Being raised in the rainy ebb and flow of the Pacific Northwest, water is in my blood. But thanks to my family history in places like Bisbee, Arizona, and Silver City, New Mexico, the desert is in my bones. I love living in Santa Fe, but every once in a while the siren song of water calls to me. Sure, a soak at Ojo Caliente or Ten Thousand Waves does a little to quiet it, but for a true water baby, there's nothing quite like the smell of wind off the waves.
I know I'm not the only one who suffers from this watery malaise, so I grabbed a friend with similar challenges—and a birthday to celebrate—and headed to the closest thing Northern New Mexico has to waterside dining: Blue Heron at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort (242 Los Pinos Road, 877-977-8212).
Sunrise Springs is an idyllic spot, though you're missing out on a lot if you haven't had the chance (or budget) to actually stay there. Day visitors are welcome to take a dip in the hot baths, turn back the sheets for a massage or eat at Blue Heron. But only lodging guests get to cross the mystical bridge over the springs where other gifts await: a swimming pool, greenhouse, art studio, indoor/outdoor koi pond, yoga studio, library and even adult-sized swings gently swaying from massive tree branches. For those who have more to work out, there's hatchet throwing, archery and even a sweat lodge with a resident shaman. Or, one can simply sit on a dock, tucked into a rocking chair as a well-fed dragonfly alights on your knee.
I know all of this because I was invited to spend some time touring the property a while back, not because I've ever stayed there—just in case you thought I was fancy. I'm not. But another thing I learned during that visit, thanks to the spread of wine and snacks we visitors got to enjoy after our tour, is that there's a talented kitchen at Blue Heron. Led by chef Rocky Durham, the restaurant has earned kudos for its creative and healthy dishes, but also for some that pack a punch, specifically, its green chile cheeseburger, voted Reigning Chomp at Edible New Mexico's 2017 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown.
Sadly, it was a little too cold for my friend and I to sit waterside, but we were treated to a bright spot with wide windows overlooking the springs. Watching the sunset colors join the leafy dapple atop the waters was quite calming, as was the finely curated menu, a something-for-everyone offering of fresh, seasonal dishes. I was impressed by extensive vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options (including the above mentioned cheeseburger), but don't fret meat eaters, there's also plenty for you (again, see above: cheeseburger).
I couldn't pass up the Chimayo Caesar salad ($12) with a subtly smoky red chile
dressing a spicy mound of Ojo Farms arugula. Chimayo red is one of my favorite things, and to have it in a dressing was a real treat. Salty parmesan crisps and garlic chips gave it just the right crunch, like any take on a Caesar should have.
The truffled mushroom fritters ($15), looking less like fritters and more like
arancini, were fried, finely breaded balls filled with moist crimini and oyster mushrooms. I cannot for the life of me figure out how the balls stayed so crisp considering their contents. Accompanied by a delicate saffron aioli and shavings of black truffle, this dish would make a great happy place for the fungus
lovers among us.
Housemade sourdough flatbread ($15) was next on the menu. We chose the carne adovada with alfredo and asparagus because adovada and alfredo is a bold combination. I found the adovada to be lacking its usual spice and the alfredo strangely sweet, but overall it was not an unpleasant pairing.
For our mains we chose diver scallops ($35) with saffron risotto, asparagus, and lemon beurre blanc ($35) and the poblano relleno "en nogada" ($25). The scallops were expertly seared and seasoned but the risotto suffered from a lack of seasoning, tasting more of plain rice than exotic saffron. The poblano relleno was another story. For those not familiar, "en nogada" is poblano chile stuffed with ground meat, diced fruit and spices, then covered in a walnut-based sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. You won't see it on many menus as it's time consuming to make, usually reserved for special occasions, but Blue Heron's version was a fine take on the original. Stuffed with quinoa, fruits and nuts and topped with a house made almond "sour cream," it was unexpected, delicious, healthy and hotter than ___________. (Please fill in the blank then email all descriptors and regional heat references to firstname.lastname@example.org because The Fork likes to get mail).
Despite the fire of that poblano, looking back on that meal I thought it to be a quiet one. Not in the sense of silence, but in terms of food that wasn't trying to be much else other than what it was; honest, fresh, creative. You don't have to be loud to make a statement.