Taps and tapas

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Pa­tri­cia Greathouse

Few Santa Fe main­stays ap­peal to lo­cals and vis­i­tors as much as El Farol does. With its au­then­tic at­mos­phere, mu­sic, and chef Gen­ovevo “Vevo” Rivera’s good food, it’s nice enough for a spe­cial oc­ca­sion with­out be­ing stuffy.

The bar seem­ingly hasn’t changed a hair in al­most 40 years. Ghosts of old Santa Fe surely drift around the space while lively mu­sic and danc­ing make the din­ing room and bar come alive ev­ery night. Mean­while, long­time owner David Salazar and man­ager Jeff Dixon, who is on the floor most evenings, main­tain an ex­em­plary level of con­sis­tency in food and ser­vice in the back din­ing rooms away from the bar.

It’s a chal­lenge to choose from El Farol’s ex­ten­sive tapas menu. How­ever, the tapas plat­ter gives din­ers a choice of eight hot or cold tapas at a bar­gain price. We made a meal of tapas one night and an­other night or­dered ap­pe­tiz­ers and en­trees. For the en­tree din­ner, we started with a Mediter­ranean Cae­sar salad. The salad wasn’t huge, but it suf­ficed. Chopped ro­maine tossed with a mild dress­ing and dusted with Parme­san, our salad in­cluded white an­chovies and Kala­mata olives topped with a fried ar­ti­choke heart. It’s a cre­ative ver­sion of the clas­sic Cae­sar; the fla­vor of the white an­chovies and the vine­gary tang of the im­ported ar­ti­choke hearts are truly Span­ish.

The rib-eye steak prac­ti­cally cov­ered the plate, but it was tough and a lit­tle too rare for the medi­um­rare we or­dered. Nicely caramelized on one side but dull on the other, it rested on a bed of mashed pota­toes and was fin­ished with a gar­nish of bal­samic vine­gar. The tough­ness made the steak hard to cut, and it slipped around on the pota­toes. A Loriñon Cri­anza from La Rioja, a wine nat­u­rally well suited to tapas, held its own against the sweet and acid fla­vors of the vine­gar.

A daz­zlingly fresh salmon en­tree was as de­li­cious as it was beau­ti­ful, served on a square, carmine-col­ored plate cov­ered with bright-green sweet-and-sour spinach that had been lightly sautéed with golden raisins, red pep­pers, and pine nuts. (The spinach is also avail­able as a tapa.) The salmon lay over a golden square of po­lenta fla­vored with Manchego cheese; ev­ery­thing on the plate was health­ful and har­mo­nious. The Martín Có­dax Al­bar­iño, an easy-drink­ing white that’s great with food, was per­fect with this dish.

Our tapas din­ner choices were ex­cel­lent with the fol­low­ing ex­cep­tions: ce­viche de atún, a dish of tuna cured in avo­cado and cit­rus juice, was un­ap­peal­ing in fla­vor and tex­ture; cordero mediter­ra­neo, listed as lamb chops with patatas bravas (pota­toes with harissa, a spicy chile sauce com­mon in Tu­nisian cui­sine), was two lamb rib bones that had been whit­tled down to one tiny chop of two nib­bles; and pin­chos morunos — spiced pork on a skewer with harissa — came over­cooked.

But the crunchy smoked-salmon potato cakes with ca­per aioli ( cro­que­tas de salmón); saf­fron potato soup with hal­ibut, shrimp, and mus­sels ( caldo pescado); spicy, plump sauteed gar­lic shrimp with lime and Madeira ( gam­bas al ajillo); and in­tensely fla­vored sautéed cri­m­ini mush­rooms with chunks of Ser­rano ham and sherry ( se­tas) were all de­li­cious. Pasta piñon

verde — penne pasta in poblano chile, Manchego, and piñon cream — was a su­per-creamy ver­sion of mac­a­roni and cheese, full of grown-up fla­vors. Its rich­ness made a small bowl plenty for two.

A fried half avo­cado, listed sim­ply as agua­cate on the menu, was full of fla­vor and tex­ture con­trasts, with slightly crunchy bread­ing wrapped around per­fectly creamy avo­cado high­lighted by salsa cruda, bal­samic vine­gar, and salsa fresca.

We fin­ished one din­ner with Cabrales, a right­fully cel­e­brated Span­ish blue cheese. Honey and al­monds nicely off­set the blue’s musk­i­ness. Other desserts at El Farol run the gamut from tiramisu to pre­mium ice cream. Choco­late mousse with espresso and small chunks of choco­late topped with a dab of crème fraîche were enough to share and a nice end to the meal. Or­der­ing the dessert plat­ter of three full­por­tion desserts will take care of the most he­do­nis­tic sweets lovers. ◀

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