Monday, September 22, 2008

Eating Santa Fe - Or How To Dine At 8 Restaurants In One Day

A weekend in Santa Fe in September was a regular thing for me for several years. My mother (in her 70's) would drive out west in her Toyota with her two dogs and travel around the national parks in Utah, Nevada and Colorado, then drive down to Santa Fe where I would fly in to meet her. We'd spend a couple days shopping on the square, eating at any place that would allow dogs on the patio, and just lazing about. But this year I visited in May with my husband, we were on our way back to Dallas from Aspen, and I insisted we visit this wonderful city for a day.

On the drive we assembled a list of restaurants that we really wanted to try, a modest 14 or so. Shopping and other entertainments were not included unless they fit in the regional area where we would be "fooding". Arriving late at night (OK, we were a little delayed by a casino along the way), we decided to devote our entire next day to delving into the SF restaurant scene. First on the list was Cafe Pasquale's for breakfast, in the April/May '08 edition of the Santa Fean local chef's voted it "Best Breakfast Burrito". Definitely worth the wait for a table.

Walking back to the hotel, we passed by the Santa Fe School of Cooking located on W. San Francisco St. just off the square. I noticed this little sign out front that said "Walking Restaurant Tour Today", hmmmmmm - interest piqued we walked up the steps, and signed up when we heard the list of restaurants. The tour (totalling about 12 people) began at the Cooking School, Chef Rocky served Duck Tamales and explained the program. Each restaurant on the tour included a private tour of the restaurant, a house specialty and a glass of wine.

At Amavi we were served Scallops by owner Tomas Odai, at La Casa Sena it was Trout in Adobe with a wonderful historical account of the restaurant by Chef Patrick Gharrity. At Santacafe, we were fed their Tiger Prawn Tempura, and at this point I'm feeling a little hungry - and buzzed, I don't eat seafood. Finally at Rio Chama it was short ribs - satisfaction! And it also turned out that Chef Kerpon, who used to live in Dallas had played golf many years previously with my husband.

The entire tour took about 3 hours, with about 2 miles walked, but this was an incredible behind the scenes look and feel for some of Santa Fe's premier restaurants. Afterwards we were in serious need of a siesta, then it was back up and into the car for the rest of the list. We shared a pate appetizer at the bar of The Compound, great food but the atmosphere had no pizzazz. Then we went to La Boca, where Chef Campbell (who previously rocked at El Farol) has opened his own tapas restaurant - and it's keeping him very busy from the looks of things.

Last but not least we had to go back to Coyote Cafe. Having enjoyed national recognition over the first few years it was open, it became a mainstay and fell off the "cutting edge" list of restaurants. Until Chef Eric DiStefano and his wife Sarah took it over, and put everything they had into it, including revitalizing the menu. Formerly of Geronimo's, Chef DiStefano left his comfy job to take the risk of his own place, and in return was named "Most Innovative Chef" by his fellow SF chefs this year. I recognized Chef at the front door the moment we walked in, we introduced ourselves and from there progressed a culinary feast. I only hope that we have the opportunity to show chef (and his lovely young wife) the same hospitality they showed us. The food was stellar, if I had to pick only one restaurant to return to, this one would be IT.

Santa Fe in September is beautiful, some year's I've been there they've had snow up in the mountains. The chile's are in, aspens are beginning to turn, and while the days can get in the upper 80's, the nights are pleasantly cool and dry. The shopping on the square and at quirky little places like Jackalope can't be beat. And the food never goes out of season.

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