Hotel Me More

Eldorado Hotel & Spa’s Agave might be pricey—but it’s worth the splurge

After my January visit to the Hilton Santa Fe’s Ortiz restaurant (one that culminated in a new top five green chile cheeseburger on my personal list, btw) I started to ask myself whether I’ve been sleeping on hotel restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware they exist, I’ve enjoyed a few—heck, Del Charro is technically a hotel restaurant/bar, and lord knows I’ve gone to town on a burger/margarita over there more times than should be allowed. Turns out, I’ve totally been sleeping on hotel restaurants, and Agave within the Eldorado Hotel & Spa (309 W San Francisco St., (505) 995-4530) might just be the most splurge-worthy restaurant in Santa Fe right now.

In fact, mere days after the Ortiz sojourn, a number of readers reached out with some semblance of the same message, and I’m paraphrasing here: “Look, dude, you’ve gotta try Agave. Chef Antonio Sandoval is a magician. Why do you hate good food?”

As I absolutely do not hate good food, I dropped by the restaurant on a recent blustery night, and I might just need everyone to try and do the same if my insistence it’s an underrated joint is to carry any weight.

Agave’s ambiance impressed from the moment my companion and I entered the door. Up a small stairway, we hit the bar seating area, a minimalist bit of Santa Fe-ish decor (which I mean that it’s almost like a one-time visitor’s understanding of what design should look like; but Agave’s in a downtown hotel, so of course it is) and welcoming fireplaces. The massive bar itself looms wrap-around style in the next room and in the center of everything—trés Cheers; no Woody—and the friendly wait staff greeted us with sincere vigor. Wild.

With the exception of a young family—whose discussion of their day skiing I overheard—and a couple of bar patrons, Agave was relatively empty. Chalk this up to the recent cold snap, along with fewer hotel guests in the shoulder season, but a quiet night never bothers me when dining. Our server Allison appeared almost immediately, and proved exactly my kind of server: a student of human behavior who at first dips a toe in banter-wise but, by the end of the meal, comfortably tells you and your date she thinks you’re super-cool. She also had that earnest friendliness that’s so valuable in a waiter. This, coupled with easily the most comfortable chair I’ve ever found in my life—restaurant or no—and the meal was off to a good start.

Agave’s menu teems with exciting options courtesy of chef Sandoval. We could easily have made a meal from the starters alone, which include a charcuterie board with fresh meats and cheeses ($25); crispy brussels sprouts with bacon ($12); and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto ($14), among other options. Something about the sweet chili-garlic shrimp with chorizo called our name, though, and our server’s insistence that it’s the best starter on the menu had merit. Sandoval must be some kind of shrimp genius, because his lightly-seared version ranks among the most expertly cooked I’ve tasted—and I’ve lived near the sea. Firm and warm, they came served with two chunks of grill-kissed bread that added a slight crisp to the overall dish (crisp is the best texture, if you didn’t know). The chorizo came cured, which is to say borderline hard, akin to jerky. In Sandoval’s hands, it might be my new favorite chorizo of all time, and its particular tang and salt counterbalanced the richness of the shrimp. Oh, we scarfed an order of phenomenally tasty $6 fries, as well. Just know that.

Agave also boasts three classic salads: The house with fresh greens, roasted red peppers and corn, plus queso fresco and an avocado ranch dressing ($14); the classic Caesar with red chile-infused croutons ($15); and the wedge with heirloom cherry tomatoes, bacon crumbles and blue cheese ($16). Each can be augmented with chicken, shrimp, steak or salmon ($9-$14), and that’s precisely what my date did with the wedge salad.

“This salmon is cooked perfectly,” she noted. “I’ve never had a piece of salmon this delicious.”

High praise indeed.

I opted for the Kurobuta pork chop with creamy cheddar polenta and crispy brussels sprouts served atop a red chile demi-glace ($43), and I’m glad I did. Regular readers will no doubt be familiar with the time I sang the praises of a similar dish at downtown eatery La Mama from chef Jordan Isaacson (Mama Mia, Nov. 2023), and though that tender sous vide number still haunts my dreams, Sandoval’s—which could not have been more different—will live alongside it in infamy. A firmer cut of bone-in pork served grilled, Agave’s version helped create interlocking flavors with the sprouts and red chile demi. The polenta worked its magic, too, by adding a little bit of creaminess to the dish. Sandoval’s chop was also an excellent size, especially for someone who’d already eaten fries and shrimp. Even better, Sandoval sidestepped the most common brussels sprouts pitfalls—his has enough snap to be demonstrably fresh, but were cooked well enough to be tender.

We closed the meal with the mango crème brûlée, which came warm and topped with a generous bit of whipped cream. Crème brûlée remains one of those restaurant litmus tests—if you can’t serve up a good one, maybe it’s time to pack up the shingle. Agave’s had obviously been brûlée’d mere moments before it hit the table, and as the refreshing mango flavors met with the sweet kiss of the crunchy top and the brilliantly thick whipped cream, we had difficulty answering our server Alison when she came back to check on us.

“Iff fooooo good!” I practically shouted, my mouth full. “I’d like to be alone with it now.”

As we had with the other dishes, we left practically nothing behind, but that tiny bit of pork chop sitting in my fridge today should tamp down at least some of the craving I’m still feeling. Agave is a beautiful restaurant with a fine dining air and a menu to match. And though I know it’s more of a splurge than everyday folks might be able to swing, I urge anyone with taste buds to stop in. No notes, Antonio Sandoval. No notes at all.

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