SANTA FE, N.M. — Here we are again, at the beginning of a new year and not a moment too soon. Just for fun, and because we have a job, we thought we’d start this even-numbered stretch at the top of the local restaurant food chain and work our way forward from there.
Well-known, highly touted restaurants often suffer a sort of benign neglect along the order of the Yogi Berra koan, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” Why bother reviewing an iconic flagship of the Santa Fe culinary scene like Geronimo, garnering raves year after year (AAA Four Diamond, Mobil/Forbes 4 Star, Opentable “Top 100 Restaurants in the Country”)?
And who cares what a local restaurant reviewer has to say about it, anyway? (And how does one afford, or get their publication to reimburse one for, such an outing and review?)
The answer to the first question is basic Mallory-explains-Everest: “Because it’s there.”
And very beautifully it is, too, in the classic 250-year-old adobe, handsome portal (summer seating a popular, if a bit carbon-infused, spot); and as for the drama of the dining experience, Geronimo must be the Metropolitan Opera of settings. From the rack of antlers above the cheery holiday hearth, a suffused amber glow and those towering flowing folds of golden drapes, positively Wagnerian (the nice Wagner).
We prefer the chamber setting of the lounge (we won’t call it the bar right away); intimate, at times crowded, fireplace, bar, small tables. Perfect. (Also, there’s the fond, not-too-distant memory of Sam Shepard, alone at the bar doodling in a notebook, our brief discussion about bourbons – he was “prejudiced,” he said, and it was Kentucky only for him – and buying him a drink, anonymously, afterwards. Here’s to you, Sam.)
Several items available only in the bar make it reason enough to be seated, with the same top-drawer service and great value, too – the best pomme frites this side of les arches dorées ($12, with truffle aïoli, spicy ketchups), Maine lobster tempura ($24, with sesame chile aïoli, yuzu sweet and sour), the popular green chile mac & cheese ($12, New Mexican Hatch green chile, applewood-smoked bacon), mesquite-grilled prime flat iron steak ($19, potatoes, snap peas, pepper glacé) and a trio of Kobe beef sliders ($16, cornichons, Asian cucumber slaw, hoisin ketchup and cheddar cheese).
Remaining in the lounge, we chose liberally from the main menu, stuck close to the fireplace, Geronimo notables and “comfort food,” and were generously rewarded. Our companion declared, not for the first time, the Maryland blue crab cakes ($17, caviar-dill sauce, braised leeks and baby watercress in a beurre blanc) the best she has had anywhere and, having just returned from Washington, D.C., where we enjoyed excellent crab cakes (Ted’s Bulletin, 14th and T), we must agree.
Another dollop of crab followed with the warm leek and white asparagus bisque ($16, spinach purée, jumbo lump crab and buttermilk biscuit), a cheeky combination of textures and tastes nicely conceived and created; and after a classic red Belgian endive salad ($16, warm sweet onion vinaigrette, applewood-smoked bacon, Tucumcari organic goat cheese, candied pecans), we were ready for main courses.
A signature dish is the fiery sweet-chile-and-honey-grilled Mexican white prawns ($36, jasmine almond rice cakes, red onion, and yuzu-basil aïoli and frisée), and signed, sealed and delivered, it did not disappoint. The cooked-two-ways organic chicken ($34, with house-made artisan cheese tortellini, Italian sausage, Chanterelle mushrooms, au jus) is a hearty Italianate variation on coq au vin and just the thing on a chilly Sunday evening.
You might think, after all that, there was no room for dessert – and you would be wrong. One who has had everything always wants more and so it was that the flourless German chocolate cake ($12, vanilla bean ice cream, balsamic caramel sauce, fresh berry compôte) was as photogenic as it tasted, and ditto the fresh Meyer lemon crêpe ($12, lemon curd, creme fraïche and limoncello), and not a bad combination.
Be good, save your nickels and dimes, and for the world-class dining adventure it still is, Geronimo.