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Andiamo is aptly named: You and your friends should go

SANTA FE, N.M. — Andiamo is an in-between kind of place. It doesn’t quite belong among the very few high-end Italian eateries in town, though it shares with them an eclectic and sometimes imaginative menu. But it’s a good cut above what I call the “red sauce” pasta and pizza houses, though these Italian-American classics figure large on its menu too.

It’s sleek and quirky enough for a date or a modestly celebratory night out, and it serves well for a business lunch. And it seems to enjoy a good reputation among a broad cross-section of Santa Fe’s dining public. We revisited recently for lunch and were well pleased, yet not overwhelmed, by the experience. (Who wants to be overwhelmed at lunchtime?)

My guest was a Texas transplant who zeroes in on whatever deep-fried item the appetizer menu offers. Usually that’s calamari but, at Andiamo, it’s onion rings ($3.75). Well, I love French-fried onions, too, although I have to say I find them an incongruous offering with Italian food.

Never mind, they were great: crispy, of course, and very lightly battered, and perfect with … chicken fried steak? That’s not on the menu, needless to say. But my guest ordered a menu standard that wasn’t in line with the red-sauce, pasta-pizza routine either, namely, grilled trout ($14.50).

It arrived lightly char-flavored, perfectly done without being overcooked, laced with capers and lemon, and accompanied by tiny, roasted heirloom potatoes and a pleasingly al dente sauté of zucchini. It was excellent.

My guest also is a low-carb, paleo-diet nut, so I knew the pasta experience would be left to me. I embraced it, opting for the day’s “blue-plate special,” chicken parmesan served over spaghetti ($13.50). It was quite nice: a generous helping of chicken-breast cutlets, lightly flattened, crisply breaded and finished with melted cheese.

But it was the pasta sauce I really admired. Tomato-y, yes. But light, bright orange rather than the dark red of out-of-a-can sauces, and just tinged with garlic and a hint of herbs. I would have liked a little more Parmesan sprinkled over and there was none offered separately at the table. Still, I demolished most of it, and vowed to experiment at home with the sauté pan and some fresh tomatoes.

Andiamo’s lunch menu includes some nice salads, with a variety of protein additions, including salmon and shrimp, as well as a soup du jour (split pea, the day we visited), plus a few panini sandwiches. The dinner menu is more elaborate, extending beyond pasta and pizza to the classic veal scaloppine, a fresh fish offering and pork tenderloin.

The dessert selections are likewise limited and classic. We opted for tiramisu (who can resist?) and panna cotta ($5.75 each). Each was very good. We liked the extra, bittersweet chocolate hit in the otherwise classic tiramisu. And I appreciated the light, very slightly tart flavor of the day’s yogurt panna cotta.

The menu said the pudding would be served with fresh fruit, a challenge in the throes of January. Well, it arrived with a puree of strawberries and an arrangement of apple slices. Very nice and about what I expected, given the season.

I should say I love panna cotta. Raised on classic egg custard (crème brûlée, minus the burnt-sugar topping), I was thrilled to discover this much-easier-to-make dairy dessert. Cream or milk, or yogurt, some sugar and some gelatin: So much simpler to make than cooked custard and no less delicious (and less fat, cholesterol and all those other things people worry about). It’s a wonder the dairy folk of the planet don’t adopt panna cotta as a mascot.

Service at Andiamo was perfectly paced and nicely unobtrusive. If we’d been on a lunch break from work, we would have met our schedule with no rush. Without that pressure, we were nonetheless pleased with Andiamo’s efficiency.

We also were refreshed by Andiamo’s location – a rambling old house on Garfield, just off Guadalupe Street – and its quirky decor, given to plain, but old, household objects, some nicely set off with frames or otherwise just fastened on the walls. Carpenter’s rulers? Very nice, displayed in their fold-out, zig-zag splendor. Paper doilies? In a frame, they look great. Otherwise, Andiamo has a spare and functional modern edge. As we said, a good place for a date or a modest celebration.

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