Turning Over a New Leaf on Santa Fe Dining

Habit is a good friend. Habit makes me wake at the same hour bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Habit helps me watch what I eat, keeps me at the gym without fail, and ensures that when the laptop shuts down, everything on the day’s slate has been completed. But there are times when habit’s subconscious navigation makes me miss out on the taste of excitement that comes with a new experience, especially at the table. Lately I’ve felt I’m neglecting the opportunity to enliven my palate, so with the New Year’s roll-out, I’m rolling out a plan to politely decline blind habit and order something new and unfamiliar each and every time I go out to dine in Santa Fe.

Let’s Go Atrisco

Everyone who lives here — and no doubt, anyone who visits Santa Fe on a regular basis — has one chosen spot that is an undisputed favorite for a chile fix. I try to be fair and sample all over town, but I can sense a new addiction to the fresh taste and quick kitchen at Atrisco. I just don’t see how I can get through winter without a stop for the soft, pillowy wheat flour sopapillas that accompany a meal there, since that’s a treat I rarely prepare. Enticing rumors about their lamb burrito have been on my radar for quite some time now, but whenever I go out and a waitperson appears at my side, the same thing always seems to pop out of my mouth: “Chile rellenos with green, please.”

Change came at last when I headed to Atrisco, plopped down with purpose and at last, ordered that mighty burrito, smothered Christmas-style in both green and red chile, no less! Locally-raised at Talus Wind Ranch and slow-roasted to retain the earthy flavor, this is a dish that speaks to the best flavors of Santa Fe and to the deep network of food-sourcing connections formed by owner George Gundry over years spent in a family restaurant dynasty. I’m channeling the Terminator, because, “I’ll be back.”

Try the lamb burrito at Atrisco and sample something new and familiar at the same time.
Try the lamb burrito at Atrisco and sample something new and familiar at the same time.

Making Bodies Happy and Healthy Is a BODY Specialty

My enchilada fixation is a chronic routine, with cheese or chicken. This means a stack of corn tortillas, bathed in either chunky green chile or smooth, spicy red, with a batch of beans on the side. But branching out to raw, vegan and gluten-free means I can enjoy dining in the company of treasured vegan and gluten-free friends, who have conscientiously embraced these health concepts.

Having finally dipped my fork into the raw food at the BODY Café, I believe I’ve created a yummy mandate for boldly going forward into new frontiers. Notions of nutrition have certainly changed since the days when Grandma cooked the green beans until all their health benefits had left the building; eating raw celebrates food made in a minimally-processed manner. The raw enchiladas instantly became a favorite, with a bell pepper wrap encasing a veggie mix of green cabbage, red bell pepper, corn, and pungent red onion, perched on chile Colorado (that means red) sauce with cashew cream. The whole BODY menu is tantalizing, so I foresee embarking beyond enchiladas into an eating raw adventure this year … oh, and did I mention their raw onion rings? I think that’s a pretty perfect prescription for a new way of eating in the new year.

Say Ole! to the raw enchilada plate at BODY Café.
Say Ole! to the raw enchilada plate at BODY Café.

Mixing Northeast and Southwest in a Bowl

As I took off in my new fork-and-spoon direction, tossing out expectations about which ingredients get married on the plate seemed like a tasty technique for turning the tables on dining. I often walk through the 10-plus acre Santa Fe Railyard Park on my way to and from the Plaza or the Farmers’ Market, and I’m always entranced by the enticing aromas wafting out of La Choza. My quest to sniff out novel ways for enjoying a hometown meal led me to a dish worth investigating: green chile clam chowder. Never heard of it? Me neither!

Chow down on clam chowder with Santa Fe flair at La Choza.
Chow down on clam chowder with Santa Fe flair at La Choza.

I’ve always been fond of La Choza, one of those homegrown havens lovingly tended for years by the same family — now raising its fourth generation, mind you. This spot also scores high because it’s close-in, but off the beaten path, meaning not as well known as its delicious downtown sister, The Shed. As I settled into a cozy corner at La Choza, I set out to discover whether this distinctive clam chowder offered a convincing case for an innovative kitchen. And yes, I’m convinced! Clams and chile make a winning combo. Melding just the right mix of briny flavor and chile heat, it looks just like … you guessed it, classic clam chowder. But the taste says hometown comfort food, with tender potatoes and carrots perched inside a piquant New England meets Nuevo Mexico partnership.

Say Hello to Shohko

Discovery is integral to New Year’s resolutions, but re-discovery can be just as exciting as virgin territory. Chile shows up all over town, and encountering it tucked in a crispy pile of veggie tempura at Shohko is worth remembering. I intend to satisfy my yen for the foods of the East more often, as I renew my acquaintance with the consistently delicious fare at this venerable family-owned and operated spot. An oasis of calm pervades the quiet, understated location, and I let my meal relax into a second hour; something about chopsticks just says healthy pacing.

Lunches of yester-year always meant the bento box, a thoughtful sampler with good value. But this year, I’ll be working my way item by item through the Izakaya (i.e. tapas) menu, though I’ll find it hard to resist re-ordering the succulent enoki mushrooms sautéed in sake and butter. I felt supremely healthy escorting bites of fresh green seaweed salad to my taste buds; this dish will also continue to tempt. Given Shohko’s pride of place as Santa Fe’s first sushi bar – the entire enterprise opened as a natural food store in 1972; the restaurant and sushi bar followed later – I simply must troll back through the sushi menu. And doesn’t pairing it with a sake flight sound like a tasty intention for the coming year?

Brighten up your dinner plate this year with Fire Rolls from Shohko, an off the menu favorite of insiders in the know.
Brighten up your dinner plate this year with Fire Rolls from Shohko, an off the menu favorite of insiders in the know.

Develop a City Different Dining Plan

So maybe like me, you didn’t know that enchiladas taste wonderful raw, that green chile can hide its essence inside a tempura crust, or that the cool north and the spicy south get along so swimmingly in a bowl. These are just a few tactics by which Santa Fe creates a river of adventurous flavor running through our renowned restaurant scene. If you want to taste it all in one juicy burst, I suggest heading for ArtFeast on February 21-23, when galleries and restaurants pair up to show the artistry of Santa Fe. Or go for broke at Santa Fe Restaurant Week, running from February 23 — March 2, when the only thing better than the food is value that won’t break the bank. I’ll be dipping into both these events with an avowed mission to send my palate to new places. Care to join me in turning your 2014 foodie resolutions into reality?

The Art of Dining on Canyon Road

Ambling up along the edge of the river, Santa Fe’s Canyon Road is renowned as one of the country’s premier arts destinations. While our world-class museums justifiably draw crowds year-round, there’s nothing quite like taking a stroll through one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods under the strikingly blue sky. Canyon Road has been a haven for artistic types since settlers first parked their wagons by the waters flowing down from the mountains through the canyon. And anywhere people set down roots, restaurants inevitably crop up. Artful wandering on Canyon Road is a memorable must-do for a Santa Fe visit, and dining there becomes an artistic experience in the hands of the fine chefs who answer the creative call.

Invite your feet to lead you to the flavors of Canyon Road.
Invite your feet to lead you to the flavors of Canyon Road.

A Creative Atmosphere Calls for a Cozy Cafe

You’ve probably heard that saying that begins with “Eat breakfast like a king.” So after I settle down to a breakfast burrito filled with green chile, eggs, and cheese, along with a cup of deep, dark Lavazza coffee at Caffe Greco, I leave feeling like a queen for the day. Perched at the base of Canyon Road, this colorful cafe is a great place to spend an hour noshing over a newspaper, surrounded by galleries and unique shopping.

Caffe Greco invites outdoor refreshment...
Caffe Greco invites outdoor refreshment…
...and offers a colorfully cozy interior.
…and offers a colorfully cozy interior.

The tree-shaded patio is perfect for an al fresco lunch of tacos, or that ubiquitous signature Santa Fe treat, the green chile cheeseburger. The interior of the cafe is jewel-toned, with quirky sculptures and paintings scattered in nooks and crannies of a space that feels truly Santa Fe, and a small fireplace to guard against winter’s chill. Friendly neighborhood camaraderie flows throughout, as visitors and locals converse convivially on how best to tap into the artistic scene that is Canyon Road.

Adding Beauty Compounds the Pleasure of a Great Meal

Landmark buildings create a lovely setting, and Canyon Road is rich with historic structures. Nowhere is this truer than at The Compound Restaurant, named for the building that was once the centerpiece of a residential family compound. Back in the early part of the 20th century, this quiet edifice, nestled on a verdant swath of land by the river, welcomed the weary movers and shakers of society, before morphing into a restaurant in the mid-1960’s. The wise decision to bring in noted designer Alexander Girard (he whose massive collection of folk art forms the basis of the world-class Museum of International Folk Art) created a memorably elegant space, largely unchanged through the years.

The Compound is a sweet place to celebrate a special occasion.
The Compound is a sweet place to celebrate a special occasion.

For as long as I have been in Santa Fe, the Compound has always at the top of the list for a celebratory occasion. While chef/owner Mark Kiffin has dispensed with the silver covers once timed to lift exquisitely off diners’ plates at the same moment, the standard has remained high. Kiffin assumed the helm in 2000 and brought to the table a seasonally-tuned menu of contemporary American cuisine fusing Old World flavors of the Mediterranean with the best of New World taste. It’s no wonder that the James Beard Foundation named him “Best Chef in the Southwest” in 2005. That fresh spring pea soup and the rack of lamb definitely get my vote every time.

Celebrity Spotting on the Menu at Geronimo

Santa Fe style is legendary, and Canyon Road has so many examples to prove it. After dining at the Compound, compound your enjoyment of signature architecture and fine food another night by heading further up Canyon Road to Geronimo. The Apache chief of that name is known to anyone who ever watched a Western, but the only fighting at the dinner table will be for the last morsel on the plate. The historic building that houses this elegant dining establishment was built in 1756 by one Geronimo Lopez, for whom the restaurant is named. Known to Santa Fe insiders as a great place for celebrity spotting, a dinner at Geronimo makes its popularity abundantly clear as one delicious dish follows another to the table.

A magnificent meal in a memorable setting like Geronimo is the essence of Santa Fe flavor.
A magnificent meal in a memorable setting like Geronimo is the essence of Santa Fe flavor.

 

Executive chef Eric de Stefano has a long culinary history in Santa Fe, and his penchant for what he denotes as “global eclectic” cuisine plays out nightly in palate-pleasing perfection. Loyal fans never permit the elk tenderloin to leave the menu, but I can’t pass up the grilled Mexican white prawns – that Yuzu basil aioli just keeps me coming back. Never fear, vegetarians, there’s a four-course tasting menu that takes care of you too. The graceful thick-walled adobe dining room is warm and welcoming, and the lounge in back is a happening place to be on a Saturday night in the City Different. And those signature cocktails are pretty happening too!

Tapas Are the Tune at a Truly Local Locale

Every town – in fact, every neighborhood – has its local cantina, and Canyon Road boasts El Farol. More than just an anchor for a meal, this is a restaurant, blues bar, jazz club, poetry space, art gallery, and a flamenco dance floor rolled up together under yet another historic roof. Built in 1835, with long-time owner David Salazar at the helm, El Farol is said to be the oldest continuously operating dining space in Santa Fe, and whether or not that’s true, there is no doubting its local appeal.

Take a trip to Spain via Santa Fe with tapas at El Farol.
Take a trip to Spain via Santa Fe with tapas at El Farol.

The broad porch on the corner of Canyon Road and Camino del Monte Sol offers great people-watching opportunities during the warmer seasons, and the interior feels archetypically Western, with dark wood chairs that push back easily for nights when feet are tapping. Tapas and a margarita, anyone? Or maybe paella and a glass of sangria is more your style. Either way, if you’re looking for a casual evening of eating and entertainment with a Santa Fe ambiance, look no further than El Farol.

Teatime Is Anytime at the Teahouse

Up at the point where Palace Avenue curves around to end at Canyon Road, you’ll find the hospitable haven of The Teahouse, a tastefully well-kept old home below street level at the end of a row of galleries. At the corner where Canyon Road turns mostly residential, this is an oasis of calm from morning to night. Charming garden seating welcomes you to linger, and the gracious white-walled adobe interior is spacious enough to find serenity with a cup of tea, or a glass of wine or a beer over dinner. Under new ownership since late 2012, the Teahouse has been a tranquil temptation for Santa Feans since it opened its doors 10 years ago.

A vegan burger at the Teahouse keeps you fueled for Santa Fe fun.
A vegan burger at the Teahouse keeps you fueled for Santa Fe fun.

Knowing that there are 150 different varieties of tea here might mask the fact that a person can get three squares a day here, should she choose. The gluten-free breadbasket is not something you often see on a breakfast menu, and gluten-free bread is available for sandwiches too. And I’m a sucker for wild mushrooms, so thanks, Teahouse, for that panini pick. And oh, the tea! You’ll have to use your own discerning taste to hone in on the one of many that suits you to a T.

Get Your Fill of the Flavors on Canyon Road

It’s a given that a day on Canyon Road really must be part of any Santa Fe getaway. Top to bottom on this historic road, richness, so much depth and discovery abound, that it’s worth visiting more than once. And sculpting three meals a day means you’ll have more than one opportunity to sample the delights for eyes and tummies along the way. Combine your hunger for the visual arts with your appetite for a great meal to create a satisfying Santa Fe art adventure surrounded by history and culture on Canyon Road.

 

 

 

 

Get Your Hands-On Santa Fe

Walking and talking, shopping and sunning. These activities definitely make up part of the itinerary when my friends and family come to visit. But there’s always at least one buddy who wants to get her hands covered with paint or dusted with flour. And I am always thrilled to oblige since it means I can re-discover Santa Fe through a hands-on experience that brings my hometown to artful life.

Scenery Comes to Life in Full Color

Sending home postcards and snapping pictures are certainly enjoyable ways to remember a getaway to somewhere as memorable as Santa Fe. But take the time to wrap your fingers around a pencil or get coated with pastel. This gives you a unique, creative reminder of your time in the City Different and it also imprints the destination in your mind’s eye in an indelible way. Jane Shoenfeld’s Sketching and Painting Santa Fe workshops offer an easy introduction to seeing Santa Fe with your hands and your eyes.

Sketching Santa Fe is a fun-filled family affair.
Sketching Santa Fe is a fun-filled family affair.

No experience is necessary, all materials are provided, and you’ll work in the forgiving and sensuous medium of pastel, perfect for capturing the bold colors and long shadows of Santa Fe. A 3-hour Friday morning session, at a spot close to the heart of downtown, is a golden opportunity to discover your hidden talent with the guidance of a working artist.

Santa Fe + Self-Expression = Santa Fe Creative Tourism

Sometimes I have to move beyond my daily routine to re-discover something I may already know, but have somehow forgotten. That’s when Santa Fe Creative Tourism steps in to fill the creative gap for me. A collection of intriguing artistic experiences is curated into a one-stop website for the creative-curious to browse. Digital filmmaking or encaustic painting, pastel sketching or Chimayo weaving, monotypes or Monday night swing dancing at the Odd Fellows Hall — it’s a deep and entertaining catalog of creative vacationing.

For moving past the familiar, I currently have my eye on a specific two-day workshop listed on the site: Beyond Knowing: An Intuitive Painting and Movement Experience, September 14-15. Co-facilitators Julie Claire and Josephina Santiago, designed the weekend to help participants break free of preconceptions about the creative impulse by means of playful exercises in movement and artistic expression.

Color in motion brings imagination to life.
Color in motion brings imagination to life.

Make Your Pictures Truly Worth a Thousand Words

The advent of the digital camera and smartphone makes my photos look better. But when I see what a little education can do for a picture, I want to learn as much as I can. Then it’s time for the expertise of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Celebrated for helping turn a good eye into great photos, the workshops boast a stable of professional instructors, who can guide you through the maze of information involved in creating a memorable image.

Autumn is a feast of light and color in Santa Fe. The Photographic Workshops take full advantage of the season, with a whole host of opportunities. Perhaps learning how to harness the qualities of light is what thrills you, so consider Marc Muench’s High Desert Light workshop September 30-October 3. If you want to get back to the basics, George DeWolfe’s The Black-and-White Master Print might be for you.

 

The sky's the limit when you shoot in Southwestern surroundings.
The sky’s the limit when you shoot in Southwestern surroundings.

The campus is located on the serene grounds of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat and Conference Center. Classrooms, a studio, labs, housing, and the dining room are a mere 2 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza.

Get Your Hands into Some Masa Harina

Real creativity often comes out in the kitchen. You will get inspired here in Santa Fe, where time shared together with friends or strangers can be paired with the delicious ingredients that comprise our famed cuisine. The Santa Fe School of Cooking has been welcoming foodies to the table for over 25 years, and its 2012 move to a new and larger facility made the taste of a cooking class that much better.

This family-owned and -operated business, with founder Susan Curtis and director of operations Nicole Curtis Ammerman at the helm, offers a wide roster of classes. The classes start straightforward with the most-popular Traditional New Mexican demonstration class and go all the way to an utterly hands-on 3-day Southwest Culinary Bootcamp. Whatever your culinary pleasure, you can learn about the flavors that create the taste of Santa Fe and bring them home from the onsite or online market. I get hungry just thinking about all those different salsas!

 

Practice your celebrity chef skills while making salsa at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
Practice your celebrity chef skills while making salsa at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.

Moving in Time to the Santa Fe Beat

Tap into Southwestern rhythms with a class at the NDI NM Dance Barns. The City Different got city-lucky in 1991 when renowned dancer Jacques d’Amboise introduced the National Dance Institute methodology to Santa Fe dance students. In 1994, NDI New Mexico was incorporated and the spacious Dance Barns facility has the dial turned to fabulous.

Visitors can don ballet slippers for a drop-in ballet class Monday through Thursday at 10 am. Tappers bring the noise Tuesday nights at 6 pm; Wednesday night at the same hour is dedicated to jazz. If your movement skews to the exercise end of the spectrum, head for cardio belly-dance Tuesdays at 4:45 pm. Friday 4:45 pm Zumba class will burn enough calories to let you enjoy a subsequent margarita without guilt.

Dancing feet are on display at the NDI Dance Barns in Santa Fe.
Dancing feet are on display at the NDI Dance Barns in Santa Fe.

The Write Way to Enjoy Santa Fe

Chances are you’ve read a novel or two set in Santa Fe before you got here – and at least one of them was by Tony Hillerman. The late author was so adept at distilling all the memorable parts of Southwest – the look, the feel, the flavor – and so beloved by anyone who ever wandered down to the Santa Fe Plaza to spend an hour with his gripping mysteries.

Talking books is serious business at the Tony Hillerman Writers' Conference. Anne Hillerman, Tony's daughter and cofounder of WORDHARVEST, signed books at a recent conference.
Talking books is serious business at the Tony Hillerman Writers’ Conference. Anne Hillerman, Tony’s daughter and cofounder of WORDHARVEST, signed books at a recent conference.

The annual Tony Hillerman Writer’s Conference, a 3-day workshop covering topics on all things writing, returns November 7-9. Hosted by WORDHARVEST, an organization founded in 2002 to “support authors and encourage great writing,” the conference offers time to learn how to publish an e-book or polish your skills in a word-rich atmosphere of like-minded souls. Opportunities to network with other writers, get feedback on a current project, and meet literary agents and editors can all be accomplished in one place. And no mystery about it: essayists, memoirists, fan fiction writers — you’re all invited!

Crafting a Hands-On Vacation Creates a Lasting Memory

When we take home a skill from vacation, somehow that moment in time is crystallized forever. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of laying out a complete enchilada dinner for 12 or hanging an iconic photograph taken with your own camera on the wall. Do both and more by planning your Santa Fe vacation calendar around some of these hands-on adventures. Expand your horizons and enrich your life back home with the results of your artistry.

Room for Every Eater Around the Santa Fe Table

It’s a well-known fact that Santa Fe is a mecca for foodies. Its culinary cornucopia is bountiful, and its penchant for innovative cuisine is the stuff of legend. In addition to carne adovada and green chile cheeseburgers, Santa Fe keeps in step with lifestyle and food trends that lean toward the vegetarian-friendly diet. Chefs here in town are magicians in satisfying those with gluten-sensitivity issues.

If you are looking to expand your edible horizons, or simply want to maintain your commitment to a healthier way of eating, Santa Fe will dazzle you with delectable, wholesome options. Restaurants in town also offer many choices for you to eat with a companion who has dietary aversions or allergies. How about swapping that chorizo for chard, queso for kale, or a side of beef for pickled beets? Prepare to have your taste buds tantalized and treated.

Body Cafe Is a Whole-Nutrition Temple

I recharge my nutritional batteries by dining in the always Zen, always inspiring, Body Cafe. This place is a wellness empire. Located inside Body (which offers amazing yoga and exercise classes, soulful healing and spa sessions, and a super groovy eco boutique), the cafe succeeds in serving up some of the most inventive and healthful raw, vegan, and veggie dishes that your palette will ever experience. If you’ve hit your cheesy enchilada quotient for the week, I highly recommend the raw vegan enchiladas made with green cabbage, red bell pepper, corn, red onion, chile colorado sauce (i.e. red chile), and nut sour cream. Not only is this a beautiful dish, but the flavors are divine, and you will leave energized and light on your toes, not looking for the closest place to take a nap. Try the raw Thai soup for a cool, refreshing twist on a classic.

My other advice: take friends! The garden fresh salads, soups, wraps, fresh juices, and awesome desserts are worth sharing. It is hard not to want one of everything. For those who want extra protein, there is always an option to add organic chicken, wild salmon, cod, tofu, or tempeh to your dish.

 

Body Cafe’s healthy enchiladas are as divine to admire as they are to devour.

Going for the Green at Vinaigrette

If you crave salads, there is nowhere more enticing than Vinaigrette. Just walking in the door will let you know that you are about to do something wonderful for your body. This sweet, whimsical little green bistro is tucked away into an alley, but packs a flavor punch into each of the more than 20 copious and gorgeous salads. You can feel even better knowing that the produce is locally sourced, mainly from the owner’s farm just a few miles from town.

It is a challenge to choose just one of these masterpieces, but I adore the colorful and nutrient-packed Omega, made with leafy greens, sweet corn, diced bell pepper, tomato, avocado, red onion, cilantro, and toasted pine nuts all tossed in a fantastic blue cheese vinaigrette. My goat cheese obsession is more than satisfied with The Beet Goes On: fresh baby greens and arugula tossed with tangy goat cheese, chopped pistachios, balsamic roasted beets, and honey-balsamic vinaigrette. There are delish soups (try the miso based mushroom stew) and a nice selection of yummy sandwiches on the menu, too. You can also add a variety of meats and seafood to any salad, so the carnivore in your group will be elated. Whatever you do, don’t skip the luscious homemade desserts.

The “beet” goes on with this yummy and gorgeous salad at Vinaigrette.

Sweet and Savory Salvation

A bit off the beaten path, but very close to town, you will find Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen, a testament to simplicity through the use of wholesome, nourishing ingredients. There is a feeling of balance, both in the unpretentious and meditative interior, and in the combinations of inventive flavors in the food. Breakfast is served until 11, and it wouldn’t feel right not to have the lemon ricotta spelt pancakes. The ricotta gives the perfect amount of moisture and sweetness, and the subtle citrus of the lemon is sublime. There are also wonderful egg dishes, oatmeal, and a breakfast burrito to choose from.

Indonesian curry, veggie burgers, and Vietnamese style sandwiches are all wonderful lunch choices I can personally recommend, as Sweetwater has all of the bases covered. The shrimp and grits with green chile are outstanding. Dinner is no less dazzling, and the prix fixe menu is a great way to sample the tasty offerings such as duck, house-made pastas, Pacific cod, beef tacos, and the surprisingly flavorful vegan kale, apple, and cashew tamales. All of these dishes are paired with an inspired soup and salad that will leave both serious carnivores and hardcore vegans satiated and happy. Be sure to check out the sustainable wine selection served on tap, as well as a handful of craft beers and mead.

For dinner guests who haven’t declared a vegetarian lifestyle, the shrimp and grits at Sweetwater are a near-necessity.

Southwest Meets East Perfectly

You may not associate Santa Fe with Indian cuisine, but Raaga brings it. This charming and serene restaurant has a fantastic array of inventive vegetarian and vegan dishes, and the chef is more than willing to accommodate special dietary requests. For an appetizer, be sure to try the vegetable samosas, filled with a yummy blend of curried peas and potatoes. I love that they offer half portions on most entrees, meaning that you can try two dishes that you may be curious about. My favorite combo is the Aloo Gobhi (a healthful and spicy cauliflower, potato, pea, onion, and red pepper mix with a tangy gingery sauce), and the sinfully creamy Paneer Palak made with puréed spinach and farmer’s cheese and mild, fragrant spices. In addition to other traditional dishes like tandoori and curries, Raaga offers lamb, chicken, and seafood options. as well. Have a glass of wine or an Indian beer and enjoy your Raaga experience.

A perfect combination of Aloo and Paneer equals heavenly Indian cuisine at Raaga.

Viva la Gluten-Free Revolution

I’ve lost track of how many of my favorite dining companions have fallen prey to gluten (wheat) intolerance. The research is mounting on the very real health issues that can be caused by consuming the stuff, and luckily Revolution Bakery is paying attention. This always-bustling establishment is committed to a 100% gluten free environment with absolutely no compromise on flavors and textures. For breakfast, they serve local eggs and scrumptious pancakes. During lunch you can choose from savory items, such as soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as heavenly pizzas (the pesto pizza topped with kalamata olives, feta, and roasted red peppers is to die for). The selection of breads and baked confections will beckon you, I can assure you. Lemon squares, chocolate brownies, fruit and oat bars, cookies, and cupcakes are all made fresh with organic ingredients when possible. Even the most impassioned white flour devotee will be hard pressed to find a difference in consistency and flavor here.

Pesto pizza at Revolution is a perfect choice when you’re eating gluten-free.

Eat Your Veggies at Every Meal in Santa Fe

The options for vegetarian dining are endless in Santa Fe, and going meatless hardly means boring. Whether you are a seasoned vegan or a carnivore looking to shake up your options, you will be giddy with the variety of delicious dishes from some of the city’s most ingenious chefs. There is something for everyone at your table here, and eating your vegetables has never been so rewarding.

Stroll for Margaritas in Santa Fe

TGIF? No, TGIM – thank goodness it’s margaritas! A margarita is the natural partner for Santa Fe’s world-renowned cuisine, especially when shared in a taste-testing stroll around downtown Santa Fe. With judicious pacing, appetizing morsels, and plenty of water, you can make some tequila magic in the City Different.

 

Kick things off with a tried-and-true lime margarita on the rocks.

Honor Margarita Basics at the Inn of the Anasazi

We arrived at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi prepared to sit and sip a while before moseying along. Perched on the patio, we got down to the business at hand, as classic house margaritas materialized, accompanied by warm buffalo empanadas, rich with spring onions and fresh chimichurri sauce created by chef Juan Bochenski. It was tempting to stay in this lively spot watching the world go by, but once our empanadas disappeared, we knew we should move on while the afternoon was young. Emptying our water glasses, we looked longingly at the Aria dessert menu with a vow to return.

We made the Inn of the Anasazi’s buffalo empanadas a disappearing act.

 

Down Past the Plaza for Round Two

Relaxing in the natural light of La Plazuela, the dining room in the heart of La Fonda on the Plaza, the history of Santa Fe becomes a palpable presence. Formerly an open courtyard, this is a favorite haunt for locals and visitors. We arrived between lunch and dinner, so ordering a snack from La Fiesta Lounge menu was a snap. La Fonda margaritas are presented in classic glassware, perfect for capturing the characteristic salted rim. Chef Lane Warner must have known our need for something significant, because the towering platter of nachos that appeared was an ideal match for the Don Rael margarita. A girlfriend getaway means everyone agrees it’s okay to dig in for the cheesy bites. With the guacamole gone, and only a few pickled jalapenos remaining, it was time for more water and a walk in the fresh air.

Third Time’s a Chile

We headed for the Inn and Spa at Loretto to see what was shaking, where Sergio kept things lively in the aptly-named Living Room Lounge. In this case, living it up meant sipping slowly, since the Herradura tequila was infused with Serrano chiles. Paired with that hot-cold sensation, chef Brett Sparman’s grilled achiote shrimp was a menu item we’d have fought over, if we hadn’t been such good friends. Big, juicy, nestled in pumpkin herb mole, this dish is Santa Fe style all the way. It was hard to leave the Loretto behind, but the margarita trail was calling, so we soldiered on, after rehydrating with agua fria.

 

Santa Fe has mastered the balance of caliente and cold.

Sip Some Creative Concoctions at Del Charro Saloon

Del Charro Saloon, perfectly placed on the corner at the Inn of the Governors, invites you right in, with its tantalizing open windows. By now, we were braving more than classic house margaritas, although Del Charro’s policy of delivering the house version with its shaker is a nice touch. Our colorful mood made the mango margarita with its red chile-dusted rim dusted a definite crowd-pleaser. Adding blue curacao makes a margarita look as cool as it tastes, and our ruby red pomegranate margarita was sweet and fresh. Fortunately, our well-balanced plan kept our appetite for tantalizing treats alive, so we opted for a nacho reboot. Easy, cheesy, saucy with salsa, this bar snack is a time-tested favorite, and nachos do rate a repeat appearance. We checked off our mandatory glass of water and made our way to our next destination.

The art of the margarita meets the art of decision-making at Del Charro.

 

The Song of Summer Is Up on the Roof

Although we were too early for a sunset, that didn’t dampen our enjoyment of Coyote Cantina, especially after a warm welcome from chef Eric DiStefano. His cheerful smile assured us the menu would be rich in deliciousness. The Cantina’s signature Senorita margarita suited our slowing pace and lady-like fancies. We were less lady-like when the black-sesame honey shrimp arrived; the horseradish cream and pineapple sweet-and-sour sauce necessitated a certain amount of finger-licking. This lively outdoor rooftop is a favorite Santa Fe summer scene, but we had one spot left to complete our circuit.

Be prepared to dip into delights at Coyote Cantina.

 

What Would a Margarita be Without Agave?

It’s fitting to end where the name honors the tale of tequila, and that meant the Agave Lounge at the Eldorado Hotel and Spa. We’d made it all this way on foot, but when a friend driving by offered us a lift, we jumped in for hometown service to the hotel’s valet garage (the Lounge will validate, no need to look for parking). Had we been a little braver or earlier, we might have opted for a mezcal from the long list of premium choices, but we knew we’d better stick to the straight-forward approach. Being New Mexicans, we’re partial to turquoise, but the house La Casa margarita gave us that “mi casa es su casa” feeling with which to end our adventure. And noshes like the mini beef tacos with tomatillo sauce and pork taquitos with avocado dip, the case for frequent patronage is solid – yes, we’ve been many a time, and the future is bright for a return.

 

Getting all that goodness to fit into one frame isn’t easy.

The Takeaway for a Getaway

As you can imagine, in a town renowned for culinary traditions and captivating choices all over the city, you can easily create your own tasting tour. Since every good girlfriend looks out for her pals, remember that our 7,000-foot altitude makes the liquor work faster, which is why we stress a water feature at every stop. Gather good friends to sample the tempting tastes of Santa Fe, and you can spend a memorable afternoon toasting togetherness in the City Different.

Clear the Table and the Floor: Dinner and Music in Santa Fe

I like a combination plate — don’t you? I don’t just mean mixing tacos and tamales on the same plate in Santa Fe’s culinary mecca, but changing dinner out from typical to terrific by mixing music into the meal. A 403-year-old town like Santa Fe has had centuries to nurture musical talent, thus, luckily for us, melodic strains lilt from balconies all over town. If it’s dinnertime, head for a place where music makes the meal magical.

Dinner Theater Is Served

See Kenny at the keys and taste pulled pork sliders at La Casa Sena Cantina

The sugar daddy of dinner music is the Broadway Songbook, and La Casa Sena Cantina has been Santa Fe’s Broadway daddy for years. The cantina is open daily 11 am–9 pm, but if your reservations are at 6 pm, a dose of terrific tunes is included as the Cantina’s energetic performing waitstaff serves up a nightly choral cavalcade. Chef Patrick Gharrity has put together a tasty menu of reliable standards – yes, the green chile cheeseburger makes an appearance – along with weekly specials and even a four-course beer dinner. The Cantina is located in the beautiful Sena Plaza on East Palace Ave.

Tapas with a Tuneful Touch

Taberna marries Spanish tapas and music for a night of tasty music

Spanish flavors include much more than our world-famous green chile. The New World is rooted in the Old World, and a hallmark of Old Spain is the tasty little plates known as tapas. Chef James Campbell Caruso first charmed Santa Fe diners in 2006 with his intimate tapas spot, La Boca. In 2012, he expanded his composition by opening Taberna La Boca, around the corner from the flagship La Boca on West Marcy Street. Taberna’s configuration lends space for enhancing the mood with music, so sounds of Spain can pair with delicious Spanish cuisine.

On Saturday evenings at 7 pm, Santa Fe favorite Nacha Mendez plays traditional and original music from around the Spanish-speaking world. And on Fridays, you might find the lively keys of Pedro Romero’s accordion offering accompaniment. If your Taberna time is early (5-6 pm) or late (10-11 pm), you may forego the music, but you’ll enjoy happy hour prices. 

The Lively Heart of a Classic

Keep the party going at La Fiesta Lounge at La Fonda at the Plaza

Rich history means historic hotels, and Santa Fe has more than one. It’s accurate, though, to honor La Fonda on the Plaza as the Grand Dame of the Plaza. Chef Lane Warner has been at the helm since 1993, and his tenure reflects the long-standing love affair that every Santa Fean has with La Fonda. The menu at the naturally-lit La Plazuela was renovated along with the dining room, and nothing could be more essentially Santa Fe than a meal in the welcoming heart of the hotel. But if you have music and a margarita on your mind, head over past the front desk to La Fiesta Lounge, where you’ll find entertainment nightly. The design is Santa Fe, but the music runs the gamut from country swing to sweet soul. Get in before the music starts (7:30 or 8 pm) to find a perfect perch from which to watch locals two-step with visiting pals.

La Fonda is located on the corner of the Old Santa Fe Trail and East San Francisco Street, and for fine dining at La Plazuela, it’s a good idea to make reservations. For La Fiesta Lounge and the Bell Tower Bar, located upstairs for enjoying a magnificent Santa Fe sunset, just park your pony and head on in.

Pianissimo, Please

Visit Vanessie’s to hear Bob Finney share some mellow melodies

Loud or soft, racy or romantically inclined, tunes you know and tunes you’ll love, that’s what you’ll hear at Vanessie. This classic downtown piano bar attracts locals and visitors four nights every week; check in advance, since start times vary. Vanessie’s menu sings the continental classics, with starts and sides fit for sharing, and I suspect it’s the fine cuts of steak that draw a consistent crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

When the Cowgirl Is Rockin’ You Should Come a-Knockin’

Cowgirls servin’ and cowgirls singin’ at Cowgirl Santa Fe

You may not be a cowgirl, but Cowgirl Santa Fe knows you’re hankerin’ for some Wild West fun with your food. This palace of BBQ (not to worry, salad-eaters and vegetarians, Chef Patrick Lambert has you covered) serves up mighty portions along with a showcase of local musicians. Enjoy a frosty frozen margarita at a 5 pm happy hour on Fridays, kick back on Saturday afternoon with Dixieland and a mint julep, or rock out at 8 pm with some of Santa Fe’s best talent. There’s even a Tap Room for sampling more than one cool beer.

After a First Friday Artwalk in the Santa Fe Railyard, take a short stroll to the Cowgirl, on South Guadalupe, but make reservations to join this popular party at prime hours.

 

El Farol: Canyon Road’s Cantina

El Farol is a Canyon Road staple for eating and music in Santa Fe

Perched at the corner of Canyon Road and Camino del Monte Sol, El Farol has been a locals’ hangout for as long as I can remember, with an authentically Santa Fe vibe in a historically accurate setting. It’s a special treat when dancers Joaquin and Marisol Encinias and guitarists Vicente Griego and Ricardo Anglada step in with the fiery footwork and musical flare of flamenco to match the Latin menu. Catch the passion on Saturdays at 8 pm through June; from July through August, performances move to Sundays and Thursdays at the same hour. You’ll need to make reservations for a 6:30-7 pm dinner seating in order to savor this quintessentially Spanish experience. A stroll on Canyon Road is beautiful at all times of the year, and this spicy summer scene will keep the body and soul humming.

 

Perfect Pitch at Pranzo

David Geist tickles the ivories at Pranzo with the biggest smile in Santa Fe

Parla Italiano? Powder your face before ordering your vino at Pranzo, and you’ll get an Italian lesson in the ladies room. This Italian grill and pasta palace is sweetly situated in the Santa Fe Railyard. Owner Michael O’Reilly just scored a coup by luring back Pranzo’s original chef, Steven Lemon, after a 25-year absence. A wide-ranging selection of Italian specialties can be enjoyed in the convivial dining room or cozy bar, but Pranzo has stepped onstage upstairs with live music.

Head up one flight to the Geist Cabaret, where the effervescent David Geist hosts a piano party most Fridays and Saturdays. His talent and charm give diners that extra dollop of delight, and you’ll notice a crowd of regulars gathering for a tuneful meal.

Call ahead to see who’s at the keyboard. Dinner reservations will include a song and a smile. Pranzo is located on Montezuma Avenue, just to the west of Guadalupe Street.

Dinner Never Falls Flat in Santa Fe

Sing for your supper? You won’t have to, since these more-than-just-dinner establishments have established a winning recipe for a night out in Santa Fe. You’ll find that the performing arts are alive and well in the City Different, with its many different choices for having your cake and eating it too, served up by a variety of terrific local talents.

Table Talks with Chef Martin Rios

Downtown Santa Fe. Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved.

Santa Fe is a world-renowned destination for many things including art, culture, history, shopping and yes, food. But how does a small town with only 68,000 residents high in the mountains of Northern New Mexico match up to such culinary icons as New York, Santa Francisco, and Paris?

Incredible culinary talent seems to be the special ingredient when added to the tranquil, yet vibrant surroundings of the City Different. Bringing flavors from around the world and fusing them with indigenous ingredients, Santa Fe Chefs are making a mark on the international food scene through not only the stomach, but also the soul.

One such local Santa Fean cooking up magic is noted chef Martin Rios. For Martin, Santa Fe isn’t just his home; it’s his passion. From the moment I sat down with this James Beard Recognized Chef I could feel his enthusiasm. Martin is warm and inviting, yet surprisingly, a bit of an introvert whose cuisine is anything but shy. He’s known for dishes that blend contrasting flavors perfectly on the palate. Having dined in his signature restaurant many times, I was admittedly eager to put a face to the name and plate. But given the remarkable story of Chef Martin, I wanted to know more than ingredients and techniques; what I really wanted to know was his recipe for life.

Chef Martin Rios. Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico Martin moved to Santa Fe just before middle school, and didn’t speak English until he was 14. Determination is what he possessed; knowledge and experience is what he desired. As a teenager, armed with his culinary “Bibles,” Martin immersed himself in all things cooking

Starting as a dishwasher at age 17, he quickly moved up the kitchen ranks from potato peeler to prep-cook and so on, steadily realizing his dreams. Then one day, as luck should have it, a line cook was out sick. Martin jumped to the line proving his skills…with that his career really started to sizzle.

Within a few years Martin Rios advanced to the coveted position of Executive Chef at the Eldorado Hotel, earning the restaurant AAA Four-Diamond and Mobil Four-Star ratings. Though very busy pursuing culinary greatness at the Eldorado, he also found the time to pursue and marry his wife and business partner, Jennifer.

Chef Martin Rios. Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved.

From immigrant, to dishwasher, to award winning chef, Martin Rios embodies the true meaning of hard work. This determination and fervor for fine dining lead the already accomplished professional to leave his noted position at the Eldorado for a new challenge. “I already had become an executive chef. I was running a four star restaurant. I could run a banquet from ten people to two thousand. But, it came to a point where it was just a job, I wasn’t learning anymore,” states Martin. So, that’s why at age thirty Martin and Jennifer made the decision to move to Hyde Park, New York where he would hone his skills at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The experience at CIA not only reaffirmed Martins’ beliefs in his talents, but also provided him the refinement to advance his career.

New York may have given him the confidence to peruse his dreams, but Santa Fe continues to give him the vision to see it through. Like so many creative souls that make Santa Fe home, Martin Rios is a true artist, and his medium is food. It was no surprise upon completion of the CIA program Martin and Jennifer returned home to their creative nest in Santa Fe, NM, and begin planning the launch of Restaurant Martin.

Cucumber from Chef Martin’s personal garden. Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

Santa Fe not only offers Martin the opportunity to work one-on-one with local purveyors and farmers to source the best ingredients, but also the space to cultivate his own garden and the quality of life to raise a family (including two daughters and four dogs).

Chef Martin Rios and Jennifer bring their love of food to the hearts and bellies of Santa Fe diners at Restaurant Martin. Housed in a charming old adobe on Paseo de Peralta Street, the restaurant encompasses a laid back vibe complete with intimate seating, an inviting patio, and organic garden. But don’t let the tranquil ambience of this unassuming restaurant fool you; the award winning cuisine of Chef Rios is anything but humble. Dishes like Cinnamon Glazed Quail and Butternut and Green Apple Bisque are sure to have you boasting.

Featuring local produce and organic meats combined with Southwestern and Asian flare, as well as French techniques, the menu at Restaurant Martin is so unique that Chef Rios earned the runner up position for the prestigious James Beard Award “Best Chef of the Southwest” in 2011. The accolades don’t stop there, Martin Rios has showcased his skills on Iron Chef America, is the only New Mexico Chef to have won the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence, and has twice been named ‘Chef of the Year’ by the state of New Mexico.

Restaurant Martin. Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved.

When I asked how he enjoys all this success, his answer is, of course, modest. “When I look at what I have accomplished, with the help of my wife, I feel humble. Starting as an immigrant with very little, it was a hard road to achieve these things, but as long as I have the willingness and desire, I know there is more out there. We have accomplished a lot, but we are always looking for ways to improve,” words of wisdom from a great chef whose forte is always fresh and imaginative.

They say an artist communicates through their medium, so I of course couldn’t resist asking Martin to sum up in one word what he wants patrons of his restaurant to take away from their experience. He poignantly answers “Satisfaction,” as Jennifer lovingly adds “Passion.”

Chef Martin Rios and wife Jennifer on the patio of Restaurant Martin. Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a truly satisfying culinary adventure, make plans to experience the passionate and innovative cuisine of Chef Rios at the acclaimed Restaurant Martin.

Dishes not to miss:

Butternut and Green Apple Bisque: Poached Maine Lobster, Gingerbread-Coffee Toast 
Butternut-Hazelnut Toffee, Cranberries, Pumpkin Seed Oil

Cinnamon Glazed Boneless Quail: Toasted Farro, Marcona Almond Butter, Citrus Marmalade, Kabocha Squash

Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast
: Sweet Potato-Pine Nut Purée, White Wine Poached Pears
Celery Root, Pepper-Cinnamon Duck Jus

Diver Sea Scallops
: Butternut Squash, Tokyo Turnips, Leeks
Potato-Goat Cheese Dumplings, Smoked Garlic-Shellfish Emulsion

Visit www.santafe.org to plan your recipe for adventure!