Here's how you know you live in Santa Fe: On a recent Sunday evening, the man-friend and I decided to go out to eat. We left the house around 8:15 pm and were seated at the restaurant of our choice by 8:45. It was, as you've probably figured out by now, Taberna La Boca (125 Lincoln Ave., Ste. 117, 988-7102)—La Boca chef James Campbell Caruso's latest venture, and a more casual, tapas-oriented version of his original Spanish-food destination.
One of our favorite pastimes is what we call "slow food Sundays," which pretty much just involves camping out at a local restaurant for a few hours to snack, drink some wine and catch up. We're both busy, so this is "us" time.
La Boca is one of our favorites—its servers are laid-back, and it serves tapas, so you're actually supposed to take your time. Usually, we go during off hours—from 3-6 pm, for instance—so we're not holding a table they need when the dinner crowd hustles through.
Anyway, we like to savor the food and the company, especially on Sundays. So there we were at Taberna—Spanish for "tavern," it definitely has a cozy bar vibe—ordering wine at 9 pm, and he says, "Shouldn't we just order all the tapas now?" Like, they're probably closing in about 15 minutes; it's an effing miracle they even seated us; so now we'd better hurry up and eat before it's too late.
Taberna is actually an experiment not just in dining, but also in nightlife. It serves food until 11 pm, and an entire menu of "cold tapas" sits waiting atop a long, wooden bar so that you can sip your wine, chat with the group of (young!) people hanging out there, and snack on something other than nachos or hot wings.
I half expected the menu to mimic La Boca's, but it doesn't: Taberna clearly has its own identity. The menu is elegant but casual, with a variety of simple and affordable tapas. The boquerones con romesco ($5)—two slices of crusty bread topped with earthy romesco sauce and deliciously salty white anchovies—were a perfect appetizer, while the croquetas de manchego ($8) incorporate high-quality sheep's milk to elevate the concept of fried cheese to something crusty, tangy and sublime. We loved the gambas a la plancha ($12), four exquisitely seasoned jumbo shrimp, and the champiñones al jerez ($9)—wild mushrooms sauteed in Spanish sherry. (If you order this, ask for some bread to sop up the savory juices.)
There are actual meals here, too: a fragrant mariscada, or shellfish stew ($12) and La Boca's famous paella ($24 for one person)—as well as several favorites borrowed from La Boca's tapas menu.
Although the place wasn't full by any means, the service was close to flawless, with attentive bussers and friendly servers who were more than happy to make recommendations. Among those recommendations: the chistorra, a long, skinny Basque sausage ("It's like a hot dog," our server said; he was exactly right) that arrives unadorned on a fluffy, toasted bun, accompanied by marinated onions and cornichons and thick, whole-grain mustard ($10, or half for $5).
The desserts, too, are appealingly lowbrow, with offerings like churros and pan de chocolate: two slices of bread smothered in dark chocolate, powdered sugar, sea salt and olive oil (sounds weird, but it's great).
By the time we'd finished our slow-food Sunday, we were perfectly satisfied, but not overfull. After topping off the meal with a small glass of amontillado sherry, we resolved to come back not just on Sundays, but anytime those late-night tapas cravings hit.