Thursday, August 31, 2006

Maria's - Santa Fe

I had the good fortune of discovering one of the best resturants I have ever been to; and without any doubt, the best margaritas I have ever tasted. The place is called Maria's and is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Maria's is owned by Al Lucero, a former television executive who is the fifth owner. Started by Maria Lopez and her husband Gilbert in 1950, on the very spot, in the very same building Maria's exists today, it began as take-out kitchen. Maria's business boomed and the couple added two booths and a patio. Over the years, Maria's has had it ups and downs, and now that Al Lucero has retired, returned to Santa Fe, and with his careful attention to preserving the history and traditon of the Maria margarita, and his passion for this Santa Fe historic landmark, it looks like we can taste Maria's margaritas for years to come.

Maria's is a very, very special place; Robert Redford has written the introduction to their book "The Great Margarita Book", the Seattle Times has called Maria's "The Motherload of American Margaritas", the New York Times has called Maria's margaritas the "best in town", The Washington Post added they are "world class", Southern Arts described Maria's as "Margaritaville" and named their margaritas as one of the 101 reasons to visit Santa Fe. From Better Homes to Playboy, newspapers and magazines nationwide, as well as almost every state and local publication have given Maria's margaritas sensational reviews.

While in New Mexico on business to meet with the New Mexico Economic Development Partnership, I arrived at the Sunport (Albuquerque's name for their airport, which you gotta just love) at 7:30 pm on a long flight from New York's LaGuardia. Hot, tired and hungry, my host asked if I wanted to grab something to eat during the next two hour driving leg of my trip to Las Vegas, New Mexico. I have been to New Mexico enough to know you do two things while there: buy turquoise and have margaritas. My reply was "let's go somewhere and have a margarita".

Little did I know upon driving into the parking lot of a very small, crowded and unpretentious building that I would soon be in "Margarita Mecca". This place is special and you feel that as soon as you walk in the door. Take it from Robert Redford who writes in the foreword of Maria's book:

"When people have asked of a place to eat in Santa Fe, I find myself referring them to Maria's. Is it fancy? No. Is it chic? No. Is the good good? Yes. But the margaritas - they are the best. Like anything of quality, it takes love and care - a degree of passion to execute it, love to start it, commitment to that love to sustain it. Maria's is a history and a definition. I am glad it's there. I'm glad I've tasted their margaritas, and I hope not too many people find out about it".

Since much of Santa Fe presents upscale eclectic shops, gallaries and resturants, I was expecting this place might be the typical trendy place frequented by locals and tourists alike. What suprised me was the fact this place is what most of us would refer to as a "hole in the wall". I might add that is much of the charm as well. With over 100 margaritas to choose from, I have been asked "are they frozen? those kind like you buy on Bourbon Street in New Orleans from dispensers?" - my answer is no, no, not at all - each one is handcrafted behind a tiny bar by some of the absolute nicest people I have ever met in my life. This place is an absolute "must do" on anyone's travel list; good food, superb margaritas, outstanding wait staff and bartendars - how often do we find all of that? an unpretentous resturant with unpretntous staff, in an unpretentous building!

After two margarita's and a wonderful meal we proceeded to Las Vegas, New Mexico, checked into the Historic Plaza Hotel and had the best night's sleep with my belly full of Maria's sausa, chips, taco's and of course, those superb margarita's.


Maria's New Mexican Kitchen
555 West Cordova Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505
b: 505.983.7929
f: 505.983.4700

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Resturant Review - Luke's Bar & Grill - New York City

Arriving late, hungry and tired in NYC on Monday night, August 14, I decided to try Luke's Bar & Grill which is located at 1394 Third Street, between 79th & 80th Streets; I found Luke's to be a real gem located in a wonderful and lively neighborhood on the upper eastside.

Their website homepage says "from martini's to meatloaf, our menu has something for all" which is exactly what I had. Grey Goose up with olives and meatloaf with mashed potatos.

Zagat describes this establishment, run by proprieter Luigi Militello, as "solid as a rock, this “friendly” Eastsider is a “fixture” for American pub grub, especially if you’re “into burgers”; with a “cool staff” and “lively” regulars, it’s a “typical” neighborhood hangout for brews and simple food for young and old alike".

Somewhat predictable, after Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame was arrested here on Tuesday, August 10, 2004, when he got into a brouhaha with the police over his driver double-parking in front of Luke's while he ran inside to pick-up take-out meatloaf - you can now order "The Mike Wallace Meatloaf" from the menu. Mr. Wallace says he has gone to Luke's for over 10 years and absolutely loves the food.

The night I was in Luke's it was warm and the front windows were open allowing you to feel the energy and hustle and bustle of Manhattan nightlife just outside. The place is the sort of establishment that is simple and clean, mixture of young and old, and provides the feel of being a Manhattan resident hanging out in your local neighborhood pub without any of the tourist activity.

Give it a try next time you are in the city!

Luke's Bar & Grill
1394 Third Avenue
Between 79th & 80th Streets
Manhattan, NY 10021

Saturday, August 26, 2006

My son goes to college.....

On Wednesday, August 23, 2006 we took my son to Indiana University in Bloomington where he begins his first year of college on Monday, August 28. Now this is no small event; and it was the first time we have experienced one of our children leaving home. After several days of getting boxes packed, supplies purchased, plans developed for this transition in our family's life, it all came down to a last minute errand my son had to make on Wednesday morning that defined the move away from home and into college life completely - he discovered he had no "sticky putty" to hang his posters on the wall of the dorm room that he would occupy in a few hours. So, with a crisis at hand, he made several unsuccessful visits to nearby office supply stores in search of "poster hanging putty", and finally located some; only setting our departure schedule off by one hour. A young man must have his priorities!

My wife, son and daughter, with the belongings of a college freshman stacked in every conceivable space in the car, all made the hour's drive to Bloomington, Indiana. We were fortunate to have the drive complimented by a beautiful August day - I must say, the laid back, easy, peaceful feeling of driving through southern Indiana only gets better as the years go by.

I recalled this very same trip in 1970 when my father, mother, brother and myself made this same exact trip to take my brother to college at Indiana University for his freshman year. I contantly reminded my family that the landscape has remained virtually unchanged as you make the drive from Indianapolis into southern Indiana, this area of the state is known for it's midwestern charm and beauty, and has the only hills and valleys of any significance in the entire state.

In a time when highways are filled with strip centers, outlet malls, mega truck stops, and "See Rock City" and "Fireworks Ahead" billboards, the drive from Indianapolis to Bloomington is like going back in the 50's when life was slower, farm tractors were still plowing on each side of the highway, and outlet malls had not even been introduced in America. You can still experience this is 2006 if you make this 50 mile drive on State Road 37 South from Indy to B-town.

Upon arriving in Bloomington the campus was filled with mini-van's, U-haul's, students and parents all vying for close parking places to begin the exercise of carrying fans, small fridges, micro-waves (yes, these too) trunks filled with fall clothes and of course "notebook computers and IPods" which is essentially, the best I can tell "all requriements for life as an 18 year old". My son even has a Blackberry wireless PDA. A big difference from my brother taking a portable typewritter and a Pickett slide rule.

As we hooked-up with my son's roomate, a childhood friend from Indianapolis, it became clear they wanted their space and freedom and in no way wanted us helping un-box, move furniture around or assemble any of the adjuncts to enhance dorm living. Mom did get to make the bed and put sheets on; our son did not argue with that of course, particularly in view of the fact he is on the top bunk. Several of their high school friends located them about as quickly as we arrived and it seemed like like the perfect time to say goodbye, wish him well and head back home with our new three member household.

I am thrilled for him and the experiences he will have ahead of him; and of course from a parent's perspective this is one huge bittersweet event. But, it is "all as it should be" and he is well prepared for this next journey in his life.....


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Goin' 185 on my birthday!

Yesterday, August 19, 2006 I was able to experience a lifetime dream - a ride around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track in a 2-seater Indy car. For several years now, vendors have emerged who provide opportunities for paying enthusiasts to ride, and in some venues drive a real race car. In Indianapolis, we have such a company called Sinden Racing, which was formed in Indianapolis, on Gasoline Alley by two former Indy car pit crew members. This organization has been around since 1987, and has been sponsoring "Indy Racing Experience", a 2-seater Indy car ride which occurs several times a year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My generous brother provided me a birthday present for an actual ride; ironically Sinden Racing was conducting a Indianapolis session on my actual birthday, which made it very special.

It was a beautiful day in Indy; about 100 people signed up for the event. Each participant receives a packet in the mail for a morning or afternoon session which includes the general time-frame for your ride. After checking-in at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, a van takes you to the pit area of the famed oval and you check-in once again; this time you get fitted with a full racing suit and racing shoes. It's becoming serious at this point! While suiting up in one of the Formula 1 garages, you can hear the cars screaming around the track!

After being fitted, you simply queue-up along the wall of the pits with about 6 other people. Sinden Racing has two cars going around the track; one car runs three laps and as they go by the pits and into the first turn on the third lap, the second car goes out. As the first car enters the pit, the next person gets inside, straps in and when the current hot car is on the third lap, you go out. The is really effecient; and they have a tent to stand under to keep cool due to the heat of the uniform. As you are standing in line at the pit-wall, you are fitted with a sock that goes over your head, a helmet and racing gloves.

When your turn comes, the crew members place a step for you to access the car so you don't step on the fuel tank; the crew is checking tire pressure, covering the engine area with wet towels because the constant starting and stopping makes the engine really hot. You are strapped in with full harness (very tightly I might add), and in a few minutes the driver peals out and you are racing down the famous pit row of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and onto the track. I have never experienced a rush like this in my entire life!

It seemed to me that by the time we were through the first turn and onto the short-chute we were up to speed; I simply could not believe how fast we were going. But, by the time we hit turn two, it was clear we were not even close to the speed we would be going.

Down the backstretch, the car just screams from engine noise and as you head into turn 3 from the backstretch it becomes surreal. How a car can possibly stay on the track at that speed in a turn is just mindboggling. Of course, intellectually I know that physics associated with the related down-force from the wings causes the car to stick to the track; but to experience this in a race car is surreal. It is inexplicable. I learned quickly that when you watch a car on TV during the race from the on-board camera, what you don't experience are the g-forces, the noise, the bumps, the jerks in the turn, it is absolutely unreal. The turns are banked at exactly the same 9 degrees and 12 minutes as they were during the first Indy 500 in 1911 - the only difference is that we were going over 100 mph faster than the first 500!

I also thought of Ray Harroun in his #32 Marmon Wasp running at an average speed of 74.6 mph around the same track to win his first Indy 500 in 1911 in 6 hours, 42 minutes and 8 seconds. The experience of being on the track with the tradition, history, fame, and the emotion of growing up in Indy and seeing the evolution from front-engine roadsters, to the NOVI, the Lotus, side-turbine, wedge-turbine and now the current down-force cars was truly a very, very special day.

The two drivers for the day were Davey Hamilton and Stephan Gregoire. I had Stephan Gregoire and after a memorable ride, I shook his hand and told him it was a great ride on my birthday - he gave me a thumbs-up as he raised his visor and waited for another rider to accompany him on what probably seemed to him like a Sunday afternoon drive. We averaged 185 mph, and pulled 2 g's in the turns.

Sinden Racing also has a program at Indianapolis Raceway Park, now called O'Reilly Raceway Park, where you can take a class and then drive 8 full laps in an actual Indy car by yourself while a seasoned driver leads you in another car. Every car used actually raced in an Indy 500.

Can you guess what I am doing next summer?