14 Amuse Just Eat It 1

Spring vegetable tempura at Arroyo Vino, photo Gabriela Campos/The New Mexican

Arroyo Vino (218 Camino La Tierra, 505-983-2100, arroyovino.com), a casually elegant restaurant and wine shop tucked into the La Tierra neighborhood — about a 10-minute drive from downtown Santa Fe — hosts a happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. We’ve stopped by a number of times in the past few months, and only once have we seen another person in the bar during that time — which is too bad because there is always a standout small plate tucked among the usual cheese, charcuterie, flatbread, and olive offerings on the happy hour menu.

Last fall we fell for executive chef Allison Jenkin’s multicultural fried calamari, which was a togarashi-spiced squid served atop an unexpected smear of peanut butter softened with miso paste and tahini and sided with a honey-soy dipping sauce. (It’s no longer on the menu.)

Arroyo Vino’s menu changes with the seasons, and we fell even harder for Jenkin’s more recent version of the dish: a vegetable tempura ($15), featuring beech mushrooms, sugar snap peas, and wild onions, taken from the same Asian-Mediterranean playbook.

Dipped in a light rice-flour batter and briefly fried in hot oil, the tangled pile of veggies — this time sitting in a pool of miso-yuzu-enriched aioli next to a cup of ponzu dipping sauce — were sweet, salty, tender, and totally addictive. When we ran out of veggies, we scooped up the aioli remaining on the plate with a spoon. It’s not only delicious, but it’s also vegetarian and gluten-free if those things matter to you.

Although it is the draw for us, the food is not necessarily a bargain during Arroyo Vino’s happy hour. The price breaks are to be found in the rotating selection of beers ($3), wines, cocktails and well drinks ($7 each). A crisp, dry Captûre Sonoma sauvignon blanc featured on our last visit counterbalanced the richness of the tempura and aioli, making us very happy indeed.

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