The spot around the corner
Until somebody suggested I check out the Agoyo Lounge, I had no idea there was a restaurant inside the Inn on the Alameda, the popular hotel at the corner of Alameda Street and Paseo de Peralta. I don’t think my ignorance is unique — after all, the location is slightly removed from the downtown dining cluster. A friend who met me there for dinner hadn’t heard of it either, and our waiter — a talkative, flamboyant guy who knew a lot about wine — agreed that the place doesn’t attract enough local attention, a situation that the chef and staff have been trying to remedy by creating a distinctive, ambitious menu.
The Agoyo Lounge deserves some hometown love. It’s not a consistently first-rate restaurant yet, but it’s a pretty good one, especially given the site’s built-in limitations. (Walk by the tiny, partially open-air kitchen, and you’ll see what I mean.) It’s a cozy spot, too, featuring old-school Santa Fe touches — a brick floor, thick reddish-brown vigas, and sconce lighting — that feel warm and inviting, especially on a cold night. There’s a relaxed vibe to this small eatery, so much so that a stranger from another table felt comfortable enough to stroll over and tell me that I looked exactly like a friend of his from San Francisco — who, unfortunately, had died. Bon appétit!
The restaurant has a talented chef at the helm: Jen Doughty, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America (at the campus in Hyde Park, New York) and has worked under chefs at the Coyote Café, La Fonda, and Citronelle in Washington, D.C. Doughty creates appealing appetizers and salads, and we tried three to get started: empanadas filled with chicken, goat cheese, and caramelized onion; a sweet-onion puff pastry containing smoked salmon, capers, and roasted red peppers; and a spinach salad with duck confit.
The empanadas were delicious — baked and flaky rather than fried and oily, with a generous savory filling. They came with a little dish of “Oaxacan mole,” plummy-tasting stuff that was a perfect complement. The spinach and duck salad was also a hit. Confit means the duck has been preserved in its own rendered fat, and though I’m no expert on the technique, I can tell you this much: It worked for us. The shredded duck meat was rich, moist, and salty, and there was plenty of it, along with other ingredients — pine nuts, marinated and roasted portobello mushrooms, brie, braised red onion — that add up to a salad hearty enough to be your main event. The puff-pastry appetizer didn’t rise to the same standard, though, for a couple of reasons. It was served at room temperature — these ingredients ought to be chilled — and there was a bit too much lettuce piled on it.
We followed up with the Alsatian tart of the day. I would order this again, but it also illustrated the kitchen’s limitations. A thin rectangular crust had been generously moistened with crème fraîche and then baked with toppings that included chicken, scallions, mild green chile, and leafy greens. Ideally, this crust would be made from scratch right on the premises, but the Agoyo Lounge is using a lavash flatbread sold at Trader Joe’s.
A second dinner visit started out strong, with another round of empanadas (chorizo-filled) and an unusual appetizer called “avocado roll stuffed with smoked salmon.” That description conjured up images of a California roll. But instead, the salmon we got was tented under half of a sliced avocado alongside scatterings of roasted corn, thin-sliced radishes, cherry tomatoes, and greens — all of it jazzed up by a jalapeño aioli. It mostly worked, though my dining companion thought there was too much corn and that it hadn’t been attached to a cob for quite a while.
Our two entrees were more disappointing: buffalo tenderloin with fingerling potatoes (a special that night) and soft tacos made with portobello mushrooms and flour tortillas. The potatoes were great, but the buffalo, though it was cooked to a nice medium-rare, didn’t have much flavor. That’s a pricey cut of meat, and chefs often let the product speak for itself rather than drenching it in marinade. A suggestion? More garlic, pepper, and minced herbs. The tacos also need some work. The tortillas were dry and borderline stiff, and the filling was uninspired: too-chewy mushrooms and unremarkable shredded lettuce. One other suggestion: more and better dessert options would be an easy upgrade here. Currently there are only four, and the ancho chocolate crème brûlée we tried barely tasted like chocolate.
So, yeah, the Agoyo could step up its game on a front or two, but it has a good foundation and a fun vibe. Locals should give it a try, even when they don’t have hungry outof-towners around.