El Farol

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Alex Heard

On its menu and web­site, El Farol bills it­self as “Santa Fe’s Old­est Res­tau­rant & Cantina.” This isn’t ac­cu­rate — The Pantry and The Shed are both older, to give just two ex­am­ples — but that’s OK, since El Farol is the kind of place that inspires tall tales and le­gends, some of which ac­tu­ally turn out to be true. Ever heard the story about El Farol be­ing part of an im­por­tant aca­demic pa­per on game the­ory? It was pub­lished in 1994 by W. Brian Arthur, a pro­fes­sor af­fil­i­ated with the Santa Fe In­sti­tute, and it’s called “In­duc­tive Rea­son­ing and Bounded Ra­tio­nal­ity (The El Farol Prob­lem).”

El Farol was launched in 1963 by part­ners Vint Black­burn and Bob Young, and the res­tau­rant’s name (which trans­lates as “the lan­tern”) was sug­gested by a friend from Barcelona named An­dre Ripol. Black­burn, who lived in Santa Fe un­til a few years ago, said El Farol was orig­i­nally housed at 802 Canyon Road, at the cor­ner of Camino del Monte Sol. It wasn’t known for ta­pas back then, and it didn’t have a liquor li­cense — all that came later, as did a mi­gra­tion to the cur­rent lo­ca­tion at 808. For years prior to El Farol’s open­ing, that ad­dress was home to a rowdy place called the Canyon Road Bar.

Through the years, El Farol has en­dured, and there aren’t many restau­rants that feel so distinc­tively like Santa Fe. The vibe starts out front, on a long, nar­row din­ing pa­tio that fea­tures high ta­bles and a shade-giv­ing roof made from hefty vi­gas and planks. Go in­side, and you’ll see El Farol’s fa­mous bar along with a scat­ter­ing of ta­bles. Walk to the right, and you’ll start me­an­der­ing through cozy, close-quar­ters din­ing rooms that fea­ture mu­rals, glow­ing lights, col­or­ful cur­tains, vines, and even a small per­for­mance stage. Out back is a big open-air pa­tio that’s a fine place to be on a sum­mer evening.

It all looks ca­sual, but the prices here are pretty high: $28 for an en­trée of scal­lops, $36 for rib eye, and $12 for a jalapeño mar­garita. El Farol isn’t quite as ex­pen­sive as neigh­bors like The Com­pound and Geron­imo, but it’s close. Is the food on the same level? Judg­ing by two re­cent vis­its, it isn’t, mak­ing El Farol some­thing of a gam­ble for times when you’re look­ing to fo­cus more on eat­ing than on drink­ing and small-plate snack­ing.

For din­ner one night, we started with three ta­pas plates, only one of which stood out: agua­cate, an av­o­cado half that’s been crumb-coated and quick-fried and is served with pico de gallo and lime yogurt. This was very good: In fact, my only com­plaint was that I had to share it. Less suc­cess­ful was the sliced chorizo sausage with figs in a red wine sauce. The sausage was fine, but the figs didn’t gain much from soak­ing in a “sauce” that had the con­sis­tency of un-re­duced red wine. The third plate we tried, jamón ser­rano and manchego cheese, didn’t rise above the sum of its parts. The thinly sliced Span­ish ham was good, but the manchego was bland and sweat­ing from sit­ting out.

Both en­trées were about the same: not bad, but not mem­o­rable enough for the price. My friend went for a sin­gle por­tion of paella and found the rice mo­not­o­nous. I tried the lomo de cerdo capri­chosa, which was de­scribed on the menu as pork ten­der­loin “Mi­lanese style.” That meant it was beaten thin and fried in another crumb coat­ing. The meat was tough, and the main fla­vor that came through was cook­ing oil.

Lunch on a sec­ond visit was a more pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence, thanks partly to the weather. We ate out front on a per­fect af­ter­noon. My friend tried the warm kale salad, which suf­fered be­cause the kale hadn’t been ten­der­ized, wasn’t warm, and was miss­ing two in­gre­di­ents listed on the menu: cran­ber­ries and tomato. My “salad of the day” con­sisted of green and red leaf let­tuces, pine nuts, pear slices, cheese, and a sweet, sticky dress­ing. Two of the salad’s defin­ing el­e­ments — the pear and the cheese — were nearly fla­vor­less.

Af­ter that, we both went with South­west­ern or­ders: beef tacos and a chicken en­chi­lada. The tacos I had were too sim­ple: floppy sin­gle tor­tillas con­tain­ing dol­lops of ground beef and melted cheese, with none of the stan­dard gar­nishes — like cilantro — that you would get at a typ­i­cal taco truck. The bright spot was dessert: chur­ros, fried dough cylin­ders crusted with sugar and cin­na­mon and served with a warm cho­co­late sauce. If ev­ery­thing at El Farol was this good, there would be no prob­lem.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.