The patio of Las Fuentes Restaurant & Bar at Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa is as fine a place to sit in the cool evening air as Santa Fe has to offer. Every Thursday night, from 6-9, the restaurant becomes a churrascaria, a Brazilian-style protein-fest, during which meats and fish are sliced from skewers onto charred cutting boards. Local band Havana Son provides the right ritmo, making the once-a-week spectacle a hard one to resist.
More often than not, an older couple will get up to dance. As you watch the joy on their faces and their tentative steps, you smile, thinking there's a night of gentle lovemaking ahead of them. But as the night wears on and the dishes keep coming and the wine flows and their dance steps loosen, you realize they're going to have some good, old-fashioned, headboard-banging sex.
Like the reserved sexiness of a salsa dance or the light-hearted lust of a Zouk Lambada, serving churrasco is a delicate balance of potent carnal dishes and subtle, discerning flavors. Sometimes this is achieved at the Las Fuentes churrascaria, and sometimes it's not.
The chicken and pork dishes tend to be mercilessly overcooked. Dry chicken does not incline one toward sensuality, whether culinary or musical. A turkey dusted with red chile has better prospects as a doorstop than a savory seductress. The tilapia is unnervingly reminiscent of the kind of fish sticks that used to be served in school lunches. In my experience, the insult of these dishes can be compounded by lackluster service…unless you have the fortune to stumble upon Violette, an attentive and enjoyable staffer who watches all the tables well.
Luckily, the strength of churrasco is in its abundance. The pineapple-laced lamb doesn't suffer from overenthusiasm on the grill, and the succulence of these small rillettes alone is worth the short drive. A simply prepared beef dish of thick-cut filet is more hit-and-miss, but when it arrives properly rare and crusted with delicate fat, it provides a bite that can make you whisper "churrasco" with the heavy breath normally reserved for a lover. The scent and taste of char is just right on the beef—not too heavy, but enough to swell the palate in anticipation.
The "salad bar" where one can locate nonmeat items and side dishes is a tricky affair. Potatoes, beans and calabacitas in warming dishes don't add much to the temptations of the churrasco, and they seem designed to weigh one's appetite toward eating less of the more costly fare. However, an impressive cheese bar with delicate wedges of flavorful hard cheeses greatly complements the meats and the wine list. A platter of deep-fried bananas is another lucky indulgence to be found at the salad bar.
With a fixed price of $38, more consistency in the preparation of the dishes could be expected. However, it’s easy enough to view the temperature and texture of foods presented on a skewer and to decline those that aren’t worth the trouble. The real charm lies in the beautiful setting, the evocative music and the power to be as choosy as you like—the skewers will keep coming until you signal a stop. And you can always start again.
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