Over my holiday in Santa Fe, I met up with cookbook author and long-time Tesuque resident Cheryl Jamison who, along with her husband Bill, leads culinary tours in France and has written James Beard award winning-books on everything from New Mexican cuisine to outdoor smoking and grilling. We dined at The Shed, a Santa Fe staple on Palace Avenue in the historic plaza district.
The Shed can only be described as cavernous, a space that's comprised of a series of vibrantly decorated, eclectic rooms. When Cheryl told me that her favorite on the menu—the number five enchilada plate with red chile—is the one dish that she and Bill can't help but order every time, I chose the plate straightaway.
The enchilada dish arrived on a piping-hot plate, swimming in a red chile sauce complete with beans and posole. Was Cheryl's recommendation spot on? I groaned audibly after just one bite of the enchilada. Having eaten my share of enchiladas in Northern New Mexico over the years, I must agree with Cheryl's assessment that The Shed serves the best enchilada plate in town.
For those who aren't acquainted with the New Mexican specialty, enchiladas are rolled and filled tortillas, topped with melted cheese and surrounded by chili. In a perfect execution, every component of the enchilada–the tortilla, its filling, the topping, and whatever other ingredients are included—should meld together, the sum being greater than its parts. Lesser enchilada platters often go awry in the cheese, which can congeal into a rubbery mass midway through eating the dish and the tortillas, which can be too thick and doughy.
At The Shed, the cheddar is melted to a creamy, liquid-like texture. Miraculously, the cheese stays that way throughout the entire meal; even as I polished off the last of the beans at the end, the cheese stayed soft and stringy within the sauce. The restaurant uses blue corn tortillas, which retained their texture and sopped up the savory mixture of chili and onions. Little kernels of posole were tender and flavorful. Even the beans, which are usually the most neglected item on a plate, were perfectly cooked—neither grainy nor mushy. Best of all, the red chili sauce was pleasantly spicy with just a touch of the natural sweetness that comes from using the best quality dried red chilies.
Curiously, The Shed serves garlic bread rather than sopaipilllas on the side, a practice that Cheryl attributed as a vestige of earlier decades when it was considered fancier to serve bread at restaurants. The garlic bread was a bit too tough for my liking, but given the generous size of the enchilada platter, I didn't have room for much besides dessert. We ended our meal with a zabaglione that was slightly too alcoholic, yet pleasantly light and creamy.
I'll be sure to return to The Shed. The next time, I'll forgo the desserts and stick to the platters smothered in their excellent red chili. Even in Northern New Mexico, it's rare to find an establishment that takes such care in crafting their plates of enchiladas. And at nine dollars, the number 5 is a bargain to boot.