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Having lived in Mexico for many years, a three-hour lunch was the way of life, especially in Mexico City, where we frequently had spectacular and extended midday meals. But that’s not the way we lunch or dine in the United States. Instead, it’s about fast and easy meals, and I desperately miss those luxurious culinary experiences where you live in the moment as if nothing else matters.
If you, too, long for a leisurely lunch or dinner, there’s a new spot in town that promises this and more. Le Pommier Bistro is one of three new French restaurants and the first to open. (Mille is taking over the Bouche Bistro location on West Alameda and there is a banner hanging in front of the Lucky Goat on Cerrillos proclaiming the arrival of La Tour.) I visited Le Pommier Bistro on their sixth day of lunch service and, while there were a few minor hiccups that are expected on opening a new restaurant, the hostess and co-owner, Suzanne Eichner, proved she has the hospitality chops for this new venture.
She and her soon-to-be-husband, Alain Jorand, a seasoned chef and restaurateur, have opened Le Pommier so guests can experience a taste of France in the most literal sense. Located at La Tienda in Eldorado, just outside Santa Fe, this shopping center boasts a growing number of culinary destinations, including an outlet of Santa Fe Brewing Co., a gourmet cheese shop, a coffee shop and a weekly farmers market.
When we arrived on a Saturday afternoon, the patio was full and only a few tables remained inside. The interior is spacious, with a bar at the center and plenty of high-top chairs for single diners seeking a meal or to mingle.
The welcoming waiting area features some of France’s most coveted products, all of which are available for purchase. Straw market bags hang from the wall, kitchen towels fill the shelves, along with jellies, soaps, kitchen tools, homemade granola and even pre-packaged macarons for dogs.
On entering, the hostess greeted us with a friendly “bonjour.” Even if you don’t speak French, you’ll be softened by the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Le Pommier staff. We landed at one of the only remaining tables in the dining room, a cozy corner table.
The lunch menu is everything you expect in a classic French restaurant, with options ranging from crêpes, quiche and Niçoise salad to croque madame and monsieur, or steak tartare and steak frites. On a small, but mighty, menu, you may opt for a deep bowl of hot and cheesy French onion soup, a savory charcuterie platter or something simple such as jambon beurre, country ham and butter on toasted baguette.
Wanting to try a little of everything, we started with a traditional buckwheat crêpe, which is naturally gluten-free. Filled with copious amounts of ham and cheese, and served with a side of mixed greens, the crêpe lacked flavor. Chef Alain acknowledged Provolone was not the right cheese and that he would fix it.
Seeking a light lunch, I opted for Salade Niçoise, which features fresh tuna poached in olive oil, perfectly cooked and quartered eight-minute hard-boiled eggs, Persian cucumber slices, cherry tomato halves, sliced fingerling potatoes, blanched green beans and briny kalamata olives topped with three marinated anchovies. The well-seasoned vinaigrette brought everything together for a savory and healthy French ladies lunch.
My dining companions both ordered steak frites, a well-seasoned flank steak topped with roasted shallots and a giant dollop of compound butter made with parsley, chive and roasted garlic that was melting from the heat of the warm steak when it arrived at the table. Accompanied by a mound of crispy hand-cut French fries, the medium-cooked steak was simply prepared, flavorful and juicy.
The portions are just right, which leaves plenty of room for dessert, and dessert is the proper way to conclude a French meal. The menu will challenge you with many sweet options, including crêpes, pâtisseries (pastries), des glaces (ice cream) or sorbet. We ordered the creamy crème brûlée that looks and tastes like liquid gold and the signature Le Pommier tarte Tatin. The tart’s crispy, buttery shortbread crust is topped with succulent roasted apples, a generous dousing of rich, golden caramel sauce, and a scoop of house-made ice cream (on the day of our visit, a nutty hazelnut).
The restaurant’s name, Le Pommier, means apple tree in French, so it’s not surprising that their signature dessert is the apple tarte Tatin. When I asked Suzanne why they named the restaurant that, she waxed lyrical about the prodigious history of the apple – its role in France, how it is connected to prosperity and growth, Adam and Eve, and that she and Alain met at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, so food is an integral part of their lives. To reinforce the restaurant’s name, the two back walls of the dining rooms feature green apple trees wallpaper.
Dinner service includes a more expansive menu of time-honored French dishes, including lamb chops, chicken stew, a variety of succulent seafood dishes, and a few seasonal and chef-driven options for vegetarians. They launched Sunday family lunch for the first time last week with a $35 prix fixe menu of four courses and a non-alcoholic sunrise mimosa to start the day. Adding breakfast to the mix is on the horizon, as is a beer, wine and New Mexico liquor license.
Based on the brisk business of their sixth day, I suspect the secret is already out about Le Pommier. If you are hungry for a slow and memorable dining experience where they won’t rush you, make a reservation and block out three hours. It’s the minimum amount of time you’ll need to explore the menu, relax, and experience a delectable and welcome taste of France in the high desert.
Read more about the Santa Fe food and hospitality scene at Heather Hunter’s blog, “The Cowgirl Gourmet in Santa Fe,” at thecowgirlgourmetinsantafe.com.