Dinner at Santa Fe’s Sazón New World Cuisine

If someone said I had only three words to describe the gestalt of Sazón New World Cuisine + Mezcaleria + Tequileria experience, they would be sophisticated, delicious, memorable. From the food to the drink (signature cocktails, carefully selected mezcals, tequilas and wines), the décor and the service, everything is perfect.

A bit of history

Sazón New World Cuisine - The Mexican Mole mural that used to hang at Epazote greets diners at Sazón photo Steve Collins

The Mexican Mole mural that used to hang at Epazote greets diners at Sazón photo/Steve Collins

We’ve been friends and devoted fans of Chef Fernando Olea almost since we arrived in Santa Fe in 2004. When we visited the now defunct Bert’s Taqueria on a friend’s recommendation, were blown away by his complex salsas. We met him a few years later at the first of his restaurants in a former convent on Aqua Fria (there were at least three totally different ones). Epazote, the last one, was the charm. It introduced the talented chef’s “inspired New World Cuisine,” which paid homage to Mexico, the country of his birth, as well as the foods of the world. This is where he introduced a menu centered around moles. When people hear the word “mole” they think of a chocolate-infused sauce usually served with chicken. That’s the Oaxacan or Pueblan mole poblano. But moles go far beyond that. They are complex sauces that accompany meat, fish, seafood and poultry in Mexico. Some have as many as 32 ingredients.

Chef Fernando Olea demonstrating his New Mexico Mole, photo Steve Collins

Chef Fernando Olea demonstrating his New Mexico Mole, photo/Steve Collins

Sadly, Epazote lost its lease. Chef Fernando tried to resurrect it, but it faltered. It was a sad moment for his many fans. He still had Bert’s Burger Bowl, the iconic burger stand that  he ran with his wife Debbie for over 26 years.

In April 2015, word was out that Bert’s was closing. They had gotten an offer that was too good to refuse. We got the news from Facebook while traveling. The word was he was retiring. I called Olea immediately in a bit of a panic. He assured me he’d be back, and sure enough, in September of that year he opened Sazón. The new restaurant has taken his cooking to new heights. Recently when we ran into Olea he invited us to come to dinner as his guests. We saved the invitation for Steve’s birthday. It was the perfect place to spend a special occasion.

The ambiance

Sazón New World Cuisine - The small dining room at Sazón - note the herbs crowing on the left, photo Becca courtesy Sazón

The small dining room at Sazón with herbs crowing on the left, photo/Becca Jacobs courtesy Sazón

Sazón New World Cuisine + Mezcaleria + Tequileria occupies a vintage building on tiny Shelby Street a couple of blocks from the historic Santa Fe Plaza. The tastefully decorated entry sets the ambiance for the evening. The art and accessories seen throughout the eatery, mostly from Mexico, add color and warmth to the Santa Fe style interior. We were seated in the smallest of the three dining rooms. One long wall was dominated by a colorful painting of a market in Mexico. Almost all the art on the walls is for sale. All proceeds go to the artists. Sazón New World Cuisine is grateful to have use of the art.

The drink

Sazón New World Cuisine - Sazón's collection of mezcals and tequilas , photo Becca B.

Sazón’s collection of mezcals and tequilas , photo/Becca Jacobs courtesy Sazón

For many a good meal begins with a drink. For cocktail lovers the drinks menu offers nine signature cocktails. All sound delicious. I’ve only tasted the Sazón, a unique margarita made with Xicaru Blanco Mezcal, Patron Citronge, fresh lime, agave nectar and a red chile salt rim. The others sound intriguing. I may have to drink my way through the menu. There’s a choice of 14 agave flights, as well as a long list of tequilas and mescals. The wine list includes an exclusive section of reserve wines and there’s an interesting selection of beers from around the world.

The meal

Sazón New World Cuisine - Tongue salad features house-grown micro-greens and miniature veggies, photo Steve Collons

Tongue salad features house-grown micro-greens and miniature veggies, photo/Steve Collons

 

Dinner at Sazón New World Cuisine starts with a mole tasting. It makes sense as the menu is designed around them. Four moles, Mole Negro (poblano), Mole Coloradito (a traditional Oaxacan mole made with guajillo and chile de arbol), Mole Verde and Mole Blanco, are presented on a rectangular slate along with mini corn tortillas. Each has a unique flavor profile and character. The Coloradito was my hands-down favorite. After explaining each mole our server left us to begin sampling. Each mole is paired with a dishes or dishes on the evening’s specials menu. There is a small standard menu, but, our advice: when dining at Sazón go with the specials.

Appetizers

Sazón New World Cuisine - The beef kidneys were delicious, photo/Steve Collins

The beef kidneys were delicious, photo/Steve Collins

There were also a handful of appetizer specials including baked bone marrow served with tortillas and pico de gallo; beef kidneys with a Sancerre reduction, Gruyere cheese, onions and what Olea calls “a touch of jalapeño” topped with a tomatillo/jalapeno salsa served with tortillas; sautéed beef heart prepared with tomatoes, jalapeno, garlic, onion, and cilantro finished with a Cabernet reduction. Generally, except for poultry livers I don’t eat organ meat. I did that night. In the past, Chef Fernando has gotten me to eat a host of foods I never would have voluntarily sampled. The man is very persuasive. He introduced me to huitlacoche (Mexican corn fungus), grasshopper, octopus and now beef kidney. After a reluctant first bite I was hooked; there were layers of flavors for the palate to discover. The kidneys tasted a bit like liver; the sauce took it over the top. Then, he did it again with beef tongue salad. I grew up eating tongue; it was my least-favorite childhood meal. But Chef Fernando takes it to new heights. It was served with oregano vinaigrette made with in-house grown oregano that made this dish. It came with micro-greens and the tiniest carrots, beets and daikon I’d ever seen. The carrot was a no more than an inch long and the other two vegetables were smaller than marbles. It was fresh-tasting. “Wonderful,” Steve exclaimed.

Soup

A word about soup; generally, while I love soups, I don’t order them as appetizers. They’re too filling. Olea’s soups are works of art. Portions are small. There were three soups on offer: black bean, shrimp consume and Sopa de Amor. My choice: Sopa de Amor made with poblano pepper puree with a bit of lump crab, topped with Amaretto foam and cocoa powder. It’s been a favorite of mine since Epazote. It’s like a bit of heaven and I couldn’t pass it up. It did not disappoint. I ate it with my eyes closed savoring the velvety texture and subtle spiciness; the flavors melded well with each other. Steve ordered the shrimp consommé. It was sensational. The earthy and smoky red shrimp broth, made with chipotle peppers, was spicy and delicious and woke up the palate. Three plump shrimp topped the consommé and peanuts came on the side. To get the optimal flavor Chef Fernando instructed Steve to take a bite of shrimp and follow it with a spoonful of the broth and to do the same with the nuts. Our tip: share an appetizer and each order a soup; soup portions are small enough that you won’t get filled up.

Entrees

Sazón New World Cuisine - Seared duck breast with mole poblano, photo Steve Collins

Seared duck breast with mole poblano, photo/Steve Collins

Entrée specials were pork chop offered with the red Mole Coloradito, rack of lambs served with Mole Verde, pan-seared Muscovy duck breast served with the Mole Poblano, and sea bass accompanied by the Mole Blanco. While each was paired with a specific mole, you can go rogue and have it with the mole of your choice. I chose the sea bass which was offered with mole blanco. The mole verde that I substituted worked well. There was also salmon filet wrapped in filo then baked served with a spicy salad; seared Hawaiian tuna with a spicy sauce and a duck mole enchilada. My fish came with a salad of julienned red cabbage and snow peas. It was light and delicious. Steve had the duck which was perfectly cooked and tender and paired well with the mole poblano.

Fernando Olea is committed to using the best ingredients. He takes the farm-to-table concept a bit farther. He’s growing some of the herbs he’s using as well as micro-greens right in dining room area. You can see the contained mini-gardens dividing the dining rooms.

Dessert

Sazón New World Cuisine - Volcán de Chocolate and walnut crepe with cajeta, photo Steve Collins

Volcán de Chocolate and walnut crepe with cajeta, photo/Steve Collins

And of course there’s dessert. Chef Fernando sent out the Volcán de Chocolate (which the menu says is “for chocolate lovers) and a walnut crepe with cajeta (caramel made from goat’s milk). You may know if you read our food posts that I think chocolate should be it own food group and the Volcán, made with Belgian chocolate and topped with chocolate sauce, was exquisite. The crepe was also delicious.

The service

Sazón New World Cuisine - A few servers in the background seamlessly work the room, photo Becca J. courtesy Sazón

A few servers in the background seamlessly work the room, photo/Becca Jacobs courtesy Sazón

When we were seated, our server immediately offered me a foot stool to rest my purse on, a la Mexico and unrolled my napkin and placed it in my lap. Servers werer very knowledgeable. With so many specials, they have to do a lot of explaining. The dishes at Sazón New World Cuisine are all complex. Osiris, our server, was friendly and competent; he did an excellent job. The bussers and runners all do a great job as well. Our water glasses were constantly filled, utensils arrived when needed and empty plates were promptly removed. The well-orchestrated service enhanced our overall experience.

From start to finish dinner at Sazón New World Cuisine was a memorable experience. Chef Fernando Olea is a master of complex flavors and his food is like none we’ve ever tasted. He’s turning out some of the most exciting food in Santa Fe. All this comes at a price and Sazón is one of the most expensive restaurants in Santa Fe. If you love food as much as we do, put it on your must-dine list and if it’s not in your budget, save your spare change and splurge for a special occasion. It will be a meal you’ll long remember. It’s been stored in our memory bank of unforgettable meals.

Author’s note: Our dinner at Sazón New World Cuisine was hosted by the management. Opinions are our own. If you want to see what others are thinking, check out Trip Advisor where Sazón New World Cuisine  is currently rated the top restaurant in Santa Fe for 2017.

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2 Responses to “Dinner at Santa Fe’s Sazón New World Cuisine”

  1. Amy D
    May 24, 2017 at 10:04 pm #

    My sister and I have a Santa Fe vacay coming up and this restaurant was on my list to research. Thank you for such a detailed account of your meal … the moles sound fantastic. I’m so excited to try it now that I’ve read your recommendation!

    • Billie Frank
      May 30, 2017 at 10:44 am #

      Hi Amy-
      Thanks for the kind words. So great meeting you and Jim at the Plaza. You really made my day! I hope you and your sister enjoy Santa Fe.

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