You don’t see “cucumber chlorophyll,” garlic “sheets,” smoked chickpeas, or ash bread on many menus around town.
Chef Edgar Beas joined the kitchen team at Anasazi Restaurant earlier this year, in advance of the hotel’s 25th anniversary. His curriculum vitae is rather impressive, including formal training in Spain and stints in highly lauded restaurants in San Francisco and Menlo Park. “I believe that utilizing ingredients native to the Southwest is a beautiful way to celebrate the Inn’s sense of place,” Beas has said. “I aim to showcase native techniques and cooking styles, but in a modern, artistic, and progressive way.”
Age-old and regional elements certainly make appearances on the menu, from the airy, buttery, chile-dusted pork rinds served as bar snacks and the cocktail-hour-appropriate gorditas stuffed with chicharrones, beans, cabbage, and crumbly white cheese to the deliciously sweet-and-spicy cochinita pibil tacos served at lunch. (Don’t neglect to swipe yours through the tongue-tingling habanero sauce on the plate.) There’s a vaguely disconcerting prevalence of seafood for our landlocked locale, with oysters, soft-shell crab, and halibut currently making appearances. But intriguing flavor combinations, uncommon ingredients, and artful plating radiate self-assurance. You don’t see “cucumber chlorophyll,” garlic “sheets,” smoked chickpeas, or ash bread on many menus around town.
The dining room has had a bit of a face-lift as well: Walls have been lightened; heavy wooden chairs have been replaced with more modern, streamlined ones upholstered with creamy leather and linen; and the cocktail area has expanded into the front portion of the dining room, offering chicly light-hued armchairs and couches. Music leans more toward trancy ’90s lounge rather than pan flutes and drums. Reminiscent of a European sidewalk café, the patio is a lovely place for lunch, cocktails, and people-watching, especially now that tourist season is in full swing.
You might initially be taken aback by some of the pricing, but the restaurant is in one of the most highly esteemed hotels in Santa Fe, so an adjustment of expectations helps. That said, if you’re going to pay $22 for a sandwich, you’d probably appreciate it if the plate included something other than the sandwich itself — a small salad or some house-made chips, for example.
For the most part, the service brigade was thoroughly and appropriately attentive, polite, formal, and speedy. One evening, however, our main server was disconcertingly, at times aggravatingly slow and had a folksy, jocular demeanor that was off-puttingly casual and out of place — more Applebee’s than Anasazi.
The high points: Along with some earthy porcinis and braised bacon, sublimely delicate halibut swims in a sweet-corn-based sauce that’s mysteriously light in texture but rich in flavor. The duck was incredibly tender, juicy, and just the right amount of gamey. The Parisienne gnocchi is a less-saucy variation on those beloved pasta pillows with a nutty, golden crust, fruity and bright kumquats and shishitos, and buttonlike dabs of queso fresco providing a rich, creamy tang. The roasted brassicas — in this case, mostly Romanesco — were salty in the best way (probably from the not-otherwise-apparent egg yolk bottarga). Looking like tiny pine trees, they were tumbled with smoked garbanzos that had a fascinating woody aroma and flavor — so much so that I didn’t miss the crisp pork jowl the menu had promised. These are all impressive strides. But even legendary thoroughbreds were foals once, still getting their footing, and here, the kitchen occasionally still stumbles. Our gorgeous, chunky strip loin steak was drastically overcooked; we requested medium rare and were given something on the well-done side of medium (and more’s the pity, since this dish is the priciest on the menu). I was intrigued by the accompaniment of pickled strawberries, but the morels beside them were shriveled, and the sauce was distractingly, unctuously broken. Desiccated sweetbreads tossed in with an otherwise lovely, vibrant salad of baby beets suggested a lack of respect for ingredients. The serving size of the halibut is modest, and its plating in the small center bowl of an oversized flying-saucer-esque plate made it look all the more stingy. The chilled scallop appetizer included avocado, crème fraîche, and the aforementioned chlorophyll, and to me it begged for more brightness and acidity. But the kitchen may have been aiming for subtlety, and I can respect that.
Desserts range from classical to innovative and are generally gorgeous. A stack of almost-too-delicate churros can be dipped with delight in a deep, dark chocolate or a butterscotchy salted cajeta. Nestled amid flowers and petals, the hazelnut gâteau looked like a fairy-tale dessert, with a top layer fashioned from eye-catchingly hot-pink prickly pear. It lived up to the promise of being “aerated” but was given an earthly grounding by the herbal laurel ice cream, whiskey cream, and ginger “snow.” The parfait of chilly, milky frozen yogurt had touches of brightness from Meyer lemon and hibiscus, and penny-sized poppy-seed sablés lent a welcome cookie crunch. At the end of a meal, beautiful, sweet gems like these can go a long, long way toward smoothing over any rough patches that came before.