Elevanting Santa Fe's dining scene to new levels
Three years ago this summer , acclaimed chef John Rivera Sedlar returned to his native New Mexico from Los Angeles to open Eloisa, in the Drury Plaza Hotel. And what a time it's been since then for the chef and his talented team as well as the locals and out-of-towners who've enthusiastically eaten here, again and again. From creative cuisine melding regional ingredients with contemporary flair to festivals devoted to culture, foods, spirits and more, Sedlar has elevated the dining experience in Santa Fe.
Right from its infancy, Eloisa hit the big time, receiving a coveted James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant after opening in the summer of 2015. But this chef is no stranger to success. He was inducted into the Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America in 1984, the first year the honors were bestowed. A Latin American food scholar and author of the pioneering cookbook, “A Guide to Modern Southwest Cooking,” Sedlar appeared on Bravo's television show “Master Chef.” Gourmet dubbed him the Father of Modern Southwest Cuisine and Esquire named him Chef of the Year. His Los Angeles restaurants, Saint Estèphe, Playa and Rivera, were the talk of the town. So there was much buzz in Santa Fe as soon as the news broke that Sedlar was coming home.
He was ready to return to his roots, naming Eloisa for his grandmother, Eloisa Rivera. She was known for making friends and family happy with her homemade fare such as posole, beans, tortillas and natillas, all cooked in her two-room adobe on Alto Street. (And there you have the origin of Bar Alto's name. Located above Eloisa, on the hotel's rooftop, this bar is one of the hottest spots in Santa Fe for libations as well as sunset views.)
Take a seat at a table with a view of Eloisa's open kitchen, and you'll quickly see that Sedlar's continuing his grandmother's tradition of making people happy. Other diners feel the same way, too. “One of our favorite restaurants in Santa Fe,” writes an OpenTable reviewer. “The food is creative and beautifully prepared. The staff is always friendly and helpful. Overall, service is outstanding.” On Facebook, a happy customer wrote: “The food is amazing and the service impeccable. I have had the opportunity to dine in some of the most exclusive places in the world and this place is second to none of them.”
I've enjoyed some of my favorite Santa Fe meals here, too, including The O'Keeffe Table, which pays tribute to the iconic artist who lived in Abiquiú with a five-course feast that's as colorful and vibrant as her paintings. It won't surprise you to learn that Sedlar's great-aunt Jeronima Newsom was O'Keeffe's chef and, often, chauffeur, for some 15 years at the artist's residences in Abiquiú and nearby Ghost Ranch. As a young man, Sedlar met her when he'd visit his great aunt, occasions that left an impression. “O’Keeffe’s visions and sensibilities have helped shape the way I see my homeland and I express this vision through my cooking,” he has said.
The menu for Eloisa's O'Keeffe Table showcases the chef's vision as well as the foods O'Keeffe grew and used in meals at her Abiquiú home. The beauty of each component of The O'Keeffe Table is matched by the artistry of each dish, served on glass plates decorated with black-and-white photos of the artist. The playful presentation of the appetizer features a line of blue poppies, crafted with handmade blue potato crisps and a circle of trout caviar, served atop a cow skull platter. This dish is a playful recreation of an O'Keeffe tableau, with her famous depictions of poppies and animal skulls.
Other examples of Sedlar's creativity include the Pastrami Tacos, served at lunch and dinner. The restaurant's signature dish is a riff on a New York Reuben, with mini-tacos filled with spicy smoked beef, sauerkraut, pickled chile and ball-park mustard. The Tortillas Florales, another artistic invention, is made of heirloom white corn tortillas pressed with edible flowers and served with avocado Indian butter. While diners have the choice of upscale entrées such as Beef Filet Barbacoa, Ghost Ranch Scallops and Ranchero Lamb, the menu also offers the Eloisa Burger because locals have long loved this dish. Here, it's made with green chile, cheddar and bacon and you can bet, it's a big hit.
Sedlar often steps out of the box at Eloisa, offering a variety of lively events. He's held a dinner devoted to Spanish cuisine and flamenco, with a music and dance performance, along with festivals celebrating tequila, mezcal and apricots. Upcoming events include the lunchtime La Moda fashion show on March 9 that will perfectly pair with Eloisa's fine fare. Produced by the downtown gallery natasha SANTA FE, the event showcases the work of 15 local fashion designers and jewelers. It's a great example of how Sedlar has brought Santa Fe's dining experience to higher ground.