Since it opened its doors in November of last year, Opuntia Café has been a welcome addition to Santa Fe's café culture, serving up colorful, globally minded tartines and vegetable bowls in a redesigned glass-paneled warehouse space that feels like a garden on the outside and a greenhouse within. And then, two weeks ago, co-owner Todd Spitzer, the godfather of local roaster Iconik and current proprietor of the recently opened Railyard addition Sky Coffee, debuted a dinner menu and extended Opuntia's hours to 8 pm Monday through Saturday.
The new menu is a collaborative effort between Mark Oppenhiemer, a Local Flavor columnist and private chef who specializes in Asian fusion; Kim Müller, former chef of Izanami at Ten Thousand Waves; and Opuntia kitchen manager Christian Buendia, formerly of Bodega Prime. In keeping with the breakfast and lunchtime offerings, the new dinner service has something for everyone—from the classic Santa Fe staple of a stuffed poblano ($8) served with black beans, avocado, cheddar cheese and chipotle aioli to Northern African lamb merguez meat balls ($10.75) seasoned with balsamic and harissa. Lunchtime sandwiches, salads and bowls are also available in the evening. In keeping with the ethos of sustainability that permeates the café, the chicken is organic, the pork is sourced from Beeler's Pure Pork in Iowa, and the vegetables are farm-fresh.
"We do our best to source as local and regional as we can," says Spitzer, "especially this time of the year when the farmers market is so bountiful."
Against the café's backdrop of neutral pottery, green potted plants and earthy wooden tables, the colorful plates of vegetables and spiced meats stand in stark contrast. As far as the tapas are concerned, the portions are generous and designed to pair either with the selection of San Francisco-based Samovar teas or the new beer, wine and sake menu that became available alongside the dinnertime offerings. The drink menu features mimosas, a selection of beer and wine, and three sake choices. Spitzer says he plans to expand the sake selection up to six or more and hopes to start serving flights.
A few of the wines are especially intriguing and imminently food-friendly; notably the Bodega Colomé Torrontés ($8 per glass) from the high-altitude region of Salta, Argentina, that behaves almost like a crisp, refreshing riesling, but with more flowery notes than fruit. For reds, the Sao Miguel do Sul Tinto ($8 per glass) delivers smooth tannin and black fruit flavors. It's a blend of indigenous grapes from the Alentejo region of Portugal, and its presence on the menu is another example of Opuntia's fascination with a global array of cultural and culinary touchstones.
In contrast, the beer list is grounded in local offerings. A few highlights are the Passionate Gose from Marble Brewery and the gluten-free 2920 IPA from Second Street (both $6 per pint.) While the beers and wines are a delightful addition, contributing fruity and fresh flavors to vegetable dishes, the elegance and purity of flavor that is the purview of good sake adds a wonderful dimension to a menu peppered with dishes dominated by notes of umami and spice.
With sake on my mind, I sat down in an airy corner of the café with a gorgeous view of an approaching storm outside. I ordered the Vietnamese peppered chicken wings ($10.75) dressed in a glaze of black pepper and local honey and served with a mushroom soy sauce and a side of spicy cucumbers seasoned with flecks of chili pepper. I paired it with the Kurosawa Black Creek Junmai Kimoto ($6.75 per glass), a family-owned, meticulously hand-brewed dry sake that is generous enough to stand up to the grilled chicken, contributing subtle notes of banana and toasted coconut. I also sampled the salmon poké ($10.75), which features roughly three ounces of Atlantic salmon on a bed of medium-grain rice topped with scallions, sweet peas, cucumbers and ginger. It's a zingy, refreshing dish, with the vegetables providing a satisfying crunch alongside the mellower rice and the spicy undertones of the poké sauce. It pairs very well with the Mizubasho "Snow Flower" Ginjo ($8.50), a smooth, premium sake with subtle apple blossom and melon flavors that make an enticing complement to seafood, but are not overwhelmed by the heat of the sauce.
In fact, the new menu doesn't shy away from an array of hot and earthy spices at all, from the blackened sugar snap peas ($7.75) to the Korean popcorn ($1) flavored with crimson gochujang, a sauce made from chile peppers and fermented soybeans that is at once sweet, hot and salty. It makes a delightful interlude between dishes, and I ended up eating two bowls. I finished the meal off with a dessert of rice pudding ($5.75) topped with peaches and raisins, paired with the Sayuri "A Little Lily" sake ($6.75), a cloudy, unfiltered Nigori with rich floral undertones. It was a fantastic ending to a meal rich in Asian fusion influences, and the evening view of mountains, sunset and storm made a lovely addition to the overall experience. I'd go back just to eat popcorn and watch the sunset any time.
922 Shoofly St.
8:30 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday; 8:30 am-4 pm Sunday