A few weeks back, I drove 45 minutes north from downtown Santa Fe to have lunch all by myself.
As it turns out, the solo trip was entirely appropriate. Because a meal at NOSA Restaurant is, in a word, singular.
From the gorgeous, secluded grounds in the Ojo Caliente River Valley to the immaculately designed dining spaces to the prix fixe meals crafted from scratch each week, every detail feels both intentional and ephemeral — like a daydream that’s different every time you revisit it.
NOSA Restaurant and Inn is a dream, too, for veteran chef Graham Dodds, who made a name for himself in Dallas with exquisite food focused on locally grown produce. But like so many, he fell in love with New Mexico; he calls running the restaurant and four nearby rooms “the chance of a lifetime.”
Dodds had stayed at a property near the inn, which was run in its original incarnation as the award-winning Rancho de San Juan for nearly 20 years by a couple who retired in 2012. (Escapades from that time are fondly recalled in the book Tales From a Country Inn: The Rancho de San Juan Story.)
“To me, it was such a shame that this place was sitting there empty and getting into disrepair,” he said. “It’s such a special spot.”
Eventually, he courted new owners and figured out the financing to make NOSA possible. The restaurant opened in late July. NOSA stands for “North of Santa Fe,” but Dodds noted “nosa” is also an old Spanish word for “ours,” which felt to him like another magical coincidence along the way.
“Being introduced to the area, falling in love, finding this gem of a place, feeling I wasn’t in a position to own it, then it all fell into place — it’s a crazy, dream-come-true kind of thing.” he said.
On a recent Sunday, I pulled into the parking lot at the end of a long gravel road off U.S. 285 and marveled at the classic Northern New Mexico landscape for a moment before following a walkway toward the property. There’s a carved wooden door to your right with a couple of benches; opening the door reveals an elegant, tastefully decorated series of rooms Georgia O’Keeffe herself might have appreciated.
In one, a large communal table takes center stage; another high-ceilinged room with blond vigas offers an array of smaller tables near a dramatic fireplace. I was shown to a bright, airy third room with a wall of windows opening onto a covered patio.
The other guests in the room that day were quick to note the large wine cellar against the far wall, bemoaning that the restaurant had not yet received its liquor license. They’ll be happy to know NOSA can now serve alcohol, which means Dodd has added wine pairings to his prix fixe menus and has launched a dinner service with its own menu and pairings.
Lunch is served in two seatings — 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays — and costs $65, with a $45 surcharge for wine pairings. Dinner, at 6:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, is $85; wine pairings are an additional $45.
But those details are where the similarities between Dodds’ meals end. He calls on more than three decades of restaurant experience to create and execute a new menu every week, prepping, cooking and plating each dish himself.
The menus are heavily influenced by the items he’s been able to source locally. “That’s how I’ve always cooked,” he said. “I nurture relationships with farmers, cheesemakers, ranchers, everyone around. It’s so much better to buy arugula from across the street than shipped in on a truck.”
On the week I visited, Dodds walked me through the narrative of his menu, his affection for his ingredients shining through at every turn. It began with a batch of endive that he wanted to braise. Duck, he said, would be a natural pairing. That felt French, so he decided to incorporate a paté dish. He built a lighter soup course around “amazing” chanterelle mushrooms and “the most spectacular” dandelion greens from Vagabond Farms.
“You want it to be balanced,” he said of creating menus. “You think about how people will feel at the end of the meal.”
On this day, the meal opened with a thick slice of pork and pistachio paté served with a piece of hearty bread and balanced with tart complements of grain mustard, cornichons and pickled beet. A decadent gruyere soufflé came out piping hot beside a small bowl of luscious sweet onion soubise, a classic French cream sauce.
The small cup of consommé was simple, allowing the faint sweetness of the chanterelle mushrooms to play against the bitterness of dandelion greens and earthy saffron. It grounded my palate for the entree course: a slice of perfectly cooked roasted duck breast served alongside a small heart of braised endive and petite, flavorful carrots.
Finally, a beautiful rectangle tart melded mascarpone cheese and a spray of sweet huckleberries with the heady richness of aged balsamic. It’s the kind of dessert that feels timeless, not part of a creative chef’s weekly menu. If it were part of a regular lineup at a different restaurant, I’d order it every time.
At the meal’s end, chef Dobbs came out to speak with every table of diners. He chatted about menu inspiration, about future plans, about baking at high elevation and the inn’s rich history. He told one table of four friends about the restaurant’s upcoming Thanksgiving Day meal — and they booked seats on the spot.
Dobbs said he’s grateful for the interest — including from folks like me who make the drive from Santa Fe to dine with him.
“This is the most important place I’ve ever worked in my life, because it’s mine,” he said. “I want to make a great impression.”
The only downside to the meal is leaving — and knowing you won’t be back for next week’s culinary wizardry. On my way out, I passed a couple waiting for their 2 p.m. seating. They, too, had driven up from Santa Fe.
“Is it worth it?” they asked.
I grinned. “Ohhhh, yes.”