2849 Hwy. 14, Madrid
Tell me there's a high-class eatery down in Madrid, and it used to be I'd giggle a bit. Don't get me wrong—there's great food in Madrid. The Tavern's burgers always hit the spot, Mama Lisa can cook up a mean [insert any food on the face of the earth here], and Java Junction's coffee is my favorite brew in the Santa Fe area. But they all share the same laid-back, comfortable, come-as-you-are vibe that makes us love Madrid so much.
The lack of fancy eats in Madrid is gone. The Hollar is located directly across from the Tavern and the Old Coal Mine Museum (in the former location of the Native Grill and Tocororo Café). It's headed by executive chef and owner Josh Novak, who serves up Southern-inspired dishes that are so elegantly prepared, so perfectly seasoned, so impeccably cooked, that one can close their eyes and easily imagine they're in a sultry adobe compound on Canyon Road, only without the hefty price tag.
Below the jump, read about the Hollar's grand first birthday party, held on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
First, I'd like to point out the prodigious Josh Novak. While poking around in search of the Hollar's correct address and phone number, I stumbled upon a Santa Fe New Mexican article that came out about a year ago, when the restaurant first opened. It referred to him as being 26 years old. "No way in hell," I thought. There is no possible way that a guy only a few years older than me could possibly cook food so mature. I screw up white rice, for god's sake. My culinary specialty is Velveeta mac and cheese.
I called the restaurant and got Novak on the line. "I just saw an article that says you're 26," I said. "Is that true?"
"No!" he exclaimed. "That is not true."
"I didn't think so!" I replied. "How old are you?"
Oh. So much for that.
It's true; Novak is just a baby. Take one bite of anything he's ever whipped up, though, and you'll be amazed. Or just run into him on the street; dude's friendly as hell. Most twentysomethings, yours truly included, are too self-centered and over-analytical to be so nice.
I'm not just saying all this because I recently moved to Madrid. Sure it's a small (very small; the 2000 census pegged the pop at 149) town, and sure word gets around if you're bad-mouthing your neighbor, but even before I became a Madroid I was singing the praises of the Hollar's fine, elegant Southern fare. Think crispy chicken stacked delicately on top of asparagus, all set on a bed of the most incredible cheese grits you've ever tasted in your life, or fried green tomatoes with lavender béchamel sauce (there are often hints of lavender in the grits, too). The restaurant recently expanded its menu, as well as expanded its hours to include a between-dinner-and-lunch menu for those who arrive between 3 and 5 pm.
To celebrate the restaurant's first birthday on Wednesday, Nov. 4, Novak put together a wine pairing dinner. The five-course, six-wine meal (ringing up at a whopping $35!) was served to two seatings of around 20 people each; the first seating was at 5:30 pm, the second (which I attended) was at 8 pm.
"I've been wanting to do something like this for a while," Novak tells me. "Just to show people there's more to it than what I do every day, you know?"
There is indeed more to it. My regular request at the restaurant is usually fried okra and crispy chicken with a glass of sweet tea (or a decadent hot chocolate if it's chilly), but this evening presented dishes far more elegant than anything Novak had served me before. Here I'll offer descriptions and images of my meal; embarrassingly, my companion Ryan's iPhone pictures came out considerably better than did the ones from my digital camera, so that's what's up with the images.
And also, since I don't know much about wine, I can't say too much about what we drank other than it was paired perfectly with whatever was placed in front of us—and one of them really did have "notes of fresh-cut grass." Usually when the wine server tells you those things you nod and smile on the outside but scoff on the inside, but for real—there was grass in there.
The first course of the evening was a chipotle corn chowder. It ended up being more the consistency of a bisque—a delicious, heart-stoppingly grand bisque—with a healthy but not overwhelming amount of corn kernels to add to the texture. My table (which was me, Ryan, and a couple—Ben and Francesca—whom we'd only met that evening but whom we've decided are going to be our new best friends), everyone except for me, decided that it was their favorite dish of the evening. That could have been because we were all starving, and the first seating of the evening had gone overtime about 15 minutes while we stood outside salivating, but no matter what, it was good. All across the room, cries of pure joy could be heard with each spoonful. There was spice, but not too much; a lot of Southern cooking turns me off with huge amounts of cajun spices, but the delicate chipotle, paired with the cream of the chowder, was enough to make me reach for some wine to cool my mouth off, but not too much.
The second course was a sauteed tiger shrimp and sea scallop with linguine and a lemon chardonnay creme sauce. The general consensus among everyone I could hear commenting was, "This scallop is perfect." I saved it until I couldn't bear to see it sitting there (I'm a huge scallop fan), and when I finally tried it, I learned the crowd was right. The scallop was perfect. The spaghetti was not noteworthy and the shrimp was great, but that scallop—it was perfect. Pieces peeled off at the side of a fork and the carmelization on its seared surface had just the right amount of salty, smoky tang. That piece of bread, crunchy like bruschetta, seemed a bit unnecessary, but I just used it to soak up the last of the sauce so none of it went back to the kitchen.
Be still my heart. This braised and confit duck (with an organic baby carrot and ginger gastrique and sauteed organic spinach) was one of the most fantastic things I have ever put in my mouth. It fell apart at the sight of a fork. The skin was spicy and fatty and the meat was so tender it melted on your tongue. It sat atop a pile of wilted spinach that wasn't bitter (or spinachey) in the least. I actually tried the carrot-ginger sauce before I had the duck, and I honestly would have eaten it with a spoon, it was that good (when I told Novak this later, he said he was already thinking of adapting it into a soup the next day). It was creamy and carroty and had just a bit of ginger to give it a nice aroma, but not enough to burn the mouth. As the staff collected our plates, Francesca and I saw that another one of our new friends, Linda, was sending back a plate with something left on it! We freaked! We demanded the waiter put the plate on our table, and Francesca and I split the remnants (which happened to be the skin) between us. We probably would have licked the plate if it wouldn't have been the single grossest thing we could have done.
The main course was honey, balsamic and cinnamon marinated flank steak-wrapped asparagus with a mushroom bourdelaise sauce. I devoured it, as I did everything else, but strangely enough, this was my least favorite course. My companions and I discussed it with the table next to us; the steak, which had been marinated in an array of spices, tasted mostly of nutmeg, which turned off some diners. In addition, the sauce was a little salty. However, I am Irish and Polish, so salt is my favorite seasoning—thus I had no problem with the salt. The steak was tender enough that we didn't need (nor did we have) steak knives. I couldn't finish the asparagus; there was a little too much of the uninteresting stalk for my liking. It was okay, though, because Francesca took my scraps. That seemed to be the theme of the evening—not allowing a single piece of anything go to waste.
The three choices for dessert were pumpkin cheesecake, raspberry white chocolate cheesecake and carrot cake. The Hollar serves carrot cake on a regular basis (along with a DIVINE chocolate cake; the slices are, quite literally, the size of my head), so Ryan and I opted to choose opposing cheesecakes. The image above is of the pumpkin cheesecake, which was a little more solid than I would have liked. I like cheesecake to melt in my mouth. Which is why I liked my choice so much...
The white chocolate-raspberry cheesecake. That ribbon of raspberry in the middle? Orgasmic, I tell you. By this point I had just about reached capacity on food consumption, so I asked for a to-go box. Francesca couldn't finish her raspberry cheesecake either, so she let me load her remnants into my box. Upon seeing Francesca hand me her cake, Linda saw that I was amassing cake, so she gave me the last of her raspberry cheesecake too. I now have three glorious chunks of cheesecake in my fridge, just waiting for me to buy a new carton of milk so I can devour them at 3 am some amazing morning. (Author's note: I now only have 1.5 chunks of cheesecake in my fridge.)
After dinner, Novak finally emerged from the kitchen to shmooze his loyal subjects. He casually suggested that perhaps he'll do this kind of event once a month, and we can only hope he meant it. My new friends and I declared that, if Wednesday wine pairings pan out, we'd get together once a month and do this as many times as humanly possible.
Here you see yours truly in a euphoric food coma, and Novak with that "I just cooked for 289 hours straight" smile.
2849 Hwy. 14, Madrid