One of the best things about Santa Fe is the breadth of quality restaurants we have to choose from. Whether we're craving local flavors or looking for something more exotic, options abound. Sometimes, it feels like too many. I don't know about you, but I can't afford to try every place I want to—especially the fancy ones. While I like to think I deserve a beautiful meal and enjoy being doted on a little, it's just not practical. But being practical (about food) is not something that makes me very happy.
Thank goodness, then, for Santa Fe Restaurant Week. Every year, Santa Fe-based marketing and PR firm Wings Media Network organizes New Mexico Restaurant Week, giving people around the state "the opportunity to try new restaurants they might have overlooked or feel they couldn't afford. Restaurants get to 'put their best food forward' in order to gain new fans and can experiment with menu items. Above all, it showcases New Mexico as one of the world's premier dining destinations," according to Wings' website.
For a fixed price, ranging from $15-$45, diners can enjoy three-course meals for lunch or dinner, from East African cuisine at Jambo Café (2010 Cerrillos Road, 473-1269) to traditional Iranian dishes at Milad Persian Bistro (802 Canyon Road, 303-3581). Santa Fe's 10th annual Restaurant Week recently came to a close, and if you weren't fast enough to make a reservation, you should be marking your calendar for 2020.
Until then, there is a way you can try out some of Santa Fe's best restaurants without breaking the bank: Hit the bars! Most of Santa Fe's finer eating establishments offer a small bar menu, making it possible to try something from their storied kitchens without breaking the bank.
Open daily at 5:30, Geronimo's Borrego House (724 Canyon Road, 982-1500) fills quickly with Canyon Road locals and tourists, thanks to a never-ending wave of "best in the country" accolades. The four small tables and all but one of the six bar stools were already occupied when I arrived just before 6 pm on a weekday. Despite the crowd, the feel of the bar was still elegant and romantic, if a step removed from the refined experience of the main dining rooms.
The full dinner menu is available in the bar but, sensing "fine dining on a budget" danger, I turned it down in favor of the nine-item lounge menu. A mesquite-grilled prime flat iron steak ($19) seemed like a great price from a kitchen known for its mastery of meat, as did the comfort-food standard green chile mac and cheese studded with Applewood-smoked bacon ($12). Even though my heart yearned for the Maine lobster tempura ($24), I somehow reined myself in and settled on the Fujisaki Asian pear salad ($12) featuring Bleu d'Auvergne "grilled cheese," arugula, watercress, cashews and cider-honey vinaigrette. It was a thrilling combination of flavors and a great precursor to goodies waiting on Geronimo's dinner menu when my next birthday rolls around. Like that lobster.
Emboldened by my economical eating success, I joined some friends in the bar at Sazón (221 Shelby St., 983-8604). Though small, the space is comfortable and airy, with nine bar stools and six two-tops. The bar opens an hour earlier than the dining room and offers up stellar service and some quiet time to peruse menus. The bar "antojitos" menu is available beginning at 4 pm and features sophisticated takes on traditional Mexico City street and market foods including Oaxaqueños ($17), which are chapulines (baby grasshoppers) infused with olive oil, garlic, citrus and chile on guacamole and corn tortillas; and the taquitos de barrigita ($15), pork belly tacos in corn tortillas with Chef Fernando Olea's jalapeño salsa verde.
We chose the queso fundido ($14), a cast iron skillet bubbling with asadero cheese, mushrooms and strips of poblano peppers, with fresh corn tortillas and salsa as well as the Xochimilco ($16), three mini-tortillas topped with the savory corn truffle, native spices and queso fresco. We should have stopped there. At 5 pm, the dining room opens and the regular menu also becomes available in the bar. This, and the killer cocktail list, posed some problems for us. Needless to say, we each walked out of there feeling fat, happy and about $100 lighter.
Rounding out the trifecta of Santa Fe's suggested finest, I popped into The Compound (653 Canyon Road, 982-4353). Set just off one of the main dining areas, I joined a friend at one of the 12 seats surrounding the square sunken bar. The groovy '60s vibe was strong in this bar, especially within my chair, which I assumed had been around that long, its cracked pleather snagging my skirt and scratching at my legs.
Though the regular menu is available at the bar, we chose to stick with the 10 options on the bar menu and ordered a juicy blood orange margarita ($14), wild mushroom and organic stone ground polenta ($15), and a side of crispy buttermilk onion rings ($9). The polenta was creamy, with a nice spice and richness from the topping of microgreens and black truffle relish. The thin-sliced onion rings retained their crispy batter but would have benefitted by a dipping sauce more exotic than ketchup. The people-watching, on the other hand, was fantastic.
So, you see, by bar-hopping you can try out some of Santa Fe's best, while sticking to a budget. Who's taking me to Geronimo for my birthday?