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Beautiful, yes, but Julia’s food misses the mark

SANTA FE, N.M. — When my friend and I previewed the online menu for Julia, “a spirited restaurant and bar” at La Posada de Santa Fe, our mouths started watering and our anticipation built. There was a creative variety of dishes, with lots of seafood featured – our favorite.

But as the dishes began to pass beneath our forks, our expectations started to sag. As my friend so aptly put it, while we appreciated what the restaurant was trying to do with its menu, its execution was falling short. Nothing was bad, but neither did a savored mouthful ignite the closed-eyed “yum” of delight.

That really is a shame, because the space is wonderful. Flickering flames in a fireplace on one wall, tall windows looking out onto Palace Avenue on another, robust vigas and corbels lining the wooden ceiling, period chandeliers dangling. That’s just the dining room. Walk out into the hallways and brilliant colors burst forth from clusters of artworks. It’s a lovely spot, with a gracious patio during warmer weather.

Let’s talk about the food. The bread presented before the meal was cornbread in a mini-frying pan, served with agave butter. The cornbread was hearty and tasty with green chile and bacon.

Some cornbread dissolves into very fine crumbs, feeling almost grainy in your mouth; this one had a more pleasing texture.

My guest started with a salad, the beets three-ways ($15), which featured some very fresh curly escarole gracing a collection of beets: different types roasted, poached and pureed into a vinaigrette. Small mounds of goat cheese mousse added some tartness to the flavor combination, which was fine, but nothing surprising, according to my friend.

While she went with a starter and an entree, I decided to make a meal of three of the small plates. My first choice, the mezcal braised octopus ($11), started things off on a good foot.

Actually, several feet, as the baby octopi were served intact. Their meat was tender with just enough texture, swimming in sofrito (a sauce likely including tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil) topped by crispy guanciale (strips of bacon made from pork cheeks). The sofrito was satisfying on its own, but a cilantro chimichurri on the side for dipping added a nice lemony complement.

This probably was my favorite dish of the night. Pan-seared day boat scallops ($32) was my friend’s entree – one I had secretly coveted, but she shared tastes with me. She found the scallops to be a little overdone, chewier than one would wish. She didn’t even finish them all because she found them overly salty. The scallops were perched on chevre farrotto (sort of a risotto, but with farro instead of rice) and accompanied by charred scallion and roasted beets. Overall, the dish did not balance flavors, but added rich on top of rich, my friend noted.

A question to the waiter about the dish suggested he may have been new to the place. Seeing some dark ingredients on her plate, my guest asked him what they were. Chorizo, he told her with enthusiasm. Not a meat-eater, she moved them to the side and invited me to enjoy them. I speared one with my fork and started munching, only to discover they actually were beets.

My small plate choices were the crab enchiladas ($13) and the green chile duck empanadas ($9). Both were all right, but not particularly exciting. White mole and pickled onions added some spark to the enchiladas. The crab mixture was acceptable, even though I could have done without the tiny cellophane-like bits from the inner structure of the crab. While they likely are edible, to my mind, they shouldn’t appear in the extracted meat. What I judged to be a blue corn tortilla wrapped around the enchilada was rather disturbingly rubbery.

The empanadas had a nice roasted tomato salsa for dipping, but they were a little too doughy and I was unable to detect any heat from the promised green chile.

We satisfied our sweet teeth by ending with a Mexican chocolate mousse ($8). My friend thought it was a little too grainy and had very little cinnamon taste. I agree the cinnamon could have been boosted, but I didn’t mind the graininess. I figured it was a variation of the usual smooth and silky mousse, with texture enhanced so it could be served as a scoop on a plate.

Besides, to this rabid fan of berries, anything appearing with fresh raspberries and sliced strawberries will get a thumbs-up.

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