Ranking systems for restaurants allegedly are able to cover all sorts of attributes: quality, consistency, atmosphere, price, kid-friendliness, vegan dismay. But when I think of ranking a place like Corazón, the Guadalupe Street restaurant that more resembles a raucous bar (or at least a bare-bones lounge) than any kind of dining establishment, I wonder if five stars can be used as a measure of raw insanity?
Opening a bar in Santa Fe, given that New Mexico’s liquor laws appear to have been drafted in 17th-century Salem, is just stupid. Add the pricey rents and it’s borderline mental illness. Opening a restaurant here is an equally unsound endeavor, but with lower profit margins. So opening both, it stands to reason, indicates a double case of the manic mind monkeys.
Of course, if you’ve already hopped on the crazy train, you might as well ride up front. Enter chef Tim Butterly.
Butterly seems like the kind of guy who probably has a bloody hatchet tattooed beneath his shirt. He’s the uncle you wouldn’t leave alone with impressionable kids or spare car keys. He’s the guy who picks more than just chanterelles in the forest. And he takes a set of very sharp knives with him wherever he goes. So, you know, he fits right in.
Also, he can cook.
Since Corazón opened last spring, Butterly has been a one-man machine in the kitchen. He stocks, he orders, he inventories, he plans, he preps, he cooks, he plates, he cleans. “The deal I made is I don’t touch the cash register or take out the trash,” Butterly says, insinuating, for better or worse, he’ll do anything else.
After spending the last year spying on customers and detailing their habits regarding the basic, introductory menu that launched along with Corazón, Butterly recently slipped a new, significantly sexier menu into the mix.
I’ve heard some barely audible whining about the disappearance of the hummus plate but, if you ask me, it was always half-assed and served with broccoli stalks most likely rejected from the cafeteria at the state penitentiary. I hope it was terminated with prejudice and mild violence.
I do miss the outstanding $12 steak Butterly used to serve, and I just want to say in public that I’d pay $13 for it, so long as it’s made with local, grass-fed beef. The trio of small burgers (Corazón and I both refuse to call them “sliders”) is made from just such local protein and is worth ordering with the addition of sweet potato fries for $10. The blue cheese and bacon and the green chile and cheese are easy targets, but the caramelized onion burger is the surprising star, the sweetness of the onions initiating a reckless and sensual harmony with the rich, tender beef.
A smoked red chile posole offers both caveman satisfaction and complex flavoring. On those days that it’s cold enough to snap fingers off, $6 buys a personal thermonuclear core of the stuff. It ain’t high tech, but let’s keep it out of the hands of our enemies nonetheless.
Flash fried-artichoke hearts with an olive tapenade? That’s bar food that you can believe in.
A “three sisters” chile relleno plays on the Native American tradition of growing corn, beans and squash in harmonious companionship. Hell, maybe Butterly should be allowed to hang out with the children.
It doesn’t have to suck, Butterly says, just because it’s pub grub. He won’t be doing any culinary gunslinging, he claims—customers want something fast, affordable and consistent, rather than experimental and expensive—but he promises to keep ingredients fresh and seasonal as well.
By the time it’s warm enough for anyone other than smokers to want to hang out on the patio at Corazón, lunch will be in the works and the menu will get some further tweaking.
Already, though, Corazón has the right food at the right price. But be careful around the crazy: It’s contagious.
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