There is a half an hour window when the molten coral sunset bathes the bar and dining room of Terra in a burnished copper glow. Here, at Encantado, the latest jewel in a modest lineup of Auberge Resorts’ inimitable eye candy, aerodynamic meets organic in the most archetypal and ironic embodiment of the contemporary Santa Fe psyche—and perhaps its most captivating.
Nestled into the blander bones of Tesuque like a primordial development that sprouts forth from sand, Encantado is wrought of steel and stucco, and offers a staggering panorama from gilded Southwest-style porticoes and sharp, bone-toned loggias.
In short, it’s the vacation of my dreams, and all I had to do was drive 10 minutes to get there.
Terra’s identity is so distinct and remote that it feels far from the utility of Earth. And then there’s the culinary pied piper of the place: Chef Charles Dale, at the helm of what is one of the most highly anticipated and serious restaurants ever to open here. It is a destination restaurant, a reason to make the pilgrimage here, whether from two or 2,000 miles away. From my chair, I can muse on Dale’s talent, wit and sense of adventure; for instance, my humble reverence for Terra’s chipotle caviar (which accompanies the house-smoked Ruby trout, $14) is reinforced by Dale’s choice of bacon—my beloved Nueske’s—which rules the roost.
Dale, who comes to us from Aspen, was awarded Best New Chef in America by Food & Wine Magazine in 1995 and was nominated twice for Best American Chef in the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation. His bio on Terra’s Web site describes his cuisine as “modern rustic, and regionally inspired,” and the same could be said of Encantado as a whole. This is Southwest minimalism at its most inspired—no cobwebbed vigas or tired paintings but still warm and fitting to its environs.
There’s some overlap between the bar and the lunch menus, notably, the crispy rock shrimp rolls ($12); the calamari, corn-crusted with pistachio Romesco sauce ($12); the duck reuben ($13) with juniper sauerkraut, marble rye, house-made Russian dressing and melted Gruyère; the barbecued salmon BLT with bacon aïoli ($15). All sandwiches are served with a choice of pommes frites, Southwestern slaw or cheese tater tots, which are absurdly tasty and arrive in a brilliant heated stainless steel canister.
For cocktails, the Beauregarde ($15) and the Terra Sunset ($14) are pleasant but unremarkable. Though I haven’t yet tried it, Dale’s dinner starter of slow-cooked suckling pig with soufflé pancake and chipotle hoisin ($16), and his season’s duo: beer braised wild boar posole and rack of elk with pumpkin seed molé ($36) will be something I return for—although, I will be sure to force an order of Southwestern cassoulet with lamb shank, green chili sausage, duck confit and Anasazi beans ($30), just so I can wrangle a taste.
Breakfast and Sunday brunch at Encantado are a splendid affair, and the lavish $44 brunch (kids: $15) includes a basket of baked goods, a glass of champagne, orange juice, an appetizer, a main course and the Infinite Dessert Buffet. Brunch items include a Carnegie deli plate (with smoked sturgeon), tenderloin steak tartare with a 62 degrees Celsius egg on toasted and a Kobe meatloaf with tomato jam.
In Brazilian mythology, an encantado, or “enchanted one,” is a terrifying river-dwelling shapeshifter known for his superior musical ability, lasciviousness and an attraction to parties. Encantados are also said to be fond of kidnapping humans. If I could be abducted into the hypnotic gustatory underworld of Encantado, I wouldn’t try to leave. Instead, I’d subsist on Pastry Chef Kaitlin Ojeda’s stupefyingly good cherry bread pudding or macadamia nut brittle ice cream ($8), for which there are no words, Ms. Ojeda, besides “thank you.” Thank you for illuminating the shadowy part of my grim little heart that even the sun sweeping through the dining room couldn’t reach.
At Terra, Dale along with Chef de Cuisine Barclay Dodge and an A-team of leaders that include Sommelier Paul Montoya and restaurant Managers Johannes Lehberger and Nick Fioretti, accomplish the feat of bringing a sophistication and deliberateness to dining hitherto unseen in Santa Fe. Service is discreet but not exclusive, and the dining room appears meticulous but not micromanaged.
If the city of Santa Fe seems curiously devoid of many of its finest and longest-serving front-of-house staff, bartenders, and managers, then pay close attention upon entering Terra; chances are, you’ll recognize someone. Santa Feans, I implore you: go to Encantado. Eat. Drink. Drive carefully. Then go back to your regular haunts and tell them that the bar has just been raised—and it has never been higher.
Terra at Encantado Resort
Dining room open seven days 7 am-2:30 pm and 5:30-10 pm.
Bar open Sunday-Thursday 11:30 am-midnight and Friday and Saturday 11:30 am-1 am weekends.
Brunch Sunday 11 am-2 pm.
198 State Road 592