For some long-ago birthday—one of those foggy, early-20s episodes in innocent debauchery—I conned my grandmother into paying for me and all my friends to have dinner in the private wine cellar at the Inn of the Anasazi.

Handily, she was in California and simply paid the bill. At the time, the Anasazi felt like the pinnacle of sophistication in Santa Fe: a quasi-ironically named venue where we could dine on upscale food and drink while invoking the spirit of a long-ago people—who were, depending on who you ask, seduced by the cult of the


, made to flee from terrible drought and devastating war, or driven mad by cannibalism.

If memory serves, we ate like gluttons, stole some wine and, fueled by alcohol and beef, crashed the opening-night party at the Santa Fe Opera. I remember throwing the writer Gregory Pleshaw into the swimming pool while the upper crust gasped, and waking up in the sagebrush somewhere in the hills above Casa Solana with a girl I swear I’d never seen before (and certainly not again).

Not surprisingly, I haven’t spent much time at the

since. Like a lot of locals, I tend to go when a family member with a bigger salary than mine visits from out of town. It’s not really on the radar for a quick, affordable nosh nor, as I’m prone to these days, an elegant


meal. But it should be.

Executive chef Oliver Ridgeway, with understated British aplomb, has pushed the Anasazi’s envelope toward clever, largely seasonal fare with a regular helping of specials pulled from local meat, produce and dairy suppliers. He’s not afraid to put goat feta atop watermelon nor to make “cannelloni” out of avocado.

Ridgeway loves shopping locally, but also earned his reputation with seafood and fish dishes. The resulting collision might be a Chilean sea bass served with bright, fresh squash and, for kicks, maybe a harissa sauce. The man could attract stalkers with his diver scallops with chorizo-infused white beans and fresh corn salsa. A green-chile-crusted tuna is the kind of fusion cuisine a New Mexican can get into. Blackberry adobo sauce is the sort of thing you just don’t share.

The Anasazi almost always has a

lamb dish on the menu and, on a recent visit, I was able to perform slow, luxurious fellatio on a piece of local, grass-fed and -finished beef that belied the popular notion that grain equates to marbling and tenderness. When you have a spatchcok game hen smeared with jalapeño juices, you really don’t care where it’s from; you just want more.

While dinner entrée prices can spiral up toward $50, more affordable fare is consistently available and is anything but dumbed down or compromised. The $14 duck enchilada mole is a perfect combination of rich, fatty duck blending luxuriously into the silky mole, and the $16 buffalo burger is worth every hard-earned dollar.

Using a fresh, local artisanal goat cheese, Ridgeway recently concocted a twist on the traditional dessert cheese plate, and the result is worth lingering over while you finish the wine, have coffee, and lick sharp cheese and mellow honey from your greedy fingers.

Lunch, too, is worth the effort, especially for streetside summer dining. Julio’s chicken enchilada, which one suspects sous-chef Julio Cabrera stole from his mother, is comfort food that doesn’t weigh you down.

There still is some hotel vibe to overcome. Please don’t, for example, put my napkin in my lap for me when I sit down. I may be bald, but I’m not a baby and I don’t want to be patronized. Also, hotels with lesser fare might need to distract the diners with multi-colored butter and extra-theatrical plating but, at the Anasazi, the quality and flavor reveal such trappings for the ploys they are.

Of course, that won’t stop me from regular visits with Ridgeway at the helm. And I promise not to steal any more wine.

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