Bourbon Grill is a nice place to find yourself on a cold winter night, a proposition I tested by going there last Saturday, when that big, windy snowstorm blew through Santa Fe. The interior is warm and inviting, with glowing lights reflecting off dark wood furniture. As you enter, you’ll see the main dining rooms off to your right, a big, curving bar in front of you, and a more casual setup of chairs and booths to the left, in a room that has several wall-mounted TVs. We took a booth situated near a kiva fireplace that was burning piñon. It was exactly what we needed to shake off the chill.
It’s evident that Bourbon Grill is procuring high-quality beef and that the restaurant knows what to do with it.
The restaurant occupies the building that for years was home to Steaksmith, and its food comes from a similar tradition. The main menu is dominated by steaks, seafood, salads, and side dishes that go with steaks and seafood. There’s also a bar menu that features finger foods like mango-bourbon jalapeño chicken wings, shrimp and cod ceviche, and teriyaki steak skewers. You can spend a lot here without trying very hard: The 16-ounce bone-in rib-eye costs $49.95, and chateaubriand for two costs $99.95. But there are more affordable options, especially on the bar menu: An order of three shrimp tacos costs $11.95, and a steak sandwich is $12.95.
We started with a couple of classic Eastern seaboard appetizers: jumbo shrimp cocktail and jumbo lump crab cakes. The shrimp were good — large, not rubbery, and accompanied by a nice cocktail sauce that carried a sufficient horseradish kick. There were only five shrimp, though, which means we were paying more than three dollars for each one. As is often the case with restaurant crab cakes served far inland, the insides of the ones at Bourbon Grill were a well-mixed blend of crab, cracker or bread crumbs, and herbs. Each of the two cakes had nicely browned exteriors and enough crab inside for the distinctive bite of the crabmeat to come through.
Next we tried three entrees and a soup-salad combo. One was a vegetarian quesadilla that consisted of two flour tortillas sandwiching a bland and damp blend of mushrooms, onion, cheese, and zucchini. It was accompanied by plops of a spicy salsa that worked fine and a very oniony guacamole that seemed a little stale. I had fish and chips — long strips of some kind of white fish (the menu doesn’t identify it) with a good, crispy coating. The only problem was the ratio of fish (small) to chips (large). The fries here are typical and ordinary.
One person in our group tried the small (8-ounce) filet mignon and liked it a lot — it was a good piece of meat, nicely seared, and cooked exactly as he’d ordered it. Another person tried a green-chile stew made with beef instead of pork — she liked the spice level, which was hot without being overwhelming — and a house salad whose blend of ingredients turns up often at Bourbon Grill: ample mixed greens tossed with things like carrot strips, cherry tomatoes, onions, cucumber, and sprouts. The menu promises “handcrafted dressings” on the salads. One we sampled, the bourbon blue cheese, didn’t have any blue cheese chunks or carry the taste of bourbon and seemed like a typical creamy blue cheese dressing.
On a second visit, my friend started with a bourbon old fashioned, a blend of bourbon, bitters, a little sweetener, orange peel, and crushed cherries. This was a good drink; not too sweet or loaded with fruit. We shared another seafood appetizer, a plate of pretty good raw oysters. After that, we both went for the beef: I ordered the small (14-ounce) prime rib, while my friend tried the 16-ounce bone-in rib-eye. No complaints about either of these — it’s evident that Bourbon Grill is procuring high-quality beef and that the restaurant knows what to do with it. Both were served with so-so baked potatoes and the familiar green salads.
Overall, what you get at this restaurant is a very old-school experience that can definitely add up. If retro is what you seek, you’ll find it here. People looking for a steakhouse with a more modern menu and creative dishes will likely be disappointed.