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Canvas Artistry – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Canvas Artistry for edible masterpieces

“Edible art” isn’t just some trite phrase pedantic food critics use when food has aesthetic values that delight our senses. Mankind has been been intrigued by the concept of food as art since the dawning of rational thinking. Prehistoric cave paintings such as those in Les Trois Frères in Ariège, in southern France, depict families gathering around the fire to share the foods they had prepared, an event made possible by the discovery of fire.  Fire, it goes without saying, was also the catalyst behind  men first wearing aprons emblazoned with “kiss the cook.”

Moving past prehistoric taggers scrawling graffiti on cave walls, edible art became more urban when Egyptians painted food on the walls of the great pyramids (ostensibly to nourish the dearly departed who had transitioned to the afterlife). During the halcyon days of the Greek and Roman empires, the depiction of food took on a more realistic tone when glass bowls of fruit were painted to denote the delicacies enjoyed by the one-percenters of the day (and some of those paintings still hang on the walls of many a Midwestern grandmother’s home).

Canvas Artistry dining room

The reverence with which mankind esteems food in art has expanded almost as quickly as our waistlines. Today, depictions of food festoon the walls of restaurants, hotels and homes (not to mention fraternity houses) everywhere. We’re also bombarded with images of food on the sacred altars of our living rooms, the hypnotically mesmerizing 70-inch flat screen televisions which render the Big Mac big once more. It’s apparent we find food not only nourishing, but strangely comforting and soothing. If we can’t have it plated in front of us, we’re mollified by paintings, photographs and videos of food, hence the term “food porn.”

In more civilized cultures, edible art has come to mean actual food (what a concept) plated beautifully…and looking good enough to eat. It’s a concept lost on Andy Rooney, the late curmudgeonly commentator on television’s 60 Minutes. Rooney didn’t like food that’s “too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.” Japanese diners, for example, not only enjoy, they expect eye-pleasing, artful plating in which everything is where it should be for optimum harmony, balance and appearance, a sort of plate syzygy. The balance of color, texture and appearance makes diners give pause to reflect on how great everything looks before their taste buds confirm what their eyes already know.

Carne Asada Tacos

Upon learning that a restaurant by the name of “Canvas Artistry” had opened in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District, my first inclination was “just what we need, another pretentious and expensive restaurant with artistically plated highfalutin cuisine.” That notion was quickly dismissed upon discovering that Canvas Artistry’s chef was none other than Saul Paniagua, a creative culinary genius who can cook high-end stuff with the best of them, but prefers making his delicious creations affordable to the masses.

Chef Saul Paniagua, a name many of you will recognize from his stints at 4 Aces Grill and The Standard Diner among others, is a South Valley native who’s twice left the Land of Enchantment to hone his formidable skills. The first time away from home, he managed the galley (that’s kitchen for you landlubbers) for Norwegian Cruise Lines where his ports-of-call included Honolulu, Hawaii. His second out-of-state foray took him to Joplin, Missouri where he helmed the kitchen at a casino operation and learned that in Missouri, local tastes leaned toward basic meat and potatoes. Though he gained significant experience, his heart lies in the Duke City and with the chile-infused home-cooking with which he grew up.

Sriracha Chicharron Tacos

Canvas Artistry, it turns out, is the realization of a vision shared by Chef Paniagua and his business partner Jesus Gomez. With a September, 2015 launch, the passionate pair began showcasing international street food (think New Mexico meets Asia) in an attractive, comfortable milieu where diners are surrounded by the artwork of local artists. Thematically it works: artistic food and artistic mixology in an artistic, but homey and welcoming ambiance. Fittingly the menu is printed on canvas stretched over a wooden frame.

Located next door to B2B Bistronomy in the remaining half of the space where Vivace was a long-time fixture, Canvas Artistry is open for both lunch and dinner (though you’re well advised to call in advance for a daily schedule). The menu, which will change periodically, offers a variety of tacos with an artistic bent as well as such heretofore unseen in Albuquerque offerings as yogurt chicken banh mi, tempura fried Spam musubi and surf-and-turf corn dogs. At face value, it’s a menu adventurous diners will appreciate most though every diner will find something…make that several things to love.

Tempura Fried Spam Musubi

There could be only one logical choice to join me on my initial excursion to Canvas Artistry, my good friend and trusted insurance agent Ryan Scott. Several years ago, Ryan introduced the world to Chef Paniagua’s talents in a compelling interview for his ground-breaking YouTube TV program “Break The Chain.” Not only is Ryan a huge fan of Chef Paniagua’s talents, he’s the only person I know (save for maybe Andrew Zimmern) who can match me for adventurous eating.

So, what do you get when you put a Broncos (Ryan), Raiders (Chef Paniagua) and Cowboys (me) fan in the same restaurant?  A darn good time, for one thing.  Great food for another.  As is a common practice for both me and Ryan, we asked our server to “just have Chef Paniagua” send out whatever he’d like.”  How’s that for adventurous eating?   How’s that for trusting that whatever the Chef sends out will be great and that we’re going to enjoy it?

Chipotle Marinated Shrimp Tacos

11 September 2015: The first item out of the kitchen was an order of three carne asada tacos?  What’s adventurous about carne asada tacos, you ask?  For one thing, the carne is porcini crusted flank steak.  Chef Paniagua employs molecular gastronomy techniques to grind porcini mushrooms into “dust” which he uses to create a very thin crust for the tender, moist, delicious flank steak.  The porcini dust imparts an earthy flavor which melds deliciously with a sweet onion jam, cilantro and the apply-it-yourself smoked salsa verde.  The neon-hued salsa is addictive and it packs a piquant punch New Mexicans will appreciate.

11 September 2015: Our second Chef’s surprise was three Sriracha Chicharron Tacos.  Chef Paniagua renders the fat from pork belly into golden, crispy crackling bits as texturally delightful as they are delicious.  He then introduces just enough incendiary Sriracha sauce to impregnate the chicharrones with a light piquancy.   An even bigger surprise are the tempura fried nopales which are light, crispy and thoroughly delicious.  These tacos are also served with a smoked salsa verde which is wholly unnecessary.  New Mexicans who revere chicharrones as much as other people love popcorn will applaud these tacos.

Crispy Pork Belly Banh Mi

11 September 2015: Several menu items attest to Chef Paniagua’s tenure on the high seas.  Among them are an ahi tuna poke and tempura-fried spam musubi.  My previous experiences with “Spam sushi” haven’t been especially favorable courtesy of a pseudo-sushi in dire need of desalinization.  With one bite, both Ryan and I pronounced these Spam “maki rolls” the best Spam sushi we’ve had.  Neither the vinegared rice, Spam, tempura or honey-soy reduction were salty as you might think they’d be.  We also preferred the light tempura to the nori seaweed usually found on musubi.  There’s a reason more and more chefs are incorporating Spam into their menus and it’s exemplified in this surprisingly good entree.

12 September 2015: Attentive readers know how rare it is for me to make back-to-back visits to any restaurant.  It didn’t take much effort for my Kim to convince me that she had to experience Chef Paniagua’s culinary masterpieces once again.  As with Ryan, we shared three entrees, the first of which were also tacos.  The chipotle-marinated shrimp tacos (roasted corn guacamole, jicama slaw) proved every bit as good as the other tacos thanks largely to large, fresh shrimp which snap when you bite into them. The tortillas, redolent with fresh ground corn come from Tortillera Cuauhtemoc where we’ve been buying our tortillas for years. They’re the very best!

Grilled Elotes

12 September 2015: For years pundits have been predicting the proliferation of the banh mi across the fruited plain, but most have believed its nascent popularity would be courtesy of Vietnamese restaurants. While Vietnamese restaurants have been holding fast to traditions, avant-garde American chefs have been plying innovative ingredients and techniques to the Vietnamese sandwich. Count Chef Paniagua among them. Canvas Artistry offers two variations on the banh mi, one made with yogurt chicken and the other with crispy pork belly. Both are served on a hoagie bun with a Thai chili aioli and pickled veggies. If anything, it’s possible that the pork belly banh mi may be too much of a good thing (and we thought it impossible that you could ever have too much pork belly). The pork belly, delicious as it was, dominated the flavor profile. That’s wholly unlike your conventional banh mi in which ingredients coalesce beautifully to create and share a unified flavor profile.

12 September 2015: Having grown up on a farm in which we raised corn, pumpkins, peas and other vegetables, it never dawned on me that corn at a restaurant could be nearly as good as the corn we baked in my grandmother’s horno, a mud adobe -built outdoor oven. Canvas Artistry’s grilled elotes are nearly as good. Unlike elotes served on a cob, golden kernels from roasted corn are gently scraped off the cob and served generously in a bowl. The corn is sweet and moist, a perfect repository for the Cotija cheese, cilantro lime aioli and Chimayo red chile with which the elotes are seasoned. My Kim loves corn (except on my jokes) and certifies the elotes as swoon-worthy.

Truffle Trio and Salted Caramel Coconut Flan

11 September 2015: American writer Thomas Merton believed “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”  It’s rare that any dish has this profound effect on me, but the salted caramel coconut flan did.  Quite simply, it’s the very best dessert of any kind we’ve had this year and one of three flans I’ve ever found to be more than just passable (the other two are at Ben Michael’s Restaurant and Sandiago’s Mexican Grill). Chef Paniagua speaks often and will all sincerity about love being an ingredient in his cooking.  Truly love must taste like this flan, a coalescence of deliciousness that will make sweet, slow love to your taste buds.

11 September 2015: Alas, both Ryan and I had so much love for the flan that we didn’t appreciate the truffle trio as much as we otherwise might have.  The truffle trio was terrific, a triumvirate of deeply flavored and delicious post-prandial treats: mocha honey truffle, white chocolate pistachio and dark chocolate red chile piñon.  The trio’s only fault is that it was served side-by-side with the salted caramel coconut flan so comparisons were natural.  Of the three complex truffles, the mocha honey truffle stood out thanks largely to local honey from the South Valley.

Canvas Artistry returns a true culinary artist to Albuquerque’s burgeoning restaurant scene.  With Chef Saul Paniagua creating beautiful edible masterpieces, artistry is as close as the kitchen.

Canvas Artistry
3120 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 227-6999
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 12 September 2015
1st VISIT: 11 September 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Carne Asada Tacos, Sriracha Chicharron Tacos, Chipotle Marinated Shrimp Tacos, Tempura Fried Spam Musubi, Grilled Elotes, Crispy Pork Banh Mi, Truffle Trio, Salted Coconut Flan

Canvas Artistry  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Coyote’s Rooftop Cantina – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Coyote Cafe on Water Street

The Coyote Cafe on Water Street

National Geographic Traveler once described Santa Fe as “a hypercultural hybrid–equal parts Wild West and New Age, Native American and Hispanic, old money and old hippie”…a city “used to mixing things up and still creating an oddly seamless whole.”  It truly is the City Different, a city with  an identity, substance and style all its own.  Is it any wonder it has earned acclaim as one of the most popular travel destinations in the world?

Yet, to many people, Santa Fe is as much an escape as it is a destination.  It is an adobe colored Mecca that preternaturally calls seekers to a spiritual and creative fulfillment they just don’t find elsewhere. Santa Fe draws them with an amalgam of spiritual tranquility, piñon-perfumed air and its accepting, non-judgmental culture.  It holds them captive with its beauty and its cuisine.  One of the defining elements of contemporary “Santa Fe style” has been the howling coyote, an art phenomenon originated by woodcarver Alonzo Jimenez a couple of decades ago.

A popular dining destination

A popular dining destination

While the coyote is prevalent in contemporary Native American mythology and generally represents a cunning, treacherous scourge, to New Mexico artisans he has been a blessing, displayed on every conceivable medium.  The howling coyote became so omnipresent that it became synonymous with Santa Fe style. In the culinary arts, Santa Fe style is most often associated with the Coyote Cafe whose logo is surprisingly not a howling coyote, but a flute-playing (ala Kokopelli) coyote about town with an unusually long, shaggy tail.

The Coyote Cafe, founded in 1987 and going strong more than two decades later, is considered by cognoscenti to have created the template for modern Southwestern cuisine.  At the Coyote Cafe–under the direction of the “High Priest of Southwestern Cuisine” Mark Miller–Southwestern cuisine evolved and reinvented itself time and again, honoring its historical roots while introducing new elements and culinary techniques that both reflect and refine tradition.

Trio of Salsas

The most recent reinvention of the Coyote Cafe is in the form of a new ownership group that includes Eric Distefano, one of the best chefs in the entire southwest. Distefano has been at the helm at Geronimo for many years and from all indications, is restoring the Coyote Cafe back to its halcyon days when it was widely considered one of Santa Fe’s premier dining destinations.

My favorite Coyote Cafe restaurant family member has long been the Rooftop Cantina where seasonal open-air dining between April and late October is so quintessentially Santa Fe.  The atmosphere is casual and the views of Santa Fe’s bustling downtown are ever so cosmopolitan. Thematically, the Rooftop Cantina has the look and feel of Old Mexico.  As much as we enjoyed the Cantina, we somehow let eight years elapse in between visits and when we returned in August, 2015, we discovered a different Coyote Rooftop Cantina.  While the ambiance still resonates with fun and frolic, many of our favorite dishes had either evolved or were no longer on the menu.

Black Sesame Honey White Shrimp Tempura

When pressed, I would admit to the Rooftop Cantina’s fire-roasted salsa as being my very favorite in the Land of Enchantment.  While other salsas were more piquant, the Cantina’s salsa and its subtle citrus influence and tangy sweetness had addictive, capsaicin endowed properties that made it unrivaled for pleasure-inducement. We purchased Miller’s The Great Salsa Book so we could duplicate this salsa during the Cantina’s off-season when we couldn’t get it. 

15 August 2015: Alas, making it at home is henceforth the only way we’re going to be enjoying this wondrous salsa.  While a fire-roasted salsa is still on the Cantina’s menu, it isn’t the fire-roasted salsa we loved so deeply.  It’s now redolent with cumin.  We gleaned some consolation from the fact that the menu now offers a trio of salsas: the aforementioned fire-roasted salsa; a creamy avocado, tomatillo and lime salsa and a pico de gallo.   The avocado-tomatillo-lime salsa is superb, a creamy amalgam of lively flavors that go so well together.  Similarly, the pico de gallo (rooster’s beak) melds fresh ingredients into a pleasantly piquant, freshly flavorful delight.

Fiery Skillet

15 August 2015: The Cantina has long been the type of restaurant in which diners feel comfortable ordering two or six starters instead of a single entree. It’s not necessarily a cost-effective proposition, but the appetizers tend to be very good and are usually large enough to share (not that you’d want to). The starters menu includes a trio of seafood starters including a black sesame honey white shrimp tempura served with two sauces, an incendiary spicy atomic horseradish sauce and a pineapple sweet and sour sauce. Unlike some tempura dishes which are so heavily breaded that you barely discern and taste the sheathed item, this tempura is delightfully light, allowing the shrimp to shine. The shrimp is so fresh and delicious, it renders the sauces almost unnecessary though both enliven the five shrimp.

15 August 2015: Shrimp are also available on the “fiery skillet” entrée which by any name would still be fajitas. Landlubbers can opt instead for chicken and chorizo served with Alicia’s tortillas, fresh peppers, Mexican crema, pico de gallo and a fresh Ranchero sauce with refried beans and green rice on the side. As fajitas go, these are quite good. My Kim especially appreciated that the green and red peppers are sliced into thin strips and grilled to an optimum level, neither al dente nor mushy. The flavors of the chicken and chorizo go very well together. My favorite item on this entrée were the refried beans topped with melted yellow and white Cheddar.

The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger

15 August 2015: If a green chile cheeseburger includes chile, but it isn’t New Mexico green chile grown in the Land of Enchantment, can it still be called a green chile cheeseburger? Apparently not because the Cantina’s sole burger offering features not the pride of New Mexico, but pickled Fresno chile which is grown throughout California. It’s called “The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger” and it’s an “everything but the kitchen sink” burger. In addition to the pickled Fresno chile (in strips), this behemoth includes sharp Cheddar cheese, sliced smoked ham, crispy fried Vidalia onion, greens, tomato and cilantro mayonnaise and pickles with boardwalk fries and Habanero ketchup on the side. To take this burger to another level, you’ve got to smear the Habanero ketchup on heavily. It’s perhaps the tastiest element of a burger replete with ingredients.

15 August 2015:Ice cream used to be my Kim’s fallback dessert, the one to which she would resort if none of the other post-prandial treats enticed her. Over the years she’s happened upon so many excellent ice cream flavors that ice cream has now become her first choice. The Cantina’s ice cream trio validated her stance. A generous bowlful of three creamy, delicious, texturally delightful ice creams—cognac ice cream, canela chocolate ice cream and vanilla—proved swoon-worthy and satisfying to the greatest extent of the word. Only half-gallon sized portions could have made this triumvirate better for her.

Ice Cream Trio

15 August 2015: My preferred desserts lean toward strong flavor profiles, not desserts with cloying tendencies.  It’s one of the rare disagreements my Kim and I have.  For me, the stronger and darker the chocolate the greater the appeal; for her, it’s milk chocolate or it’s too strong.  She didn’t like the Cantina’s Banana Chocolate tart, a semi-sweet chocolate tart topped with caramelized onions and encircled by a tangy citrusy swathe.   There’s a lot going on with this dessert, highlighted by the strong chocolate.    

15 August 2015: On the adobe wall just before the final four steps leading to the Cantina is a metal sculpture depicting coyotes frolicking boisterously at a Cantina.  It’s somewhat reminiscent to a fight scene on a Western movie. One coyote is swinging from a chandelier, there’s a comely coquette coyote on the bar and two members of the Canis Latrans family are ready to come to blows. While the restaurant is never quite this animated, it does radiate fun and is one of the very most fun spots in Santa Fe.

Banana Chocolate Pie

Coyote’s Rooftop Grill is a bit on the pricy side even if you don’t order adult beverages, but sometimes fun times do come at a cost.

Coyote’s Rooftop Grill
132 West Water St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
505 983-1615
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 15 August 2015
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Banana Chocolate Pie, Ice Cream Trio, Fiery Skillet, The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger, Black Sesame Honey White Shrimp Tempura

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Eloisa – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Eloisa Restaurant in Santa Fe’s Drury Plaza Hotel

Expansive views bathed in salubrious, sun-kissed air punctuated by languid breezes. Cerulean skies graduating in depth and brilliance the higher they climb above the horizon. Surreal topography of unnaturally contorted, dappled sandstone formations and juniper laden foothills. Lush, well-tended gardens blessed with an abundance of vegetables, herbs, flowers and shrubs. Such was the idyll Georgia O’Keefe called home.

On Sunday, July 19th, 2015, another transcendent artist–one whose medium is food and whose canvas is the palate—spent the day at the home of the legendary doyenne of American painting. He went there to pick apricots from the Abiquiu property on which she had lovingly doted. It wasn’t John Rivera Sedlar’s first visit. Much of the chef’s upbringing and many of his happiest memories were at his family’s ranch in Abiquiu, not too far from where O’Keefe had lived and where she had painted the stunning macro perspectives of floral sensuality which captivated the world.

Chef John Rivera Sedlar

Chef Sedlar’s aunt, Jerry Newsom, was Georgia O’Keefe’s personal chef for more than a decade, but it was under the nurturing influence of his grandmother Eloisa Martinez Rivera that his interest in cooking was kindled. Not only did she teach him how to prepare traditional New Mexican staples such as posole, sopaipillas and enchiladas, she instilled in him, a spirit of generosity through her alacritous example of feeding the familial multitudes who often gathered at the family ranch for celebrations.

Had Chef Sedlar’s formative development been limited to familial learnings, he might have pursued the culinary culture of New Mexico exclusively, however, he culled a wider expanse of culinary appreciation from living in Spain and France where the Air Force had stationed his father.  When his father retired, Eloisa got the precocious then-fourteen-year-old a job in the hotel kitchen of La Fonda in Santa Fe’s famous Plaza. Not long thereafter, he took a job at the Bull Ring. Even back then, Santa Fe’s restaurants weren’t formulaic and predictable. Because the restaurants in which he worked while still in high school featured haute cuisine on one side of the menu and “Spanish” (traditional New Mexican) food on the other, he quickly added French cuisine to his repertoire.  

A magnificent exhibition kitchen

From Santa Fe, he moved to Los Angeles where, at age 23, he apprenticed under the legendary Jean Bertranou at L’Ermitage.  At L’Ermitage he mastered classic techniques while continuing to evolve his own approach to cooking. By 1980, Chef Sedlar was ready to strike out as a restaurant owner, partnering with Santa Fe native Estevan Garcia to launch Saint Estéphe in Manhattan Beach. Initially offering nouvelle French cuisine, the restaurant evolved to become one of the Los Angeles area’s first fine-dining Southwestern restaurants.

Modern Southwest cuisine as it was executed at Saint Estéphe was such a breath-of-fresh-air concept that Bon Apetit magazine named the pioneering establishment “among the very best in California, or even the west.” In the kitchen Chef Sedlar employed fusion techniques, especially of French and New Mexican ingredients, long before the term “fusion” came into vogue.  At the heart of his culinary pairings were the ingredients on which he had been weaned in New Mexico, ingredients he wisely embraced and lovingly shared with his guests.

Tortillas Florales with Indian Butter

Had he remained in New Mexico, it’s conceivable that the driven chef would have achieved significant acclaim, but it would likely have been the “big fish in a small pond” type of recognition. Instead, he plied his craft in the megalopolis of Los Angeles where diners (and the peripatetic media) tend to be more persnickety and less forgiving. To survive that scrutiny, you’ve got to be good. To stand out and excel in that limelight for forty years, you’ve got to be great. Chef Sedlar’s “big fish in a big pond” greatness placed him in rarefied company, a pantheon of culinary luminescence.

From a culinary perspective, Chef Sedlar’s accomplishments are almost Jeffersonian in their breadth and impact. No less than Gourmet Magazine named him “the father of modern Southwest cuisine.” He was the youngest chef ever to receive the Silver Spoon Award from Food Arts Magazine. In 2011, Esquire Magazine named him “Chef of the Year” and listed Rivera, his restaurant at the time, among the nation’s “Best New Restaurants” for 2011. He was recognized in the Cook’s Magazine feature “Top 50 Who’s Who of Cooking in America” and has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award as Best Chef of the Pacific. Chef Sedlar is the author of several cookbooks and “The Tamale Poster” which still adorns the walls of many restaurants. You may even have seen him on season three of the Top Chef Masters series.

Piquillos Rellenos

One of the Land of Enchantment’s most alluring qualities is how it draws its sons and daughters back home. It’s a pull we can’t resist. After more than forty years in the fast-paced fishbowl that is Los Angeles, Chef Sedlar, too, felt the compelling need to return home. Still too vibrant and energetic to retire, he sold Rivera, his wildly successful Los Angeles restaurant in the shadow of the star-studded Staples Center and signed on to helm the restaurant operation at the Drury Plaza Hotel in Santa Fe. Fittingly, he chose to name his restaurant Eloisa after the grandmother who set him on the path of his passion.

Perhaps no word in the vernacular of Spanish Northern New Mexico evokes such veneration, reverence (and, for those of us who have lost these heaven-sent treasures, a melancholy ache not even time can erase) as “abuelita” or grandmother. Though Eloisa is named specifically for Chef Sedlar’s own grandmother, his restaurant celebrates all Southwestern women—the madres, tias and hermanas—whom he contends “have always formed the foundation of New Mexico’s culinary heritage.”

Duck Enfrijolada

Few grandmothers have had the luxury of such a regally appointed kitchen as the immaculately gleaming kitchen which graces Eloisa. It’s twice the size of the kitchen at Rivera, Chef Sedlar’s last restaurant in Los Angeles. You’ll want to be seated in close proximity so you can lustily ogle the transformation of down-to-earth New Mexican ingredients into exotic creations which both honor and elevate the Land of Enchantment’s culinary traditions. Watching the kitchen staff assiduously go about their prep work with the efficiency and synchronicity of drone bees is almost mesmerizing.

Eloisa’s commodious dining room seats 120 guests inside and weather-permitting, another 65 guests on the patio. The west-facing restaurant is airy and bright, features which inspire Chef Sedlar. The adjoining bar is a sommelier’s dream with an enviable wine list. Walls are festooned with 25 framed photographs on loan from Tamal, the first museum dedicated solely to the celebration of Latin culture as viewed through the lens of food. Tamal is yet another of Chef Sedlar’s dreams reaching fruition, and like a new father, he proudly pointed out photos depicting among other foods and cooking implements: huitlacoche in macro, a molcajete (pestle) and tejolote (mortar) used for grinding ingredients and tortillas adorned with floral designs.

Frito Pie

While impressive under picture frame glass, Tortillas Florales (floral tortillas) will take your breath away when you peel back the hot kitchen towel and release steam redolent with corn. The impact is akin to finding a fossilized fern on the hills backdropping Abiquiu. Pressed into tender comal-cooked disks are fresh and dried edible flowers and herbs. As striking as they are visually, these tortillas are meant to be a holistically sensual experience. Shut your eyes and let your nostrils and taste buds imbibe aromas and flavors which will impress themselves on your senses. Feel the delicate texture of the flowers on the tortilla. Available for both lunch and dinner, the Tortillas Florales are served with a side of “Indian Butter” which is essentially an unctuous, addictive guacamole.

From an esthetic point of view, it may not be possible to top the Tortillas Florales, but edible art is plated with every order. We likened the Piquillos Rellenos to a beautiful sanguine heart. Piquillo, a Spanish term for “little beak” is meant to describe the shape of the pepper, not any generalized level of piquancy. Piquillo peppers are richly flavored with sweet-spicy notes that are enhanced through the roasting process. At Eloisa, the piquillos are roasted then stuffed with Gruyere, chorizo and golden raisins, ingredients which play off one another in a concordant symphony of flavors.

Eloiza’s Bizcochitos

Chef Sedlar was happy I had ordered the Duck Enfrijolada, explaining that just as “enchilada” denotes corn tortillas covered with chile, “enfrijolada” means the corn tortillas are covered in beans. As with all New Mexican frijole fanatics, he understands the subtleties and nuances of beans grown in Estancia, Espanola, Moriarty and other bean-producing communities throughout the Land of Enchantment. After one bite of my entrée, I could have sworn these beans came from Heaven. Blue corn tortillas are the canvas for a masterpiece showcasing duck confit, radicchio, crema and a New Mexico cabernet chile sauce all covered in beans. These ingredients coalesce into a sum even more delicious than its parts.

At first, the notion of a Frito pie at an upscale Southwestern restaurant seemed almost incongruous, like stick figures at the Louvre. We quickly surmised that under Chef Sedlar’s deft hands, this would be no ordinary Frito pie—and it wasn’t. The only Fritos to actually grace this entrée were on the labels of the bag in which it was served. Instead, the bag was engorged with housemade corn chips with a textural semblance to wontons and a pronounced corn flavor. These chips share space on the bag with chile verde chicken, red onion, cilantro and shaved Cotija cheese. My Kim called it the best Frito pie she’s ever had and as proof, offered me only one swoon-worthy bite.

Caramel Brioche

Among the many favorite dishes Chef Sedlar learned to prepare from his beloved Grandma Eloisa are bizcochitos, the first cookie in the fruited plain to be recognized as an official state cookie (House Bill 406, 1989). For a cookie to earn such a distinction, you know it’s got to be good. Eloisa’s traditional anise-laced cookies exemplify everything that’s beloved and wonderful about bizcochitos, then they’re taken to rarefied air with the pairing of popcorn ice cream. Yes, popcorn ice cream, a feat of molecular gastronomy wizardry that pairs salty-savory and sweet-creamy flavor profiles to titillate your taste buds.

Popcorn ice cream also elevates a caramel brioche that by itself is merely outstanding. The top layer of the brioche is caramelized in a crème Brulee fashion. Puncture that sugary brown sheet and you’re rewarded with a custardy, eggy bread akin to a moist, rich bread pudding. Spoon on a bit of the popcorn ice cream and taste bud delirium might ensue. Then for even more sheer contrast, pair the brioche with the musky, tangy Abiquiu apricot half. This dish is as much an adventure in flavor discernment—so many complementary contrasts–as it is a spoil yourself indulgence.

In purposely timing our inaugural visit for lunch on a Saturday, we entertained faint hopes of getting to meet the great chef, if only to express our gratitude for his return to New Mexico.  When we did espy him, my first words were “you’ve broken a lot of hearts in Los Angeles,” recounting my dear friend Sandy Driscoll’s love for all of Chef Sedlar’s restaurants.  It’s easy to see why he was so beloved in Los Angeles.  He’s as kind, gracious, and accommodating a host as his reputation foretold, even introducing us to his proud mother Rose.   I now hope to introduce all of my friends to his phenomenal restaurant.

228 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-0883
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2015
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Caramel Brioche with Popcorn Ice Cream, Bizcochitos, Frito Pie, Duck Enfrijolada, Tortillas Florales, Piquillos Rellenos

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