Summer means salads.
As the temperature climbs, meals based on cool, crisp vegetables served beneath an umbrella (or inside where the air conditioning lives) have considerable appeal.
One of my favorite places for a salad in Santa Fe is Vinaigrette, a farm-to-table spot that also has a branch in Albuquerque.
Freshness is one of the things that makes Vinaigrette so good. Produce, the heart of the menu, is grown on the restaurant’s own farm or sourced locally. You can taste the difference. No wilted iceberg or Romaine with those ugly brown edges here. And these salads are considerably more than just lettuce.
I had eaten lunch at Vinaigrette, but never a dinner, so a friend and I arrived around sunset. Other customers already filled all the seats on the pretty back patio, but the little front porch had a vacant table for two. We took it, and I recommend sitting here if you like to watch the day end with a Technicolor finish. I never realized Vinaigrette, nestled in just off Cerrillos Road in walking distance to the Plaza, offered a view among its attractions.
Most people, however, come here for the food, not the ambiance.
The menu offers many, many choices. To start with, you will find 20 “signature” salads, an interesting and yummy assortment that ranges from the Apple Cheddar Chop with arugula, fennel and grilled pork loin to the veggie-only garden salad.
Many of the signature salads include fruit, pears or dried cherries, for example. The chef also adds nuts to some of the creations, including pecans and piñon nuts. All the salads can be customized, either by leaving things out or adding more.
After the basic menu listings come customizing suggestions for what protein will go best with your flavor of greens. Again, the choices are many, including chicken, steak, shrimp, duck, tofu and grilled artichoke hearts.
If you aren’t a salad person, or want something different, Vinaigrette makes good sandwiches, too, including a warm turkey on sourdough.
On an earlier visit, a friend and I sampled the Cuban Torta, complete with ham and sliced pork loin. I would certainly order it again.
We had planned to start with a cup of the mushroom stew, but the server misunderstood and brought it along with the rest of our order. This soup is vegetarian with a miso broth – slightly bitter – three different kinds of mushrooms, as well as carrots and other veggies. The aroma alone is enough to make you hungry. The bowl is topped with a large crusty crouton that absorbs some of the juices but retains a bit of chew. Nice! This stew is a substantial creation and I found a shared cup to be plenty, especially with the rest of our meal.
We also tried a pair of salads and a sandwich on this trip. As usual, everything was tasty, ample and satisfying. Vinaigrette even concocts its own drinks, interesting alternatives to alcohol or iced tea.
Service was pleasant and accommodating, if a touch slow on a busy night. My companion and I adjusted our pace accordingly, watched as the setting sun turned the sky to gold and enjoyed the lovely Santa Fe evening.
My friend ordered the Reuben sandwich on light rye, a meaty creation served with nice salty, crisp sauerkraut. Like all sandwiches here, it came with a choice of salad. He selected a Greek salad. With diced cucumbers, juicy, flavorful tomatoes and a touch of feta cheese, it was close to perfect.
If you like beets, I highly recommend The Beet Goes On. The beautiful, brilliantly red beet wedges were arranged in a large bowl filled with peppery arugula, pistachios, mixed lettuce leaves and a bit of goat cheese. The dressing was just right and not too heavy.
Following a suggestion on the menu, I added roasted artichoke hearts, presented on long stems. They provided an interesting note of texture and flavor. They would be excellent as a side dish.
The only downside I can think of at Vinaigrette is the parking. You may be lucky enough to find a place next to the building and a lot attendant will help you maneuver into the tightest spots. If all slots are full, he will direct you to the auxiliary lot. Don’t worry. It’s not much of a walk and the stroll will be good for your appetite.