SANTA FE, N.M. — There’s a lot to like about the Blue Window Bistro in Los Alamos. I ate here the first time many years ago when I was an arts reporter working on a story about a mural at the community’s new Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center. I remember liking the restaurant and my surprise at the high quality of the food, the cheerful ambiance and good service. That was before I had an inkling I’d be writing food reviews – eating in Los Alamos on business – many moons later.
The Blue Window is still a great choice for lunch or dinner. Since June 2010, Los Alamos native and LAHS graduate Melissa Paternoster has been the owner. She brings enthusiasm and a warm, can-do attitude to the restaurant. Paternoster also has added jazz nights, wine events and encouraged the chef’s daily specials at lunch and dinner. Some customers, our waiter told us, eat at Blue Window four nights a week. On the Monday friends and I had dinner here, the restaurant was about half full. At the table next to ours, a 93-year-old gentleman celebrated his birthday.
Santa Fe, where I do most of my eating, gets national notice for its good restaurants and Santa Fe (along with home cooking) provides most of the competition for Blue Window. If Blue Window were here instead of on The Hill, more people would know how good it is. (It also might be more expensive.)
My Los Alamos friends and I had a pleasant evening here, beginning with a pair of satisfying appetizers: blue corn calamari and artichoke dip. Both appetizers tasted freshly made and made for easy sharing at our table of four. The little rings of squid (no tentacles in our order) were crisp and the fancy cornmeal gave them an exotic blue-gray color, too. Three dipping sauces made eating them even more fun: fresh tomato marinara, a garlic aioli, and a spicy jalapeño cream sauce ($9.75).
In contrast to the calamari, the artichoke dip ($9) was smooth, mild and rich with cheese. It came with slices of toasted garlic bread finished with a bit of melted cheese. Delicious, but we would have welcomed more bread to finish the dip. Speaking of bread, Blue Window also provides a complimentary basket of bread along with pads of butter in those little foil wrappers.
The evening’s specials sounded tempting: scallops with sun-dried tomatoes and Mulligatawny stew. In the end we stuck with the menu. I loved the salmon, served grilled with perfect crisp edges and a juicy interior. I appreciated the ample serving — enough to share bites with my friends. The salmon came with inspired risotto studded with pink shrimp and tender, slender asparagus spears. A half-dozen baby carrots with a bit of the greens on top rounded out the plate. I enjoyed every bite and thought the $19 price reasonable for the quality and serving size.
The poached pear with Gorgonzola salad ($7.75) offered tasty contrasts in textures and flavors, sweet and pungent, salty and mild. It was a one-person serving and pricey for the size, but yummy. Other salads include a baby spinach creation featuring feta cheese, fresh strawberries and candied pine nuts and entree-size Cobb, salmon and steak salads.
One of my friends, in the mood for noodles and seafood, ordered and loved the Mediterranean seafood pasta ($17.75). The big sea scallops and large, perfectly cooked shrimp were tossed in a light white wine and butter sauce with capers, onions, roasted red peppers and chopped tomato. Each flavor got a bit of time with the taste buds. The pasta was perfect, still slightly chewy.
Chef Sergio Escarcega’s menu also includes other interesting choices: New Mexican dishes, fish and chips locals rave about, steaks, burgers, a broad and appealing selection of sandwiches at lunch. They even serve homemade lemonade with or without strawberries.
We decided to share a pair of desserts. The crÃ¨me brÃ»lée looked beautiful with a thin slices of red strawberry on top and a pretty crown of caramelized sugar to add crunch. I found it too sweet, but my friends devoured it, glad I’d only tried a bite. I preferred the tiramisu with its light cake layer and plenty of whipped cream. Our waiter served us fresh coffee to go with the sweets.
Parking is easy here with a lot right out front. The owner is usually on site, often welcoming or saying goodbye to her guests.