Izanami at Ten Thousand Waves

Lanterns handmade for Izanami in Nagoya. (Credit: izanami via Facebook)

Lanterns handmade for Izanami in Nagoya. (Credit: izanami via Facebook)

Last night we finally made it to izanami at Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe. What in the world we’re we waiting for? It’s fantastic!

I arrived at izanami shortly after sunset. The upper lots were already full, so I parked near the entrance and romanced the lantern-lit, stone lined ascent to the spa. The moon was still swollen, the temperature was falling and piñon smoke perfumed the air. Striding across the parking lot from the spa to the restaurant I saw the fountain frozen into sensuous Botero-esque mounds of ice.

Frozen fountain at izanami restaurant in Santa Fe (Credit: izanami)

Frozen fountain at izanami restaurant in Santa Fe (Credit: izanami)

My bride and step brother-in-law were practically glowing, blissfully sedate after soaking and massages. The perfect prologue to a parade of small, delicate dishes. I’ll give you a brief recap of the edibles (and potables) in a moment, but first a little bit about this exotic Santa Fe dining oasis.

Our restaurant, izanami… is izakaya dining, serving exquisite Japanese-inspired small plates in a casual farmhouse setting. We feature robata-style meats and vegetables grilled over charcoal, salads, fresh tofu, melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef, lightly-fried kushiage, house-made pickles, great coffee, desserts, and the best selection of Japanese beer and artisanal sake west of New York and east of Tokyo. (Ten Thousand Waves)

90% of our pork, chicken, wagyu beef, and produce is organic or sustainably raised by purveyors we know and trust. fresh ingredients are emphasized in all our preparations. we make our own desserts, ice cream, and pickles in house. (izanami.com)

You can sit on the floor, small table, counter, community table, or a booth. And the food – out of this world! What a welcome addition to our restaurant community… (Simply Santa Fe)

Sometimes it takes a Buddhist priest to build a food temple.

Welcome indeed! And delicious. But before diving into the tasty meal we enjoyed, let’s return briefly to the “casual farmhouse setting”. Here’s an even better description of Izanami’s unique environment.

Carved from the side of a mountain and named for a Japanese deity, Izanami is a luscious segue from the spa. Ceramic tiles grace the restaurant roof; a rocky waterfall near the entrance makes for a soothing soundtrack. The interior, fashioned from antique posts, rice-paper lanterns and twisted beams, whisks you even farther away from the American Southwest. Izanami’s woodworker, Jon Driscoll, is a resort rarity: He’s both an in-house master craftsman at Ten Thousand Waves and an ordained Buddhist priest. (The Washington Post)

Sometimes it takes a Buddhist priest to build a food temple. And that lofty description isn’t so much an exaggeration as you might imagine. Maybe a chapel?

No matter how refreshing the space, I was still tempted by the liquid refreshments. I started with a hibiscus spritzer of sorts. Sexy color; soothing flavor. I wouldn’t mind a water bottle or two or this elixir during my next skin up to the top of the ski basin.

And then there was sake. I’m an unabashed sake neophyte, so I leaned on the wisdom of our friendly waiter. He was passionate about the nearly two full pages of offerings. Turns out the sake offerings are a point of pride for Team Izanami. We ordered a bottle of yuki no bosha “cabin in the snow” yamahai which the menu described as “yamahai junmai. mellow, rich, nutty, full.” Mellow, for sure. Nutty? Not so sure my sake sensors are well developed enough to discern the nuts, but it was a delightful complement to our meal and a good recommendation.

It’s worth nothing here that Izanami is Japanese-style izakaya. I’ll defer to Gordon Heady, Izanami’s sake-guru, to flesh out the the concept.

The term “izakaya” is new to many. It’s an informal restaurant (I liken it to a tavern) designed to encourage the sharing of food and drink; celebrating life; and enjoying camaraderie with friends or even strangers.

As you can imagine, sake plays a vital role in izakaya-life! ~ Gordon Heady (Sake Church: 10,000 Waves, Izanami, and My New Home)

Camaraderie and sake were already weaving wonders when the exquisitely plated victuals began to arrive. First to arrive was a light and healthy salad of asian pear, Brussels sprouts and pomegranate seeds served over kabocha pumpkin puree. Crispy and delicious. It tasted and seemed spa-healthy, so I didn’t feel overly decadent following it with a bit of decadence: two fans of thinly sliced avocado served with homemade wasabi and something called “kishibori artisan shoyu”. Mystery ingredient. Yum.

Sliced beef, as perfectly marbled and flavorful as any Kobe beef you’ve ever sampled, arrives at the table raw for diners to cook on a hot stone.

My vegetarian wife repeatedly raved about her cauliflower goma with awase miso and toasted sesame dressing, so I finally tried it. And then tried some more. And more. I passed on a taste of the parsnip almond soup with preserved kumquats and toasted almonds, but it also received rave reviews from my companions. Another vegetarian hit was the sake braised shimeji mushrooms. My wife asked them to skip the shoyu butter sauce but the delicate miniatures served with togarashi and bean sprouts were subtle and addictive.

Izanami's sake braised shimeji mushrooms (Photo: izanami)

Izanami’s sake braised shimeji mushrooms (Photo: izanami)

As delightful to prepare as it was to eat, the wagyu beef ishiyaki is not to be missed. Sliced beef, as perfectly marbled and flavorful as any Kobe beef you’ve ever sampled, arrives at the table raw for diners to cook on a hot stone. Fun. Aromatic. Delicious. Two tasty sauces come with the beef, but after enjoying both I savored the remaining wagyu beef solo. It’s that good.

Wagyu beef ishiyaki  (Photo: izanami)

Wagyu beef ishiyaki (Photo: izanami)

Another favorite was a comparatively large dish of fried brussels sprouts served with bonito flakes and sweet chile vinegar, bonito flakes. Slightly nutty and crunchy. They were the perfect complement to the wagyu beef ishiyaki. I can’t wait to try and make these at home. I suspect that the deceptively simply dish may be more challenging to perfect that first impressions suggest…

Izanami's fried brussels sprouts (Credit: izanami)

Izanami’s fried brussels sprouts (Credit: izanami)

I’ve overlooked the tempura avocado and squash with ponzu sauce that enthused my companions. Unfortunately it was not gluten free (though most of the dishes on the menu that enticed me were gluten free!) but I appreciated – audibly, vicariously – this dish which my bride was tempted to order in duplicate. She resisted, but just barely. I also overlooked the shichimi fries with yuzu aioli. Not because they weren’t divine. But any sentient being would assume they were divine. They were.

In any sybaritic procession there’s a trailer. The organic chicken breast skewers with Japanese leek and ginger teriyaki glaze were palatable but bland. Not enough of a disappointment to detract from an otherwise perfect evening, but worth skipping if you collect exciting, memorable flavors. That said, the preparation is attractive, and if you have a sensitive belly or just prefer an ultra light dab of protein following your massage, you may enjoy the chicken skewers.

Lest I wrap up on a less-than-exuberant note, know that we loved our meal and we’ll return soon. And next time I’m hoping to try the pork belly!

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