What becomes a legend most.

What becomes a legend most.

Amuse-Bouche [Culinary Musings]

What becomes a legend most

Molly Boyle | Posted 3 hours ago

“She was a typical madam — a jolly, fat blonde. She was a hell of a great gal, and she started El Nido. The first saloon,” recalls Charles “Chuck” Barrows in Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog, John Pen La Farge’s oral history of Santa Fe. El Nido — the recently revamped spot in Tesuque whose name means “the nest” — has long been a local touchstone. For more than 80 years before El Nido’s closing in 2010, its adobe walls variously housed that 1930s-era den of ill repute; a diverse dance hall and democratic juke joint where atomic secrets were rumored to have been imparted by tippling Los Alamos scientists; a world-class flamenco cabaret; and a fine dining establishment known for its efficient pre-opera service of steaks, lobster tails, and oysters Rockefeller. The storied digs are remembered by La Farge’s old-timer interviewees as “a nice place where you could dance” and “the food was really good” — it was “a big hangout” where at least one owner “made sure that we didn’t disappear around the corner with anybody.”

In November, chef Enrique Guerrero opened the most elegant incarnation of El Nido yet, a sparkling trattoria serving wood-fired entrees, pizzas, and handmade pastas. Guerrero punched a culinary-credibility card at the French Laundry and Le Cirque before putting his stamp on several eateries in Santa Fe, including the dearly departed La Mancha at the Galisteo Inn, the now-sold Mangiamo Pronto!, and the beloved bright-orange Bang Bite Filling Station food truck. It’s evident this chef can’t sit still for long, and at El Nido, he wields a restless, lavish creativity that suffuses most of the cuisine and the vibe of the restaurant.

On each of two visits, a different type of aromatic wood fired many of the appetizers, entrees, and pizzas on the kitchen’s open-flame hearth in the middle of the restaurant: One night a server informed us that it was mesquite, the sweet scent of which lingered in the chill outside after dinner. Another night, Guerrero had used cedar.

The kitchen may already be churning out classics in the making — and that hearth burns as brightly as I imagine the old El Nido’s did. The sleek main dining room features outsize landscapes by John Hogan among its whitewashed vigas and kiva-warmed nook. A kitchenside bar affords a view of burnished rotisserie chickens on a spit or flatbreads sliding ovenward. Soon after you’re seated, a small enticement of battered and fried salt-and-pepper chickpeas with lemon zest and serrano peppers is placed on the table; the light, addictive snack portends the good times ahead.

Everything cooked over the fire makes for a solid dinner plan, but especially the pizza. Arriving on bubbly ash-painted flatbread that leaves a fine dust on the fingers, the Invernale pizza is dotted with hunks of roasted butternut squash, spreading milky pools of burrata, and spears of fried sage and is brushed strategically with black-pepper honey. On another appetizer plate, a line of plump grilled scampi forded a river of melted garlic butter and basil flecked with hot peppers and two crispy sails of crackling prosciutto, served with more pillowy, barely salty flatbread for sopping purposes.

Each of the options chosen from the Rosticceria portion of the menu bore out their mesquite-cooked flavors differently: The rotisserie chicken al limoncello was a velvety-tender half-bird over crispy roasted potatoes; the accompanying mermelatta di limoncello made a nearly too-sweet pair with stalks of grilled broccolini. The salmon al passato — topped with a blistered-tomato conserva and resting on garlicky polenta and glossy sautéed spinach — was a balancing act, the mild smokiness of the wood bringing out the richness of the fish. Portions, uniformly sizeable, mostly correspond with their price.

Chianti-stained pappardelle in a robust wild boar ragù under a shower of sharp Montasio cheese is a bowl of seductive comfort, save for a sizeable hunk of fat and a few glued-together noodles. Better yet is the Figgy Piggy, a radiant honey-brined pork loin over delicate Gorgonzola-creamed pastina and bold charred radicchio. Topped by a dessert-worthy roasted fig and pear conserva, this dish brought to mind the earnest distinction of Guerrero’s Bang Bite concoctions (like the bacon-and-Amish-blue cheeseburger with maple-bacon jam and garlic aioli). Wines by the glass include the refined and local Vivác Sangiovese, a crisp Cantina Zaccagnini Rosé, and a soft Zaccagnini Montepulciano.

While it’s a far cry from “some slapped-together booths with green barn paint,” as one of La Farge’s fogies recalled it, the new El Nido boasts a nestier back bar area — a dimmer and quieter place to disappear around a corner with someone on a cold night. I heard tell from a server in that room that 150 more seats open on the patio come spring, so that clandestine feeling may not last into opera season. But for now, while sipping a glass of something and listening to the Rat Pack-heavy soundtrack, it’s possible for a soft-focus, romantic nostalgia to filter through that cozy back room. You may wish to sit back and let Dean Martin croon you to a vintage flight of fancy, “way up to the clouds, away from the maddening crowds.” ◀

Tesuque's El Nido - the name's the same but...

Tesuque's El Nido - the name's the same but...

Tesuque’s El Nido – the name’s the same, but…


After an almost seven year hiatus, a Santa Fe dining legend is back. Tesuque’s original El Nido, which started in the 1920s as a roadhouse and morphed into a traditional steakhouse, drew diners both from the neighborhood and the surrounding area for over eight decades. In January 2010, much to the disappointment of its regulars, it closed its doors. It reopened in late November with a new look and new menu concept.

 A bit about the new El Nid0

The entrance to El Nido, photo/Steve Collins

We ate at the old El Nido only once. I remember it as being very Santa Fe adobe with banquettes and a dark interior. The dining rooms at the new El Nido – which subtitles itself “Wood Fired Italian Steakhouse are light and bright with a contemporary feel. Art from the nearby Glen Green Gallery adorns the walls and nichos.

El Nido’s main dining room, photo/Steve Collins

The cozy barroom, with booths along the wall, still sports the colorful Santa Fe-style hand-painted window surrounds that have been there for decades. On a cold winter’s evening a wood fire merrily burns in the fireplace at the back of the main dining room.

The wood fueled grill and rotisserie, photo Steve Collins

A counter with chairs stretches along the opening to the kitchen where a massive wood grill/rotisserie has pride of place. There’s also a wood-fueled forno for the pizza and the restaurants signature flat bread. About 80 percent of the food is cooked using wood. Service is friendly and competent.

The Chef

Chef Enrique Guerero in the back of the Bang Bite food truck kitchen, photo Steve Collins

Who’s behind this phoenix-like rise from neglect? Mexican-born Chef Enrique Guerrero is the front-man working with the building’s owners. His local cooking credits include La Casa Sena and the highly-praised La Mancha that was at the now-closed Galisteo Inn. His latest venture was the Bang Bite Food Trucks which have what Steve calls “the best fries in town.” We met Guerrero just before he opened Bang Bite, across from Kaune’s market in late 2013. When Steve noticed the not-yet-open truck he decided to investigate. These two passionate food lovers got into conversation and we were customers on Day One. Over the last few years, Guerrero tried to open two other restaurants but each hit snags before they could open. We hope three’s the charm!

The Food

The addictive roasted tomato tapenade, photo Steve Collins

While the name is El Nido Steakhouse, the “Steakhouse” in the restaurant’s name seems to be more in homage to the restaurant’s famous past than the current menu which has only two steak offerings. Bistecca a la Fonduta (fonduta is a cheese sauce) is a 12-ounce New York Strip, served with potato puree and spinach; the Rib-eye a la Fonduta is accompanied by oyster mushrooms, .grilled onions, hand-pressed potatoes and fontina Both times we were there the meat in the “Meat and Potatoes” entrée was also steak.

The Wood Oven Smoked Salad tasted as good as it looks! Photo/Steve Collins

The menu is divided into four sections: To Start, Pizza, Pasta and La Rosticceria; in addition, there is a specials menu. The wood-fired Tomato Tapanade topped with goat cheese may be my newest food obsession. I’m not a scampi fan but I loved the wood-grilled shrimp scampi with crispy prosciutto and spicy garlic butter. We got so into the appetizers and salads even with two visits we only tried one main course and one pasta dish. In truth, I was too full to try the Chianti Stained Pappardelle with wild boar ragu, but Steve said it was excellent. The Tagliata di Manzo, wood-oven braised beef oxtail served with polenta and spinach was delicious. The oxtail was perfect comfort food on a cold December night. We want to go back and try the pizzas. The great thing about the menu is the range of prices. You can dine on pizza for $15 or a steak for $57 with lots of choices in between. The food philosophy is nicely summed up on their website: “Best-of-season vegetables, wood-fired meats, and homemade pastas are the basis of our food, and is our reasoned approach to what is succulent and modern.”

Take a ride up to Tesuque and check out the new El Nido Steakhouse. It’s worth the trip! Make a reservation before you go; we’ve been there on weekdays twice and both times the dining room was full. Bar seating is first-come, first-served. While the name honors the original, everything else is new. If you can let go of the past, that’s a good thing.

Author’s note: We were guests of Chef Enrique the first time we dined. We enjoyed it so much we went back on our own dime for our 43rd anniversary.


Iconic El Nido restaurant resurrected with a touch of quiet splendor

Iconic El Nido restaurant resurrected with a touch of quiet splendor

By Karen Peterson / For The Journal
Friday, December 30th, 2016 at 12:02am

SANTA FE, N.M. — Well over half a century ago, El Nido was the place. You could hear music, see a not-yet-famous Maria Benitez dance, encounter eccentrics, enjoy a meal. That recipe – part road-house, part Santa Fe Style, part neighborhood hangout – persisted, in various iterations, until 2010, when El Nido shut its doors.

A tragedy. And now, a resurrection: El Nido is open again, a phoenix in quiet splendor.

We enjoyed a Saturday-night dinner there recently, gratified to find the iconic rambling adobe on the southern fringe of Tesuque much the same. The menu is an update of the old-style steakhouse that El Nido once was: There was steak, yes, but also pasta, and the kind of imaginative flourishes to chicken and fish, along with interesting appetizers, that we now expect in an upscale American eatery.

We started with a grappa-cured salmon ($13), a quite wonderful plate of basically raw fish garnished, sashimi-style, with slaw mix of fennel and mild little cippola onions. It was impeccable. So, too, the roasted beet salad ($9), slabs of roasted red and yellow beets with peppery arugula vinaigrette and a dusting of goat cheese.

One of my guests chose El Nido’s grilled chicken with limoncello marmalade ($26); the other opted for a house special, the “best pasta ever” ($29). That left the red meat selection up to me. Poor me – I asked for the “meat and potatoes” platter ($24), which the menu described as “always meat, often potatoes, sometimes vegetables and some kind of sauce.” It was all of that!

To be specific, it was a thick-sliced, medium rare tenderloin, surrounded by nicely grilled new potatoes and a bouquet of better-than-broccoli rapini – the vegetable du jour – together with a “sauce” that was chimichurri-like: lots of garlic, plenty of mild herbs and robust enough to stand up to the rare meat while not being cloyingly rich. I loved it – and I loved the little bit leftover for lunch the next day.

My guests enjoyed both their choices, too. The chicken was bathed in a lemony sweetness and was perfectly roasted. El Nido boasts that nearly all their dishes are roasted over wood fires, and we glimpsed racks of chickens turning to perfection over same.

The pasta brought smiles, too. Shrimp and clams simmered briefly in tomato and lemon garnished the homemade tagliatelle. My guest demolished the whole thing before any of us got a taste. Well, it must have been good!

El Nido’s dessert menu is heavily Italian, which meant we could have tiramisu, a zeppole fritter, a wine-poached pear ($7 each). Surely there were some classic chocolate choices on the list, but we eschewed those and felt no deprivation.

The zeppole was a new one to me, a doughnut-sized fritter with custard topping and a fruit garnish. It was good, crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy elsewhere. The tiramisu was all that it should be, too: creamy, cake-y, and laden with the bitter overtones of coffee and unsweetened chocolate.

The poached pear was a contrast to the pastries. It was not too sweet, nicely flavored with wine. But we thought it was slightly underdone; surely the winter-hardened Bosc pear should have been simmered to fork-tenderness.

The “new old El Nido,” as the restaurant’s website describes it, is a wonderful update of the “old old El Nido.” It has been remodeled, but the comfortable old-adobe atmosphere has remained. Its menu is updated and a little different, but not pretentiously so.

Chef Enrique Guerrero, whose culinary experience has ranged from upscale restaurants like El Nido to food trucks (he’s the owner of the Bang Bite hamburger stand) has a light and humorous touch that serves him perfectly here. Someone else might have been overly serious about reopening such a storied and well-loved institution. Not Guerrero: meat and potatoes it is, maybe sauce, maybe vegetables. Whatever. But so nicely and so deftly done.


Digging In: A recipe for Sustainability, EPS 05

Published on Dec 1, 2016

In this episode Chef Enrique Guerrero invited us to experience the revived El Nido Restaurant located in Tesuque just North of Santa Fe New Mexico.

The ‘new old’ El Nido: Same building, new life inside

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2016 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:33 am, Thu Oct 20, 2016.

By Tantri Wija
For The New Mexican

Once upon a time, there was a steakhouse. It was loved and it was legendary, and it seemed like it would be there forever, but one day it shut its doors and the locals waited, with bated breath, for the day the lights would flare back on and the music would once again pump out into the cool mountain night. Located in Tesuque on Bishops Lodge Road, El Nido was a fixture for roughly 80 years, during which it was, variously, a pre-opera dinner spot, a venue for the legendary flamenco dancer María Benítez, a celebrity hangout, a dance hall and possibly a brothel. Something for everyone. El Nido as was closed in 2010, supposedly a victim of a depressed economy, and the building has sat vacant, waiting, like Sleeping Beauty, for its prince to come.

As it turns out, that prince’s name is Enrique Guerrero.

“Somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody else that knew me got in contact with me,” Guerrero says. “Two of the building’s partners got a hold of me and brought me to talk about El Nido.”

For Guerrero, the choice to revive El Nido was personal.

“The first restaurant that I ever ate in New Mexico was El Nido, 17 years ago,” he said. “It was very busy — everybody knew everybody, and I was amazed how the servers were calling everybody by name, the customers knew the owners, and I remember ordering a steak and some enchiladas.”

Guerrero has been a chef and cook in Santa Fe ever since, at one time cooking at La Mancha restaurant in Galisteo, a now-closed eatery named in 2008 as “one of the 52 best restaurants on the planet” by Condé Nast Traveler, among other accolades. He is the owner/operator of swoon-worthy burger truck Bang Bite.

“I love what I’m doing, and it’s very easy and doesn’t need much supervision,” Guerrero says. “It’s kind of like I’m retired but I’m not retired.”

And as it turns out, he has definitely not retired. Guerrero got involved in a project to open a restaurant and bowling alley in the Railyard, which stalled, so he knew that any big project he undertook would have to have real guts behind it for him to get involved.

“If I’m going to do something that is going to bring me back to cook, I want to be sure that it’s something that I can feel,” he says. “The feeling that I had when I got hired at La Mancha is very similar to the feeling that I got when I walked through [the El Nido] building — it brought me 17 years back, when I was here with my little one and my wife. I got the feeling this is a good thing, this is the right fit. I got the offer to open a few restaurants downtown, but this one is special.”

The actual building is historic and remains as it ever was on the outside, but the inside has been renovated from dining room to kitchen.

“We wanted to be El Nido, but we wanted to be the ‘new old El Nido,’ ” says Guerrero. “The building is the same, but inside it’s 100 percent changed. We got rid of the bar, now have an exhibition kitchen, new floors, new walls, the bar is two times bigger than it used to be. It’s gorgeous. I’m very pleased with what [the owners] had done with the building.”

The new kitchen is fueled entirely with wood, and 80 percent of the menu will be cooked over an open fire. There is a new rotisserie and a grill, and even a new wood-fired pizza oven. Because while the old El Nido was a steakhouse, the “new old El Nido” will be a variation on that theme: an Italian steakhouse.

“We want to have the steaks they had before and lot of seafood, but we want to have fresh-made pastas, pizzas and a huge selection of appetizers,” Guerrero says. This means a ribeye, a lamb steak, a rotisserie chicken, osso buco, etc. The appetizer menu features Mad Men-lunch classics like oysters rockefeller, burrata (cream-filled mozzarella, aka the food of the gods) with candied butternut squash and toasted pumpkin seeds, and roasted mushrooms (with black truffles).

Guerrero also wanted to emphasize that the new old El Nido is for everyone, whether they want a glass of wine and an inexpensive appetizer or an $80 steak. The appetizer menu starts at just $5 for fried olives stuffed with anchovies, and meanders upward accordingly, but you can get fresh, handmade pasta starting at $13, like “Chianti-stained pappardelle,” egg tagliatelle with creamy burrata and fried egg yolk (the heart attack you’ve always dreamed of), and maccheroni alla chitarra with albacore tuna and peppers.

“I want people to feel very comfortable, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to be expensive,” he says. “We don’t want you to come here and think ‘I cannot afford it’ — if you want to order pasta and pizza, you’ll be happy only spending $25. I think the menu will please everybody.”

The choice to go with an Italian theme had a bit to do with the neighbors (Tesuque Village Market has both American food and New Mexican food covered) and a bit to do with what Guerrero actually loves to cook.

“My formal background is in Italian restaurants, and I love Italian food,” he says. “Anything, if I put myself in it, but Italian food comes very easy to me.” But this is not necessarily “classic” Italian food, in The Sopranos sense — there will be no meatballs, no bolognese, no fettuccini alfredo.

“I want people to see a different side of the pasta,” laughs Guerrero.

El Nido is aiming to open at the beginning of November for dinner only (for now) so keep your ear to the ground for a series of soft openings before the grand opening.