Like the Eldorado Hotel where it’s located, the Old House Restaurant has the sophisticated feel of a place in a city much grander than Santa Fe.
The atmosphere manages to reconcile understatement with larger-than-life furniture and trimmings, and the food is likewise excellent and generous without being precious.
The Old House prides itself on its steaks, which we sampled to our great pleasure, but its seafood also is excellent. The service is everything you’d expect in a top-rated hotel.
My guest the evening we dined was a frequent invitee whose only fault, as far as I’m concerned, is to habitually ask for calamari if it’s on the menu. I was especially pleased that the Old House version of this standard ($12) was more imaginatively presented than is usual.
The flash-fried calamari were, of course, perfectly prepared. But the crisp bits had been tossed with a barely dressed red-cabbage slaw and livened by thin slices of jalapeño, also flash fried. The dipping sauces also provided variation on the standard theme: green chile aioli and a nicely contrasting red chile-honey concoction.
The first-course menu includes a mini-charcuterie plate with an intriguing date chutney, along with the more exotic fare like duck empanadas or smoked oysters Rockefeller, as well as a couple of salads.
We moved directly to the main courses, however.
My guest ordered filet mignon ($34), seared with a dusting of red chile and served with béarnaise sauce. It was large, absolutely perfectly cooked and one of the tenderest steaks we’d experienced in a long time.
The chile added an interesting overtone; the béarnaise included steak juices, which is the way she likes it. The accompanying roasted fingerling potatoes and new carrots were superb.
My sea bass ($30 and a menu standard) was likewise excellent. Again, it was a large portion and cooked absolutely perfectly: just done. The accompanying sauce was an unusual tomato “vinaigrette” studded with slivers of fresh tomato and only just acidic enough to grace what is after all a very rich, but still bland, white fish. Oven-roasted cauliflower and a spray of grilled green onions rounded out the presentation.
Other standard entrees range from lamb, pork and fish to chicken, each sauced or otherwise garnished with Southwestern flourishes, such as Anasazi-bean succotash (the lamb), a chile relleno (the pork) or charred-corn calabacitas (the grilled salmon).
The dessert menu at the Old House is restrained, but equally well executed. We sampled the classics: crème brûlée ($8) and the bourbon bread pudding ($9). We were pleased with the unusual presentation of the crème in a flatter and larger plate than the standard ramekin for the simple reason that there was more surface area to accommodate that all-important burnt sugar crust. Genius!
The bread pudding was nicely flavored with bourbon and brown sugar. This humble dessert seems to be enjoying a new vogue – we’ve found it on menus all around town lately.
Somewhere long ago, I got the idea that it should be served with some kind of “sauce” – creme anglais, simple whipped cream, a Christmas-pudding hard sauce? Alas, that is almost never the case currently and I always end up slightly disappointed.
As we dined, several more parties trickled into the dining room (it was mid-week), and we appreciated the quiet and privacy the wide spacing of the Old House tables lent our dinner. The more intimate Agave bar adjacent attracted a reasonable pre-dinner crowd, drawn there no doubt by happy hour specials and a lighter (and less pricey) menu.