SANTA FE, N.M. — While it is not that little out-of-the way place you recall in Trastevere (what is?!), Andiamo! is pretty darn close.
Billed as a “neighborhood trattoria,” it is indeed in a neighborhood of former residences converted to commercial buildings and offices directly east of the Railyard and Santa Fe station on the Roadrunner line. Inside, through an outdoor patio and a glass-enclosed front porch available for fair weather dining, Andiamo! is subdued, modernist, chic, casual and inviting. (If there had been one minor issue in the past, it was with acoustics, which long ago were taken care of with elegant draperies and a bit of carpet over those lovely, and oh so resonant, hardwood floors.)
Since it opened in 1995, Andiamo! has been known for its excellent fare, committed to local farm to table efforts and the nearby Santa Fe Farmer’s Market, winning several Wine Spectator Awards for Excellence, Open Table “Diner’s Choice” awards, and a perennial Best Italian Restaurant of Santa Fe selection over the years. This is because owner Joan Gillcrist engaged as her first head chef and initial creative force Chris Galvin, who had trained in Italy and worked with David Tanis, now of Chez Panisse. Chef Esteban Parra, a native of northern New Mexico, studied for three years under Galvin and became head chef in 1999.
A recent, exemplary dinner began with pinot grigio for the lady, flash-fried calamari with a lemon garlic aioli over watercress that was light, not oily and uneventful ($7.50, and, oh, Sage Bakery bread is served), and a crispy polenta with rosemary and gorgonzola sauce that was bit tepid and uncrispy for our al dente tastes ($7.75).
The branzino fish special more than made up for the slight disappointment. Under the general description of “sea bass,” branzino is the most important commercial fish cultured in the Mediterranean. (Alternately known as bronzino, according to the Italian Wikipedia, branzino is used in northern Italy, whereas spigola is used in peninsular Italy, ragno in Tuscany and pesce lupo elsewhere; and, for trivialists, a branzino is depicted in a mosaic in a house in Pompeii).
This evening, the mild, slightly sweet fish, freshly delivered from Seattle Fish Co., was pan seared in a white wine and butter broth, its delicate, firm texture maintained as it flaked apart at the touch of the fork. Served on a subtle saffron risotto fritter (a little saffron goes a long way, thanks!) with baby vegetables, and a fresh salsa verde of tomatillo and garlic (market price this evening was $30), it was worth returning for.
The best test for any Italian restaurant, no matter where, is a pasta (not pizza, though Andiamo! offers a comprehensive selection), the king of Italian foods, and probably the Spaghetti Bolognese, at that. We decided to forego the Bolognese and went instead with a half order of the penne and spicy house-made lamb sausage (also available with grilled redbird chicken) in a ragu of tomato, caramelized onions, spinach (lots) and roasted red bell peppers ($12.85/$16.85 full order, also available as vegetarian for $11.75). We are pleased to report that, while it did not reach Arrabiata levels, the lamb sausage was plenty spicy enough, and, as with the branzino fish special, the portions at Andiamo! are generous.
And what is required to complete an Italian repast but an espresso and profiteroles, a trio of delicate puff pastries with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream dripping in warm, semi-sweet dark chocolate sauce?
My companion that evening, who has enjoyed them from Milano to Positano, averred that she had never had better. So, we’ll leave it at that.
Andiamo! A very good idea, still.