Restaurant Review: Tia's Cocina
Turn up the heat
By: Rob DeWalt
Published online: Friday, November 04, 2011
Appeared in: Pasateimpo
It was at Rancho de Chimayó
1 ½ chiles
Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe, 125 Washington Ave. 505-988-4900
Breakfast 7-11 a.m. daily; lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. daily; dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Noise level: quiet to moderate, Patio dining in season, Takeout available, Handicapped-accessible
In short order:
Billed as a tribute to the cuisine of the historic
Northern New Mexico village of Chimayó
— an area widely known for its chiles,
religious and familial devotion, and artists and
craftsmen — Tía’s Cocina
noble and pretty to look at. But it suffers from
a lack of focus at the stoves and on the dining-room floor. Training in wine service, and table
service in general, could use a boost, as could
the temperature of hot dishes coming out
of the kitchen. Recommended: lengua (beef
tongue) medallions with red chile, beans, and
Spanish rice. The hotter the better.
*Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles, including half chiles.
This reflects the reviewer's experience with regard
to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value
at the age of 12 that I first
fell in love with New Mexico food and culture. Red and
green chile challenged my Texas-style chili sensibilities,
and I instantly became a fan of both. Pair that spicy
game-changer in the historic village with a wealth of
artistic virtue and deeply religious history, and what you
get is a small slice of heaven on Earth.
Thirty years after my first life-altering bite of sopaipilla
draped in honey butter at Rancho de Chimayó, my trips
to the village are now rare, but lately, Santa Fe offers up a
sort of Chimayó purgatory in the form of two new dining
establishments: Casa Chimayó, which is housed in the
former Water Street location of Los Mayas restaurant,
and Tía’s Cocina, a new venture inside the recently
remodeled and renamed Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe.
Once called Hotel Plaza Real, Hotel Chimayó de
Santa Fe is a property of Heritage Hotels and Resorts,
which also owns Hotel St. Francis and The Lodge at
Santa Fe. Manning the kitchen at Tía’s Cocina (which
also services Low ’n’ Slow, the funky, friendly, lowrider-
themed bar downstairs from the restaurant) is chef
Estevan Garcia, former owner of the now-closed Café
San Estevan and current head chef at Hotel Santa Fe.
Tía’s Cocina is decked out in true Chimayó-artisan
style — angular hardwood furnishings and Catholic
iconography play prominent roles. The space is carefully
considered with the hotel’s name in mind. The food and
service, however, need some attention.
During one lunch visit, a glass of red wine was
delivered after I requested a glass of viognier, a white
wine. When I pointed it out to a server (not our own; she
went missing after the wine mishap), a replacement glass
was eventually delivered — lipstick stain and all. During a
dinner visit, my Manito cocktail, a combination of Patron
Silver tequila, Cinzano Bianco, Aperol (a low-alcohol
cousin to Cinzano), lemon juice, and agave nectar, arrived
without its advertised Chimayó chile/lime-accented salt
rim. When I notified the server, his response was, “Oh,
I don’t think the bartender has any of that tonight.”
Good to know.
Lunch and dinner menus pay homage to the cuisine
of old and new Chimayó: tamales, posole, enchiladas,
chile rellenos, guacamole, lengua (beef tongue), trout,
sopaipillas, and tacos share real estate with green-chile
cheeseburgers, Frito pies, and, of course, red and green
sauces made with those legendary Chimayó chiles.
A guacamole portion was meager for the spend and
lacked lime and seasoning, but the blue-corn tortilla chips
were tasty and well salted. I’m not sure why the guac also
came with stale wedges of fried flour tortilla, though.
A pair of hot dogs arrived cold and dry, the tortillas burnt
on the top. A side of Chimayó salsa rivaled its saucy red
and green cousins in spiciness and vegetal complexity.
My lengua Chimayóso tacos were extremely tough
and dry, but three accompanying salsas (chile arbol, pico
de gallo, and roasted jalapeño) were delicious. It was
supposed to come with a flour tortilla, but there was
none. When I asked for the tortilla, it arrived dry, hard,
and covered with burn marks from the gas stove. And I
was charged for it.
Posole, beans, and Spanish-style rice are done well,
although the promise of chicos (rehydrated, cooked
dried corn with a smoky, earthy flavor) in the beans rang
empty: it tasted like fresh corn off the cob, with watery
kernels stuck together throughout.
My lengua dinner entree offered tender medallions of
beef tongue and flavorful-yet-tame Chimayó red-chile
sauce, but like almost everything ordered that night, it
was lukewarm. Torta de huevo, a traditional Lenten dish
(scrambled-egg fritters swimming in red chile sauce),
was disappointing. The whipped-egg-white fluffiness that
helps define these fritters was sidelined by a confounding
On the Plato de Chimayó combination plate, a pork
tamale offered moist and airy masa and tender chile-
accented pork, a perfect balance of texture and flavor.
A lunchtime serving of natillas (a smooth custard
with loose meringue) was grainy and overly soupy,
its cinnamon dusting curiously absent.
Tia’s Cocina enjoys a well-traveled path, and its
nostalgia-rich mission is a noble one. At the moment,
that mission and its mode of execution appear to be at
odds. The menu is solid and true to theme, but the care
that goes into it, from stove to table, betrays the passion
and artistry that ultimately serve as the restaurant’s
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