SANTA FE, N.M. — OK, let’s get the disappointment out of the way first. Stories I read about the opening of Dolina Santa Fe Cafe & Bakery talked about the Eastern European background of the owner and promised specialties from that region – maybe when the weather got cooler in the fall.
Well, with my Slovak and Polish heritage, I was eager to see what offerings might turn up.
Halupki or pierogi? Surely some sausage or sauerkraut?
But when a friend and I stopped by in early November, the menu didn’t bear a hint of such roots.
A Hungarian goulash as a soup offering for the day came closest.
Dolina is forgiven, though, because what it did offer was generally quite good.
My friend and I each started the meal with a cup of soup ($5.50). She tried the aforementioned Hungarian goulash, whose conglomeration of veggies and broth was acceptable, but unremarkable. We both raved over my butternut squash soup, though – its creamy richness was raised to marvelous with a swirl of pesto, which added an earthy herbiness.
Oddly, the soup was served with the entree, instead of as an opener, making it a bit of a challenge to juggle all those mouthfuls before the food started getting cold.
The menu was brunch-like: pancakes and waffles, omelets and quiches, salad and salmon tartine. My guest could not resist the breakfast burrito ($8.50), a good-sized tortilla wrapped around scrambled eggs, hash browns and asadero cheese, with bacon picked from a list of possible additions. It was satisfying, with my guest mentioning that she especially liked the cheese.
I opted for the Santa Fe omelet ($11). Its eggs enclosed a filling of ham, mushrooms and caramelized onions, with a dollop of sour cream adding a sweetly tart counterpoint to the umami flavors. An English muffin and hash browns, crisped just the way I like them, accompanied the omelet.
Both of our entrees came with chile – my guest requested both red and green on the side, while I had green draped over my omelet. The chile was a revelation – you could almost taste the smoke in both hues. While some chile hits you with heat that overwhelms the flavor of the pepper itself, these versions let the full complexity of the veggie come through. Two thumbs up!
The menu includes a long list of various types of beverages, but I stuck to water, while my guest asked for coffee ($3). The medium roast was “very good,” she said, explaining that coffee in restaurants often can be too acidic for her taste.
Dolina is located in Clafoutis’ former space on Guadalupe Street, which means that parking can be tricky. The interior, though, was welcoming and simple, with the entry opened up by the pastry case being moved to the side.
Oh, yes, the pastry case. It’s worth visiting Dolina for that alone – or at least for what filled it.
And here’s where you can find some Eastern European influence. Costs vary, but many of the offerings ran around $3.50 each.
Since we were leaving near the 3:30 p.m. closing, the server generously handed us the last slice, at no charge, of tvarohovy struhany: a dense chocolate cake (almost brownie-like) with a sweet cheese layer in the middle. It was fantastic!
I also decided to try a slice of coffee cake, made, like all the desserts, the server assured us, with real butter. The nuts and cinnamon swirled through it were delectable. I was equally happy with a large buttery and nutty cookie with a raspberry jam center.
My companion took home a chocolate croissant (“good, though not to die for,” she reported) and – the true acid test – a Mexican wedding cookie. A daughter of the Southwest and no slouch in the kitchen herself, my friend was interested in how it measured up to the ones she and her family made.
“Delicious,” she told me in an email. Not overly sweet, as many bakery versions tend to be, she said, and with fewer pecans than her own recipe calls for, “but you still get lots of that woody, nutty flavor with each bite.”