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Vined and dined
Monday, 03 August 2009
Photo: Wes Naman
St. Clair Winery & Bistro harvests superior results with its wines, menu and casual flair at Old Town’s door

By Neal Anderson
St. Amand of France and St. Vincent of Zaragoza currently share the job of patron saint of winemakers, but oenophiles and gastronomes should heed another saintly name — St. Clair Winery & Bistro — to add to their places of pilgrimage.
Strong word of mouth has circulated about this establishment near Old Town for the past few years and, after a pair of summer visits, I find that praise well-deserved. The casual-dining restaurant successfully pairs New Mexican wines and continental fare in a relaxed, trend-free setting. The award-winning winery operates out of the Deming area, and St. Clair also manages another bistro in Las Cruces.
During our first visit, my dining companion and I enjoyed the alfresco atmosphere on a warm Friday evening and appreciated the staff’s quick response to our request for patio seating on the building’s east side. We also appreciated that the hostess secured the wobbly table for us. It seemed, though, that we were caught at the height of the nightly rush as our lone server valiantly struggled to keep up with water, silverware and wine glasses.

I was underwhelmed, at first, with our server’s guidance, considering wine’s prominence here. We received the standard spiel of “red goes well with beef” and “white with fish and chicken.” After answering more direct questions, he brought a tasting flight trio to our table; it was no easy task, considering St. Clair serves more than 40 homegrown wines. But he redeemed himself in our eyes and palates after recommending the St. Clair Cabernet-Zinfandel. After our taste sampling, we ordered a bottle ($15) and settled in to wait for our entrees.

Photo: Wes Naman
Despite a glut of customers, the food arrived quickly. My companion found her large serving of Prime Rib Salad ($10.95) fulfilled her hankering for some healthful greens and quality beef cooked to her specifications. The Flat Iron Steak with cabernet-infused blue cheese crumbles ($13.95) was cooked just the way I like it — juicy without being too rare. I had some reservations about ordering the shrimp ($4), but my fears were unfounded, as the small side of shrimp was just as juicy as the steak. The cab-zin impressively kept up with the robust flavors of both our dishes.

A fresh salad with a house-made dressing complemented the dish, but it could have been more memorable. My companion’s order of French onion soup was MIA; apparently it had been carted off to another diner’s table, according to our slightly harried server. But these were only mild disappointments. The side dishes proudly rose to the occasion: creamy but crusty potatoes and a medley of vegetables cooked al dente perfectly rounded out the steak selection.
Sharing a slice of chocolate raspberry cake that was on special provided a sweet and light finish, and afterward we enjoyed the live band on the larger, west-side patio with the rest of our wine.

The second visit on a slower paced Sunday night yielded even more satisfaction. This time, we dined inside, enjoying some live jazz and enjoying even smoother service. We quickly identified our wine choices. My companion found her glass of Blue Teal Shiraz ($7) full of ripe spiciness and a nice, woody aroma, and my glass of St. Clair Chardonnay ($7.25) went down smoothly with its requisite oaky flavor laced with vanilla.
We considered the Crab & Artichoke Heart Dip ($8.95), but the Bistro Crab Cakes ($9.95) sounded even better. The two cakes of claw meat came studded with capers and bits of red peppers, and a spritz of fresh lemon and a spicy tartar sauce enhanced the appetizer’s flavors even more.

Photo: Wes Naman
Salmon and pork took center stage when it came time for entrees. My companion had previously skipped over the Pork Tenderloin ($12.95) in favor of the prime rib creation, so she wasn’t about to miss it again. The raspberry-chipotle sauce paired deftly with the pork, creating a sweet counterpoint to the savory medallions cooked in merlot. The luscious mashed red potatoes also lived up to my companion’s exceedingly high standards when it comes to taters.

The Port Side Chauvin entree of grilled salmon ($15.95) that I ordered came topped with sauteed spinach and a creamy sauce. My resolution to leave some of the salmon for the takeout box was quickly and blissfully abandoned, and I savored every bite. I ate up the side of zucchini and squash (thankfully not overcooked), but the herbed wild rice tasted far too salty and proved an unnecessary distraction to a fine entree. My side salad ($2.95) also could have been more inventive (the croutons seemed store-bought), but the jazzy sweetness of a Mimosa dressing gave it a needed kick with its champagne and citrus combo.

A decadent decision to partake of the Chocolate Port Brownie ($5.95) with the recommended Enchanted Vineyards Chocolate Port ($12.75) came to be known as “death by brownie,” at least at our table. A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream with strawberry and chocolate shavings gilded the lily of the ultra-chocolate-y, gooey brownie, and the velvety port took it over the top — a rich ending to a relaxing night out.

Photos: Old Town restaurant St. Clair Winery & Bistro pairs a diverse and homegrown menu with its award winning cadre of wines.
St. Clair Winery & Bistro
901 Rio Grande NW, 505.243.9916
Hours: 11a-9p, Sun.-Thu.; 11a-10p, Fri.-Sat.

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