Santa Fe prides itself on being a big small town. It’s the kind of place where ex-mayors show up for breakfast at the same place every week to talk local politics over a round of huevos rancheros. Traffic jams here happen at intersections rather than on interstates. But even with its easygoing ways, the New Mexico capital city of about 69,000 residents has a cosmopolitan side that needs to be attended to on a consistent basis. Just look around the city’s dining, attraction and hotel scene this time of year and you’ll see this homogeny of trends and tradition always at play.
New Mexicans love their chiles. That cannot be overemphasized. And while you can find the red and green varieties in their traditional form all over the city — we certainly suggest your fork making its way to Tia Sophia’s, a local institution that reportedly invented the breakfast burrito — there are a number of chefs around town putting interesting twists on the staple. Chef Matt Yohalem’s Il Piatto isn’t necessarily new to the Santa Fe dining scene, yet the darling sidewalk restaurant and patio consistently finds ways to fuse life into Italian cuisine with a New Mexican twist. You’ll concur after trying the pan-roasted chile appetizer or the grilled river trout with Velarde red chile coulis. And keeping with the European mood in Southwestern kitchens, Bouche Bistro, which opened less than a year ago, has already become one of the city’s buzziest addresses with light-hearted fare, such as mussels in white wine and red chile, that offers subtle winks to France.
Still, no matter how far back your New Mexican ancestry goes, you cannot live on red and green chiles alone. Noticing how the foodie population enjoys preparing different meals as much as eating them, cooking experiences have taken off around the city. The Santa Fe Culinary Academy, the brainchild of chefs Rocky Durham and Tanya Story, started last fall as a springboard for aspiring professional chefs to learn about everything from making posole (a hearty corn-based soup) to creating menus and building relationships with local suppliers. With the school doing well, opportunities for non-chefs who simply want to experience a memorable meal are starting to present themselves. On November 7, in fact, the “Winter Is Coming” pop-up dinner will allow you to nosh on amuse bouche, cassoulet of Languedoc (a rich, meaty stew) and other dishes that transport taste buds to the French countryside.
After dinner, you can make your way over to Santa Fe Spirits, a tasting room for the three-year-old company that opened over the summer. Physically, the place is relatively modest (a handful of sitting areas, a small bar and a private room). The friendly, astute staff gives it a sense of added warmth. Of course, if you need any more heat, you can find plenty of it in the spirit flights made of Expedition Vodka, Silver Coyote (a pure malt whiskey), Santa Fe Spirits Apple Brandy, Wheeler’s Gin and the just-released Colkegan Whiskey. Young ladies behind the bar tend to get creative with the quintet of libations, too, concocting glasses of fun such as the Stormy Orchard (apple brandy and ginger beer) and the Scotch Lady (whiskey, Angostura bitters, lime and ginger beer).
While it’s hard to put an exact number on all the art galleries that sit within Santa Fe, at least 200 have been counted around downtown, the famed Canyon Road area and the flourishing Railway district. We’re not sure any other place on the planet can make such a declaration. But on top of the sheer number of spaces to see watercolors and sculptures — Evoke Contemporary, Ellsworth Gallery and The Matthews Gallery are all must-stops for an art aficionado — is the proficiency with which the city hosts art-related events. From November 15 to 17, the 15th annual Recycle Santa Fe Arts Festival will present 80 area artisans selling earth-friendly wares (items must be made of at least 75 percent pre-used material) that make perfect green holiday gifts. On December 24, the Canyon Road Farolito Walk shuts down the iconic gallery-packed street, leaving a pedestrian-friendly area bubbling with exhibits, holiday carolers and farolitos (sand-filled paper bags with candles) as far as the eye can see. And we can’t even begin to curtail our excitement for what’s coming in February 2014 to the city’s most inventive art space, SITE Santa Fe — “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art,” a four-month experience that will feed into visitors’ senses with tastings, classes and a remarkable collection of pieces that tie into the kitchen.
Just a few miles from SITE are a host of sensational attractions worth exploring this fall and winter, too. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum presents “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George,” a selection of rarely seen works from the one-time New Mexican resident’s time in Northeast New York, through January 26. The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture makes for a good toe-tapping detour this season with “Heartbeat: Music of the Native Southwest” through April 1. But we completely understand if most of your free time is spent at the New Mexico History Museum during your next visit. An absolute gold mine of Pueblo artifacts, Spanish relics and interactive exhibits, the museum presents “Cowboys: Real and Imagined,” a can’t-miss exploration into the state’s wild west roots, through March 16.
As much as the bars, attractions and restaurants vie for your attention in Santa Fe, so too do the hotels. While some properties around the city are focusing on events (Eldorado Hotel & Spa’s Old House Thanksgiving Dinner) and spa treatments (La Posada de Santa Fe’s Santa Fe Chocolate Chile Wrap) that scream “autumn,” others are looking a little further down the road. Majestic The Inn of the Five Graces plans to expand its fitness center and spa over the next year while Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is reimagining its guest rooms between January and March with fresh carpeting, new furniture, and silver, marble and wood accents. Downstairs, the inn’s head bartender and local mixology star James Reis has just released a collection of small-scale “couptails” for the fall — our favorite, Gold Dust Woman, is a divine mix of G’Vine gin, June liqueur, Solerno blood orange liqueur and limoncello dust. And as a part of the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts’ brand relaunch inspired by its “Sense of Place” campaign, starting on November 11, the Santa Fe hotel will also begin offering a romantic dining experience in the private living area. And don’t worry — there are a number of chile-packed dishes on The Anasazi Restaurant menu.
Photos Courtesy of Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Douglas Merriam, Chris Corrie and Rosewood Hotels and Resorts