The spot around the cor­ner

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Alex Heard

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.

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