Fresh Fare: New Santa Fe Restaurants

- August 3, 2011

"...Santa Fe's food scene remains healthy despite a drop in tourism and people's dwindling spare cash..."

We've got some new chefs in town, changing up the front lines of the Santa Fe dining scene. This is encouraging news in the midst of an economic crisis that has forced so many local businesses to shut down or scale back. It's also a sign that Santa Fe's food scene remains healthy despite a drop in tourism and people's dwindling spare cash.

Perhaps when times get hard, food provides a way for us to nourish ourselves, reconnect with the community and drown our sorrows in gazpacho soup, pomegranate molasses dipping sauce, mango salsa or a truly decadent peanut butter chocolate bomb.

At any rate, here are the newest restaurants to open in Santa Fe, serving up diverse cuisines from around the globe as well as close to home. It's an impressive number and we welcome them all to the Santa Fe food scene!

The Palace, 142 W. Palace Ave.,

One of the biggest new chefs on the block is Joseph Wrede, formerly of the greatly missed Joseph's Table of Taos. Wrede takes the helm of the newly restored Palace Restaurant, which has lain dormant since Señor Lucky's suddenly closed its doors in 2007.

David Bigby, a retired web business owner from Dallas, bought the vacant building with hopes of renewing the Palace's glory days. "We want it to be a locals' hangout, like it used to be," he told The New Mexican last spring. Bigby was able to persuade Wrede to relocate to Santa Fe, luckily for us.

The Palace is a historic landmark, built on the site of a gambling saloon and brothel operated by Dona Tules. So it's only fitting that a historic chef work its kitchen. I believe Wrede is one of the best chefs cooking in New Mexico.

The Palace should be open any day now and it will serve lunch and dinner. No news yet about what's on the menu, but as soon as it's available, we'll post it here.

Azur, 428 Agua Fria, 992-2897, http://azursantafe.com/index.php

When Eric Lamalle opened Ristra years ago, he had an instant recipe for success, serving classic French cuisine with a Southwestern twist.

Now he and his executive chef Xavier Grenet have opened Azur, just down the street from Ristra, in an intimate adobe that once served as home to A La Mesa, Café Estevan and a café whose name I've forgotten. Azur features food from the Mediterranean regions, including delectable tapas such as roasted butternut squash with eggplant, and pomegranate molasses dipping sauce; cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yogurt; and chickpea galette. Entrees include plum lamb tagine with saffron, ginger, cinnamon, almonds and green couscous; North African style stuffed trout; and red wine braised beef with lemon and orange zest and sweet corn polenta.

This is a welcome addition to the Santa Fe dining scene, and one that' s sure to be a hit considering who's at the helm in the kitchen and the front of the house.

Balconies on the Plaza, 50 Lincoln Ave., 490-6550, http://balconiesontheplaza.com

It's hard to imagine the Plaza without the Ore House, but that's what's happened. The Ore House owners announced they were vacating the premises and merging with Milagro to open a New Mexican restaurant in the San Francisco Street space.

The owner of the Plaza building has opened his restaurant, Balconies on the Plaza, which serves everything from New Mexican cuisine like Chimayo red chile pork tamales to slow-cooked baby back ribs and grilled salmon with mango salsa. Balconies also offers craft beers and cocktails, as well as an excellent patio with a grand view of the Plaza.

 

Junction, 530 S. Guadalupe St., 988-7222, http://www.junctionsantafe.com

The Railyard needs more restaurants. When we lost The Railyard Bar & Grill a few months back, that part of the neighborhood seemed to lose some life. Thankfully, a local chef has partnered with a Santa Fe eatery to open up Junction in the old bar and grill space, and I'm happy to say that the food is top notch!

Chef Megan Tucker, who's the executive chef over at Amavi, relies on local, sustainably grown food that's part of the Farm to Table program. She offers classic American cuisine, including shrimp and scallop Thai dumplings, bahn mi, flatiron steak frites with truffle butter, calamari, pizza and short rib tacos. For dessert, the peanut butter chocolate bomb is divine. I had mine served with vanilla ice cream.

Cowden Café, in the New Mexico Museum of History, 113 Lincoln Ave., 476-5200

A new restaurant has opened in the New Mexico Museum of History's Cowden Cafe, after the first restaurant closed when the owners had to focus on repairing their fire damaged restaurant, the Plaza Cafe.

Someone's In the Kitchen, an established Santa Fe catering company, has taken over the space, serving light breakfast and lunch. The menu includes gazpacho, smoked turkey and pepper jack cheese sandwich, a chef salad and more. The cafe offers free wireless and is open to the public so diners don’t need to pay museum admission to gain access. The cafe is named after the Cowden family, who ran the JAL Ranch, which once sprawled across Lea County.

Ragga, 544 Agua Fria, 820-6442, http://www.raagacuisine.com

Yet another empty restaurant building has been revitalized with the opening of Ragga, offering fine Indian dining in a space that used to house Joel Coleman's eatery Mauka. Chef Paddy Rawall has found an intriguing way of blending his traditional Northern Indian fare with the ingredients of Southwestern cuisine.

Rawall's menu ranges from vegetable samosas and chicken satay to ancho amchur crusted tandoori chicken, cumin crusted Chilean sea bass, a huge selection of curries and a large offering of vegetarian dishes. This intimate space is perfect for smelling the aromatic spices Rawall uses in his delectable food, then savoring every bite.