Taos native Hosea Rosenberg always wanted to do a New Mexican restaurant, says his wife, Lauren Feder, but until the historic space nestled next to Boulder's Ideal Market fell into his lap, he had no plans to move forward on that desire. In fact, he was plotting an expansion of Blackbelly Market, his butcher shop and meat-centric restaurant, into Denver, but he just couldn't find a location that spoke to him. "This space was a really good deal," says Feder. "He walked in and said, 'This is where I want to do a New Mexico concept.'"
This Saturday, November 18, Santo will make its debut at 1265 Alpine Avenue in Boulder, unleashing a menu of New Mexican fare that includes such classics as stacked blue-corn enchiladas, Navajo fry bread, posole and, of course, red and green chile. But Santo is also a refined homage to the flavors of the Southwest. A smoked-trout tostada comes topped with avocado purée and cabbage, empanadas are stuffed with wild boar, roasted chicken matches with mole rojo, and a venison loin comes with acorn squash and chokecherry sauce. Comfort food enthusiasts should look to the queso fundido, a blend of queso quesadilla, asadero, mild and sharp cheddar, goat cheese and Monterrey jack dressed up with a spicy-sweet red-pepper jelly, candied pepitas, and a choice of chorizo, mushrooms or squash; burger lovers should leap right to the juice-drooling green chile cheeseburger that Rosenberg says nods to Lotaburger, a home-state chain famous for that one item. Rosenberg says he also consciously built a menu that could easily cater to the many vegetarians and gluten-free diners in Boulder, and there are lighter options, too, like a kale-and-quinoa salad sown with grilled cactus, apple, jicama and piñones.
Much of what's on offer has a pleasant kick, which Rosenberg says can be dialed up for heat freaks. "We're not trying to put anyone through a challenge, but we do have some nuclear stuff in the back," he says. And meals finish with desserts like drinking chocolate from Fortuna, and a piñon pie, which is similar in execution to pecan pie, albeit with a sharp, peppery note from the pine nuts.
The food pairs with a cocktail list that's anchored in tequila and mezcal, including a draft margarita and a nitro-tap mezcal Manhattan. Draft beers skew local, but Santa Fe Brewing Company and Marble Brewing Company represent New Mexico in the canned-beer department. Also showcasing the Land of Enchantment is Gruet, the excellent New Mexican sparkling wine out of Albuquerque. It stars in a wine list that's heavy on selections from Spain, Argentina and the Pacific Northwest.
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Rosenberg commissioned a fellow New Mexican-turned-Boulderite to design the space; Alan Ortiz channeled the Southwest while infusing the space with a modern sensibility via cement floors, muted woods, red banquettes, blue and white clay tile on the front of the bar, and a spectacular chandelier shaped like the zia, the red circle with rays pointing in four directions (like the one on the New Mexico state flag) that symbolizes the circle of life. And then, of course, there are the wooden santos, carved figurines of saints that are common in New Mexico and are the inspiration behind the restaurant's name. These figures, Feder says, are really distinct to the area, and they are a good representation of the unique cross of Spanish and indigenous history that gives the region its flavor and culture. Spanish missionaries used the santos as visual aids when they taught native New Mexicans about religion.
When Santo opens on Saturday, it will offer dinner; lunch and brunch will be added in the coming weeks.