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healthy salad options

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Bog: Vinaigrette – Santa Fe, New Mexico

During a 1994 episode of Seinfeld, Elaine’s boss, Mr. Pitt becomes obsessed with finding a spaceship obfuscated within a stereogram, a computer-generated image that presents an optical illusion in which a 3D image is hidden within a single 2D image to be revealed only when the viewer focuses his or her eyes correctly. To the detriment of a pressing business deal, Mr. Pitts loses three days trying to find the spaceship. First he tries blurring his eyes as if staring straight through the picture before eventually finding success by employing an intensely deep focus.

Placitas resident Gary W. Priester calls creating 3D stereographic images his “all-consuming passion for almost 15 years.” Gary has authored three books on stereogram images and is one of two contributors to a Japanese stereogram magazine series which has sold close to four-million copies. His work is mesmerizing in its ability to captivate the viewer. Fortunately for those of us who don’t always focus correctly, Gary does us all a favor on his Custom Stereographic Web site by explaining exactly how to see stereograms.

Gary’s clarity and focus aren’t limited solely to stereograms. He’s become a trusted advisor on dining options I might not otherwise know about or maybe even consider, including introducing me to more healthful options. For years I was of the ilk which associated salads with the word “diet,” an extension of the word “die.” Though my advancing geriatric progression has changed that perception, I’m still not always as attuned to healthful alternatives as I am to where you can find the best new purveyor of green chile cheeseburgers. Fortunately clearer-minded readers of my blog like Gary keep me honest.

Alas, it took almost two years before I followed Gary’s recommendation to try Vinaigrette, an environmentally aware “salad bistro” in Santa Fe. Perhaps indicative of my meaty myopia and carnivorous cravings, I also neglected a recommendation from immensely talented writer Wolf Schneider when she interviewed me for Edible Santa Fe. Had the restaurant been named “Blue Cheese” I surely would never have waited.

Vinaigrette opened its Santa Fe doors in November, 2008, the unintended brainchild of Harvard graduate Erin Wade who had never previously worked in, managed or owned a restaurant. Obviously a novitiate no longer, she now owns and operates two of New Mexico’s very best and most highly regarded farm-to-table restaurants, having expanded to Albuquerque’s Old Town district in November, 2012. Much of the medley of multicolored organic greenery used in her restaurants comes from an absolutely unimpeachable source–her own organic ten-acre farm about half (which includes a 1,200 square-foot greenhouse) an hour north of Santa Fe in the village of Nambe. Local sources are used widely in the Albuquerque operation.

Wholly unlike the middling quality all-you-can-eat salad bar restaurants dotting the fruited plain, Vinaigrette offers a menu showcasing healthful salads in bountiful, but not profligate portions. You won’t waddle out of this restaurant wondering how salad can be so filling. Nor will you find such un-salad-like offerings as chocolate muffins, focaccia bread and other high-carbohydrate, high-calorie offerings. That doesn’t mean every plate is heaping with barely edible “rabbit food” lacking in flavor or imagination.

The only rabbit-like aspect to Vinaigrette is the tendency for diners to hop from option to option unable to decide which salad to order, so replete with creativity is Vinaigrette’s inspired menu. Featuring ten signature salads and seven classic salads, the menu may eliminate any preconceived notions about salad restaurants you may have. It did me…and that’s even before studying the available salad pairings, none of which are needed to make any Vinaigrette salad outstanding, but any of which makes it just that much better.

You can pair your salad with meat (lemon-herb chicken breast, grilled flank steak, grilled pork tenderloin, hibiscus-cured duck confit), seafood (seared tuna steak, seared diver scallops, grilled shrimp and the day’s fresh fish) or choose from a category called “et cetera” which includes roasted seasonal vegetables, grilled tofu, grilled marinated baby artichokes and baked Panko-crusted goat cheese. Sight unseen, these offerings are more taste bud tantalizing than ingredients which sit in steely repositories for who knows how long at those “other” salad restaurants.

Vinaigrette’s palate-pleasing prowess doesn’t stop at salads. The menu also includes a bevy of sandwiches, soups and sides. Sandwiches are served with a side Garden, Greek or Caesar salad. The “sides and soups” include Erin’s Mac & Cheese, fresh seasonal sauteed Nambe greens, mushroom stew and soup of the day. Vinaigrette also offers beer and wine lists which change periodically to provide variety for guests.