Pity chef Juan Bochenski.
The former executive sous chef at Jumby Bay, a resort in warm, beachy Antigua, Bochenski moved to Santa Fe in cold, snowy November to become the Anasazi Restaurant's new executive chef.
"I miss the beach," Bochenski confesses. He also had trouble adjusting to the altitude, he says: "I was breathless every time I [went] back and forth between the hotel…I was drinking a lot of water."
But the tall, affable Argentine-born chef is beginning to acclimate. On Feb. 1, the Anasazi unveiled a new menu that reflects Bochenski's eclectic training in Latin America, Europe, Australia and the Caribbean.
His culinary philosophy, he says, draws on the foods and cooking styles of those cultures and of his own Argentine and Spanish heritage.
"Wherever I go, [I] use the approach with the most local suppliers and local produce available and the freshest ingredients," Bochenski says. He's working on making connections with the farmers market and with local producers to further expand the restaurant's commitment to local food.
I arranged to meet Bochenski at 2 pm on a weekday, hoping the restaurant wouldn't ply me with lunch. But Bochenski showed up late to our meeting; he was busy preparing "a small tasting," Director of Sales and Marketing Christina Loosemore told me.
The "small" tasting: a big salad of marinated salmon with butter lettuce and pickled chayote ($14 on the dinner menu), followed by two generous portions of elk tenderloin served with goat-cheese dumplings and roasted root vegetables ($40). The elk was subtly spicy and perfectly medium-rare, and the goat-cheese dumplings—well, let's just say I hate white, creamy, dumplingy things, but I could eat these every day until I die. None of it was small, but all of it was delectable.
I had also tried Anasazi's new menu independently, during Restaurant Week, when the $20 lunch prix fixe fell (barely) within my price range. On that occasion, I sampled a different, equally tasty salmon salad and duo of beef that included the dinner menu's sous vide flank steak ($18, lunch) and a sublime short rib enchilada.
It's possible I don't eat enough $40 elk tenderloins or $18 lunch items to judge these offerings with the expertise of a seasoned food critic. But I do know coffee, and while one local critic recently upbraided the Anasazi for a 14-ounce "coffee and milk beverage" that arrived in place of her cappuccino, my double macchiato was perfect: dark, bitter and topped with the airiest little puff of foam.
In short, almost everything I tried was delicious, and there were even a few moments of genius (the marinated salmon shouldn't be missed).
But I won't frequent this place: $40 entrées are not my milieu; the clientele suggests I'm neither old nor rich enough to be here; and the menu is still more traditional than inventive.
Bochenski says he hopes to take Anasazi in a new direction, integrating its haute-Southwestern fare with newer European styles—an admirable goal, but one that may be compromised by tradition.
"My roots are Spanish and European," he says, "so I add to the Southwestern cuisine we have here, make it a little more contemporary without—we have a good clientele here; I respect them, and I'm trying to make sure they also look after the style of food I do."