Breakfast at Izanami


Living the principle of Breakfast Like an Emperor, Lunch Like a Prince, and Dinner Like a Pauper, is a lifestyle adaptation neither Sue nor I would want to give up. ‘Breakfast Like an American’ has an effect on our lives which perfectly illustrates the wisdom of Breakfast Like an Emperor. The contrast is dramatic in terms of health, vitality, and productivity.

As I’m sure you can imagine, though, that choice has some inherent implications imposed by the juxtaposition of living in America. Finding an adequate breakfast of appropriate foods (primarily healthy, organic flesh foods with lots of fresh, organic vegetables) in a restaurant is essentially impossible. Likewise, we rarely engage in eating out in the evening, for complementary reasons. Having fed ourselves adequately and appropriately all day doesn’t leave much inclination toward an American sized dinner at precisely the wrong time of day.

Eating restaurant food, as a general habit, is a subject I’ve left for the book.

Sue’s birthday this year fell on a Saturday not long after spring equinox, and it’s been quite a winter. She used the occasion to celebrate in a creative way I thoroughly enjoyed. And so it was we left the house that morning without having eaten breakfast. As we transported out onto the eastern plains and dipped into the Galisteo basin in the blinding morning light of scattered clouds, our anticipation quietly grew as we approached our destination.

We had mutually agreed on breakfast at Izanami, the delightful, and never disappointing culinary gem nestled in the foothills above Santa Fe at Ten Thousand Waves. For those unfamiliar with the Waves, it’s a legend deserving of the title—created, expanded, and continually reinvented by its owner, Duke Klauck. The Waves had only recently opened as a very nice place to soak at a Japanese style spa when I arrived in Santa Fe from Jackson Hole in 1984. Watching the relentless unfoldment of elegant perfection in a mountain setting has been a singular pleasure to observe since that time. Duke has dedicated his life to the continually improving manifestation of the ideal Japanese onsen or hotspring. Remarkably, he’s achieved this in these arid desert foothills, without a hot spring.

Izanami, the restaurant, has been a careful collaboration of Duke with Deborah Fleig. I can remember stories of its meticulously precise planning and artful construction when I was in school at the International Institute of Chinese Medicine in Santa Fe. Years later it opened with all the attention to detail and exquisite presentation one might expect. Serving nearly all organic, mostly locally sourced food, Izanami is not just an exquisite representation of a fine Japanese izakaya-style restaurant, but a unique creation in its own right. And what makes it a gem extends far beyond mere culinary senses.

Gratefully, the restaurant opens at 11:30! How nice to walk into such a world at that hour and be greeted by a stellar and enthusiastic staff, serving wondrous creations from its busy kitchen to ravenous sojourners.

After much deliberation over the temperature of a sumptuous sounding salad [pictured above] of roasted beets and carrots (with arugula, burrata cheese, balsamic-black garlic reduction, and toasted pumpkin seeds), we began with that, along with perfect tempura asparagus wrapped in jamon serrano and served with aioli. Chinese medicine’s dietary principles don’t share America’s curious fascination with cold foods, and this morning’s weather had taken a sharp turn toward the bitter, so we wanted to make sure this salad wasn’t going to be a frigid affair on empty stomachs. Our waitstaff wasn’t quite prepared for our detailed questioning and expectations, but we ended up taking the plunge, and hedging our bets by ordering two separate, big cast iron pots of steaming Japanese teas—green chai for Sue and soba-cha for me.

Then we got serious with a hot stone bibimbap (500˚) of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, raw egg, and Wagyu beef with perfectly cooked rice. I say that because Sue and I have had an inordinate number of meals out which included inadequately cooked rice—at places one would have expected to know better. We’re still not sure if this has been a simple manifestation of personal karma or if it’s an unfortunate national trend.

I mixed the bowl, still cooking its contents, and we proceeded to chow down—without wolfing. It was accompanied by yuzu miso and the most sublime chili sauce I’ve ever had. Where most hot sauces flaunt their heat at the expensive of genuine flavor, this one was composed of subtle and sublime flavors amid a clean, controlled heat. We were having a good time.

By the time we had finished the bowl and another pot of tea each, we realized we were still a little nibbly, so we chose some sake braised mushrooms and a side dish of more Wagyu beef—from the also legendary Morgan Ranch. That did the job. Our time in this wonderful environment seemed to span two consecutive seatings of other tables. Sue had channeled a delightful choice! The two grape sized chocolates with a hint of wasabi were a perfect taste-of-sweet finale.

We certainly weren’t stuffed, but given the meal we had just enjoyed, we decided to forego the luxury of a soak. Besides, it had gotten intensely cold, so we ambled down to town to see if we could find our friend, Frank, who’s just opened a gallery on Canyon Road across from the teahouse. Unknown to us, he had just hosted his opening the night before. So now was the perfect time to quietly take in his company and his latest endeavor. After spending some time, I was surprised to realize it was the first time I could remember being entranced in a gallery.

The rest of Sue’s birthday was spent being guided from one unplanned experience to the next, doing almost nothing we had originally intended. In other words, a perfect day.

Thought I’d share it with you.




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