Welcome to the official Hill Country Bon Vivant blog! Check in here often for updates on food I’m cooking, recipes I love, details of my travels including tips and tricks, recommendations for places to visit and more!
Jumping right in, my first blog entry is about my and Scot’s (husband – see “About” section for familial specifics) trip to Santa Fe. When we moved to Texas in the summer of 2019, from a small town in Massachusetts, we wondered where we would go for a long weekend away. In New England everything is so close, we took for granted the ability to just hop into the car and be in another state in an hour or two. Depending on where you’re going, leaving Central Texas can take at least 7 hours so we were curious which direction we should head in first to explore.
To give you some background – not long after moving to our new home in Fredericksburg, Texas, Scot and I both started meeting people and making friends who spoke about their favorite place to load up the car and visit, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Naturally, being the adventurous couple we are, this peaked our interest.
I knew my friend Karen and her husband David have been visiting Santa Fe for years so I reached out to get some suggestions. Karen was kind enough to provide a typed out list of places to go that was even color coded… my organizational freak heart loved it. Scot and I were both getting established at our new jobs, but excited and ready to explore, we made our plan for a spring 2020 trip to New Mexico.
***Slight glitch, there was that whole pandemic thing, so fast forward to November 2021 when we were actually able to go.***
On a chilly but sunny Saturday, we arrived at our home for the next five days, the historic Hotel St. Francis. Walking in, I was surprised by the simple white decor in the lobby. It was stunningly elegant and immediately invited us into the beautiful and rich culture of New Mexico. There was a bar in the lobby, The Secreto Lounge, and a tasting room for a local winery, Gruet. Both were perfect pop in spots Scot and I visited during our stay.
We started our week of eating and drinking by grabbing a quick bite to hold us over until dinner at Del Charro. For our first drinks in Santa Fe, we had to have margaritas. They were served up nice and cold in a pint glass with a straw. Just what we needed after a long drive. Scot tried the blue corn chicken enchiladas and I had chicken quesadillas. Nothing too crazy but they hit the spot and did their job of tying us ov
Sunday night we had dinner at Andiamo!, a neighborhood trattoria. Italian food is something we really crave in Texas and to say that it bombs here is an understatement. I digress…we started with a 2016 bottle of Brunello di Montalcino from Collosorbo. We are heading to Italy next year (God willing and the creek doesn’t rise) and will be staying in Montalcino, so we had to spring for the bottle. We both decided to try pasta.
Mine was fettuccine with mushrooms and artichokes and Scot chose the penne with house-made lamb sausage. They both were satisfying but I wish I had tried something different.
Monday we had lunch at the French cafe, Clafoutis. It is an adorable restaurant with a bakery inside that’s located in a strip mall. The woman next to me was eating this gorgeous ham and cheese crepe, so of course, I had to get one myself. Scot decided to have the roast beef and Swiss sandwich. It was on a homemade baguette and he loved it.
The service was quick but we did not feel rushed. There was a long wait by the time we left, so I recommend getting there early for lunch.
We went for a drive Monday afternoon to El Santuario de Chimayo, a small chapel on the “high road” between Santa Fe and Taos.
It’s a historic landmark said to have healing powers. It was an incredibly moving experience to walk the grounds and explore the chapel in its pure and simple beauty. With stone crosses surrounding the sanctuary, it was a soul-stirring experience to say the least and a worthwhile stop in my book.
Back in town we got ready for dinner at Sazón. Sazón is a beautiful and sought-after restaurant known for its contemporary take on traditional Mexican dishes. Karen and David raved about it back home, so my expectations were high for sure, and it did not disappoint. To start off, Scot chose a bottle of wine from Marques de Murrieta, a 2016 Reserva that set the mood for our sophisticated Mexican meal. The service at Sazón was flawless. The thoughtful timing and through explanation of the menu was one of the best table side experiences we’ve had. Our server brought out a sampling of 4 different moles (who knew there was a variety?) and tiny tortillas to try each one. They were all wonderful and I could have just eaten those with a spoon. I chose the green mole to go over a fresh tuna steak.
Scot and I shared the first course, Camaron-Tini, jumbo fried shrimp with a sweet Thai chili aioli. It was so crisp and fresh, the perfect way to start this meal. For our second course, we both had a bowl of soup. I had the black bean soup. It was silky smooth with delicate tortilla strips on top. Scot had the Sopa de Amor. The menu didn’t list the ingredients but I believe there was avocado and cinnamon in it… The presentation was gorgeous and we were both really happy with our choices.
Scot’s choice for his main course was Cholula. It was ground lamb, pork and beef with nuts and dried fruits with a creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds with a jalapeno balsamic reduction. I went with a simple, pan-seared tuna with green mole, which was delicious. It was a meal to remember. Thank you to the team at Sazón for raising my level of expectations regarding service moving forward!
Tuesday morning we woke up to beautiful sunshine and decided to explore Santa Fe and its history a little more. Our first stop was the Loretto Chapel. It was a very small and really unique chapel that took 5 years to build beginning in 1873. With limited seating, the chapel is known for its choir loft staircase called the “Miraculous Staircase”.
The construction of the staircase was halted when the chapel’s original architect died before finishing it. The legend says an unnoted carpenter turned up to complete its construction, left without payment and was never seen or heard from again. Also, the church was the first gothic building west of the Mississippi and was patterned after the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, built at the request of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. It is not as ornate as chapels we’ve seen in Montreal but more natural and uncluttered. The spiral staircase was really something to behold and you could feel that it was a very special place. The story of its assembly is so beautiful, I encourage you to look up.
The next stop was the Saint Francis Cathedral to walk through the garden which had statues of the Stations of the Cross. Parts of it were so overwhelming that I broke down in tears. It felt like the story the images told were happening in front of me in real time. The inside of the Saint Francis, again, was not super ornate compared to churches that we had seen in Montreal, it was decorated with simple colors and without a lot of marble.
After trying, and not succeeding, to warm up by walking around in the sun, we went to The Shed restaurant for lunch. The Shed is a legendary eatery in Santa Fe housed in a circa-1692 hacienda with a cantina-style bar which every single Santa Fe connection friend we had said was a must visit. Scott started off with some corn chowder and I had the chili relleno.
We were warned to ask for the sauce on the side. I had the red and the green sauce on the side and they were both pretty spicy. The chili relleno was filled with cheese, oozing with goodness and the beans were to die for.
Tuesday night we started off by having a smoked sage margarita in the Secreto bar located on the first floor of the St. Francis hotel. The smell of the sage smoking was relaxing and at the same time made my mouth water with anticipation. I highly recommend if you are ever in Santa Fe to make sure you have a smoked sage margarita.
For dinner we had the luxury of eating at the Market Steer Steakhouse, located on the first floor of the St. Francis Hotel, so we didn’t have to walk very far.
We started off with a beautiful beef tartar served with handcrafted crackers made out of sight. It was chopped up to the perfect size and served with a wonderful aioli on top.
Scot decided to have a steak so we shared the T-bone. That is something we do all the time, he has one side and I have the filet. Let me tell you- this T-bone was cooked to perfection. It was so moist and juicy and was perfectly seasoned. On the side we had some wild mushrooms and we had to have some sauces, so we went for peppercorn and a gorgonzola sauce, and to top it all off we had cream spinach and French fries, because why not, right?
On Wednesday, we woke up to a cloudy and misty day but decided to take a little journey despite the weather to Albuquerque. As we drove we saw a beautiful rainbow in the distance but could not capture great pictures of it because of the rain hitting the windshield, but trust me… it was breathtaking. When we arrived in Albuquerque we went straight to the Sandia Peak Tramway. At the tramway, you wait in line and they fill the tram with about 50 people.
You start off pretty low at the basin of the hill and as it starts to climb, the topography of the land changes quite rapidly. It gets more rocky and green as you head north and then once you hit a certain foot level, the scenery becomes very snowy. There was a lot of snow… A lot more than we had dressed for or had prepared for emotionally. When we got off the gondola, it was freezing! We felt like the Griswolds at the Grand Canyon. We stood there and nodded and said, “This is great”, and then got in line to go back down the hill. It was a very beautiful sight and a cool experience but we were NOT dressed for the weather.
As we made our way back to Santa Fe from Albuquerque we decided, when we get back to the St. Francis to stop at the Gruet Tasting Room which was in the lobby that we had yet to take advantage of.
They have some wonderful sparkling wines and some still wines available. Scot decided to have the flight of sparkling and I went for the flight of Pinot Noirs. Of course, I had to have a sip of his and they were all wonderful. I really enjoyed my Pinot Noir and our server was very engaging and shared a lot of information about the wine making process and Gruet in general. The tasting room is very sweet and quaint and there is a small outdoor patio they heated with gas lanterns, but we chose to stay inside and sit at the bar.
That night we went to Sassella on Johnson Street, which is an Italian restaurant that I had heard so much about and was very excited to go to.
Again, we don’t get a lot of great Italian food in the Hill Country so I’m always on the lookout for restaurants to try when we travel. Scot chose a wonderful bottle of 2016 Brunello di Montalcino, and he did a wonderful job choosing that one.
I started off with some artichoke fondue, my mouth waters looking at the picture now, it was perfectly grilled baby artichokes with a fontina fondue and toasted bread. Needless to say, I did not share one bite with Scot. He chose some beautiful muscles with lots of saffron and they were wonderfully presented.
He really enjoyed them and I definitely sopped up some of the juices with my bread and agreed that they were in fact, top notch.
We shared some roasted tomato soup, which was the special that evening.
It had a great roasted flavor and was served with a little fresh ricotta on top. I had pasta with sausage and butternut squash that was so rich and creamy, it really hit the spot. Scot chose an osso buco over polenta, there was not one spec left on the plate. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Thursday was Thanksgiving, we slept in and had a very easy morning. We went for a walk around the square, then decided to see a movie. We saw the movie Belfast at a very cool theatre in Santa Fe called The Violet Crown. It was loosely based on the actor Kenneth Branagh’s childhood growing up in Belfast. It was a very heartfelt and sweet movie, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
We chose The Compound restaurant as our restaurant to go to for Thanksgiving dinner. The chef had been wonderful and when I reached out to him in the early Fall to ask if they would be serving a Thanksgiving meal, they replied they had some wonderful things on the menu for sure including a three course meal.
We started off with some oysters with mignonette sauce, the sauce had the perfect amount of acidity and paired nicely with the oysters. I started off with a dirty martini because they had blue cheese stuffed olives, and when there is blue cheese stuff olives – that is what we are having. We had a wonderful experience with their sommelier. She knew all about Texas wines and Scot and her spoke for a while about William Chris and other wineries in the Hill country. We had brought some wine with us and Scot offered to bring her a bottle the next day and she was thrilled to have it and was going to look into being able to import some Texas wines to New Mexico. For our Thanksgiving meal, we decided to splurge and Scot chose Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is one of our favorite words to say and one of our favorite wines to drink! It did not fall short on expectations.
For my appetizer, I chose a very interesting shrimp dish that was served on a fregola sarda pasta with roasted peppers, Kalamata olives, shitake mushrooms, tomato and basil. It was one of the most interesting dishes I have ever had and it was fantastic. Scot chose the fall Manhattan oyster chowder, which had potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery root, poached oysters and a tomato fennel broth. He thoroughly enjoyed that.
I had the Black Angus beef tenderloin Oscar style, which had crab cake, asparagus, Yukon potato, classic holiandaise and demi-glace. In hindsight I never should have chosen this because it was so big and so rich but it was perfect and it was Thanksgiving. Scot had the slow braised veal osso buco that was served with Swiss chard, a veal braising reduction, and a parsley-lemon gremolata. We were both so stuffed I could not believe that we ordered dessert, but again it was Thanksgiving.
Scot has a thing for apples, and they had an apple dessert that he still talks about today. It was an apple cider cheese cake with a spiced graham cracker crust with an apple chip on top and cider glaze and Carmel apple ice cream. I chose the pumpkin marshmallow meringue tart which had a spiced pumpkin filling with a pecan and ginger Carmel. Both were lovely and we rolled out of our seats and back down the hill to our hotel.
On Friday, we were supposed to do a food tour which looked delightful, but unfortunately there were not enough people on the tour so it got canceled. So I punted, and within in an hour planned a day trip to Taos. Taos is in the mountains about 45 minutes north of Santa Fe. We took the “low road” and stopped at GUTIZ, a Latin-French restaurant and sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine.
I had an incredible crepe and Scot enjoyed eggs, sausage and potatoes. We walked around Taos square and went shopping that afternoon. On the way back we drove the “high road” from Taos back to Santa Fe. I asked Scot numerous times to stop so I could take photos but I could not seem to do the scenery justice. The beauty of the evergreens with the snowcapped hills behind it was breath taking. It was a lot different than the landscape around Santa Fe.
Our last night in Santa Fe we went to Geronimo.
Geronimo is located on Canyon Road not far from The Compound, where we had to stop first for Scot to drop off the wine we promised. We had originally planned to eat later that evening because we thought we would be too full from the food tour so when that didn’t happen, I called to see if we could get in earlier. To get in earlier we had to sit at the bar which is not anything that Scot and I hate to do, so we immediately said yes.
*Side note – I always believe in being prepared, so making reservations anywhere you want to go will help you avoid disappointment. Not all places take reservations but it never hurts to check!
Geronimo was one of the best food, service, and bar experiences that we have ever had in any city. The service of the bartenders was incredible. Between every course they would give us a sample of another cocktail to go along with our wine and whatever we had just ordered. The gentleman behind the bar actually worked with someone we knew back in Fredericksburg, so that led to some interesting discussions.
I started with the potato leak bisque that was served with black truffles and organic greens. Scot had the mushroom soup that had wild mushrooms with a sherry bisque with asparagus shitake and oyster mushrooms. Both soups were creamy and perfect. We then shared the Hawaiian ahi tuna sashimi and tartar that was served with buttermilk scallion pancakes with wasabi aioli, soy-lime syrup, and caviar. If you like tuna, this was amazing. It was a very cool presentation and the different textures of the avocado and the tartar and sashimi was perfection. I chose a center cut beef tenderloin with frites. It was served with sautéed organic chard that had bacon and a hot and spicy hollandaise, au poivre sauce, horseradish caramelized onions, all served in little bowls with hand cut russet potato frites. The presentation was very eye appealing and tasted just as good. Scot chose the tellicherry rubbed elk tenderloin that was served on roasted garlic fork-mashed potatoes, with sugar snap peas, Applewood-smoked bacon and a creamy brandied mushroom sauce.
For dessert we decided to share the most interesting crème brulée I have ever had.We went for a drive Monday afternoon to El Santuario de Chimayo, a small chapel on the “high road” between Santa Fe and Taos.
It was served in a bowl rather than in your typical crème brulée dish and had a shortbread cookie on top, a small scoop of ice cream, more crumbled cookie, and caramelized popcorn. When it comes down to it I would say my two favorite experiences in Santa Fe were Sazón and Geronimo. Sazón had a very New Mexican driven feeling, where Geronimo was more of a steakhouse with New Mexican flare. Both had outstanding service and in all honestly we did not have a bad meal the whole trip.
Saturday morning we got up and went to the railroad area and attended their farmers market. I had heard great things about their farmers market and it did not disappoint. I walked away with a chili pepper ristra to remember our time in Santa Fe. We will be back for sure. Santa Fe is filled with so much beauty and a powerful history that left us restored. It was the first of many adventures Scot and I would embark on as we turn the pages in a new chapter in our lives in Texas. I hope you follow along with us in our adventures and walk away inspired.
There is much more to come!