Few restaurants have the kind of view or neighbors that you’ll find at Museum Hill Café (710 Camino Lejo, 984-8900). Perched on the edge of Milner Plaza in between the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art, the café is frequented by visitors to the cultural attractions. This time of year, it’s a place to take in the stunning snow-covered mountains.
"If you have to go someplace every single day of the year, it ain't a bad place," chef and owner Weldon Fulton, says.
And the food ain't bad either. Fulton's menu doesn't feature burn-your-lips-off chile, but it has enough international flare to be far from boring. Currently, there's a prix fixe menu offered in conjunction with exhibits at the Folk Art Museum. Right now, you can sample fare that's part of the New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate y Más menu that springboards from the exhibit of the same name.
The chicken mole on that list is so good, though, says Fulton, that when it comes off the special list the first week of January, it will become a permanent addition to the menu.
On my recent visit, I started off with a cup of soup fit for the brisk temperatures and snowy landscape outside the café's large windows. What the menu lauds as "The Best Chicken Soup" ($5.95) is served with a lime wedge and a tortilla, and also features potatoes, carrots and celery with a tasty broth. Although the ingredient list promises a hint of jalapeño, I didn't pick up that flavor.
Nevertheless, this soup is one that I'd go back for a larger serving of.
Next, I plowed through a delicious trio of housemade mushroom taquitos ($ 10.95) that come with a liquidy side of what's described as "Laura's red chile." Laura Nuñez, the kitchen manager at the café, is responsible for this treat and lots of other dishes on the menu, Fulton explains, noting that spices are mild on purpose.
"We want people to really taste what red chile is supposed to taste like, not to be offended by the heat," he says.
The taquitos also have their own story. A few years ago, Fulton, also of the Railyard's Station Coffee House fame, ended up with an extra case of cheese and an extra box of mushrooms by accident. Instead of sending them back, Nuñez went to work. The end result in a sumptuous umami flavor with a mixture of portobello and button mushrooms and sautéed onions melded with just enough cheese in a taquito with a respectable girth (nothing like the Delimex versions that filled my freezer when I moved to the Southwest 13 years ago.)
The small salad served with the piping hot taquitos is lacking the kind of creativity on the other side of the plate. Shredded romaine topped with a mushy-tomato pico de gallo and a glob of sour cream left me eying the plate of my dining companion, who ordered a Cobb salad and raved about the ranch chipotle dressing. The chicken on her loaded entrée had a great flavor, and the cheesy, buttery crostini was super duper crunchy and tasty.
The restaurant also offers red and white wines by the glass, local, domestic and imported bottled beer, and specialty drinks including "Portuguese lemonade." Wondering what that is? Our waiter says it's not really Portuguese, but it's good: an icy glass of lemonade mixed with a fine port wine. While it was supposed to be layered like a tequila sunrise, according to Fulton, mine was a lovely uniform shade of magenta.
For dessert, we split a piece of creamy pistachio cardamom pie that was eyes-rolled-back good. The fluffy filling has a subtle flavor and a sprinkling of nuts on top of whipped cream. We owe the pleasure of this to Kim Faulkner, who runs the kitchen at the nearby Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center.
The bonus of the whole meal happened at the end, when I remembered the card in my wallet that proves I'm a member of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and had thusly earned a 10 percent discount. You call it cheap. I call it thrifty. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
MUSEUM HILL CAFÉ
710 Camino Lejo, 984-8900 Open for lunch 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Sunday
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong name for the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.