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Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Alex Heard For The New Mex­i­can

Café Fina is housed in a ren­o­vated build­ing that was once a Fina gas sta­tion and, more re­cently, Real Food Na­tion, a restau­rant that didn’t suc­ceed but had a lot of fans. Get­ting there re­quires a field trip — it’s 11 miles from the Plaza — but it doesn’t take long, usu­ally around 20 min­utes. You can stay on Old Las Ve­gas High­way the whole way — rolling past Harry’s Road­house and what used to be Bob­cat Bite — or take I-25 to exit 290, which leads to the El­do­rado com­mu­nity and Gal­is­teo. Go left off the ramp in­stead of right, and you’ll see it soon. There’s am­ple park­ing.

Café Fina’s owner, lo­cal restau­rant veteran Murphy O’Brien, launched it in 2012 with a break­fast-and-lunch-only menu that, as of early De­cem­ber, has been ex­panded to in­clude din­ner on Fri­day, Satur­day, and Sun­day nights. (Though this de­vel­op­ment isn’t men­tioned on its web­site, it is on the café’s Face­book page, which is more ac­tively main­tained.) The in­te­rior is spa­cious and bright, with big win­dows that of­fer views of the rolling foothills that char­ac­ter­ize this part of Santa Fe County. You or­der at a wide counter that has a bak­ery case to the left and other baked goods — in­clud­ing quiche — in the mid­dle. Don’t over­look the pas­tries, pies, cook­ies, and cakes. Ev­ery­thing we tried on two vis­its — Meyer le­mon Shaker pie, pecan-sour cream cof­fee cake, and ap­ple galette — was very good.

The café’s day­time menu com­bines pan­cakes, egg dishes, sal­ads, South­west­ern break­fast sta­ples like mi­gas and a break­fast bur­rito, sand­wiches, and a cheese­burger that dares to fea­ture poblano chile in­stead of New Mex­ico green. (More about this heresy in a mo­ment.) On a re­cent break­fast visit, I or­dered the huevos mo­tuleños, an old clas­sic that shows up in Diana Kennedy’s in­flu­en­tial 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mex­ico, in which she de­scribes the dish as “huevos rancheros with Yu­cate­can flour­ishes.” Café Fina’s chefs have lo­cal­ized their ver­sion to fine ef­fect, us­ing red chile in­stead of the tomato-based sauce that Kennedy calls for. This was a per­fect meal, con­sist­ing of two fresh, fried eggs on a home­made corn tor­tilla with a com­bi­na­tion of black beans, green peas, feta cheese, and sautéed sweet ba­nanas on the side.

My com­pan­ion or­dered the ba­sic break­fast — two eggs, hash browns, and toast — and was mostly pleased. The only prob­lem was the eggs, which she or­dered poached. Not ev­ery restau­rant will even do poached eggs th­ese days, so hats off to the place for giv­ing it the old whirling-wa­ter try. But the whites came out rubbery, which prob­a­bly means the wa­ter was too hot. On the plus side, the hash browns and toast were good, and the Mex­i­can mocha she or­dered was ex­cel­lent — hot enough and per­fectly sweet­ened, with just the right bal­ance of cin­na­moned choco­late and ro­bust but mel­low cof­fee. Another hit was the slice of pecan-sour cream cof­fee cake we shared: It was moist and full of nutty, spicy fla­vor.

A sec­ond visit, for din­ner, was also en­joy­able, re­veal­ing a cou­ple of small prob­lems that will prob­a­bly be fixed soon. One is the night­time il­lu­mi­na­tion, which comes pri­mar­ily from over­head track lights that are spiky on the eyes at some ta­bles. The din­ner menu is small at this point, but that’s most likely go­ing to change as a cus­tomer base de­vel­ops. O’Brien part­ners on the din­ner selections with lo­cal chef Chris Galvin; the two carry over the chile cheese­burger from lunch, but also of­fer swankier en­trees like fried oys­ters, seared sal­mon, and duck con­fit. All of th­ese would go well with a glass of wine, and those in your group who aren’t do­ing any of the chauf­feur­ing will feel a pang of re­gret that al­co­hol isn’t avail­able. Good news on that front: The café should be li­censed to serve al­co­hol by early Fe­bru­ary.

My com­pan­ion that night or­dered a cup of split pea soup — it was rich, dark, and de­li­ciously hammy — and a veg­gie en­chi­lada loaded with zuc­chini, asadero cheese, and red chile sauce. She loved it, along with the sides of black beans, slaw, and cilantro rice. The best thing we had, though, was the po­lenta ap­pe­tizer, which was sur­pris­ingly light, del­i­cately crispy on top, and herbed per­fectly with rose­mary. It comes plated in a pool of Gor­gonzola sauce that con­tains traces of bread­crumbs and scal­lion greens.

I’d been brood­ing about that poblano chile cheese­burger, so I went for it. Many burg­ers th­ese days are a mess — wob­bly stacks of in­gre­di­ents that end up squirting out of your hands — but the one on of­fer here is a tidy cre­ation that comes on a cia­batta bun. I’m not al­ways a fan of poblano chile, but it worked well in this burger, giv­ing it a mildly hot, smoky taste. The fries that came with it were noth­ing spe­cial. But that seemed mi­nor, con­sid­er­ing all the good things I’d had. I’ll def­i­nitely be go­ing back for more of Café Fina’s cre­ative and af­ford­able food. We’re lucky it’s part of the lo­cal scene.

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