Res­tau­rant Re­view

An­di­amo!

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Alex Heard For The New Mex­i­can

When An­di­amo! opened in 1995, a re­viewer for The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can was wowed by a six-dol­lar po­lenta ap­pe­tizer that “re­sem­bled a square of moist corn­bread” with a crispy top, placed on a gen­er­ous pud­dle of creamy Gor­gonzola sauce that was fla­vored with fresh rose­mary. In 2015, this old standby is still on the menu, and it’s still good — the only dif­fer­ence be­ing that it now costs $7.25, which strikes me as an im­pres­sive ex­am­ple of a res­tau­rant keep­ing costs sta­ble over time.

How it strikes you may vary, depend­ing on what you’re look­ing for in a din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Do you seek the culi­nary cut­ting edge, where chefs are do­ing amaz­ing things with un­fa­mil­iar in­gre­di­ents and artsy pre­sen­ta­tions? Look else­where. Would you like to eat some pretty good bistro food with­out emp­ty­ing your wal­let? Then An­di­amo! is a re­li­able choice.

The name means “Let’s go!,” and the orig­i­nal mis­sion of founders Joan Gill­crist and Chris Galvin was to cre­ate an af­ford­able-but-up­scale Ital­ian spot that felt mod­ern, rel­a­tively light (com­pared to a 1970s Ital­ian res­tau­rant in a strip mall, that is), and cheer­ful — an al­ter­na­tive for lo­cals and visi­tors who needed a break from spicy, of­ten heavy New Mexico food.

They achieved that, and An­di­amo! is still a pleas­ant place to be, thanks to the orig­i­nal con­cept and the work of Este­ban Parra, a New Mexico na­tive who has been head chef here since 1999. An­di­amo! is housed in a cozy old white stucco build­ing on Garfield Street. The space in­side is bright and fairly quiet, even when it’s full of pa­trons, and ta­bles are set close to­gether but not so close that you feel crowded. Dur­ing two trips, the servers we met were con­sis­tently friendly, brisk, and ca­pa­ble.

As for the menu, it’s a lit­tle dated, a snap­shot of what, for bet­ter and worse, for­ward-think­ing cooks were do­ing in the mid-1990s: us­ing good in­gre­di­ents in recipes that show­case the food with­out over­whelm­ing or dis­guis­ing it, em­ploy­ing the kitchen’s grill and grid­dle a bit too much (to char-stripe and blacken things like salmon and veg­eta­bles, for ex­am­ple), and serv­ing up fa­mil­iar desserts like tiramisu and pot de crème. Some of these cre­ations still work be­cause they’re time­less, and they’re pre­pared well. Some feel a lit­tle tired. And there is, alas, the oc­ca­sional strike-out.

For din­ner one night, we started with the po­lenta ap­pe­tizer and a salad that’s been a main­stay here for a long time: dark­red roasted beets, arugula, and goat cheese, served with a strip of fo­cac­cia and spicy tape­nade. The salad is sim­ple to make; the crispy po­lenta is trick­ier. (Try it at home. It’s hard to achieve that blend of mushy in­sides and a crispy sur­face.) Both are very good, and if you’re look­ing for a snack rather than a full meal, you can’t go wrong by or­der­ing these two things along with a glass of wine or a bot­tle of Peroni, the re­fresh­ing Ital­ian beer that An­di­amo! serves.

I was less thrilled with my en­tree, a pricey ($30) piece of beef ten­der­loin that didn’t seem like beef ten­der­loin at all — it lacked the dis­tinc­tive shape (long and nar­row, with oval slices once you carve into it) and tex­ture (fine­grained, like prime rib) that I as­so­ciate with this cut, and in­stead seemed like a flat, nar­row steak. What­ever it was, the beef was ac­com­pa­nied by some­what stiff mashed pota­toes and a glis­ten­ing med­ley of veg­eta­bles — in­clud­ing red onion, red pep­pers, squash, and greens — that had been pushed around on a hot sur­face un­til they were charred and limp. This tech­nique al­ways seems unin­spired to me, and I ended up ig­nor­ing the veg­eta­bles af­ter a few stabs.

My din­ing com­pan­ion or­dered the fish of the night, a grilled salmon steak served on a saf­fron risotto frit­ter, which she loved. We shared an or­der of tiramisu, which came out look­ing great. But de­spite an im­pres­sive list of in­gre­di­ents — ladyfin­gers, espresso, mas­car­pone, cho­co­late shav­ings, and hazel­nuts — it was watery in­side, and tasted bland with­out the ex­pected kick of al­co­hol or the fla­vor of rich cho­co­late.

Dur­ing a sec­ond trip, for lunch, I or­dered a pizza margherita that I’d gladly have again: great crust, a tomato sauce that wasn’t too gar­licky, a nice layer of melted moz­zarella, and a side salad that had a zingy cit­rus dress­ing. My friend had a bowl of but­ter­nut squash soup (good) and a side or­der of sweet potato fries (not so good — they were over­cooked). We tried another dessert — the cho­co­late pot de crème — which came on a plate in­stead of in a cup and was sur­rounded by a moat of straw­berry coulis. Like some other things on the menu at An­di­amo!, that coulis squirt is one old trick that should’ve been re­tired years ago.

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