If I was going to take a stab at what I consider culinary art, it would be a combination of flavors that surprises you enough to become the primary topic of conversation, and if you’re down for a dinner where you can’t stop talking about the food, Joseph’s of Santa Fe (428 Agua Fría St., 982-1272), is the place. Chef Joseph Wrede opened the spot last year, after closing Joseph’s Table in Ranchos de Taos in 2010. It was there where he earned one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef awards in 2000. The Santa Fe locale is nestled in a little downtown adobe, you can ditch the usual celebrity gossip and get really into what’s on your plate.
The décor is pretty striking, and the patio where we were seated had an energetic vibe, with its lime green chairs and partially open view (I could see the street signs for Montezuma and Agua Fría between the awnings), and the cars that went by added to the vibrancy rather than taking anything away.
Our appetizer, selected at the recommendation of one of our waiters (who were some very professional dudes who knew their stuff) was a pressed pork belly with apple demi-glace, preserved lemon, picked ginger and Brussels sprout slaw ($16). This was an impressive start to the meal—the main thing that I kept thinking (and saying, probably over and over again) was that I had never tasted anything that I could compare it to. Except maybe Christmas, which strictly speaking, I've never eaten.
After salivating over the many menu descriptions, we finally settled on two of the eight entrée options, which ranged from $18 to $42.
While we waited for the main course, I tried a little Stiegl Pilsner, and it was fantastic, even with my current nonalcoholic predilections. (I haven't wanted to drink since my truly epic hangover while covering summer cocktails.) The wine selection is nothing short of encyclopedic, though the wine is also the place where you're in danger of spending the most money. Tip: If you're going on a budget, get a beer.
My rather dashing dining companion got the pan-seared sea bass with miso sweet potato purée, nori and housemade kimchi ($28). I tried a bite and I felt I had been sort of…punched in the mouth. Pleasantly. By flavor. It's the kind of thing that makes your whole brain pause.
All around you, if you bother to eavesdrop, you can hear various lyrical descriptions of whatever the person has ordered and why it's the best thing on the menu…or possibly in existence. And I soon became an enthusiastic part of this trend. My entrée, which I can only call a deconstructed sandwich, has a particularly long description: honey and cardamom dusted phyllo Napoleon with sprout leaves, crispy Italian ham, root vegetable sauté, local goat cheese, sherry wine sauce and carrot ginger foam ($24). Whew.
I say "deconstructed" because it was a familiar combination with unusual players: The Brussels sprout leaves replaced the lettuce in a typical sandwich, the meat and cheese and condiments were switched for ham, goat cheese and sauté, respectively. And for a series of thin, crispy slices, it was surprisingly filling.
Not everything was super unusual or palette-shocking, either. The deserts, while just as delicious as the entrées, also had a comforting level of familiarity to them: We tried the carrot cake ($12) and the chocolate bistro cake, which was kind of a warm lava cake with Chantilly cream on top ($10), and they both, while having little unique touches, were exactly what you'd expect (but, you know, really, really good).
There's no denying that on an entry-level, student debt-type budget, this place has to be reserved for special occasions (and on that note, I would recommend an actual reservation). Still, I know a fair portion of Santa Feans have more flexibility in their finances than me, and if you haven't made this place a part of your dining rotation, then I implore you to try it out, if only so I may taste vicariously through you. And serious foodies should plan on bringing a notebook!
AT A GLANCE
Open: 5:30-10 pm Sunday-Thursday;
5:30-11 pm Friday and Saturday
Best bet: From an impressive bar menu to
delectable desserts, you can't go wrong.
Bring deep pockets to rival your big hunger.