For me as for many Santa Fe diners, Midtown Bistro has always been a lunch spot. I’d only had dinner at the restaurant once or twice until a recent visit.
What a great surprise. My companion read my mind. “Gee, I can’t find anything I don’t like about this,” he said mid-meal. By the end of the evening, we agreed it was one of the most satisfying dinners — in flavor, presentation, and service — that we’ve shared at better Santa Fe restaurants. Of course, a few comments are in order.
We started off our meal with an appetizer of tiger shrimp tempura with sweet and sour sauce ($18). Crispy on the outside and moist but firm on the inside, the three shrimp were served on a bed of tasty and colorful slaw with pretty swirls of the sauce on the white plate. I let my fellow diner have two of the three shrimp, but then regretted my largesse because my singular shrimp was so good. (Really, couldn’t they give two diners four shrimp to prevent such a conundrum?)
Next we shared a salad of fresh mozzarella cheese with roasted beets, basil pesto, and balsamic syrup ($18). The kitchen kindly split this on two plates for us. Each half of the salad consisted of two half-dollar-sized discs of tender mozzarella, two similarly sized slices of beets (one red, one golden), and one leaf of basil, with the pesto and balsamic sauces sketched artistically on the plate. On the whole it was flavorful, but the price seemed steep for the total food quantity. I am usually glad to pay a premium for such beautiful presentation, but surely the cost of adding a bit more of everything wouldn’t be more than the restaurant could bear.
Bread is offered gratis with orders of entrees (otherwise $3.50), but we shouldn’t have bothered. The little basket included four half-slices of bread that were undistinguished in flavor. It was the sole dinner item we found lacking.
Our entrees were another thing entirely. We had a Spanish goat cheese-stuffed free-range chicken breast with a buttermilk polenta cake, vegetables, capers, pancetta, and balsamic butter pan sauce ($38). The chicken was moist and made more so by the goat cheese, which had a pungent flavor any goat cheese lover would appreciate. The polenta cake grounded the dish with some carbs; the green beans and carrots added a bit of color and texture. Five-star comfort food.
We also had a sterling silver grilled ribeye steak with roasted poblano potato gratin and asparagus in a red wine demi-glaze ($46). It’s quite difficult to cook asparagus just right and get it served while still properly al dente, and this was exactly that. Not a crunchy green morsel remained on the plate. The potato gratin was rich and smooth to the tooth, though the poblano got lost in the flavor package. It could have used a little more spice or herbs to add pizzazz.
The ribeye was perfect. The “sterling silver” designation refers to a prime cut that is highly marbled, juicy, and flavorful, and this steak certainly met those parameters. A generous portion, it was cooked to a precise medium (strongly pink in the center, but not bloody) and was tender and moist. The demi-glaze added a nice touch while not overwhelming the beef; because the quality of the meat was high, there was no need to drown it in sauce to mask a lesser quality.
For dessert, we shared carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and a dollop of whipped cream on the side ($9.50), adding a scoop of locally made La Lecheria vanilla ice cream ($5) to it. We also had a slice of key lime pie, served with whipped cream ($9.50). Both treats more than met our expectations, although I always hope for a crunchier crust underneath the key lime concoction, a wish that’s never been met anywhere.
We found that our ordinary drip coffees were remarkably good; perhaps the Allegro beans deserve the credit for the great flavor.
This lovely meal didn’t include any exotic ingredients, nor did the menu language boast unusual verbiage we had to decode on our phones before ordering — which is not to say the food was unsophisticated. “Sophisticated” and “simple” are not mutually exclusive words when it comes to restaurant food; it’s a bonus when they are wedded.
The service was as good as the meal. Our server was able to answer all of our questions, and she and her helper were friendly, professional, and at the elbow the minute a plate was ready to be cleared or a glass refilled.
The restaurant offers a full bar menu, as well as wine and beer and has a separate bar in a room off the main dining room.
Midtown’s location is one of its best features. It’s really the only fine dining restaurant in the area, and, as its name suggests, it’s right in the middle of town, just a few blocks from St. Francis Drive and St. Michael’s Drive. It’s a convenient meeting place for people coming from opposite sides of Santa Fe.
Owned by chef Angel Estrada and Edmund Catanach, the restaurant celebrated its 10-year anniversary in December.
Note that at lunch, parking at Midtown typically takes finesse. Often the spaces allotted to the restaurant in the parking lot are filled, and diners should be prepared to park on the street. At night, most area businesses are closed, so parking is less of an issue. Lunch is typically more crowded than dinner; the restaurant takes reservations for both. Before COVID-19, Midtown Bistro had a popular Sunday brunch, but the restaurant has not yet reinstated it.
We admit to sometimes being biased in favor of fine dining opportunities in the downtown area. While it is true that most of the city’s best upscale restaurants are in the downtown area, Midtown Bistro is a happy exception.