Spa treat­ment

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Lau­rel Glad­den

When you wan­der the grounds of Ojo Caliente Min­eral Springs Re­sort and Spa, you might spot visi­tors warm­ing their hands over a fire pit, rock­ing in a chair on a shady por­tal, or loung­ing by one of the pools, chat­ting lan­guidly with fel­low soak­ers. No one’s in a hurry to get any­where.

And any­way, where would you go? Ojo Caliente is about an hour north of Santa Fe and about 30 min­utes from Es­pañola; you might pass it if you’re en route to, say, Breck­in­ridge or Crested Butte, but most peo­ple are here on pur­pose, not drop­ping by be­cause they’re in the neigh­bor­hood. Un­less they’ve booked a spa treat­ment, pa­trons at Ojo are go­ing nowhere fast — ex­cept maybe to the Arte­sian Restau­rant, which sits across the main path from the spa en­trance and which on two re­cent vis­its was packed to ca­pac­ity. I was glad I had made reser­va­tions.

The styling hints at Arts and Crafts, with di­vided light win­dows; hand­some wood floors, doors, and mold­ings; and a cof­fered ceil­ing. Some din­ers are ca­su­ally dressed, while oth­ers come straight from soak­ing in their robes and flipflops. This creates an un­usual but not un­pleas­ant am­bi­ence that’s some­where be­tween a sum­mer camp din­ing hall and your grandma’s din­ing room.

The din­ner menu in­cludes ap­pe­tiz­ers, soups, sal­ads, and en­trées rang­ing from en­chi­ladas, rel­lenos, and fa­ji­tas to seafood, elk, beef, duck, and one lone pasta dish. Lunch leans to the lighter — or at least less for­mal — side, with sal­ads, soups, sand­wiches, wraps, and burg­ers, both meaty and non. Food is also avail­able in the ad­join­ing bar (a lim­ited menu is of­fered be­tween lunch and din­ner), which serves beer, wine, and agave-wine-based cock­tails.

The ex­em­plary tor­tilla soup is just the thing to take off win­ter’s chill — a mouth­wa­ter­ingly full-bod­ied or­ange broth with a hint of smoky heat, a light cit­rusy tang, nuggets of soft av­o­cado, and rib­bon-thin tor­tilla strips. The steak salad is mam­moth, with heaps of greens, toma­toes, “tobacco” onions, and a gen­er­ous por­tion of moist, roundly sea­soned meat cooked a per­fect medium-rare, as re­quested. The green chile ranch dress­ing was mild and too thick to eas­ily toss with the greens.

The New Mex­i­can pot stick­ers — really more like em­panadas, with a firmer, flakier crust — are stuffed with a black bean puree, dap­pled with red chile, and set in a mild goat cheese crema. The green chile “fries” are fun and ad­dic­tive planks of potato-flour-crusted poblano (prob­a­bly cho­sen on be­half of guests who aren’t veter­ans of green chile’s fiery heat) served with syrupy sweet Thai chili sauce for dip­ping.

The fish ta­cos — served at lunch and in the bar — are highly sat­is­fy­ing, though sort of cum­ber­some to eat. There’s a base of typ­i­cal slaw, topped with overly large pieces of fish that made the ta­cos dif­fi­cult to bite with­out making a mess. The meat was painted with a sweet but not par­tic­u­larly spicy chipo­tle honey, but the pi­quant pico de gallo, ac­cented with some nuggets of mango, had a last­ing kick.

The grilled trout was moist, ten­der, and vaguely min­er­ally. Its toasted piñon glaze had an odd tex­ture — both mealy and oily — and the five-grain pi­laf was dry and burnt in some spots, but the crisp-ten­der baby rain­bow car­rots tasted as though they’d been yanked from the soil that day (prob­a­bly from Ojo’s on-site two-acre farm). Their veg­e­tal sweet­ness came shin­ing through.

The best deal on the menu? Two im­pres­sively large elk chops with a Chi­mayó chile rub — a touch un­der­cooked but glo­ri­ously ruby-hued in the cen­ter — but­tressed by some slightly stiff gar­lic mashed pota­toes and more of those fla­vor­ful rain­bow car­rots.

The caramel-pecan square was more of a blob than any­thing geo­met­ric in the strictest sense, but we gob­bled down the uber-sweet gooey­ness and the nutty, meaty pecan halves, all of which was ringed with a slurry of auburn caramel and chocolate sauce.

The food at Ojo is good — some­times even great — but ser­vice needs at­ten­tion. On both vis­its, servers took far too long (10 min­utes and up) to greet us at the ta­ble, and empty plates lan­guished long be­yond the end of the meal. We waited more than 20 min­utes for one meal to ar­rive, and even then, one dish had been for­got­ten. Oddly, as if the kitchen crew were suggest­ing we had eaten enough, dessert menus and the check ar­rived at the same time. It’s a good thing Ojo Caliente promotes re­lax­ation and a break from life’s typ­i­cally fran­tic pace. In al­most any other set­ting, that kind of leisure­li­ness sim­ply wouldn’t fly.

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