Sept. 22, 2014

SANTA FE REPORTER RESTAURANT GUIDE 2013-2014

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Home / Articles / Food / Food Writing /  Papa Don’t Peach
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Nice rack! Local lamb is served on a mountain of vegetables.
Julie Ann Grimm

Papa Don’t Peach

New fine dining contender still has a ways to go

July 29, 2014, 12:00 am

At first, it feels like the kind of pretentious restaurant that could be tucked into a street in LA or New York. But once I settled into the soft leather bench and began to watch the people around me, I knew I was still in our lovely little “Best Small City.”

Don’t get me wrong. Pretentious is not a bad thing in a certain context. When you go to a joint like this, you’re partly there because it caters to the sophisticated upper crust. You want to feel like you’re part of that scene—like you know what all those glasses on the table are for and you have no intention of blowing your nose on that cloth napkin. You might even be wearing lipstick for the occasion.

Condé Nast readers who saw us top the small cities list last week are no doubt among the crowd at Georgia (225 Johnson St., 989-4367), but many of the diners also happen to be real, live local residents—at least for part of the year, anyway.

The restaurant, which contains nary a New Mexico chile or a Georgia peach, opened in June in the former home of the O’Keeffe Café, and makes good use of the L-shaped former Army officers’ headquarters adjacent to one of downtown Santa Fe’s signature museums. It’s only nod to this is that the dining room shows off a large portrait of namesake Mrs. O’Keeffe.

The place was packed on a Tuesday night when we dined there, and I was glad to see that the people who nearly fully occupied the shaded courtyard as we left seemed delighted to be there in the last daylight.

Most of our pricey dinner was delightful, too. Top billing goes to the gluten-free spiced crusted tuna—a perfectly seared pair of tuna medallions topped with a Turkish anchovy, shaved radish, sprouts and a red piquillo pepper relish and with hidden caper surprises ($14). Chef Brett Sparman’s version of ubiquitous and mighty kale salad uses cranberries and hazelnuts plus a tangy, light and salty dressing ($11). I could have eaten a larger portion of either one for the main course.

While I’m here, though, allow another word on salt. Don’t miss the coarse salt combination that tops a ramekin of soft butter for your pre-dinner bread. When my companion asked for salt that was missing later from her steak frites with red wine reduction ($28), the Hawaiian and Himalayan mix did the trick. The truffle fries that accompanied the steak were also executed with mmms all around.

For the main course, I ordered the rack of lamb ($35). Although I prefer a char to accompany the lamb’s choice inner rare core, and these chops lacked that, the meat from Talus Wind Ranch in Galisteo was tasty with understated seasoning that let it shine. Beneath the chops, there was a lot going on—all of it safe and rustic, with each vegetable maintaining its mild flavor. The standout here was the sweet parsnip purée that formed the bottom layer to which the mountain of entrée was anchored.

As the couples next to us ordered, however, I was astounded to hear their waiter offer no fewer than six specials that weren’t on the menu. Had I been given a chance, I would have ordered the chicken liver pâté, the beef filet or the trout of the night in a heartbeat.

Given the proud prices of this contender in the fine dining scene, I was also unimpressed with dessert. We chose the crème brûlée ($10) and a piece of chocolate cake ($12). Both deserve barely a resounding “meh.” The crème brûlée featured only the thinnest of burnt sugar crust, and the custard below was bland and too sweet. The cake had bigger problems. Though it looked fantastic on the plate, it was served at a temperature straight-from-the-fridge cold and beyond its overly rich flavor, it felt dry as I chewed.

Parked in front as we made our exit were a tricked-out Mercedes and an Audi as well a valet scurrying about to give off one more set of parting airs. I hope next time I eat there, I too am still feeling pretentious when I depart. I’m dying to try that pâté.

AT A GLANCE
Open:1:45-5 pm for lunch; 5:45-10 pm dinner
Best bet: The spiced crusted tuna and truffle
fries are both fab, but make sure you ask about
the day’s specials.

 

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