Four dynamic restaurants prove that nothing ever stands still when it comes to food and fine dining in and around Santa Fe
BY ESTHER TSENG
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PETER OGILVIE FOR TREND
On paper, Graham Dodds might appear to be a newcomer to Northern New Mexico. After all, he arrived in Santa Fe from Texas in 2021, having cheffed at Bolsa, Wayward Sons, and Central 214, all in Dallas. But he says he’d been drawn to the Santa Fe area since his first visit in the ’90s. So, he bought, renovated, and began operations at NOSA Restaurant and Inn near Ojo Caliente mineral springs last July. “This is such an upgrade. I love it.”
NOSA—simultaneously slang for North of Santa Fe” and an evocation of the feminine singular Spanish word for “ours”—is a 30-mile drive from the City Different. Overlooking the Jemez Mountains, it occupies what was originally a bed-and-breakfast with a Relais & Châteaux distinction. “They were the only ones in the Southwest,” says Dodds.
Clockwise, from top left: NOSA chef-owner Graham Dodds chops scallions in his kitchen; Ojo Farms sunshine kabocha squash with black-eyed peas and pecans; the chef finishes off chicharrónes; green chile cornbread; “Bowl of Red” chili with crème fraîche, scallions, and white cheddar; pimento cheese and hot sauce for chicharrónes.
Farm-to-table, prix-fixe meals in an elegant setting near Ojo Caliente, New Mexico.
The B&B’s original owners built the restaurant so that their guests would have a place to have dinner in an area without many options for eating out. Now with Dodds in the kitchen, single-handedly cheffing stellar farm-to-table, prix-fixe meals, NOSA is set to become a Northern New Mexico star, attracting people not just for special occasions but also for exploring an area full of culture and natural beauty.
When the restaurant first opened, Dodds hadn’t obtained his liquor license yet, so he provided only lunch service and nonalcoholic beverage pairings. Now, almost unanimous praise peppers the reviews of his five-course lunches and dinners, which source local products and are themed to whichever cuisine or ingredient inspires him at the moment. “I tend to change up the menus often and try to make it so people can’t put me in a category,” he says. “But there’s typically a common thread or kind of a narrative to the menu.”
Showcasing local bounty in his internationally focused cooking is Dodds’ m.o. “Seems miraculous that they can grow this stuff out here,” he says. He has been sourcing sunshine kabocha squash, garlic, and radicchio from Ojo Farm in Ojo Caliente, as well as autumn frost squash and hakurei turnips from Vagabond Farmers in La Puebla.
The restaurant and four-room inn are reasons themselves to visit, but just 12 miles to the north are Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa and Ra Paulette’s stunning Windows of the Earth cave sculpture. Eighteen miles west is Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch, open for tours, hiking, and horseback riding. All of which makes NOSA a great spot to get to know wild and wonderful Northern New Mexico.
A special dining room at The Compound designed by Alexander Girard with his Sun sculpture.
From left: The Compound’s new executive chef Weston Ludeke; the chef wields his knife on a piece of duck; the duck goes into the sauté pan; duck confit served at The Compound.
Mark Kiffin has been the owner of The Compound since 2020. But the storied restaurant’s history goes back to 1966, when it was the centerpiece of the McComb Compound, a secluded getaway for industrialists, movie stars, and socialites. Today the restaurant has the same cachet, a world-class menu under Kiffin, and—as of last summer—Weston Ludeke, who relocated from Charlottesville, Virginia, to become executive chef.
That it took two years to find just the right person for the position says a lot about the high regard Kiffin has for Ludeke. He says that he wanted Ludeke’s unique talents to come to the City Different. “He’s one of the best cooks I’ve ever had an opportunity to work with,” says Kiffin, who won a James Beard award in 2005.
Before his arrival at The Compound, Ludeke was chef de cuisine for Marigold at Keswick Hall, near Charlottesville, Virginia, a restaurant created by the preeminent French chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He brings the experience and discipline required to maintain the high quality expected at The Compound. Kiffin and Ludeke estimate that 75% of their customers are not only locals but also regulars. Some even have a favorite table they reserve for the same time and the same day every week. Their frequent visits make them so in tune with the menu’s seasonality that they’ve come to anticipate changes about every 90 days.
The menu is international. “We’re really drawn to Italy, France, and Spain,” says Kiffin. At the same time, The Compound is a contemporary American eatery with a clear focus on seasonality.
What’s showcased at The Compound throughout the seasons? The best produce and products wherever they are found. “It’s better to get great ingredients that are indigenous,” says Kiffin. That means morels from Oregon, chanterelles from Washington, foie gras from New York’s Hudson Valley, and sturgeon from California’s Sacramento River tempering local ingredients like potatoes, stone fruit, and corn—when it’s best.
With a new chef, the restaurant is on course to continue wowing loyal, gourmet-loving locals as well as visitors to Santa Fe. At The Compound on storied Canyon Road both can enjoy a fantastic meal—plate by plate, season by season.
Ruiz chops greens for tacos.
From left: classic shrimp and scallop ceviche; Chef Ruiz grills a steak for his signature tacos; steak tacos “but with a little twist here and there,” according to Ruiz.
Fernando Ruiz, chef and owner of Escondido, slated to open this fall, is a star who started cooking in the Santa Fe kitchens of Rio Chama, La Boca, and Santacafé. Then came TV cooking competitions like Guy’s Grocery Games and Chopped: Beat Bobby Flay, which he aced. But Ruiz doesn’t have the air of a smug TV personality; he leads with the humility of a man who has a second lease on life.
Before Ruiz, who grew up in Phoenix, had his run of TV cooking show wins, he did time for trafficking drugs and guns and worked in prison kitchens. After his release, he studied at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. Old affiliations with unsavory characters would have given him valid reasons for keeping out of the public eye. But thanks to the everlasting encouragement of his wife, Michelle Romero, Ruiz went on to win on every Food Network show in which he appeared. Never mind his sketchy past. “All the people I grew up with—they’re all dead or doing life in prison,” says Ruiz.
It has been a bumpy road to Escondido, but thanks to Ruiz’s partnership with Vince Kadlubek—cofounder of Meow Wolf, the immersive art and entertainment showcase started in Santa Fe and now expanded to Las Vegas and Denver—there’s every reason to believe that the restaurant will rule.
Ruiz is planning a menu that draws upon the influences of his hometown, Guyamas, Mexico, on the Sea of Cortez. Seafood will be a focal point. Think fresh fish and cockles delivering bright and crisp notes countered with hot platters slathered in complex, comforting, and trade-secret sauces.
And because his grandfather owns a cattle ranch in Sonora, expect top-notch carne asada. “I want to do tacos, ceviches, and moles with a little twist here and there.” Mexican spirits like tequila, mezcal, bacanora, and sotol will also be featured at Escondido.
There’s plenty to look forward to. It’s an auspicious start for a new Santa Fe restaurant, and for a future in which Ruiz will be able to control his destiny and reap the rewards of his success.
Cafe Pasqual’s owner-founder Katharine Kagel serves pozole from a mica-rich pot made by ceramic artist Felipe Ortega.
From left: Cochinita Pibil Yucatan-style, wrapped in banana leaves and accompanied by plantain chips; Kagel’s
rich and nourishing pozole; hearty, healthful cornbread accompanies pozole.
It is no overstatement to say that since its beginnings in 1979, Cafe Pasqual’s, a block off the Plaza, has evolved into a bona fide culinary and cultural tour de force in Santa Fe’s dining and art scene. The mission is simple, says Katharine Kagel, the cafe-restaurant’s founder and chef. “Make the best possible food with the best possible ingredients, but without attitude. We want to make it joyful and nourishing, and make people feel good,” she says.
Kagel’s commitment to using as many organically sourced ingredients as possible ref lects her uncompromising attitude toward health. She estimates that 98% of her menu’s offerings, like the Durango omelet with red or green
chiles, tostada with seared Arctic char, and asadero cheese chile relleno, are made of organic ingredients. “Some people say, ‘I can’t afford organic food,’ and I say, ‘You can’t afford not to. It’s your health; you’re going to taste the difference and feel better.’”
Also nourishing to the senses are the murals by Leovigildo Martinez Torres that line the cafe’s walls. Kagel met the artist 30 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico, and was inspired to ask him to paint them and expand the restaurant into a gallery. “We always eat with our eyes first,” says Kagel, who is a mixed-media artist working in monoprint, collotype, lithography, ceramics, painting, and drawing.
Also featured in the restaurant-gallery is mica-rich local clay cookware made by the late Felipe Ortega, who was a medicine man with Jicarilla Apache and Hispanic heritage. His clay cook pots can rest directly on top of f lame and infuse food with a subtle sweetness you don’t get with metal cookware. Kagel puts them in the Moroccan oven that Ortega built in her backyard. Sharing these cooking methods through the art of pottery is integral to the restaurant’s mission.
In the end, it all comes down to fostering an understanding about where food comes from. “The arc of people understanding their food is fantastic and I’m thrilled that people are demanding the best,” says Kagel.
A luscious pomegranate martini is among the specialty cocktails served at Cafe Pasqual’s.