It was a sweltering day at Railyard Park for Taste of Santa Fe, a revived food festival featuring some of the city’s best restaurants. New Mexico’s state capital is situated at 7000 feet elevation, and we encountered 95 degrees with near equal humidity, but that didn’t stop Pat Saperstein (Eating LA), Esther Tseng (e*starla), Fiona Chandra (Gourmet Pigs) and Matthew Kang (Mattatouille) and I from facing the heat head-on in pursuit of the best local bites.
Taste of Santa Fe started at 2 PM, but inexplicably offered no shelter from the sun. It was a good thing that the closest table to the entrance was O-Gelato which provided instant but fleeting relief. “Gelato-ologist” David Maple has apparently amassed hundreds of flavors of gelato over the past several years, but opened a parlor only two weeks prior to the Taste, in an old gun shop. 1930 HPB stands for Harry’s Peach Bellini, a reference to Harry’s Bar that incorporated white lady peaches and Prosecco. Ispaha combined lychee, rose water and raspberries. Both tiny scoops featured concentrated flavors, but the the HPB reigned supreme.
The event’s best bite belonged to Josh’s Barbecue chef-owner Josh Baum, who’s been offering Santa Fe a taste of “Tex New Mex” for the past three years. He combined two of my favorite things on one plate: Texas barbecue and “Christmas.” He smokes his meats with Texas new oak in a hickory pit, which benefited his pork ribs, which hosted a sweet and spicy red chile honey glaze. The crunchy side dish formed the other half of Christmas: green chile cole slaw.
Jambo Cafe chef owner Ahmed Obo supplied a Santa Fe surprise: “African Caribbean Cuisine.” Obo is originally from Lamu Island off the coast of Kenya. He visited a friend in Santa Fe, fell for the city and has been there for 15 years. He supplied a rich peanut coconut soup with chicken and a central crush of peanuts and spices.
At the beer and wine tent, Santa Fe Brewing Company owner Brian Lock was pouring beer from bottles and cans, including Pale Ale, Nut Brown, Hefeweizen and the weather inappropriate but more compelling State Pen Porter and Chicken Killer Barleywine.
Old House has been located at the high-end El Dorado Hotel & Spa for 22 years. While other booths offered surprisingly heavy dishes like meatloaf, Chef Anthony Smith seared ahi tuna and served it with avocado, tomatoes, wasabi sesame sauce and a garnish of vivid yellow corn shoots.
Rivera chef-owner John Sedlar, a hometown hero in Santa Fe, conducted a cooking demo for interested locals (and his mother). His goal was to demonstrate “spice-ology,” a technique he employs in his Los Angeles restaurant to communicate on another level using food.
According to Sedlar’s handout on “spice-ology,” examples of his decoratively sifted spices include “a gas mask, intended to express and raise awareness of our planet’s ecological perils.” Today, Sedlar decided to leave the politics at home. “Food is a powerful international language, and spices are that language’s most evocative adjectives,” wrote Sedlar. “With that in mind, select plates on Rivera’s menu feature powerful graphic images created in custom seasoning blends that complement – in aroma, flavor, and image – the food they accompany.” At Rivera, Sedlar uses paprika, vadouvan and an oregano-thyme mix, to name just three bases for “spice-ology.”
At Taste of Santa Fe, Sedlar cooked Scallops Arabesque. He began by scoring halved eggplant, seasoning with salt and pepper, lavishing with olive oil and garlic, and oven-roasting at 350 for 45 minutes. He scooped out and plated the resulting eggplant dip.
Sedlar coated sushi-grade dayboat scallops in flour and ras el hanout before sautéing them in grape seed oil, which can withstand high temperatures without burning. He seared the jumbo scallops to form some outer caramelization.
Scallops topped the smoky eggplant dip and drizzled with preserved lemon, which Sedlar cured in salt and sugar for six weeks until it becomes simultaneously salty and sweet.
The heat was debilitating, so we didn’t go the distance at Taste of Santa Fe, but we did enjoy some unique tastes that wouldn’t be possible in Los Angeles and even received a fruitful cooking lesson from one of Santa Fe’s (and now L.A.’s) best chefs.
Thanks to the organizers of Taste of Santa Fe for hosting us at the event and to Kokopelli Property Management for providing accommodations to me and my fellow bloggers during our stay in Santa Fe.