The New Mexican’s Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture
July 12 – 18, 2002
by Judyth Hill
For The New Mexican
Food * * * * *
Service * * * * *
Atmosphere * * * * *
Value * * * * *
Canyon Road courtyard, at white-linened table, solid hand-pleasing silver, scudding
clouds lit by last light, old ivy on stone walls. Small glasses of vin santo appear, a
mapley late-harvest Chianti, and large-rimmed bowls, sheltering a smooth pool of sauce,
darkly glinting, hinting of tangy French butter, thyme and high, wild mushrooms,
cayenne and Spanish sherry with, oh yes, sweetbreads and foie gras. You bite, teeth
sinking through soft to the chew of the rich meat, and this twin dissolve --- the noble slide
of the wine on the tongue and the interplay of viand --- is falling through and away into
purring sensual pleasure, then returning, discovering that you are fully, ecstatically alive,
well and eating.
At the Compound. A Santa Fe institution long on the national culinary map, revivified in
2000 by owners Brett Kemmerer and Mark Kiffin.
Welcome to nirvana. A 100 percent bliss-out, showcasing the spectacular cheffing of Mr.
“It came in this morning” Kiffin: His passionate, fresh ingredient-driven search for the
right interplay of flavors is a personal beauty-way affair with food.
Made-to-order asparagus soup ($12): prepared as all the soups are, with freshmade stock,
vegetable of the moment quick-blended, the air supplying delicate texture. An exactitude
of asparagus transformed texturally, a plump round of goat cheese flan floating
semicloudlike on the surface, a morsel with each spoonful supplies saltiness, while the
soup answsers with black pepper, a fresh pea shoot rampant, ready to nibble, keeps the
chlorophyll notes front and center. It is beyond good.
New Mexican fine dining is temperature challenged --- at this altitude, water boils
anywhere from 180 degrees or so up --- our food is almost never served hot. Thus pure
grace: Servers arriving ensemble bearing all the dishes, each under splendid silvery
domes removed with dramatic flourish. Everyone is served at once: the meal hot,
physically, truly hot. It is a consummation devoutly wished and so rarely occurring,
reminding us that a well-made meal is indeed a form of theater.
“What” we were asked playfully by our sterling server, “is better than seafood?”
Answer: “Seafood with a little meat!” Seared divers scallops, flavor sweet and
immediate, are a most ingenious foil roasted oxtails, antiqued by way of Amontillado
sherry, parsley, thyme and marjoram, circled by a ring of emulsified fresh pea ($14).
Straight from the James Beard House dinner is another coup: preserved swordfish over
black potato salad with smoked bacon, pickle-y escabe ($14), combining deep, sweet, salt
and sour in a subtle, simultaneous crescendo of everything our tongue can know. Very
pro, very Zen.
And with all, tiny ice-cold sips of New Zealand upstarty sauvignon blanc, the Lawson’s
Dry Hills 2001, very tarragony and right.
We had the classic, buttermilk-soaked roast chicken --- moist, superbly simple --- with
cream spinach ($24), and the “we never have specials” FedExed overnight, perfectly
crisped Chesapeake Bay soft-shell crabs over a halcyon mix of corn and bacon ($35).
Then, stopping us in our tracks, fresh blowfish meuniere ($9). Entire, tiny, delicate and
juicy in lemony butter, each bite so good it felt like longing.
Wasn’t it then we sampled just a drop of the exo pinot noir from esoteric Italian vintner
Silvio Jermann, perfectly appellated Red Angel on the Moonlight? I adored this crazy,
unoaked purpley red, redolent of islands, Guaguinish, feminine, as mango were flower
become silky liquid.
Finalmente, we shared peppery ruby grapefruit granita, made by formidable pastry chef
Helen Singleton, and pistachio cannoli filled with lemon curd mascarpone mousse ($8),
and warm cornmeal Johnnycake, baked over a blackberry-raspberry-rhubarb “buckle”
($9), with maple cream to pour over, accompanied by sweet sips of Quady Elysium 200
Black Muscat ($9), simply heaven.
A civilized meal takes three hours, it is said; this required five; that’s how great the food
and the wines selected were, the service, the sensational, buoying effervescence of sheer
Dinner for two, which included two appetizers, soup, two entries, two glasses of wine,
continuous Hildon water service, two desserts and hot tea, came to $172.36, before tip.
653 Canyon Road, 982-4353
Lunch 12 noon – 2pm, Monday-Friday
Diner 6-9pm nightly
Fine wines & full bar
AMEX – MC – V – No personal checks