The Zúñiga story

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review -

and sculp­tor Fran­cisco Zúñiga (1912-1998) left his home­land in 1936, bound for Mex­ico City. As a boy, he ap­pren­ticed with his fa­ther, a sculp­tor; while in Mex­ico, his tal­ents blos­somed, and he even­tu­ally be­came one of that coun­try’s em­i­nent drafts­men, painters, and sculp­tors. In ad­di­tion to craft­ing nu­mer­ous pub­lic mon­u­ments, he taught for many decades at “La Es­mer­alda,” Mex­ico’s na­tional art school.

Zúñiga is the name­sake of a new-ish café in a prime, sunny lo­ca­tion on the cor­ner of East Alameda Street and Old Santa Fe Trail, a stone’s throw from the Loretto Chapel and the Santa Fe River. It’s the lat­est en­deavor of chef En­rique Guer­rero, who brought us Man­giamo Pronto!

Brasserie Zúñiga is mis­lead­ingly named. A brasserie by def­i­ni­tion is an in­for­mal French restau­rant that of­ten serves beer and wine (the orig­i­nal brasseries were ac­tu­ally brew­pubs). Zúñiga pur­ports to of­fer dishes “with a Latin or Mex­i­can twist,” does not serve al­co­hol, and more closely re­sem­bles your av­er­age café than any brasserie I’ve ever set foot in. Luck­ily for Guer­rero, the restau­rant world isn’t renowned for its lin­guis­tic pre­ci­sion.

Wide win­dows, French doors, vi­brantly col­or­ful walls, a shiny tin-tiled ceil­ing, and re­pro­duc­tions of works by Diego Rivera and Zúñiga com­bine to cre­ate a warm, cheer­ful space. Choose from the short break­fast or lunch menu on the wall-mounted black­board, and place your or­der at the counter. Fetch your own wa­ter, nap­kins, and plas­tic flat­ware (the use of which seems an­noy­ingly waste­ful) from var­i­ous coun­ters. The ta­bles aren’t out­fit­ted with salt and pep­per; when I re­quested them, I was handed what ap­peared to be the kitchen’s sole shaker and grinder.

About that Latin and Mex­i­can “twist”— stan­dard cof­fee drinks (latte, Amer­i­cano, etc.) have Span­ish names, and you can or­der hot chocolate of the Span­ish and Mex­i­can va­ri­eties (the lat­ter is uber-rich and packs an earthy-spicy wal­lop of cin­na­mon and cloves). Meat and cheese are piled onto clas­sic torta rolls for sand­wiches, and tamales make an ap­pear­ance at break­fast and lunch. Oth­er­wise, Zúñiga tries to fur­ther the Latin theme by toss­ing around black beans (with an un­sea­soned tin­ny­ness that screams “from a can!”) and bland corn ker­nels willy-nilly— in sal­ads and scram­bled eggs, for ex­am­ple.

The yo­gurt and gra­nola cup is a gen­er­ous, Star­bucks“venti”-size serv­ing of tangy yo­gurt and gra­nola made by lo­cal high-school stu­dents (100 per­cent of the prof­its go to col­lege schol­ar­ships). The to-go cup, also plas­tic, may strike you as a tad in­for­mal, but un­less you’re se­ri­ously hun­gry, you’ll be glad for the porta­bil­ity. The break­fast bur­rito was largely for­get­table— ex­cept for the black beans and corn.

While the tor­tilla soup man­aged to be si­mul­ta­ne­ously rich, bright, and earthy, tor­tilla strips were con­spic­u­ously ab­sent. The green-chile clam chow­der hap­pily lacked the thin con­sis­tency of many chow­ders but was oth­er­wise — even in spici­ness— un­re­mark­able. One daily soup, a sea­son­ally ap­pro­pri­ate but­ter­nut squash, had been eighty-sixed be­fore noon.

Costa Ri­can painter

The im­pres­sive “na­cho dog”— a gussied-up chili dog— fea­tures a plump, juicy frank robed in a bun and en­joy­ing a ther­a­peu­tic mud bath of mildly spicy chili. Be­decked with pick­led jalapeños, grated ched­dar, and squig­gles of crema, it’s a messy, eat-with-a-knife-and-fork af­fair. Both types of tamales— sweetly porky red-chile and spicy green-chile cheese— were ir­re­sistible.

Zúñiga is a fine op­tion if you’re the gam­bling type. The qual­ity of the ex­pe­ri­ence seems to de­pend on who’s work­ing, since the per­son who takes the or­ders is also the cashier, barista, cook, and food run­ner. On one visit, the ser­vice was warm, cheer­ful, thought­ful, speedy, and ac­cu­rate. An­other day, we placed our or­ders, and the dishes ar­rived one at a time over the course of about 20 min­utes. The first per­son to or­der re­ceived her food last, and though she asked for a spicy Cae­sar salad, she got a house salad in­stead. It and the house salad we de­lib­er­ately or­dered came with dif­fer­ent dress­ings (nei­ther of them Cae­sar), though we hadn’t been of­fered a choice. We ate our loaded turkey-and-cheese sand­wich, though we’d asked for ham. I al­most felt guilty re­mind­ing the young woman who looked re­lieved to be done prep­ping and schlep­ping our food that she’d for­got­ten our bur­rito.

The only other pa­tron in the café on that day was a lone gen­tle­man who just wanted a ham sand­wich; though he had or­dered be­fore us, his lunch ap­peared af­ter sev­eral of our dishes had been de­liv­ered. Maybe Zúñiga will beef up its em­ployee ros­ter for sum­mer’s tourist in­flux; oth­er­wise, I haven’t a clue how it will han­dle the rush.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.