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Japanese delights at Izanami are good for the soul

SANTA FE, N.M. — Ten Thousand Waves, the Japanese-style bath and guest house off Hyde Park Road in Santa Fe, now is also home to Izanami, which offers mostly Japanese delicacies in an equally rustic but beautiful setting. It’s a perfect union: You can enjoy forest views with food, too!

We visited for lunch on one of our seemingly endless string of clear, cool days recently, and came away refreshed in body and spirit. Izanami offers traditional Japanese flavors, with no sushi in sight. The bento box lunch, for example, includes fresh pickled vegetables, seaweed salad, a light soup and seasonal vegetables, fish or meat entrees, all arranged (and displayed) in the traditional tray with shaped spaces for each different thing.

I love bento boxes – another perfect union of food and the Japanese genius for meticulous arrangements – and ordered mine with shrimp ($18). But first, we ordered a round of the day’s pickled vegetables ($10). These included cauliflower and mildly hot green pepper, a slightly sweet-sour red cabbage, and cucumber sliced and bathed in (we guessed) vinegar and turmeric to turn it a brilliant yellow, all displayed on a small porcelain rectangle.

Japanese pickles generally start with rice wine vinegar, much milder than Western vinegars, and I like to think that’s the reason why these pickles can be eaten so fresh and crisp. No aging required! A sprinkling of black sesame seeds and a small scoop of rice rounded out the dish.

The bento box included more and different pickles (seaweed, too), as well as more rice, encased in a pillow-like, deep-fried wrapper, a slice of tofu and several shrimp cooked in a delicate but tasty barbecue-like sauce. There was a small salad, too, dressed with a mild vinaigrette. It was uniformly excellent.

My guest opted for the smoked pork ribs ($14). The meaty morsels had been brushed with a red-chile glaze with what I thought might be a little red plum wine for sweetness. It was a little too sweet for my taste, but my guest mightily enjoyed it.

Alongside was a pineapple-red cabbage slaw (more sweet-sour notes) and a fascinatingly elusive green pesto, which we discovered upon asking was made from pureed parsley and peanuts. It drew rave reviews from both of us.

Izanami’s menu includes rice and noodle bowls, including one that is my favorite because of its name: bibimbap. It’s traditionally served in a very hot stone bowl. Hot rice is topped with assorted vegetables and a raw egg. Izanami includes beef, and a flavoring of chile and miso (salty fermented soy bean paste). Donburi – which traditionally includes a breaded, fried cutlet – is on the menu, too, but with chicken in place of beef or pork, or tofu.

Possibly as a concession to non-Japanese tastes, Izanami includes a burger on its menu – wagyu beef, of course, served with or without a dollop of foie gras.

Yuzu panna cotta with blackberry compote is the ideal finale to a summer meal. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Dessert, though, is more traditional, which in Japan means ice cream or variations on a cool note. My guest suggested the yuzu panna cotta ($9). I like panna cotta, usually a very light custardy concoction made with gelatin instead of eggs, but I had no idea what a yuzu was. A Japanese citrus fruit, it turns out, with a flavor somewhat like lemon, but tantalizingly better. Izanami pairs it with a blackberry compote and a flourish of vanilla cream, and it was the perfect finale to a summer meal.

The service was excellent, if unhurried, and, in keeping with its location, it’s perfectly possible to emerge from the hot tub and walk over for lunch – and more of that mountain forest view – in your Ten Thousand Waves kimono. “Relax” is clearly the message here.

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