Dining Now in Santa Fe

Southwestern cuisine continues to evolve

Having survived its bout with trendiness, Southwestern cuisine continues to evolve, guided by Santa Fe's talented chefs. This city's remarkable dining scene ranges from unpretentious cafés to urbane restaurants where European and Asian influences meld with Southwestern traditions.

Service is crisp but cordial at The Old House, the highly rated dining room at the Eldorado Hotel. Chef Martín Rios, a New Mexican who trained in France, combines first-rate ingredients with flair, as in his goat-cheese ravioli set atop an artichoke-tomato-Portobello stew. The duck breast glazed with lavender honey, served with confit and creamy polenta, and the chocolate-fondue soufflé are both sensational. The room is romantic, with candlelight, whitewashed walls, and charming folk art. More than 20 wines are sold by the glass here, including Gruet's agreeable New Mexican sparkling wine. Dinner only. $90. At 309 W. San Francisco St.; 505-995-4508; fax 505-995-4543.

The food at Anasazi, the restaurant in the Inn of the Anasazi, can be like the decor: a tad too fussy. Though it's all pretty on the plate, some starters, like diablo shrimp with corn griddle cakes and avocado salsa, fade on the palate. But entrées like tuna mignon with a habanero-Merlot glaze, served with corn purée and seared spinach, and the grilled pork chop with apple-sage sauce, green-chile sweet-potato purée, and braised cabbage have earned Anasazi an enviable reputation. Among the excellent desserts, the cactus-pear sorbet is a revelation. The wide-ranging wine list includes New Mexican varieties. Dinner, $100. At 113 Washington Ave.; 505-988-3236; fax 505-988-3277.

Café Pasqual's was one of the earliest outposts of Nuevo Southwestern cuisine. After more than 20 years, people are still lining up outside to savor Katharine Kagel's zesty cooking. The menu shows a strong Mexican influence, with a nod to Asia: Chicken-mole enchiladas and chile-rubbed salmon are served alongside Thai green curry and spicy Vietnamese squid salad. It's a terrific place for breakfast (served until 3 p.m.), which ranges from bracing, chile-infused egg dishes and fried blue-and-yellow-cornmeal mush to smoked-trout hash. Dinner, $75. At 121 Don Gaspar Ave.; 505-983-9340; fax 505-988-4645.

The food at Ristra merits the term "haute Southwestern": Chef Xavier Grenet worked under three-star legend Joel Robuchon in Paris and now combines classic technique with regional flavors. Plump mussels are steamed with chipotle chiles and mint; ruby-red trout is served with a ratatouille of chayote squash, nopalitos (sautéed cactus leaves), and hoja santa (a Mexican herb). Elk is a frequent special, served on one visit with barley risotto, braised shallots, and sautéed asparagus. But Grenet and owner Eric Lamalle honor their French roots: You can finish with a cheese plate or a sweet Sauternes. Dinner only. $82. At 548 Agua Fria St.; 505-982-8608; fax 505-982-6790.

Two long-running favorites on Canyon Road's gallery gauntlet, Geronimo and The Compound, feature artful interiors and sophisticated food. Housed in a 245-year-old adobe with various seating areas (interior rooms, enclosed patio, porch), Geronimo has a masculine elegance, with leather-upholstered chairs and banquettes and an antler chandelier. Its version of a manly menu runs to juicy pork tenderloin served with sweet-potato flan, asparagus, and red onions in sun-dried cherry sauce. Regulars rave about the pepper-crusted elk tenderloin with mushroom-brandy sauce. A good bet at dinner: chef Eric DiStefano's three-course, $52 prix fixe menu. Dinner, $98. At 724 Canyon Rd.; 505-982-1500; fax 505-820-2083.

New ownership is giving foodies ample reason to revisit The Compound, once better known for its 1960s Alexander Girard interior and its lovely garden. Spanish and Mediterranean influences abound in chef Mark Kiffin's dishes, like sublime striped bass with roasted clams and chorizo-tomato broth, and halibut with herbed chanterelles, potato purée, and oxtail braise. Dinner, $90. At 653 Canyon Rd.; 505-982-4353; fax 505-982-4868.

The Shed, a colorful, family-run eatery, has been a local favorite since 1953. And it's still worth a visit for its red-chile sauce ladled over blue-corn burritos, carne adovado (roast pork), and other New Mexican standards. Dinner, $38. At 113H E. Palace Ave.; 505-982-9030; fax 505-982-0902.

Restaurant prices reflect a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverages and gratuity.