If the ghost of Sister George lingers in the spookier, low-ceilinged halls that lead to Luminaria, that seems to be where she’ll stay. The restaurant is a good bet for down-to-earth diners who crave classic recipes carried out with grace. Guests at tables
the cigar-smoking nun who’s rumored to haunt the halls of the Inn and Spa at Loretto, would not be caught dead in Luminaria. The hotel’s sleek restaurant projects a thoroughly unhaunted, Martha Stewart-goes-Southwest vibe, with its dark gray walls, banquettes, and cushioned wicker chairs, along with whitewashed vigas, a kiva fireplace, a copper-topped bar, and a copious number of throw pillows. Some tables are cozily tucked into private nooks; lavish curtained ramadas sit outside the immaculate west-facing windows for patio dining in the warmer months. The overall effect is understated chic: It’s the kind of place your well-heeled Connecticut cousin might choose for her wedding reception. In August, Luminaria welcomed executive chef Anthony Smith (formerly of the Eldorado Hotel and Spa), and his leadership steers a mostly wellexecuted menu that leans, like the restaurant’s decor, toward simple, safe elegance.
A recent visit began with earthly pleasures. A bread basket contained an enticing variety of warm goodies: pepita-red-chile biscotti, fragrant rosemary bread, and pungent sourdough alongside a soft globe of pinksea-salted butter. Our cocktails were well mixed — a green chile gimlet combined chile, gin, and fresh lime juice with a red-chilesugar-rimmed glass, while a blood-orange silver coin margarita was a blushing pink sweet-tart delight. The crab cake, served with a bright saffron aioli and green apple matchsticks, was addictively flavorful, holding its structure remarkably well. Plump, lightly battered squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and accompanied by salted blistered shishito peppers were so tasty they didn’t need their green chile dip.
A grilled Caesar salad was less successful — with some lettuce charred and some limp — as was a seared tuna appetizer that arrived much more medium than rare. Sous vide buffalo short ribs and a New York strip steak, while well cooked, both suffered from too-salty marinades, though their respective sides of Anson Mills grits and crispy frites went a good ways toward making up for the overzealous salter. The blue corn enchiladas served with filet mignon, to which we added a succulent lobster tail, were an exercise in straight-up delicious decadence.
A seemingly basic roasted organic chicken with patatas bravas and caramelized corn impressed us — the bird was juicy and well seasoned and had a rich jus that infused and elevated the crisp home fries and corn. A savory grilled pork chop, a touch overcooked, arrived bathed in a spicy-sweet dark-brown mole, while its accompanying forest-green poblano relleno revealed an enticing puddle of melted Tucumcari cheddar inside.
Desserts are stellar. A banana chocolate bread pudding with bourbon glaze and crème Anglaise, studded with chocolate chips, was a gooey delight, while a dark chocolate mousse with hazelnut praline had a crunchy chocolate cookie bottom.
Luminaria’s Sunday brunch menu offers the chance to try the “Reigning Chomp” of the 2016 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown, a burger called the Santa Fe Autumn Roast ($15). Served on an Angel’s Bakery bun, it’s a sizable lump of a grass-fed beef patty with house-made pancetta, Tucumcari cheddar cheese, green chile, and creamy avocado spread, alongside a cone of tasty golden fries. One bite of the patty alone confirmed the burger’s champ status; the beef is big on complex, char-grilled flavor; the pancetta added a satisfying crunch; and the cheddar is a natural pairing. Our chile, which included flecks of red and yellow, wasn’t as hot as we would have liked, but we were glad to have picked this winner.
The tortilla soup ($10), a rich tomato-based broth full of smoky chicken chunks — to which we added the chips, avocado, and lime served on the side — proved to be a superior standard, warming and filling. The pumpkin waffles ($14) came with subtle ginger cream and warm maple syrup; the earthy, sweet pumpkin batter, redolent with vanilla, was nicely browned on the sides but soft as bread. These disappeared quickly.
Too often, fine dining can come off as complicated and overly fussy, but Luminaria is a good bet for down-to-earth diners (albeit those with fat wallets) who crave classic recipes carried out with grace and competent servers who do not hover. On each visit, guests at tables all around us looked cheerily satisfied … and decidedly ghost-free. If Sister George lingers in the spookier, low-ceilinged halls that lead to the restaurant, as one former concierge claims she does, that seems to be where she’ll stay. But Luminaria does mix a mean Manhattan, and I hear those go well with a good cigar.