Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Compound Santa Fe Review and Geronimo

We chose to have our first "finer dining" Santa Fe meal at The Compound, as Chef Mark Kiffin recently cooked at a local home for the Naples, Florida Winter Wine Festival. While we had a very good meal at The Compound, we only later learned from locals that the best restaurant, higher end, is Geronimos, then Santacafe, with mainly tourists reading outdated Fodors still going to fallen Coyote Cafe, which "has lost it" since Mark Miller left.

The Compound is in a quaint adobe structure just off of tourist-laden Canyon Road that can easily serve 20 or cater a wedding for 250 people on its grounds. Inside, it's painted white, with a lower wooden roof, and sparse wall decoration in the main, first dining room. There's no real window view at night. Even though the place had less than 30 diners on a weekday off season, service was too slow waiting till our order was taken, then it picked up. Kudos to the man with bread, keeping plates replenished with slices of a good wheat bread, and a tastier olive bread.

Most of the diners are tourists, the same held for our experience, except for a larger table where two men were loudly pitching locals with investment plans. The lighting is low and nice. It can get noisy when full.
The menu, unfortunately, is not different in offerings or price from offerings in higher end spots in Chicago, NY, L.A., or say Washington, D.C.-there's sadly just not one appetizer, main, or dessert to let a visitor or local savor the delicious New Mexican cuisine unique to Northern New Mexico. The appetizers include Saltine Crusted Maine Crab Cake ($18), Iceberg "Wedge" with Bacon and Stilton dressing(13), Crispy Fried Oysters with Risotto (18), Seared South Carolina Quail with Pomegranate Gremolata (16), and Organic Baby Lettuce with Baby Tomatoes (13).

Having had a later lunch, I ordered two apps, instead of a main. The Short Rib of Beef Papardelle, with wild mushrooms, tomatoes and Parmesan Pepper Cress (17), is slow cooked and delicious.
The Sweetbreads and Foie Gras, with cayenne and sherry wine is rich, a good portion, and priced fairly at $18. The foie gras was correctly seared and rare, and the sweetbreads were slightly rubbery or chewy, overcooked a little, rather than desireably soft. They were still tender enough-the wonderful sauce covers up all glitches. We passed on the tempting Prickly Pear Margarita (12), with Herradura Silver Tequila, Cointreau, and Prickly Pear Puree.

There are 8 main courses, the "Classic" Buttermilk Roast Chicken with Foie Gras Pan Gravy for $26, and "Classic" Grilled Beef Tenderloin for $40. The menu changes seasonally. The main courses now are: Atlantic Salmon with Chorizo and Spanish Piquillo Pepper Stew (29), Sea Scallops "Diane" with Bacon, Cognac and Cream (32), Pork Porterhouse with Chutney and Moroccan Harissa (28), Lobster Bolognese with Pancetta (45), and Wild Mushrooms and Polenta (25), for vegetarians.
My partner had the Braised Lamb ($34), with Baked Goat Cheese Orzo and a tomato-red wine broth. The portion is large, properly cooked, and the equal of that at any finer restaurant in the USA. Our tablemates had the Buttermilk Roast Chicken, which they said was "good, not great for the price". For $26, I hope the "inexpensive" $26 Chicken becomes "great." The prices are higher than most other spots in town.
There's no mix of New Mexican cuisines at all, at these or lower prices. We're told that prices keep away many of the locals.
The Compound advertises in local publications, and has a steady, well heeled tourist business. Locals say it's better to be visited for lunch, where the Pastrami Sandwich is $16, Hamburger is $12, Chicken Schnitzel is $12, with a side of Sauteed Asparagus for $12, and Wild Mushrooms are $12.
Desserts include a signature Liquid Chocolate Cake (10), Carrot Cake (8), coconut Cream Pie (9), and daily Sorbets and Ice creams (7).

While it is a good meal at a high price point, they have lost a bit of their local following, as people choose other spots, for better value for their dining dollars. Properly cooked food overall, it lacks any Southwestern character, and could have been served in St Louis, Detroit, or Iowa City. That's not so attractive to diners visiting Santa Fe, a city famed for Southwestern cuisine. The service is not memorable. That's why I and others come to dine at this noted "Southwestern Chef's" restaurant, and are disappointed. These points may explain the Compound's decline.
The Compound is attempting to get the locals' dinner casual business, only on Wednesdays evenings, offering still pricey Fried Chicken for $15, Burgers for $12, Fish and Chips for $14, Mac n cheese for $10, Meatloaf for $14, and bottled water for $8, until season starts up. "Too little, too late. Way too high priced for supper burgers and meatloaf in this town-Mark's so completely out of touch with Santa Fe and the economy" one food-savvy local noted.
In comparison, our service and meal at nearby Geronimo's was superb, memorable, and comparable in price. Geronimo's setting is more elegant, "romantic" one woman said, and still the dress code is "nicer casual". Try Geronimo first, then The Compound, and let me know your impression. Santacafe is also well recommended.
653 Canyon Road, 982-4353


Anonymous said...

You need to fly back to update this cuz Geronimo has a different chef and different offerings. You are right about the two places. We liked Geronimo much better for its blend of spices, fresh food, and eye appeal of food and setting.
Come visit again, you need to try more than just a few Santa Fe spots to get a real taste of our Southwest.

Anonymous said...

The Compound is best left to tourists who want the same food they get "back home."

Dishes haven't changed since you visited (per 09/2010 menu),

Geronimo still has better food, a stunning setting and the pricing is better than Compound's.
Try Cafe Pasqual's for great South Western food at great prices in a fun setting. The Shed also gives a taste of Santa Fe food.

Things have not changed at the Compound. Their food style can be had anywhere in the USA. You traveled far to get to Santa Fe, so bypass the Compound and others, and get very good local food to enjoy the true rich flavors of New Mexico.