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Best Restaurants in Santa Fe - Sazón: The Flavor of Mexico

It’s a rare moment when a meal conjures the word “sensual,” but it is the only word I can think of to best describe my most recent meal at Sazón. The atmosphere melds modern style paintings of Spanish horses with provocative paintings of Frida Kahlo and then classic red, yellows, and gold paintings of appetizing fruits, vegetables, and grains against the aged barn-wood floors, rustic vigas, and a kiva fireplace. The Spanish guitar music subtly floats about the room, occasionally whispering gently at the table.

The servers approach with respect to your meal amongst friends or family, yet speak with earnest zeal as they describe the night’s specials. All of these are precursors to the citrus, chocolate, earthy, buttery, nutty, spicy, peppery, all encompassing flavors that follow. My friend and I were fortunate to be waited on by Mari, one of Chef Olea’s newest servers. Clearly the General Manager, Aaron’s training and family approach to staff worked; we did not learn of her newness until we started bantering with her about the food’s exotic names and locations, testing her knowledge of each word’s unique meaning. She smiled, explained, investigated, kept smiling, and followed up with whatever we asked. First off, we went with her recommendation to try the Oaxaqueños-baby grasshoppers, taquitos (chapulines), avocado, and sour cream. Yes, grasshoppers—crispy, subtly flavored bites reminiscent of bits of bacon finished with a sprinkle of orange rinds. If you didn’t know they were grasshoppers, you would assume they were a magical, top-secret family recipe.

From there our pretense of reserve was compromised. We enthusiastically ordered the lamb shanks coupled with pureed sweet potatoes and the honey sweet, nut based mole and delicately sautéed spinach. We coupled the lamb with the salmon special-freshly caught salmon topped with corn truffles, wrapped in filo dough then surrounded by a sweeping arch of sweet red chile sauce. The kitchen carefully split the dishes for us while still preparing each with the original presentation.

The more we ate, the more our mood went from “foodies” to kids sorting through their Halloween baskets. First, the lamb was the best thing in the world, then the salmon took charge, then the sweet potatoes, but wait, no, the lamb’s the best. In fact, we concluded the only way to show the chef how much we liked the lamb was to forego utensils, grabbing the shank with our hands and using it to mop up every last bit of sauce, sweet potatoes, and mole until nothing was left but the brittle bone.

Throughout all of this the staff kept our waters full, softly touched base to see if we were happy, and maintained our selection of specialty cocktails offered at the adjacent Tequileria – Sazón’s adjunct drink experience focusing on quality tequilas and mescals. Simple, fresh recipes combining mescal, chiles, limes, and El Jimador tequila, herbs, grapefruits and black lava salt augmented our already exquisite experience.

The dessert menu in no way played second to the appetizers or entrées. We originally ordered the Chef’s specialty (which is not described and nor it will be until it arrives – a small act of faith). We also ordered a trifecta of herbal and fruity sorbets. Before our order could be fulfilled however, the kitchen prepared a sample plate of the sorbets, the house lava cake, a natilla, wafer layered dessert, and a milky moist tres leches cake. All of which treated our senses to a new, unique experience for the night without overshadowing the parade of flavor that preceded it.

There really is so much that could be said. In the end, I can only recommend you go to experience a truly unique Santa Fe experience. The web site, sazonsantafe.com will further explain Chef Olea’s story and provide a brief history on mole. Sazón resides on Shelby Street, just one block away from Inn of the Governors and is open for dinner Monday through Saturday. Reservations may be made via telephone, the web site, or through OpenTable. Of course, our guest services team will happily help you. Last, but not least, any special requests or dietary restrictions will be accommodated-please tell your waiter, or call ahead to help the kitchen honor your need.

Until next time, Buen Provecho! Sam G of IOG

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