Two summers ago, I had the privilege of dining with a group on the expansive terrace of the Luminaria Restaurant and was wowed by Executive Chef Tony Smith’s touches that make classic Italian dishes even more special with a twist. from New Mexico. In fact, I still dream of the addition of chopped candied lemons to the kale salad for a hint of sweet, tart flavor, and her take on arancini that will make any Italian grandma proud.
Although I have not returned to this restaurant, it was a friend’s recent post about Chef Smith’s Watermelon Gazpacho that caught my attention and reminded me to return to this hidden gem in the heart of downtown. town of Santa Fe. Located in the Loretto Hotel Inn and Spa, this is one of four Heritage Hotel properties in town — and, let’s be clear, it’s not your typical hotel restaurant . In fact, as the name suggests, Luminaria shines brightly, attracting locals and tourists alike, and for good reason.
The well-shaded covered and open-air patio is a winning spot that’s so close to the Plaza that you can get there in a few hundred steps. And yet, the patio is far enough away from the hustle and bustle that you almost feel like you’re somewhere completely off the beaten path. Lush plants, flowers and trees adorn the outdoor space. The chirping of birds provides natural background music and the bells of St. Francis Church ring to keep you both present and grateful for such an opportunity.
My dining companion started with Luminaria’s signature Strawberry-Jalapeño Margarita ($14), a drink that’s featured on the Margarita Trail. The rim of a cocktail glass is seriously doused in a spicy-salty golden-hued Tajín seasoning that, when paired with the strawberry-jalapeño margarita, results in a drink that’s noticeably spicier than sweet. My friend loved it as this drink set her palate on fire, but one taste was all I needed.
As she sipped, I nibbled and sampled all the offerings in the complimentary bread and cracker basket. The bread is made locally by Boultawn’s Bagelry and the Stellar Crackers are made on site. The heart-shaped water crackers, lavash, and a thin cracker with flowers and herbs stood out, and we enjoyed the herb-infused soft butter.
Having already tasted some of Chef Smith’s signature dishes and fallen in love, we re-ordered the Green Chili Arancini ($15) and the Baby Kale Salad ($15). Three crispy yet tender ping pong sized balls of green chili risotto are placed on a flat dish with a swoosh of avocado mousse and topped with a dollop of roasted corn, a few black beans and micro -shoots. The arancini are light and almost melt in the mouth with barely a hint of green chili, so as not to overwhelm diners. Cold avocado plays well against hot, freshly fried arancini.
We also had the sensational summer soup, Watermelon-Jalapeño Gazpacho ($11), the dish that caught my eye and it was an interesting variation with the addition of jalapeño. Departing from tradition, Chef Smith sprinkles a little salty feta, bites of pickled strawberries and lots of fresh mint to add more flavor to this seasonal tomato soup that hits the mark on a hot summer night. summer.
The baby kale salad ($15) was as good as I remembered and again I was swooning over the candied lemons. What I didn’t remember were the other interesting salad ingredients, including roasted red pepper, goat cheese, watermelon radishes and toasted almonds. Collectively, this salad is a symphony of flavors – different tones to speak to different taste buds. Quite satisfying, on future visits I will ask for grilled fish or prawns to turn this appetizer into a starter.
What didn’t wow was the Elote salad ($15) – although when it arrived it matched the description. Mixed greens are topped with cherry tomatoes and pickled onions, queso fresco, lime cream, and dressed in chili-lime vinaigrette. Baby corn cobs are coated in rice flour and tempura batter and fried. I was torn between the Grilled Mediterranean Caesar ($15) which features a creative roasted eggplant Caesar dressing, which totally intrigued me, and the Elote salad. When I inquired with the waiter he suggested the Elote salad and I nodded. Next time it’s the Grilled Mediterranean Caesar.
The time between classes was significantly delayed and while I appreciated the break as it gave us time to sit down and take in the amazing ambience outside, it felt unnecessarily prolonged. Having owned and operated a resort and restaurants, I wondered what was going on behind the scenes. When I contacted Chef Smith he informed me that they were replacing the hardwood floors throughout the restaurant. That explained the hiccups. The chef also shared that the kitchen is getting a major facelift this year to make it an even better experience for customers. The fact that the kitchen remained open during construction made it easy to forget about the service interruption.
Creative entrees range from Crispy Duck Thigh ($39), Yellowtail Veracruz ($43), New Mexico Wild Boar Ribeye ($49), plus a vegetarian option, Zucchini Medallions ($42) and their award-winning Loretto Burger ($20 $) with Hatch Green New Mexico Chilies.
My friend had the Coffee Rubbed New York Strip ($53) and it was a carnivore’s dream. The coffee rub provides both flavor and texture, and it’s been toasted to its medium request. Served with a few slices of fondant potatoes, sautéed broccolini and a red wine demi-glace sauce, the steak was hearty enough to have leftovers for a steak sandwich the next day.
Because we were completely satisfied with our meals, we skipped dessert and decided to stroll around the Plaza instead. There was a jubilant spirit in the air as the Plaza was bustling with a band. As I walked, I realized that Luminaria exists to feed hotel guests, but those of us who live here are the lucky ones. The Patio is one of the best outdoor restaurants in town, the menu is extremely varied and appealing and the food is the shining star. At the helm since April 2021, chef Tony Smith has definitely found his rhythm.