Amuse-bouche

Molly Boyle re­views El Nido and the food at the Round­house

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Molly Boyle

“She was a typ­i­cal madam — a jolly, fat blonde. She was a hell of a great gal, and she started El Nido. The first sa­loon,” re­calls Charles “Chuck” Bar­rows in Turn Left at the Sleep­ing Dog, John Pen La Farge’s oral his­tory of Santa Fe. El Nido — the re­cently re­vamped spot in Te­suque whose name means “the nest” — has long been a lo­cal touch­stone. For more than 80 years be­fore El Nido’s clos­ing in 2010, its adobe walls var­i­ously housed that 1930s-era den of ill re­pute; a di­verse dance hall and demo­cratic juke joint where atomic se­crets were ru­mored to have been im­parted by tip­pling Los Alamos sci­en­tists; a world­class fla­menco cabaret; and a fine din­ing es­tab­lish­ment known for its ef­fi­cient pre-opera ser­vice of steaks, lob­ster tails, and oys­ters Rock­e­feller. The sto­ried digs are re­mem­bered by La Farge’s old­timer in­ter­vie­wees as “a nice place where you could dance” and “the food was re­ally good” — it was “a big hang­out” where at least one owner “made sure that we didn’t dis­ap­pear around the cor­ner with any­body.”

In Novem­ber, chef En­rique Guer­rero opened the most el­e­gant in­car­na­tion of El Nido yet, a sparkling trat­to­ria serv­ing wood-fired en­trees, piz­zas, and hand­made pas­tas. Guer­rero punched a culi­nary-cred­i­bil­ity card at the French Laun­dry and Le Cirque be­fore putting his stamp on sev­eral eater­ies in Santa Fe, in­clud­ing the dearly de­parted La Man­cha at the Gal­is­teo Inn, the now-sold Man­giamo Pronto!, and the beloved bright-orange Bang Bite Fill­ing Sta­tion food truck. It’s ev­i­dent this chef can’t sit still for long, and at El Nido, he wields a rest­less, lav­ish creativ­ity that suf­fuses most of the cui­sine and the vibe of the res­tau­rant.

On each of two vis­its, a dif­fer­ent type of aro­matic wood fired many of the ap­pe­tiz­ers, en­trees, and piz­zas on the kitchen’s open-flame hearth in the mid­dle of the res­tau­rant: One night a server in­formed us that it was mesquite, the sweet scent of which lin­gered in the chill out­side after din­ner. An­other night, Guer­rero had used cedar.

The kitchen may al­ready be churn­ing out clas­sics in the mak­ing — and that hearth burns as brightly as I imag­ine the old El Nido’s did. The sleek main din­ing room fea­tures out­size land­scapes by John Ho­gan among its white­washed vi­gas and kiva-warmed nook. A kitchen­side bar af­fords a view of bur­nished ro­tis­serie chick­ens on a spit or flat­breads slid­ing oven­ward. Soon after you’re seated, a small en­tice­ment of bat­tered and fried salt-and-pep­per chick­peas with le­mon zest and ser­rano pep­pers is placed on the table; the light, ad­dic­tive snack por­tends the good times ahead.

Top, Mrs. Martha Nel­son, pa­tron, El Nido Road­house, 1937, photo W.M. Wyeth, Neg. No. 173022; bot­tom, Boys rid­ing bur­ros, Te­suque, circa 1935-1945, photo T. Har­mon Parkhurst, Neg. No. 008758; both cour­tesy Palace of the Gover­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA)

El Nido chef En­rique Guer­rero

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