Gardens of Culinary Delights

Santafe.com - April 17, 2018

An oasis of dining options abloom with flowers and sheltered by canopies of trees

When the weather is right for dining outdoors, Santa Fe has plenty options, from patios and rooftop perches to sidewalk seating and more. But when you're in the mood for a more rustic experience, you don't have to travel far. From the heart of downtown and up Canyon Road to a short jaunt into the country, you'll find an oasis of options abloom with flowers and sheltered by canopies of trees.

Be sure to bring your appetite, as these fine restaurants are known for their delectable fare. The menus feature fresh, local food—ingredients that you might pluck from a garden or forage from the wild. These garden-fresh foods will enhance your plein-air dining experience, and, in turn, they'll taste even better because you're enjoying them outside, in a garden of culinary delights.

A visit to the Blue Heron Restaurant at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort will refresh and replenish you, and not just because Executive Chef Rocky Durham believes that food is “a potent elixir for the body and mind.” The 20-minute drive south of Santa Fe transports you to a magical spot located between the Sangre de Cristo and Ortiz mountains, a place where natural springs were used across the centuries by Native Americans and Spanish families who lived in La Cienega Valley.

Today, Blue Heron, an acclaimed restaurant serving Contemporary American cuisine, overlooks the spring-fed pond. Outdoor seating here, surrounded by towering cottonwoods, provides a serene spot for savoring Durham's delectable fare, which includes seasonal herbs, vegetables and fruits. As you relax in pond-side seating, you might try the famous goat brie baked in phyllo with local cheese, Marcona almonds, cornichon and local honey, or grilled Norwegian Salmon with herb butter and sautéed vegetables. The poblano relleno “en nogada,” with quinoa, fruits, nuts, red chile and cashew cream, is blissfully delicious. Meat lovers shouldn't miss Durham's green chile cheeseburger, aka “The Life Changer.” This concoction of brisket, rib eye, vintage cheddar, Alcalde green chile and house made pickles took home the grand prize in last year's edible Santa Fe Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown.

If you live in town, it's an easy walk to The Teahouse, an oasis near the top of Canyon Road that's a big hit with locals and visitors alike. The Teahouse is not just a popular restaurant, it's also a beer garden, wine bar and eclectic tea shop, offering more than 150 of the world's teas. The outdoor garden patio provides a rustic retreat from the traffic and pedestrians along Canyon Road, especially during the summertime. Leafy trees surround the tables, and bright red umbrellas offer relief from the shade. This is a place where you can gather with friends or work quietly in solitude, though it's easy to strike up a conservation with strangers.

As you relax outdoors beneath a tree in bloom, the lovely flowering tea is the ideal beverage to sip. The choices include 3 Flower Burst, a green tea with notes of jasmine, lily and peach. Or try the Tiffany Rose Melody, with amaranth and marigold blossoms and the scent of roses. The Teahouse serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you can arrive whenever you like. You might order the Caprese salad, in honor of the fact that you're seated outdoors, a blend of tomato, basil pesto and fresh mozzarella. Or try the baked polenta, loaded with roasted veggies and topped with romesco sauce. Your sweet tooth will fall in love with strawberry shortcake, a scone with clotted cream and any of the daily specials.

For an elegant downtown meal overlooking a lush garden, head over to La Casa Sena and request a table on the patio, where you'll be surrounded by colorful hollyhocks and other flowers as well as towering trees. You can admire the 33-room, Territorial-style adobe that was home to the wealthy Sena family in the 19th century. Today, the former home contains shops and offices as well as the popular restaurant where Chef José Rodriguez uses local ingredients and global influences to create mouth-watering fare.

You could start with savory poblano soup, served with polenta truffle and red chile oil,and roasted beets with burrata cheese, watercress, avocado, edible dirt and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. For entrées, consider the pan-seared Ruby trout, with artichoke risotto cakes, sautéed spinach and lemon-caper oregano sauce. Or, the quinoa-stuffed eggplant, with artichokes, calabacitas, feta, chickpeas, squash cakes and romesco sauce. A Chantilly cupcake makes a perfect ending to your plein-air feast, with fresh berries, raspberry tuille and blackberry sauce.