Before Marja Martin was the catering maven of Santa Fe, she spent evenings in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, listening to the crooning song “Cucurrucucú Paloma” at a tiny bar. The ballad tells of a broken-hearted man whose mourning sounds like a dove. It’s a far cry from the bright, vibrant restaurant that would later borrow its name from the tune, but Paloma hails from authentic nights like these.
Marja only opened the Santa Fe Railyard-adjacent Paloma in July, but the restaurant has already inspired a following. Marja says diners frequently tell her, “Santa Fe needed this.” Indeed, Paloma has found a sweet spot: It draws inspiration from traditional Mexican ingredients and flavors—a rarity in a town smothered in New Mexican cuisine. The crave-able fare walks the fine line between fatty and fresh, and the price point settles between taco trucks and high-end restaurants. Both mature diners and millennials eager for a night out in the pricey capital city appreciate that balance. “We want Paloma to be a once- or twice-a-week restaurant, not a special-occasion restaurant,” Marja says. That Paloma has so gracefully taken off on the winds of the Santa Fe culinary scene comes as a result of a decades-long journey.
Marja grew up going to the Dallas farmers’ market with her mother, “before going to the farmers’ market was a thing,” she says. Her parents encouraged her to pursue her bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately for her well-meaning parents, the budding foodie landed in New Orleans, where the city’s culinary charms only cemented her passion. After culinary school and stints in San Francisco and Washington D.C., Marja landed in Santa Fe, where she ran Marja Custom Catering for two decades.
As the Drury Plaza Hotel’s Eloisa hovered between catering bookings and an unfinished restaurant space, Chef John Sedlar enlisted Marja and her commissary kitchen. In turn, Marja called upon Nathan Mayes, who moonlighted in the catering business after day jobs at The Betterday Coffee Shop and Arroyo Vino. Continue reading
El Nido Restaurant
Before El Nido closed its doors in 2010, Anthony and Wendi Odai were regulars. And like countless other couples across the decades, they celebrated their wedding anniversary there every year with the famous oysters, steak, lobster and beer. Now, they own the landmark Tesuque restaurant—along with friends Rob and Michelle Bowdon—and they couldn’t be happier.
“Back then, El Nido was a run-down restaurant, but we loved it,” Anthony recalls, sitting with Wendi in a booth on a bustling Tuesday night. “So when it closed, we were sad. It sat empty forever.” El Nido had been a special place to both couples, and not just because they lived in the neighborhood—they loved its community ambience, rich history and fine food. So when the opportunity arose for them to bring back the landmark restaurant, they quickly embraced it, devoting themselves to making it better than ever.
“There are such iconic restaurants here—Maria’s, The Shed—and El Nido is one of them,” Anthony says. “When we were building this place, we’d leave the doors open and people would wander in who remembered the days when it was a roadhouse with chairs lined up against the wall so there was room for dancing and a jukebox in the corner. We have brought back so many of the El Nido regulars. People who live up the street and are in their 80’s. It’s fun to hear the stories and to see these regulars come in and say they’re happy to be back.” Continue reading
There were serious offers on the table from five potential buyers for El Farol on Canyon Road, a Santa Fe icon and one of America’s hundred most historic restaurants. Four of the bids were from out of state. Lucky for Santa Fe, the winning offer, from lead investor Richard Freedman, was not only local, it was hyperlocal. Rich also owns The Teahouse, right across the street.
“Lately, I’ve been wearing out a path between the two places,” Rich says on Day 12 of the newly refurbished and reopened El Farol, which translates from Spanish as “The Lantern.” “We let the lantern idea guide us as we chose every detail of the design,” part owner and General Manager Freda K. Scott says. “The warmth and light, the sense of welcoming that a lit lantern symbolizes, and which historically signaled the cantina was open for service.”
Rich and Freda eschewed the services of a professional designer, preferring to make their own selections of casual comfortable, dark wood furniture, locally sourced lighting fixtures and sconces, the new modern and elegant logo, the flatware and other décor details, down to the alabaster candleholders on every table, which are meant to convey: “You’re home, you’re invited, you’re welcome here.” Continue reading
What happens when a shy girl from the heart of the Midwest meets a fast-talking Texan? You get frenchish, the current restaurant project of Jennifer James and Nelle Bauer. What you also get are two very generous and affable women who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is or hide who they are. We enjoyed a delightful afternoon of deviled eggs and rabbit terrine as Nelle and Jennifer, dressed for work in their chef’s whites and Crocs, shared a few memories and their vision for the future. I asked a few questions and tried to stay out of the way. We got to talking.
Mark Oppenheimer: I heard a chef once say, “In the end, it isn’t only about eating; it’s about discovering.”
Jennifer James: To me, it’s more about nostalgia than discovering. Food creates these memories of, “Oh my gosh, my mom used to make this!” Or, “This tastes like this memory from my childhood.”
To Nelle Bauer: You’re kinda young to have a whole lot of memories.
Nelle: And you’re so old, you have so many…. [Everyone laughs.] Continue reading
Editor’s note: The following words belong to Mark Miller; they’re his answers to the questions asked by Mark Oppenheimer, and we felt they stood strongly on their own.
Whether ordering a meal in a restaurant or preparing a favorite meal at home, do we ever stop to consider the sensual experience of taste and flavor, or how perceptions, beliefs and expectations contribute to our appreciation of food? Mark Miller does. Since leaving the rigors of the restaurant kitchens he’s created, Mark, a James Beard Award-winning chef and anthropologist, has been an indefatigable world traveler who seeks out the latest cutting-edge research on eating, cooking, perception and the brain, and asks us all to pause just for a moment, breathe deeply and be present for what happens in the body and mind when we eat. We got to talking.
People used to think that the end of the season was the Burning of Zozobra, but much like the Japanese idea of autumn, when things come into their totality and fruition and are at their most intense and complex. Thus was born The Wine and Chile Fiesta. We thought we should have an event to celebrate fall—the changing of the aspens, gorgeous light, the ripeness of the end of the summer, and the culture and culinary heritage of New Mexico—based on the most famous thing we have here: chiles. We thought it would be interesting to put two things together that at first don’t seem to go together—chile and wine. People are interested in wine, and we would get great wineries and local chefs to come in, and every dish would be cooked with chiles. The original format was designed by Gordon Heiss, the director of Casa Sena (he’s no longer with us) and Al Lucero and myself. It’s turned out to be the most successful culinary event in Santa Fe. Continue reading
In the oft-recorded Sondheim anthem, “I’m Still Here,” survival in the tough world of show business is toasted and honored. Perhaps the same theme is relevant in the hospitality field; “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here!” The restaurant biz is amazingly resilient, thanks to the plethora of culinary talent our foodie fueled town boasts. They survive the up times and the down times and still manage to keep us all lusciously entertained. Here’s our annual round-up of the movers and shakers, fryers, sautéers and bakers who have made a delicious difference in Santa Fe’s gastronomic year.
A Town for Tacos
Who knew the humble taco had enough clout to warrant the explosion of eateries that offer the authentic soft-shelled (not the hard shells of my youth) grab-n-go goody that has leapt out of the food truck and drive-up window and onto the tables of sit-down restaurants? Taco Fundación led the charge with Brian Knox’s (he of Shake Foundation) takeover of Bert’s Burger Bowl in the Guadalupe district. He started with a simple three, but slowly added some unique versions like sweet potato, kale and pine nuts, and my favorite, the fried oyster. The spanking new Paloma, too, has two yummy ones that vary from the usual varieties. Try the chipotle-fired chicken tinga or roasted cauliflower, marcona almond, olive and golden raisin—delish! Continue reading