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International inspiration creates varied new menu at Sweetwater

SANTA FE, N.M. — I had never visited Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen, but when I read that it has recently introduced a new menu, I was interested to see what it had to offer. A helpful waitress explained that the previous dinner menu featured a fusion of Southeast Asian flavors, but the Cambodian chef had left to revisit that part of the world.

In response, the restaurateurs came up with a brand new list of selections with some international inspiration, including a number of offerings targeted at specific diets, from vegan to paleo, with all dinner entrees promised to be gluten-free. You can find yucca root flatbread pizza and get a gluten-free bun with your lamb burger.

If that sounds a little too obsessive or precious, though, don’t fear. When my guest and I, committed omnivores both, visited on a recent Saturday evening, we found plenty that appealed.

We both chose to start the meal with a half-salad ($7 each). (The full salads can be enhanced with various protein options to make a complete meal.)

I opted for the Greek goddess, which include Romaine combined with Brussels sprouts, Parmesan cheese and roasted pecans, a combination enhanced by a lightly creamy avocado dressing.

My guest chose the Greek chopped salad, which had a multi-colored mix of cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, olives, feta and red onion over Romaine, with a pleasant dill vinaigrette.

We noted that the ingredients in both salads were fresh and crisp, and the dressings were applied with a light hand that barely coated the ingredients, complementing rather than overwhelming them.

When it came to the entrees, my guest, who professes a love for eggplant, was happy to hear the daily special was a vegan moussaka. It arrived as an eye-catching stack of the vegetable alternating with layers of quinoa surrounded by chickpeas and a roasted tomato sauce ($16). While we didn’t identify the exact source, my guest added that the creation had “a little bit of bite that I really like.”

My choice, the chile relleno ($16), had only a bit of a bite itself, since the pepper was a mild Poblano, stuffed with quinoa, mushrooms and zucchini, with a subtle spicing from cilantro. It also sat in a thin sea of roasted tomato sauce and was topped with a creamy cashew sauce that posed as the substitute for cheese usually found in a relleno. Black beans rounded out the dish.

The use of quinoa to stuff both of these dishes was surprisingly effective, in my opinion. It offered a complete protein to round out the nutrition of the dishes and give a sense of satiety, while its mildly nutty flavor and grainy texture contributed variety.

The portions were realistic – you could finish the entire dish or have a little left over, depending on your degree of hunger. And all the dishes were attractively presented, pleasing the eye, as well as the palate.

While we were happily full by dessert time, we couldn’t let the evening end without trying out some of the sweet offerings. I was intrigued by the flan ($6.50), which alternates among different daily featured flavors. That day it was coconut. The flan arrived with flakes of shaved coconut on and around it, but if the flavor was supposed to be within the custard itself, I could not detect it.

Peach pie ($7) was my guest’s preference. While I frowned at the thickness of the crust – I’m one of those people who loves a pie’s filling, but could do without the crust at all – she was quite happy with it, saying peach and dough are a great flavor combination.

Sweetwater also offers breakfast and lunch with counter service; table service comes with dinner and Sunday brunch. The night we visited, the server checked on us an appropriate number of times, answering any questions in an unhurried and informed manner. Water was provided in a bottle so we could refill our glasses ourselves.

This is another one of those Santa Fe restaurants, though, that doesn’t have a noticeable cooling system and the open door to the back patio allowed an occasional fly to visit our table.