The Short Order
Anyone living near the Pojoaque Valley should be thrilled to hear that there’s a new and good chef/owner at Ó Eating House. In a space that walks the line between fine dining and casual, with a menu that does the same, Steve Lemmon, formerly of Scalo and Pranzo, is serving up delicious food at good value. Recommended: rib-eye steak, goat-cheese salad, antipasto misto, pizza, fritto misto, chocolate semifreddo, grilled-lemon sorbet, and fresh pear tart.
Chef Steve Lemmon, the new owner/chef of Ó Eating House in Pojoaque, is a kitchen veteran with an impressive record. Among other things, he was corporate chef for Scalo Northern Italian Grill in Albuquerque and Pranzo Italian Grill in Santa Fe. I didn’t know that, and I didn’t spot it — the food is better here. Lemmon is on his own in his very own kitchen. There are even two seats at a bar where diners can watch him cooking. The focus is on taste; there is no pretension. Lemmon is not going out on a limb with wacky food or stretching presentation. The service is good, and the ambience is comfortable and refined. The prices are very reasonable.
Appetizers are generous and delicious. A helping of fritto misto made up of calamari, shrimp, and scallops on a bed of spicy marinara came with lemon aioli. It would make a great shared entree along with a salad. Although it wasn’t super-crispy, the tenderness and texture of the seafood was just right.
Antipasto misto offers three kinds of hard salami, all standouts. One is made by Lemmon and contains porcini. The platter also includes house-made grappa-cured salmon, a selection of marinated olives, some mild goatmilk ricotta salata, and tangy Il Saggio (eight-month-aged goat cheese) from Sardinia. Ó Eating House serves a basket of Fano bread, which is perfect with the appetizers.
Burrata (fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream), traditional mozzarella, and ricotta are also made in house; the burrata is laced with pine nuts, sprinkled with Maldon sea salt, and topped with bright-green extra virgin olive oil. It’s accompanied by grilled zucchini. I was less taken with Lemmon’s version of burrata than I am with creamier versions I’ve tasted.
The core of the menu stays the same, with things changing seasonally. The Pojoaque Valley farmers market is right next door, and Lemmon says that offerings there will drive the menu once it starts up. There is always a choice of house-made pastas and Neapolitan-style thin, crispy, chewy pizza.
We tried a subtle, perfectly acceptable — if not traditional, in the Italian sense — dish of orecchiette pasta (little “ears” perfectly designed to hold sauce) with shallot, currants, jalapeno, duck confit, and cream. A large piece of grilled swordfish with a tangy tomato confit and buttery, zippy sauce was plated with fried polenta and grilled asparagus.
We ordered the clams and mussels, but the clam supplier hadn’t come through, so we had a double bowl of mussels with two pieces of grilled bread. The mussels swam in an excellent tangy tomato-fennel-saffron broth. However, I noticed a few cracked shells and one unopened one.
Our rib-eye steak, grilled a perfect medium rare, was a wonderful piece of meat. Served over house-made truffle-scented fries that had been sprinkled lightly with Parmesan and drizzled with balsamic reduction, they soaked up the meat juices nicely — a meat-and-potatoes fantasy. A small salad of arugula and tomatoes completed the plate.
The desserts shine here. A fresh pear tart is prepared to order: a crust of hot puff pastry, fresh pears, vanilla-bean ice cream, and little preserved pear jewels. A tarte Tatin (an upside-down tart of sugar-and-butter-caramelized apples on a soft crust) came with two kinds of ice cream — our server wanted us to try the spumoni. The ice creams are excellent here, as is the lemon sorbet. It’s served in the scooped-out lemon rind that is grilled to release the aroma of the oils. The sorbet comes drizzled with limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur).
A chocolate-hazelnut semifreddo (more of a sundae) is the ultimate in chocolate luxury, with scoops of creamy chocolate gelato drizzled with chocolate ganache and sprinkled with amarena cherries (sort of like maraschinos, but 500 times better) and toasted hazelnuts.
Ó Eating House has a nice, short wine selection and specialty mixed drinks. A Brancaia Tre Rosso Toscana was a great match with our steak. A Torre de Luna pinot grigio and Nevada Pale Ale were food-friendly, too. A Manhattan made with amarena cherry juice came with three of the little jewels on a skewer.
Lemmon’s Ó Eating House deserves to survive; it’s a welcoming light in an area where it’s rare to discover good food.