Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta-The Big Buzz

What’s the motif of our local palaver? Family-owned, independent businesses, right? Put your napkin where your mouth is at Andiamo! Opened in 1995 (so, let’s see? 20 years! Shut up!), this bungalow—convivially remodeled recently—at 322 Garfield Street, a stone-fruit-throw from the Railyard, puts up classic Italian fare and a list of brilliant wines. Joan Gillcrist and husband Will Strong must be good bosses, because you’re welcomed by longtime manager Brenda Acosta and even longer-time executive chef Esteban Parra.

While we’re at it, we take our hats off to 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar and Il Piatto Italian Farmhouse Kitchen, also 20-somethings.

**Here’s a tip about Modern General, Erin Wade’s newest venture: put on the feedbag! Modern General serves food all day, but the trick is to hit it between 8 and 11 a.m. or, say, 3 to 5 p.m. when the shared parking lot isn’t so crowded with folks eating at Wade’s Vinaigrette. Snag a breakfast sandwich, or their “daily” sandwich special, or my go-to sautéed greens in broth topped with a perfectly poached egg. Sure, ogle fine garden tools, books, pitchers, kitchen towels; be hip and sip smoothies, coffees, teas; do a turmeric shot with fresh orange juice; or take home flour, ground weekly on their new mini stone mill. But, if it gets hard to park during those off-hours, I’m going to wish I hadn’t told you.

The burger ambassadors at Santa Fe Bite probably bring as many visitors to town as our James Beard Award-winning and -nominated chefs. Thrillist, a lifestyle website featuring “eat, drink, and travel” articles, put the Bite green-chile cheeseburger ($12.35) on yet another list of “Best Burgers in America,” surviving the online voting of grill-seekers all the way to the final four. Congratulations! But, I have a beef to pick about those lists: they discriminate against Beard Award chefs. Mark Kiffin features a burger at The Compound, on his lunch menu, using local Lone Mountain Wagyu beef from Golden, NM, served with avocado, grilled bulb onion, aioli, with options of roasted poblano peppers and cheddar; and it comes with fries and a white table cloth ($14). Try one and ask yourself why it isn’t on someone’s list of best burgers.

It’s time to take our noses out of the air and put them over the plates of some of Santa Fe’s top chefs—in hotels. Local Flavor has featured Anthony Smith at the Old House in the Eldorado Hotel, and Juan Jose Bochenski at the Inn of the Anasazi. But, besides clear talent (and, usually, good parking), diners are treated to three-square options of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Upbeat Marc Quiñones at Inn and Spa at Loretto creates an irresistible color-palate of dishes that put a smile on your face. Todd Hall, himself a Beard honoree, distinguished kitchens in Boston and Aspen before bringing his craft to La Posada’s Julia. Amaya at the Hotel Santa Fe is a gem for accommodating whatever your mood dictates, whether a tasty, reasonable bar menu in the lounge, or a more formal dining eve from Executive Chef Walter Dominguez. Travel the short and scenic route to The Red Sage at the Hilton Buffalo Thunder where Chef Edgar Morales perpetuates the concept created by (yup, Beard winner) Mark Miller.

Quinn Stephenson is a triple threat: bartender, sommelier, owner/partner at Geronimo, Coyote Cafe, Radish & Rye and also, as proprietor of The Den, a cocktail lounge nestled below Coyote. The Den is being re-imagined and renamed as The High Note, 132 West Water St. “The Den got too far away from my vision,” says Stephenson. “We were busy on Friday and Saturday nights for three hours, and empty during the week. My dream is a lounge for grown-ups to sip classic cocktails, wine, enjoy espresso and desserts, and listen to acoustic jazz any night of the week,” he says. Gone is the Vegas look of black and ivory, replaced by uptown hues of ganache and sage, gilded mirrors and sconces. The kind of place you’d go to in New York City for a nightcap and a chat. “I’d like it to be a venue where touring musicians feel they can stop in after a concert, hear a friend play, or sit in,” Stephenson says. As it happened, Esperanza Spalding was playing at the Lensic the night he shows me around. “That would be awesome,” he muses, “to have her jam next time she plays Santa Fe.”

During our beautiful fall, high-cocktail it up to Bar Alto on the top floor of the Drury Hotel and, as the lyric goes, “look down on this timeless town” from their patio with a view. (Your eye may spy a good six-pack or an itsy bitsy bikini at the adjoining outdoor pool.) Barman Joseph Haggard and crew are crafting imaginative libations like “La Palabra Ultima,” an interpretation of the classic Last Word, a gin-based prohibition cocktail—only Bar Alto does it with mezcal. Joe is setting them up every night from 4 until 10 p.m.

Derailed, a new bar at the Sage Inn, will open in mid-September featuring a large horseshoe-shaped patio with fire places and a casual menu created by Chef John Bobrick. It seems a perfect spot to venture off the rails on a cool autumn night.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, did you know the Arroyo Vino Restaurant, 218 Camino La Tierra, is now offering a limited selection of premium cocktails? Try the world’s most exquisite gin from Black Forest Distillers in Germany, Monkey 47, served with a small bottle of Fever Tree tonic.

Cats and restaurants at 221 Shelby Street have nine lives, as does Chef Fernando Olea, formerly of Epazote and Bert’s Burger Bowl. Going from the fire to the frying pan, Olea is taking over the space, which, in previous lives, has been Tanti Luce, Amavi, Julian’s, and the long-ago Periscope. The white ceiling beams are being sanded back to the original wood and the separate bar area is being completely reconfigured. Olea’s incarnation will be called Sazón, serving a new-world cuisine with Aztec influences, featuring a bar full of mescal and tequila.

As swift as a steak knife in the ribs, Roey Valim and Mario Girard were required to turn back the keys to Steaksmith at El Gancho last spring, leaving loyal fans and staff spinning like a rotisserie gone rogue. Out but not down, they’re retaining the name Steaksmith, pursuing other professional paths, while keeping tabs on future locations. Out of the ashes rises The Bourbon Grill at El Gancho at 104 Old Las Vegas Hwy, scheduled to open in the fall following an extensive remodel. The operators of the new restaurant (anonymous at deadline) will offer steaks, seafood and, yes, specialty bourbons. A package liquor store is part of the package with a large selection of wines, which can be purchased and served at your table for a small fee. As one local remarked, “Bourbon is the ‘it’ thing these days: The Bourbon Grill, Radish & Rye. What’s next, Santa Fe?”

Yaks, the long-haired, horned bovid originally from the Tibetan plateau, are prized for their low-fat meat and woolly fibers. David Franklin of Santa Fe is proprietor of family-owned Guadalupita Grassfed Ruminants, a ranch south of Angel Fire, where his majestic herd grazes in bucolic pastures. Its meat, with a flavor sweeter than beef, can be purchased at La Montanita Coop and is a frequently a special at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill. We may soon be seeing the TV commercials. “Where’s the yak?”

Pickles are the new kale. Ask Patrick Block, owner of Barrio Brinery. He’ll fire off the facts as fast as a noir detective. Fermented pickles are alive and rich in probiotics that help the flora in our innards, much like yogurt or kimchi. Beyond that, they’re good, crunchy fun. Stop by and taste at his double-barrel-sized shop/kitchen, where he makes five classic styles of pickles, as well as escabeche and sauerkraut. (1413-B West Alameda, “One-half mile west of Solana Center,” as the website says.) Barrio products are starting to make guest appearances around town: Duel Brewery, Dr. Field Goods Butcher, Cheesemongers, even the Santa Fe Opera. They’re something to sing about.

“Have you been to Cheesemongers” is the first thing out the mouth of any foodie in Santa Fe when talking shop, said with equal relish at the delights Cheesemongers offers and pride of having such a fine establishment here. The store front, opened a year ago provides hundreds of cut-to-order domestic and imported cheeses, salumi, and sundry accompaniments. Owner John Gutierrez has encyclopedic knowledge of his product and will, enthusiastically, share and taste with customers.

“Have you been to Paper Dosa” is the second question you’ll get about another charmed newcomer to the culinary scene. Chef Paulraj Karuppasamy and his wife and business partner, Nellie Tischler serve South Indian cuisine. The tortilla of India, dosa, crisp, savory and crepe-like, is made from rice batter and black lentils and is a delightful way of conveying multiple vegetarian and meat preparations to your watering mouth.

Downtown’s Georgia restaurant next door to the O’Keeffe Museum, has selected young chef LeRoy Alvarado, who has worked his way up the ranks in numerous Santa Fe kitchens. “We’ll continue serving American contemporary cuisine as we always have, but we aren’t showcasing New Mexican cooking,” says Alvarado. “You’ll see its influence in dishes, but there’s enough green chile.” While all of Santa Fe’s guests are welcome, Alvarado says, “We’re here for the locals and maintain very reasonable prices to make it inviting any night of the week.” That would be seven nights. Asked if he’s had a day off since starting his first executive chef position, LeRoy smiles, and says, “Not yet.”

Mark Connell, the chef phenom who lit up Max’s in Santa Fe and, more recently, Arroyo Vino, has found a new home at Hillside on Old Las Vegas Highway, a gallery and cooperative retail space. Connell, never short on creativity, has begun serving—characteristically—imaginative and delicious quesadillas, salads and panini, accompanied by juice drinks and coffee in the casual Hillside Café, 7:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday, while he begins envisioning his new project, Fables, a full-on restaurant in the uniquely beautiful, high-ceilinged, terraced greenhouse and courtyard of Hillside.

Chef Martin Rios has had quite a year. The Restaurant Martin Cookbook: Sophisticated Cooking From the Celebrated Santa Fe Restaurant co-authored with Cheryl and Bill Jamison was released in August. Also, Rios was up for Best Chef of the Southwest. Like Peter O’Toole, nominated eight times for an Oscar without a win, Rios, a finalist multiple times, is due his trophy. The real winners are those who dine at Restaurant Martin.

I’d like to salute one toque on the line whose food many of us won’t have an opportunity to try, though for many years he was second-in-command of the kitchen at The Compound. Andrew Nichols is a household name in one percent of Santa Fe homes. He’s the executive chef at The Club at Las Campanas and as far from a snob as any man I know, but also, as fine a chef. Beard and Oscar winners aren’t the only great ones, but the awards are forever attached to their name. Some great poetry comes from those we only know as “Anonymous.” I toast those anonymous chefs and cooks whose names we may never know, but whose craft stays ever in our sense memories.

by James Selby


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