Or maybe they already have.
This southwest town, an early magnet to bohemians and renegade artists, has slowly, seamlessly, become part of the global, corporate, art market. Works seen on Canyon Road, the heart of this community’s art colony, are now likely to be found in galleries in Basel and New York, too.
The New Mexican capital, which has also traditionally attracted faith healers, spiritualists and massage therapists (there are 1,200 licensed massage therapists in this town of 75,000!) is about to undergo yet greater internationalization.
“You won’t recognize this place in three years,” predicts Peter Weiss, a knowledgeable guide whom we hired to take us on a 3-hour walking tour of town.
Peter Weiss takes visiting groups on a 3-hour walking tour of Santa Fe. Along the way, he points out the home where the narrative for “Oklahoma” was penned, where Randy Travis lives, where the really “hot” art galleries are and where the oldest church in America stands.
“The government is laying track for a fast train (it won’t be “high speed,” but it won’t be Amtrak, either) that will link Santa Fe and Albuquerque,” says Peter, suggesting that this may create one large urban corridor, making already high-priced homes even higher. The rail line should be completed by the end of 2008.
Peter’s guided tour was one of the highlights of a five-day visit to Santa Fe. On our tour, we learned that Spanish colonists settled in this area in 1598, some 22 years before the pilgrims ever landed at Plymouth Rock. The irony of America’s contemporary issue with 11 million illegal immigrants, most of them Hispanic, is: they were here first!
For the next 387 years, Santa Fe remained mostly off-the-beaten-path. But all that is changing, posits Peter, our guide. Santa Fe is now accessible by direct South West Air flights. This is a new development because, until now, visitors and residents have had to fly out of Albuquerque, 60 miles away, the only center that could handle larger planes.
Santa Fe is home to the oldest church in America (not the first church in America, mind you, but the oldest still standing). While you can find the church by yourself, we came across it with Peter; he has loads of colorful stories to share about everything you will pass. In fact, you will learn more in a few hours with him than you ever will from a pile of travel books.
Anyone visiting Santa Fe should think about hiring Peter for a three-hour guided tour. As Peter travels extensively during the year, check with his website to determine his availability. A bonus: you will LOVE his online photos and diaries. Go to www.peterweiss.com.
Georgia on my mind…
You can’t think of New Mexico and art without thinking of Georgia O’keeffe, whose abstract interpretations of the flora of this region earned her international acclaim during her 99 years of life.
One place that is a MUST on your visit is the Georgia O’keeffe Museum, which offers a rich collection of her abstract work. I particularly enjoyed three of her watercolors, a medium that I have never associated with the artist.
You’ll only need an hour to see the displayed canvases and framed watercolors; also, don’t miss the 12-minute (or so) film playing in the first gallery. It’s a compact, well filmed, historical record of Georgia O’Keeffe -- who she was and who she hung out with (mostly Alfred Steiglitz).
Georgia O’keeffe Musuem, 217 Johnson St. Tel. 505-946-1000.
Rather than give a history lesson, or a diary entry of everything we experienced on our visit, let me continue by commenting on the one element that I am qualified to speak about – the food of Santa Fe.
No More Mark Miller’s Coyote Café
The big food story here is that chef Mark Miller, who codified, quantified and kick-started what we now call Southwest Cuisine at his sensational Coyote Café 20 years ago, has just sold his business and moved on.
The new owner/chef is Eric Distefano, who for 11 years has been executive chef at nearby Geronimo. He has some mighty tall boots to fill, given Mark’s reputation, though locals and visitors in online chat rooms report that the food at the Coyote Café has gone down hill the last few years, likely as Mark has become a sort of absentee landlord, looking after properties in other US centers, including Las Vegas.
Best Food in Town
If you really want to know who’s swinging the heavy bat in this town… head over to Aqua Santa…
…. Gone….! Aqua Santa chef/owner Brian Knox hits the ball out of the park each night in his small, 12-table dining room. Hearty, country-style, house-made breads, complex entrees, fabulous pastries, and a solid wine list all contribute to the occasion; of five dinners in Santa Fe, my two best were at Aqua Santa, hands down.
Aqua Santa is run by chef/owner Brian Knox, a talented, self-trained chef from Milwaukee, WI. The staff is super friendly and cordial (say Hi to Whitney for us…) and the room radiates casual warmth, which is mirrored in the plated dishes.
Everything is made on premises including the dense, country breads, which look and taste as though they have been flown in from the Model Bakery, in St. Helena (the best breads in Napa Valley).
On each of out visits, I ordered a shoulder of lamb that had been braised “round the clock,” as the menu suggests, one of the most memorable preparations of lamb that I have had this year.
The succulent meat, flavored with an almost Moroccan spice pack rich with cinnamon and citrus notes, was served with broccoli rabe and a creamy polenta. The dish was like a great novel; I found myself going more slowly as I worked through the opus, wanting the pleasure to last longer and not end. When was the last time you had this kind of relationship with a plate of food?
On our two visits, we ordered Italian and Spanish red wines. One of my favorites was the 2004 Emilio Moro from Spain’s Ribera del Duero region. It was a perfect accompaniment to the lamb, filled with plum, dark cherry, and smoky notes. From start to finish, a delicious wine. 92 points.
If you only have time for one dinner in Santa Fe, Aqua Santa is the place to book your table.
Aqua Santa, 451 W. Alameda St. Tel. 505-982-6297.
Best chocolate store in America
If you are a devout chocolate lover and have been to Paris, you have perhaps sought out the most unusual chocolatier in the world – Denise Acabo – who specializes in finding, and selling, the best chocolates in France.
Denise travels around France, identifying the one item that each of her nation’s best chocolate artisans make; she takes one producer’s chocolate truffle and takes ONLY this small work of edible art from this artisan. Then she heads off to another region to find an artisan who, among his many confections, may make the best nougat, or caramel, or palette d’or, which is all that Denise will take from that artisan – one item.
In this fashion, she identifies the very best producers of different works of edible art and assembles them all at her tiny store in the 9th arrondissment (30 rue Fontaine).
I get the sense that chocolate geek Hayward Simoneaux, who moved here from New Orleans 14 years ago (well before Katrina), just may be the Denise Acabo of America.
Hayward’s chocolate store, Todos Santos, is in a beautiful, old Spanish building in downtown Santa Fe. He has assembled the best of the best chocolates from a half-dozen different American chocolate artisans. Dedicated producers like Michael Recchiuti (San Francisco), who I think is the best artisanal chocolate maker in America, and like Fritz Knipschildt, a Dane who settled in Norwalk, CT, where he makes exceptional chocolate confections.
Hayward turned me on to what may be the very best chocolate bar made in America, a new item from Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield MO. If there is only one chocolate that you pass between your lips in 2008, make sure it is the Askinosie bar made with Ecuador beans from San Jose del Tambo. This is a rich, complex, exceptional chocolate, packaged in a most unique manner.
You can get the bar from Todos Santos or from the Askinosie website – but YOU MUST TRY THIS CHOCOLATE IF YOU CALL YOURSELF A CHOCOHOLIC.
Todos Santos, Chocolates & Confections, Sena Plaza Courtyard, 125 East Palace Ave., #131. Tel. 505-982-3855.
Or get Askinosie chocolates on line at www.askinosie.com.
Another passion expertly fulfilled… espresso
The best espresso in Santa Fe is served in what must be the smallest espresso bar in town, if not the entire United States. Bill’s La Marzocco espresso machine takes up most of the footprint of his store, which itself is not much larger than an ATM machine.
This is THE place to head after a big meal, before a big meal, for breakfast, after breakfast… you get the picture… for a smashing double espresso with great crema.
Bill serves Caffe D’arte beans from, Seattle, where he and his wife, Helen, started out.
Holy Spirit Espresso, 225 W. San Francisco St. Tel. 505-920-3664.
For breakfast and dinner
Café Pasqual’s is a legendary local restaurant serving three squares a day. And large-portioned squares at that. We ventured in for breakfast to sample the renowned huevos motulenos, but you could zigzag into this downtown spot for an equally tasty (and large) lunch, or an organic dinner and also have a story to write home about.
Huevos motulenos are eggs over easy, served with black beans, sautéed bananas, feta cheese, green peas, salsa fresca and a red (mild), or green (hot) chile with a tomatilla salsa. I can’t think of anything they left out… except maybe capsulated Pepcid AC tablets to go to work an hour after you finish your breakfast.
We preferred the Durango omelet, a fluffy egg confection filled with snippets of tasty ham, jack cheese, scallions, guacamole, fresh sautéed mushrooms; the dish is napped with a zippy red/green (medium/hot) sauce. The combination of the two colored sauces is known locally as “Christmas chile.”
We had dinner at Café Pasqual’s one night, too. The menu is large, dishes are tasty and the wine list is very appealing, well thought-out and fairly priced. For your wine needs, speak to Derek, the wine buyer/sommelier who will help you choose a wine to complement the fare. I liked his tableside manner as much as I liked the wine list.
Café Pasqual’s, 121 Don Gaspar Ave. Tel. 505-983-9340.
Don’t miss Tia Sophia’s, an institution in Santa Fe, serving authentic regional cuisine. Don’t miss the roasted pork (carne adovado), an overly generous portion of lean pork cuts topped with chile and cheese, served with rice, beans and a side of sopaipilla (puffy, fried beignets, for lack of a better description; these are best enjoyed with a squeeze of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, both on your table – major yum). A single order, for $7.25, is enough to feed three, but out of deference to the cook, it’s best to order individual plates.
Tia Sophia’s, 210 West San Francisco St. Tel. 505-983-9880. Open for breakfast 7 to 11 am, and for lunch, noon to 2 pm. No dinner, not ever. Closed Sunday.
Pssst: Wanna learn how to cook southwest cuisine?
One of the highlights of our visit to Santa Fe was the cooking class we took at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
For about $75 a person, you can sign up for a half-day class and join about 30 others (you don’t need to book a whole table, or come as a group; sign up individually and join the class) to learn about the essence of southwest cuisine. What goes into it, how it’s spiced and prepared.
We were thoroughly entertained by Rocky Durham, a professional chef who led us on an exploration of techniques, methodology, tips about food preparation and storage, and then fed us a full lunch from the labors of his instruction.
If you are in Santa Fe for a few days and love cooking, one of the more unusual, certainly original, things you can do is sign up for a cooking class here. The instruction and ensuing lunch more than justify the cost of the class.
Santa Fe School of Cooking, 116 West San Francisco St., 505-983-4511 or check out the website: www.santafeschoolofcooking.com.
One of my favorite finds on any trip is a sensational independent bookstore and – who’s surprised? – Santa Fe has one. The bigger surprise for me was that Garcia Street Books is operated by Ed and Eva Borins, whom we knew when we all lived in Toronto, Canada.
Eva Borins, owner, with husband Ed, of Garcia Street Books.
Garcia Street Books is part of a just-off-the-main square strip mall of four very artsy stores; there’s a small but dedicated indie photography gallery, a great indie café, an indie photo bookstore and Garcia Street Books. This strip mall, if you pardon the image this phrase conjures up, is definitely worth the three minute (by feet) detour if you are downtown.
Garcia Street Books, 376 Garcia St. Tel: 505-986-0151.