Unless you’re visiting Santa Fe for the Edible Art Tour – when restaurants team up with galleries – it’s challenging and expensive to experience the city’s fine dining scene in one visit. However, many high-end restaurants offer bar menus, whose selection and, in some instances, portions are smaller, but so too are the prices. These five under-advertised menus give a whole new meaning to the term “bar crawl.”
Geronimo is frequently lauded as the pinnacle of fine dining in Santa Fe. To experience the institution without shelling out big bucks, head to the lounge. It contains only five tables and a short bar which fill up fast. Once you announce your intention to dine, a server rushes to conceal the rustic table beneath a cloth and arrange silverware at creative angles. But even in the lounge, you receive the signature Geronimo treatment. For a full meal, order the kobe beef slider trio. These thick patties are topped with coleslaw and doused with hoisin ketchup, which adds an unexpected sweet tang. For a lighter option, try the Wasabi Caesar salad. This reinterpretation of the classic relegates anchovies to the side (an improvement), allows adult tater tots to masquerade as croutons, and enhances the dressing with a tingle of wasabi.
Best for: date night on a budget.
Drink: the City Different, a cosmo with a fresh cranberry infusion.
The dim lighting, copper-topped bar, and nature-inspired décor create a low-key yet intimate atmosphere. It’s easy to make a meal out of the bar menu, particularly if you select heartier fare like the duck confit. The duck leg – crispy on the outside and succulent in the center – is paired with creamed potatoes (amped up with a touch of green chile) and green beans. For a lighter bite, combine one of the salads with a cup of soup. During winter months, this often means Ristra’s butternut squash soup, with a texture like liquid velvet.
Best for: hanging out with friends, a casual date.
Drink: the French martini, which has a delicate raspberry flavor.
An extensive wine-by-the-glass selection spans the globe, from Sonoma to Mendoza and Alsace – fitting for a French bistro. The portions on the 315 bar menu do fluctuate significantly. The petite New York strip steak is sufficient for a light meal, but the vegetable tower would be better described as a hillock. It’s smart to stick to the steak anyway, because it comes with frites. These crunchy potato party streamers are certainly cause for celebration.
Best for: hanging out with friends.
Drink: Wine! The wine menu could double as a novella. I savored a Grenache Blanc.
SantaCafe is located in the historic Padre Gallegos House. In the nineteenth century, it was home to Congressman and defrocked priest Jose Manual Gallegos. Entering the bar involves stepping over a plexiglass panel, which covers the stone shaft of the original well. The menu features Asian-inspired dishes such as shrimp and spinach dumplings. The latter arrives, surfing on a wave of peanut, tahini and ponzu sauce, which is addictive enough to drink as soup. Ponzu is also a key ingredient in the Southwest dipping sauce that accompanies the spring rolls. Neither is enough for a complete meal but that leaves room for dessert – an arena where SantaCafe excels.
Best for: the solo diner – the bartender goes out of his way to make introductions.
Drink: a reserve wine such as the Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc.
Attached to fine dining restaurant Tanti Luce, Bar 221 is casual but bustling, especially on Friday nights. This is the least pretentious bar of the bunch and it serves high quality comfort food. The Bar 221 version of chile rellenos involves a lightly breaded chile, stuffed with goat cheese from an award-winning, New Mexican dairy. The dish is drizzled with a pomegranate molasses sauce that tempers heat with sweetness. The Italian sausage, mushroom and onion pizza is a filling choice and the abundant herbs ensconced in the tortilla thin crust set it apart.
Best for: groups (providing you arrive early to claim a table).
Drink: Salad in a Glass, which combines a balsamic reduction glaze, cucumber vodka and a tomato mozzarella skewer.
Many of Santa Fe’s bar menus change seasonally. Even if a restaurant advertises its menu, the actual offerings may vary from the online sample.
Restaurants like 315 and Geronimo provide customers with an array of menus, including the full menu for the main restaurant. Be careful which you order from. All the dishes mentioned here were under $15, but straying from the bar menu proves costly.