Anasazi Restaurant, Bar and Lounge
Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi
113 Washington Ave., Santa Fe, 505-988-3236
Breakfast, lunch, and brunch served;visit the website or call for hours
Bar menu 2:30-11 p.m. daily
Social hour 3-5:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, excluding holidays
Dinner 5:30-10 p.m. daily
Noise level: very quiet in dining room;bar-lounge livelier but not loud
Street-side patio in season
Handicapped accessible, with elevator to lower-level restrooms
Street or free valet parking when garage space allows
The Inn of the Anasazi, which opened just off the Plaza in 1991, redesigned its interior in 2015, adding a distinctive lounge area between the bar and restaurant, creating more casual seating at the front of the house and a more intimate space in the formal dining room. A striking screen of large, slab-cut tree trunks divides the lounge from the dining room, while neutral tones of brown, white, and grey, along with additional natural woods and stone, contribute to a comfortably elegant backdrop for socializing, drinking, and dining. The dining concepts, and the executive chefs who developed and presented them, have turned over several times in the four years since the redesign was completed.
A classically trained Dallas native, executive chef Peter O’Brien has worked in several high-profile Texas restaurants, as well as in Santa Fe. He took the helm of the Anasazi’s restaurants about six months ago and is charged with developing dishes the hotel’s website says are “inspired by Santa Fe’s rich culture and culinary history.” So we were confused, at first, to find such a large array of seafood among the offerings.
Shrimp, lobster, scallops, tuna, trout, salmon, crab, crawfish, clams, mussels, octopus, and ultra-trendy snail caviar dot the bar and dinner menus. There’s even a $100 seafood tower, a luxury more commonly found in coastal locations, on the bar menu. Although fish and shellfish did appear on the bills of fare of the historic Harvey House hotels scattered across the Southwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (delivered to the establishments by the same trains that delivered the tourists who ate it), seafood is not what comes to mind when we think of Santa Fe’s culinary history. A possible explanation: A recent interview in The New Mexican with Brian Friedman, the Anasazi’s new owner, notes that he has hired a Boston-based chef/restaurateur to collaborate with chef O’Brien and to “bring in some refinement from the East Coast.”
So how does this collaboration play out on the plate? Like most hotels, the Anasazi offers multiple menus at multiple times of day; we focused only on the bar and dinner offerings.
The sopes y moles ($12) on the bar menu (served from 2:30 to 11 p.m. on the patio as well as in the bar and lounge areas) were totally disappointing. The miniature corn tortillas, which appeared to be freshly fried, were too small, too thin, and too few to provide much of a foil to the small bowls of manchamanteles verde and negro moles that accompanied them. The moles were equally undistinguished, with no distinctive chile flavors or depth in any of the variations. The lobster tacos ($28) fared better, although these, too, were not what we expected. Rolled, like a somewhat thick, spongy crepe, the tacos were served atop a pretty pinky-orangey pool of nicely textured but tasteless sauce rather than with the yellow pepper salsa, jicama, and papaya slaw described on the menu.
The green chile buffalo burger ($20) was, as Goldilocks might say at that point, just right. Topped with Tucumcari white cheddar cheese, bacon, and chipotle mayonnaise, it really didn’t need the lettuce, tomato, and onions that accompanied it to round out the flavor and texture of the meat. The side of curly fries, lightly spiced with a chile-citrus salt, were equally delicious.
The Anasazi prides itself on its tequila program, and its margaritas received equally positive reviews. Both the classic Silver Coin Margarita ($13) and the Sandia y Pepino ($12) — created for the Santa Fe Margarita Trail with a fresh-tasting watermelon juice, chile-lime salted rim, and cucumber garnish — were well-balanced, strong pours that were not too sweet.
There’s an eight-seat round table in the lounge that’s dedicated to tequila and mezcal tastings, with prices ranging from $35 to $185 per person for three to four pours. On one late-afternoon visit, the table was occupied by eight 30-something women and one baby, all laughing and having a contagiously great time. The chef was very present in the lounge that afternoon, visiting tables, chatting with customers, and sharing small pours of a new wine (a juicy Orin Swift Cellars Papillon Bordeaux red blend) he was considering adding to the list. His presence contributed to the upbeat vibe and conviviality of the space.
The bar/lounge hosts a social hour — no need to get happy here if you don’t want to — that offers selected items from the Santa Fe Classics portion of the bar menu at half price from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, except on holidays or during special events.
The Little Gem butter lettuce salad on the dinner starter menu ($15) was beautifully presented, the über-fresh greens displayed like a fully opened rose on the plate. But the other components — an equally fresh goat cheese, some roasted red pepper, and a few white anchovies — seemed more like afterthoughts than fully integrated parts of the whole. The anchovies, in particular, would have benefited from an encounter with the simple lemon-olive oil dressing before being dropped on top of the lettuce.
The seafood pozole ($25), on the other hand, was a delightful surprise — rich in flavor, texture, and visual appeal. Who knew that the dried corn staple of the desert Southwest could marry so well to the ocean’s briny bounty? The pink pozole was perfectly cooked, as were the shrimp, tiny sweet clams, mussels, and scallops that shared its bowl, the whole complimented by strips of poblano and cubes of spicy chorizo, with an herby tomato sauce binding all the parts together. Also an entrée on the lunch menu, the generous serving could be a light meal in itself.
The only vegetarian option among the entrées, the spring pea ravioli ($32), was presented in a light, buttery sauce of tomatoes, chayote, chard, red pepper, and crispy slivers of mushroom. The pasta was admirably tender, the filling and delicate sauce appropriate to the season.
An unusual but well-considered variation on surf and turf — the darling of ’60s menus across the nation — pairs a Native American prime striploin ($48) with a poblano pepper stuffed with lobster and asadero cheese. Sourced from the Mescalero Apache tribe in South-central New Mexico, and delivered medium-rare as requested, the steak was as tender as the premium cut should be, requiring only a quick sear to bring out its deep, rich flavor. The poblano pepper, a minimally spicy wrapper for the small knuckles of lobster meat and mild, soft cheese, was a little undercooked, but not to the point where we left a piece on the plate. The puddle of red chile sauce in which both swam had no heat but needed none to complete the dish. Granted, some of the lobster’s natural sweetness was obscured, but it still made a recognizable contribution to the overall dish.
The Anasazi has an exceptionally large wine list that is both broad and deep, offering categories like “interesting whites” and “interesting old-world reds” along with the usual classifications. The sweet and spicy aromas of the Trefethen Double T Bordeaux blend ($16) — again, a generous pour — paired perfectly with the caramel finish on the steak and vegetal red chile sauce.
The dessert list also seems to change with the seasons, swapping donuts and bread pudding for lighter sweets like strawberry cobbler or pineapple upside down cake, with an artisanal cheese plate and house-made ice cream and sorbet always on the menu.
The velvety green-chile pot de crème ($14) had a lovely texture, its namesake pepper a ghostly presence at the back of the tongue rather than a front-and-center sensation. The heavily sugared biscochitos that accompanied the custard were flaky rectangles rather than the crisp rounds we’ve come to expect. The deconstructed banana pudding ($10) wove vanilla sponge cake, whipped cream, and caramelized bananas into a grown-up version of a childhood favorite, then topped it all with a hefty drizzle of blackberry sauce, elevating the dish from good to really good.
Service was somewhat uneven from visit to visit. All of our waiters (yes, they were all men) were happy to answer questions, even if that meant checking in with the kitchen. Some were more detail-oriented than others. A case in point: an espresso ordered one day arrived perfectly hot, the cup nestled on a saucer, with a twist of lemon peel to the side. On another occasion, the almost-cold espresso was delivered without either saucer or lemon.
If we have any complaints about the Anasazi’s dining room, they relate to the furnishings and lighting rather than the food. The lovely wooden tables for two are too tall relative to the built-in bancos, leaving women of average height to feel like children at the grown-ups table, wielding their forks at an awkward angle. A hefty telephone book, if such still existed, would have been helpful here. The lighting in the dining room also seemed dim — and not in an intimate, ambiance-enhancing way, but just dim, casting no flattering glow on the patrons or the food.
The items we sampled from the Anasazi’s bar and dinner menus ranged from downright poor, to meh, to surprisingly good, the most interesting and appealing dishes arising from the alchemical effort to merge traditional Southwest and East Coast ingredients and sensibilities. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s wonderful. ◀