I adore Sunday mornings. Although I don’t sleep late, there’s something relaxing and indulgent about three cups of coffee, the Sunday New York Times, the feeling that I don’t need to get all worked up about Monday morning yet—I’ve got all afternoon for that.
The challenge is figuring out how to spend this precious Sunday-morning time. Grocery shopping is an option; Trader Joe’s is considerably less packed before noon, when alcohol sales kick in. But even then, it’s not nearly as relaxing (or indulgent) as a long, leisurely brunch, preferably conducted while everyone else is still in church. (Would it be uncouth to worship a perfectly poached eggs Benedict?)
But Santa Fe’s brunch scene, long dominated by classics such as Tecolote, The Pantry and Tune-Up (and, more recently, Swiss Bakery Pastries & Bistro), has a newcomer: Midtown Bistro (901 W San Mateo St., Ste. A, 820-3121), an elegant yet unassuming restaurant couched in a bright, airy warehouse spot.
“After working at Santacafé for 18 years, I decided…it was time for me to move on and do something on my own,” chef-owner Ángel Estrada tells SFR. As its name suggests, his new venture is place-oriented—a conscious outgrowth of the budding Triangle district (the area circumscribed by Cerrillos, St. Francis and St. Michael’s Drive).
“Being on this side of town, we wanted to be a little bit above all the restaurants on Cerrillos, you know, and then a little different from downtown as well,” Estrada explains. “So, that was the idea—to give this side of town a little something extra.”
Midtown Bistro does just that.
During a recent visit, the man-friend ordered breakfast—eggs Benedict ($12; $14 with a side of bacon)—while I opted for a lunchier niçoise salad ($14). While we waited, two elderly couples next to us weighed the benefits of paying $9 for a five-ounce hamburger.
Our food arrived promptly. The Benedict—a lightly toasted English muffin made better than usual by the addition of ripe avocado and a fat slice of tomato—was the perfect size, and smothered in just the right amount of Hollandaise. (The menu described it as “spicy Hollandaise,” which it wasn’t; but like the eggs, it was expertly prepared.) A delicious pile of coarsely mashed potatoes incorporated the best of home fries and mashers; the bacon was very crispy (perfect for me, but not for everyone); and a lightly dressed green salad made for a palate-cleansing coda.
My salad was enormous, piled high with fresh baby spinach, kalamata olives, boiled eggs and potatoes, roasted red peppers and seared raw ahi tuna. I didn’t finish it, but a garlic vinaigrette managed to make the meal seem at once healthy and decadent. Coffee, refreshed frequently, was strong and flavorful; the restaurant also recently got its beer and wine license.
Overall, it’s excellent, reasonably priced food, served by a friendly staff in an attractive setting. The only real drawback seems to be a struggle for identity: the white tablecloths, tulip-filled vases and sumptuous red leather chairs seem slightly out of sync with the warehouse feel, and the menu seems like it’s trying to straddle a divide between haute cuisine and down-to-earth, real-people food.
Of course, no restaurant can be everything to everyone, especially in Santa Fe. One could argue that—especially with the recent opening of Chef Charles Dale’s Bouche—that we locals don’t need another place we can only afford on birthdays or weekends. And since Estrada clearly has talent and vision—not to mention a great, central location—perhaps the only thing he needs to do now is bring it to the people.
Serving: big, reasonably priced portions of Southwest-influenced fine food
Menu: wide-ranging and creative, if a bit unfocused
Recommendation: at brunch, eggs Benedict—but as Estrada says, “It’s all edible!”