Santa Fe’s Next Food Star

The Santa Fe Culinary Academy is starting its spring term of dinner service this Thursday. The six students in SFCA’s professional program have developed a menu of small plates that range from $8 to $14, and they will take turns cooking and serving in the student restaurant, The Guesthouse (112 W San Francisco St., on the third floor of the Plaza Mercado building).

Students are still putting the finishing touches on the menu, but earlier this week, the school released a tentative version online, including plates such as pan-roasted halibut with white bean ragout, duck breast with rhubarb gastrique and creamy polenta, grilled lamb chop with preserved lemon, parsley and pea shoots; beef strip loin with potato puree and wild mushroom bagna cauda; and ravioli of dandelion greens.

The plates are intended to be shared, says SFCA office manager Jennifer Leighton, who estimates two people would likely be happy sharing three plates. Beer and wine will also be available.

Dinner will be served on Thursdays and Friday only, from 5:30 until 7 pm, April 28 - May 27. Call 983-7445 for reservations.

I've been to dinners like this at other schools, and it's a good time. The students really try to knock your socks off, and it's fun to give them some encouragement and feedback.

Santa Fe in the Awards Spotlight

The 2016 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards will be announced on May 2. No Santa Feans are in the running for the best chef award this year, but Ron Cooper, the producer of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, was nominated in the category for outstanding wine, beer or spirits professional. Cooper divides his time between Oaxaca and Ranchos de Taos. He was mentioned in this story about mezcal published earlier this month in The New Yorker.

And as SFR's Ben Kendall wrote last month, the legendary Rancho de Chimayo is on the shortlist in the "American Classics" category. Café Pasqual's, The Shed and Albuquerque's Mary and Tito's have all been honored with this award. Good luck, folks!

A Tourist in Your Own Town

I got to tag along for a recent dry run of the tour, and it was a hoot to hear some Santa Fe history I didn't know. Cline is a charming and knowledgeable guide. One highlight was a stop at La Fonda Hotel, where we got a great lesson in how La Fonda fit into the history of the Harvey Houses. I learned a ton of new things about La Fonda. What fun!

The Maverick Cookbook includes recipes and lore tied to a dozen famous New Mexico characters, including Doña Tules, Billy the Kid, Fred Harvey, Gustave Baumann and Georgia O'Keeffe.

The tour ($75 per person) is scheduled for six different dates this summer. It takes about two hours and involves an easy walk of less than two miles. Note: This isn't necessarily an eating tour, so plan to have lunch before or after. For more information, call 983-4511 or go to the Santa Fe School of Cooking website.

Grand Canyon ... of Culinary Despair

Thanks for all of the great suggestions for where to eat en route to the Grand Canyon! You people get around. I got recommendations for pizza at Fat Olives and Pizzicletta, Latin fusion at Criollo, and burgers at Diablo Burger, along with many other ideas for eats and drinks. We ended up at Tinderbox Kitchen, because it was a short walk from the Monte Vista Hotel (where we stayed) and because it had pork belly on the menu. It turned out that the pork, while crispy on the outside and delightfully moist inside, was overshadowed by a starter of fried cauliflower tossed in curry powder and served with bright pickled onions and sriracha mayo. My dude generally refuses to eat cauliflower, and this time I didn't even try to persuade him to try. I wanted it all for myself.

Still, later we wondered if the meal had been worth the $100 we paid (including tip). Look, I love spending money on food—I once paid $600 for dinner for two at Joel Robuchon in Vegas, and I'd sell my plasma to do it again. Maybe it takes more to wow me these days. Maybe I should have taken you guys up on your pizza recommendations.

I wish I had something good to report about dining in Grand Canyon National Park, but as usual the in-park fare was meh. We had an overpriced and underwhelming steak dinner in the restaurant at historic El Tovar Hotel (another $100) and several mediocre lunches elsewhere. If you're heading to a national park this summer, my best advice is this: Bring your own booze and snacks, then spend as little as possible for the least ambitious food you can find. And keep your expectations low.

I also learned it is possible to make something vaguely drinkable in one of those cheap Keurig coffee makers: fill the water reservoir about one-third and then process a pod; repeat three times, each with a fresh pod. It doesn't taste like what I call real coffee (can't see a shiny spoon past the tarry surface), but it's enough to get you out the door.

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