TerraCotta Wine Bistro offers a delicious, world-inspired menu at fair prices

TerraCotta Sea Salt Caramel Coffee Chip Ice Cream. (Heather Hunter / For the Journal)

In northern New Mexico, where red and green chili peppers reign supreme, it’s unusual to come across a restaurant in Santa Fe that is 100% “chilli-free”. But that’s exactly what you’ll find tucked away in a historic, quaint and cozy adobe building on Johnson Street. Lucky for us, chili is the only thing TerraCotta Wine Bistro lacks.

At the entrance, a lovingly tended garden that explodes with roses and colorful flowers in spring and summer sets the tone for your dining experience. It’s the start of an evening filled with warm and gracious hospitality and attention to detail.

The dynamic duo behind TerraCotta are chef Catie O’Brien and magician Glenda Griswold. Over the past 30 years they have been best friends and business partners – they also have Peas ‘N’ Pod Catering – and their skills and talents complement each other to make the sum greater than its parts.

TerraCotta’s Portuguese pasta dish is one of three starter choices on a fixed-price $ 45 three-course menu. (Heather Hunter / For the Journal)

Together they organized a welcoming space and a popular restaurant frequented mainly by locals. The cozy interior is dotted with terracotta chairs and place mats to create a real sense of place that feels right at home. O’Brien, Griswold and their team, who take pride in this responsibility, are not immune to the fact that this ancient building has housed countless people.

The menu is extensive, with global flavors that reflect the owners’ travels around the world. The offerings include choices for carnivores, pescatarians and vegetarians, and a dessert menu that promises to tempt.

“I cook comfort food. That’s what people want, ”says O’Brien. “I learned to cook with my nanny and I cook dishes that I love to eat. But most of all, I want you to feel right at home when you are at TerraCotta.

Several customers, including us, arrived before the owners promptly opened at 5pm and hung the sign open. With an attractive, well-priced menu serving quality food, it’s no surprise that people come early to take in the relaxed yet calming atmosphere and be taken care of for an overnight stay. In addition to the interior seating, there are also two patios which have heaters during the winter. The music playlist was peppered with Latin sounds to bring energy to the space until the guitarist arrived to serenade the guests with live music and special requests.

The marinated olive platter is served with a pita and pesto sauce, and is perfect for snacking. (Heather Hunter / For the Journal)

TerraCotta has received the Wine Spectator’s annual Excellence Award for its stellar wine selections since 2018. With a robust wine list of 500 bottles, it’s easy to see why. The selection is wide and the prices are fair, with a single bottle at $ 150, but plenty of options from $ 30 to $ 50 to make good wine accessible to everyone. Happy hour is 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a selection of wines at $ 6 a glass.

Start with the onion rings ($ 8). Thick sliced ​​onions are dipped in a tempura batter for a crisp, indulgent appetizer for two or up to six, as there are usually six onion rings in an order. For something lighter, the platter of marinated olives ($ 14) with pita sauce and pesto is perfect for snacking.

The wedge salad ($ 9) features tender but crispy gem lettuce topped with tomatoes, cucumber, bacon, and blue cheese crumbles, plus sliced ​​hard-boiled eggs, to give the salad a little extra weight. While I prefer the blue cheese dressing over the ranch, this lighter version is probably the smarter choice. Two table mates started with a bubbling pot of French onion soup ($ 10) which was filling but not heavy. The crouton was crispy and the Jarlsberg and Provolone processed cheese reminds us why we love French onion soup.

Living in the high desert, a lot of people think we can’t get good seafood here, but TerraCotta prides itself on proving these people wrong. “I grew up on the coast and seafood is an integral part of my life. It’s also something I love to cook, so we’ll always have a few seafood dishes on the menu, ”says O’Brien.

Word on the street is that TerraCotta makes the best fish and chips ($ 24) in town, and I agree. The halibut offers a meaty texture that feels substantial, while the tempura batter keeps it light and crisp. But on this visit, I ordered the evening special – a large steaming bowl of mussels with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, onions and shallots swimming in a delicious white wine broth ($ 30) . The broth was so divine that I used my spoon to drink it and then took the toast to absorb the last tasty drops.

A table mate had the branzino ($ 32) and previously I had ordered the plank salmon ($ 26). These entrees are served with perfectly sautéed and seasoned vegetables and TerraCotta’s signature roasted Yukon Gold potatoes. O’Brien says his secret to puffy, crispy potatoes is an air fryer.

Two others opted for the Portuguese pasta dish, which they “cannot take off the menu”. This is one of three starters on a $ 45 three course menu that’s one of the best deals in town or a la carte for $ 30. Fresh pasta, clams and Spanish chorizo ​​are mixed with ripe tomatoes and red peppers and bathed in a perfectly seasoned white wine sauce. Another guest ordered the ratatouille ($ 25) and was delighted with this tasty vegetarian option.

Impeccable service was all we needed. The staff never missed a beat, picking up plates, pouring wine, changing glasses, removing plates overflowing with mussel shells and making sure each of us felt special.

While you might want to order all of the dishes on the menu, abstain and save room for dessert, as these well-executed options are worth feeling a little too full. There are two gluten-free options – a light and airy yet rich chocolate mousse and a fondant chocolate cake. However, I couldn’t resist the Sea Salt Caramel Coffee Chip Ice Cream ($ 6) while my friends ordered the Creme Brulee Cheesecake ($ 9) and Chocolate Mousse ($ 9). ). All of the desserts were incredibly rich and creamy. Generously dusted with chocolate chips and combed with sea salt caramel, the coffee ice cream made me want to take home a pint. The perfectly sized slice of cheesecake was creative without being ridiculously sweet. A crispy brulee filling complemented the creamy interior and the crust was barely there, so the cheesecake is the star.

TerraCotta offers a dining experience that you will want on a regular basis. Perhaps this is why most of the clientele are regulars who appreciate genuine hospitality and exceptional food and wine at a reasonable price. The next time you want to pamper yourself without the heaviness of a “fine dining” experience, make a reservation at TerraCotta and prepare to experience genuine hospitality that makes you feel like you’re dining with a well-to-do friend.

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