Santa Fean Dining Review

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“A longtime local restaurant is wonderfully reinvented”

In this era of celebrity chefs and television personalities who cook garnering major media attention—whether warranted or not–it’s wonderful to discover a culinary talent someplace unexpected. Such was the case during a truly delicious meal I recently enjoyed in a hotel restaurant that’s gone in and out of vogue but is ready to reclaim a prominent gastronomic position.

Previously, Amaya, in Hotel Santa Fe, featured a menu that reflected the hotel’s Native American ownership and theme. That effect has been toned down vastly, and I think it’s freed up Chef Rodney Estrada’s creativity. There are still many touches of indigenous ingredients–squash, beans, duck, corn—but every dish my companions and I sampled seemed to be inspired by flavors and modern trends, and they were all crazy scrumptious.

Chef Estrada started us off with a one-bite amuse-bouche, composed of a corn chip, creamy black-bean spread, house-cured gravlax, and zippy Habanero citrus drizzle — delish! The gluten-free corn muffins served in the bread basket were so delicate and tasty, despite the lack of flour, that we asked for two refills.

The salads were a knockout Although I’m ready for the kale craze to be over, Amaya’s Kale C
aesar is anything but cliché, topped with crispy garbanzos, Cotija cheese, and fiery chipotle dressing. A roasted beet and pear salad with goat cheese and walnut vinaigrette was as delicious as it was photogenic (as were all the dish designs).

While Amaya’s menu still features indigenous ingredients, every dish seems to be inspired by flavors and modern trends

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A favorite main course for the table was the seared sea scallops, which teetered on hunks (yes, hunks) of crispy pork belly reposed on a bed of green lentil puree—Chef Estrada’s clever take on surf and turf Perfectly moist and tender seared Atlantic salmon came on a tangle of squid-ink pasta with mussels, littleneck clams, and a rich saffron broth—we sopped up the sauce and then licked the bowl. Even a simple roasted chicken breast was special, with cranberries and spiced apples paired beautifully with a curry squash sauce. Vegetarians will love the red beet and black bean cake, which looks like a giant burger and has a smoky, meaty flavor, Our Cakebread sauvignon blanc was crisp and right for spring. Warm apple pear strudel and maple creme brillee probably weren’t a good idea given the impending swimsuit season, but we gobbled them up. Food this good is meant to be enjoyed.

I learned that amaya is a Tewa word meaning -I am brave.” Chef Estrada’s confidence when it comes to rustling and roping aggressive flavors makes him a force to be tastily reckoned with. Go get ’em! — JV