Restau­rant Re­view

Ju­lia: A Spir­ited Restau­rant and Bar

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Alex Heard

It’s never been clear to me why “haunted” is a sell­ing point for a ho­tel, but at La Posada de Santa Fe, they love the leg­end of Ju­lia Staab, who died at age fifty-two in 1896 — tor­mented by the loss of a child, we’re told — and who has sup­pos­edly glided around the halls of her former home ever since, dressed in a flow­ing gown and a hood. My wife and I stayed at La Posada 21 years ago, in the old part of the ho­tel that in­cor­po­rates the orig­i­nal Staab house, and we were as­sured that our chances of see­ing Ju­lia were bet­ter there than if we were sleep­ing in one of the out­ly­ing ca­sitas. Good to know!

Ju­lia is a big part of the brand­ing plan at La Posada’s new sig­na­ture eatery, whose full name is Ju­lia: A Spir­ited Restau­rant and Bar. The restau­rant is a re­vamp of the nowde­funct Fuego, and like its pre­de­ces­sor, Ju­lia is up­scale, with prices that may send a slight chill through your wal­let. One por­tion of the menu fol­lows the clas­sic steak­house model, with three dif­fer­ent steaks and prices that match what you’d see at other sim­i­lar restau­rants in town (you pay ex­tra for side dishes). Op­po­site the steaks is a list of four ap­pe­tiz­ers, three soups and sal­ads, and eight “sig­na­ture cre­ations.” Prices are on the high side here, too. There’s one veg­e­tar­ian en­tree, a med­ley of “or­ganic sea­sonal veg­eta­bles, an­cient grains, heir­loom toma­toes, and EVOO” — ex­tra vir­gin olive oil — that costs $26.

Ju­lia’s in­te­rior is el­e­gant, with ma­te­ri­als, fur­ni­ture, art, and fix­tures that are sturdy, con­ser­va­tive, and com­fort­able. Judg­ing by two re­cent vis­its, it’s a con­sis­tently quiet place, so it’s a good choice if you want to have a real con­ver­sa­tion. The servers we en­coun­tered were friendly, attentive, and ea­ger to please, and they were deft about han­dling lit­tle prob­lems and mis­takes that cropped up. One night, for ex­am­ple, our servers brought the wrong dessert, which no­body re­al­ized un­til I had al­ready pounced on it. Even though we liked what she’d served us — a black-and-white bombe with red chile mousse, an or­ange-and-white-choco­late blondie base, and a shiny outer coat­ing of dark choco­late ganache — she took it off the bill.

Ju­lia’s chef, Todd Hall, tries hard to make his cre­ations ap­pe­tiz­ing and pleas­ing to the eye. As some­times hap­pens, the artsi­ness can get in the way, which it did with the roast beet salad we tried, a com­bi­na­tion of golden beets, greens, and hazel­nut oil. The thin beet slices were good, but there weren’t enough of them for the price ($13), and they were sit­ting un­der a fist­ful of let­tuce bound at the bot­tom by a noo­dle that had been wrapped around the let­tuce in tight loops.

Another ap­pe­tizer that puz­zled me was the tuna and lob­ster-claw par­fait, a ver­ti­cal column of minced tuna, lob­ster, and veg­etable mat­ter (chopped up too finely to iden­tify) that came with a tasty piece of Navajo fry bread. The par­fait was sur­pris­ingly pun­gent, prob­a­bly be­cause of the lob­ster. I’m not sug­gest­ing it was spoiled, but it smelled and tasted fishy enough that it was dif­fi­cult to eat.

Both en­trees were bet­ter. We tried the “brick chicken” — poul­try roasted un­der the weight of a brick — which was crisp out­side and juicy in­side. The pork ten­der­loin I had was cooked just right, with a beau­ti­ful pink at the cen­ter of each slice. The menu calls it “smoked,” but it didn’t smell or taste like it had spent time over ac­tual burn­ing wood.

The next din­ner out­ing was a step up, start­ing with a de­li­cious as­sort­ment of green-chile popovers with herbed honey but­ter. The onion rings were al­most there but not quite: the crust was good, but the onion it­self sweated and slid around loosely in­side. I tried the filet mignon; it was okay but noth­ing spe­cial — as of­ten hap­pens with this cut, it was dry on the out­side, which may be why it’s served with lib­eral amounts of béar­naise sauce, bor­de­laise sauce, or an­chovy but­ter. My com­pan­ion that night or­dered the wild salmon and liked ev­ery­thing put in front of her: a size­able piece of fresh salmon, seared on the out­side and pink in­side, served with “crazy corn suc­co­tash” that fea­tured fresh corn sliced right off the cob.

Over­all, it was another night of hits and misses. Ju­lia has prom­ise, but it hasn’t es­tab­lished it­self as a must, es­pe­cially given the price tags.

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