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Omira a meat lover’s dream

SANTA FE, N.M. — A friend whose taste in food (omnivorous) runs close to mine came back raving about a meal he’d had at one of Santa Fe’s newest restaurants, Omira Bar and Grill.

He told me, “At first I was shocked at the price. But after I started eating, I realized it was worth it. The food was great.”

I tend to be skeptical of new restaurants, and Omira just opened earlier this summer. But I figured I’d stop by and check it out. I loved it! And I thought the price, $27.95 for all you can eat, was appropriate considering the quality of the food. The meal I enjoyed was equivalent to or better than dinners I’ve eaten at restaurants with big reputations.

Omira is Santa Fe’s only Churasco-style Brazilian steakhouse where, for a fixed price, one receives samples of various meats, all you want until you signal “enough.” The maitre d’ asks your preferences: beef, pork, chicken, lamb or all of the above, and what temperature you prefer. Selections arrive on skewers, served tableside by staff members who slice the meat with long knives or, in the case of Omira’s current operation, slide pieces of steak, roast lamb or other choices off the skewer onto your plate. The meat is hand-cut and New Mexico-grown. If you happen to be dining with a vegetarian, your guest can enjoy the meatless buffet for less.

I sat at a comfortable booth in the large main dining room. Tables are set with cloth napkins and a fancy light tower. Light on means “bring meat.” Off means “we’re taking a break” or possibly “we are full.” The beautifully arranged buffet, with a section for warm food as well as salads, occupies the center of the dining room. Omira impressed me with the freshness and presentation of perhaps 20 salads in addition to rice, beans, two kinds of soup and chicken curry. I especially enjoyed the kale salads, a sweet one with mango and raisins and a savory creation with sliced roasted beets, feta cheese and a balsamic dressing. The Asian slaw, colorful shredded cabbage with black sesame seeds tossed in a slightly creamy, subtly spicy dressing, was great, too. I loved the fresh chard and walnut salad with pomegranate dressing and the petite cubes of watermelon and cantaloupe. The “Farmer’s Market” salad, with mint and cucumbers, was a bit wilted but still tasted good. A bland sweet potato soup and hard vegetable fritters were the only missteps I noticed. Considering how much food this kitchen creates, the high quality is remarkable.

Then I turned on the light and the meat started to arrive. My favorite was the lamb, marinated in yogurt, mint and spices —— tender, juicy and fabulous. After that, it’s hard to say what I liked best. The prime rib had a lovely crust on the outside, tender within. The filet mignon and sirloin were also first-rate. The juicy roasted chicken leg had a wonderful Jamaican jerk-type seasoning. Bacon came with two of the selections, a tender bit of chicken breast in salsa verde, and pork loin finished with panko crumbs. I was offered perhaps a dozen meat choices, each one just a bite or two. Together, the samples make a more than ample meal, and if you want more, just ask.

The first three offerings from the grill were appetizer style: a grape leaf stuffed with ground meat, a thin slice of teriyaki-flavored Tokyo-style beef. Then came a treat, a pair of crisp egg rolls beautifully presented with sweet sauces and a swirl of Asian chile paste. Yum.

Our main server, a polite and well-informed young woman who brought the skewers of meat to the table, knew about the seasoning and preparation of each item she served. When I’d left the light off for a while, she came by with a whole grilled pineapple and asked if I’d like a sliver as dessert. It was delicious, warm and slightly crusty from the natural sugar.

The night of my visit, my friend and I shared the large dining room with just a few other customers and the space was quiet. As Omira grows more popular —— and there’s plenty of room for parties here —— the hard floor and open ceiling could lead to noise issues, although the clever use of attractive acoustic panels on the walls may help.

You’ll find Omira in the Penn Road Center, a few blocks from the Plaza near the intersection of Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive. I like this restaurant very much and wish it a long and healthy future.