As we roll into the holiday season and think about restaurants we can take friends and family for an exceptional experience and excellent cuisine, Market Steer Steakhouse in downtown Santa Fe at the St. Francis Hotel checks most of the boxes. More important, this is not a restaurant exclusively for carnivores, but one where pescatarians and vegetarians can be as happy as their omnivore dining companions. Although I typically avoid hotel restaurants, Market Steer is an exception.
Knowing most restaurants these days are struggling with fewer staff, I made a reservation well in advance. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by Walter, the manager, and a hostess who quickly escorted us to a cozy corner table that provided a view of the rustic but elegant dining room and the bustling activity along Don Gaspar and Water Street.
When the server’s assistant poured our sparkling water, she carefully used a napkin to ensure no water splashed on my nearby phone. This thoughtful touch immediately caught my attention and reassured me we were in for a treat. Our knowledgeable server, David, shared insights on the menu, offered tips on what to order and reminded us sharing is encouraged.
To start the decadent evening on the right tone, we ordered two glasses of wine – a St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel ($13) and an Austin Cabernet Sauvignon by Austin Hope ($15). Both California wines, the Austin Hope was the winner with a big jammy taste that went down like grape juice. This wine was so good my husband jokingly proclaimed he “might start drinking again.” While sipping our wine, we enjoyed noshing on the complimentary ciabatta bread served with whipped green chile butter that was dreamy with a tiny kick of heat.
The dining room tables are generously separated to offer both privacy and COVID safety. Six gorgeous and big iron chandeliers dimly lit the room, though the chandelier above our table had one burned-out bulb. I figured if this was the most egregious error of the night, it was going to be a good night.
The shrimp cocktail appetizer ($15) arrived on a round platter filled with river rocks. Six peeled and deveined shrimp seemed to have arrived in the kitchen frozen and already peeled and deveined. Although they were colossal in size, they lacked flavor. Unfortunately, soaking the shrimp in a lime mignonette and the accompanying mezcal-spiked cocktail sauce couldn’t make this appetizer shine.
Another appetizer ideal for sharing is the wedge salad ($13). Two baby gem lettuce chunks are topped with chopped bacon, tomato halves, red onion, blue cheese crumbles and a light but flavor-packed blue cheese dressing. Although small, it was just enough to satisfy.
As we continued to relax and sip on our wine, a nearby table of three businessmen told David, the waiter, how they always return for the mussel appetizer and asked whether the chef might share her recipe. Before long, chef and owner Kathleen Crook happily arrived to explain to these gents how to prepare the mussels at home. Crook’s genuine care for her guests was palpable as she gave them step-by-step instructions.
For an entrée, I ordered the arctic char ($37) which arrived on a bed of barley risotto with watercress sprigs. Similar to salmon, the fish was perfectly cooked to medium in the middle and provided a meaty alternative for those like me who eschew beef. My husband ordered the New Mexico Cut ($52), a locally raised, 7-ounce Wagyu beef tenderloin. Cooked to medium-rare, the steak was sliced on the diagonal and beautifully plated with a half a head of roasted garlic and watercress. The meat was so tender my husband almost cut it with a fork. Either not seasoned or lightly seasoned, the meat itself was super-flavorful, while the 7-ounce portion was the right size for someone who no longer eats like a teenager.
A signature element at Market Steer is the accompanying sauces for the meat. To get the full experience, we ordered the flight of eight sauces ($16) which the waiter encouraged. If you are dining with a group, definitely try the flight, but if it’s two people, order one or two sauces a la carte. The flight was both superfluous and excessive for the two of us, especially since I had fish.
For sides, we opted for the classic sautéed spinach ($9) and house-cut french fries ($10). The spinach was served barely wilted – a welcome surprise – so it still had a bite to it. The french fries were just OK, and we used them to dip into the flight of sauces. As a french fry fanatic, I found the fries a bit limp and tepid. The russet potatoes still had the skins on, which is nice, but they lacked texture. Perhaps a double-fry method would be an improvement.
By 6:30, the dining room was filled with joyful conversations and laughter of well-dressed people spanning from youthful to mature. Tables of men, women and mixed groups were happily enjoying a Tuesday night on the town.
To conclude, we couldn’t resist the butterscotch crème brûlée ($12). We’re lovers of butterscotch budino and crème brûlée, and this was brilliant blending of two of our favorite desserts. The requisite few sprinkles of sea salt on the top took this delectable dessert to new levels of excellence. We may return for dessert when the craving hits.
The well-trained and well-orchestrated staff was constantly on the move throughout the evening to check on tables, talk with guests and ensure everyone was happy while dining at Market Steer. The restaurant’s ambiance is relaxing, with an air of hospitality that highlights the owner’s intentions. Restaurants with a chef and owner in the kitchen promise a meal that is “exactly how the chef wants it to be served,” as our waiter pointed out when he regaled us with his introductory welcome. It also guarantees a dining experience that will have you returning for more.
Read more about the Santa Fe food and hospitality scene at Heather Hunter’s blog, “The Cowgirl Gourmet in Santa Fe,” at thecowgirlgourmetinsantafe.com.