Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Chiles Rellenos in New Mexico
Thirteen years ago, a friend and I drove from New York to California. We stopped in Albuquerque around lunchtime. As travelers do, we bumbled around and decided to lunch in the dining room of a hotel in what I recall as the main square of oldtown Albuquerque. I ordered a chile relleno. My traveling companion, sickened by the unaccustomed heat, altitude and single-digit humidity, ordered a fruit plate and iced tea. With the first bite, I realized that I was eating a masterpiece. I kept trying to offer my poor companion a bite, "Come on, it's okay, it's vegetarian!" I never had a better chile relleno. To this day, I impute to all of New Mexico some mystical power over chiles rellenos. Today, we had lunch in Las Cruces on the drive from California to New York. As travelers do, my current traveling companion and I bumbled around far enough from the Interstate to find a real local Mexican restaurant. I ordered a chile relleno. It was a perfectly fine lunch in a nice place and the price was more than reasonable, but it was not by any means close to the best chile relleno in the world. Even if I was to go back to Albuquerque--about two hundred miles north of Las Cruces--and even if I could find that place again, it wouldn't be the same. Even if the hotel was still there, the dining room would be under new management, or that magnificent cook would have gone on to bigger and better things, or the chile supplier would have left town. And even if everything could be exactly the same, I bet the chile relleno couldn't live up to the build-up I've given it over the last thirteen years. Some things are better left to memory.