There are restaurants that focus on serving food and there are restaurants that are more contemplative and design an experience to delight every one of our five senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. The latter is what Palace Prime does and it does with aplomb. This makes it a prime choice to celebrate Valentine’s Day or any other occasion when you are seeking a multi-sensory dining experience.
When you arrive, you know you are in a space where the owners and management team put a lot of thought into stimulating sight. From the red brocade wallpaper to the steel grey walls, the cozy, camel suede banquettes to the yellow Flynn mid-century modern chairs and a vase with a single, purple calla lily on every table, Palace Prime’s interior has been intentionally designed to maintain the locale’s rich, almost 200-year history and incorporate a contemporary spin. To attract a wide variety of customers, they created both a dark, expansive cocktail lounge for sipping in a slightly more casual setting and a formal dining room for those who want full-on fine dining.
The Native American-themed artwork throughout is a stunning and modern collection that features nationally-acclaimed, regional artists, both living and deceased. Selected artists include Fritz Scholder, Malcolm Furlow, Tony Abeyta, John R. De Puy – one of Taos’s last living modernists – and Margarete Bagshaw. Both art aficionados and those who aren’t will recognize this tasteful collection as worthy of attention.
To tickle your hearing, you will immediately be drawn to the music which is a focal element at Palace Prime. The night we visited, it was a 1950s Motown playlist and we enjoyed grooving to The Drifters and The Marvelettes. Not having been born during this era, the music is melodic and sweet and brought a true sense of history.
When you sit down at your table, napkins bring the tactile into play. These are not thin, white cloth napkins that rotate from restaurant to restaurant via a commercial linen service. These grey-beige napkins are thick yet soft and remind you that you are here for a fine dining experience.
The chef is in charge of igniting the last two senses – smell and taste. Chef Rocky Durham, who stepped into this executive chef role almost a year ago in March 2021, is doing some of his finest work in this kitchen. He was the former executive chef at Ojo Santa Fe’s restaurant, The Blue Heron, where he constructed a menu filled with colorful, delicious and healthy dishes to appeal to the spa market. Durham’s honest food was appreciated by all types of diners from far and wide, which reflects his diverse culinary talent.
Lucky for us, he brought some of these thoughtful, healthier techniques to Palace Prime’s kitchen. This reality helps Durham deliver incredibly fresh and flavorful food that is not overly heavy, which can make for an unpleasant experience after you leave a restaurant. Our three-course meal left us happy and talking about when we might return for a lighter, more casual dining experience in the lounge.
With love on our minds, we started with oysters on the half shell ($24) and the six, sweet Beausoleil oysters were dreamy. Beausoleil means “beautiful sun” and these small, Atlantic oysters were some of the best we have ever had – anywhere. Served with a piquant cocktail sauce and a tasty mignonette, I shamelessly found myself drinking the mignonette so as not to waste this delicious and vinegary, shallot-infused liquid gold.
For an entree, I ordered the halibut ($42), a petite but perfectly roasted piece of fish served over a bed of sauteed haricot vert green beans and tomatoes with a few roasted fingerling potatoes and a spoonful of carrot puree for a pop of color. A liberal sprinkling of pickled red onions incorporated an acidic element for balance. Durham’s inclusion of vegetables into the entrees reminds us that he wants his guests to eat well and nourish us with his food.
My dining companion ordered the stellar and show-stopping Tomahawk pork chop ($36) which delighted him perhaps more than a steak might have. This bold, picturesque pork chop was as tender as a filet mignon and as flavorful as a ribeye steak and served over a bed of sautéed spinach and onions with a side of green chile mac ‘n’ cheese. Not being mac ‘n’ cheese fans, neither of us was wowed, but I was happy to see the chef use curly cavatappi pasta instead of the typical elbow macaroni.
For those who want beef, they serve Prime and Certified Angus steaks and offer a variety of cuts including the ubiquitous and popular, 8 oz. filet mignon ($60) to the well-marbled, 16 oz. Prime ribeye ($65).
But, being in a steakhouse restaurant doesn’t require that you order steak, which we didn’t, though we did want to try the classic sides of mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. Chef Durham’s minimal use of cream in the garlic mashed potatoes ($9) and the creamed garlic spinach ($9) meant they were both light and tasty and ample for two people. The addition of garlic did not overpower, either, and brought an additional layer of flavor to make these sides stand out. And when combined, they were in utter harmony.
A Valentine’s celebration is never complete without dessert and we chose the chocolate bottom chess pie ($12). A delicate slice was delivered to our table with a generous quenelle of Chantilly crème. The pie was still warm and the thin layer of chocolate over the crust provided a sense of decadence and another layer of flavorful to make this pie soar. We each enjoyed a few forkfuls and it was the ideal finishing touch to an outstanding dinner and dining experience.
The service was attentive without being overwhelming and the male-dominated staff carefully tended to a full house. If you are seeking a romantic and memorable way to celebrate the day of love with the love of your life, consider Palace Prime. Though they are offering a prix fixe meal for Valentine’s, I recommend you postpone the celebration so you can enjoy the full menu and the chef’s nightly specials.
Fine dining is alive and well in Santa Fe and sometimes a pampered night out to awaken each of our five senses is exactly what we need to remind ourselves that we, too, are alive and well.