BLUE HERON RESTAURANT
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.