SANTA FE, N.M. — 2013 has been an interesting year for Santa Fe restaurants, bringing several new additions to the scene. One of the newest of these newcomers, Joseph’s of Santa Fe, strikes me as an especially worthy and interesting addition.
The restaurant gets its name from its owner/chef Joseph Wrede, best known for his long-successful Joseph’s Table in Taos, an upbeat, eclectic culinary adventure.
Wrede moved to Santa Fe and tried working at the Palace Restaurant & Saloon and more briefly at the recently closed Tomme before opening his own place. Joseph’s occupies a building on Agua Fria Street across from our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Old-timers may remember the spot as the former home of Cafe Esteban. More recently, the Mediterranean restaurant Azul lived here. I’d thought it noisy in prior incarnations, but the night two friends and I stopped in for dinner, we enjoyed the happy buzz that surrounded us. Joseph’s makes eating fun.
Among its many influences, the menu features Italian, Indian and Asian touches along with Southwestern green chile and a special gourmet veggie tamale.
You can order Wrede’s version of the classic French steak au poivre created from New Mexican natural grass-fed beef with a sauce that includes New Mexico’s wild porcini mushrooms over the tenderloin. Many other dishes on the menu feature locally sourced ingredients.
You can order special preparations of duck, pork, lamb, salmon and even local rabbit. Three of the entrees are mostly vegetables. On behalf of locals with a sense of adventure and those people who come to Santa Fe looking for something different to eat, I hope Joseph’s will have a long and tasty future.
My friends and I started with three appetizers: grilled polenta with chicken liver mousse ($12), garlic soup ($8) and rock shrimp ($14). They couldn’t have been more different or more delicious. The chicken liver mousse, served warm, gets a big thumbs-up for its smooth texture and fresh, mild richness.
The polenta created a lovely base and the strip of crisp prosciutto added crunch and a salty spark of flavor.
The rock shrimp, beautifully presented on rectangles of crisp, cracker-like whole wheat phyllo, had a subtle sweetness and arrived perfectly cooked.
The garlic soup, with a soft poached egg floating in the broth, was both satisfying and original. I loved the bits of roasted garlic in the chicken broth, unexpected bursts of wonderful intense flavor.
Among the nine entree choices, I had heard rave reviews of the crispy duck.
When the plates of duck legs arrived at the adjoining table the food looked and smelled wonderful. I consider the other options, too: Pork cassoulet? Lamb and banana tangine? Pumpkin, kale and corn enchiladas? Cauliflower with white beans and anchovy sauce? I’m glad my friends were as interested in sampling the menu as I was.
Of our table’s three entrees, the most beautiful was the “Napoleon” ($24), a stack of crisp phyllo strips with fragments of crisp Italian ham, a mixture of diced root vegetables, Brussel sprout leaves, goat cheese and more layered in between. The dish arrived with an orange cloud on top of the top crust – carrot ginger foam. This creation was so yummy that my friend who ordered it (and who swears Brussel sprouts are terrible) would barely give me a taste.
The rabbit lasagna ($26) featured shreds of braised, fall-apart tender meat simmered with vegetables and finished with creamy mascarpone cheese and wild mushrooms. The fresh pasta was so tender it practically melted. If you think lasagna means heavy noodles, this creation will cause you to reconsider.
The fish, advertised as organic Scottish salmon, was succulent, not a bit overcooked, and served with crisp skin detached but on top of the tender pink meat. Instead of the standard rice or potato, it came with a tamale filled with sweet potato and goat cheese and served unwrapped, with the corn husk as a platform ($27).
Of course, we had dessert, a feather-light, barely sweet bay leaf panna cotta and a super rich butterscotch pudding topped with caramel sauce. It you want chocolate, you can pick from three of the eight desserts.
Every table in the restaurant was filled the night of our visit, and the crowd may have caught the staff off-guard. Service was spotty, but attentive and informed when we had it. Our only major service complaint of the evening was that the soup came without spoons and we had to leave the table to find one because we couldn’t get a server’s attention.
Our dinner for three, without beverages, was $135 before tax and tip. I loved the food and look forward to another meal here soon.