Straight up

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Lau­rel Glad­den

Have you seen the Hipster Busi­ness Name Gen­er­a­tor web­site (www.hip­ster­busi­ness.name)? Pok­ing fun at the lin­guis­tic frame­work re­cently pop­u­lar­ized by hip restau­rants, cof­fee shops, cock­tail lounges, and bou­tiques across the coun­try (Cane & Ta­ble, Salt & Straw, Land­marks & Lions), it cre­ates an end­less stream of am­per­sand-linked sug­ges­tions. When word about Radish & Rye — the new res­tau­rant at Ris­tra’s old ad­dress — be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing, I won­dered if the own­ers used that web­site when choos­ing a name. Af­ter all, the kitchen is helmed by David Gas­par de Alba, who comes to Santa Fe from that hipster mecca, Port­land.

Tak­ing its name to heart, R&R aims to serve “farm-inspired cui­sine,” which means at­ten­tion to sea­son­al­ity and some veg­etable-cen­tric dishes (in­clud­ing, yes, radishes). The bar fo­cuses on the Amer­i­can whiskey fam­ily (try the re­fresh­ing Bour­bon Cider and Drag­on­fly cock­tails) but also of­fers beer and wine. Rather than the youth­ful, for­ward-think­ing, un­fussy cui­sine its name sug­gests, the food here more closely re­sem­bles what’s served by other up­scale es­tab­lish­ments in town. Some of it is pricey, fancy, and not par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing, but some is in­trigu­ing and has prom­ise.

The pick­les are a pretty ensem­ble, although they look more like gar­nishes than an $8 ap­pe­tizer. The car­rot, bean, radish, cau­li­flower, and gar­lic scape were crunchy and briny, but only three of each pickle were of­fered to our ta­ble of four. Sim­i­larly, a ramekin of in­dul­gently fatty duck ril­lettes was served with only five cros­tini.

There were high points, of course. The kitchen gets cre­ative with ham hocks, mak­ing that soul­ful, sat­is­fy­ingly salty meat into cro­quettes. The ribs are re­mark­ably ten­der, pulling off the bone in the best way. Their ve­neer of sweet “Carolina” glaze cre­ates an ex­cit­ing fla­vor see­saw with the vine­garand-mus­tard-dressed corn salad. The scal­lop ce­viche has an in­vig­o­rat­ing acid­ity, the shell­fish de­na­tured just enough to be pleas­antly firm.

I’m in love with R&R’s Cae­sar salad spin — mildly bit­ter radic­chio, rich piñons, and a per­fectly salty, tangy dress­ing. In an al­lur­ing snap-pea-zuc­chini salad, the peas popped with fresh­ness, and the still-firm zuc­chini looked like vel­vet rib­bons in the well-bal­anced plum vinai­grette. Pel­lets of duck chichar­rónes were in­con­grously strewn on top.

There’s a silky corn chow­der, with green chile and jalapeño of­fer­ing mel­low heat. Its pair­ing with a gi­ant mar­row­bone seemed like unc­tu­ous overkill, though — melt­ingly rich mar­row begs for a sharp, bright part­ner. If noth­ing else, we longed for some bread to spread it on.

The menu does in­clude en­trees — larger dishes with price tags to match. The hanger steak, served with su­per-smooth cau­li­flower-chèvre purée, was nicely cooked but for­get­table, its an­cho-chile ac­cent notwith­stand­ing. The salmon filet with spring gar­lic, fen­nel, and greens was pretty and moist but oth­er­wise un­re­mark­able.

Coco Chanel sup­pos­edly said, “Be­fore you leave the house, look in the mir­ror and take one thing off.” The kitchen might heed that ad­vice with re­gard to the pe­cu­liarly tough pork chop, ringed with a half inch of fat and draped with smoky but su­per­flu­ous pork belly. This dish — which in­cludes po­lenta and morels — seemed dis­cor­dant on a July menu any­way. Given its fo­cus on sea­son­al­ity, I won­dered why the kitchen didn’t opt for a sum­mery com­bi­na­tion, with peaches or apri­cots, say.

Had this been my first time eat­ing fried green toma­toes, I wouldn’t have un­der­stood what all the fuss is about. The fruit was thick, firm, and tart, as it should be, but rather than tra­di­tional corn­meal, the bat­ter is puffy and tem­pura-like, and it be­comes soggy. The pi­mento cheese would please my grand­mother, with its mouth­wa­ter­ing sharp­ness and soft, nub­bly tex­ture. It’s typ­i­cally served with bread or crack­ers, but here it’s lay­ered be­tween the pip­ing-hot toma­toes, where it melts and gums up the crust.

The only dessert we sam­pled was the pe­can “pie” — re­ally a muf­fin-sized tart­let. The del­i­cate crust was too thick, but the fill­ing was caramelly sweet, nutty, and lightly salted, beau­ti­fully ac­cented by a vanilla-in­fused Chan­tilly cream.

R&R’s dé­cor is the muted fine-din­ing sort, heavy on tan, taupe, and beige. The pa­tio is idyl­lic; in­door spa­ces — par­tic­u­larly the bar — are invit­ing and lively, which means they also get loud. Ser­vice is pro­fes­sional, po­lite, and typ­i­cally quick, although on one visit our server was cu­ri­ously for­get­ful and ab­sent for un­rea­son­ably long stretches.

But these bumps can be smoothed over. I sus­pect R&R’s tal­ent and cre­ativ­ity just need fine-tun­ing. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and few restau­rants are flaw­less right out of the gate. Some words to keep in mind on the road to great­ness? Sweat & Time.

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