“Ohh, this cabbage is so spicy!" a friend of mine recently exclaimed over dinner in uptown Minneapolis. Her Nordic eyes were ablaze and beginning to well with tears, bulging with the intensity of someone who had just plowed into her first bowl of kim chi. But this was no case of Korean cabbage. This was clearly laughter, and she was definitely making fun of me. I guess I can't say that I blame her. As a native New Mexican, I've developed a pretty cavalier attitude about how other states season their food. Heartfelt attempts at salsa and "chili" are cute at best, but ultimately all are met with my snorting rebukes. "Not enough heat," I boast, dousing my plate with hot sauce. "Yessir," this seems to say, "I am one spicy badass." So while visiting friends in Minnesota, I took it upon myself to prove that the Midwest is also the world capital of flavorless cuisine. How did I do this? By brazenly knocking back what was hands down the spiciest Bloody Mary of my life, choking on it and finally snorting out a nostril full of Clamato-infused magma onto my shirt. I swear to you, my lips were numb for 10 minutes. So, here it is, Minneapolis: I was wrong. Turns out the Midwest really can take the heat.
All the cool kids are going to Belen for dinner. Well, not really, but there is a new restaurant there that might make you want to go. The Wild Boar Steakhouse is the creation of Kenneth Grey and his three sons (the beginnings of a culinary Brady Bunch?). Every member of the family has worked in the restaurant biz before, and they have combined their efforts into one super-project, hoping to create a reason to stay in or migrate to Belen for your next great meal. Grey told us that all of their food is made from scratch, from the salad dressings to hand-patted burgers and a fresh batch of sauce for each pasta order. They cut their own steak and encrust it with chile, devein their own shrimp, and marinate their own filets. Look for Wild Boar Steakhouse at 301 Rio Communities Blvd., between State Road 304 and Highway 47 in Belen. Call (505) 864-7788 for more info.
Koreans have enjoyed the "hurts so good" school of cooking since at least the first half of the last millennium. Even then they were experimenting with a small arsenal of incredibly potent spices, including a popular strain of Chinese peppercorns known as tang chu, or the "suffering plant." The late 1500s brought Portuguese missionaries through Japan, loaded down with New World agricultural products. Their Godly message may have gotten lost in translation, but the spicy peppers they introduced certainly weren't. It was only a matter of time before chilies had migrated into what's now North and South Korea, where they've since become firmly rooted in Korea's culinary and cultural identity.