Thursday, September 07, 2006

On the beaten path, but at the far end of it.

Santa Fe has many legendary attractions: extraordinary museums, stately churches and cathedrals, the Plaza, the Governor’s Palace with its famous portal where Native artists display and sell their works of art and jewelry.

Then there is Canyon Road. This narrow street that follows a sinuous track up to its summit is Valhalla for art lovers, with galleries nestled between artists’ studios, punctuated by restaurants and bistros. For some of the cogniscenti, for example, The Compound is the place to eat and be seen.

Further up the road, where Canyon Road meets East Palace Avenue, we discovered a different supping experience.

The Teahouse. On a fine September afternoon the weather calls for a table in the courtyard under a dappling tree.

The menu tells you that this is an “off the path’ experience, even though it is literally “on the path.” Breakfast is served all day, as are sandwiches, soups, salads and desserts. The breakfast list includes maple crumpets and bacon, eggs confetti, breakfast pie, and original tea house oatmeal. Soups are home-made fresh with a different variety each day. Salads include white polenta, cucumber and wild rice, marinated herbed orange roughy, blackened salmon with black bean & corn and the usual house side salad. Among the desserts is strawberry shortcake served on a scone with a raspberry puree’. As you would expect from the name, and the display of tea kettles that serves as found art on the exterior wall, tea (or chai) takes center stage here.

The Teahouse was opened about three years ago by Dion Arkadia, a former interior designer turned “chai-master” after years of study in Singapore. Sunyata Kopriva runs the tea station, where large tins containing more than 100 exotic teas hold their contents for expert blending.

Guests also get a 12-page summary of the teas offered here, most of which are proprietary and many of which are offered over the counter for home-brewing. Sunyata opened one tin and invited me to whiff of the pungency of green tea and ginger. Wow! This is one of their most popular blends.

Among their dishes, Teahouse Oatmeal (soft wheat berries and black sticky rice) is the most popular breakfast item while the scone-based strawberry shortcake tops the desserts list. Susanne ordered breakfast pie, a phyllo-type pastery with eggs, bacon and cheese. I ordered the steamed eggs, which reminded me of a place in Chicago called the Third Coast that also served this light and airy style of scrambled eggs. It was about five blocks from our condo in downtown Chicago when we lived there, and we have always been partial to breakfast dishes for lunch.

Charming as the outdoors courtyard is, the inside also is inside also is inviting. Small rooms contain cozy tables and settees.

One room is heated by a kiva fireplace. In a bow to technology, The Teahouse offers wireless high-speed internet service.

Before we close, we need to mention two beverages we had not previously encountered. One is Coffee Masalah. This Teahouse exclusive combines coffee with organic spices. The other is Matcha. This variety of tea preparation starts several weeks before the tea leaves are harvested and proceeds with specific steps to an end product that is pulverized and combined with additives such as pulverized cane sugar, pulverized ginger, white chocolate and mixed chai spices.

We enjoyed the Coffee Masalah. We saved the Matcha sampling for a return visit, which we are sure to make.

While we are on Canyon Road, let's tell you about what's going on at Canyon road gallery, Ventana Fine Art, where John Nieto is offering his first Indian Market show since 2002. Also featured are works by Margaret Bagshaw, daughter of Helen Hardin and granddaughter of Pablita Velarde.