I’ve struggled a bit this week on ideas to suggest to you for intimate Valentine’s Day culinary celebrations. I mean, to me, nothing couples better with food than love, or lust, or just great friendship. But this year, in particular, you may need in on some secrets to figure out a game plan. A few big-name places like Geronimo and Sazón already have overflowing reservation books. To complicate things, Santa Fe’s awash in the state’s legislators jawing and imbibing away in many local haunts through mid-February. Some spots, such as handsome Market Steer Steakhouse and New Mexican charmer Rancho de Chimayó are closed because its Monday night and they’re short-staffed. Others have been closed for weeks in January and are just now updating websites with Valentine’s info. However, there are many shiny glimmers of romantic hope out there. Some places usually closed on Mondays, like Restaurant Martín and Liu Liu Liu, both known for their chef-owners’ creative cookery, are opening for the night and, as of today (February 1, 2022), have prime times available.
Quinn and Nicole Stephenson’s Coyote Café and Santacafe have a number of seating times open as of this minute too. Both restaurants require hefty pre-payment for stunning-sounding multi-course menus, and there are no refunds if something goes amiss. Santacafe’s coq au vin or a lobster tail sounds oh-so-appealing on that dinner menu. If it’s more than you want to commit to, though, in price or amount of food, or they fill up before you can click through to Open Table, go for lunch. I think it might be even sexier to order the daytime lobster roll, heaped high with chunks of tender shellfish in a toasted brioche bun, which simply begs to be eaten with your hands. What sensuous fun it is to watch your date manage this treat! Up at Ten Thousand Waves, much of Izanami’s izakaya and sushi menu is finger-worthy food too. Nestled in the pine forest on the way to the ski area, this sleek beauty serves all day, so you could try for a late lunch.
You can still snag early evening reservations, like between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. time slots, at an assortment of restaurants. Look at the venerable Compound, or at Horno, 315, Sasella, Midtown Bistro, or Dinner for Two, where the name pretty much says it all. I think it’s great to be able to head home early, and still have time for leisurely after-dinner drinks in front of my own fireplace.
Another nighttime possibility is getting into the bar of an otherwise bustling place. I’m thinking of Geronimo, in particular, with its oversize fireplace and one of Santa Fe’s most congenial and talented bartenders, Shaun Adams. In a town of fine Manhattans, I think his may be tops. It begins with Amarena cherry-infused Buffalo Trace bourbon from the establishment’s own hand-selected barrel. It gets a shake of house-made rosemary-orange bitters, along with a cherry and rosemary sprig garnish. Add a bowl of the sherry-laced mushroom soup or rich lobster bisque, or my go-to, the ahi tartare and sashimi duo. The Compound’s Alexander Girard-designed conversation pit-style bar is almost a tougher reservation than the dining room, but it’s worth a try for its convivial charm. There’s luscious lobster in a bisque here too, as well as bedded over bucatini. If those are filled on the 14th or surrounding evenings, I have soft spot for the larger Rio Chama Bar. I met one of my favorite guys in the world there. Share the cheese fondue. Paloma’s intimate bar and casual Mexican elegance is a fitting backdrop for their agave spirits-based cocktails. Accompany with some masa-boat sopecitos and crispy churros to finish.
Mentioning Paloma makes me think of other spots that transport us elsewhere. Take a mini-trip to Africa or India, respectively, at Jambo Café, or India House or Paper Dosa. In all cases, the settings are dreamy, the service gracious, and the check won’t empty your bank account.
What about going out for an indulgent breakfast? I love Clafoutis in the morning. There’s silky French-style hot chocolate and bowls of café au lait big enough to drop in a whole croissant or pain au chocolat. The French toast comes piled high with fresh fruit and there are plenty of crèpes and croques to choose among as well. At Counter Culture Café, you can opt for breakfast or lunch. OK, a place with counter service and a simple industrial interior initially might not scream romance to you, but the food will put you in the mood. I’d suggest the gravlax or the salmon sandwich, and the matchstick fries that owner Jason Aufrichtig calls “haystax.” Finish with a ginormous piece of the best chocolate cake in Santa Fe, a Bundt beauty with a hint of espresso, and a thick spackling of ganache frosting. And hey, if you have no Valentine and want to cheer yourself up, stop in and get a piece of this cake to go. There’s no finer balm. The Shed in the heart of downtown stays busy year-round, but try it at 11 a.m. or around 2 p.m., (or call ahead and request to be put on the new waitlist). Nothing beats its old New Mexican character, and the red chile definitely will heat up your day. Another of Santa Fe’s best desserts can be found here, chocolatey rich mocha cake under a big floof of whipped cream.
Speaking of that food of the gods, midtown’s Chocolate Maven is open from morning onward with a full menu of treats. If your soulmate’s not in town, they have a cherry pie flaunting — simply flaunting — chunks of Belgian chocolate, or a mega-brownie dotted with those same cherries, that can be shipped. Kakawa Chocolate House’s downtown flagship is the mid-morning-to-afternoon place for swoon-worthy elixirs and cacao blends from Meso America and beyond. While sipping chocolate, you can nibble too on the shop’s lovely hand-crafted truffles and caramels, some with red chile. And speaking of chocolate and chile, The Chocolatesmith’s kitchen makes a swell dark chocolate bark flavored with red or green. The green version is topped with cranberries for a particularly festive look. For purists, what I think is Santa Fe’s finest dark chocolate sauce, hides in the vintage fridge tucked in the corner. There’s no seating here, but take home a slab of that bark, or a jar of the sauce, and pair it with some pears or strawberries or — oh, heck — just feed it to each other from the jar! For a different take on chocolate, book your Valentine an appointment for a white chocolate facial with aesthetician Lee Bowman. I checked out that indulgent treatment and my skin feels as soft as marshmallow cream. Reach her at [email protected] or text 505-670-9219.
Here’s another thought. Warm each other up with a winter picnic. Call Kaune’s Market downtown (they’d love two days’ notice) and order a basket of charcuterie, cheese, and more, including splits or a half-bottle of something sparkling, and haul it, a couple of Champagne coupes, some silver, and a tablecloth down to the tables overlooking the Santa Fe River along Alameda. Another twist on the sparkling theme would be to head to the Gruet Tasting Room in the Hotel St. Francis for flights of their Champagne-style wines.
You know, you don’t really have to celebrate on the 14th. I more often choose to go out before (or sometimes after) the official V Day. I appreciate restaurants that offer their special menu all weekend, like Osteria d’Assisi for Italian specialties and Zacatlán for creative Mexican, both in cozy former residences near downtown. How about boxing up an IOU or gift card to get into Geronimo or Sazón or any other place you love, on a completely different evening later in the month? Personally, that’s more my style. I’ll opt for a tryst at home on Valentine’s night, and see you, out and about, before or after.
Unless otherwise noted, all places have easily located online presences to confirm details, hours, and locations. Much is in flux, so check ahead to avoid disappointment.
Story and photos by Cheryl Alters Jamison.
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating it Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.