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.