Wel­come to the neigh­bor­hood

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Pa­tri­cia Greathouse I For The New Mex­i­can

Cel­e­bra­tions has been in busi­ness for more than 20 years— a long time by Santa Fe restau­rant stan­dards. And al­though it changed hands rel­a­tively re­cently, new own­ers Candi and Steve Markley have kept most of the old staff and recipes. Now in its sec­ond lo­ca­tion, the old Bert’s La Taque­ria spot in St. Michael’s Vil­lage, it seems to have set­tled into a pop­u­lar neigh­bor­hood niche. The comfortable booth-lined room is full of light, there’s plenty of park­ing, the food is hearty, and the price is right.

In­flu­ences from Ca­jun, New Mex­i­can, and down-home cook­ing all show up on the menu. For break­fast, house-made breads, cin­na­mon rolls, and bis­cuits grace the ta­ble.

A cup of French onion soup comes in a true cup size, a re­lief for those of us who like to have a lit­tle soup at lunch while sav­ing room for some­thing else. The soup, a broth rich with sweet and sa­vory melted onions, is topped with small toasts and Swiss cheese.

The crispy craw­fish Cae­sar salad, de­clared “clas­sic” on the menu, is in fact a unique ver­sion dressed with no dis­cernible gar­lic but plenty of spice; it’s topped with the tee­ni­est curls of bat­tered and fried craw­fish.

The all-day-break­fast por­tion of the menu of­fers omelets, huevos rancheros, and eggs Bene­dict, all of which in­clude salad. Omelets come with a va­ri­ety of fill­ings, among them a chile rel­leno. The large ham­burg­ers— and of course, the green-chile cheese­burger— looked tempt­ing, but we didn’t try them. They come with a choice of fries or salad.

House spe­cial­ties in­clude crispy tem­pura-bat­tered fish and chips and a chicken schnitzel. I was in­trigued by but re­luc­tant to or­der the po­ten­tial grease bomb of a plate of fish and fries, yet the drama of two large pieces of curled golden filet of sole, which the wait­ress kept schlep­ping past our ta­ble, wore down my re­sis­tance. I’m happy to re­port that the fish is white, the bat­ter is light, and the French fries are crisp.

The chicken schnitzel sports so thin a crust one might be­lieve there wasn’t one. The chicken is sur­pris­ingly moist, even though it’s been pounded thin and cooked golden brown on the out­side. It’s topped with a let­tuce and tomato salad with Ital­ian dress­ing and al­most qual­i­fies as a diet dish.

Among six North­ern New Mex­ico plates, only two (en­chi­ladas and chiles rel­lenos) re­ally qual­ify as clas­sic re­gional dishes; the oth­ers are new­com­ers. New Mex­i­can or not, the av­o­cado-and-man­gostuffed que­sadilla with chicken was de­li­cious. Nicely browned on the out­side, with just enough Mon­terey jack cheese to hold it to­gether, it was high­lighted by the pico de gallo that came on the side.

The chiles rel­lenos are a dif­fer­ent story. Seem­ingly made ahead and re­heated, they are sturdy and chewy, topped with thick cheese that hard­ened quickly into an un­ap­pe­tiz­ing blan­ket. Since the kitchen goes to all the trou­ble of peel­ing and roast­ing the chiles, it would be nice if they took cen­ter stage. The good news is that the red and green chile sauces that we tried with them were both very good.

The bad news for Cel­e­bra­tions is the desserts: none were good enough to fin­ish. Dessert should be more than some­thing sweet at the end of the meal. It should be sat­is­fy­ing both in fla­vor and in tex­ture, worth the po­ten­tial in­crease in pant size. The flan was so over­cooked that it had the mouth feel and fla­vor of scram­bled eggs. The coarse-tex­tured tres leches cake was drenched in a sticky-sweet liq­uid; it’s the worst ver­sion I’ve ever tasted. The pump­kin pie came with a gelati­nous fill­ing in a gray pre­made crust that man­aged to be both soggy and tough at the same time. The big­gest dis­ap­point­ment was the chocolate cake, which was sev­eral-days stale and ab­so­lutely dry. No doubt de­li­cious when fresh, it was a trav­esty served in such an el­derly state. If busi­ness is slow, how about freez­ing it in pieces and thaw­ing some each day?

My wish for Cel­e­bra­tions is that the new own­ers make a con­certed ef­fort to bring all the dishes up to the qual­ity of their best items.

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