ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you are looking for an elegant patio for a special occasion, Luminaria, the restaurant at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, should be on your short list.
For that matter, you don’t need a special occasion to eat here; the combination of ambience, food and service will make the experience special. Luminaria means lamp or light in Spanish and it is a bright spot in Santa Fe’s glittering world of restaurants.
When a couple of friends drove up from Albuquerque for lunch, their time was short and we wanted to make the most of it. The hotel’s free valet parking for restaurant guests solved the downtown parking problem. Beginning with the young man who took the car and continuing throughout our experience, the service here was both polite and professional.
The patio’s welcoming shade comes from tall trees and the wooden veranda draped with orange and white fabric that can be adjusted to screen out the sun if necessary. Depending on where you sit, you can see the historic Loretto Chapel or the patio fountain. The space between the tables allows for private conversation.
We started with Luminaria’s twist on a summer favorite, gazpacho. The cold soup was light, flavorful and distinctive with its yellow tomatoes instead of red, and bit of buttery avocado. It arrived in a glass mug which highlighted its sunny color ($10). The tostadas ($15), instead of the standard refried beans, featured blue crab atop a mild slaw of white and purple cabbage. The light dressing let the natural flavors of the seafood and the vegetables come through. The order had two, enough for lunch.
We loved the complimentary bread basket with its tender blue corn muffins and house-made crackers with sunflower seeds and saffron. Along with the bread came a plate of softened butter, another touch of class.
The menu offers two salads: grilled romaine with chicken or shrimp and Salad Niçoise, the classic French summer lunch. Although sometimes made with canned tuna, Luminaria’s version uses seared tuna, sliced to show the ruby red center. Served in the traditional “disassembled” format, each fresh ingredient – green beans, potatoes, olives, fresh greens, a fan of soft avocado and hard-boiled egg halves – had its own domain on the plate. What a lovely meal ($15).
As something totally different, we also tried the Forrest Fenn, ($10) a Reuben sandwich named in honor of the Santa Fe author and collector. Like Fenn’s now legendary hidden treasure chest, the sandwich is filled with good stuff. The pastrami was abundant and flavorful without being greasy. The chef added just the right amount of sauerkraut and Gruyere cheese. The fresh marbled rye bread had a nice, slightly chewy texture and it made the sandwich attractive. The house-made potato chips, cut thicker than the commercial kind, offered some substance along with a crunch.
For dessert we shared the most beautiful of all these beautiful dishes, a frozen Sabayon ($10). Sabayon is a light custard, and this one came with a scoop of blood orange sorbet, and an orchid! Warm pear nectar added a nice contrast in both temperature and flavor. The menu said this also included “chocolate gouache,” but the chocolate was just a tiny base for the custard. The over-sweetness of this dessert is my only complaint.
Because lunch was so good, another friend and I stopped in for breakfast. Again, service was outstanding and the food wonderful. Luminaria’s Eggs Benedict are some of the best I’ve eaten. The eggs came poached soft as requested, the hollandaise light and lemony, the English muffin toasted crisp, the shaved ham just salty enough. The plate included two giant spears of asparagus and an ample serving of breakfast potatoes ($16).
My friend had the Huevos Rancheros ($14). They reminded me of a breakfast enchilada, with the sauce and cheese on the corn tortilla and the eggs arranged on top, rather than beneath sauce and cheese. The flavors were great and the chile tasty but mild enough not to frighten tourists. The black beans and fresh salsa were good, too. We shared a fabulous blue corn pancake – light but substantial – presented with warm apple compote and syrup with piñon nuts ($6). The coffee was fresh and hearty and the staff kept it coming. They even remembered that my buddy was drinking decaf.
The only downside I can think of here is the cost. Breakfast, for instance, was $42 for the two of us. (Not only is this one of Santa Fe’s most beautiful places to eat, it’s also one of the most expensive.)
Luminaria brightens Santa Fe’s dining scene with first-rate cuisine artfully presented in a beautiful space. I highly recommend it.