Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
In Santa Fe, calling your new restaurant Horno means staking a bold claim. By referencing the oldest oven around, the name conjures up a fine-dining venture that might try to encapsulate the City Different’s oldest influences. But you won’t find pueblo bread or empanadas at chef-owner David Sellers’ refreshing and well-priced new Horno.
Sellers has variously called the venture “food for the people” and “an Italian-leaning gastropub,” but Horno’s menu is really all over the map. Its multicultural stew of street food influences is redolent of Sellers’ seven years at the Street Food Institute, the food truck-focused nonprofit and culinary training program he helped found in 2014. At its three trucks and two cafés, the Street Food Institute seems to serve everything under the sun – and it’s consistently good, too. Sellers has also logged time at Santacafé and as chef-owner of the late, lamented Amavi (2007-12).
Chef Sellers and his team – which includes his wife, Heather Sellers, pastry chef Sarah Greene and a youthful, eager-to-please waitstaff – began renovating the former Il Piatto space on Marcy Street late last year, opening in June. The new restaurant is lighter, brighter and a little louder. But you can’t blame people for the volume. Horno is turning out food that provokes both enthusiasm and delight.
In nearly every dish, cross-cultural flavors are married and in love. On the small plates side, chicken wings ($13) are basted with Thai crab caramel, smoked and dotted with piñon. Soft, succulent agnolotti pasta ($11) with ricotta and oyster mushrooms are served in a bath of rich yellow corn butter. Vegetables ($8) get roasted with miso, and coated with mint, basil and piñon vinaigrette.
Tuna tartare ($16), a staple of many local menus that often doesn’t earn its place, is excellently reimagined with raw yellowfin chunks assembled on a crispy black-pepper risotto cake and drizzled with savory anchovy butter.
Seemingly basic salads benefit from Sellers’ light, creative touch. A roasted beet, greens and cucumber mix ($12) is invigorated by the complex textures of crunchy pepita-piñon granola and tender tofu feta, dressed in a zippy dill dressing.
An arugula salad ($13) gets unexpected thrills from gingery pickled carrots, hazelnuts, puffed quinoa, creamy goat cheese and a tarragon-mustard vinaigrette.
Of the two sandwich options, the restaurant had run out of Sellers’ two-time winner of the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown ($16). The cheddar-blanketed burger includes a bacon-onion patty and secret sauce, served with fries or salad. We contented ourselves with a stellar oyster po boy ($16), where crunchily coated and wonderfully briny bivalves are nestled in a crusty baguette with lettuce, tomato, spicy remoulade and Louisiana hot sauce.
Even the menu’s “big plates” are well-priced and sizeable enough to share. Like a few nearby diners, we were bowled over by the 48-Hour Korean BBQ Shortrib ($28), which sensually fell off the bone and was plated with kimchi fried rice, star-anise-scented pickled mushrooms and fermented chile paste.
A bouillabaisse for two (market price) is piled high with mussels, clams, white fish and shrimp, served in a garlicky saffron broth in a bowl lined with slices of focaccia. (“Why are these mussels so plump?” moaned my Greek dinner companion, who is often skeptical of seafood in Santa Fe.)
A creamy, layered summer berry parfait ($10) is one of four dessert options, along with a semifreddo ice cream trio of chocolate, strawberry and pistachio ($10) that celebrates the season.
And, along with the inclination to try every dish on the far-ranging menu, you may feel obliged to drink more than one affordable wine by the glass. We loved a spritzy Broadbent Vinho Verde ($8) and the juicy, dark-fruited Klinkerbrink Cabernet ($11). To pair with the bouillabaisse, we were guided to a bottle of crisp, zesty Domaine Louis Michel Chablis ($57). Horno’s affordable, creative list roams from the West Coast to all over Europe, while four beers on tap celebrate the best of New Mexico breweries.
While the restaurant was half empty one weeknight in late June, Horno’s crowds are now beginning to rival those of its well-established Marcy Street neighbor, La Boca. Both restaurants are really two sides of the same coin, each one featuring a longtime Santa Fe chef cooking at the top of his creative game. For my money this summer, however, I’ll keep going back to the new kid on the block.