Restau­rant Re­view

Eloisa in the Drury Plaza Ho­tel

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Lau­rel Glad­den

For a minute, I al­most for­got where I was. Surely I was in an­other city — not New York but pos­si­bly L.A. — be­cause this was def­i­nitely not the am­bi­ence of a typ­i­cal up­scale Santa Fe estab­lish­ment. The light was cool and white. Trancy mu­sic, some of it with Span­ish rhythms, pulsed in the back­ground. The dé­cor blends rugged painted ex­posed brick and hard­wood floors with the smooth sur­faces of chic mod­ern ta­bles, chairs, and ban­quettes. The room was packed, but ev­ery­one was chat­ting at a rea­son­able level.

The vaguely cos­mopoli­tan L.A. vibe seems fit­ting at Eloisa, which chef John Rivera Sed­lar opened in the new Drury Plaza Ho­tel to her­ald his re­turn from the City of An­gels to the City Dif­fer­ent. He named his restau­rant for his grand­mother, a fact you’ll learn from your menu. Sed­lar pays homage to his North­ern New Mex­ico roots by in­clud­ing tra­di­tional dishes — rel­lenos, cal­abac­i­tas, carne adovada, and Frito pie — of­ten given a cre­ative per­sonal spin. So many of them are re­mark­able in tex­ture, fla­vor, and sea­son­ing.

Ser­vice is cor­dial and ex­ceed­ingly pro­fes­sional, although some staff mem­bers seem ner­vous. When things are busy — and even when they’re not — ser­vice can be ne­glect­ful. More than once on a slow af­ter­noon, I sat unat­tended, wa­ter glass empty, for in­ap­pro­pri­ately long pe­ri­ods of time. But th­ese sorts of glitches can — and should — be fixed.

The lunchtime sandía salad is a com­posed plate of jewel-like wa­ter­melon cubes, swirls of cu­cum­ber, greens, sprouts, mint, and perky peach-colored shrimp — none of it sea­soned or dressed in any no­tice­able way, un­for­tu­nately. The niçoise is a jumble of green beans, greens, other veg­eta­bles, and olives, with a whole boiled egg served separately in a small bowl. Eloisa pre­pares it with im­pec­ca­bly cooked, moist, and yield­ing salmon rather than tuna. Fine by me. The Cae­sar is a six- or seven-inch-di­am­e­ter bowl con­tain­ing a few hand­fuls of greens un­pleas­antly lac­quered in dress­ing, and I’m not con­vinced that it’s worth nine bucks. The menu also in­cludes a burger — the ten­der, pleas­ingly min­er­ally meat topped with ched­dar and green chile, nat­u­rally, along with a thick slice of tomato and pick­led red onion. The cu­ri­ously fluffy, uni­formly golden chips needed salt.

In the evening, make a stop at the bar, where the team cre­ates some of the finest cock­tails I’ve had in New Mex­ico. The Don Aji, the Zest-a-Rita, the Agua de Rosas, and the Fresa are dis­tinct but re­mark­ably bal­anced and re­fresh­ing in their own ways.

The chile pri­mav­era is one of the menu’s small plates: a roasted whole chile with queso, fresh peas, favas, and a swath of pis­tou. It’s fresh and light and fully rounded in fla­vor. Also suc­cess­ful are the pas­trami tacos. With mildly crispy blue corn tor­tillas sand­wich­ing smoky, pep­pery meat; ten­der, briny sauer­kraut; and tangy yel­low mus­tard with a pick­led ser­rano on top, they’re a full-fla­vored nosh.

At din­ner, you can or­der a bas­ket of house-made corn tor­tillas dec­o­rated with flower pe­tals and served with “In­dian but­ter” (a creamy spread rem­i­nis­cent of gua­camole). This is a lovely, au­then­tic of­fer­ing, but at nine dol­lars for four tor­tillas, it’s over­priced. The duck en­fri­jo­lada is an unimag­in­ably ten­der con­fit tucked un­der a blue corn tor­tilla and swathed with New Mex­ico caber­net red chile. Sed­lar’s ver­sion of carne adovada is a juicy, meaty sous vide pork chop served with sa­vory white beans. The in­ven­tive maize budino sounds pe­cu­liar, but it is a de­light­fully smooth, putty-colored custard that cap­i­tal­izes on corn’s nat­u­ral sweet­ness. The dish that wowed us all was the potato-wrapped scal­lops. This fan­ci­ful, fan­ci­fied ver­sion of fish and chips winds long, thin fil­a­ments of potato into balls around suc­cu­lent, briny scal­lops. The only flop was the nopal pail­lard, which com­bined veg­e­tal grilled cac­tus pad with earthy mush­room stuffing and bit­ter radic­chio — a con­fus­ing com­bi­na­tion of fla­vors and tex­tures that just didn’t make sense.

Sed­lar’s Frito pie is served at lunch. It is de­li­cious. What it is not is a Frito pie. The menu de­scribes it as “chile verde chicken with cotija, red onion, and cilantro,” with fried won­ton chips stand­ing in for the Fri­tos. It’s served in an open Frito bag. There’s noth­ing chile verde about the ten­der, rich meat, though; rather, the sauce is salty-sweet and clearly Asian-in­spired. The waxy shav­ings of cheese were not like any cotija I’ve ever tasted, and there wasn’t a sprig of cilantro in sight, though the plate con­tained plenty of other green things. It was like Lilly Pulitzer’s dream salad, that jumble of beau­ti­ful emer­ald baby bok choy, pick­led red onion, pur­ple cab­bage, radic­chio, and long curl­ing shoelaces of daikon.

The house desserts are en­tic­ing in a pre­dictably fancy way. But is there a bet­ter way to end a meal de­signed to honor Sed­lar’s fam­ily tra­di­tions than a plate of sim­ple, per­fect biz­co­chi­tos? An old Coca-Cola com­mer­cial is hav­ing a cul­tural mo­ment thanks to the fi­nale of Mad Men; you might find your­self hum­ming its tune as you eat, be­cause I’m telling you, this is the real thing.

Rat­ings range from 1 to 5 chiles, in­clud­ing half chiles. This re­flects the re­viewer’s ex­pe­ri­ence with re­gard to food and drink, at­mos­phere, ser­vice, and value. 5 = flaw­less 4 1/2 = ex­tra­or­di­nary 4 = ex­cel­lent 3 1/2 = very good 3 = good 2 1/2 = av­er­age 2 = fair

1 1/2 = ques­tion­able 1 = poor

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