Saturday, August 05, 2006

Casa Sena's serene setting in SANTA FE(NM) with so-so Southwestern cuisine

I arrived here in New Mexico at 4:30pm yesterday, quickly got my luggage and car and headed on the hour drive north to Santa Fe where I quickly settled in to my mediocre, yet inexpensive hotel room (I move to the suite in the fancy hotel on Thursday when Will & Samuel join me!).

Before you could say "unpack," I was headed downtown for dinner at the always highly rated and well regarded CASA SENA. I haven't been to Santa Fe for three years (perhaps the longest break ever since I started coming here in the 80's), and it's been even longer since I dined at La CASA SENA ( and it was a wonderful feeling to enter the courtyard of the adobe buildings with their adorable blue trim. The slate patio (it was a gorgeous night for outdoor dining--75 degrees and DRY) has many white clothed tables and truly uncomfortable wrought iron chairs in need of new cushions, but the twinkly lights in the trees with the giant umbrellas covering the tables (in case of a sprinkle), along with the 10-foot around giant cottonwood tree in the courtyard made me feel so at ease. As I ordered the tasting menu and sipped a glass of GRUET BRUT ROSE N/V from New Mexico (which actually tastes more dry rose wine-like than most French rose champagnes) the sky above turned all those wonderful sunset colors that New Mexico is famous for.

The Chef's Tasting menu at Casa Sena is a new offering from Chef Patrick Gharrity and at $60 for the food (an extra $28 for the wines, the Gruet was extra) it seemed like a pretty good option.

I started with FRESH APRICOT-GOAT CHEESE SQUASH BLOSSOMS with Ancho Chile Maple Syrup. This was a scrumptious and rich dish and could also have been served after dinner as a salad type course. The barely 3 ounce pour of MULLER-CATOIR RIESLING, Spatlese "Haardter Burgengarten" 2001 was from Pfaltz, and had a semi-sweetness to it that many Germany Rieslings do. A hint of apricot made it pair brilliantly with the dish and the interaction actually created a wonderful acidity in the wine. I couldn't help feeling how wonderful those apricot after tones would be if this were a late harvest wine!

Next came a refreshing GRILLED CRENSHAW MELON & ROMAINE HEARTS SALAD with Guava Vinaigrette, Cotija Cheese which can best be explained as a Southwestern fruity Ceasar. The slightly tight CURRAN, Grenache Blacn 2005 Santa Ynez (Calif) actually worked much better with the food!

A PASSION FRUIT HABANERA GRANITA with mint and edible pansy came next. To call it a palate cleanser is almost defeatist, as the habanero is so intense. A bit of the wonderful bread with the sundried-tomato butter did calm my taste buds.

I asked my server for a pause and to also be sure the meat was between rare and medium rare, and about 15 minutes later my GRILLED ELK RIB CHOP with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms, Wild Rice, White Fig-Veal Jus came to the table virtually raw. I could hear the poor animal making whatever sound an elk makes. So I drank my SILVER OAK Cabernet 2002 Alexander Valley as I waited for the dish to return. I had to ask a couple of times for a refill on the Cab when my elk returned, and finally got another 2 ounces or so. The meat was decent, but nothing exciting, and it was here that I began to feel that the meal was not what I really wanted.

Dessert confirmed my thoughts, so I had TWO GREAT courses and two mediocre ones. The APRICOT-BASIL TARTLETTE with Morello Cherry Sauce was fruity and tasty as I do like fruit desserts, but there was not enough cherry sauce to cover the intense basil flavor that virtually covered up most of the apricot taste. An AGROS MUSCAT de RIO 2002 from Greece was a wonderful finish to my meal. It is thicker than a traditional moscato from Italy and very herbaceous with a wonderful sweet taste that left me going home feeling sweet (if not fully thrilled) and ready for my upcoming week and a half in New Mexico.