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Trip Report farolitos and fine food--Christmas in Santa Fe

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Our annual trip to Santa Fe with friends was great fun this year. My husband and I went a day earlier than the other four, arriving on Dec. 23. The winter, so far, has been very mild along the front range--so driving conditions from Denver were terrific. We stopped in Trinidad, Colorado for lunch at a homey local Italian place--Nana and Nano's--good basic American Italian food (the temperature was 63 degrees, by the way).

We arrived in Santa Fe about 3 pm and checked into our room at the El Rey Inn. We always reserve room 50--it has a fireplace and a little kitchen and is roomy enough to have our friends join us for drinks in the evening.

Dinner that evening was at Max's-a small restaurant just off Gaudalupe, down an alley. We opted for the 5 course tasting menu--with actually became 8 course with the amuse, pre-dessert and post-dessert added. The tasting menu was $68 per person and worth every penny. The food was exquisite and the portions small enough that we were not overly full at the end. Now to the food. The amuse was one each of the two oysters being served that night with sake granite and lime juice; then baby beet and citrus salad with pistachios and a small square of buttermilk panna cotta (which looked like tofu but was light, almost lemony); then sturgeon with spaetzle and brussel sprouts on a bed of black trumpet mushroom puree---the fish was prepared sous vide so it was perfectly cooked, very moist; then 2-hour egg (done sous vide, I think, it was very soft) with the most delicious soft polenta I ever tasted along with mushooms and come crispy polenta; then pork fixed 3 ways--seared loin, confit under a layer of crispy pork skin (a crackling!) and shredded shoulder wrapped in chard with baby potatoes, carrots and onions; then pre-dessert of pomegranite granita on a pistachio cookie with pomegranite foam; then dessert--and the presentation here was quite theatrical and the result quite delicious--a bittersweet chocolate globe--over which the server poured a warm chesnut sauce-which melted the top of the globe revealing hazelnut ice cream, hazelnuts and cake inside--yum, yum; and--last course--two spoons were presented, each containing a small sphere of white chocolate that you popped in your mouth. When you bit into it--it was filled with slushy passion fruit ice--that was the perfect finish to an outstanding meal. We had prosecco with the oysters and, on the advice of our waiter, a red burgundy with the rest of the meal--which was a good choice.

On Christmas Eve, we took a drive in the countryside around Chimayo--the weather was sunny and we enjoyed the New Mexican countryside. We were going to have lunch at El Boca to see if it was still as good as it was the last time we were there (we had heard rumors it had slipped) but a power outage closed all the restaurants north of the plaza from about noon til 7 pm. So La Boca will have to wait for the next trip. Although some people we met a breakfast the next day had eaten dinner there on Christmas eve and they said it was very good. We had lunch, on the south side of the plaza where they had electricity, at the always dependable San Francisco St. Bar and Grill. We visited a few galleries in the Railyard District--the contemporary abstraction exhibt at LeWallen and the Japanese baskets at Tai Gallery were outstanding.

Christmas Eve dinner was at Maria's (our tradition with our friends) for margaritas and posole and tamales before heading to Canyon Road for the annual Farolito Walk. Very festive and beautiful. Canyon Road itself was pretty crowded but the side streets were less so. Lots of beautiful lights and all the adobes and people singing around bonfires.

On Christmas Day, the six of us had brunch at Restaurant Martin, located at the corner of Galisteo and the Paseo. Again a fabulous meal--all our group loved what we had. I had a tuna tartare appetizer--little slices of perfectly fresh tuna with little drizzles of a couple of sauces, with thin radish, avocado and scallion slices and for the main course--large sea scallops, seared with a scattering of mushrooms and squash, and potato shallot puree; my husband had squash soup with some lobster in it and sea bass (which he said was absolutely delicious and which he would not share). Other dishes our friends enjoyed were a roasted beet salad, pork belly appetizer and for mains--a beautiful pork chop and a gorgeous duck breast. We were drinking a really good (and inexpensive Argentine malbec) and shared the creme brulee assortment (pistachio, gran marinier, milk chocolate) and called the meal a stunning success. Restaurant Martin deserves its reputation as a new top restaurant in Santa Fe.

Three of us went for a soak in a private tub at 10,000 Waves mid afternoon then back to El Rey for wine, snacks and conversation in our room before we called it a night and the end of another wonderful Christmas in Santa Fe.