Spaghetti Western

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review -

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.

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