Santa Fe: Food 10; Art 3


What I can’t understand about Santa Fe is how there can be so much bad art in one place. One would think there would be some sort of bad art flash point and after that the people would rise up in revolt and begin to paint beautifully just to show that it can still be done. But what’s interesting is the number of really great restaurants intermingled with the awful galleries. Do they play off one another? Create some kind of harmonic balance I can’t understand? Every meal I had in Santa Fe was fabulous. We went to Cafe Pasqual’s twice. The friend who recommended it claimed to have once seen Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts (postdivorce) eating alone at separate tables. The food is so engaging that they might not have noticed the other was there. I was particularly wild for the salmon burrito with black beans and goat cheese. My husband, Karl, had the panfried trout twice because he couldn’t get over it.

Even if you couldn’t eat another bite, you must find a way to eat a plate of cookies. It would be a noble way to spend one’s life—nibbling away at Pasqual’s cookies, trying to figure out which one was the best.

After a long hike up Canyon Road, mecca for bad art, we arrived at The Compound. We were an hour and a half early for our dinner reservation and too aesthetically exhausted to kill any more time in galleries. The restaurant was gracious and understanding—dare I guess it’s happened before? They gave us a corner table in their bright, open dining room. Karl made a better choice than I did, getting the buttermilk roast chicken with creamed spinach. My herbed gnocchi with chanterelles, corn, and haricots verts was good, but it sat heavily in its brown butter sauce and became greasier than was desirable. Still, I was so grateful to be there I shouldn’t complain about anything. The highlight of the meal was the side of corn pudding Karl ordered. It was so delicious, sweet and fresh in a way corn pudding never is, that I wished I’d just ordered a big plate of that and nothing else.

Our last day we drove up to Taos. The drive is spectacular, but the town has given way to T-shirts and turquoise knickknacks. We hightailed it back to make our dinner reservations at Geronimo. And were joined by our Albuquerque cousins. This meal was extraordinary. The menu changes nightly, and I can only hope you’ll be as lucky as we were. The cast-iron-seared diver scallops with braised leeks and herb butter sauce easily jumps into my pantheon of the greatest dishes I’ve ever consumed. I was only sorry it was an appetizer, but the main course, seared rare Hawaiian tuna steak with horseradish potatoes, very nearly clearly the high bar the appetizer had set. Karl has the pan-roasted chicken (he’s going through a chicken phase) and said it easily topped the Compound’s chicken. Cousin Pace had the elk and said it was excellent. I decided to take Pace’s word for this. Cousin Nancy joined me on the three-course seafood menu, but when we despaired of not being able to order the wine pairings because it simply wasn’t safe to drink three glasses of wine apiece at that altitude, our beautiful waitress (Anna Maria of Prague) kindly offered to split each glass between us, thus elevating herself to service above and beyond the call of duty. As for the Meyer lemon mousse with mango sorbet and roasted pistachios, it would be cruel for me to extol my good fortune longer than I already have.

So how do you solve the dilemma of Santa Fe? Stay out of the stores (unless you’re itching for turquoise beads), avert your gaze from all canvases (unless you happen to be in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum), and move directly from one eatery to the next. Stay outside as much as possible. The sky is enormous and very beautiful.

Subscribe to Gourmet