In one of my favorite short stories, Laurie Colwin describes the enchanted look on her young daughter’s face upon first tasting steamed zucchini. It could be argued that the contemporary urban-dwelling adult’s palate is not as easily enkindled as a child’s, but a succession of recent meals at the Inn of the Anasazi has been revelatory, promising something different that will keep us hungry and hopeful for more.
After Martin Rios left the Inn, the restaurant fell briefly into the obscurity that is an all-too-common side effect of having a relatively high-profile executive chef.
“Who’s cooking at the Anasazi now?” people asked and, for a while, nobody seemed to know.
Great things don’t stay secret for long, though: Chef Oliver Ridgeway has marinated the flagging spirit of the place with fresh vigor, and the Inn has never been better. At its finest, this is food that reminds me of the first time I fell in love with foie gras, with octopus, with the boy next door.
Ridgeway’s story begins in his native England, where he cooked as a youngster in his father’s restaurant and eventually opened the first place in town that specialized in Mexican-style food. Nowadays, his style is playful, European in vocabulary, Pan Asian in conception, Latin in spirit and heavy on the seafood, with equal parts embellishment and restraint. Though a couple of the Anasazi’s signature mainstays have taken up permanent residency on the menu, the newer creations are the queens of the space and its most animate tenants.
Wanderlust is evident in the fine print and in the menu’s intercultural culinary hybrids, but somehow this doesn’t thwart the food’s cohesiveness. For example, lunch here brings crisp, pan-fried morsels of halloumi cheese to enliven a Caesar salad ($14), and an ahi tuna tartine ($15) on a tostada with jicama slaw, papaya relish, black beans and avocado ($15). The steamed, slow-cooked chicken enchilada ($16) is so plain on arrival that it looks like an item off the children’s menu, but turns out to be mild, light and delicious.
The Anasazi’s strengths are the bar menu, the desserts and the appetizers on the dinner menu. There seems to be elevated interest in the small-plate dining format and, at these prices, appetizers are a lot less committal than main courses, but it’s hard to go wrong ordering starters and snacks here; on any given night there are around 18 of them, making a place that once felt like an afterthought feel like a destination restaurant.
From the bar menu, the unanimous favorite is the pulpo ($16) that could give any tapas in town a run for their money; the tender grilled octopus is spicy with chorizo, nutty with macadamias, and sweet with baby tomatoes and a sherry shallot vinaigrette. I’d like to know how this swashbuckling, knife-wielding Brit learned to make fried green tomatoes ($13) that make Fannie Flagg look like a novice; with remoulade, chèvre and mache, these are a vegetarian honeymoon away from the tired vegetables crowding menus elsewhere.
The disappointments include the highly anticipated but bland ahi tuna “gyro” ($18) with seared tuna, tzatziki and tapenade, and the sensational-sounding black truffle ravioli ($18) with crab and mushroom stuffing, which manages to be both gummy and crunchy, like something out of a microwaveable tray of diet food.
Of the appetizers on the dinner menu, the risotto ($18) is a particular treat, with English peas, lemon confit, rock shrimp and crustacean bisque; use of the superior but less common carnaroli rice over arborio is noted and appreciated.
A friend rhapsodized about the golden beet velouté, saying it was “almost too intense.” He was right; the soup is glorious. It is an elemental, velvety ocher that tastes like the essence of golden beets, and hints at fresh corn and good soil. The lumps of Dungeness crab meat are a lovely addition. The torchon of foie gras ($20) with grilled peaches, ice wine syrup and brioche is a welcome change from other local foie gras preparations, but the avocado cannelloni ($17) with whipped chèvre and summer vegetable gazpacho, could use more raw vegetal flavor.
Of the signature cocktails, the brisk, vodka-based Buddha’s Ride ($11) is stained sunset-pink by Campari and brings fresh grapefruit rinds to the minds of bitters lovers and a grimace to the faces of others. Other drinks include a Mojito Fresa ($12) with Sprite and the Spicy Mango Margarita ($12) with Cholula hot sauce. Though not a particularly balanced cocktail menu, it features a decent house Silver Coin margarita($11).
If pastry chef Misty Morrow is, as her name intimates, a sugar saint whose magic happens in the shadows of heaven, then I believe it. Her orange cheesecake flan ($12) is nice and the milky chocolate ice cream served with the cinnamon cloud of mocha “Decadence” ($12) is tasty, but the sublime pineapple ravioli ($12) with mango filling and blood orange sorbet can make me forget who I am and from whence I’d come.
Inn of the Anasazi
113 Washington Ave., 505-988-3030
Open for lunch Monday-Saturday 11:30 am-2:30 pm
Bar and patio menu available Monday-Saturday from 11:30 am-11 pm and Sunday 2:30-11 pm
Open for brunch Sunday 11 am-2:30 pm