- Author: Niki D'Andrea
- Category: Travel
- Issue: Feb 2013
With its gamut of galleries, gorgeous venues and gastronomic delights, the “City Different” delivers a triptych of artisan adventures.
When it comes to the arts, Santa Fe has a dual personality. With a population just shy of 68,000, it’s a small town with a big city feel, boasting more than 250 galleries and restaurants, along with several performing arts centers. Exhibits range from Native American rugs to futuristic steel dresses. Dining options span traditional New Mexican to innovative Italian seafood dishes, while everything from classical ballet to modern rock takes the stages. Ultimately, the city’s old world/new world duality is the special ingredient that makes the visual, culinary and performing arts of Santa Fe truly a three-course sensory feast.
With hundreds of galleries packed into less than 38 square miles, Santa Fe is an incredibly walkable arts town. It’s said to be one of the largest arts markets in the U.S. and was named No. 1 on The Atlantic’s 2011 list of “Most Artistic Cities in America.” The city hosts a monthly First Friday Artwalk from 5-7 p.m., a visual cornucopia of contemporary, classic and quirk (people playing accordions, dogs wearing hot pink sunglasses, and the like).
Three pedestrian-friendly arts districts vie for visitors’ attention. The Railyard (railyardsantafe.com), a blighted industrial district-turned-buzzing arts hub, is where you’ll find everything from contemporary fine arts to antiques. The Galleries at Lincoln Avenue (sfgala.org) showcase a variety of Native American art, from Chiricahua Apache sculptor Allan Houser’s famed stone figures in his namesake gallery to the mixed media works of the Namingha family at Niman Fine Art. On weekends, many artists from nearby pueblos set up along the sidewalk to sell their finely-wrought wares. Stroll down Canyon Road (visitcanyonroad.com) to find more than 150 galleries, plus stunning public art (including a huge human head made from strategically stacked bricks) inches from the sidewalks.
Perched on a mountaintop and visible from Canyon Road, Museum Hill (710 Camino Lejo, 505-984-8900, museumhill.org) is a beacon of Pueblo-style buildings housing a bounty of art treasures, including the most delicious exhibit you’ll see (and smell and taste), at the Museum of International Folk Art (internationalfolkart.org). Running through April 13, 2014, “New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate Y Más” explores the Maya civilization’s uses of mate and chocolate through exhibits depicting traditional kitchens and cooking processes, complete with a scent station for olfactory immersion. Get a taste of the New World at Museum Hill Café (museumhillcafe.net), where pretty, perfectly-portioned plates showcase staples brought to New Mexico by Franciscan friars in the late 1500s, like potatoes and tomatoes.
No visit to Santa Fe would be complete without a stop at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson St., 505-946-1000, okeeffemuseum.org), where more than 3,000 works by the artist are up for ogling, along with collections of her personal items, camping gear and art supplies. A series of black-and-white photographs (including shots taken by Ansel Adams on a trip through Glen Canyon) provide a snapshot journey through O’Keeffe’s life.
If perusing all the museums and galleries has given you an artistic itch, scratch it at Santa Fe Clay (545 Camina De La Famiglia, 505-984-1122, santafeclay.com). Director Avra Leodas books classes year-round and encourages imagination. Want a 3-D horn for your unicorn mask? She’ll show you how to roll the clay and bond it with a fork and water. When you’re finished, your creation will be glazed and fired in SFC’s kilns and mailed to you or held for pickup. Once you’re done playing with earthy red clay, add some fire to your elemental experimentation at New Mexico Experimental Glass Workshop (1233 Calle de Commercio, 505-955-1966, nmegw.org), where director Stacey Neff shows students how to shape hot glass through mold-blowing, stamping and freehand techniques. And if crafting glass shapes into your first faux fruit basket has made you hungry, there’s a wonderful collection of culinary art in town, too.
Three things you must know about New Mexican cuisine: 1) It’s primarily distinguished from Mexican cuisine by an added emphasis on chile sauce and cheese; 2) Every meal must include some form of chile; and 3) It’s meant to be eaten slowly, on a patio, chatting with a bunch of friends. “We’re the land of mañana (tomorrow),” locals joke, explaining their penchant for posole-side chats and libation-loitering. Locals also like to give visitors friendly reminders that Santa Fe sits at 7,000 feet elevation, so alcohol may hit them harder than it would in, say, Phoenix, which lies at a mean elevation of less than 1,200 feet.
We heard “the best chef in town” was at Il Piatto Italian Farmhouse Kitchen (95 W. Marcy St., 505-984-1091, ilpiattosantafe.com). Helmed by Matt Yohalem, Il Piatto sails a culinary ship from Santa Fe to Tuscany. Anchored by local, organic ingredients, the menu offers entrées like grilled filet of river trout with grilled sweet corn polenta; meltingly tender chicken livers sautéed with pine nuts, raisins, caramelized onions and vinegar; and chicken breast involtini with roasted sweet Italian chiles, prosciutto, mozzarella, and arugula in yellow tomato marinara. Wash it all down with a local brew, like the complex-fruity Marble Brewery Wild Flower Wheat or the monastery-made Monk’s Ale from nearby Abiquiú.
For a taste of traditional New Mexican food, visit Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen (555 W. Cordova Rd., 505-983-7929, marias-santafe.com), a neighborhood favorite since 1950 that serves gooey cheese enchiladas, crumbled beef tacos in crunchy corn shells, and several gluten-free items including vegetarian tamales and pollo adovada. Maria’s is also a margarita mecca, with a menu of more than 200 margs made with nothing but 100 percent agave tequilas. Owner Al Lucero literally wrote the book on the Mexican cocktails (The Great Margarita Book, Random House, with a foreword by Robert Redford).
But there’s more in store than just masterful margaritas. At sybaritic Secreto Lounge in the spartan convent-styled Hotel St. Francis (210 Don Gaspar Ave., 505-983-5700, hotelstfrancis.com), “garden-to-glass” mixologist Chris Milligan creates artisanal cocktails like the signature Spicy Secreto, a sweet breeze of cucumber, lime juice, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, cane syrup, and Cabana Cachaca followed by a quick jalapeño kick with a simmering red chile salt finish. Local ingredients grace many of Milligan’s drinks, including braised grapes (the spicy-juicy Agave Way) and burning sage (for a seductive smoked margarita).
For an upscale dining experience in Anasazi-inspired environs, nab a table at Luminaria at Inn and Spa at Loretto (211 Old Santa Fe Trail, 505-988-5531, innatloretto.com), where a crackling fireplace warms guests in the winter, and a coyote-fence-girdled, piñon-scented patio gets packed with people in the summer. The garlic shrimp appetizer – nestled on a bed of Spanish chorizo in a paprika butter emulsion – is lip-smacking good. Entrées run the gamut from savory, spice-rubbed filet mignon and chicken with a sweet corn ragout to a hefty seafood paella with tiger prawns, scallops, halibut, and smoked chicken with Spanish chorizo and saffron rice.
Pick up epicurean tips (with a saucy side of history) at the Santa Fe School of Cooking (125 N. Guadalupe St., 505-983-4511, santafeschoolofcooking.com), where Chef Michelle Roetzer dishes on things like the lauded chile pepper-producing village of Hatch, New Mexico (“Drive through with your windows down; it’s like a vacation for your nose”), while demo-cooking traditional New Mexican cuisine. And you get to eat your lesson, perhaps accompanied by a glass of chardonnay from the Gruet winery in Albuquerque, or a ruby red La Chirapada from Taos.
Though agriculturally challenged, Santa Fe lies at the heart of a huge farm-to-table movement in New Mexico (farmtotablenm.org), and local chefs frequent the New Mexico Farmers’ Markets (farmersmarketsnm.org) every Saturday and Tuesday. One frequent farmers’ market shopper is Andrew Cooper, Executive Chef at Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado (198 State Road 592, 505-946-5700, fourseasons.com/santafe), who makes a spontaneous menu every Saturday based on his morning market haul. “I buy my tomatoes from a guy who talks and sings to his crops,” Cooper says with a big smile. Locally-sourced ingredients for menu staples include chiles for sumptuous braised beef short ribs in a whisky sauce, and eggs and potatoes for a knockout Betty’s Benedict (named after former Rancho Encantado owner Betty Egan) that’s like a symphony on a plate. When pierced with a fork, the egg oozes golden yolk across a flaky cheddar biscuit smothered in high notes of verdant green chile hollandaise, accompanied by a tenor of golden potatoes and deep, thick Canadian bacon, making beautiful music in your mouth.
Speaking of food-music metaphors, the acoustics inside Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco St., 505-988-7050, lensic.org) are crisper than a fresh celery stick – all the better to hear the symphonic sounds of Santa Fe Pro Musica or Santa Fe Symphony. Built in 1931, this 800-seat theater was refurbished in 2001, its interior restored with a lavish mix of colonial and cathedral decor. In addition to classical concerts and performances by pop artists, Lensic is the Santa Fe spot for broadcasts of National Theatre Live and Met Opera productions.
If you visit between June 28 and August 24, the storied Santa Fe Opera (301 Opera Dr., 505-986-5955, santafeopera.org) provides an open-air experience where baritones bellow The Marriage of Figaro against a panoramic backdrop of sunset-topped mountains. In spring and fall, Greer Garson Theatre (1600 St. Michael’s Dr., 505-988-1234, ticketssantafe.org) puts on performances of everything from an adaptation of Molière’s Scapin to popular Broadway musical Once on this Island (which caps off the 2012-13 season in April).
For performing arts that don’t require dapper dress (or at least come with a beer menu), Sol Santa Fe Stage & Grill (37 Fire Place, 505-231-2361, solsantafe.com) hosts music acts from country-blues bands to European rockers. There’s a country accent to much of the live music at Cowgirl BBQ (319 S. Guadalupe St., 505-982-2565, cowgirlsantafe.com), but it’s not unusual to catch a Dixie jazz band or gypsy-blues rockers.
A wonderful way to wrap up a day is sitting in the park at Santa Fe Plaza, where plaques commemorating Manhattan Project offices are inconspicuously wedged into the adobe walls around the square and people’s pets mingle over community dog bowls. The Palace of the Governors, the oldest continually used public building in the United States, is just a few feet away, another reminder of Santa Fe’s cool cultural dichotomy – half artifact, half modern metropolis. Sometimes, having a dual personality isn’t so bad.
Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado
Nestled on 57 unspoiled acres of the Sangre de Cristo foothills, this resort offers amenities galore, including an art gallery, fitness center, spa with 15 treatment rooms, guided morning hikes, and transportation to and from downtown Santa Fe. Each of the 65 casita guest rooms includes a wood-burning fireplace, a private patio/terrace, and a bathtub big enough for at least three people. $350-$750/night. 198 State Road 592, 505-946-5700, fourseasons.com/santafe
Inn on the Alameda
This quaint country inn lies within walking distance of bustling Canyon Road and serves a hearty Breakfast of Enchantment featuring things like hot croissants stuffed with green chiles and tomatoes. There’s also a complimentary wine and cheese reception in the lounge every evening from 4-5 p.m., and free WiFi in all 71 guest rooms, each made cozier with decorative touches like handmade furniture and Spanish tiles. $135-$400/night. 303 E. Alameda, 505-984-2121, innonthealameda.com
Santa Fe Motel & Inn
Don’t let the “motel” moniker throw you – this simple, Southwestern-styled inn is a traveler favorite for its location (a 10-minute walk from downtown), epic hot breakfast buffet and friendly staff, who are always willing to give suggestions on sites and shops around town. $89-$169/night. 510 Cerrillos Rd., 505-982-1039, santafemotel.com