Late show

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Alex Heard I For The New Mex­i­can

Ear­lier this sum­mer, I was fin­ish­ing din­ner with some outof-town friends who wanted dessert, which pre­sented a chal­lenge. We’d eaten at a place that was a good choice for a sa­vory meal but not so great for sweets, so we needed to go some­where else. It was al­ready around 9 p.m., that gloomy hour in Santa Fe when your din­ing op­tions start to dwin­dle rapidly, and the side­walks start to roll up. In­fierno came to mind — I knew it had been opened ear­lier this year and was pro­mot­ing it­self as a res­tau­rant that, among other things, stays open late.

What fol­lowed was mostly a win: In­fierno had a fun nightowl vibe, the kitchen was in busi­ness, and we were treated right by friendly peo­ple. The only draw­back was that the dessert we tried, tiramisu, was just so-so. No­body re­ally cared, though. The var­i­ous pos­i­tives added up to a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence that made me want to go back.

In­fierno is a re­vamp of the shut­tered Ital­ian res­tau­rant Café Café, and the ob­vi­ous in­tent is to pro­vide a wel­com­ing space with a hip ur­ban feel (mis­sion ac­com­plished), an in­ter­est­ing wine list (check), a solid craft-beer se­lec­tion (yep), and a range of ap­pe­tiz­ers, sal­ads, sand­wiches, en­trees, and piz­zas that will do the trick whether you’re look­ing for din­ner or a quick end-of-the-evening snack. Un­til re­cently, In­fierno served lunch, but it’s now only open later in the day.

The menu is cer­tainly ap­peal­ing, but judg­ing by two re­cent vis­its, the qual­ity of the food is un­pre­dictable. That prob­lem is bal­anced by wait­ers and kitchen staff who (mostly) seem to care whether you’re pleased or not, which is usu­ally a good sign. Yes, there are mis­steps, but there’s also a de­cent chance they will be no­ticed and ad­dressed as this place con­tin­ues to find its foot­ing.

Dur­ing my first full meal at In­fierno, at din­ner, some­thing was flat-out wrong back­stage. The ser­vice was very slow, and one item, the Santa Fe salad, was so poor that it shouldn’t have been served at all. The menu ad­ver­tises a promis­ing com­bi­na­tion of let­tuce, toma­toes, ba­con, green chile, sweet corn, and (for a dol­lar ex­tra) av­o­cado. The re­al­ity was wilted room-tem­per­a­ture greens, ker­nels that seemed canned, no ba­con that I could de­tect, and dis­col­ored av­o­cado slices that had a pasty tex­ture and were vir­tu­ally fla­vor­less. The best things on the plate were some home­made tor­tilla chips that hud­dled in one cor­ner.

We also tried the “sig­na­ture” chile rel­leno, which was half a step up. In­fierno uses poblano chile pep­pers, prob­a­bly be­cause they’re of­ten larger and stur­dier and some­times eas­ier to find than big Hatch spec­i­mens, es­pe­cially in midsummer. But in my opin­ion, they’re not as good, and this cre­ation, which is baked rather than fried, seemed more like a stuffed bell pep­per than a tra­di­tional rel­leno. It’s filled with spicy (but un­spec­i­fied) “Ital­ian meats” that have been topped with melted smoked Gouda and moz­zarella, which form a rub­bery sur­face. Off on a side plate was a med­ley of zuc­chini, yel­low squash, chopped bell pep­pers, more of that use­less corn, pars­ley, and plum toma­toes. The whole thing was plopped on a base of ser­vice­able mari­nara sauce, and it ar­rived luke­warm.

Brighter spots that night in­cluded In­fierno’s vari­a­tion on shrimp scampi — shrimp fried in a spicy bat­ter (not re­ally scampi, but it was still good) — a dish called pesto bake (a med­ley of penne pasta, chicken, tomato, basil pesto, ar­ti­chokes, and still more of that corn), and a pizza that com­bined shred­ded and fresh moz­zarella, basil, and the house red sauce. In­fierno makes a yummy pizza crust, and the fresh moz­zarella was fine. But the sauce shed a fair amount of wa­ter un­der the melted cheese, and as a re­sult, the pizza was a bit soggy.

Dur­ing a sec­ond trip, things im­proved, with the same level of friendly ser­vice and gen­er­ally bet­ter food. An an­tipasto, spinach and ar­ti­choke dip, was quite good, a deca­dent blend of ar­ti­choke hearts, spinach, creamy cheese, bread­crumbs, and pars­ley. This and a sim­i­lar ap­pe­tizer, called “smoki mac­a­roni” — smoked Gouda ac­count­ing for the “smoki” part — were served in small black cast-iron skil­lets, and there were plenty of those rich tor­tilla chips to scoop up the goods.

I also or­dered a meat­ball hoagie, which I would have again. The meat­balls were ten­der and tasty, and they were nes­tled in a soft bun that melded to­gether nicely with the cheese and red sauce.

It’s hard to know what to make of a place that has bad and good days, but In­fierno is try­ing to fill a niche — the latenight scene — that’s un­der­served in Santa Fe. Here’s hop­ing it hits cruis­ing speed in the months ahead.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.