Julia

It’s never been clear to me why “haunted” is a selling point for a hotel, but at La Posada de Santa Fe, they love the legend of Julia Staab, who died at age fifty-two in 1896 — tormented by the loss of a child, we’re told — and who has supposedly glided around the halls of her former home ever since, dressed in a flowing gown and a hood. My wife and I stayed at La Posada 21 years ago, in the old part of the hotel that incorporates the original Staab house, and we were assured that our chances of seeing Julia were better there than if we were sleeping in one of the outlying casitas. Good to know!

Julia is a big part of the branding plan at La Posada’s new signature eatery, whose full name is Julia: A Spirited Restaurant and Bar. The restaurant is a revamp of the now-defunct Fuego, and like its predecessor, Julia is upscale, with prices that may send a slight chill through your wallet. One portion of the menu follows the classic steakhouse model, with three different steaks and prices that match what you’d see at other similar restaurants in town (you pay extra for side dishes). Opposite the steaks is a list of four appetizers, three soups and salads, and eight “signature creations.” Prices are on the high side here, too. There’s one vegetarian entree, a medley of “organic seasonal vegetables, ancient grains, heirloom tomatoes, and EVOO” — extra virgin olive oil — that costs $26.

Julia’s interior is elegant, with materials, furniture, art, and fixtures that are sturdy, conservative, and comfortable. Judging by two recent visits, it’s a consistently quiet place, so it’s a good choice if you want to have a real conversation. The servers we encountered were friendly, attentive, and eager to please, and they were deft about handling little problems and mistakes that cropped up. One night, for example, our servers brought the wrong dessert, which nobody realized until I had already pounced on it. Even though we liked what she’d served us — a black-and-white bombe with red chile mousse, an orange-and-white-chocolate blondie base, and a shiny outer coating of dark chocolate ganache — she took it off the bill. 

Julia’s chef, Todd Hall, tries hard to make his creations appetizing and pleasing to the eye. As sometimes happens, the artsiness can get in the way, which it did with the roast beet salad we tried, a combination of golden beets, greens, and hazelnut oil. The thin beet slices were good, but there weren’t enough of them for the price ($13), and they were sitting under a fistful of lettuce bound at the bottom by a noodle that had been wrapped around the lettuce in tight loops.

Another appetizer that puzzled me was the tuna and lobster-claw parfait, a vertical column of minced tuna, lobster, and vegetable matter (chopped up too finely to identify) that came with a tasty piece of Navajo fry bread. The parfait was surprisingly pungent, probably because of the lobster. I’m not suggesting it was spoiled, but it smelled and tasted fishy enough that it was difficult to eat.

Both entrees were better. We tried the “brick chicken” — poultry roasted under the weight of a brick — which was crisp outside and juicy inside. The pork tenderloin I had was cooked just right, with a beautiful pink at the center of each slice. The menu calls it “smoked,” but it didn’t smell or taste like it had spent time over actual burning wood.

The next dinner outing was a step up, starting with a delicious assortment of green-chile popovers with herbed honey butter. The onion rings were almost there but not quite: the crust was good, but the onion itself sweated and slid around loosely inside. I tried the filet mignon; it was okay but nothing special — as often happens with this cut, it was dry on the outside, which may be why it’s served with liberal amounts of béarnaise sauce, bordelaise sauce, or anchovy butter. My companion that night ordered the wild salmon and liked everything put in front of her: a sizeable piece of fresh salmon, seared on the outside and pink inside, served with “crazy corn succotash” that featured fresh corn sliced right off the cob.

Overall, it was another night of hits and misses. Julia has promise, but it hasn’t established itself as a must, especially given the price tags. ◀

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