The New New Mexican
Santa Fe distinguishes itself from the enchilada places with a fusion menu that takes a left at Albuquerque and makes a bold step in a much-needed direction.
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But it’s Santa Fe’s platos fuertes that allow Tagle to showcase his chops. The entrées, mostly Santa Fe originals, beam with ideas. The idea of distinctive Latin cuisine manifests in dishes like pan-roasted grouper nestled atop beet-infused angel hair pasta salad with zucchini and yellow squash drizzled in poblano-lime vinagreta.
Elsewhere, a salmon filet’s crispy, flour-dipped crust danced with a salsa of tomatillo and mango to create a soothing contrast of textures and temperatures. Even better was an accompanying tamal, wrapped like a gift in a corn husk. The creamy, delicate masa burst with warmth. Its barely caramelized exterior, imparted with toasty, roasted-corn robustez, sent my tongue hitchhiking to Veracruz.
The Blue Rocks would be slick to go old-school Chicago and sell Sante Fe tamales at Frawley Stadium, perhaps with some of Tagle’s piquant mole sauce. Mole is a Mexican standard that practically every household does differently. Santa Fe’s is everything a great mole should be. Topping an otherwise OK chicken breast stuffed with chorizo, the ruddy-sauce released layer after layer of flavors over time—at first wonderfully pungent and bittersweet, then taking the bus tour through a spice rack (you’ll detect hints of cinnamon, cumin, anise and chile peppers) before a final wave of heat takes over like an afterburner.
Though Tagle’s forward-thinking big plates were the clear stars of the menu, his traditional (albeit safe) tacos and enchiladas were delicious, especially the tacos al pastor, which harbor tangy-sweet pineapple nibs that stand up strong to spiced chunks of pork. Even simple black bean dip impressed. Presented with the requisite basket of chips, it integrated chorizo sausage and creamy cotija cheese with mashed black beans.
Short rib spring rolls disappointed, but only mildly. I liked the crispy, non-greasy shell, but why fry a spring roll filled with short rib? The crunchy wrapping detracted from the typically Jell-O-soft texture of the meat. It’s easy to confuse these with their South Philly cousin, the cheesesteak egg rolls found at your neighborhood tavern.
A few other minor follies indicated Santa Fe could stand to iron out a kink or two. Shredded pork empanadas—with tender, flaky, gently sweetened plantain masa crust and roasted tomatillo sauce—exuded homemade charm, but the deep-fried bundles could’ve used a bit more time to drain. A river of oil the size of the San Juan streamed down my arms with each bite.
Page 3: The New New Mexican, continues...