The delights of Corn Maiden
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Dining at the Corn Maiden is a big deal. There’s no way around it. After turning south off the bustle of US 550 just west of the Rio Grande, you drive across a stretch of Santa Ana Pueblo desert wilderness. Civilization fades behind you as the road divides and narrows into two one-way strips of asphalt that meander independently, like a braided stream, as they drop from the mesa and head down toward the flood plain. The road ribbons rejoin and end at the Tamaya Hyatt resort, which looks like an adobe pueblo village. The main entrance resembles a plaza with the building wrapping around on three sides. New Age-y flute music floats through the air. The inside walls are covered with rugs and pictures of robe-wrapped Puebloans. Kivas crackle.
Downstairs at the Corn Maiden, the music is more international. Last time I went, it was Spanish style guitar. We sat outside on the patio, were buzzed by darting cliff swallows and watched the Sandias turn pink above the bosque.
Sipping a cucumber daquiri was a great antidote to the still-warm afternoon. Forces of tart and sweet blended with a discernible dose of cucumber, forming a smooth, refreshing and dangerously drinkable cocktail.
Also refreshing off the drink menu was the gin and house-made limoncello-based Tamaya’s Finest, which was smooth but more complex. Our waiter, James, had talked me out of the mint julep, after I admitted never having had one. “It’s not for whiskey lovers,” he advised. To prove his point, he brought a complimentary mint julep for me to try.
James was right, as usual. That’s why, when I asked him about the 22 oz. cowboy steak ($72—yes, really), and he nearly lost his composure describing its deep marbling, I went for it.
It was the same cut as a lamb chop, but from a cow. It was so big that after bringing the remains home in a bag, it took two days to finish. And marbled it was, and tender. In other words, it was the perfect piece of meat and was heaped with demi-glazed wild mushrooms. As with all of the animal proteins on the menu, the source of the steak was identified: 4 Daughters Land & Cattle Co., in Los Lunas.
The NM heritage steak and egg tartar ($14) featured chopped raw 4 Daughters beef topped with a half-cooked sunny side up quail egg. Chunky yet creamy, with a whirlwind of perfectly coalescing flavors, highlighted by the capers, parsley, onions and olive oil, it was steak and eggs like we’ve never had them before.
I don’t need to be coddled like a Fabergé egg, and there aren’t many places where I’m comfortable shelling out for ambience, service or anything other than food. The Corn Maiden isn’t cheap, and they pamper you—down to frivolous extras like letting you choose between lemon or lime slices in your water. But if you’re ready to spend the money, the food merits the price. And the ambiance, highlighted by that view, is one of a precious few worth paying for. Given what you’re shelling out, the Corn Maiden’s level of service is comforting. It’s like having buzzkill insurance. James made it perfectly clear that if anything isn’t exactly the way you want it—too salty, too well done or you just don’t like it—he’d swap it in a heartbeat. He also advised us of a program called Pathways, targeted at locals, which offers a 15 percent discount on everything Tamaya, from the spa to the Corn Maiden.
The menu’s best entrée deals are the rotisserie dinners ($55 and up), which include three types of meat brought out on a skewer, like Brazilian churrascaria, along with salad, vegetables and a condiment caddy of peach chutney, cactus jam and mole. It’s enough for two, and for seven bucks extra you can add another portion of protein, including buffalo, beef, chicken, duck, pork and ahi tuna.
Thrifty diners should also know that the bread basket at the start of the meal is generous and excellent. The breadsticks, jalapeno corn muffins, blue corn biscuits, and heirloom tomato red wine reduction, which was like a savory jam, will fill you up if you let them.
On Thursdays the rotisserie dinner includes dessert and a glass of wine and is discounted 20 percent. Split one of these, factor in your Pathways discount, and consider ordering some starters, where some of the menu’s most interesting food can be found.
The grilled shrimp gazpacho ($14) was a daring juxtaposition between soft, pungently sweet chunks of pickled watermelon and warm sections of juicy, grilled shrimp.
A plate of housemade rabbit panzotti ($13) came floating in a pasilla red chile that looked like Italian ragout. It was a wonderful, smooth mild red chile that went brilliantly with the rabbit pasta.
Vegetarian options are sparse, but good meals nonetheless await our plant-loving friends. The Corn Maiden salad ($10) is a generous, diverse salad that isn’t busy and comes dressed in a bright, chile lime vinaigrette that leaves a hint of spice on your lips. It’s a much better deal than the similarly priced but tiny heirloom tomato salad.
At the other end of the carnivorous spectrum, some raw flesh deserves mention. The ahi tuna tartar ($14) was a little bit spicy, a little bit sesame, good-sized and came with colorful vegetable chips for the scooping. The NM heritage steak and egg tartar ($14) featured chopped raw 4 Daughters beef topped with a half-cooked sunny side up quail egg. Astoundingly, it was a favorite at our table of animal protein lightweights. Chunky yet creamy, with a whirlwind of perfectly coalescing flavors, highlighted by the capers, parsley, onions and olive oil, it was steak and eggs like we’ve never had them before. In contrast, the buffalo carpaccio was elegant and simple. The thin, pink ribbons of meat looked like a rose on the plate, and were dressed with little more thick shavings of Reggiano cheese and truffle oil.The thin, pink ribbons of buffalo carpaccio ($12) looked like a rose on the plate and were dressed with thick shavings of Reggiano cheese and truffle oil.
Had I known the bill would come beneath a pile of chocolate truffles, I might have skipped dessert. As it was, my favorite was the crème brûlée trio (TK), in which raspberry, lavender and normal vanilla crème brûlée were baked in a divided ceramic plate. I ordered a cup of coffee with my dessert. James brought me a full-sized French press on the house. “We’re empowered to do acts of kindness,” he told me.
1300 Tuyuna Trail, Santa Ana Pueblo
Hours: 5:30pm to 9pm Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday
5:30pm to 10pm Friday and Saturday
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Price range: Appetizers start around $10. Entrées can hit $72
Booze: and lots of it
Vibe: another world
The Alibi recommends: Cowboy Steak, housemade rabbit panzotti, quinoa fritters, any tartar
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