ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s Sunday at 7 p.m. and friends and I are enjoying one of Santa Fe premiere patios, the courtyard at La Posada. Music drifts our way from the porch of the Staab House bar where a gentleman with a guitar and a cowboy hat sings Western classics and some other familiar old tunes. He’s known as Wiley Jim, and the volume is perfect as a background for conversation.
Fuego’s chef Carmen Rodriguez, the New Mexico Restaurant’s Association’s Chef of the Year for 2012, is working hard to undermine the belief that food here is extraordinarily expensive. We paid less for dinner than we would have paid at a similar upscale establishment – $76 for two entrees, appetizers and desserts with a cup of coffee.
We start with the exotic Ahi Sashimi Empanada, a layered appetizer built from a crisp flat wonton. A slice of tuna and a light dressing of sweet chutney sauce finish the presentation ($12). If you don’t want fish, you can try pretzel bites with cheese fondue, Korean beef tacos or upscale chips and salsa.
We moved on to soup and salad. The Caesar salad ( $12), had crisp romaine lettuce chopped into easily edible bites coated with a mild Caesar-style dressing and a generous helping of Parmesan cheese. The croutons were exceptional – not too hard, and not spongy, either. But no anchovies. I missed them. The Tumbleweed Steak Salad ($14) included generous servings of greens, pinto beans, shredded cheddar cheese, small rounds of green onion and crisp, shoestring tortilla strips of various colors. The veggies were tossed in a savory dressing with a slight touch of heat and topped with four or five small but tasty pieces of grilled filet mignon cooked to order.
I tried one of the three soups of the evening and the only one served warm – the Thai coconut horchata soup. I thought it was bland, a word I rarely use with Thai food. My friends liked it and more kindly described the flavor as “subtle” ($4).
We moved to the “big bites” or entree menu. I give the “filet and frites” a thumbs-up. The tender 6-ounce filet mignon came with delicious truffle fries, green chile aïoli and slender fresh asparagus ($26). For $28 you can try Fuego’s other steak, a grilled rib eye. This part of the menu also features roasted rack of lamb, pork tenderloin, salmon, bacon-wrapped scallops and a duck breast.
We liked the light touch on the hand-dipped cod in the fish and chips ($14) and the fresh, hot, skin-on fries but not the too-dry coleslaw that came with it. The tequila chicken ($16) was good, although rather light on chicken. The presentation of this dish was beautiful, with the rice as a base, then the sautéed peppers and onions, the chicken filets with a tequila lime sauce and fresh asparagus on the side of the place.