On the right track — again

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - — Lau­rel Glad­den

If his restau­rants are any in­di­ca­tion, Louis Moskow may be hav­ing an iden­tity cri­sis. Ear­lier this year, 315 Res­tau­rant and Wine Bar re­vealed fully ren­o­vated and re­ori­ented in­te­ri­ors, and the pop­u­lar Rai­l­yard Res­tau­rant & Saloon rein­vented it­self as its fancier Ital­ian al­ter ego, La Stazione.

Peo­ple I know kept ask­ing, “Do we re­ally need an­other Ital­ian res­tau­rant in Santa Fe?” What’s wrong with good, solid Amer­i­cana, I won­dered, es­pe­cially in an old rail­road ware­house where the dé­cor in­volves ex­posed brick, metal ceil­ing trusses, and well-worn leather? This is the sort of space tai­lor-made for a burger called Smoke­stack Light­ning. Veal scalop­pini, not so much.

Turns out Moskow must have been think­ing the same thing, be­cause the Rai­l­yard Res­tau­rant & Saloon is back. He did give the din­ing room a lit­tle face-lift, though. A thought­fully po­si­tioned in­te­rior wall now sep­a­rates the bar area from the more for­mal din­ing space, de­lin­eat­ing a larger area for bar seat­ing, and, for bet­ter or worse, of­fer­ing a place to mount yet an­other tele­vi­sion. If you pre­fer a meal with­out a side of tube, you can also opt for the trel­lised pa­tio. Once you get past the im­me­di­ate park­ing-lot sur­round­ings, you can en­joy some fresh breezes and a pretty nice moun­tain view.

The few meals I had at La Stazione were ac­cept­able, though I some­times got the feel­ing that the folks in the kitchen were work­ing out­side their com­fort zone. The salad of pears, pecorino, and shaved fen­nel sounded like a de­li­cious, re­fresh­ing idea. It was cold and crunchy, but the cheese pro­vided the only dis­tinc­tive fla­vor. While the carb-con­scious might ap­pre­ci­ate the ta­leg­gio-filled grape leaves, the fill­ing of molten dairy pro­vided no struc­ture — my din­ing com­pan­ion re­ferred to them as “weird glob­u­lar masses.”

A high­light of La Stazione’s menu was the hand-rolled pasta dishes. We tried a hefty pap­pardelle with

meat ragu, house-made sausage, and braised beef and a saf­fron fet­tuc­cini with gar­lic, white wine, limon­cello, and chile. The lat­ter was bright, light, and well bal­anced, but the pasta was un­der­cooked and lacked the ethe­real qual­ity a good hand­made pasta can pos­sess. Maybe the la­bor­in­ten­sive na­ture of hand­craft­ing pasta con­trib­uted to the re­turn to the old menu, though the Rai­l­yard does of­fer ba­sic veg­etable lasagna and spaghetti with meat­balls.

The char­cu­terie plate — a se­lec­tion of house-made so­pres­sata and other meats ac­com­pa­nied by house-made pick­led veg­eta­bles — is still around, and I’m glad about it. I only wish the kitchen would be a lit­tle less stingy with the pâté that’s dabbed on crunchy lit­tle toasts.

The Rai­l­yard’s less-for­mal dishes work well. The small, meaty crab cakes don’t use bread crumbs as a sub­stan­tive or struc­tural crutch. The plate of fried cala­mari was pip­ing hot and crisp. For­get tomato sauce; here’s hop­ing the kitchen con­tin­ues to serve the perky peper­oncini aioli and briny, herba­ceous ca­per salsa verde along­side it.

I couldn’t get enough of the se­ri­ously fla­vor­ful seared-tuna panino with pesto and tape­nade; it’s the stuff crav­ings are made of. The New York deli sandwich man­aged to com­bine crusty, warm, toasted bread with cool cold cuts and fresh tomato.

Buf­falo wings, that old bar sta­ple, can be a throw­away dish, some­thing bars of­fer be­cause it’s pop­u­lar and cheap — not to men­tion slathered in a spicy, salty sauce that will tempt you to or­der one more beer. The Rai­l­yard’s wings, though, are plump, meaty, and fla­vor­ful, the sauce ro­bust and just picante enough.

Let’s be hon­est: liq­uid re­fresh­ment is a strong en­tice­ment at the Rai­l­yard. The bar of­fers a nice va­ri­ety of beers in bot­tles and on tap and will tempt you with daily cock­tail spe­cials. The wine list is thor­ough with­out be­ing in­tim­i­dat­ing; Moskow en­cour­ages try­ing new things, too, by of­fer­ing an af­ford­able wine flight.

No mat­ter what time of day you visit, the bar will prob­a­bly not be empty, and you’re likely to see some­one you know. The din­ing area, on the other hand, can feel like a ghost town. Over­all, the smaller, less earnest dishes are the ones that shine. I think the Rai­l­yard Res­tau­rant & Saloon should prac­tice self-ac­cep­tance and stick to what it does best.

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