Fine dining at the long-anticipated Palace Prime Steak & Seafood will debut next week, but in a manner familiar for the COVID-19 era: takeout.
“We’ll call it a squishy soft opening,” managing partner Randy Edwards said.
Outdoor dining is scheduled to start Dec. 16, and Palace Prime will be ready the same day for indoor dining, if the state public health orders are loosened.
Difficult circumstances, of course, but Edwards — the new kid on the Santa Fe restaurant block — is determined to make a go of Palace Prime, at 142 W. Palace Ave.
Located in the space of the onetime Palace Restaurant, Edwards wants to return the space to its former glory.
The fare will feature a simple, two-page menu with four primary steaks and fresh seafood. It’s the brainchild of longtime Santa Fe restaurateurs Charles Dale, a consultant for Palace Prime, and the restaurant’s executive chef, Fernando Ruiz.
“Our senior staff is capable to do all the takeout work without hiring additional staff,” he said. “Test market is not a bad way to go.”
To renovate the famed space, Dale brought in architect Eric Enfield from Architectural Alliance in Santa Fe, interior stylist Keith Johnston and lighting designer Michael Cornelius.
“The dining room will have a little more refined elegance,” Dale said earlier this year. “We will have booths on two walls instead of one wall. There will be red on the ceiling. We have an old picture of the Palace. We want to match that color, the look in the ’70s.”
Edwards, who now lives in Santa Fe, started the Palace Prime project as a Dallas resident who had been visiting here for 30 years. He built a group of 20 Santa Fe investors, whom he refers to as “the founders.”
Returning the restaurant to prominence, let alone workability, hasn’t been easy.
“Every curveball that could be thrown at us got thrown at us,” Edwards said. “The building never had a sprinkler system. There has not been any upgrade in electrical service since the 1940s. We had to replace 100 percent of the electrical in the building. Three- to four-week [delivery for construction products] turned out [to be] eight- to 12-weeks delivery.”
The journey for Edwards evolved from initially thinking of a “Dallas does Santa Fe” theme. But in August 2019, he brought in Dale to give Palace a local imprint.
“Dallas does Santa Fe was a little too edgy, too modern, too over the top,” Edwards conceded. “I had a restaurant consulting group out of Dallas. I didn’t feel that was going to be the A-team I need.”
Edwards was in touch with Palace Restaurant building owner Billy D. Harris Jr. soon after Harris put a lien on the restaurant in December 2018.
Edwards leased the space in February 2019 after initially trying to acquire the Bull Ring with his investor group as his first venture as a restaurateur.
In the meantime, Dale — well known in Santa Fe restaurant circles — had stepped away from New Mexico Fine Dining in May 2019 with the intention of retiring from daily restaurant involvement. But he joined Edwards in August 2019 and assembled the team.
Ruiz was recruited as executive chef after stints at The Lodge and Ranch at Chama, Santacafé and starting as a sous chef at Rio Chama. Ruiz is also a partner and brand ambassador at Nomada Goods, a local chile importing and distribution company.
Outside of Santa Fe, Ruiz is a nationally recognized chef. He appeared on NBC’s Today Show the day before Thanksgiving and is something of a Food Network celebrity after winning competition cooking shows like Guy’s Grocery Games, Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay (he did so with a dish called chile en nogada).
Dale brought in Julian Martinez as general manager from Arroyo Vino in Santa Fe, where he was restaurant and bar manager. Previously, Martinez was manager/bar director at Artichoke Café in Albuquerque.
Edwards comes to his first restaurant venture as CEO of Wildcatter Companies, an Irving, Texas, oilfield reclamation and recycling company he established in 2015. Before that, he was in real estate development and redevelopment in Texas; Denver; Tucson, Ariz.; and Telluride, Colo.
“I got to know restaurateurs,” he said of his time in Colorado. “I got close to doing a hotel with a restaurant. I got to understand how important it was not to get away from the home base” when designing projects as an outsider.
Edwards said he is not done with the restaurant game in Santa Fe.
“We are looking at two other restaurant projects in Santa Fe right this second,” Edwards said.