In 1927, Willa Cather penned one of the very best novels ever written about New Mexico in Death Comes For the Archbishop, an American literary classic based on the the vicissitudes of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. As the first bishop of Santa Fe, Lamy faced the prolific challenge of reestablishing a congruent Catholic church while facing religious corruption and the desolation and loneliness of living in a strange and unforgiving land. It’s no wonder he had a secluded retreat built for him in the colorful foothills of the Sangre De Cristo mountains. That exquisite hideaway has become one of America’s best retreats with exceptional accommodations, unlimited recreational opportunities and now, the finest in dining.
In the spring of 2002, the Bishop’s Lodge Resort and spa launched a new concept restaurant called Las Fuentes (The Fountains), so named because of the lush green oasis watered by the Spa’s own water recycling plant. On Sundays, Las Fuentes features a lavish brunch buffet which perennially garners “the best in Santa Fe” recognition. To say it’s one of the very best brunch buffets we’ve had in New Mexico is a vast understatement. For just shy of $40 per person, not including tip, you can engorge yourself on among the best brunches you can find anywhere.
It’s a Bacchanalian feast, an indulgence in the type of excess you dare not allow yourself too often–even if you could afford it–for fear of caloric over-achievement. It’s a bounteous buffet the type of which is a complete antithesis of the eating Olympics E.B. White described in his 1952 classic Charlotte’s Web when he wrote about Templeton the rat’s scavenging at the fair. It’s on par with the very best of buffets in Las Vegas which, contrary to stereotype, are no longer the all-you-can-choke-down fests of cheap chow yore.
The featured fare is Continental (French, Spanish, New Mexican, Native American) American cuisine at its finest, at least thirty different items showcased decorously in stainless steel vessels that are both attractive and utilitarian. Two elegant dining rooms with western appointments make diners feel instantly at home where they’re surrounded by authentic Navajo rugs and commissioned murals by early Santa Fe artist W. E. Rollins. Dulcet musical stylings provide a soothing tone by which to enjoy your meal. The buffet stations occupy two elongated rooms, both thematically laid out and a joy to navigate. In the nearly seven years (2004-2011) between visits, the buffet was actually scaled down, emphasizing high quality over sheer volume.
Seafood items include snow crab legs, oysters on the half-shell, shrimp and a fish entree. During our most recent visit, the carving table featured Virginia ham served with a pineapple glaze. An expert carver will fill your plate if you wish. Salads of both the legume and vegetable variety as well as macaroni fare are plentiful. Turophiliacs (those obsessed with cheese) will find a wide variety of high quality cheeses: creamy mozzarella, mild Swiss, sharp Cheddar, bold goat cheese and more, all of which go well with the dried fruits and candied walnuts.
An omelet and egg station with made-to-order service is made to please. Adventurous diners might want to try a “Hangtown Fry,” essentially an omelet made with bacon and oysters, a weird barnyard meets seafood combination made exceedingly well in California. The brunch bunch will appreciate the oversized sausage and crisp bacon, the type of which only restaurants seem able to find. Hashed browns topped with melted cheese, eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and enchiladas are among the best reasons for waking up in the morning and Las Fuentes prepares them all well.
The dessert table alone is almost worth the cost of the brunch. It’s both a chocolohic’s paradise and an Adkin’s dieter’s nightmare with moist, rich and sinfully rich indulgences. The tiramisu is terrific, never mind that the great Daniela Bouneaou at Torinos @ Home might not find it entirely authentic An apple pie cheesecake topped with caramel is a sweet piece of heaven, but my very favorite dessert is the bread pudding which is one of New Mexico’s very best. For the more health conscious, baskets of succulent, juicy fruits are available.
To wash it all down, champagne and mimosas are complementary after the noon hour (courtesy of a New Mexico state law that prohibits the sale of alcohol any earlier on Sundays). Gone is the fresh-squeezed tangerine juice with which we fell in love during previous visits, but you can hardly call the orange juice a consolation prize. The coffee is superb, a rich blend with a fragrant aroma. Service is attentive without being intrusive. Even the chef will come out to check up on you.
Las Fuentes is one of Santa Fe’s premier restaurants for more than just brunch, but it’s at brunch that it seems to shine brightest…or could that be the sun’s rays on a summer morning while partaking of the city’s best brunch from the spacious patio.
Las Fuentes at The Bishop’s Lodge
North Bishop’s Lodge Road
Santa Fe, NM
LATEST VISIT: 6 March 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Sunday Brunch Buffet