Six romantic hotel restaurants—and two seductive dessert recipes—help put the icing on the Valentine’s Day cake.
My husband and I enjoy nothing more, when traveling, than a great meal in our hotel. Being within sauntering distance of our room allows us to drink wine or cocktails without worry—perfect for a romantic occasion, like Valentine’s Day. With the popularity of the culinary indulgences offered by many New Mexico hotel chefs, I recommend that you check in early at the spots discussed here, whether you’re planning on staying over or simply having a special dinner out. These are worthy options on any evening that you want to pamper yourself and someone you love.
Scattered New Mexican spots, such as La Fonda, on the Plaza in Santa Fe, have held a high dining standard for decades. The nationally acclaimed Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, has led a newer wave of excellence, growing its own farm crops and preparing them for its patrons. Other hotels are seeing the light, too, and it’s downright dazzling.
Let’s take a look at a couple of dynamic newer chefs on the state’s lodging scene, as well as a pair of sweet just-opened restaurants, one in a city hotel and another in a mountain inn.
Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi
Chef Juan José Bochenski
Chef Juan came to Santa Fe via London, Australia, and, most recently, a Rosewood property in the Caribbean. He’s always innovating, and with global sophistication, but without losing touch with his Argentinian roots. The Buenos Aires–born chef has been adding touches of his homeland to the menu, which work well with the classic flavors of New Mexico.
No matter how simple a dish sounds, it will come with a variety of flourishes thrilling to the most well traveled of diners. Chef Juan’s flaky-crusted bison empanadas with chimichurri are one of many examples on the restaurant’s winter menu. Free-range New Mexican lamb is served with eggplant caviar, shallot purée, and jalapeño croquettes. He whips up a seductive maté sorbet from the yerba “tea” consumed nonstop in much of South America. I can’t get enough of his wineenriched dessert custard. (Fortunately, he shares the recipe.) The Anasazi restaurant’s dining room is both rustic and elegant, with enough space between tables so that diners can converse without feeling overheard. The front patio is a fun place to sit even in the winter, when an outdoor heater warms patrons enjoying bar nibbles while watching all of Santa Fe wander by.
Chef Juan tells me with a shy smile that he “loves to cook for special moments of life—weddings, anniversaries, or romantic interludes.” In fact, the hotel has created a couple of winter packages utilizing the chef’s talents. A five-course “Sense of Taste” dinner, paired with wines, offers special seating à deux in the hotel’s candlelit living room in front of the glowing fireplace. With the guests’ input, the chef plans the meal and beverages, even the background music. It’s a splurge at $250 per couple without lodging, but it’s a value for a memorable evening. A “Sweet & Spicy Romance Package” includes a room or suite. (The hotel’s luxurious rooms were refurbished this winter.) Its price varies, depending on timing and category of lodging selected, but includes all manner of fanciful touches: a rose-petal turndown service, chocolate-chile truffles, Gruet sparkling New Mexico wine, and your personally penned love letter to your significant sweetie, imaginatively presented. Enjoy Chef Juan’s meticulously planned candlelit dinner in your room or the Anasazi living room. 113 Washington Ave., Santa Fe; (505) 988-3236; rosewoodhotels.com/en/ inn-of-the-anasazi-santa-fe
Terra, Four Seasons Rancho Encantado
Chef Andrew Cooper
The Four Seasons hotels and resorts garner worldwide acclaim for personalized guest services and staff who think creatively to solve any possible challenge. Rancho Encantado’s chef, Andrew Cooper, personifies the mission with both his passion and culinary skill. Chef Andrew became a strong local foods advocate when he worked at a Four Seasons resort in Hawaii. There, you can grow just about anything by simply tossing seeds out a window. “The bounty that’s available here in New Mexico is even more wondrous,” he says, “especially when you think about the preciousness of water. I first visited the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market in early fall and, immediately, I came upon farmer Matt Romero roasting his Dixon-grown chile. The aroma, the flavor—I decided right then I would incorporate chile into many of my dishes, even desserts.”
Upon arriving in Tesuque in October 2012, Chef Andrew set out to find the best of New Mexico’s products and get them on Terra’s menu. He visited farmers, ranchers, and the Old Windmill Dairy cheesemakers. The dairy provides some of Terra’s cheeses but also supplies curd for the kitchen to make its own mozzarella. Honey from For the Love of Bees, 30 miles up the road, makes its way into the food as well as into the bar’s cocktails. The chef continues to rove the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market nearly every Saturday, plus Tuesdays in the warmer months, to supplement what he grows in the garden he created outside the hotel kitchen. He usually has some of the guests in tow at the market, too, showing them the growers’ bounty. Those guests later will sample sumptuous meals in front of the blazing dining room fireplace or dine on more casual fare in the bar.
For Valentine’s Day, Chef Andrew plans “chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.” He shared his scrumptious soufflé with us. Couples can also ask for private meals in one of several romantic spots, including the Piñon Dining Room, in front of a crackling fire. At 65 rooms and suites, this is the smallest Four Seasons property is in the Western Hemisphere. The size makes for a special intimacy, in spite of the expansiveness of the ranch property and its sunset views over the Jémez Mountains. This winter (through the end of May), the hotel offers a “Love Thy Neighbor" package for New Mexico residents. Locals get 15 percent off the best available rate for their choice of accommodation, and 15 percent off spa services while there. 198 State Road 592, Tesuque; (505) 946-5700; fourseasons.com/santafe
Izanami, Ten Thousand Waves
This brand-new architectural stunner has been a long-planned part of worldrenowned Ten Thousand Waves spa and inn. Opened in November, it shares the resort’s serene view over a pine-forested valley, a few lofty miles above Santa Fe. Izanami’s blue roof tiles gleam like lapis lazuli in the midday sun. Pass a thundering waterfall as you enter into a large, serene space with soaring ceiling. Sit counter-side in front of cooks at the robata charcoal grill, dine at a table or cushy booth, or even lounge in a tatami room.
Izanami’s an izakaya, or pub, with a lovely array of small Japanese and Japanese-inspired plates created by Chef Kim. She’s been a stalwart on the Santa Fe culinary scene for a dozen years. If you don’t know Kim’s name, it’s because she’s more self-effacing than self-promoting. She’s also a real pro, central to the dearly departed Real Food Nation’s early success, and on a couple of occasions a vital part of the Compound’s kitchen team.
Don’t expect sushi here. For wintry days or evenings, think more along the lines of tonkatsu, a heritage pork loin cutlet with pungent mustard, or gyoza dumplings with a heady soy-and-sesame dipping sauce, or sake-braised shimeji mushrooms, so Lilliputian that they almost look too cute to eat. Grilled standouts include chicken livers glazed in soy and accompanied by a tart dried fruit paste made of ume, Japanese salted plums. In the opening week, the variable assortment of tangy house-made pickles included golden beets, cucumbers, and apples. Kakiage, a heartier version of tempura, consists of thin matchsticks of mixed sweet potato, green beans, onions, and carrots presented in “haystacks.” Chef Kim’s desserts are Western-style but flavored with Japanese ingredients, like citrusy yuzu cheesecake or red misobanana ice cream. Deborah Fleig, one of the visionaries behind the Waves, offers a sophisticated and extensive selection of sakes, along with a few well-chosen wines, beers, and many teas.
The inn’s lodgings are scattered on the hillside among the pines. All 13 rooms and suites, lovely in minimalist Japanese style, have already been booked for Valentine’s Day, but you can find plenty of other winter evenings available here. If you’re a spur-of-the-moment type, a sameday booking can net you a 20 percent discount. 3451 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe; (505) 428-6390; tenthousandwaves.com
Más Tapas y Vino, Hotel Andaluz
James Campbell Caruso
Chef James, one of Santa Fe’s top chefs (profiled in our May 2013 issue, “Cooking Up a Storm”), has cooked up a brandnew restaurant, inside the Duke City’s venerable Hotel Andaluz. A downtown Albuquerque landmark since 1939, the hotel was the first built by New Mexico native Conrad Hilton here in his home state. After a variety of owners and some hard times, new owners restored the hotel to elegance in 2008. Rounded Andalusian arches frame the high-ceilinged lobby.
In contrast to the preserved historic character of the entry, Más reflects a more contemporary Spanish sensibility. The restaurant opened in mid-November and serves breakfast, lunch, tapas, and dinner with a Spanish flair. Expect similarities to James’ much-loved La Boca and Taberna, in Santa Fe, but with a soupçon of influence from North Africa. Think fivevegetable tagine or roasted duck breast with Moroccan carrot sauce. For those who have trouble deciding, a lunch meze platter offers beet-and-walnut spread, carrot-garbanzo hummus, and chopped spinach with raisins and capers, among other exotic delights. Even morning fare gets creative spins, such as dulce de leche French toast and huevos benedictos, with Serrano ham and pimenton hollandaise. 125 2nd St. NW, Albuquerque; (505) 242-9090; hotelandaluz.com
A Duo of Southern Delights
On his way to work at a Carlsbad chain restaurant, Chef Luis Martinez checked out the renovations of a decaying downtown bank building that was being transformed into the refined Trinity Hotel. The chef determined it was the place he would work when construction was completed. When the time was right, he came in and cooked an Italian meal for owner Dale Balzano. He got the job on the spot. You’ll fall for the small hotel’s stately suites as quickly as Mr. Balzano did for Chef Luis’s food. Don’t miss the Chicken Bolloco, a New Mexican spin on fettucine Alfredo, or the excellent selection of New Mexico wines. 201 S. Canal St., Carlsbad; (575) 234-9891; thetrinityhotel.com
The Hotel Encanto, in Las Cruces, is a member of the small collection of Heritage Hotels and Resorts. Some recent renovations have upgraded the pool and surrounding area to match the Iberian grandeur of the lobby. Garduño’s, a much-loved Albuquerque New Mexican restaurant that fell on hard times, was bought and restored to prominence by the owner of HHR, with a branch at the Encanto. Prices here are modest all the time, but look into the New Mexico Wine Weekend Package, which welcomes you with cheese, fruit, and local wine, then helps you find your way to the area’s wineries, such as St. Clair and La Viña. 705 S. Telshor Blvd., Las Cruces; (575) 522-4300; hotelencanto.com
If you want to romance someone special, we offer you two creamy, dreamy winter desserts. One is a simple snowy custard, perfumed with dessert wine. The other is a chocolate soufflé kissed with a hint of chile.
Late-Harvest Torrontés Custard
This silken custard looks a little unassuming, then dazzles with the first spoonful. A dessert wine made from Torrontés, the signature white grape of Argentina, flavors Chef Juan Bochenski’s lovely finish to a meal. Late-harvest wines can be found from many other wine regions, too. You can substitute a New Mexico late-harvest wine, in particular, such as Black Mesa’s Cosecha Ultima or Ponderosa Valley Winery’s Late-Harvest Riesling. All are made from grapes that spend extra time on the vine, through an initial frost, to develop a lush, almost honeyed sweetness. Plan to drink the remaining wine in small glasses alongside the dessert. Serves 6
- 1 cup from a 375-milliliter bottle (a “split”) Late-Harvest Torrontés or other lateharvest wine
- 3 large eggs
- 6 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
Preheat oven to 250° F. Place 6 custard cups or other 8-ounce ramekins in a shallow baking pan.
Bring wine to a boil in a small saucepan and reduce by half. Remove from heat.
Whisk together eggs, yolks, sugar, and cream in a mixing bowl for about 30 seconds, until combined mixture drizzles off whisk in thick ribbons. Pour in a few tablespoons of warm wine, continuing to whisk. Once wine is incorporated, pour in rest while whisking.
Pour custard through a fine strainer into the custard cups. (If that sounds awkward to you, pour custard through strainer into another mixing bowl, then use a measuring cup to distribute custard among cups.) Make a water bath by pouring hot water around cups in pan. Carefully transfer pan to oven. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until gently set. Remove from oven and let cool in water bath for at least 15 minutes. Serve custards warm or chilled. They can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. If you wish, pour a teaspoon of remaining wine over each custard before serving.
Green Chile Chocolate Soufflé
Chef Andrew Cooper infuses milk with green chile for his New Mexico–inspired soufflé. A whisper of chile enlivens the semisweet chocolate mixture, building gently through a succession of bites. Add the greater quantity of chile suggested if you want a touch more heat. Serves 4
For the soufflé dishes
- 2 teaspoons softened butter 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1½ cup (12 ounces) whole milk
- ¼ to ¹/³ cup chopped roasted medium or hot New Mexican green chile
- 1½ cups semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 3 large eggs plus 3 additional large egg whites
- ½ cup granulated sugar (divided use)
- ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Confectioners’ sugar, as a garnish
Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare four 1½- to 2-cup round ramekins or other similarsize soufflé baking dishes, coating each interior in butter. Sprinkle sugar equally into dishes and roll or shake as needed to distribute sugar evenly in ramekins. Dump out sugar that doesn’t stick to dishes.
Combine milk and chile in a medium saucepan and, over medium heat, bring just to a simmer, with small bubbles just beginning to break around the edge. Remove from heat and let mixture steep for 15 minutes.
While chile milk steeps, separate the 3 eggs. Yolks go into a small mixing bowl. Whites from whole eggs and already separated whites go into a large mixer bowl. Whisk together yolks with flour and ¼ cup sugar.
Pour milk-chile mixture into blender and purée. Reserve saucepan. Strain mixture back into saucepan and bring milk again to a bare simmer. Stir in chocolate, remove from the heat, and continue stirring until chocolate fully melts and is incorporated. Stir in egg yolk mixture. (You can prepare the soufflé base to this point up to 2 hours ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to proceed.)
Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in bowl of electric mixer over high speed until frothy. Add remaining ¼ cup sugar and continue beating until stiff but still glossy. (If cooking at 7,000 feet or higher altitude, beat egg whites just until they hold soft peaks.) Stir about one-quarter of beaten egg white mixture into the soufflé base. Fold in remaining egg white mixture. Divide batter among prepared ramekins.
Bake 18 to 22 minutes, until puffed, with centers nearly set. Dust tops with confectioners’ sugar. Enjoy right away. (Soufflés sink as they cool. If you have leftovers, they will lose their lightness but still taste good, more like brownies in texture.)