Postcard From Tom: Santa Fe

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Eating and relaxing are two of my favorite pursuits in Santa Fe, and no visit is complete without a trip to the Japanese-style health spa Ten Thousand Waves (505-982-9304). Here's how to fill time between herbal wraps and four-handed massages.

CAFE SAN ESTEVAN (428 Agua Fria St., 505-995-1996)

In an earlier life, chef-owner Estevan Garcia cooked meals for his fellow friars in Indiana. For the past 11 years, he's been dishing up the flavors of his native Santa Fe -- chile relleno stuffed with mushrooms, ravioli fattened with red chili pork -- in a warren of rooms made cozy with wood beams, a stone fireplace and a wine bar pouring some of Latin America's greatest hits. San Estevan is where I encountered some of the city's best service -- as well as a burger, fueled with green chili, of distinction. Dinner entrees $13-$29.

LA BOCA (72 W. Marcy St., 505-982-3433)

Northern New Mexico wasn't the place I expected to encounter noteworthy tapas. But here they are, in a tiny, all-white setting unveiled last fall by James Campbell Caruso. Grilled shrimp with a puree of basil and peas, spicy baby octopus and harissa-spiked chicken skewers are among the treats for la boca (the mouth). The room is intentionally spare: "Food is the focus," explains the chef. His priorities prove delicious. Small plates $4-$16.

THE SHED (113 1/2 E. Palace Ave., 505-982-9030)

Three generations of the Carswell family have owned and run this local favorite, whose name is a reminder of where the business began in 1953: in a former burro shed, and with only 22 indoor seats. These days, the restaurant's many patrons are ushered to one of nine cozy dining areas, brightened with folk art and watched over by friendly guides. The Shed's signature is its red sauce, made from red chilies that are milled on site and combined with roux, garlic and salt; the accent lends welcome fire to cheesy enchiladas, beefy tacos and slow-roasted pork. Lunch entrees $7-$9.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company