Prairie Star recently entered its fifth decade of operation.
It’s a remarkable achievement for any restaurant, much less one that serves pricey dishes from a remote location on Santa Ana Pueblo, north of Bernalillo.
The restaurant owes its long life in part to its ability to adapt and change with the times. Over the years, it’s leveraged an unparalleled view of the west wall of the Sandia Mountains into a brisk wedding and events business.
During the off-season, things slow down considerably. The restaurant closes on Sundays and Mondays. On a recent Friday night visit, only one large party and a few couples were in the intimate dining room. The 32-handle Cruvinet wine-dispensing system behind the bar sat idle.
Free from the distractions of bridal parties posing for pictures outside, my party turned its attention to the cooking of Prairie Star’s Executive Chef Myles Lucero, formerly of Seasons Rotisserie and Grill in Old Town. Lucero, a native of Isleta Pueblo, took the helm in 2018. Most of the menu’s mainstays remain, with many coming in over $30. A more affordable option is available on Wednesday nights, when the chef rolls out a wine-and-dine special for two: three courses and a bottle of wine for $65.
The winter menu features hearty dishes such as a starter of foie gras sausage and rabbit rillettes ($16) served on a wooden board with cornichons, roasted olives and a tin of grainy mustard. The foie gras makes a rich, buttery filling that works best as a spread on the grilled baguette slices that accompany the meal.
Traditionally, rabbit rillettes are made by slow-cooking rabbit meat in fat, herbs and spices, and then adding fat back to the mix for pâté-like consistency. Here, the rabbit meat is processed further until it yields a silky-smooth paste with a garlicky taste. Served in a clear glass bowl, it’s like a soupy bowl of hummus, the rabbit seemingly gone without a trace.
In contrast, the bird in the bacon-wrapped pheasant ($32) is quite conspicuous. The bacon added fat and moisture to what looked and tasted like white meat chicken. A side of sautéed pancetta, napa cabbage and onions was far livelier. The starch portion of risotto flavored with duxelles – finely chopped mushrooms cooked with shallots – had good earthy flavor but was underheated.
Grilled beef tenderloin ($34), long a centerpiece of the menu, provides a reliable if unexciting cut of meat, more tender and less flavorful than rib-eye or strip steak. The chef’s skill with the accompaniments shines here in the smashed fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts, their outer leaves fried to a crisp. The concentrated beef flavor of the demi-glace ties it all together.
Given the price of the entrees, it was a bit surprising to find most of the desserts coming in under $10. Apple cobbler ($7), served Ã la mode in a piping-hot cast-iron skillet, looked appetizing, but the foundation of baked apple cubes and oats was too dry. Similarly, a honey bourbon crème brûlée ($7) held promise, only to be compromised by an overly thick sugar shell. On the plus side, the menu offers a good selection of ports and sherries at $4 a glass. The small pours are just enough to warm your core before you head outside.
Service, initially friendly and accommodating, slowed as the night wore on. It was all in keeping with the energy of a place that seems to be in hibernation until the golfers and wedding guests return. After all these years, Prairie Star is still worth a trip, although the prices relegate it to special-occasion status.