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Finally, a City Budget Deal

Libraries are safe in new Santa Fe budget that increases fees for parks/rec and downtown parking

Local NewsWednesday, May 25, 2016 by Elizabeth Miller

Santa Fe’s governing body tonight approved the first balanced budget many councilors have seen in their terms in office, using natural attrition rates, increased fees and a gross receipts tax to close a $15 million shortfall. Looking ahead, several councilors promised in future years to see what has been a thorny process start earlier and allow for more transparency and public input.

"We have the opportunity tonight to vote on a budget that is balanced in every way … something that hasn’t necessarily been done in my tenure as a city councilor, and quite frankly, it was done by lots of hard work and lots of smart people," Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said after making a motion to approve the budget with clarifications—namely, that the hours will not be cut for city libraries, a topic that frequently appeared in the roughly 40 minutes of public comment.

The process, Dominguez added, also entailed nearly 30 hours of budget hearings, as well as individual meetings with staff.

Councilors were also quick to point out that because of additional reductions in payments from the state to infill tax revenue lost when changes were made to the gross receipts tax for food, the city will once again face a budget shortfall next year.

The budget for fiscal year 2016-17 is the first since the recession to balance the budget and avoiding drawing from reserves, one-time income or capital funds to cover operations, according to a summary prepared by the city manager. In every fund except the Airport Fund, which is paying for airport renovations and a management overhaul, operating revenues cover expenses.

Total recurring operating revenues of $320 million exceed planned expenditures by more than $14 million, according to the budget, which should allow $12 million to go to the capital budget for brick-and-mortar projects. The general fund would also see a reserve that exceeds the state-mandated minimum and nearly meets the governing body’s goal of 10 percent.

Most of the $5.3 million in cuts to operations costs come from personnel attrition.

“An easier way to explain the attrition rate, which those of us in finance committee all struggled with, is that it’s an element of shared sacrifice, and it’s based on historic information,” said Councilor Michael Harris. The aim is to allow emptied positions to remain as such, but in a targeted way so no city services suffer.

“We need to understand that all departments make sacrifices, and unlike what we heard, I don’t think we’re dying a slow death," Harris said. "I think that in fact, we’re putting ourselves back on very solid ground, and we can really start to improve our practices.”

The councilor was responding to comments from Chainbreaker Collective member Nohemy Bojorquez-Flores, who told councilors, “We are grateful that no cuts large enough to see limbs falling to the ground are being made, but the small amounts of cuts made to every department are the equivalent of being stabbed a thousand times with a needle. It will slowly bleed our community dry.”

Balancing the budget is also aided by moving $7 million in annual gross receipts tax revenue from the water utility, as a new ¼ percent municipal GRT will take effect Jan. 1, concurrent with a rollback on the ¼ percent water capital outlay GRT—for a net zero effect at the cash register. 

The city will also increase fees and service charges for the General Fund, Water Utility Franchise fee, and non-general fund fees, including higher downtown parking fees (meters will go from $1 to $2 per hour) to provide an estimated $2.1 million in revenue. Increasing parking fees is expected to generate a total of $1.2 million in revenue and spare subsidizing that department by $900,000. Higher parks and recreation fees will generate another $200,000, and increasing land use and development fees will add $1.625 million. Recently passed reforms to the short-term rental ordinance are anticipated to increase lodgers tax and gross receipts tax revenue by $1 million.

The ongoing reliance on gross receipts tax has been named repeatedly throughout this process by councilors and social justice advocates as a regressive tax that targets the city’s poorest residents, and it appeared again among the forward-looking comments made by councilors as they passed the mic to make speeches on this year’s budget.

Councilors also spoke to a need for increased transparency and public involvement in this process, to have the budget completed sooner and allow the public more opportunity to weigh in on it.

“I think we all realize the need to start this process earlier, and we have to really insist that not only we start the process early but we identify early ways for public to weigh in,” Councilor Joseph Maestas said. “I want to make sure we have the public involved in that process so they can really come away with a sense of ownership in developing a shared vision for their community.”

The budget does not address the pending sunset of the state’s “hold harmless” payments, the effect of which will be to see another budget shortfall next year of $1.4 million, and $700,000 each year to follow until those payments fully taper off in 2030.

“All of this gets us to zero. We have to leap immediately into work to make sure we can shore up the future of our budget for years to come, so the work doesn’t stop here,” Dominguez said. “We’ll immediately be moving into the next budget cycle.”

Trump in ABQ: Rally, Then Ruckus

Thousands showed up to hear the presumptive Republican nominee speak

Local NewsWednesday, May 25, 2016 by Steven Hsieh

“Get a job, losers!” shouted one of the more vocal Donald Trump supporters who stood in line Tuesday afternoon to watch the presumptive Republican nominee speak in Albuquerque.

The message was directed at two University of New Mexico students protesting the event. One of those students, Cassady Leonard, carried a sign that read “Hate won’t make us great.” She shrugged off the jeers. “If they support Donald Trump, I expect ignorance,” Leonard tells SFR.

“That booty belongs in the Valley!” another Trump supporter taunted. (Leonard was wearing shorts, along with a Bernie Sanders button pinned to her black cardigan.) 

The heckler, Angela Zerah, also wore a button. Hers read: “Bomb the SHIT out of ISIS.”

“I like the fact that Trump wants to protect our border,” Zerah says, referring to the businessman’s signature policy proposal of building a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants. “People say he’s racist. He’s not racist. He just wants to protect the ones we got right now.” 

Angela Zerah supports Donald Trump for president.
Steven Hsieh

Zerah, a 46-year-old medical administrator who lives in Albuquerque, says she has never voted in her life but plans to cast her ballot for the first time in November.

By midafternoon, thousands of people had snaked around the Albuquerque Convention Center for Trump’s first rally in New Mexico. Baseball caps bearing the candidate’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” came in red, blue, white, pink and camouflage.

Most in line were there to support Trump but others came to disrupt the rally. And a few, like 18-year-old Bryan Metzger from Albuquerque, just wanted entertainment. “I’m here because it’s a spectacle,” Metzger says. “It’s kind of humorous.”

Cecil Stark, a retired electrical engineer with a bushy mustache, wore a Transformers t-shirt one size too small. Stark, 69, lived in Santa Fe for 30 years before moving to Albuquerque for cheaper housing.

Stark says he settled on Trump after his other choices, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, dropped out. But Stark says he is happy with the way things have turned out. 

“There’s nothing he says that I don’t like,” Stark claims. He’s especially drawn to Trump’s business background and tough rhetoric. “He wants to make America what it was before.”

Across the street, Tonita Gonzales, a curandera from the North Valley, blew into a conch shell as burnt sage wafted in the air.

“Forgive those that don’t know better,” Gonzales said as she directed a crowd through a traditional Indigenous ceremony. Behind her, Trump supporters and protesters were engaged in heated arguments. But Gonzales was unfazed. She continued speaking: “Heal the hatred they hold. Show them compassion so they can heal.”

Tonita Gonzales leads an Indigenous ceremony outside the Trump rally.
Steven Hsieh

In the hours before Trump’s rally began, hundreds of demonstrators gathered directly across from the Convention Center to protest the racist and misogynist rhetoric that some believe drives his campaign. Organizers led the crowd in chants of “¡Trump, escucha! !El pueblo esta en lucha!” (“Trump, listen! The people are struggling!”)

Critics are especially repulsed by two of his signature policy proposals: a border wall that Mexico would pay for and a ban on Muslims travelling to the US (he has somewhat backed down from the latter). 

“Trump is all about hate and racism, and I’m not,” says Bernadette Garcia, wearing sunglasses under an ACLU baseball cap. “As a person of color, I find him offensive. As a woman, I find him offensive.”

Lydia Karnikova, a tourist from Prague, came out for a slice of American politics on her last day in the country. She likened Trump’s rise to that of a far-right extremist movement in her home country of the Czech Republic.

“Nobody knew this could have happened,” Karnikova says. “Everybody was still mocking him a year ago.”

Trump walked onto the Convention Center stage to “Get Ready for This,” the pump-up song heard in NBA arenas across the country. 

Minutes earlier, a disembodied voice announced over a loudspeaker: “If a protester starts demonstrating, please do not touch or harm the protester.”

During an hourlong speech, the onetime reality TV star boasted about his successes, insulted his critics and encouraged security guards to kick out demonstrators who interrupted him.

Trump rattled through his list of derogatory nicknames: “crazy” Bernie Sanders, “goofy” Elizabeth Warren and the “dishonest slime” of the media. But he saved his harshest words for “crooked” Hillary Clinton.

She screams, and it drives me crazy,” he said, pretending to cover his ears before launching into an off-the-mark impression of the former secretary of state.

In one of the biggest applause lines of the night, Trump blamed Gov. Susana Martinez for an increase in food stamp recipients in New Mexico.

“We have to get your governor and get going,” he said to the crowd. “She’s got to do a better job, OK? She’s got to do a better job.”

Trump also lamented the relocation of Syrian refugees to the state, saying, “If I was governor, that wouldn’t be happening.”

Protesters occasionally interrupted the rally, only to be drowned out by supporters chanting “USA!” or the candidate’s name. In what has become a recurring motif on the Trump trail, the candidate mocked protesters as security guards escorted them out of the building.

Police escorted several protesters out of the building.
Steven Hsieh

“He can’t get a date, so he’s doing this instead,” he said, as guards brought a protester down from the bleachers.

“That kid looks like he’s 10 years old,” he said about another protester. The crowd ate it up, and Trump fed off their energy.

“There’s nowhere in the world safer than a Trump rally.”

As darkness fell, shouts of “Fuck Trump!” echoed through the streets of Albuquerque. Another group of protesters shouted the two-word message to passersby, to each other and to no one in particular. 

Trucks clogged a two-block stretch near the Convention Center. Drivers blared hip-hop and burned rubber, clouding the air with thick smoke. Protesters stood on truck beds, defiantly waving the Mexican flag. The scene felt like a party.

One of those protesters, Tony Torres, tells SFR, “I’m supporting my kind. I don’t want that fucker to come around here. We deserve better than that.” Torres, an 18-year-old who drove down from Santa Fe, says he did so with his parents’ permission. “I’m not letting anybody take me out of my country.”

Back in front of the Convention Center, Dustin Chavez-Davis, a UNM student wearing a neon yellow vest, tried to stop unruly protesters from throwing bottles at the police. An earlier ruckus during the rally shattered the Convention Center’s glass door, forcing Trump supporters to leave the building through an alternate exit. 

“We’re trying to keep it peaceful, man,” Chavez-Davis says. “But there are elements in the crowd. People are not listening. People are upset.”

As the night wore on, any semblance of order quickly crumbled away. Protesters pelted mounted police with a steady stream of pebbles, with the occasional fist-sized rock added into the mix. Some jumped on top of police cruisers. 

Police wearing riot gear responded to the projectiles with pepper spray and smoke canisters. They made four arrests, and several officers sustained injuries, according to the APD Twitter account.

At a Wednesday rally in Anaheim, California, police arrested at least five protesters.

 

After the rally, a festive protest outside descended into violence.
Steven Hsieh

 

No Toke Zone

Santa Fe National Forest issues 'reminder' on prohibition against cultivation or possession of marijuana on federal lands, subject to citation

Local NewsWednesday, May 25, 2016 by Julie Ann Grimm

Planning on sparking one on your next hike up the Winsor Trail? Watch out for the bark narcs. Even if the state of New Mexico is on your side. 

The Santa Fe National Forest today announced that it has issued an order effective May 31 prohibiting “possessing, storing or transporting marijuana” within forest boundaries and warned that its law enforcement officers are authorized to issue misdemeanor citations to those who break the rules. 

Forest spokeswoman Julie Anne Overton tells SFR that the agency’s biggest concerns are about resource protection and public health and safety around marijuana cultivation on public property, and the loss of trees that accompanies it. But there’s another reason: 

“They did it as kind of a reminder of the status quo that possessing marijuana, even if it's medicinal marijuana, is still illegal on federal property,” Overton says.  

Marijuana possession, storage or transport in the forest is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor by a fine of no more than $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations and/or imprisonment for not more than six months, according to a press release.

Overton says it’s not really a new rule but is intended to help law enforcement streamline responses to problems. “It’s to renew something that is already in place,” she says. “It’s not like we have had a big in increase in incidents or arrests. It’s a kind of paperwork thing.”

Trump Stumps in ABQ [Photos]

Albuquerque visit from GOP front-runner is marked by protest

Local NewsWednesday, May 25, 2016 by Steven Hsieh
Trump supporters, gawkers and protesters lined up early outside the Albuquerque Convention Center for an evening rally on Tuesday, May 24.
Steven Hsieh
Meanwhile, demonstrators who oppose the presumptive Republican nominee made a splash across the street.
Steven Hsieh
Everyone had a message.
Steven Hsieh
Bob and Jo Ann Hoffman joined Trump supporters who bought new merch at the event. 
Steven Hsieh
Other pro-Trump folk taunted protesters across the street.
Steven Hsieh
Before Trump came out, a loudspeaker played a message urging supporters not to harm protesters.
Steven Hsieh
Trump's hourlong speech included a rant against Gov. Susana Martinez about the state's increase in food stamp recipients. 
Steven Hsieh
Trump supporters jeered as police escorted a bikini-clad protester down from the bleachers. 
Steven Hsieh

No surprise here, as waves of protesters continued to interrupt the speech.
Steven Hsieh

After the event, things were a little different outside.
Steven Hsieh

Albuquerque police declared the scene an unlawful assembly and donned riot gear to disperse the crowd.
Steven Hsieh 

Albuquerque's streets became a showplace for Mexican pride.
Steven Hsieh

A young man waved a Mexican flag amid smoke from burning tires.
Steven Hsieh

Mounted police took to the streets around the Convention Center. 
Steven Hsieh
Police launched several smoke canisters after protesters hurled bottles, pebbles and rocks at them.
Steven Hsieh

 

 


 

Morning Word: Trump Irreverent at Protested Rally

Morning WordWednesday, May 25, 2016 by Peter St. Cyr
Trump Irreverent at Protested Rally
After a brief break from the presidential campaign, Donald Trump, the GOP’s presumptive nominee, was back on the trail in Albuquerque on Tuesday night.
Outside the event, police confronted scores of protesters who tried to rush the doors of the convention center about the same time Trump took the stage. Protesters also threw bottles and rocks at officers on horseback, lit fires and overturned trash cans, prompting police to fire pepper spray. 
The event turned somewhat violent inside, too, when protesters who had sneaked in were escorted out, often by force. Protesters continually interrupted Trump’s hour-plus speech, but the crowd seemed to feed off the commotion, and Trump himself basked in it, creating an atmosphere that at times resembled a mixed martial arts or professional wrestling show.
Governor Targeted
Political blogger Joe Monahan was at the rally and says the crowd seemed stunned the Republican front-runner criticized Gov. Susana Martinez' leadership. 
By throwing Martinez under the bus Trump was not only extracting his revenge for her shunning him but also putting Republican elected officials across the nation on notice that if they mimic her behavior they will be getting some of the same medicine. It was yet another political low point for Gov. Martinez. She was coming off a big weekend loss at the state GOP convention where her favored candidate for GOP national committeeman--Pat Rogers--was trounced by her ardent critic Harvey Yates. Combine that with her falling poll numbers and all that blood in the water proved irresistible to Trump who cuts jugular veins with glee.
Dems Welcome Bill Clinton to New Mexico
Former President Bill Clinton was in Española for a rally to boost support for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. He told the peaceful crowd that his wife is the only candidate "truly qualified to be president" and would unify, rather than divide, the nation. The former president will be in Albuquerque for another rally today.

Johnson in Double Digits
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who hopes to become the Libertarian Party’s nominee this weekend in Orlando, is gaining national momentum. He’s polling at 10 percent in a new poll.

Abstract Asset
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe will soon be showing off one of the artist’s early but less known abstract barn paintings. Last week, the museum paid $3.3 million for her 1926 piece, The Barns, Lake George.
The painting, which has not been publicly exhibited in 50 years, portrays three rustic barns that surrounded the Alfred Stieglitz family property overlooking the shores of Lake George in New York. Stieglitz was an impresario, photographer and gallery owner. He and O’Keeffe married in 1924. The pair regularly vacationed at Lake George while they lived in Manhattan.
UNM Bids on Sandia Management Contract
Dennis Domrzalski reports that the University of New Mexico plans to bid for a share of the $2.9 billion contract to manage Sandia National Labs. It could be a good fit, as more than 2,400 UNM grads work at the lab.

No Field Trip for Chan Jurors
The judge in the Tai Chan murder trial in Las Cruces denied a request from prosecutors to take jurors to the hotel where the fatal shooting took place. Defense attorneys have not said if they plan to call the former Santa Fe County sheriff deputy to the stand when they get their turn to argue self-defense.

Booze Boom
It looks like there’s a liquor boom in Lincoln County, as commissioners approved a slew of new beer and wine licenses.

Case Managers Owed Overtime Pay
“The U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday it ordered Molina Healthcare of New Mexico to pay more than $700,000 in overtime wages to 409 of its case managers,” reports Uriel J Garcia at the New Mexican.

Crimestoppers Money Missing in Alamogordo
The former treasurer of the Otero County Crimestoppers group faces a third-degree felony embezzlement charge after members reported their account is missing money.

MetroGlyphs

05.25.16

MetroGlyphsWednesday, May 25, 2016 by SFR
Russ Thornton is a Santa Fe local who has replaced his first passion, cooking, with a new love interest, the weekly SFR comic he's created called MetroGlyphs. Reach him at santafechef@hotmail.com

7 Days

05.25.16

7 DaysWednesday, May 25, 2016 by SFR
1

MEXICO WILL EXTRADITE DRUG LORD EL CHAPO TO US

This isn’t like Breaking Bad at all!

2

CERRILLOs ROAD CONSTRUCTION DETOURS TO BEGIN

And seriously, don’t even try this on a Friday afternoon.

3

SANTA FE CELEBRATES LOWRIDER DAY

I know, huh?

4

EVERYONE FELT THE BERN DURING SANDERS’ COMMUNITY COLLEGE RALLY

Especially the sunbern.

5

… AND TRUMP CAME TO ALBUQUERQUE

Wake us when it’s over.

6

FRACTURED FAITHS EXHIBIT OPENS AT THE NEW MEXICO HISTORY MUSEUM

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

7

CELLPHONE USERS REPORTEDLY USED 10 TRILLION MEGABYTES OF DATA LAST YEAR

All of it on Tindr.


Paz on Earth

Growth in hip-hop and what it means to self-examine

Music FeaturesWednesday, May 25, 2016 by Alex De Vore

Pablo Paz, aka Adrenaline Truth, aka DJ Shatter, wanted to be an animator once upon a time. “But as I went along school-wise,” he says, “I realized I wasn’t really artistically inclined in that way, but I still wanted to make stuff.” Music, specifically hip-hop, had always been a creative respite for the Omaha-born, Santa Fe-raised Paz, however, so when he returned home after receiving a degree in creative media from the University of Hawaii and training under an audio engineer who he would “rather not name,” he re-enlisted with his old crew, Dezert Banditz. “The Zs are just for fun,” he jokes, “and we were—or we are—one of the bigger crews in the state.” Indeed, like a New Mexican version of the much-ballyhooed Wu-Tang Clan formula, Dezert Banditz remains a loosely connected tribe of groups, MCs, DJs, beat-smiths, producers and various hangers-on. If hip-hop is the product, Dezert Banditz is the factory.

For his part, Paz’s MC and DJ efforts are certainly available for any and all performers, but the bulk of his best work seems inextricably linked to SUBLMNL RNSONS, a three-piece with which he performs alongside Cas Uno (Leroy Cardenas) and Mr. UnXnown (Jose Granados). They’re well known to Santa Fe’s hip-hop elite as prolific writers and producers, and rarely will a show within that genre take place without one or all of them onboard.

“It’s been the project that I’m usually the most focused on,” Paz says. “But lately I’ve really wanted to shift that focus more to the craft of production.” He speaks of his DJ alter-ego, Shatter, a party facilitator who exists in stark contrast to Paz’s soft-spoken and almost shy nature. As a person, Paz is clearly very intelligent, but it would appear he climbs into his own head about how he presents himself to the world at large. As a DJ and performer, he comes alive and takes on an almost completely different persona. Still, he’s nothing if not self-aware of his own potential artistic growth.

“SUBLMNL has songs from over the years that people still like, and we’ll still play those songs because people like ’em, and I get it, but I’m not sure how much I still agree with the message in those anymore, [and] anyway, I’m not writing lyrics as much these days,” he points out. “I’m more focused on DJing, not just because I want my co-MCs to get more of the spotlight—and I know I can count on them to show up and fill in those blank spaces—but because when I step up to the mic, I want to have something to say, even … it doesn’t matter if it’s not important to the rest of the world, it still has to be important to me.”

During his informal mini-hiatus, he’s sharpened his DJ skills and broadened his repertoire by performing at various regional hip-hop showcases. “They can be really long and teach you that you have to know all kinds of styles,” he says. “So I DJ with a rapper’s perspective because when I was doing more MC stuff, the DJ was always the wild card, and they should be the conduit through which all the music flows.”

His refreshingly communal-minded philosophy from within a field that seems to foster a single-player mentality has obviously served him well, as he appears among this year’s SFR Best of Santa Fe-nominated artists in the DJ category and also helms the decks for a massive show Friday at The Underground, which features NYC artist Ricky Bats, Rill, Nspire, Ben Davis, SBLMNL RNSONS and others.

“I’m all about figuring out what’s feasible, and when you get a little older and think about how maybe you didn’t reach whatever level of success you thought you would … I mean, I have some cred, but I just don’t see myself rapping for another 20 or 30 years,” Paz notes. “This city’s got a vibrant music culture right now, and I could easily continue rapping, but DJing had me right from the get.”



Ricky Bats, SBLMNL RNSONS,
Rill, Nspire, Ben Davis and more
:
9 pm Friday, May 27. $5.
The Underground.
200 W San Francisco St.


Small Bites

Eat at Paper Dosa and #SFRFoodies

Small BitesWednesday, May 25, 2016 by SFR

Paper Dosa

Jou Godfrey
Indian food doesn’t have to be a pile of indistinguishable mush, and the whole concept of assembling your own dosa proves that it can also be fun as an evening of DIY if you go to the right restaurant. Located just a door down from Maria’s, Paper Dosa couldn’t be a more opposite approach to City Different dining. Order a dosa, of course, and be treated to a paper-thin, Indian-style crepe that’s so big there’s no way it fits on the plate. Can’t choose? Try the traditional masala, potatoes blended with turmeric, caramelized onions, red chile, mustard seeds and cashews ($10). Each comes with two housemade chutneys, a mint-green coconut concoction and a tomato basil rendition, along with a cup of spicy lentil soup. A definite don’t-miss on the menu is the onion pakora, fried onions and jalapeños served with an eggplant sauce ($8). And as you’re wondering whether you’ll need one or two Tums on the way home, calm down your gut with Rasmalai ($5), a fresh cheese dessert drenched in sweet cream with rosewater and cardamom. Nom.



-Julie Ann Grimm

551 W Cordova Road, 930-5521
Dinner Tuesday-Sunday
paper-dosa.com

#SFRfoodies

Come across a dish worth commemorating, like in these tempting pics? Share it on Instagram using #SFRfoodies.


Capital Idea

Stellar service and seriously fun food make this place a special treat

Food WritingWednesday, May 25, 2016 by Gwyneth Doland

People often ask food critics: What’s the best restaurant? It’s incredibly frustrating because this question is almost impossible to answer. It’s like asking someone to pick a favorite pair of shoes. Shoes for what? Dancing, golfing, hiking or looking devastatingly sexy? The better question would be more specific: What’s the best place for really hot red chile, the best pad Thai, a cheap lunch downtown, the prettiest patio, a restaurant where no one will mind if the kids run around or the best place to celebrate a special occasion (especially if someone else is paying)?

Well, if I had an occasion to celebrate this week, I’d ask you to take me to State Capital Kitchen (500 Sandoval St., 467-8237). The food is creative and interesting, the atmosphere is relaxed and charming, and the service is lavish and pampering. It’s perfect for making someone feel special, but the food is so good that it can turn a regular Tuesday night into an occasion.

This is what I’m talking about: Almost all of the tables were full when my date and I showed up about 15 minutes early for a 7:30 reservation one recent night, so we were invited to have a seat in a cozy banquette in the foyer. Sitting on a low table in front of us was a tray holding a bottle of bubbly and a dozen flutes. They must be expecting a party, we thought.

Then a cheery server came by and offered us some cava. She popped the cork and filled two glasses, and we toasted to a much-needed kid-free date night—but then I had a pang of paranoia: Do they recognize me? Do they know I’m here to write a review? Why else would we get this special treatment?

For the first half of the evening, I was sure I’d somehow been found out. Why else would all these people be so attentive, so nice? What else could possibly motivate the bartender to leave his perch and swing by our table, pick up some dirty plates and refill our water glasses?

Over the course of the meal, though, we came to believe we weren’t being treated any differently. Other tables seemed to get the same level of attention: kind and knowledgeable, indulgent but not obsequious.

State Capital Kitchen offers unusually good service and the food to match. The menu is full of dishes that present familiar ingredients in novel ways, such as a plate of perfectly bronzed scallops that came plated with soft pillows of ravioli filled with foie gras ($33). Cooking melts the filling so that a fork, piercing the pillow’s exterior, causes a minor geyser of molten foie gras to erupt on the plate.

It’s fun to pop the foie gras balloons. By the third ravioli, however, one does wonder whether the best use of foie gras is having it Jackson Pollock all over a plate and leaving a diner to mop it up with pieces of ravioli that are not particularly absorbent.

(A similar trick is employed with more success in the exploding passion fruit balls from the dessert menu: bite-sized alabaster spheres of white chocolate that immediately melt to release a burst of sweet-citrusy passion fruit liquid. They are marvelous.)

A generously sized starter of duck liver toast involved a thick schmear of mild, smooth liver. The nest of frisée that topped the toasts was a surprisingly good foil for the richness of the liver. And the mushroom ragout topping was very tasty, although camouflaged on the similarly colored liver. We only wished that the toasts were thinner and toastier.

A simple green salad was exceptionally good, with big pieces of beautiful baby lettuce lightly dressed and topped with a quenelle of chèvre ($9). My date wished the cheese were spread all over the salad, but I liked spearing a few leaves and then dragging them through the soft chèvre.

The chicken roulade ($29) was remarkably moist inside, maybe because it was wrapped with crispy chicken skin. It came with a golden shredded potato cake that tasted as if it were made by someone who admires McDonald’s hash browns but wanted to make a real version.

The restaurant bills itself as “artisanal American dim sum,” and a cart does come around the dining room to offer small plates. The night we were there, the cart didn’t seem to come around often enough to count on it for making a full, timely meal, but do not miss sampling its delights as a supplement to whatever else you order. Prosciutto-wrapped dates filled with blue cheese offered a sweet-salty pop. Deep-fried bites of brandade had a mild flavor and silky texture not often found in a dish made from dried fish. And delicately deep-fried quail legs were delicious, dipped in a thick red curry sauce tinged with vanilla. The plates are small, but so are their prices (all under $10).

It may take serious effort, but do try to save room for one of the clever desserts. The chocolate sphere is an orange-sized brown globe that transforms as the server pours a warm pistachio sauce over it, causing the top to melt away and reveal a filling of chocolate mousse and cherry ice cream ($9). It’s a big dessert, and the flavors are almost overwhelmingly intense, but it’s worth it for the presentation and fun of discovering the contents.

The “experience” factor here is high, and that makes SCK a worthy destination, but it wouldn’t be successful if the presentations weren’t backed up with high-quality local ingredients so skillfully prepared. How many literal explosions (foie gras, passion fruit, chocolate bombe) are too many for one meal? As a gimmick, maybe it gets old, but thankfully the kitchen doesn’t rely on just these technical surprises.

We left feeling like we’d overindulged, but we wouldn’t have wanted to miss anything that came to the table. For $125, we had two starters, two mains, one big dessert and two dessert bites, plus three plates from the dim sum cart and two glasses of wine. Looking at the bill later, it appeared that the server forgot to charge us for the dim sum, but the options change nightly and run $2-$6. It was a lot of food for the money and made more worth it by the inventive food and indulgent service. It’s a good value for such an enjoyable experience.



AT A GLANCE:
Open:
5-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10:30 pm
Friday-Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday
Best Bet:
Tidbits from the dim sum cart
Don’t Miss:
Exploding passion fruit balls


Finally, a City Budget Deal
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