Thursday, November 4, 2010

Santa Fe Redux

When word was announced that Santa Fe was reopening in the former location of Gabrielle, no person in the City of New Orleans was more excited than... my father. Growing up we hardly ever dined out as a family, but my parents would often go out to eat on Saturday night with friends. The kids stayed home and ate whatever was in the freezer, and my parents would go to Lola's or Mr. Ed's or (if my Dad got his way) Santa Fe. He would order the same dish every time: seafood enchiladas. When they returned home from dinner, I would ask how the food was, and my Dad would always say: "It was awesome."

The primary purpose of those dinners was to get away from us kids, so I never got to go. I did dine at Santa Fe on my own before the storm, but the primary purpose of those dinners was to drink margaritas.

When Santa Fe reopened in April 2009, I went twice within the first 2 months. Both meals were marked by average food and awful service, namely an hour plus span between appetizer and entree. The waitstaff was apologetic enough, but the manager offered a sarcastic retort (read, she was a huge b*tch) when I informed her of the delay in the back of the house: "Yeah, we're running at 48 minutes on entrees right now. Looks like yours is at an hour, which is about standard."

Umm, wrong answer.

Needless to say, I was not itching to return. Turns out it would be nearly 18 months before I gave Santa Fe a third try. This was a different dining experience than my first two visits, with much improved service and a newly built overhang which makes outdoor seating even more pleasant. I wonder if the management structure has changed, considering that a recent Gambit article profiles Lale Ergun and Carlos Lourenco as co-owners as of August 2009. (In April 2009, all of the media coverage specified Alan Gilbert as the mastermind behind the reopening.)

Our meal began with an excellent rendition of guacamole with the texture of creamy, lumpy, chunky, bumpy avocado salad. Santa Fe has always been well known for its margaritas, which are deliciously potent but expensive ($9 for a 12oz. top shelf version). The house salsa is more sweet than spicy, yet still tastes fresh. The chips are straight from a bag.

When I told an acquaintance of my first 2 sub-par visits to Santa Fe, he gave me the classic "You ordered wrong" defense and advised that "It's all about the Chicken Maximillian." So here it came, a tender and juicy chicken breast folded over a melting mixture of cheese and chorizo. My only qualm was that the chicken needed to be seasoned a bit more aggressively. On the other hand, the medley of sauteed squash, peppers, and onions was cooked and seasoned with an expert hand, though rice pilaf next door was of the cheap "converted" variety with an awful texture.

Filet mignon tacos had an abundance of beef, but the charred flavor overwhelmed the dish to a fault. I would have appreciated the inclusion of rice and beans, even if the price would have jumped up from the menu listing of $15.

Overall, this third visit was much improved from the previous two, but the lust for Santa Fe is not a trait that I inherited from my father. This version of Southwest/Latin fare is, for the most part, well executed, but different from the no frills Mexican that I have grown so fond of. Still, those fans of the old Santa Fe will likely taste bits of nostalgia in the resurrection.

Santa Fe - Par

3201 Esplanade Avenue
(504) 948-0077


Peter said...

still a double bogey in my estimation - you are FAR too kind

KS said...

wow at least your father's haunt was Santa Fe. I've been in the city 11 years now, since moving from MS to go to Tulane (wow, I'm getting up there). Anway, in 11 years everytime my mother has picked the restaurant, Superior Grill. Met her yesterday for lunch. I do not, I reiterate, DO NOT, go there without her.

Rene said...

Does anyone remember Vacqueryos (sp?) on Prytania where La Thai is now?

In thinking back, they may have been the best Mexican restaurant in New Orleans. Now, going completely on memory, but they had a lady in the back who would make tortillas constantly. Was it good or not?

Peter said...


After the first two visits, Santa Fe had put its first two balls in the water and was headed for double bogey land. But to be fair, both visits were within a month of opening.

This third visit had monumental improvement, but I did not leave with the desire to return. Perhaps I was blinded by the leaps and bounds that service had made in the interim?

I'm starting to wonder if my love for taco trucks and chicharron has clouded my judgment of "higher class" Mexican/Latin/Southwestern cuisine.


Anonymous said...

This Peter talking to Peter thing is confusing.

TheFolkSinger said...

Much to Peter's chagrin, my favorite Mexican place in NOLA is Caretta's on Vets.

Jones said...

TFS, yeah you right about Carreta's on vets. When I need a lay-up/guarantee mexican fix, that's the place if my proximity is right. Otherwise, DF Tacos on S. Claiborne continues to hit shot after shot from way downtown. I know margs and table service aren't involved and it's not really a fair fight, but if it's about the food, that's the place.

Just curious, has anyone tried La Carreta (sp?) on the Northshore? Different owners, different experience--in a much improved/refined way.

PS if you haven't heard it yet, then I stake my claim to fame. A local biz owner has been eyeballin' a place in the LV (Lakeview for all you UPT readers). He's looking to do something (mexican) that nola has lacked for, well, eternity. Let's just hope that it pans out & he sticks to his need for addt'l tex mex in this city.

Peter said...


"Higher class" and Santa Fe" do not belong in the same paragraph!

I didn't like anything about this place (other than their margaritas) when they were on Frenchman, and they have not become any more appealing in their new location.

Superior Grill and Chilli's are better choices!