Thursday, December 1, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY -- R (Siri - Jambo Cafe - a desert rat)




A friend, greatly accomplished in the culinary arts, recommended that Julie and I eat at the Jambo Café, a restaurant specializing in African-Caribbean food. This café is located at a mall thirty blocks to the south of the downtown area and, so, we had to drive. I asked Julie to program her telephone to find the place for us.

By map, the route was simple enough. The strip mall was located on Cerrillos Road and I knew how to reach that road – it was simply matter of turning onto the street outside the hotel and, then, continuing southward, veering right at each place where the road branched. But the telephone had a different idea how to reach restaurant: only a block away from the hotel, the phone ordered me to turn sharply right and follow a drainage ditch to the west. Soon enough, we had left the downtown behind and were driving through residential neighborhoods of old brick houses, utilitarian neighborhoods crouching along bleak-looking railroad yards. The phone demanded that we continue in this direction for many blocks, through a number of intersections, heading outward toward what seemed the outskirts of town. Then, the phone directed another sharp right onto an even narrower and more improbable street, a lane passing between Montessori schools and little real estate offices, then, limping over speed bumps past public schools – the homes were all one story, only three- or four-room structures spread across the treeless desert. After driving stop-and-start through this neighborhood for twenty blocks, I came to Cerrillos Road, a limb of the street passing by the hotel to the north. Some orange barrels blocked one of the turn lanes and I could see traces of construction along the road, but traffic was flowing efficiently. To the left, an unprepossessing strip mall stretched across a parking lot – Jambo café was crushed between the Hobby Lobby and PetSmart.

We were early notwithstanding the circuitous drive and, so, we looked at some relics and Africa-themed knickknacks in the Jambo import store on the other side of the Hobby Lobby. There was an exquisitely carved Dogon door and some chimeras – old African wood effigies assembled to sit atop new pedestals floridly carved in ebony-colored wood. Julie bought a few wicker-woven animals, a giraffe, a hippo, and an elephant – these figures could be used as anchors for a key chain. Stacks of Jambo café cookbooks were piled by the cash-register.

The Jambo café itself was crowded, an aromatic space densely packed with tables, dimly lit with a few tapestry-like hangings on the wall. The waiter was flamboyantly gay with his long hair tucked into a samurai bun at the back of his skull. It was our last night in Santa Fe and so we ordered extravagantly: first, the waiter bought a saucer with some cornmeal, water, and oil, then, we drank cocktails made from colored liqueurs. We asked the waiter to bring a bottle of Goats Do Roam wine from South Africa and, then, as starters, a cup of cocoanut shrimp bisque soup for me and plantain crab cakes for Julie. I had a combination plate with coconut chicken curry, goat stew, and a lentil stew. For dessert, I had mango cobbler with ice-cream. Julie had date coconut flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream. Everything was very good, the flavors in the food reminding me generally of Indian cuisine. It was a Monday night, but the restaurant was full to overflowing and very convivial. When we left, a half-dozen couples were waiting for a table and one of the cooks was standing on the sidewalk in front of PetSmart smoking a cigarette.

A desert rat with antalgic gait staggered across the parking lot. He was carrying a backpack and had a poncho patterned like a Navajo rug cast over his shoulders. He asked me for money and I gave him two dollars in quarters that were weighing down my pockets. I couldn’t get that change through security.

Out of the Mall parking lot, I turned right and drove on Cerrillos Road straight downtown to the hotel. No turns were required until I reached the Hilton on the Plaza.


  1. Jamba regularly ranks #1 Santa Fe restaurant on TripAdvisor.