Sunday, August 03, 2008

Santa Fe: FUEGO at LA POSADA passes with posh plates

I have stayed at La POSADA many times and dined at Fuego, their fine dining spot, many times, but it seems they have been plagued with a revolving door for chefs over the years. Only recently, Mary Nearn (whose stellar history can be read here) took over and revamped the menu, but the ambience and class of the spot still remain adjoining the grand old mansion of Santa Fe, the Staab House.

I chose FUEGO for my client dinner which turned out to be a tete-a-tete with the world's most famous countertenor due to cancellations and no shows, but we both had a superb time and enjoyed every morel and word. We joked with the two captains (to call them servers would be demeaning) about how they called us "sir," as if graduates of a military academy. Indeed, the service was perfect, save for one time I had to pour our red wine. There was the case of the busboys who sometimes serving us not being sure of what the dish was; I think it was more of a language barrier, which shocked me in a 4 diamond restaurant.

The lighting was also a bit too low and was raised upon request so we could enjoy and see the food even better, We looked at the menu and asked about the tasting menus that Fuego has been famous for, only to be told that Chef Nearn had done away with them for an all a la carte menu, but we could have a 7-course option if we liked and choose anything specific we liked from the menu. We did, and insisted only on the sweetbreads.

The restaurant seemed to have no more than three or four occupied tables, perhaps because it was a Sunday? I asked if Chef Nearn was in and they said yes, but we never did get the chance to meet her.

After cocktails, we ordered a bottle of DOMAINE SERENE CHARDONNAY "Clos du Soleil" 2002 from Oregon which, like northwestern chards, was very fruit forward and low on oak...superb taste and a great pairing with the dishes to come. The Amuse was SMOKED SALMON on Herb Blini with Mache and Chive Oil. It was nice, but did not really excite my palate for what was to come....

First was the WHITE & GREEN ASPARAGUS with ASPARAGUS Coulis, Carrot Puree, Fingerling POTATO CHIPS and Cypress Salt. A light dish for sure, but full of exciting flavors. We really got turned on by the Poached and Sauteed SWEETBREADS wrapped in ITALIAN HAM on MUSTARD GREENS with REDEYE GRAVY, which I learned is a southern treat based on a simple roux with coffee added. It was an ingenious combination of flavors and truly thrilled our palates.

Pan Seared DIVER SCALLOP with LEEK VELOUTE, BABY RADISH & Micro Greens was an exquisitely delicate dish that ended the first section of the meal, followed by a yummy MANGO SORBERT palate cleanser.

We switched to red wine with a LANG & REED CABERNET FRANC 2004 recommended by our captain and it was a real budget find at $40-something with lots of body and flavor with a slight tartness, bigger than the Virginia Cab Fracs we like and perfect with the meat course, but especially the cheese to follow.

DUCK BREAST with Confit of DUCK & PEACHES and Baby Fennel was our main entree and even though I am not a fennel fan, the mild baby fennel was a nice touch to the superb duck and peaches combination that really did fill us up.

We were given the choice of dessert or cheese and quickly chose the latter having seen the wonderful cheese trolley at the entrance. We did right...our captain came over and in a display of what I have never seen before, proffered a taste of each cheese to both of us with a complete explanation. It gave us the opportunity to try them all and then choose the four or five we liked best for our plates. It's a shame this is not done more often.

GRUYERE CRU from Virginia was more liked a reserve gouda with a bit of crunchiness (Samuel would have loved this). Cowgirl Creamery's RED HAWK was another treat OSAU IRTAY (sp?) was a Basque sheep. Two chevre cheeses followed and then there were two blues. TAYLOR STILTON was mild and crunchy and PERSEILLE de MALZUE was a molten Roquefort that had my guest in heavenly ecstasy, especially when combined with a fresh lavender honey.

The plates came with apples and bread (I skipped most of that) and two salts for flavoring the goat cheeses: Fleur de Sel from Brittany and ALEA, red sea salt.

Small postludes of mini-CHEESECAKES finished off the evening as we rolled out.

I must only say that if count everything including the amuse and sorbet (not the cheesecake) it does add up to 7 courses. Usually, I don't include the amuse (and sometimes not the sorbet) in the course count. We were full enough not to be upset, but I would have gladly had a smaller portion of the duck and an extra course, perhaps the quail & beets??

Oh well, there's always next time.