A lot of people may know that it’s possible to have a relaxing soak, a good massage and a restful stay at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. What they may not know is that their Artesian Restaurant has kicked it up a notch over the last couple of years.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Hot Springs, just a bit over an hour north of Santa Fe on US285, has recently completed a major overhaul, including upgraded accommodations, refurbished dining room and the addition of the Wine Bar & Lounge, with a very thoughtful wine list and casual menu.
The man who created the resort’s new menus and wine list is Chef Neil Stuart. After retiring from a busy cooking career, he spent time in Montana and Colorado before landing in Taos. In 2008, ready to take on a new challenge, he responded to Ojo Caliente’s ad for a chef in the local paper. After an ambitious career ranging from sous chef at New York City’s acclaimed Quilted Giraffe to the New York Hilton at The World Trade Center to Executive Chef for Pacifica in the San Diego area, Ojo turned out to be perfect for him.
For dinner during a recent stay, members of our group enjoyed a Berkshire pork belly that was perfect (crispy on the outside and succulent inside with a subtle Asian sauce), seared cinnamon duck breast with a sweet potato cake, chile seared sea scallops with roasted corn tamale and flash fried young spinach, and seared peppered tuna with ginger butter. The service was attentive but not overbearing. Put this together with an enjoyable wine (I sipped Montecillo Albarino) and this is a wonderful way to end a relaxing day at the spa.
Stuart’s interest in cooking developed early “out of self defense” because his mom was a terrible cook. While in college at Goddard in Vermont, he began experimenting with different foods and cooking styles and thought, “Gee! This is fun”. On the advice of employers at a now defunct bakery in Ithaca, NY, he enrolled in Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, graduating in 1981.
Talking to Stuart you get the feeling that this is relaxing for him after a hectic career. He loves working with fresh ingredients, letting the flavors speak for themselves. His favorite methods of cooking involve searing, whether on a grill or in a hot pan on the stove.
As much as possible he uses local ingredients and is always on the lookout for new sources. He is able to grow and use some herbs on the property and there is discussion about perhaps creating an organic garden there in the near future.
The wine bar has a casual menu. Make sure to try the Green Chile “Fries”, potato crusted poblano strips with a subtle Asian-inspired dipping sauce. When I asked Stuart about the philosophy behind his wine list he responded, “Every wine on the list has to be drinkable with selections that are enjoyable for the price”. Dining room manager Lisa Carpenter also has a strong wine background and the two collaborate on the list. Stuart says they are always tweaking the list whenever they find “good buys”.
Make sure to leave room for dessert. Try the decadent Chocolate Cigar,a witty pastry wrapped ganache served in an ashtray with cream for the smoke or the delicious, creamy Coconut Mango Tres Leches.
Chef Stuart was kind enough to share his recipe for Seared Pepper Tuna with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger Sauce
Peppered Hawaiian Tuna with Shiitake Mushrooms & Ginger Butter
4 Tuna steaks (6 ounces each – 1 inch thick)
3 TBSP Fresh Ground Black Pepper
2 TBSP Kosher salt
2TBSPS Peanut oil
Season the tuna steaks generously with pepper and salt. Place a sauté pan than can accommodate the tuna over high heat. Add the peanut oil. When the oil begins to smoke, sear the ahi for one minute on each side. Remove from pan and serve with butter sauce.
Shiitake Mushroom and Ginger Butter
Yields 1 Cup
¼ lb. Sweet butter
2 Cloves minced garlic
½ tsp Minced ginger
1 ½ cups Thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
3 TBSP Thinly sliced scallions
¼ cup Teriyaki sauce
2 TBSP Heavy cream
In a small sauce pan over moderate heat, melt half the butter. And the garlic and ginger and cook over low heat for 1 minute. Add the mushroom and scallions and continue to stir while cooking for another 3 minutes. Then, increasing to high heat, add the teriyaki sauce, cream, and the remaining butter. Stir until the butter is completely melted. Remove from heat and serve.
Whether you’re visiting for the day or staying for several days, dine at the Artesian Restaurant or the Wine Bar & Lounge.
Read more about Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa:
Photo of the Week: Llama Trekking from Ojo Caliente to Posi Ouinge and Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa: Then and now
Author’s note: We were guest at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs & Resort. While we appreciate their generous hospitality, it has not influenced this post in any way.