Pleasing to all senses. This is a place to linger. A 400 year old courtyard. Surrounded by a grand, historic hacienda style adobe. With two discreet entryways. Away from the energy of the street, passersby, people-watching, car sounds. This is a place to slow down and focus on the people you are with. Your family, friends, each other. And for us, to celebrate the anniversary of our wedding luncheon. To the day and hour this place became ‘ours,’ and we became forever and always.
On a sweetly warm spring day in late May, in the lush garden…..
…….the same mild climate, a slight breeze. Same New Mexican blue sky. Butterflies. Birds. Seed pods and buds floating down from the trees.
The place where our day always begins again.
At ‘our table’ beside the fountain.
We were greeted by Chef Patrick Gharrity who describes his inventive menu featuring New Mexican ingredients as ‘New American West’ cuisine. He believes in buying locally whenever possible. Quality and pure, his food is an artful assemblage of unique sophisticated twists on Southwest cuisine. Which is why La Casa Sena is an award-winning restaurant, treasured by locals and visitors from all over the world. They are also recognized by Wine Spectator for having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world, with over 2000 different wines from across the globe. And have been featured in numerous publications and television programs.
Glancing at the starters menu, everything looked enticing. Which is why I recommend sharing a sampler appetizer. To experience the tastes……wow….how can I describe this……………………………..like you’ve custom ordered a painting and the artist has full creative freedom. And you’re presented with this wonderful triptych of perfect companions, lovely compositions. Beyond your expectations.
And occasional garnish from Mother Nature who showered us with blossoms throughout our meal.
Pinon Crusted Goat Cheese-Sweet Corn Croquettes with Crispy Wonton and Ancho Chile.
Sweet pungent goat cheese, locally sourced, with fresh chewy corn. Creamy bites with nutty crunch of the pinon crust. Flavorful smoky ancho chile, and an un-salted crisp wonton to accompany the savory goat cheese.
Thick house cured bacon and grilled pork belly with olive oil finish, and locally sourced red chile-raspberry jam. With prosciutto wrapped goat cheese that we spread on the toasted ciabatta, along with a grainy mustard. Then delightful bites of corn tortilla crusted shrimp. Plump shrimp, with sweet mellow mango salsa, faintest hints of red pepper and onion.
At this point we relaxed comfortably into our chairs. Settled into this darling familiar world. And looked up to the leaves that reminded us of…….
…..stained glass windows.
Everything said to us, “Don’t be in a hurry. Savor this.” As we waited for the next course we talked about our wedding day. Listened to the bubbling fountain. We noticed that all around us people were celebrating. Family gatherings, graduations, first-time visitors to Santa Fe.
Green Chile Dusted Grilled New Mexico Hanger Steak with String Beans, Cheesy Mashed Potato Relleno and Demi-Glace
Perfectly grilled to Mr.D’s liking. Smoky, tender, with robust chile seasoning for that unmistakable earthiness. Not too seasoned as to hide the quality of the local grass-finished New Mexican beef. The green chile filled with cheesy mashed potatoes ……
………tender roasted chile with buttery smooth filling. I can’t imagine having mashers any other way now. I’d eaten half when Mr.D offered, as I directed my fork towards his plate for another mouthful, that I might want to ‘order one as a side, sweetheart?’ You know your man loves you when he understands and accepts you relleno fixation and all.
Chicken Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile Sauce (Christmas) and Black Beans, Mexican Rice with Salsa Fresca
Very often in the Southwest and particularly in northern New Mexico, enchiladas are served flat like this, rather than rolled. Each layer of my blue corn tortillas were filled with tender chicken, gooey cheese, and hearty red and green chile. Sublime. With just enough heat to experience the chile euphoria when your circulation gets going and you have to keep eating. There’s nothing like it with authentic rich red and green like this. A true physical phenomenon in the Southwest. A beautiful drama. Glorious chile high. We also discovered that as we shared bites from our plates that everything paired, it all worked together.
Indulging in such sumptuous, elegantly designed tastes, one after another…….there is just no thinking about dessert.
But how could we possibly pass this up? I mean my god look at this.
Yellow Cornmeal Pavlova with Roasted Peaches, Raspberries, Sour Cream Whipped Cream.
This is the dessert you spy at another table and say ‘I’d like that one, please.’ I know this because when ours arrived, other tables took notice. ‘Oooooh, look at that.’ ‘Mmmm, save room for that.’ At first I thought that it might be too sugary sweet? Not at all. The sour cream blended with whipped cream, and delicious addition of toasted cornmeal cut the sweetness. And at the bottom of this luscious little Sangre de Cristo, the crunchy light meringue.
Chocolate Truffle Sampler of Honey Almond, Red Wine and Sesame Seed with Fresh Raspberries.
Our taste test went something like this — “The red wine one. Wine and chocolate, how can you surpass that? It’s the best. Oh hon, did you try this one with the crunchy almond and honey…….oh yes that’s definitely the one. Actually, the creamy chocolate with the sesame……let’s eat a raspberry and try them all over again.” We never came to a final decision and we’re okay with that.
A lovely ripe peach……or…..wait a minute……
A deconstructed carrot cake of Carrot Sorbet with Lemon Cream and House Made Coconut Graham Cracker Crumbles.
My first taste of carrot sorbet, with hint of citrus from the smooth lemon cream. I am an enormous fan of deconstructed lots-of-things. For me the beauty of this one is…..well, there are many delightful elements to this including the freshness and purity of ingredients, gorgeous presentation of sunset captured in a bowl, and also the restraint of sugar. The natural sweetness of the carrot is featured. This is something to crave, and I have been dreaming of it ever since.
Dessert euphoria. Thank you Head Pastry Chef Claudette Deaguero, who is highly regarded for her savory-sweet pairings.
Before heading out to Tesuque to the little hill in the wide open desert where we were married, we took a stroll to the indoor seating of La Casa Sena. We can never leave without taking in the whole place. All in the spirit of lingering.
The original Sena House had 33 rooms and a ballroom. Several of these rooms now house the restaurant, decorated in minimalist Santa Fe style. Here is more information about the history.
We are forever appreciative of their attention to detail. Including the spotless upside-down wine glasses that cast spiral patterns, a nod to the ancient New Mexican petroglyphs.
It is our tradition to wander the gardens before we leave, to acknowledge and thank the people who walked these paths before us.
To Chef Patrick, Chef Claudette, Matthew, Florence, the wait and kitchen staff. We thank you for the extraordinary memories we carry with us after each visit to La Casa Sena.
La Casa Sena
125 E Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
phone: 505 988 9232
Thank you for your beautiful words and photos. We are truly privileged to be part of peoples’ celebrations…what an extra joy that you celebrated your anniversary with us, and kismet that the universe guided me to seat you at the very table you joined us for your wedding celebration years ago!! Thank you again for joining us, and for your wonderful post.
Like magic that you led us there. We like to think of all the other people through the years who have claimed La Casa Sena as ‘theirs’ and carry that connection in their hearts, as we do. We hope to see you all again this summer. And look forward to viewing your upcoming CBS Sunday Morning segment. xoAmy