Many of the cities I’ve lived in boast that the culinary scene is one of the main reasons to live there and its main tourist attraction—but boy, nothing tops Santa Fe. It’s why I moved here 20 years ago and I’m blessed to be able to make a living in a career that keeps me well fed, well quenched and with a notebook full of gossip and happy tales about our more than 200 restaurants and the players who staff them.
I always think of the Wine & Chile Fiesta as the ultimate celebration of our gastronomical prowess and a capping off of the intense summer season in our restaurants and hotels. It’s a time most of our culinarians come together with one common goal: to show off their comradery and that one signature dish that sets them each apart. It’s also a terrific time to discover what your new favorite wines will be for the coming year.
This past season there were new restaurants, old restaurants with new owners, old restaurants with new chefs, pop-up dinners, food trucks, coffee houses, gastropubs and cafes all vying for our attention along with all the other wonderful eateries already in business. Thinking back over the year, I must admit I didn’t get to as many of the new eateries (and there were many) as I would have liked. Here is a partial list of the places I did visit and a recap of what Santa Fe foodies are buzzing about.
If I visit a new restaurant three times in a week, you can bet I am excited about it. Joel Coleman’s Fire and Hops gastropub is that kind of place: casual, friendly, with a large affordable menu. Almost every dish I’ve tried, I’ve loved—and I’ve pretty much sampled them all: the fish-n-chip fritters and the green papaya salad were two faves. Joel, who has fathered two other of my favorite restaurants, Mauka and Koi, is a hardworking chef who keeps honing his skills toward more delicious food. I was sad when he left town to try out the San Francisco food scene and glad he has returned with more worldly travels under his belt; I think he’s hitting his stride.
It’s no secret I have been a fan of Joseph Wrede’s food since I first visited his groundbreaking Taos hit, Joseph’s Table. Finally Joe has settled in locally and re-established his culinary clout with Joseph’s of Santa Fe. His dishes surprise and provoke me. Pink peppercorns pop up in an otherwise classic vichyssoise. I could dine on the half duck confit every day! Even the New York Times saw fit to celebrate Wrede’s cookery in a half-page article early this summer.
Izanami is a place I love to take gourmets to show them our eclectic food scene. I think Founding Chef Kim Müller and her team made an impressive splash with the interesting menu served in one of the prettiest and most dramatic dining rooms in town—well, almost in town—even garnering a James Beard nomination in the best new restaurant category. Miso-glazed eggplant and shaved Brussels sprouts are must tries. Muller has recently turned the stoves over to newcomer Chef David Padberg, who comes here from Oregon. It will be interesting to sample his additions to the menu and don’t forget you can soak and stay at Ten Thousand Waves pre or post your meal.
Georgia, next to the O’Keeffe Museum is getting lots of buzz. I’ve had a great meal in the stately dining room as well as yummy casual food (plump and garlicky mussels, voluminous crab cakes, Sherry vinegar-splashed shishito peppers) in the handsome bar. Kudos go to owner Lloyd Abrams, who transformed and enlarged the once claustrophobic space into a restaurant to be reckoned with. I asked Abrams, who is one of the partners at Geronimo, if he felt his new venture might be competing with himself. He replied, “No, I think folks will dine at both of my restaurants.” I like his spunk. With Chef Brett Sparman in the kitchen (he hopscotched across town from Loretto’s Luminaria), you know you’re in for some absolutely great food.
New-to-town Chef Marc Quinoñes took over at Luminaria—one of the prettiest outdoor dining destinations in town. I was impressed with the young chef’s cooking after enjoying a tasting menu as I did research for Local Flavor. I’m looking forward to trying foie gras “French toast,” and strawberry brined duck with duck fat risotto—wow! Quinoñes made a big impression with diners in Albuquerque before coming here and we’re lucky to have him.
There were some fun and different dining opportunities this year with pop-up dinners and one-night food events. The ever-in-motion Andrew Cooper out at Four Seasons Rancho Encantado added a beautiful chefs table to his kitchen to lure gourmands who like to get up close and personal with kitchen activity. Rocky Durham, over at the Santa Fe Culinary Academy, had his students cooking some scrumptious vittles at the charming Guesthouse restaurant, which serves as a classroom for the emerging culinarians. I went to two pop-ups at Mu Du Noodles, one a celebration of regional Mexican cooking and another by soon-to-be restaurateur Paulraj Karuppasamy of Paper Dosa, who has been wowing with his fantastic East Indian cooking around town.
Along with the continued celebration of the farm-to-table concept at many local eateries, small artisan businesses are cropping up that support that fresh and local notion. The Real Butcher Shop continues to grow and develop while two new establishments—the Barrio Brinery, owned by Patrick Block, and Cheese Mongers of Santa Fe, owned by John Gutierrez—will keep epicureans up to their belly in pickles and cheese—I can’t wait! (More on these two exciting developments next month…)
At Epazote on the Hillside, Chef Fernando Olea has diners cooking their meals on hot rocks right out of the roaring pizza oven. It’s a lovely greenhouse setting with many other dishes rounding out the menu, including Olea’s famous moles.
Some chefs spread their wings and headed out of town with satellite versions of their original. The amazing James Campbell Caruso is showing Albuquerque what Santa Fe chefs are all about at his booming restaurant, Más in the sexy Hotel Andaluz. The very sophisticated dining room is the perfect venue for his trend setting tapas.
L.A. chef (and former Santa Fean) John Sedlar sets his sights on the City Different with Eloisa, due to open this fall at the swanky Drury Plaza Hotel. Sedlar grew up here and through the years has set the trend when it comes to promoting our Latin culinary heritage. I’ve dined at all of his previous restaurants, including St. Estephe, Rivera and Playa, and he really is a celebrity chef in my book, based on all I’ve tasted. It will be interesting to see how he competes on his home turf.
Chef Tony Smith has been holding down the fort during the ownership transition at the Eldorado Hotel and even had time to create his own English Bitter style ale, Chefter’s Ale. The thirsty Brit teamed up with the Santa Fe Brewing Company to produce the brew and although I am not a beer drinker, my peeps that are love it.
I loved a recent dinner prepared by Tomas Allan Keller, the new chef at the Galisteo Bistro—the kid’s a pro though only 23. His partner is his father Brant Keller. Both hail from Florida and are a welcome addition to our community.
Loyal Hound satisfies the gastropub crowd in the midtown neighborhood—try the devilled eggs, delish. If you missed the Flavor’s story on them in the August issue, go online to find it. A great couple with tons of experience in hospitality.
Restaurant Martín added a nifty dining room addition to extend the patio and offer a terrific new party venue. With wife Jennifer, who somehow manages to run the restaurant and The Horse Shelter, Chef Martin Rios continually garners national media attention (he was once an Iron Chef contestant) and still takes the time to volunteer for Cooking with Kids, an organization that I also work with and adore.
Burger wars heated up with three hotspots all within a buns throw of each other. I can’t decide if I love Brian Knox’s Shake Foundation rendition, Bang Bite’s burgers (one has pork belly on it) or Santa Fe Bite’s more classic version … so many burgers, so little time. Whew!
With the world getting crazier and crazier, I’m happy to hear that some of the players in the hospitality field are committing to a healthier lifestyle with one chef happily attesting to his faith on social media as the place he goes for support in his work. What a great idea—amen to that!
Story by Chef Johnny Vee