Dining well in atmospheric, only-in-NM surroundings
I will happily eat in a dive that slings great food, but I’d rather watch adobe crumble than consume humdrum cuisine in a haute palace. Still, nothing’s more satisfying than a feast for all the senses—dining in a space as thoughtfully designed as what appears on the plate.
Style and good design have nothing to do, necessarily, with deep pockets. A heavily financed project can end up an edifice more colossal than comforting, whereas a budget project can exude charm and feel all the more satisfying for its obvious value. In keeping with this issue’s theme of great looks in home and garden, let’s sample a taste of satisfying restaurant design around the state.
De La Tierra (Taos)
El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa, on the east side of Taos, strives to present guests with a tranquil sanctuary. Seemingly, no expense was spared in its creation.
De La Tierra, the main restaurant, dazzles from the moment you step into the room. Diamond-plaster walls embedded with flecks of mica create a warm backdrop to an eclectic collection of art, much of it by local artists. Intricate dry-stacked peach flagstone, Chaco Canyon-style, make up one wall. The four-tiered ironwork chandelier, handcrafted by Will Wilkins, ensures a sense of awe when you look up toward the ceiling. Sitting or standing under the chandelier, you can see interlocking, radiating circles inspired by the rose window at France’s Reims Cathedral. Slabs of Indian “absolute black” granite rest on bases of sustainably harvested mahogany, surrounded by high-backed, almost throne-like chairs. The oversize proportions are just right for the room, and create a look formal and elegant, yet comfy for an evening.
De La Tierra has been through a series of chefs, but seems to have found stability with Henry Chaparont. I first savored the Frenchman’s food when he owned the well-regarded Le Petite Maison, in Colorado Springs. His menu here roams broadly through global and local influences, all presented with a creative flair that matches the setting. 317 Kit Carson Rd. (577) 737-9855; elmontesagrado.com
Santacafé (Santa Fe)
It’s quite an accomplishment when a pre–Civil War residence is repurposed to great effect. Santacafé, on the edge of downtown Santa Fe, was originally the Padre Gallegos home. Jose Manuel Gallegos, through a combination of political and religious activities, became one of the most powerful and controversial figures in New Mexico’s history. During and after the Civil War, parts of his Territorial-style adobe served as a boarding house, governmental offices, a chapel, an art gallery, and, today, a real estate brokerage. Santacafé occupies two wings of the building as well as the central courtyard, one of the capitol city’s most popular places to dine in warm weather. I think of Santacafé as the local equivalent of New Orleans’ Galatoire’s, where genteel power-brokers meet, greet, and table hop through leisurely Friday lunches.
Clean white walls and candlelight highlight the sleek, intimate interior décor. Don’t overlook the small bar. It’s lovely, and you can peer into a Plexiglas-covered hole in the floor to view more than a century’s worth of excavation—a gritty reminder of this Grande Dame’s history.
Chefs come and go here, including PBS and Food Network icon Ming Tsai, but owners Judith Ebbinghaus and Bobby Morean are the constants. The fare tends toward American with a few Southwestern and Asian accents—pretty cutting-edge when the restaurant opened, in 1983. Today, think of it as a long-standing tradition that always seems celebratory. Reservations recommended. 231 Washington Ave. (505) 984-1788; santacafe.com
Ardovino’s Desert Crossing (Sunland Park)
“To describe Ardovino’s restaurant is to describe almost any western ranchhouse built in the early 1900s.” So began a 1970 New Mexico Magazine feature on the restaurant and its founder, Frank Ardovino. Not many of those ranch houses survive today, much less serve up Italian meals for all of us to enjoy in time-honored rustic, romantic elegance. The expansive property fits into a little crook south of the Río Grande, where New Mexico, Old Mexico, and Texas meet in the shadow of Mount Cristo Rey. You’ll know you’re headed the right way when you catch a glimpse of the old windmill and stone water tower.
After Frank’s death, in 1973, Ardovino’s closed its doors. The property was leased out briefly, then sat vacant for nearly 20 years. Frank’s nephew and niece, Robert Ardovino and his sister Marina, rediscovered the beauty of the wooden roof trusses, picture windows, and tiled floors, and kick-started a lengthy renovation process. Old storage sheds and basements turned out to be brimming with artifacts and memorabilia that now adorn the dining spaces. Sunset Hall, a handsome events space, was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Multiple patios overlook natural beauty in all directions—foothills, nearby mountain ranges, or across the valley toward the twinkling lights of El Paso.
Whether you come for pasta, roasted veal chops, or pizza from the outdoor oven, a meal at Ardovino’s remains an event. Frank used only fresh vegetables—quite a departure from the practice of most dining establishments of his day. To ensure top-notch produce, Robert and Marina host a weekly Saturday-morning farmers’ market on the property. Fuel up early from the Ardovinos’ vintage Airstream coffee trailer. Later in the day, stop in at their Mecca Lounge, another retro gem, which serves cocktails and pizza. Reservations recommended. 1 Ardovinos Dr.(575) 589-0653; ardovinos.com
The Artesian Restaurant (Ojo Caliente)
Nestled in a valley west of the Sangre de Cristos, on the edge of the village of Ojo Caliente, is the Ojo Caliente Resort and Spa. In 1868, Antonio Joseph, the first Territorial Representative of New Mexico to serve in Congress, built the bathhouse on the site of Ojo’s hot springs, revered since ancient times as healing waters. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs became one of the first natural-health resorts in the country, offering the springs, overnight lodging, and a general store whose historical ledgers show that Kit Carson frequently purchased supplies here. As a sanitarium, the popular term of the time, Ojo was known throughout the country as a place where thousands of people were “cured” each year by the beneficial properties of the waters and mud. Four kinds of mineral springs are still available today, as are overnight accommodations.
The restaurant occupies a portion of one of the oldest structures, the Historic Hotel, built in 1916 and now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The low adobe building was constructed in Mission Revival style, and the owners are fairly certain that a restaurant was included in the structure from the earliest days. The restaurant was renamed The Artesian in 2000, when the property was purchased by the Scott family, fifth-generation New Mexicans with lineage to Artesia, New Mexico.
The Artesian’s interior showcases American Craftsman style, with natural materials, harmonious wood tones, mullioned window panes, and exposed wood beams throughout the restaurant and adjacent wine bar and lounge. It has all the expected comforts of today, but you feel as if you’ve stepped back nearly 100 years.
I love the menu here, with its albondigas de la cabra (goat meatballs with green mole and Cotija cheese), scallops with a corn tamale and fried spinach, and local lamb “three ways”: as a chop, as chorizo, and as mole spiked with Chimayó chile. If you’re here in the evening, be sure to sample the crisp-coated green-chile fries as an appetizer. If the waters don’t heal what ails you, surely the meals will. 50 Los Banos Dr. (800) 222-9162; ojospa.com
Last summer, Tesuque’s beloved Rancho Encantado (briefly managed by Auberge Resorts) became Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. Though the new name’s a bit of a mouthful, Four Seasons, one of the world’s elite hospitality management groups, seems intent on restoring some of the local character missing in the Auberge era.
Terra, the restaurant, and the accompanying bar, share the property’s spectacular panorama of the vast Río Grande Valley and the Jemez range beyond. At sunset, it’s perhaps my favorite place to hang out in all of New Mexico. Each space has impressive design elements, with a clean contemporary aesthetic. Chef Andrew Cooper, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, creates exquisite plates with seasonal inspiration. 198 State Rd. 92. (505) 946-5700; fourseasons.com/santafe
A Festival of Folk Art and Santa Fe Style:
La Plazuela (Santa Fe)
If you checked into La Fonda on the Plaza a century ago, you could have wandered out to the open courtyard patio, today the site of the aptly named La Plazuela (small plaza). La Fonda was arguably the most famous of the Harvey Houses. For more than four decades since, it has remained under the private ownership and stewardship of the Ballen family.
La Plazuela’s space was enclosed in 1972, to provide a larger dining room; a 2008 renovation and partial restoration brought it to its full potential. The entire room’s a work of art in quintessential New Mexican style. Though La Plazuela remains covered, the now-peaked skylights allow the room to be completely washed in golden light. It’s one of Santa Fe’s loveliest spaces for a meal.
The renovation uncovered the footings of a forgotten fountain that once again gurgles merrily in the center of the room. Hundreds of artfully painted window panes as lovely as stained glass in a cathedral—flowers, fruits, whimsical birds and animals—were produced by the hotel’s longtime artisan, Ernesto Martinez. Territorial-style woodwork soars upward. New sconces and a massive chandelier from Mexico cast amber light at night.
This restaurant may be in a hotel, but it’s far more than a hotel restaurant. Whether at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, La Plazuela is as likely to be filled with locals as with guests. Lane Warner, the hotel’s executive chef, offers a changing menu of contemporary interpretations of American standards. La Fonda represents a living legacy; La Plazuela is at its heart. Reservations recommended. 100 E. San Francisco St. (505) 995-2344; lafondasantafe.com
Zesty Watering Hole, Imaginative Eats:
Zacatecas Tacos + Tequila (Albuquerque)
Mark Kiffin, owner of Santa Fe’s venerable The Compound, launched this more casual and value-priced concept in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill early last year. The Central Avenue neighborhood boasts a kaleidoscope of colors, and Zacatecas has added its share of verve, with an intense cobalt marquee. Inside, the walls are awash in color, Mexican art and folk art appearing in all directions. Photo reproductions show off scenes of the city and state of Zacatecas, a stunning south-of-the-border locale known for its cross-cultural blend of food. Three garage-style bay doors open to the sidewalk during good weather, engaging passersby. Patrons can sidle up to 15 feet of custom-made zinc bar or order at their tables. The whole effect is dramatic—a contemporary industrial warehouse of fun. It’s one of the city’s evening hot spots.
Chef Daniel Marquez oversees a menu as bright as the surroundings. Of course, Zaca serves tacos galore, but offers a range of more elaborate preparations too, such as duck rellenos with a cinnamon-laced mancha-mantel fruit and chile sauce. 3423 Central Ave. NE. (505) 255-8226; zacatecastacos.com
Convivial Neighborhood Spot:
Tune-Up Café (Santa Fe)
The Tune-Up Café’s the kind of joint that gets featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. If you give it a serious look, I think you’ll come to appreciate how Charlotte and Jesús Rivera have created a matchless neighborhood café with plenty of appeal for visitors, too. The Riveras began with the plain concrete-block cube west of St. Francis Drive that, for many years, housed a diner called Dave’s Not Here. The café is just a couple of blocks from their home, where a small orchard provides much of the menu’s fruit. Charlotte wanted their environment to be “densely communal,” like cafés in urban areas. She intended for the scale to be modest, in a “European proportion,” as she calls it, and to avoid wasted space and energy. She liked the idea of people ordering at the counter, so that they could engage in immediate interaction with the smiling staff.
One of the challenges was finding furnishings small enough to fit the restaurant’s scale. The Riveras solved this problem by making most everything themselves, building in bancos, hammering together tables and chairs, crafting light fixtures, using recycled and repurposed materials. In a spot between the open kitchen and the restroom door, where diners would have been prone to jostling, the Riveras improvised a little raised booth using bed parts. It’s my favorite seat in the whole place. Late last year, they carved a bit of space out of their parking lot for a second room with large windows, a handmade corner bar, and a Dutch/French door cleverly designed to be opened to the breezes.
The menu features pupusas (a type of corn cake) and other comforting dishes from Jesús’s native El Salvador, along with burgers, burritos, salads, and sandwiches. All are highly satisfying, well-made with high-quality ingredients, and presented with care. Baked goods, like lemon custard cake with toasted coconut and strawberry-rhubarb pie, are a specialty. Value prices keep people coming back regularly. Tune-Up Café has succeeded where many other, higher-budget restaurants fail. By paying close attention to the details, they’ve created the total package. 1115 Hickox St. (505) 983-7060; tuneupsantafe.com
➤ Geronimo (Santa Fe)
Like Santacafé, this was once a home, part of a farm property owned by Geronimo Lopez in the mid–18th century. Today, the portal of the Territorial-style structure sits smack up against Canyon Road, a magical spot in warm weather to watch the world-renowned street’s art crowd. The interior’s clean lines and crisp white tablecloths allow the global-French-Asian dishes to look like art on the plate. Reservations nearly always essential. 724 Canyon Rd. (505) 982-1500; geronimorestaurant.com.
➤ VinaigrettE (Santa Fe, Albuquerque)
Erin Wade raised the bar for salad when she opened her wildly popular bistro Vinaigrette in an alley location close to downtown Santa Fe. These are no rote toss-ups—since the beginning, Wade has sourced much of the produce from her Nambé farm. She expanded to Albuquerque at the end of 2012. In both spots, the décor is fresh, clean, and green, with touches of whimsy. I particularly like the bright, geranium-hued metal chairs, and the butcher block tables topped with fringes of wheatgrass. Chartreuse glass mosaic tiles behind the bar make it a festive spot for sampling a much finer wine list than you might expect. 709 Don Cubero Alley, Santa Fe. (505) 820-9205. 1828 Central Ave. SW, Albuquerque. (505) 842-5507; vinaigretteonline.com
➤ Three Ravens Coffee Shop (Tierra Amarilla)
Tiny Tierra Amarilla is in the forested high country of northern New Mexico, close to Colorado. Paul Namkung, Korean-born craftsman, artist, and musician, took a liking to the hamlet and acquired a derelict downtown adobe that was scheduled to be bulldozed. Nearly everyone in town thought the attempt at renovation was hopeless, but piece by piece, Namkung created a lovely homespun café and coffee shop featuring handcrafted woodwork and furnishings and distinctive serving pieces. The charming ravens theme begins on the pitched tin rooftop, carries through inside, and extends to the logo. Three Ravens serves light fare and some really fine coffee and breakfast through late afternoon. If you’re lucky, you might catch some live music on the portal. 15 State Road 531, next to the courthouse. (575) 588-9086; worlddrums.org
➤ The Curious Kumquat (Silver City)
Silver City was founded, as you might guess, after prospectors struck veins of silver ore in the area around 1870. Local politician Alvin White built a fine brick-and-adobe home on the edge of downtown, which remained in his family until Rob and Tyler Connoley bought the residence some half-dozen years ago. The Kumquat’s dining areas feature clean minimalist lines with rusty orange woodwork, vibrant Southwestern colors, and lots of local art. On the menu: foraged and local foods, and historic Apache ingredients prepared in very modern ways. Reservations strongly encouraged for dinner. 111 E. College Ave. (575) 534-0337; curiouskumquat.com
Cheryl Alters Jamison is New Mexico Magazine’s contributing culinary editor. Read
her blog at nmmagazine.com/tastingnm.
La Plazuela’s Sautéed Trout with Rainbow Quinoa and Papaya Vinaigrette
La Fonda’s executive chef, Lane Warner, has been with the hotel for 20 years, but never gets complacent about his menus for La Plazuela.
Yield Serves 6 or more
Makes about 1½ cups
8 ounces papaya purée or 1 pound ripe
papaya, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 tablespoons fresh chives, rough-chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
½ cup corn or vegetable oil
Ground white pepper
(Makes 4 to 5 cups, enough for 6 or more servings)
1 pound rainbow (mixed colors) quinoa
1 quart vegetable stock (homemade or store-bought)
½ large red bell pepper, roasted over stove burner, then peeled and finely diced
½ large green bell pepper, roasted over stove burner, then peeled and finely diced
½ cup red onion, finely diced
6 trout, ¾ to 1 pound each,
gutted but heads intact
1¼ cups stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon ground dried New Mexico
mild red chile
Salt and freshly milled pepper
For the Vinaigrette
Place papaya, shallots, chives, and lime juice in blender and purée until smooth. Pour in vinegar and oil and purée again, until emulsified or thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve at room temperature.
For the Quinoa
Rinse quinoa thoroughly in fine-mesh strainer and drain. Place in large pan with stock and add salt to taste, depending on whether your stock is salted. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low simmer and cook uncovered about 10 minutes, until quinoa is tender. Stir peppers and onion into quinoa. Can be served mounded on plates or packed into greased 1-cup ramekins, then turned out in molded shapes.
For the Trout
Add oil as necessary to measure a generous ¼-inch deep in large shallow skillet, preferably cast iron.
Cut 2 moderately deep diagonal slashes into sides of each fish. Stir together on large plate the cornmeal, chile, salt, and pepper. Roll each fish in cornmeal mixture, pressing it into cavities and slashes. Warm oil over medium heat. Fry trout, in batches if necessary, 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned and flaky throughout, turning once. Drain.
Arrange a trout on each plate. Place portion of quinoa next to trout. Drizzle equal portions vinaigrette over trout and quinoa, letting some pool on plate. Repeat with remaining trout, quinoa, and vinaigrette. Serve right away.
Terra’s Popcorn-“Crusted” Scallops with Carrot Purée and Huckleberry Gastrique
Don’t let the word gastrique puzzle you. It’s just a well-reduced sauce, usually of fruit and vinegar.
Yield Serves 4
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup raspberry vinegar (e.g., Salman Ranch)
½ cup fresh or thawed frozen huckleberries with any juice, or 1 cup fresh raspberries
3 large carrots, peeled, cut in chunks
2 garlic cloves
Approximately ½ cup chicken or vegetable stock (enough to cover carrots)
Salt and freshly milled pepper
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 large sea scallops (about 10 to a pound)
Salt and freshly milled pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 baby carrots, sliced in half lengthwise,
then blanched quickly in boiling water
4 asparagus spears, sliced in half lengthwise,
then blanched quickly in boiling water
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup microgreens
1 cup popped popcorn (a little butter or salt is OK, as is your favorite microwavable popcorn)
For the Gastrique
In medium saucepan, combine sugar and vinegar. On high heat, reduce by half. Add huckleberries and let sit in hot mixture 30 minutes. Turn heat back on and simmer 30 minutes. Cool, then purée in blender until smooth. Return to saucepan (if using raspberries, strain sauce while pouring back into pan to rid it of seeds), cook until reduced by half again. This should be a semithick liquid, not runny.
For the Carrot Purée
Simmer carrots, garlic, stock, salt, and grind or two of pepper in small heavy saucepan, covered. Cook until carrots are very tender, 12 to 14 minutes. While still warm, purée mixture with cream and butter in food processor until smooth. Keep warm.
For the Scallops
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat over high heat ovenproof skillet large enough to hold all scallops. Add oil to hot skillet, and swirl to cover skillet. Sear scallops about 1 minute per side, until nicely brown with a touch of crust. Pop skillet into oven and cook about 3 minutes, until scallops have cooked through.
Spoon one-quarter of carrot purée in center of a plate. Press regular tablespoon into purée and gently drag spoon across plate, creating smear on plate. Repeat with remaining purée.
Place two seared scallops atop carrot purée, then spoon some of freshly made popcorn over scallops. Garnish equally with baby vegetables around scallops
Spoon gastrique around and finish each plate with a few leaves of microgreens. Serve right away.
Tune-Up Café’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
What’s more beautiful than a fresh wedge of fruit pie?
Yield Makes one 10” pie serving 6 or more
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup lard or vegetable shortening,
well chilled, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons butter, well chilled,
cut into small pieces
¼ cup ice water
1 pint strawberries, stems removed,
cut into 4 pieces each
4 cups rhubarb (2 to 3 fresh stalks),
cut into ¼-inch slices (you can use
frozen rhubarb; must be defrosted)
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1¹/³ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¹/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, well chilled,
cut into small pieces
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Crust
Mix flour and salt together in medium bowl. With fork or pastry blender, cut lard and butter into flour mixture, until lumps are the size of large peas. Add half of water and mix together with clean hands. Keep adding water a little at a time until dough forms a ball. Flatten dough ball on plastic wrap, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Roll out dough on lightly floured surface until you have an 11-inch round just larger than pie pan. Fold dough in half gently and transfer to pan. Unfold to fit pan and crimp edge. Refrigerate while making filling and crumb topping.
For the Filling
Mix all ingredients together. Let sit at room temperature while making crumb topping.
For the Crumb Topping
Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse several times until an evenly crumbly mixture forms. (Alternatively, this can be done by hand: In medium-size bowl, cut with a fork until crumbs are formed.)
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Pour filling into chilled pie shell. Spoon crumb topping over filling so that no fruit shows. Bake pie 50 minutes to 1 hour, until topping is golden-brown and rhubarb is tender. Let sit on baking rack at least 30 minutes before serving. For neatest slices, let pie fully cool before cutting.