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A pricey, but indulgent, luxury

SANTA FE, N.M. — The only thing better than dining out is dining in. Preferably with good friends, a passable chef and drinks, and at a ROUND table promoting free and lively conversation. And if by “conversation,” you mean real estate and movies, we’re at the wrong dinner party.

Since food and restaurants have replaced art and art galleries as the topic of interest in certain provinces of Santa Fe, that’s the sort of dinner chat one seems to get – reports from the front lines of the restaurant wars and food fights.

For once, I just sat back and listened, and it got me thinking of a new tactic in restaurant reviewing – review by second-hand report. Why, just the other night, I heard the following review of a certain upscale-ish restaurant (on a cursed prime corner of SF restaurant real estate):

7 p.m.: Party of 4 arrives and seated. Water.

7:15: A server says hello. Wine and food ordered. (They were fairly starved and parched at this point).

7:20: Tepid mushroom bisque served. Still no wine.

7:25: Wine arrives. Bisque sent back.

7:30: Unapproachable tarragon chicken served; also, a lusterless salmon and eventually a large bill that when studied listed charges for a couple of desserts despite the fact that dinners were ordered prix fixe. Huh?

Yes, anecdotal evidence is just that – anecdote. But when another guest chimes in with corraborative testimony, well, you could start to build a case.

Restaurants have bad nights, too. So, I’m stopping by that place soon to see for myself, and you.

I have an unsavory secret no more. I love to eat and drink in hotel restaurants and bars. Yes, it’s an indulgence, a luxury. You pay a little more, but you’re not going to run into anyone you know unless they’re working at the place, the eavesdropping is illuminating and pretty curious, and if not known to the help, one is usually pampered. Like a tourist, say.

So it was I decamped for a late-morning breakfast to the classy Inn of the Anasazi (breakfast served until 11:30 a.m.).

Clubby quiet, elegant, intimate and open, with a dramatic far wall of Chaco-like, dry stack stone, mid-century modern-style chairs, natural wood tables. (Though a more suitable spot could be found for the wonderful Emmi Whitehorse painting hidden on a landing of the stairs leading down to the bathrooms.)

Breakfast, and, yes, it is pricey, but … . I had the Southwest Breakfast, two eggs (over medium), green chile-roasted potatoes (absolutely spicy, crisp, superb), a generous basket of warm toast, choice of bacon, pork sausage, chorizo, ham or turkey sausage, coffee (excellent) or tea, plus fresh squeezed juice.

Yes, it is $24! But, consider.

Á la carte, the coffee or organic tea is $5, and the fresh squeezed orange juice comes in at an eye-popping $9 (it was very fresh and very good, and in a largish tumbler), which means you’re getting the excellent remainder of a breakfast for just $10. A deal.

Also consider this: Executive Chef Edgar Beas partners with an extensive network of local farms and purveyors, and serves prime fare, mindfully presented.

My companion had classic eggs Benedict ($17), two poached eggs on applewood-smoked ham, English muffin, heirloom tomato, wilted spinach and chipotle hollandaise (on the side, thanks). And a latté ($6). Perfect! And, while we found the chipotle hollandaise “interesting,” others may find it a bit too “chipotle.”

That said, the service was superb, the fare fresh and elegantly presented, the atmosphere restful. There’s even a Wall Street Journal gratis available near the front desk.