knows that restaurants do not live by food alone. Thats why
in 1983 when he opened Chili Willis Mexican Cantina, he set out
only to offer the best Mexican and Southwestern cuisine in the region,
but to create an atmosphere that sends the senses South of the Border.
Today, large neon chili peppers hang in the windows. Murals, mirrors and
painted cattle skulls accent green and peach walls. Behind a long red
counter lined with curious patrons, the cast of cooks brings to life
Smiths cuisine creations. The aroma permeates the dining area.
Employees, dressed in shorts, blue jeans and everything in between,
scurry from table to counter to beyond, serving orders, clearing dishes,
seating customers. The chatter of patrons mixes with rhythmic rock
I came up with the concept, I said I want it to be a restaurant
that serves a drink and not a bar that serves food, Smith explained.
said, I want to have a kitchen out front. I want it to be busy. I want
plates to be clanging, music to be playing, people to be talking and
laughing. You know, a real boisterous sound that is a cantina.
Smith crosses the continent searching for the perfect Mexican,
Southwestern and Tex-Mex cuisine. His travels have taken him to such
restaurants as the Coyote Cafe in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and the Mansion
on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Texas. He will visit with owners and
up-and-coming young chefs in his search for ways to improve upon
existing dishes or create new ones.
I would like to think our Mexican food is as good as you can find
the Southwest or in Texas or in California.
The following is a recipe for Smiths Red Chile Crusted Tuna with
and Black Bean Salsa.
Red Chile Crusted Tuna
1 - 8 oz. Yellowfin tuna steak
1 tablespoon New Mexico red chiles, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground salt
2 tablespoons clarified butter
Remove the stems and seeds from 3 New Mexico red chiles. Break each
chile in half. Heat a saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Place the
chiles in the pan and lightly toast by pushing down on the chiles with
pair of tongs. Toast until they are aromatic turning them over and
toasting both sides, but be careful to not burn the chiles as they will
become bitter. Remove the chiles from the pan onto a plate and allow to
cool. In a spice mill or coffee grinder, process the chiles until
coarsely ground. Place in a bowl or plate and add the black pepper.
Combine the two ingredients.
Add the clarified butter to a saute pan and heat over medium high heat.
Season the tuna steak with salt on both sides, then on one side press
the tuna steak down onto a plate with the ground chiles and pepper.
Press the spice mixture into the tuna to make a crust. When the
clarified butter is hot to the point of almost smoking, set the tuna
with the spice mixture side down into the saute pan. Cook for two
minutes on that side. Carefully turn the tuna steak over and cook for
one more minute if a medium rare doneness is desired; or two minutes for
a medium doneness. When cooked, plate the fish over top of the Mango and
Black Bean Salsa and top with chopped cilantro and lime zest.
Mango & Black Bean Salsa
3 whole mangoes, small dice
1/2 cup dried black beans, cook to al dente
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
3 jalapeno chiles, finely diced
1 large red bell pepper, small dice
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice salt to taste
Dice the mango by first peeling the skin away with a vegetable peeler
the mango is medium ripe. If the mango is soft and ripe, cut a wedge out
of the mango the full length to the seed and cut the wedge away from the
seed. Cut the flesh away from the skin and dice the mango into a small
dice. Proceed to cut more wedges of mango away from the seed and dice
the flesh. Set diced mango in a bowl.
Wash the black beans and put in a sauce pan. Cover with water to two
inches above the beans. Cook for approximately 20 minutes then check to
see if beans are cooked but still a little firm. The beans should not
soft and mushy. Drain the beans when cooked into a colander and run cold
water over them to stop the cooking. Do not add any salt to the water
when cooking the beans, as it will make the skins tough.
Prepare the other ingredients. Dice the red onion and set aside. Using
rubber gloves, cut the stems from the jalapeno chiles, then remove the
seeds. Finely dice the chiles. Stem and seed the red bell pepper and cut
into a dice the same size as the mango. Clean the cilantro leaves then
chop. Combine all the ingredients with the diced mango except the salt
and stir to combine the flavors. Taste to see if the flavors or the tart
lime match the sweet mango. Add enough salt to round out the flavors and
refrigerate. Salsa will keep for two to three days. Serve this salsa
with the Red Chile Crusted Tuna or other grilled seafood.