Eating organic is no longer good enough for the cool kids.
If it ain’t local, it’s barely edible.
And now that locavoraciousness has permeated the mainstream mindset and trickled into the brisket brains of food TV fans, restaurants are racing to localwash their menus.
In Santa Fe, where the locavore scene has been spreading like monkeys without a chaperone for several years (SFR has published a locavore’s guide, Devour, for the past two years), touting ingredients as “local” no longer cuts it: You’ve got to name specific farmers.
There’s no “farmwashing” per se going on in Santa Fe—and the practice may yet prove to be community building—but it’s an awfully name-droppy exercise thus far. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Matt Romero’s name (of Dixon’s Romero Farms) scribbled on chalk boards and printed on menus around town in recent weeks.
The menu at Tabla De Los Santos is the most enthusiastic example. Chef Estevan Garcia, formerly of the now-defunct Café San Estevan (where the food waffled between acceptable and genius), is a New Mexico native and his menu is peppered with personal stories about cooking with his grandmother and the names of several area farms and farmers (including Romero). It’s tempting to call it neighborwashing, but the intimate asides ring true enough and the freshness and quality is undebatable. A simple pile of mixed greens, for example, was positively corpulent.
Tabla De Los Santos is the house restaurant of the newly reworked Hotel St. Francis. The aggressive interior remodel by boutique hotel chain Heritage Hotels & Resorts is a slap in the face of history that gives one a rightful trepidation about patronizing the restaurant and what used to be a locals’ bar. What was once a classic hotel has been manhandled into a Franciscan-themed tourist ride—a monk’s aesthetic for elite travelers with no-limit credit cards. That Santa Fe’s history may be so readily mocked by fanciful reinvention is testament to the pretension, rather than the practice, of local historic preservation. Until buildings, both historic and contemporary, are treated as whole entities, preservation is little more than a facade.
Tabla means table. But unlike the more traditional Spanish term mesa, tabla implies a simple plank, fitting with the minimal tune of the interior and feeding the Franciscan fantasy. Garcia, a former Franciscan himself, also fits the image to a tee. But the restaurant manages to be a bright spot in an otherwise depressing situation. Even if Garcia’s insider tales and farm stories are diluted in being designed to appeal to a decidedly non-local audience, his dishes offer a powerful absolution.
A recent lunch of chicken paillard and greens (taken in the blissfully untransformed exterior courtyard, thank you) was joyously non-ascetic in its luxuriant indulgence. The chicken, tenderized with a penitent beating, was grilled with lemon and butter. It sat on the tongue like an erotic massage, but was mercifully light in the stomach. The salad was an unreasonably healthy bacchanal of carrot, onion, turnip, radish, tomato and lemon cucumber. It’s rare that a dish so easily prepared at home can make one stare at the kitchen with futility and head out the door, but this dish only inspired a return to Tabla De Los Santos—emulation seems a bleak prospect.
Is there hope for Tabla De Los Santos and the hotel bar, renamed Secreto Bar and Loggia, to overcome the handicap of Heritage Hotels & Resorts? Hard to say. If Garcia welcomes, rather than merely markets, his favorite farms and neighbors, perhaps locals will grudgingly learn to love at least some of the new St. Francis. I was told the bar will stop serving food at 8:30 or 9 pm, which is a strike against it—the old St. Francis bar was a reliable late-night meal in a town of tragically early dinners.
Hotel St. Francis Grand Re-opening: Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3 and 4