For many years, our local hospital was housed in a 1920s-1930s style building just off the Plaza and directly behind the cathedral. It had fallen on hard times, and most Santa Feans preferred driving to Albuquerque for their hospital care. Some time ago, the hospital relocated to a beautiful facility near the outskirts of the city. The old building fell into continuing disrepair and decline. From time to time some venture – like an oxygen bar where you could get a quick puff of pure oxygen to pick you up – rented some of the space. Mostly, though, the very large building became increasingly derelict until Drury Hotels bought the property. They have spent years renovating the building so that now it is a handsome addition to the landscape and a very desirable place to stay.
Locals wondered and hoped that the hotel would have a restaurant, but until recently there was no certainty about that.
The wait and wonder are behind us now as Chef John Rivera Sedlar has opened the restaurant, Eloisa, named after his grandmother who gave him his first cooking lessons. Since then, Rivera has received many recognitions for his cooking, and he has cooked in Spain, France, the Bay Area, and most recently in Los Angeles. In LA, he opened several popular restaurants including his acclaimed Rivers, which he will close as he moves back to his home town of Santa Fe.
Eloisa is still in its shake-down cruise, having been open only a few days. But it seems to have arrived under full sail.. We went the other night and saw practically every noteworthy local chef at one or another table. As well, the place was packed. Reservations are definitely recommended.
The space is beautiful with huge windows and contemporary touches that are completely new to the local restaurant scene. One wall is filled with video screens that exhibit a constantly changing series of lovely light pictures. It is hard to take your eyes away from the display. There is a gorgeous bar and an attractive fireplace. In the warmer months, there is an inviting patio. The open kitchen is enormous with gleaming equipment of every description and an army of cooks and kitchen assistants.
But the food is the star. The menu is divided into small plates and large plates; both sections are reasonably priced. The night we were there, the small plates included Tortillas Florales, tortillas made from nixtamalized corn and set with an array of edible flowers along with Indian butter, a creamy, beautifully seasoned avocado spread; Maize Budino was a smooth corn pudding set in a corn husk boat and topped with corn, black quinoa, and red amaranth. Next to it was a whimsical replica of an ancient pictograph done in paprika; Pastrami Taco, blue corn tortillas, pastrami, sauerkraut, pickled serranos, and ballpark mustard; Nopal Paillard, grilled cactus pad with mushroom stuffing. You get the idea.
The large plates were every bit as creative. I ordered Duck Enfrijolada, duck confit snuggled with crema between blue corn tortillas and napped with a mole-like cabernet chile sauce. Susan ordered the Salmon Painted Desert. The salmon was perfectly prepared, but the highlight of the dish was a delicate tamal filled with a light-as-air salmon mousse.
It was hard to choose dessert, but we settled on white chocolate with piñon nuts and dark chocolate with mescal. I must admit that I am not a fan of the flavor of mescal, but it is a trendy beverage, and the dish was beautifully prepared.
My final report: The meal was very special, and this new kid on the block is definitely worth more visits.