New Mexico: Santa Fe

Santa Fe 2011

This year we decided to take our spring break in Santa Fe.  We have been going since the 1980s – driving down from CO and staying at various places along the way.  (When we lived in NM, we would drive up for the opera in the summers and vacation during down times.)

~So, unlike other places, we have a long list of old favorites.  It’s difficult to decide where to go and to balance the old with the new.  (While we’ve been to San Francisco many, many times, there are very few old places that we absolutely have to see each time.  I’d list Recchiuti for chocolates and the whole ferry building as a must see/eat on our part.)

What did we do this time? Old favorites:

*The Shed –  Good as usual, reasonably priced for being so close to the Plaza.  On this visit, it seemed like the front desk did not have a good handle about actual wait times.

*La Cantina (part of La Casa Sena) – We’ve mainly gone to La Cantina because we like hearing the music.  Over the years, it’s been a bit harder because we’ve been less familiar with the newer musicals; however, the singing is often so good that it doesn’t matter.  The food has declined a bit and become a bit more uneven.  My salad was perfectly dressed and delicious.  The other dish we ordered had a steak that was a little tough (for the expensive cut they listed on the bill) but the sides were good.  The chocolate chili soup wasn’t quite hot enough, although the flavor was good.  The donut, on the other hand, was fantastic.  The portions are gigantic.

*Café Pasqual’s – We love coming to this fun, bright restaurant.  The food is also fun and creative; however, the prices are noticeably higher.  (The cheesy grits were served in a mini cast iron… so good that there were no leftovers.)  Service is fantastic for a breakfast location.  We’ve never shown up when they open and so do not know how long the line is at that early hour; however, on this visit, we just walked in and the wait list didn’t really start until after 9 AM.  This seemed to be true throughout our trip.

*Tia Sophia’s – They are known for their burritos and the prices are really reasonable.  It’s a place where locals go.  The service was friendly, the food was good, and the place was surprisingly uncrowded.

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*Coyote Café (The cantina is where we usually go but it was closed due to the cold weather.)  I don’t know how long we’ve been coming here.  The inside is the same and the food continues to be very good.  When you look at the menu, it looks very standard, especially by today’s world palate tastes.  However, each item has a unique and interesting twist.  The Caesar salad, for example, looks like a sushi roll and it includes these cheesy polenta rectangular shapes that are just delicious.  They have some very modern drinks (must have a good mixologist, as they call them now).  We watched a table celebrating someone’s birthday order an array of these drinks – it looked like fun.

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New venues:

*Chocolate Maven – This is new from our last visit to SF, otherwise we would have visited.  I read about it in several places.  From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything (it’s part of a warehouse complex); but, on the inside, it’s a whole new world.  *

Chocolate cake at the Chocolate maven

You are greeted by several large cases of pastries (classic breads and pastries, cookies, cupcakes, pies, and savory items, as well as “pre-made” chocolate items from other purveyors).  The room on the first floor has a large window that looks out into the kitchen.  You can also dine upstairs by heading up a spiral staircase.  Upstairs where we dined it felt like a small café – low noise, intimate, comfortable.  The food was delicious overall and very plentiful.

*Dinner for Two (D42) – What a surprise.  The restaurant is a bit odd in terms of shape and décor.  It’s a bit of a walk from the main Plaza but not too bad.  The menu is a bit large and seasonal.  What’s neat is that there are many different choices for how you can put together a meal.  First, you could choose the set 4 courses that the chef has created.  Other than choosing only 1 -3 dishes, this is the best deal for 4.  Second, you could choose to mix & match – This could include the standard 4 with one from each section BUT it could also be a salad and 3 desserts.  We mixed and matched for 2 set 4 meals and then just ordered 1 main.  The food was great.  The other unique aspect is that this is truly family run (mom out front, dad doing pastries and “at the table” flambé desserts, and son as chef).  We enjoyed enjoyed everything – including watching & listening to the larger 6 top near us.

*Clafoutis – This is far away from the main Plaza and it gets a little precarious when you hit Guadalupe – not a fun walk at that point.  However, this little place is somewhat worth the hike.  It’s like a little country cottage – with mini blackboards advertising in French and nicknacks on shelves.  Like any good bakery there’s a wide display of French baked goods.  Their menu has classics (like crepes and croquet monsieur/madame), huge salads, etc.  People were clearly visiting and having a good time.  We enjoyed a clafoutis of the day and a ham and grueyere crepe.  On our way out, we purchased some tuiles to munch on for our walk back to the Plaza.

*Jambo– This little place is stuck in a strip mall near Hobby Lobby.  We didn’t walk because Cerrillos is just not that much fun to walk.

Salmon salad at Jambo

The food is a combo Carribean/African.  It’s actually quite good and inexpensive.  As an adult, you can ask for a half portion which is what they serve as their kid’s meals.

*Harry’s Road House – This place has been around for a long time and my sister used to drive up from ABQ to eat here.  My brother-in-law requested that we take a picture of the scrapple for him.  The décor is eclectic and the rooms are large and bright.  We had the lemon ricotta pancakes and the special of the day (You can find a web recipe for the pancakes here.)  The pancakes were not overly heavy and the lemon made them have just the right level of sweetness.  There were definitely locals and regulars here.  The table next to us had two people show up later who complained that they couldn’t make it through the various dining areas to the back (where we were) without having to stop at every table.  You can’t really walk here from the Plaza but it’s so worth the drive.

*French Pastry Shop (in the La Fonda) – This is also not a new place.  We’ve often stopped in to get a quick pastry when the lines aren’t too long in the middle of the day.  This time we decided to go ahead and eat breakfast.  The Nutella crepe was good but took a long time (maybe because so many people order crepes there?).  The croissant was also good but like many classic chocolate croissant, there was not as much chocolate to pastry.  Finally, the croquet monsieur was good.

Vinaigrette – Nice & creative salads.

The Chocolate Trail:  We only missed one place (C.G. Higgins Confections) and Chocolate Maven should be included even if they don’t hand dip their own chocolates.

*Kakawa – The building seems to be stuck on the side of a lot of parking lots – very non-descript.  You walk in, however, and it’s colorful, with quirky decorations and fun display of chocolates.  They are known for their hot chocolate concoctions which are incredibly rich and served like strong coffee.  Their elixirs are supposed to have health benefits.  We tasted one but found it to be too much and so we stuck with their standard flavors.  All the flavors are supposed to be based on ancient/historical recipes.  The chocolates were good.

*Todos Santos Chocolates (an old favorite but no real dining) – This is still the best.  The chocolates have that nice crunch.  The variety of flavors is stunning, with some unusual ones thrown in.  They have different shapes and great decorations.  The chocolate mushrooms are fantastic (still).  The customer service is not quite as good as it was. (I had to ask to have my over $40 worth of chocolates wrapped this time and one of my friends recalls little tin decorations added to the boxes which were not on my box.)  Because the chocolates are just a cut above, if you only have time for one shop, this would be it.

*Chocolate Smith (also has a small kiosk in one of the shopping areas near the Plaza) – This is a classic shop, serving classic types of chocolate.  It reminded me of See’s before they went large (when I was just a little girl).  Very amazing service and if you go down to their Cerrillos shop, then they’ll give you a taste of whatever you want.

Places we usually go but didn’t have a chance to visit (maybe someone can update us before our next trip):  315 [Bistro 315 when we started going there], the café on museum hill (amazing views), La Boca, India Palace (way too many Indian/Nepalese etc here in Boulder)… There are interesting places along Cerrillos but as above, it’s not a fun walk – you do need to have a car.

Museums:  You must visit some museum (at least one) during your visit to Santa Fe.  Just for reference, the best deal is the 4 day museum pass.  It has changed over time but if you’re a non-NM resident, it makes sense to buy a pass and see everything you can.  If you’re a NM resident, it is actually better to buy a museum membership.  We used the membership to visit everything from your classic museums in Santa Fe to forts all over the state.

*Museum hill used to have 3 places to visit on the pass but now just include the two main museums.  The revolving nature of the displays make both worth seeing every time we visit.  The Palace of the Governors has now split into two connected pieces with the history part in a brand new building.  They have also put holes into walls and floors so that you can see the original buildings/walls of the Palace of the Governors.  The new history displays are really worth seeing.

*While you’re at museum hill, take a stop at the Wheelright.  They ask for a donation and this month they had a wonderful exhibit of two grey hills blankets.  The Georgia O’Keefe and the Institute of American Indian Arts are also not included but are well worth a visit.

Other non-food notes:

*If you’re interested in Native American art (mainly jewelry and some pottery items), try to find something under the eaves of the Palace of the Governors.  You can buy directly from the artist.  I also like to support the museums – costs a little more but they also buy directly from the artists and you have the opportunity to support a museum.

*For rugs, we have had luck with Packards (a little expensive but reliable).  We’ve also found things we love by just going in and out of stores.  Sometimes it’s just one piece tucked away but it’s worth looking through the other stuff to find it.  (This is often true about anything, though.)

*Santa Fe also has the oldest house (supposedly) and the oldest church (mission).  The Loretto Chapel has a staircase made without any visible supports – it’s also lovely.

*Cooking School – While I haven’t found anything I want to take other than maybe a walking tour (and those have not been offered on the days we have come through), the people are really nice and their shop has a wide selection of useful items.  It’s worth a stop.

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