Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Vegetarian in Santa Fe

I often say to V (half-jokingly) that we broke our streak of exciting vacations with our trip to Santa Fe in May. V liked it more than I did and he never fails to remind me of the great food that I was enthusiastically chowing down while we were there. True, Santa Fe is a great destination for food lovers, especially those who are in search of authentic New Mexican, Mexican and Spanish cuisine. We were not disappointed in a single place we dined at, ranging from the high-end to the hole-in-the-wall digs. Incidentally, Santa Fe is also a great destination for art lovers; my personal satisfaction came from seeing the Georgia O’ Keefe museum, a long-awaited event.

Let me start by saying that we did not go in search of exclusive vegetarian restaurants on this trip as we usually do, mainly because the local cuisine included a number of choices for vegetarians. We also noticed that everyone was very hospitable and enthusiastic about their food; more than once we were surprised with a complimentary dish from the kitchen, and that just made our day. One last general comment - the good restaurants do fill up quickly so we didn’t get to go to some of the restaurants on our list (such as “The Shed” in the main plaza). No regrets though; it was all good!

Part I: A fancy dinner in the plaza
For our first evening out, we wandered through the heart of Santa Fe taking in the shops and ambience and ended up at the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assissi. A block from the Cathedral is “La Plazuela”, part of the La Honda hotel, where we had our dinner reservation. We dressed up for this one, and were glad we did when we saw the beautiful restaurant setting. The tables are laid out in a courtyard around a fountain and the tall glass ceiling gave the feeling of dining al fresco. The decorations and tableware are very tasteful and complementary to the ambience.
The highlight of the evening was the guacamole that is prepared at the table based on the diners’ taste. Your waiter arrives at your table with a couple of avocados and an array of other ingredients (minced onion, minced garlic, diced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, diced green chilies, salt and fresh limes for juice). On demand he swiftly and deftly mixes up all the ingredients to make up possibly the best guacamole we have ever tasted.
The other dish of note was the Squash Blossom fries served as an appetizer. The delicate yellow squash flowers were battered and deep fried, and served with a spicy tomato sauce. We also enjoyed the melon soup (like a gazpacho) which was delicately sweet. The main entrees were nothing to write home about. In fact, I don’t think I even remember what they were, except that we had a very pleasant evening. The prices were a little high which was to be expected based on the ambience and the service. As mentioned before, reservations are recommended for this restaurant (as well as other popular ones) in Santa Fe.

Part II: A sweet tea-time
The next day we ambled down Canyon Road, lined on both sides with art galleries of all kinds. Unique sculptures and art pieces displayed outside the galleries made our walk enjoyable, and we walked into a couple of galleries that particularly caught our attention. At the tail-end of the street, we decided to break for a drink at “The Teahouse”, a quaint outdoor café in a garden setting. V walked in to order some drinks for us while I grabbed our seat in a prime spot in the garden.
There were very few people as it was almost closing time. V came out twice to ask me if I wanted the “Strawberry Short Cake” with real strawberries (“It looks really good”, he said) but I wanted to wait for dinner. We sat with the drinks enjoying the cool breeze, the ambience and a nice chat, and here comes our waiter with the “Strawberry Shortcake”!! He said it was on the house. Since they were closing soon, he didn’t want us to change our minds too late and not be able to have it. How awfully nice of him! We devoured the cake and enjoyed it to the last crumb.
Part III: Cheap Eats at the Blue Corn Cafe'
That evening, we decided to try something less fancy for dinner. After walking up and down the plaza, we ended up at the Blue Corn Café which is located on the second floor of a shopping building. We sat at the window with a view of the main plaza. The big bowl of corn chowder and the enchilada plate we ordered made for a very filling, and very comforting meal. The corn chowder was served with wonderful fresh tortilla chips. The enchilada was basic but very tasty. It was definitely cheap eats at less than $20.

Part IV: Sopaipillas at La Choza
Another cheap eats, where we thoroughly enjoyed the food is La Choza, which is a little further away, about a 10 minute drive, from the main plaza. La Choza (Spanish for “The Shed”) is a sister restaurant of “The Shed” in the plaza, where the prices are steeper than at its poor cousin’s. It’s easy to miss La Choza, which in a rather non-descript neighborhood on the other side of the tracks, but they do have plenty of signs to make sure one doesn’t.
The restaurant, housed in a little colorful adobe building, has both indoor and outdoor seating.
It is very vegetarian-friendly, the service is great and the food is cheap and excellent. We ordered vegetarian enchiladas and one other dish and were asking our waiter what was meant by “sopaipillas”. To our surprise, he brought out a couple of sopaipillas at the end of our meal with some local honey! A sweet ending to our meal.

Final comments: Santa Fe is definitely a food-lover's mecca. Our biggest tip would be to be bold, talk to the friendly waiters, learn about New Mexican food and try something new. At the low prices at some of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, one can definitely afford to fall in love with something new!

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