Common Fire: A unique hearth for Taos

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A new restaurant quietly opened June 2 at the Quail Ridge Resort and Spa. But word has spread quickly.

The restaurant is called Common Fire, and aptly so — as its main feature is a huge hearth oven located in the dining area, open-kitchen style. Co-owners Andy Lynch and William Sarokin conceived it as a family-friendly restaurant “where patrons feel they can come to eat twice a week, not twice a year.”

“I was inspired by the idea of people gathering around a fire,” Lynch said. “For most of our history, humans have cooked and baked together. If you go camping, everybody sits around the fire. So my idea was to build this hearth as a common fire for the Taos community: a place for all of us to come around.”

A variety of dishes

Chef Andrew Horton plans his menus carefully, combining his personal taste and experiences with a farm-to-table approach. There are some Korean-inspired dishes, like the Bo’ssam, which consists of slow-cooked pork butt, steamed rice, ssäm sauce, kimchi puree and scallion-ginger vinegar. The pork is served in Korean-style cabbage “tacos.”

The hearth-roasted half chicken is quickly becoming a favorite, Lynch said.

“Brined for 12 hours, the breast is boneless with the leg and thigh attached, cooked in the fire in a cast-iron skillet, under a brick — or ‘al mattone,’ as the Italians would call it,” he said.

Local ceramic artist Logan Wannamaker worked with Lynch to design and create bowls and plates especially for the restaurant.

The wines

Lynch is a sommelier and a true wine connoisseur who often writes about the subject and has been part of the Taos Winter Wine Festival.

His love affair with wine started when he worked in Windows on the World at the World Trade Center. He was a waiter, but used to hang out with the “wine guys.”

“They were much cooler,” he said. “One of them left and the boss hired me. I didn’t have a lot of experience with wine, but was passionate about it. So I started my wine career with great people.”

At Common Fire, the wine offered is notably complex and varied. They have Txakoli from Biscay, Spain; Sancerre by Chaumeau-Balland et fils from the Loire Valley in France; Chassagne-Montrachet from Burgundy, France; and several Rieslings. There is also saké — True Mirror — and sparkling wines, like champagne and prosecco.

Among the red wines, you can get everything from a Chianti Classico by Badia a Coltibouno to a Chateau Clerc Milon from Bordeaux, France.

“There is plenty to choose from,” Lynch said. “We also want to start our wine-by-the-glass program at $6. Getting a glass of wine for less than $9 is tough, so we are making a point by starting at six.”

From Andy’s Shack to Common Fire

Lynch is no stranger to New Mexico. The Bronx native first lived in Taos for nearly 10 years in the ‘80s. He worked at Polly Raye’s Apple Tree and was the food and beverage manager at the Taos Inn. He later moved to Santa Fe and worked there for 15 years, also in the restaurant industry.

“I know this area pretty well,” he said. “I have always liked it, so when it was time for me to decide what I wanted to do at this stage of my life — I am in my 60s — I decided to open a restaurant in Taos.”

He came back last year with that purpose in mind.

“But I knew that opening a restaurant would take time,” Lynch said. “Then Kurt Edelbrock, our excellent landlord, suggested having a small place that would serve tennis players and swimmers during the summer. I opened Andy’s Summer Shack while we put everything together for the restaurant.”

Andy’s Summer Shack is still open all summer — every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will continue to be part of the Quail Ridge Resort and Spa. Lynch has teamed up with Benji Apodaca and Mary Spears, from the Taos High School Culinary Arts Program, and their students will have a hand in running the shack.

“Though they won’t learn a lot from a culinary perspective — making a burger is quite simple — there is the entrepreneurial side to it: how to watch the numbers and make sure that they make a profit,” Lynch said. “They will find out how great it feels to have $100 in sales and then [realize] they had $200 in expenses.”

‘Living on the nickel’

“Watching the numbers” is perhaps the main challenge for a restaurateur, Lynch admits.

“In our business, we use the phrase ‘living on the nickel,” he said.

“This means that a good, well-run restaurant’s net earnings are around 5 percent — that’s the nickel! If you put a dollar in the register and get to keep a nickel, you are doing well. So you don’t do it for the money. You have to love it.”

Yet the business also gives him a sense of satisfaction. Lynch reminds his staff members that they are “throwing a party” every day.

“Making a living by throwing parties is great, even if we just make a nickel out of it,” he said. “So the challenge is making sure you get to keep that nickel. But the rewards are endless. When you feed people, you get to establish a very intimate connection with them.”

The restaurant is open Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 9 p.m. Common Fire is located at 88 State Road 150 (on the road to Arroyo Seco) at the Quail Ridge Resort. Call (575) 776-2211 for more information.

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