As the pandemic has raged on, Santa Fe’s finest dining establishments have faced grim decisions: to pack up their high-end dishes in to-go containers; to bring out the tents and the heat lamps in an effort to lure customers to the table; or to close altogether in the hopes of reopening when things get closer to normal.
But perhaps the city’s most creative twist is coming out of the doors of Restaurant Martín, known for both its service and the imaginative culinary skill of its namesake chef, Martín Rios. Rios, along with his wife and partner, Jennifer Rios, and Corey Fidler, general manager of Hotel Santa Fe, has poured his talents into a new project — an endlessly customizable takeout joint of your dreams.
Santa Fe Build-A-Bowl, a 90-day pop-up concept from Restaurant Martín, was originally Fidler’s idea, Jennifer Rios said. They’re part of a close group of friends that goes back to early days working at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa.
“This is really born out of creative culinary professionals who can’t sit still,” Jennifer Rios said. “It’s more like a hobby — and an opportunity to open up what we do to a different customer base.”
Restaurant Martín, which provided takeout and limited dining for a while before deciding to temporarily close rather than offer outdoor dining in the winter months, has long prided itself on high-level service and high-end meals. But Build-A-Bowl gives them a chance to deliver Martín Rios’ talents to a broader audience, with a base bowl price point of $13 to $16.
“We think great food should be accessible,” Jennifer Rios said. “Here in Santa Fe, we have such a sophisticated population that even younger people have a more developed palate.”
In fact, they turned to their 23-year-old daughter, Emma Rios, to lead the social media campaign (her boyfriend, Kyle Barrett, designed the logo) and 19-year-old Anneliese to spread the word to her friends. Since opening on New Year’s Day, the response has been overwhelming, Jennifer Rios said.
“It’s been amazing; it has just blown up,” she said. “There have been people waiting for Restaurant Martín to do something like this, and there are people who just love the concept.”
That Build-A-Bowl concept is so streamlined that the hardest part is choosing what you want. Start by visiting santafebuildabowl.square.site and creating your online order. Choose a protein if you’d like from among ahi tuna, grilled chicken, grilled steak, organic tofu or Scottish salmon, and have it glazed with an optional hoisin, Cajun-tamarind or al pastor sauce. Pick a base — they include noodles, greens, quinoa and several rices — and a couple of fresh-cooked veggies.
Add up to three more toppings, ranging from pickled red onions and pico de gallo to scallions and cilantro. Finish it off with one of more than half a dozen sauces, which come on the side so you can dip or pour, and buy an extra to mix and match.
Build your bowls one at a time and add to the cart, then select from one of the available pickup times (they’re open from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday) — since Rios is cooking the proteins and building the bowls to order, time slots close when enough orders come in.
Pay online (including tip), pull into the parking lot at your chosen time and text your name and your vehicle description to 505-660-3268. They’ll bring your order right to your window.
I tried this all out on a Friday with a trio of bowls: tuna and tofu for the adults and steak for the kids to split (with tax and a 20 percent tip, the total came to about $60). Ordering and pickup were seamless, and the bowls were expertly packaged and labeled.
Each bowl was a colorful, multi-textural feast for the eyes, with perfectly cooked proteins taking center stage. These are hearty portions: I ended up making two meals out of mine, and my two young children couldn’t polish off one bowl between them at dinner that evening.
The kids, who haven’t seen the inside of a business since March, loved getting to build their own bowl online. They kept it simple, with grilled steak, cilantro-lime rice, steamed broccoli, black beans, mild and melty Oaxacan cheese and crispy tortilla strips. We ordered the Santa Fe smoked chile-lemon sauce, but they preferred the cilantro ranch.
We built a Mexican-inspired bowl with generous rectangles of crispy-outside, creamy-inside tofu; rice and beans; small, multicolored heirloom tomatoes; cilantro; Oaxaca cheese; and tortilla strips. A chile-lime vinaigrette provided tang and a subtle heat.
I found my favorite combination in the third bowl, with yellowfin tuna resting atop a pair of tender and deeply flavorful garnet yam-scallion cakes. I rounded the bowl out with sautéed mushrooms, fresh zucchini noodles, Asian-style slaw, chopped peanuts and wonton strips. I chose the teriyaki sauce but discovered I didn’t need it, preferring to let the bowl’s complex assortment of flavors shine on its own.
That’s the beauty of this pop-up concept, Jennifer Rios said: There’s no real way to go wrong.
“The thing is, the flavors are wonderful, so even if you did an al pastor glaze and teriyaki sauce, it might not be your traditional Asian meal, but that doesn’t mean the flavors aren’t wonderful together,” she said. “There’s so many combinations. I love that you can order from us every single night and never have the same thing twice.”