On the right track — again
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.