For keeps

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Lau­rel Glad­den

Ear­lier this year, Henry Shuk­man wrote in The New York Times, “They say Santa Fe has a will of its own. If the town wants you, it will get you and keep you; if not it will eject you.” I’ve found this to be true not just of peo­ple but also of restau­rants. Only a few stal­warts have man­aged to ride the fickle wave of culi­nary trends and sur­vive.

Since 2008, Oliver Ridgeway, who came to Santa Fe af­ter a stint at a num­ber of lux­ury ho­tels and re­sorts, in­clud­ing New York’s Car­lyle, has been helm­ing the kitchen at The Anasazi Res­tau­rant & Bar. He has helped Anasazi main­tain its po­si­tion in Santa Fe’s culi­nary fir­ma­ment thanks to thought­fully con­ceived, gen­er­ally well-ex­e­cuted cre­ative South­west­ern cui­sine.

Some things on the menu are bet­ter than oth­ers, but most ev­ery­thing is good. The nine-spice beef ten­der­loin had a rich, bold, hearty meat fla­vor that ap­pealed to me in a pri­mal, sum­mer­time-grill-aroma way. In an en­chi­lada ap­pe­tizer, a ten­der tor­tilla en­velops duck and a rich, mildly sweet, com­plex Mex­i­can mole. The buf­falo burger, which shares its plat­ter with heaps of chile-dusted fries and “to­bacco” onions, was the plate ev­ery­one wanted to steal bites from. Seared diver scal­lops, pear-cel­ery root mash, sugar snap peas, and a del­i­cately ap­plied smoked­chile lob­ster sauce of­fered an in­trigu­ing, eye-open­ing in­ter­play of briny and bit­ter­sweet. One night’s spe­cial ap­pe­tizer was toothy, creamy risotto un­der a flurry of truf­fle shav­ings — so lus­cious, rich, yet bal­anced, we or­dered it twice.

Some things taste bet­ter on paper than on the plate. The black bean-pump­kin soup — an ideal fla­vor com­bi­na­tion for cold win­ter nights — sat­is­fied with­out re­ally im­press­ing. The crab cake was a sad spec­i­men, like grid­dled leftover mashed pota­toes with a lit­tle crab thrown in.

For a South­west­ern res­tau­rant, Anasazi has an un­usual amount of seafood on its menu. The tartare Hawai­ian tuna (a good al­ter­na­tive to other en­dan­gered or less sus­tain­able fish) was like Turk­ish de­light of the sea — bril­liantly pink, soft, jel­ly­like, and just slightly sweet. The avo­cado-pa­paya rel­ish cre­ated a lively mul­ti­col­ored plate, but the crunchy, un­der­ripe pa­paya spoiled the fun. With its fa­vor­able nu­tri­tional pro­file, grilled At­lantic salmon ac­com­pa­nied by a sweet-potato purée and spinach ap­peals to the vir­tu­ous; too bad At­lantic salmon is a fish to avoid, from a sus­tain­abil­ity stand­point.

Anasazi’s ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior de­sign­ers nailed the Santa Fe am­bi­ence. Walls of glow­ing plas­ter and Anasazi stone, mel­low in­di­rect light­ing, some from iron sconces with a snake-tail mo­tif, and pil­lows up­hol­stered in fab­ric repli­cat­ing Navajo rugs com­bine to cre­ate a space that’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­lax­ing and el­e­gantly South­west­ern.

Over­sized cush­ioned arm­chairs and ban­cos make it easy to linger, which I sug­gest you do over the cit­rus cake (rich, fruity, and fatty, it’s much less aus­tere than it sounds) or the Fer­rari-Carano El­do­rado late-har­vest black mus­cat, which has ex­plo­sive berry, choco­late, and mo­lasses fla­vors.

The wine list is ex­ten­sive and var­ied. On a Satur­day night, with six din­ers at the ta­ble or­der­ing ev­ery­thing from scal­lops and salmon to beef ten­der­loin and a burger, we re­quested the help of the som­me­lier. The rec­om­mended 2008 Roessler Pere­grine Pinot Noir had dark, sweet fruit fla­vors and hints of wood and leather. Rather than the bold, punchy fruit fla­vors you might ex­pect of a zin­fan­del, pro­nounced licorice notes dis­tin­guished the 2007 Peltier Sta­tion — bet­ter with the smok­ier and sweeter dishes than oth­ers.

Ser­vice can suf­fer, depend­ing on the crowd. One night, our server was ea­ger and al­most com­i­cally en­thu­si­as­tic. On a busier evening, our po­lite server had a well-prac­ticed rou­tine, but she re­peat­edly for­got (or ig­nored?) us for long stretches of time — not the sort of ser­vice you ex­pect when din­ner could eas­ily run $75 a per­son or more.

Ridgeway and his staff clearly want to en­gen­der an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the food and char­ac­ter of the South­west; they want to get you and keep you, and they suc­ceed most of the time. Even when they don’t, though, you can’t help ad­mir­ing the ef­fort.

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