Bright light, small city
When you can taste the passion and care coming from a kitchen, you don’t mind if some things go amiss. That’s how I felt after two visits to Luminaria Restaurant at the Inn and Spa at Loretto. Destination Hotels and Resorts took over Loretto in 2008, rekindling Luminaria from the ashes of Baleen restaurant. A graceful courtyard with a splashing fountain and a view of the Loretto Chapel outside and an elegant dining room are conducive to relaxing with friends. Anyone can join the restaurant’s Legacy Club online and receive a significant discount on food — one server automatically reduced our dinner bill and urged us to join for future discounts. She told us the restaurant wants locals to think of it first. Executive chef Brian Cooper, formerly of The Old House at the Eldorado Hotel and with previous experience with the Destination group, recently moved to another group property in Phoenix. Matt Ostrander, now chef de cuisine, is keeping the Southwest faith along with pastry chef Andrea Clover in their heart-and tongue-warming dishes like spicy tortilla soup and red chile crème caramel.
What went awry on my visits was service that ranged from inexperienced to just plain odd despite the hospitable welcome and the gracious discount. The host asked us to wait for a table for 15 minutes while we faced a sea of empty set tables. When we opted to wait at the bar, confusion reigned until an assistant manager finally jumped behind the bar to serve us. One server just said “I don’t know” when asked questions about the menu. Three different staff members offered dinner drinks, but nobody gave us dessert or dessert menus until we asked. Then staffers offered two different menus, only one of which actually contained the evening’s selections. Similar long delays with no server in sight stretched a leisurely dinner into a marathon without dessert. At brunch, when we asked for dessert, the server demurred, offering the opinion that it “might be too late.” Fortunately for us — given Clover’s creatively decadent confections — we finally got to taste some of the best reasons to visit Luminaria.
Aside from service issues, I must mention an unfortunate less-than-fresh-tasting halibut and a side of cold corn crepes with roasted red peppers that tasted only of vinegar. This list of complaints could lead one to avoid Luminaria, but that would be a mistake. Be assured there are many reasons to take advantage of that discount and the major one is everything else.
Quality edibles sourced from local farmers and creative Southwest cuisine make this Destination hotel a true destination. That tortilla soup with its rich, spicy broth, chunks of chicken, avocado, and crispy tortillas will call me back in winter. It’s a meal in itself. The Socorro-raised Pollo Real chicken confit/corn tamale contains a rich, creamy white corn purée with chicken and the barest hint of truffle oil. Crab cakes are crusty and generous and served with a chile-packed rémoulade, a version of the piquant sauce that could take on similar sauces in the Big Easy. The Talus Wind ranch lamb (from Galisteo, New Mexico) mixed grill included a generous T-bone and chop, perfectly charred with deep red centers and succulent flavor.
What Luminaria does with the old sandwich-and-fries combo is heavenly. The simple good crunch of crispy bacon paired with juicy tomato is accompanied with a pile of those perfect crab cakes on a chile-cheddar roll smeared with red-chile aioli. Grilled chicken breast is sweetened with orange slices, spiced with red-chile aioli, and piled with crisp romaine on a bolillo (a savory bread). Both sandwiches are served with a cone of sweetpotato fries, crunchy on the outside with creamy, sweet centers. Either dish could have fed two, but we tried our best, loath to leave a morsel.
Clover doesn’t trifle with her chocolate mousse trifle: rich layers of Chantilly cream, dark chocolate ganache, and creamy chocolate mousse, studded with chunks of fudgy cake. It is so sublime that only the red chile crème caramel with orange sauce can beat it. Order both. Portions are easily sharable. Strange service aside, I’ll be back — and I’ll bring my friends.