review: where’s my huitlacoche?…

Encandato Auberge & Resort, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2009)
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Dining at Terra, I’ve been told, can be a gamble. While Chef Charles Dale has good intentions, they don’t always translate on the plate.

I’d agree.

Terra is the flagship restaurant at the Encantado Auberge & Resort, tucked away in the hills outside of Santa Fe. Being one of the closest dining options to the Santa Fe Opera, and the opera being in its final string of performances for this year’s season, the restaurant was heavily trafficked while we were there.

It was booked solid for the early dinner slots the night we had tickets (the last night of the opera), so we decided to go late the evening before.

Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort
Santa Fe, New Mexico

The restaurant was full when we arrived around 8.30. We were seated at a four top that was, oddly, put lengthwise against the restaurant’s wall of windows.  With two of us facing the window and the third in our party sitting at our right angle, it was an awkward set up that afforded us a lovely view of the party of four seated at the patio table right outside the window, beyond which might have been some sky.

It took a while for our meal to get started. Once under way, it clipped along at a good pace.

The three of us each ordered a first course and a main course.  We shared two sides (*one of which was compliments of the chef) and two desserts.  CLICK HERE to see all of the photos from this dinner, or on the course titles for the individual photos.

***

Amuse Bouche
Eggplant bruschetta.

First Courses

Chilled Melon Soup
Crispy prosciutto and balsamic reduction. ($12)

Avocado, Grapefruit and Prawns
Bibb lettuce, hearts of palm, and citrus-mango vinaigrette. ($16)

Arugula and Hydro-Cress Salad
beets, prickly-pear dressing, Cabrales blue
and piñon-nut clusters. ($14)

Main Courses

Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Warm nopales salad, Huitlacoche tempura and corn crema. ($41)

Duo of Lamb
Roasted rack with a guajillo chili jus,
lamb shank tamale and tomato-tomatillo salsa. ($36)

Three Little Pigs
grilled tenderloin in adobo, crispy belly over edamame purée,
and pork cheek casuela with pumpkin seed mole. ($32)

Sides

Asparagus
Hollandaise ($9)

Spinach*
Sauteed with garlic and lemon. ($8)

Desserts

Americana
Served with its trio of lemon meringue,
strawberry shortcake, and peach cobbler. ($12)

Las Delicias d’Abuelita
Flan with orange caramel, anise-pine nut cake,
and Ibarra chocolate ice cream. ($12)

***

Chilled Melon Soup
Chilled Melon Soup
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort

The brimming basket of carbs that arrived early was pretty representative of the meal that followed: it looked much better than it tasted.  The savory corn biscuits (chiles and bacon) were dry and crumbly. The fry bread was way too oily, and a touch stale. I didn’t bother trying the ciabatta.

Some of the issues seemed to stem from a lack of focus. From the technical proficiency demonstrated in other areas of our meal, Terra’s kitchen is clearly capable of producing a perfectly fine Hollandaise sauce. Yet, it didn’t prevent the one served to us as an accompaniment for our side order of asparagus from being a lumpy, oily mess.  An overdressed and over-salted “Arugula and Hydro-Cress Salad and a bland side of sauteed spinach (which the chef personally brought to us with his regards) were unnecessarily sloppy mistakes as well.

Arugula and Hydro-Cress Salad
Arugula and Hydro-Cress Salad
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort

A couple of issues were more conceptual. For example, a drizzle of thick, dark balsamic reduction seized like hard caramel to the bowl when my “Chilled Melon Soup” was poured over it did.  What little I got from scraping it off the bowl was wonderful.  But the chef should have found another way to incorporate this into the soup.

That aside, however, the soup – a mellow, sweet canteloupe puree offset by the tang of rice vinegar – was delicious.  I liked it more than the chilled melon soup I had the night before at Geronimo, which was wan by comparison.

Dessert: Americana
“Americana”
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort

But this is not to say that our meal was joyless.  The “Avocado, Grapefruit and Prawns” was a great summer salad. A refreshing and generous jumble of tender Bibb lettuce, hearts of palm, prawns, grapefruit, and avocado all tied together with a fruity mango vinaigrette, any larger, this salad could have operated as a full dinner.

And the desserts ended the evening on a pleasantly strong note.

Assuming that it was named after the Nestle chocolate product, Abuelita, a frothy, spicy instant chocolate drink, “Las Delicias d’Abuelita” can only be described as ingenious.

The server had warned us that this was not flan in the traditional sense (I wasn’t aware there was another form of flan).  He said this flan was more like a foam.  I was imagining a bubbly topping.  In reality, it looked like insulation foam and had the texture of whipped pudding, a frothy approximation to the feel of Abuelita.  It coated a wonderful, moist  anise-pine nut cake. The side of spiced (touch of heat) Ibarra chocolate ice cream completed the effect. It wasn’t the most familiar or straightforward dessert, but it was delicious.

1st Course: Avocado, Grapefruit and Prawns
Avocado, Grapefruit and Prawns
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort

Americana,” on the other hand, was all about comfort and familiarity.

This dessert featured a trio of homey American desserts: strawberry shortcake (pretty terrific, with strawberry ice cream), peach cobbler (my favorite – topped with a buttery cake and blackberry sorbet – though plain Jane vanilla would have been even better), and lemon meringue with a hard meringue top (the curd was a bit too rich  for me- a sign of beaucoup de butter).

Our main courses waffled between disappointing and good.

Main Course: Duo of Lamb
Duo of Lamb
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort

On the lower end of that scale was the “Duo of Lamb.” The two rib chops looked immense but were largely fat.  What little meat there was was very tender, though not particularly flavorful. For $36 it was extremely disappointing.  Thankfully, the tamale, stuffed with a masa filling flecked with bits of lamb shank meat, was quite good. It helped save what was, without a doubt, the weakest dish of the evening, if not my entire trip to Santa Fe.

Ask me why I ordered the “Butter Poached Maine Lobster.”

Main Course: Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort

Answer: because of the huitlacoche tempura and nopales, of course.

Inexplicably, those two items were substituted with what seemed like green chiles and various mushrooms, including a generous (and so generous that I almost didn’t mind the substitution) helping of sliced lobster and oyster mushrooms.

The lobster tail meat was a tad on the firm side for butter-poached lobster. The claw was fine. The corn “crema” – a thick, creamy, and buttery, corn stew threaded with mushrooms and chiles – was very good. But I probably would have been just as pleased with a third of it. There was just too much of it.

Main Course: Three Little Pigs
“Three Little Pigs”
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort

The “Three Little Pigs” was easily the best in show. The pork belly was crisp on top and the strata of meat and fat were meltingly soft in between. The slightly sweet, dark glaze (I’m thinking blueberry sauce, but that doesn’t seem quite right) was terrific.

The casuela of jowl meat was entirely too oily, but it had fantastic flavor. The jowl meat had completely confited in its own fat until it was sublimely silky. I’m not sure what the purpose of the guacamole and salsa on top was, other than to add a splash of color.

The tenderloin probably could have been a touch more tender and moist. It was the least compelling of the three pork presentations. But it was by no means bad. I especially liked the adobo sauce that came with it.

Dessert: Las Delicias d'Abuelita
Las Delicias d’Abuelita
Terra at Encantado Auberge & Resort

At these prices, inconsistencies in the food – bland spinach, overdressed salad, fatty lamb, and a completely different lobster dish than what was listed – were inexcusable.

Service was more friendly than helpful or knowledgeable.  Actually, our server was thoroughly uninformed, save the helpful disclaimer he gave about the flan.

Chef Dale was in the house. He very pleased with himself, milling about the floor in his fashion denim and polished black boots.

If anyone is interested in visiting, I’d encourage you to do what we should have done: save your money and sit out on the patio (decent view, especially during the sunset hour) and order from the bar menu.

Terra
Encantado Auberge & Resort
198 State Road 592
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87506
877.262.4666

~ by ulterior epicure on September 27, 2009.

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