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Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Su­san Mead­ows

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.

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