of this long-loved pasta is made for a cold winter's night. And what's more comforting than a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, in this case made with aged Irish cheddar and mustard? The only answer here might be Italian apple cake, described by one diner as a “destination dessert.” Try it, and see if you agree.