One recent evening at Rustica, four of us had so much fun hanging at the congenial bar that we almost forgot that we were there for dinner. The place is like that, really comfortable and relaxed, while doing elevated food, Italian in style.
Rustica is owned by Josh Baum and Ann Gordon, the longtime proprietors of The Ranch House, just across the road, on Santa Fe’s far south side. The building once housed an Outback Steakhouse. When the chain moved out, the couple jumped at the idea of adding another independent restaurant to the neighborhood, one that would emphasize fresh food in a friendly setting. You can feel right at home whether in beat-up sneakers or your best heels. The bill won’t require your entire paycheck either.
PIZZA, PASTA, AND PIZZAZZ
Rustica delivers good takes on the classics, pizza and house-made pasta. Of course, among those pizzas, there’s a margherita and pepperoni. The Rustica pie, though, mixes up four luscious cheeses with prosciutto and a drizzle of Calabrian chile honey. In a nod to the sister establishment across the road, The Ranch House pizza comes topped with that restaurant’s pulled pork and barbecue sauce.
Among Rustica’s pasta preparations, the meaty Bolognese tops ribbons of pappardelle. A good choice, as the weather’s cooling, is the duck ravioli topped with a burnished porcini mushroom sauce. I happen to love the traditional combination of Italian sausage with broccoli. Here it comes with cavatelli and toasted breadcrumbs for extra texture. Shrimp piccata combines sauteed shellfish with bright cherry tomatoes and capers in a white wine sauce over spaghetti.
For another seafood-centric option consider the beautiful branzino fillet, its skin seared crisp, accompanied by salsa verde. Among other highlights, I’m looking forward to getting back for the wine-braised chuck roast. It tops creamy goat cheese-enriched polenta.
In lighter moods, try the farm salad, which is no rote toss-up. More an antipasto in a bowl, it mixes romaine and radicchio, salami, provolone, Castelvetrano olives, freeze-dried corn, and a bunch of other goodies, with creamy Italian dressing.
Desserts include a warm chocolate budino with salted caramel ice cream, apple crostata with rosemary caramel, and tiramisu. Get them all!
As in Italy, there’s quality coffee in many forms to complete the meal. It’s a fitting finish. Maybe, just maybe though, add a shot of one of Rustica’s many liqueurs to that coffee.
LIFT YOUR SPIRITS
And speaking of those spirits, the bar that captivated our foursome last visit serves a full range of beer, wine, and liquor. In warmer weather, the Aperol spritz is often my choice. As the weather turns, I’m more partial to the Black Manhattan, with High West Double Rye (my personal “house” rye), Amaro Averna, and cocoa bitters. You can get a conventional margarita — of course, you’re in Santa Fe — but consider the slightly Italian-ized version with amaro and house-made limoncello, among the ingredients. A quartet of area craft brews is on tap, and there are a couple of local Tractor ciders available too.
2574 Camino Encantado
Open at 4:30 p.m. daily
Reservations recommended at peak times
Story and photos by Cheryl Alters Jamison
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.