"Would you like to be seated in the main room or … The viewing room?" the maitre d' asked, and my brows rose. I had just entered the red door of Lucky Goat (500 Sandoval St, 772-0239), a new Pan-Asian restaurant owned by Santa Fe restaurateurs Jennifer and Jimmy Day, the same folks who own, among other excellent restaurants, Trattoria a Mano and Bouche Bistro. This place just opened a few weeks back on Nov. 25, but I'd heard some buzz already so I thought I'd give it a shot. At 6 pm on a Sunday night, it wasn't busy.
To my right was the main room, and to my left was a small alcove with two walls of windows covered in bamboo bars facing into the kitchen. Not just food, but an experience? Count me in.
The experience offered is like 1/4th of a traditional hibachi, which I think is sort of what they're going for. It's hard to tell what's going on with the "Pan-Asian" genre, as Asia is actually a whole-ass gigantic continent with over 60% of the world's population and a hugely diverse set of culinary traditions (Kudos to Lucky Goat for distilling it into two pages of menu items, though). Instead of dramatic scenes of cooking and food flying out the kitchen, I mainly saw a lot of staff quietly doing their work in a fluorescent-lit kitchen. There was one pan-flare up, but the disparity between our environments was more distracting than adding anything important to the meal, and for anyone who's worked in a kitchen, it might feel a little exhausting. Good thing there's a main room, then.
The menu had a lot of exciting appetizers, from traditional egg rolls ($5) to organic chicken dumplings ($10), Thai red curry mussels and tuna sashimi (both $16); I sprung for the kimchi fries ($13) with their promise of mozzarella, Korean ketchup, pork belly and Lucky Goat dressing, because since when hasn't Pan-Asian included American food? I was offered cucumber water with a whole cucumber slice lining the glass which was a nice touch, but as I waited for my appetizer, it began to tease me with its food value.
For entrees, the menu is even more promising. A build-your-own pho option lets you pick a broth ($4), noodle ($3), protein ($1-$5) and veggie ($1). They've got fried rice in several varieties ($7-$13) including vegetarian options, pad thai ($14-$18), a whole baked Asian cod ($28) and Chinese five spice ribs and chicken ($26). There's a generic-looking Indonesian spicy vegetables ($16) "stir-fried in an Eastern Hot Sauce," besides tofu options for meatless diners.
We ordered our mains before our fries arrived. I chose the Vietnamese goat curry stew ($23), with my partner opting for wok-fried crab legs ($39). Then we waited. We finished our short waters and waved down the waiter for a refill. After about 45 minutes, our mains arrived—with no sign of the kimchi fries. I was content to abandon them, however, as the smell of the stew was so enticing—but where was my spoon?
For several minutes the only waitstaff around was the maitre d', from whom I received a spoon. Thank God I finally got it, too, because the stew was delicious. Bright lemongrass gave way to an earthy, spicy curry, with big chunks of flavorful goat, potato and carrot. The goat was lean and tender, with just enough fat to flavor the stew.
My partner was a bit more disappointed in his crab legs: The plate was a little too small for the portion and they seemed haphazardly thrown on. Some parts were just lukewarm and on a whole it was over-salted. The menu promises a side of brown or white rice and an Asian cucumber salad; the brown rice I ordered was flawlessly prepared, but my salad was missing. I didn't have the chance to mention it to the waiter, because he didn't come to check on us until after we finished our meal.
I understand it takes some time to establish a work-flow in a restaurant, but there are certain service standards that should be well-sorted before opening. Lucky Goat's menu shows a dedication to quality and an interest in innovation, but the execution was decidedly lackluster for the cost of the plates. I won't write it off, though, and I wait patiently for the folks at Lucky Goat to all get on the same page, because I'd really like a chance to try those fries—and the pho, and the cod, and the wings, and the … well, Asia's a big place, you know.