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 V.20 No.40 | October 6 - 12, 2011 

Locovore

Los Poblanos

The freshest fine dining in New Mexico

Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com

Farms are ecosystems, and ecosystems gain stability through diversity. Los Poblanos Inn & Cultural Center has taken this concept to a new level, on and off the field. The 25-acre CSA farm functions as a market, art gallery, petting zoo, lavender products lab, and teaching institution for high-level home economics. There’s also a luxurious bed and breakfast for agritourism, staycations and whatever else they’re calling quaint, top-shelf hospitality these days.

I attended a Field to Fork dinner at Los Poblanos’ La Quinta event space. The stately building is full of artwork and curios, not to mention an open kitchen where some of the magic was happening. Diners sat on a horseshoe-shaped patio encircling a grassy area and the oldest swimming pool in Albuquerque. We were taken care of by an attentive staff well versed in the evening’s custom meal options. The air was syrupy as a Faulkner novel in the Rio Grande bosque where the farm is situated.

Although I’m not a big a dairy eater, I couldn’t resist slathering some butter onto my dinner roll. The bread was so rich it hardly needed it. But I layered it on because I’m a glutton for the good stuff. By their count, the food served at Los Poblanos is 100 percent organic, 90 percent local in season and 60 percent local out of season. “Local” is defined as a 300-mile radius that touches Arizona, Colorado and Texas. All the meat and dairy products (except fish) are from New Mexico. Every single ingredient is meticulously, obsessively sourced.

From a lavender Margarita start to a sherry, chèvre and biscochito finish, the meal was an artisan, indulgent dining experience. A personal highlight was the torchon, which literally means “dish towel” in French. Los Poblanos pig jowls, including house-cured guanciale, were combined and held together by the fabric. After the torchon was poached and peeled, it was sliced into medallions, coated with bread crumbs and then pan fried. I chewed it slowly, exploring the multiple facets of pork it contained. Maybe I should have chewed a bit faster, as a vegetarian at the table ate most of the torchon while my eyes were closed in contemplation.

Between courses we all got pasta: inch-wide pappardelle with a rosemary-brandy cream sauce and an assortment of local mushrooms. I’d be as wide as I am tall if I could eat my fill of that.

Also worthy of note was a corn bisque that expertly balanced creamy, smooth corn and sweet, acidic tomatoes. A pork chop, two ribs wide, bore apple sauce and a hint of five-spice. Chile rellenos are sacrosanct in New Mexican cuisine, but my chiles were stuffed with quinoa, Tucumcari feta and New Mexico black beansan improvement, in my opinion, over the usual.

Between courses we all got pasta: inch-wide pappardelle with a rosemary-brandy cream sauce and an assortment of local mushrooms. I’d be as wide as I am tall if I could eat my fill of that.

Chef Jonathan Perno has been at the kitchen’s helm for four years. He promises that, with notice, vegan, lactose intolerant and any other dietary restrictions can be generously accommodated at the dinners.

Meanwhile, more barnyard plans are a-trotter. “We’re dabbling with raising more hogs next year,” he says. Perno also hopes to start teaching charcuterie, the fine art of curing meats and making sausage. Arrangements are also being made to set up a space to age cheeses.

“This is the longest opening of a restaurant business I’ve been involved in,” he says. “We’ve been growing every year since I’ve been here, and we haven’t plateaued yet.”

“We’re doing this project because we look at ourselves as stewards of this property.”

Matthew Rembe

Back to the Land

Matthew Rembe is the man behind the ongoing diversification. His family bought the property in two stages beginning in 1976. Since becoming the CEO in 2004, he’s guided the expansion and evolution of the inn, creating other ventures from scratch. Now there are Los Poblanos lavender bath products, ongoing historical tours, festivals and hands-on classes that cover topics like cooking with figs.

Those housemade lavender products, for sale at Los Poblanos’ Farm Shop, also grace the bathrooms at the inn. Each room has a kitchenette that includes a custom larder stocked with things like housemade sausage and New Mexico cheese. And if a guest has a hankering to do some cooking, ingredients from the field are available.

Inn guests are given breakfast, with a choice of two entrées every day, seven days a week. “You could stay for two weeks and not eat the same breakfast,” says Rembe. Dinners are an à la carte affair called la merienda, the term for the light afternoon meal eaten in Latin countries. Ingredients might include Los Poblanos-grown pork belly, fresh pasta and greens harvested from the field that morning.

Although its reach is wideningCondé Nast Traveler and National Geographic have taken notice of Los Poblanos as an agritourism destinationabout half of its visitors are from in-state. Those numbers point to the fact that Los Poblanos is a high-end distillation of Rio Grande culture. It’s a living museum that showcases the state’s finer points, and nobody loves New Mexico as much as New Mexicans.

La Quinta, for example, is seeded with history. The building was commissioned in 1932 by Congressman Albert Simms and his wife, Sen. Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms, and designed by John Gaw Meem. Meem is widely considered the state’s most important architect of the 20th century and the father of Santa Fe-style design.

From the beginning, Los Poblanos was known as an “experimental farm.” Its original 800 acres were doled out over parcels that stretched to the base of the Sandia Mountains. The Simms’ idea “was to push the envelope with a real working ranch,” says Rembe. “They raised churro sheep and helped reintroduce them to the Navajo Nation. They had the first tractor harvester in New Mexico. They were raising sugar beet seeds for the U.S. market because we were dependent on sugar imports.”

But the land was eventually broken up and sold off. “The field at La Quinta was going to get subdivided into eight to 10 house lots,” says Rembe. His family schemed at ways to buy that plot and preserve it. Over 20 years, they bought two tracts that partially reunified the original ranch. Their hope was to open up the property to its original intended use“if we could just make it work.”  

By all appearances, they are. “We’re pushing lavender, for example, which is a great crop for New Mexico because it needs little water and has great value-added potential,” he says. “We’re trying to continue that tradition as progressive farmers.”

Los Poblanos is thriving, but it’s not all lavender-scented success. Rembe is the first to admit that it hasn’t been easy. “We have to work twice as hard for the same amount of money as a different lodging model would paybut we’re committed to it, and so is our staff,” he says.

“We’re doing this project because we look at ourselves as stewards of this property,” he adds. “We’re passionate about New Mexico.”

I, for one, am passionate about his pork.

Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Upcoming Dining Events

Friday, Nov. 4: Guest chef dinner with Quinn Hatfield from Hatfield's in L.A.
Thursday, Nov. 17: Field to Fork dinner
Friday, Nov. 18: Field to Fork dinner
Friday, Dec. 16: Las Posadas dinner
Saturday, Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve dinner
Upcoming Cooking Classes


Thursday, Oct. 13: One-pot cooking
Thursday, Nov. 3: Guest chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield
Thursday, Nov. 10: Turkey, cook and carve
Thursday, Dec. 1: Hors d'oeuvres
Thursday, Dec. 8: Holiday sweets


Los Poblanos Inn & Cultural Center

4803 Rio Grande NW, 344-9297
Visit lospoblanos.com for detailed menus, prices and reservation information.
 

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