spa day

BLUE HERON RESTAU­RANT

Pasatiempo - - AMUSE-BOUCHE -

Santa Fe na­tive Rocky Durham took over the Sun­rise Springs kitchen about a year ago. A world trav­eler whose ré­sumé in­cludes stints at many well­known Santa Fe es­tab­lish­ments (El Nido, Zia Diner, San­ta­café) with stops in Aus­tralia, Ar­gentina, Great Bri­tain, and Rus­sia, Durham brings a well-bal­anced (and wel­come) ap­proach to lo­cal, sea­sonal cuisine at the Blue Heron. His is not a menu de­signed for what I call the “no-no peo­ple”: no salt, no sugar, no fat — no taste! — al­though none of the dishes we sam­pled (in­clud­ing the burger and fries) was overly salty, too sweet, or at all greasy. This is spa — not Spar­tan — fare that gives more than a nod to fine din­ing.

The beet salad starter is a work of art, as pleas­ing to the eye as it was to the palate. Small red and yel­low beets, firm enough to re­sist the fork with­out skid­ding off the plate, al­ter­nated with lightly dressed wedges of red heir­loom and tiny yel­low cherry toma­toes and dol­lops of mild, creamy goat cheese that were set off with a re­duced bal­samic vine­gar glaze and tiny edible white flow­ers.

Goat brie en croute sided with bright green English pea hum­mus and a sweet and spicy grape mostarda was less of a stun­ner, but still to­tally sat­is­fy­ing spread on slices of warm but­tered bread. The Ojo Farms salad of crisp mixed let­tuces, bright green mar­ble-sized heir­loom toma­toes, lightly blanched fil­let beans, slen­der yel­low car­rots, rounds of wa­ter­melon radishes and raw green peas, was nicely pre­sented at one visit, but over­dressed with a too-acidic (for our taste) Prosecco vinai­grette.

Some of the dishes ro­tate, with vari­a­tions, be­tween the lunch, din­ner, and brunch menus. At din­ner, a per­fectly roasted half chicken fea­tured mildly bit­ter broc­col­ini and tiny sweet car­rots atop a bed of fine­grained herbed po­lenta, the whole crowned with ad­dic­tively crispy, salty, thinly sliced onion rings. The same roast chicken is on the lunch menu with a head of Lit­tle Gem let­tuce, slices of av­o­cado, ba­con lar­dons, heir­loom toma­toes, and a milder vinai­grette sweet­ened with bal­samic. In both cases, the lo­cal blue cheese listed on the menu was barely dis­cernible, but re­ally not missed.

The salmon Niçoise salad, which ap­pears in the same form on both the din­ner and brunch menus, fea­tured a size­able wedge of very fresh salmon roasted

In an­cient Egyp­tian mythol­ogy, the heron was as­so­ci­ated with death and re­birth — a pre­cur­sor, per­haps, to the phoenix, which arises anew from its own ashes.

to per­fec­tion with a sweet, moist in­te­rior and del­i­cately crusty top. Com­ple­mented by the usual sus­pects in the Amer­i­can ver­sion of the French clas­sic — fin­ger­ling pota­toes, crunchy green beans, and heir­loom tomato wedges — the gen­er­ous cap of black olive tape­nade brought just the right pop of salin­ity to the dish.

The Sun­rise Bene­dict, a South­west­ern riff on the ar­che­typal brunch dish, lay­ered a fla­vor­ful but not spicy patty of house-made chorizo and ripe av­o­cado atop a lacy blue-corn crêpe. Per­fectly poached eggs and a light, le­mony Hol­landaise sauce was fault­less.

The Blue Heron’s green chile cheese­burger — which may be the most deca­dent item on the menu — el­e­vates the North­ern New Mex­ico icon to star sta­tus with a mix of house-ground brisket and rib eye topped with a mod­er­ately sharp ched­dar cheese that stands up to the rich fla­vor of the meat. The heat of roasted green chile from Al­calde walks the line be­tween sat­is­fy­ing a lo­cal and ac­com­mo­dat­ing spa guests. House-made pick­les, tomato slices, and a brioche-style bun are good — but al­most un­nec­es­sary — ad­di­tions. De­liv­ered much more rare than the re­quested medium, the burger was so good we con­sid­ered it more a gift than a gaffe. Durham’s cre­ation won the Judge’s Award at the 2017 Green Chile Cheese­burger Smack­down in Septem­ber — and the hearts of Sun­rise Springs’ own­ers and diners, as it now ap­pears at din­ner and brunch as well as at lunch.

Dessert choices you see on one visit may no longer be avail­able at an­other time. We en­joyed the dense vanilla-bean cheese­cake but missed the op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple the ap­ple pie and the Elvis, a clever choco­late, peanut but­ter, and ba­nana combo. We con­soled our­selves with a wedge of flour­less choco­late cake loung­ing in a pool of crème anglaise, watched over by an ex­cel­lent pig-shaped biz­co­chito.

In an­cient Egyp­tian mythol­ogy, the heron was as­so­ci­ated with death and re­birth — a pre­cur­sor, per­haps, to the phoenix, which arises anew from its own ashes. The cop­per heron weath­er­vane perched on the restau­rant’s roof has seen decades of con­cepts and chefs come and go. Un­der Durham’s skilled di­rec­tion, this may be the restau­rant’s most suc­cess­ful — and hope­fully long-lived — in­car­na­tion yet.

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