You might think that Dakota Weiss would have enough on her plate, literally and figuratively, as executive chef of Santa Fe’s Coyote Café and its rooftop Cantina. However, the indefatigable Dakota, and her partner, Rich Becker, have filled whatever spare time they once had by opening two poke cafes in the last year. One is The Notorious P.O.K.E. at Albuquerque’s red-hot Sawmill Market. Their other — Catch Santa Fe Poke Co. — opened shortly before the holidays on Marcy Street downtown.
A CATCH FOR SANTA FE
I’m thrilled to see more places devoted to seafood here. (We do have an excellent wholesaler of seafood, Above Sea Level from Coyote alum Jeff Koscomb. Other fish and shellfish are just a quick Fed Ex plane ride away.) Chef Dakota has had a way with seafood for most of her professional career.
She came here from Los Angeles to helm the Coyote Café kitchen, in mid-2021, at the invitation of owners Quinn and Nicole Stephenson. The timing was perfect, as she was feeling the pull of a return to Santa Fe, where she had attended junior high and high school, and still has family. After culinary school in Scottsdale, she had sought out an externship at Coyote, and worked her way up to sous chef there before heading out into the greater restaurant world.
Dakota racked up important work experience at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas before a series of positions with Ritz-Carltons from coast to coast, and even in Shanghai. A stint on Bravo’s TV hit Top Chef brought her many opportunities. Those included opening her own Los Angeles restaurant, Estrella, as well as a partnership in Sweetfin, a collection of a dozen-plus poke restaurants.
Upon arrival back in Santa Fe, as executive chef, one of her intentions with the Coyote Café menu was to lighten it up a bit without losing the bold Southwestern flavors on which its reputation was based. Perennially among the city’s most ambitious and lauded restaurants, Coyote was an instant legend when founded by early celebrity chef Mark Miller in the mid-1980s. Through the years, it’s had a series of prominent chefs, beyond Miller himself — Jeff Drew, Mark Kiffin, the late Eric DiStefano, and Eduardo Rodriguez, among others. Dakota knew she had to be respectful of that history. To the heartier dinner standards of elk, beef, and pork, she added dishes such as posole with mussels. She incorporated brighter Asian flavors too, in dishes like a branzino in coconut milk broth. The more casual all-day cantina serves fried fish tacos and tempura shrimp among its dozen or so casual offerings.
Aware that Santa Fe was light on fresh seafood options in general, Dakota zeroed in on Northern New Mexico’s near-total lack of access to poke. One of the hottest food trends of the last couple of decades, the elemental Hawaiian fish preparation is the perfect fast food, in her estimation. She had been on the front edge of this wave back in LA, with the Sweetfin restaurants. While poke, made on its home turf, most often is cubed raw ahi tuna mixed with a little soy and sesame oil, the dish has exploded into overflowing kaleidoscopic bowls of varied raw and cooked seafood, vegetables, and condiments, over rice.
CATCH THE WAVE at Catch Santa Fe Poke Co.
Catch’s bowls follow the theme, with a few of Dakota and partner Rich’s twists on the preparation. They offer a couple of versions of the classic ahi, one with soy-miso-sesame sauce, avocado, edamame, sweet Maui onions, pickled ginger, and seaweed salad. The other spices up the fish with a togarashi mayo and hot takis, the incendiary rolled corn tortilla snack. Salmon gets a spicy treatment too, with a leche de tigre sauce and pickled fresno chiles. It can be more gently flavored with a citrusy yuzu kosho sauce, sake-braised lotus root, and yuzu tobiko.
For folks who prefer cooked seafood, there’s a poached shrimp combo with Hatch green chile ponzu and, for vegans and vegetarians, there’s a plant-based “tuna” combo called The Imposter. For dedicated meat eaters, Catch Santa Fe Poke Co. offers a bowl topped with red-chile rubbed filet. Bowls can have a base of white rice or, for a bit more chew and striking color contrast, the nearly black Forbidden rice. Customers can ask for their own custom bowls too, from the ingredients on hand.
Catch Santa Fe Poke Co. is a mostly take-out business, with a simple counter at which to order. There are a few seats but otherwise plan to take your poke home or to the plaza. Dakota’s goal is to get people to re-think fast food, by providing chef-crafted healthy and delicious sustainable meals. I think she’s succeeding admirably.
And when you want a sit-down meal of Dakota’s Southwestern flavors, check out Coyote Café and Cantina.
Catch Santa Fe Poke Co.
101 West Marcy
Closed Sunday and Monday
Coyote Café and Cantina
132 West Water
Open daily, the café for dinner, the cantina for lunch through dinner
Story by Cheryl Alters Jamison. Photos courtesy Open Kitchen and Chef Nikki Tran.
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.