Fusion is still on the horizon as a practical, widespread application for nuclear power, but it's outmoded as a term on the culinary scene. While many chefs profess to focus on a distinct region or an interstice of regions, a robust fusion of elements and influences is a given in any contemporary cook's arsenal.
Martín Rios—steeped in Southwestern tradition, trained in French technique, given to Asian flair, as capable with pastry and dessert as he is with entrées ranging from Old World to New, and generally global in his grokking of gastronomy—is a case in point. A local celebrity and a name capable of raising eyebrows from Park Avenue to the Champs-Élysées, Rios has opened his own restaurant after bouncing from The Old House to the Anasazi Restaurant with an abbreviated effort at Geronimo along the way.
Restaurant Martín, Rios has claimed, serves up food comparable to the four-star floozies that have financed his fame, but at comfortable bistro-style prices more palatable to recession-challenged wallets.
Is it affordable? One would have to say "no." But, just as much of the focus on affordable housing has turned to the additional need for "workforce" or "step-up" housing, Restaurant Martín manages fine dining for that endangered class of customer: the middle class. Dinner entrées are typically below $25.
Housed at the corner of Galisteo Street and Paseo de Peralta—in the former digs of Café Oasis—Restaurant Martín shoots for a modern tweak on a Territorial hacienda with an atmosphere similar to Santacafé or Geronimo, but clearly manifested on a tighter budget. There are nice touches—some cozy upscale booths and a comfortable bar only a little bigger than the average nicho—but it would be easy to pick an argument with the decorator. The artwork on the walls is overdone while the budget chairs and tables are underdone.
Those minor annoyances, however, are unlikely to be encountered on the plate. Rios has created a spare and finely honed menu that showcases his menagerie of techniques and his reliance on fresh ingredients. Take, for example, an eggplant and tomato soup, brimmed with a rich, earthy taste. Accented with prawn croquettes and a savory lemon sabayon, the dish was a spoon-sucking example of thinking locally and cooking globally. The roasted beet and watercress salad was served with a "panna cotta" made from gorgonzola and tempered with a wine vinaigrette. It managed a tender duel between crispy and creamy and, like the classic HB Halicki movie, it was gone in 60 seconds.
The grilled pork-rib chop, as thick as a man's fist, was perched majestically atop a pile of fresh long beans. The assemblage of fried shoestring onions built over the chop was sufficiently monumental to merit ticket sales to passing tourists. As a meal, it looked to be a mouthful of macho, but the pork and onions became drum-circle sensitive when coupled with a peach barbecue jus.
Rarely are big flavors juxtaposed with such contrapuntal delicacy. Most of plates sampled on Restaurant Martín's opening weekend were full-fledged dialogues—international summits that, unlike their political counterparts, resulted in laudable agreement.
An exception was the roasted chicken, which was like eating butter with a skin: luscious to be certain, but overbearing with its lip-saturating bravado. Served with the chicken, a mac-and-cheese-style ramekin of truffle-bathed orzo was blatantly, wickedly carnal.
It will take many more meals at Restaurant Martín to fully examine the impressive extent of Rios' inventiveness. Never a slouch as kitchen innovator, Rios has been freed from maintaining the conventions that may have been imposed upon him when working in other people's restaurants.
If that liberty proves to be a meaningful pairing with Santa Fe's increasingly sophisticated food tastes, Restaurant Martín may give new direction to generating power through fusion.
Open11:30 am-2 pm and 5:45 pm
526 Galisteo St.