Saturday, August 12, 2006

Amazing AQUA SANTA (one of Santa Fe's newest)

Last night was the 50th Anniversary Gala of the Santa Fe Opera, so we celebrated as well by trying a new place in town that had been getting rave reviews, even in the NY Times! AQUA SANTA (451 W. Alameda, tel 505-982-6297) boasts BRIAN KNOX as the Provencal-style chef who has been in town for many years and gained a reputation as the chef at Escalera years ago. After disappearing for a while, then running a gourmet deli-type shop he has come back to where he is supreme in the kitchen.

The small location just west of ntownhas a larger outdoor setting with a patio and draped roof with gauzy fabric and bamboo; inside you can look right into the open kitchen (but it can get warm). We were blown away by the hot huge loaves of bread we saw coming out of the oven, and were later told that the Sourdough Starter came from Bandol, France and made its way to world-famous Chef Alice Watersof Chez Panisse, and then ultimately to Aqua Santa through one of the chefs there. It was amazing bread!

It was tought to decide since we wanted to have everything, but needed to be awake for the gala concert, so Will & I both ordered the HEIRLOOM TOMATO GAZPACHO with Creme Fraiche and Orange. It was a perfect cool refreshing chunky soup, and the tomatoes were supreme, although they had some Japanese cucumbers as well and a sprinkling of pistachios on top for a crunch.

We ordered a bottle of JEAN DEYDIER Chateauneuf du Pape 2001 "Les Clefs d'Or" which was a fruity syrah-based wine with lots of plum and acidity in the fruit, but a big finish in the back of the mouth and a hint of coffee. I would have enjoyed a larger glass, but they seem only to use one type of glass for all wines which is a shame. On the label reverse, the importer had one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson: "Good wine is a necessity of life for me."

I ordered the small AQUA SANTA CAESAR which was perfect size and allowed Will a taste as well (at an amazing $4.50). It was very traditional, but what made it so wonderful was that each leaf of romaine was evenly and perfectly dressed, not overdosed at all, and the entire plate was beautifully covered with feathery grated Parmesan.

For entrees Will chose a superb BRAISED SHEPHERD's (name of the organic farm) LAMB with Olives and Summer Squash which was akin to ossu buco, but without the bones. My ORGANIC FRENCH CHICKEN BREAST with Brian's Apricots and Pine Nuts was excellent and accompanied by the most interesting RHUBARB GREENS with red stems that I first thought was red spinach or some kin to kale.

The desserts were the only part of the meal not up to the level of everything else. The ANGEL FOOD CAKE with STRAWBERRY COMPOTE was a bit dry and the CHERRY CLAFOUTIS with CREME FRAICHE was nice, but will win no prizes when compared with the desserts of the previous night.

As we end our stay and head to TAOS tomorrow for two more nights, we still have one night remaining here in town for my big client dinner at RISTRA, another always favorite!