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Dessert takes the cake at casual Capitol Grill

SANTA FE, N.M. — As I walked into Santa Fe Capitol Grill to meet a couple friends for an Easter lunch, I initially was befuddled. All I could see was a bar in front of me. It was a nice bar, but I wondered if there was another door I should have entered to find the restaurant.

No problem. The hostess pointed out a dining room to the side and said there also was a dining space behind what I thought was a solid wall. What can I say? It was my first visit. And while the place was pretty low-key during this visit, my friends assured me that it is hopping during happy hour, when good deals can be found!

As it was, we found decent food at reasonable prices – just the thing to make us three south-siders happy. This restaurant is in the San Isidro Plaza, near the Regal Cinema complex.

The decor is sort of your basic modern restaurant, with comfortable booths, chairs and tables.

Despite a large party of celebrants not too far away, the noise level was notably low and allowed for easy conversation.

Even though it was Easter, we didn’t aim for any traditional turkey or ham; the menu offered plenty of attractive choices. We started with the sweet chile calamari ($10.95), a fried appetizer that was tender and not greasy, a major plus that some eateries have not yet figured how to achieve. I was not enamored of the sweet chile dipping sauce. I found it oddly cloying without enough heat to counteract the sweetness but my companions were pleased with it.

My friend’s chosen entree was the winter spinach salad ($9.95) with grilled salmon ($6). The spinach was crisp and fresh with a sherry vinaigrette that subtly enhanced the greens.

Tomatoes and feta cheese were sprinkled over it, as well as the more unusual dried cranberries and candied walnuts. That last ingredient seemed a guilty pleasure for such a healthful dish, but it was good! The salmon filet atop the salad was moist and flaky, despite being cooked a tad more than usual, reported my friend, who has enjoyed this salad in previous visits.

Her husband opted for a hearty belly-filler: the prime rib burrito ($12.95). The chile, which he ordered Christmas, gave the dish “a good little kick,” he said. With two types of cheese melted over the top, the burrito was amply filled with the meat, grilled onions, bell peppers and pinto beans. He was pleased with this New Mexico favorite.

I chose the Alaskan tacos ($11.95), opting for cod (salmon also was offered) on corn tortillas (wheat was another choice.) Perhaps the name should have tipped me off. While I was anticipating the flavor of Mexican fish tacos, these came out on the bland side. What was described as a “spicy slaw” in the tacos tasted mostly of cabbage to me. I had to pick out the tiny green pieces scattered amidst it and taste them separately to determine that they actually were cilantro. And the sour cream added on top was something squeezed through a nozzle; it was congealed enough that I could lift it off pretty much whole. To my palate, removing it improved the flavor.

A thickish, tomato-y sauce on the side was tasty when added to the tacos, although it lacked much of a kick. The cod was naked, and since I prefer a grilled or sauteed fish to a fried, breaded one, so I was happy with that. A small dish of black beans topped with melted cheese accompanied the dish.

I missed the citrus-y touch that a lime or lemon squeezed over the fish would have added (although I’m sure I could have got one if I asked). There was nothing wrong with the tacos if you were looking for something very mild (well, except for that weird sour cream) – they just weren’t what I was anticipating.

The dessert, though, was the piece de resistance: a chocolate torte ($6) made without flour and with gobs of chocolate, including a sauce poured over the top. A pillow of whipped cream topped with a cherry was mounded at the side to scoop up as we willed. It was catnip for a chocoholic, and I was ready to drift off into dreamland after that perfect ending.

The restaurant has different lunch and dinner menus, so it would be interesting to return and check out what’s served in the evening.