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Jan 25, 2014 11:05 AM

Joseph's of Santa Fe

I recently had the chance to get over to Joseph's of Santa Fe with a few chow-philic friends. I'd never been to Joseph's Table up in Taos, but I'd heard consistently favorable things about it, and was excited to try the Santa Fe incarnation of it. The meal wasn't quite a revelation, but it was very good top to bottom, and reasonable value for the price point as well, with the arguable exception of its wine list.

Located in the former Azur space near Sanbusco, the place is small, cozy, and welcoming, and although the staff seemed a little green, they had been trained well and were totally personable and knowledgeable.

The menu is unpretentious, upscale farm-to-table New American, using as many local ingredients as possible. As is so often the case at a restaurant like this, the starters seemed substantially more interesting, focused, and delicious than the mains. Standouts were a raw vegetable salad with a truffle vinaigrette and grilled polenta with chicken liver mousse. The entrees were fine, if remarkably large and a little overly blunt. My confit-style duck dish had two giant duck legs, which was particularly weird given the slightly smaller than average starter portions. Neither my entree nor tastes of anyone else's quite knocked my socks off, but they were all competently prepared, and the flavors were fresh and thoughtfully integrated. Desserts were above average, but nothing I'd expressly seek out again; a standout was the "cloud cake", a giant, fluffy Italian meringue cake in a caramel sauce, garnished with grapefruit and tarragon.

Overall, the prices are high, but far from exorbitant; all but one entree fell somewhere in the 20s. On the other hand, I thought the CA- and France-heavy wine list was kind of bizarrely chosen in terms of price, starting high but petering out short of the stratosphere. They have a few cheap (in all senses of the word) bottles in the 30s, the sweet spot seems to be around $80, and almost nothing on the list is above $150. Our Sinskey pinot noir ($78 at about a 100% markup) was possibly the highlight of the meal, but come on, it's not like it would require bending over backwards to offer a few more $30 or $40 bottles that don't suck. They also have a nice, short craft beer menu which would go really well with the bold food flavors.

Despite no hard liquor license, I was pleased to see they have a bar menu, the rarest of rarities in Santa Fe, including a great looking burger, as well as duck fat fries, all $14 or less.

So although I don't see myself becoming an uber-regular, Joseph's is a nice upscale addition to the city, and I'll definitely be glad to get back from time to time, especially with out-of-town guests.

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  1. Awesome summary, finlero. Thank you!

    1 Reply
    1. re: tenacity

      We have eaten at Restaurant Martin two or three times in the last year and they have really taken it up a notch. Their menu is season and interesting without being too trendy. Give it another try!

    2. Someone was asking about this recently on here. This is the first thorough review. Thanks, especially for the tip on the bar menu. Wish more places like this were open for lunch.

      1. Thanks for the thoughtful review, finlero. Can you (or anyone) tell me how Joseph's compares with Restaurant Martin? I haven't been to either but need somewhere to go for dinner with a visiting friend. Prefer a kind of imaginative menu with fresh ingredients, but how things taste is most important. Another thought was the new izakaya-style Japanese restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves, but online reviews are so mixed.

        9 Replies
        1. re: ninrn

          Joseph's and Martin are definitely birds of a feather in terms of price point and aesthetic, and I'm glad they're both around. At this point, though, my vote would go to Joseph's.

          It's been over a year since I've been to Martin, but I remember it as trying a little harder (too hard, IMHO) to have a trendy menu, while perhaps falling a little short on deliciousness. Joseph's has a more conventional menu of straight-ahead New American (local ingredients with a lot of low-fuss European preparations), but the flavors worked a little better for me than I remember them working at Martin.

          To me, Martin has a nominally less interesting wine list, but it's better balanced across the price spectrum, especially in terms of decent options south of 50 bucks. To my knowledge, neither restaurant has a hard liquor license.

            1. re: finlero

              P.S. We actually have a conversation going here--wow! How refreshing!

              Not to get too off topic, but someone posted a while back about Duel Brewery in Santa Fe. Any of you been there? We're planning to go on Saturday. We love good local beer and German food.

              1. re: sandiasingh

                I've been several times, it's quite good:


                The place seems a little disorganized, but both the beer and food are good and a little unusual for NM.

                1. re: finlero

                  Does that mean the service is bad?

                  1. re: sandiasingh

                    Not bad, per se, just not 100% ready for prime time in terms of how the place is managed.

                    One time I was there they were out of several of their flagship beers and had "guest taps" from Blue Corn Brewery; I've never had an especially good beer from BCB, so this was a bit of a disappointment. Another time the bartender had to change a keg, but couldn't figure out how, so he had to call an off-duty staffer to figure out how to do it.

                    Anyway, nothing crazy, and the people who run it seem pleasant enough. I'm sure they'll find a rhythm over time.

                    1. re: finlero

                      Great to know, fin. Thank you so much. Will report back.

                      1. re: finlero

                        Went to Duel Brewery the other day and the food was good. Pretty basic, but good quality. The beer was outstanding. We had just come from the Goya exhibit and I had a Goya Imperial Stout which was wonderful. The owner stopped by our table and said the beer was created about four years ago, long before the exhibit came. Other beers on his menu are named after painters as well. In fact, his own paintings hang in the bar.

                        Overall I'd say go for the beer but the food is just fine too. A real neighborhood place with some live entertainment.

              2. re: ninrn

                I haven't been to Joseph's yet, but went to Martin's shortly after he opened. Was not impressed and have not been back. The food was mediocre and it was loud and chaotic. Not my cup of tea.

              3. We went to Joseph's for my Mom's birthday a couple of weeks ago and had a lovely meal there -- probably the best higher-end restaurant meal I've had in New Mexico.

                The reason I didn't post earlier is that I'm kind of scratching my head as to whether it was the food itself that made the meal so nice, or the pretty space, the company, and the thinking behind the food.

                The ideas behind the dishes were really appealing. I love it when a restaurant meal teaches me something or leaves me with some interesting possibilities for cooking at home. Some things I'll definitely borrow from Joseph's are the wild greens vichyssoise, a really cool miso-coconut sauce, and the idea to lightly smoke trout, then crisp the skin in pure ghee so that (in theory) it's still cool and soft on one side, while hot and crunchy on the other. There's a more current approach to food here than there seems to be at a lot of restaurants in the state, and it doesn't seem strained or fake. The ingredients also seem to be of high quality.

                Everything tasted good or at least interesting, but I guess where I'm getting stuck is that nothing felt like it had quite evolved all the way, if that makes any sense. Even though I'm just a solid home cook with no real technique, I know I could do that sauce, the soup and the fish better at home in three or four tries, tweaking things every time.

                Maybe that's a downside of cook-what's-seasonal-and-local menus. Nothing gets perfected over years, or even months. Or maybe the arc to perfection just takes longer. But I couldn't help thinking a few times during dinner that I could get a meal like this or better at almost every farm-to-table restaurant in Portland for about two thirds or even half the cost (and with a better wine list).

                I feel a little guilty even writing these things, because it was a lovely meal, and I don't think there are many places in NM to get anything like it (maybe just Farm & Table in Albuquerque, which I've still not tried for dinner but my sister says is similar). And, Portland aside, in terms of value for money it compares pretty favorably with other fine dining in Santa Fe.

                I left Joseph's happy with the experience, but not feeling like I need to go back, except maybe to try the bar menu some time when I'm in the area.

                I'd put it in the category of 'Very Good' to 'Excellent' for New Mexico, and at a solid 'B' for effort & good intentions in any place with a livelier, more prosperous and creative food culture.

                Maybe Joseph's is still finding itself. If so, I hope it gets the support it needs to stick around and get better, because I think what they're aiming for is really great.

                1. finlero - thanks again for all your recommendations. Although we enjoyed our meal at Joseph's - it didn't begin to compare to Arroyo Vino - in food, presentation or quality of service.

                  a couple of employees of Joseph's made it a point to tell us that they were now considered the 'best' restaurant of S.F., much better than Geronimo's was repeated by both of them. Found it funny, especially the next evening when we ate at Arroyo Vino. Joseph's has a long way to go to even get close to Arroyo Vino.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: eatinman

                    Interesting, I'll definitely have to check out Arroyo Vino. To be fair, a restaurant's employees saying the restaurant is the best is a little like my mom telling me I'm cool ("But you are!"), but point taken all the same.