The first thing that catches my eye is, of course, the view. Beyond the long, curving, custom bar made of a polished slab of wood and just outside the broad windows, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains undulate in soft folds under a crisp, blue sky. High ceilings and a raised tatami room at one end of a row of booths add to the grand feeling of the view. Gorgeous white lanterns hand-painted with black Japanese characters float here and there above a large community table. Every detail, down to the handmade metal shapes decorating doors and niches, has been carefully chosen for izanami, the new restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves.
I’m sitting in a booth having lunch with Duke Klauck and Deborah Fleig, the pair behind Ten Thousand Waves’ new eatery. Duke founded the Waves in 1981, and Deborah owns the store on the property, which produces and sells Waves spa products. Santa Fe’s landmark mountain retreat now has it all—tubs, lodging, spa services, spa products and an authentic Japanese izakaya-style restaurant. It may have started as a little spot for soaking, but with the addition of izanami, Ten Thousands Waves has completed its transformation into a true destination resort.
Duke and Deborah explain the concept of the izakaya as we start on our first course, a roasted beet salad with chard, pickled apples, radish, fresh ginger and a yuzu-soy dressing. Izakaya (pronounced ee-ZAH-ka-ya) is the term for a sort of Japanese gastropub where the atmosphere is casual, the sake is plentiful and the table shares kozara (small plates) that arrive from the kitchen as they’re ready. While we wait for more kozara to arrive, I sip a cup of genmaicha matcha from a small family farm in Shizuoka prefecture. This loose-leaf green tea with roasted brown rice and stone-ground matcha powder is rich in flavor and more velvety in texture than the average green tea. Everything in izanami is carefully chosen and sourced, from the more than 50 sakes (Japan’s unique alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice) and ten Japanese craft beers, to the shichimi, a seven-ingredient Japanese spice mixture that Deborah brings back from her frequent visits to Japan.
Deborah and Duke got serious about visiting Japan a decade ago. Duke had travelled to Japan previously, but was reluctant to leave his business. “When I met Deborah,” he tells me, “I was working a lot. She asked me if I ever took vacations, but I told her when I’d last left for two weeks, everything had fallen apart.” Deborah interjects. “I told Duke, I’m a traveller. You either travel with me, or the relationship won’t last.” They started visiting Japan twice a year in order to spend time in the country’s thousands of onsen, or hot springs.
As we talk, more kozara arrive. We follow our first salad with a second salad, this one made from wakame (seaweed) with fresh scallion, shaved daikon radish, sesame seeds and a Japanese-style ginger dressing. It’s delicious; if you haven’t tried seaweed, it’s time. Next we share a plate of piping hot, tender tonkatsu, panko-breaded heritage pork loin with hot mustard, cabbage and a miso katsu sauce.
I know what you’re thinking. Where’s the sushi? As the pair traveled, they came to realize that the country had much more to offer than hot springs, including a vast array of culinary delights. “There are other foods besides sushi!” Deborah exclaims (she’s allergic to shellfish). “The diversity of food styles and regional differences from north to south and from village to village is huge,” she says, explaining that different villages each have their own local type of rice and miso. “Americans aren’t aware of how vast Japan’s food repertoire is besides what we’ve been exposed to here.” I think of the ubiquitous rainbow roll, which seems to be the limit of Americans’ understanding of Japanese cuisine.
The pair feels that it just doesn’t make sense to serve fish so far from the ocean. Instead, the focus for izanami is on seasonality and place, with an emphasis on sourcing fresh ingredients locally. Ninety percent of the produce used is organic, and almost all the fresh ingredients come from within the U.S.
The focus on local is what prompted them to hire Kim Müller to head the kitchen at izanami. Although Kim, whose culinary skills have graced restaurants like The Compound and Real Food Nation, wasn’t versed in Japanese cuisine, she is an expert at sourcing locally. For Kim, learning to prepare Japanese dishes has been about understanding a different set of flavors, as well as finding a balance between what Duke and Deborah wanted to serve—dishes they’d come to love eating at izakaya across Japan—and what was possible with local ingredients.
How does this pan out on the plate? The locally raised Lone Mountain Ranch Wagyu beef, the next dish to arrive on our table, is hands-down the most sumptuous kozara of all. Laid out in medium-rare medallions, the Wagyu––a Japanese breed of cattle––is accompanied by freshly grated Oregon wasabi and Himalayan sea salt. Who needs sushi when you can have your wasabi with local Wagyu?
The atmosphere of izanami was just as important as the menu. Duke and Deborah took great care in their design choices for the restaurant, down to the tiles on the roof, which were shipped from Aichi prefecture. The lanterns above the community table were hand made and hand-painted for izanami in the city of Nagoya. The rock waterfall adorning the entrance is composed of stones from the digging of the restaurant’s foundation. I especially love the soundproofing inside izanami, carefully concealed on the ceiling and walls. “Too much noise is a challenge for restaurants,” Deborah says, pointing out that a calm, quiet atmosphere is especially important for folks who have just spent time relaxing in the tubs.
Izanami isn’t just about food; it’s an extension of the Waves. “One of the philosophies of the Waves,” Duke says, “is that we’ve always been inclusive rather than exclusive.” He explains that the spa experience here can be similar to that of Japan, where everyone comes together in a communal setting. “We have kids and old people and crowds, and half of the people are naked. There are people coming here who live in the woods, and they’re mingling with movie stars and CEOs.” This is the opposite of what many Americans think of as a resort spa experience: expense, luxury and privacy. “Our society in general is so stratified. In Japanese hot springs, everybody gets along, mingles with everybody else, and you aren’t above anyone else.”
Still, Duke feels that having options is important. “You can spend $500 on a private spa experience or you can stay all day in the public tub for $25,” he says. “We’re trying to provide that type of choice in izanami as well. You can spend $200 on a bottle of sake or you can get gyoza and beer for $10. You can sit on the floor in the tatami room or have a private booth. It’s all about choice. You decide what you want.” This choice, both in the tubs and now at the restaurant, is part of the progression of Ten Thousand Waves. It’s become a true resort, perfect for a local who wants to escape for the day, or for a visitor looking for a complete Japanese spa experience.
Though the idea for a restaurant at the Waves has been in progress for ages, the pieces have fallen into place over the last three years. Deborah, who is also a photographer, has pored over photos from a decade of trips to Japan, looking back at all the izakaya she and Duke have visited. The pair (and their eager team of tasters and drinkers) has spent countless hours tasting sakes and microbrews and experimenting with recipes and flavors. They were well-prepared for the task of creating from scratch an authentic Japanese izakaya: both have taken intensive language courses during trips to Japan, and Deborah, along with her sake partner, Linda Tetrault, are second-level sake sommeliers through the Sake Service Institute in Tokyo, a distinction held only by about 30 women in the world. She and Linda are also the owners of The Floating World, an artisanal sake importing company, which supplies izanami with all of its amazing sakes.
I’m a sommelier and have also traveled to Japan, but I’ve never been as surprised—or as excited—by sake until my lunch at izanami. There are over 50 sakes on the list, and I didn’t know how to begin to choose. Luckily, Deborah and the rest of the staff are well educated and happy to guide you in the right direction. I tried two tasting flights, the “more tart than sweet” flight and the “fragrant, bright” flight. Deborah happily led me through the sakes, suggesting I try this one with the wakame salad and another with the special of the day, St. Louis ribs slowly roasted and finished on the grill with a shiso–miso glaze. The red rice sake, called “ine’s full bloom,” made by a female brewer from ancient ceremonial red rice, blew me away. It was like drinking a full-bodied, smoky, floral rosé—absolutely oishii (that’s Japanese for “delicious”).
Educating customers will be important for the success of izanami; the menu is full of Japanese culinary terms, and the sake list can be daunting. But that’s also what’s so fun about the restaurant—and about the Waves. It can be what you want it to be, but no matter what, the experience will be new. As Ten Thousand Waves celebrates its 33rd anniversary, take a trip up Hyde Park Road and join in the celebration. Choose a tub, have a glass of sake. You may find that you don’t want to leave.
Izanami is situated within the mountain spa resort of Ten Thousand Waves, at 3451 Hyde Park Rd in Santa Fe. For reservations, call 505.428.6390. tenthousandwaves.com.
Story by Erin Brooks
Photos by Gabriella Marks