Feasting and Fun in Funky Santa Fe

My first night in Santa Fe began with an al fresco cocktail party that was anything but ordinary. The happy hour flowed with award winning concoctions shaken and stirred by famous mixologists from the Secreto Bar in the St. Francis Hotel.  Famous indeed; Daniel Gonzales won the 2010 Shake it Up! Cocktail Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada. He and fellow bartender, Chris Milligan, infused top shelf liquor with in-season, local New Mexican produce.

Secreto Bar Mixologists

My favorite highball, Sweet Heat, was created from a mixture of tequila, green chilies, mango, Grand Mariner and Agave nectar. Yes, it included hand-pressed green chilies and was joyfully shaken with a smile. Chris feels the smile adds the mandatory punch.

If those beautiful drinks weren’t indulgent enough, my group was then treated to a sinfully rich meal prepared by former monk and current St. Francis Hotel Executive Chef, Estevan Garcia. Please refer to my  previously blog post about his signature dessert, which I called a Friar’s Flan.

The next morning I set out to explore the town nicknamed “The City Different.” Soon I came across an amusing arrangement of stone fish leaping from a courtyard of pebbles. They seemed so out of place but…why not?  Art in public places is encouraged in New Mexico and funky Santa Fe flaunts a multitude of outdoor creations.

Rocky Durham, Santa Fe School of Cooking
Rocky Durham, Santa Fe School of Cooking

In the afternoon I enrolled in a restaurant walking tour given by The Santa Fe School of Cooking. Chef Rocky Durham, culinary director of the school, radiates a personality as full of life as those fiery red chilies I saw hanging all over town. Rocky lead my small group to an extraordinary, behind the scenes, tasting tour of four of the city’s most famous restaurants.

Santa Fe’s largest restaurant, Rio Chama Steakhouse, is managed by renown Chef Tom Kerpon. While the building’s square footage sprawls, numerous dining rooms separate the space giving a warm, homey feel.  The impressive 11,000 bottle wine cellar holds an inventory valued at $330,000 amongst 860 different wines. Chef Tom seated us in the kitchen to sample red chili honey cherry glazed short ribs. The name’s a mouthful, but the taste begets lip-smacking. The sweet, succulent meat literally fell off the bone.

Wine Cellar, Rio Chama Steakhouse
Wine Cellar, Rio Chama Steakhouse

Next we walked to the sophisticated Inn of the Anasazi and met Oliver Ridgeway, an English chef. He prepares legendary modern American dishes with a southwestern twist. The Inn is listed in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, so you know it’s special. Here we supped in the wine cellar on a Diver Sea Scallop with ranchero sauce and roasted blue corn salsa. What can I say- a huge, heavenly scallop enrobed with a devilish sauce.

Chef Ridgeway's Sea Scallop
Chef Ridgeway’s Sea Scallop

The group meandered down the street to La Boca, a very popular small eatery. Chef James Campbell prepares tapas or small plates with big bold flavor. The hot spot features an extensive collection of Spanish wines. We savored artfully arranged hanger steak with smoked sea salt caramel, green chili’s with sea salt and fried fingerling potatoes. Wow- I was honestly getting into the gastronomy of green chilies.

La Boca Tapas
La Boca Tapas

Lastly we met Chef Matt Yohalem at Il Piatto, an Italian restaurant modeled after a Tuscan farmhouse.  He embraces the philosophy of “what grows together, goes together,” and his seasonal menu calls for field fresh local produce and organic meats. By this late afternoon hour, I was ready to burst from all the exotic food and wine when Chef Matt treated us to a vintage $234 bottle of Saia Nero d’Avola wine with 13.5% alcohol.  I just had to imbibe. Somehow, I did not record the food presentation, but fortunately, I took a photo that shows a delicious array of soup, apples, nuts and sliced tongue.

Il Piatto's Assortment
Il Piatto’s Assortment

After hours of savoring and sipping through four food fantasies, I waddled back to the St. Francis Hotel, thankfully a place of retreat that can restore one’s spirit.

I give  my highest accolades to the SFCS walking restaurant tour but recommend skipping lunch beforehand. I also suspect you won’t want any dinner. 

One of the many new dishes I tried in New Mexico was Carne Adovada, a spicy meat stew.  I first indulged my taste buds with the entree at Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen, a traditional southwestern cantina. Maria’s is famous for serving over 100 different margarita’s. I did not get the recipe from Maria, so I’m adding one from the Santa Fe Cooking School.  I plan to try it soon, but need to order a few spices from the School’s online Market.  

UPDATE:  Ordered the spices and followed the recipe. Fantastic results.  Everyone raved about the flavor and the meat is a very inexpensive cut.I will make it again.

This post joins other food blogs on Wanderfood Wednesday

Interested in hearing a web podcast about the cooking school and Rocky Durham’s excellent lecture about foods native to the Americas? Use the following links to Tom Wilmer’s NPR radio archives. 

34 minute Web Podcast Version includes food lecture: http://kcbx.org/mp3archive/audlog_santafe_l.mp3

15 Minute on-air version about The Santa Fe School of Cooking: http://kcbx.org/mp3archive/audlog_santafe_s.mp3

Thanks Tom.

Carne Adovada
Carne Adovada

Carne Adovada : Santa Fe School of Cooking


  • 1/3 c. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 3-1/2 lbs. pork loin or butt, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 c. diced onion
  • 2 T. minced garlic
  • 4 c. chicken broth or water
  • 2 t. ground coriander seed
  • 2 t. dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 t. chile caribe
  • 3/4 c. Chimayo ground red chile, mild or medium
  • 1 T. red chile honey
  • 2 T. Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • salt to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown pork in batches.
  3. Set the pork aside.
  4. Add the onion to skillet and sauté until golden.
  5. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
  6. Deglaze the skillet with 1 c. of the chicken broth, loosening the browned bits with a spoon.
  7. Place the coriander, oregano, chile caribe, red chile, honey, vinegar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor. Add the cooked onions, garlic and broth from the skillet and 2 more c. of chicken broth. Process until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
  8. Place the browned pork, the chile marinade and the remaining 1 c. chicken broth in an ovenproof pot or dish, stir to combine well, and cook for 1 hour or until the pork is tender.

Serves 8

Optional seasonings: ground canela, ground cumin seed, toasted ground chile seeds, toasted ground pumpkin seeds.

Note: This dish reheats wonderfully and is better the next day.

Note: The traditional method for making this dish is to mix the marinade ingredients together and pour this over the meat. Cover the mixture and refrigerate overnight. Pour the meat and the marinade into an ovenproof casserole or pot and bake, covered, for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, or until tender. The method described above, although not so traditional, brings out the flavors of the onion, garlic and pork because the ingredients are caramelized or browned first. Whichever method you choose, the dish is full of flavor and will be a favorite. You can serve the Carne Adovada over chile rellenos, rice, wrapped in a flour tortilla as a burrito, or with beans and posole.

4 thoughts on “Feasting and Fun in Funky Santa Fe

  1. I love the smiles on the mixologists faces! They are clearly having fun. And the food looks amazing. What a fantastic tour!

  2. oh, this looks like SUCH a special place – i really love the jumping fish. but the recipe? my stomach thanks you.

  3. Arnold wrote me and said, " I love the carne adovada recipe, especially because you call for caramelizing/browning the meat first. Some of the recipes I've seen (especially on those spice packs) throw the cubed meat directly into the marinade, then the stew is made, but by sauteeing it first, you do develop more of the flavor.

    I've got yet another twist on this. I roast the meat whole, on quite high temp, till nearly done, then let it cool. Then I make the marinade from the spices, throw the meat in, and let it steep overnight. The next day I finish it off slowly in the oven in a dutch oven. Delicious!

    Now here is a very important note: The meat to use is not pork loin, but definitely the shoulder or whatever it's sometime called (butt, shoulder butt,etc.). This is the cut that all the restaurants I noted in NM use. It's the world's best roast, as far as I'm concerned — loaded with fat, which gives much more flavor than the chicken-breast-like loin. In fact, separate from the adovada, we roast a shoulder butt with tons of garlic and rosemary, on high to start then lower. It's celestial.

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