Grace notes

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW -

On a re­cent morn­ing, Este­van Gar­cia sat at a ta­ble on his restau­rant’s breezy side­walk pa­tio in his crisp chef whites, fin­ish­ing up a late break­fast. His un­hur­ried de­meanor was that of a man at the top of his game sa­vor­ing the fruits of his la­bor, and the chef, who has long been rec­og­nized as a ma­jor player on the South­west­ern food scene, wore a peace­ful ex­pres­sion as he sipped his cof­fee. When din­ing at Este­van, or some­times just walk­ing by, it is very of­ten pos­si­ble to play a game of spot the chef. Whether he’s drink­ing a glass of wine and chat­ting with a five-top, pour­ing drinks at the long, min­i­mal­ist bar, or eating out­side by him­self, Gar­cia seems to be ev­ery­where but the kitchen. But it is clear that be­hind the scenes, he is man­ning a well-ap­pointed eatery, one that fur­thers his rep­u­ta­tion as a mas­ter of tra­di­tional New Mex­ico-in­spired cui­sine.

Este­van’s sec­tion of Wash­ing­ton Street is a lit­tle qui­eter than the area closer to the Plaza, and the restau­rant’s dé­cor is un­fussy and el­e­gant. Din­ers can eat on the small side­walk pa­tio or climb the stairs and eat on the sleek yet rus­tic sec­ond floor, which also in­cludes cushy bal­cony seat­ing. Cu­ri­ously, as the food is so ex­cel­lent, the restau­rant rarely seems very crowded, and it is pos­si­ble — and ad­vis­able — to linger over a meal and some wine.

Gar­cia’s past life as a Fran­cis­can monk is well doc­u­mented, and his re­gard for grace and sim­plic­ity are ap­par­ent on his plates. One din­ner be­gan with a pas­tel de gua­camole (gua­camole cake), a fluffy square of avo­cado mousse over lay­ers of corn and toma­toes, pi­quant with chiles — and was that a hint of basil? — and served with crisp tor­tilla chips. It was an in­spired blend of the ex­pected — it’s gua­camole, af­ter all — and the sublime (how did those veg­eta­bles taste so fresh?).

Soon a pair of tamal­i­tos ar­rived, adorably fun-sized pork tamales served with Chi­mayó red and green chile (Este­van bills it­self as the only Santa Fe restau­rant that serves Chi­mayó chile, and seems to lo­cally source as much of its meat and veg­eta­bles as pos­si­ble). Though the menu lists the tamal­i­tos as one pork, one veg­e­tar­ian, both our masa mis­siles mis­tak­enly con­tained meat, though we were hardly com­plain­ing about the abun­dance of moist shred­ded pork, a su­pe­rior red chile, and a heady and com­plex green chile (its ini­tial sweet­ness lead­ing into a wall of heat). Next came a dish of carne adovada ravi­oli, filled with chile-mar­i­nated pork and served with a gar­lic red chile cream sauce. The pasta was care­fully shaped by hand, and the chef’s mas­tery of pork was re­in­forced for us, though the sauce could have been spicier. The un­com­pli­cated ge­nius of the fu­sion — Ital­ian form with New Mex­ico fla­vor — made the dish mem­o­rable.

Two roasted quail with red chile and car­rots made less of an im­pres­sion; though the birds were nicely roasted, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing chile sauce didn’t quite make up for their lack of sea­son­ing. But next came a per­fect storm of fla­vor: Bolog­nese pasta, with a mélange of slow-cooked pork shoul­der, pancetta, and toma­toes served over tagli­atelle — a dish I will keep in mind as the nights turn colder and also the best Ital­ian en­tree I have had din­ing out in this town. The corn­meal-en­crusted pan-fried rain­bow trout was also ex­cep­tional — creamy, lemon-but­tery, and served with spinach and fin­ger­ling pota­toes. Gar­cia’s abil­ity with veg­eta­bles is a marvel — ev­ery one tasted as if it were mere hours away from part­ing with the soil, fit­ting for a restau­rant whose out­door sign reads “Cul­ti­var la tierra,” or “Cul­ti­vate the land.”

On a lunch visit, it was clear that din­ner wasn’t a fluke. The posole, a tra­di­tional bowl of stewed pork with hominy in a red chile broth, tasted like some­one’s very skilled abuelita had pre­pared it, also caus­ing more an­tic­i­pa­tion for the chill of fall. The break­fast bur­rito with chorizo, scram­bled eggs, ched­dar cheese, pota­toes, and both types of chile ex­pertly melded its com­ple­men­tary fla­vors, and the stacked chicken en­chi­ladas fea­tured im­pos­si­bly ten­der chicken, with more of that nu­anced green chile.

Desserts, too, are not to be missed: The or­ganic goat milk flan is rich, silky, and sweet-tart. The al­mond cake with choco­late and almonds, served with a moat of crème anglaise, truly lived up to our waiter’s de­scrip­tion of it as “el­e­vated milk and cook­ies.”

Af­ter such in­deli­ble meals, it was a joy to dis­cover that the spot-the-chef game ac­tu­ally ex­tends to the city at large, re­mind­ing the spot­ter of Gar­cia’s ded­i­ca­tion to his craft. There was Este­van at the farm­ers mar­ket, fill­ing his own bags with fresh veg­eta­bles, and there he was again, push­ing a cart at Whole Foods. If food this good, com­ing from a man so ob­vi­ously loyal to the lo­cal fla­vors he grew up on, cre­ates a cult of per­son­al­ity of sorts, sign me up. I’ll fol­low Gar­cia any­where he wants to take me, as long as he cooks.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.