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Ambience, food, service — it all sings
Thursday, 01 September 2011
Photos by Wes Naman
Santa Fe fixture La Casa Sena and La Cantina combines fine dining, singing waiters for memorable meal

By Paul Lehman
In the 1830s, when Santa Fe was part of a newly independent Mexico, Don Juan Sena and his son, Major Jose Sena, started building the structure we know today as La Casa Sena. The architectural style is territorial, with tall narrow doorways, windows with wooden lintels, trim of baked brick, portals and porches. Indeed, today’s La Casa Sena offers an unusual glimpse of fashionable 19th-century family life in Santa Fe.
Since 1983, the cozy, upscale dining rooms, beautiful lush garden patio and historic adobe La Cantina — with its singing waiters — have provided innovative New Mexican and Southwestern cuisine one block from the famous Santa Fe Plaza

We dined in the fun and intimate La Cantina, with a background of music from the best of Broadway, featuring a talented group of professional singers who performed show tunes at regular intervals (6p until closing). Gregg Grissom, Stephanie Duren, Ken Brown and Assistant General Manager Juli King, accompanied by Robert Fox on the grand piano, entertained us in grand fashion. While the cast of singers at La Casa Sena may rotate over time, you can always count on top talent.

ImageMy dining companions and I started with a selection of appetizers, including pinon-crusted goat cheese with a spicy sauce ($8), sautéed black tiger shrimp with garlic and white wine butter ($12) and a sample piece of wild king salmon with pomegranate, raw honey glaze, sauteed spinach, yellow squash, zucchini and quinoa with sweet peas.

For our entrees, we chose the house special fajitas (we selected chicken but could have chosen shrimp, beef or tofu). This came with red onion, bell peppers, guacamole, Mexican rice, black beans, salsa, sour cream and flour tortillas ($18). We selected a grilled chicken and jack cheddar cheese quesadilla with sautéed squash, bell peppers, guacamole, tomatillo and habanero salsas, which was outstanding in both taste and texture ($14). Our favorite of the evening was the grilled ruby trout with red bell peppers, spinach and roasted Yukon gold potatoes ($24). The trout had a unique flavor and was simply delicious.

For dessert we sampled the house special chocolate red chile soup with sugared pinons and fresh strawberries ($8) — winner of the recent Santa Fe “soupier bowl” contest — and the lavender-vanilla crème brulee with caramelized habanero sugar ($8). Both were winners.

ImageA huge inventory of wines include wines by the glass from $8-$17, bottles from $30-$65, cocktails $10 and up, margaritas from $8-$38, tequilas from $7.50-$29 and beers averaging $4.75. After-dinner drinks include ports from $7-$36, cognacs from $11 and fancy coffees from $8.

All entrées in both the cantina and main restaurant are large and come with lots of accompaniments. Other featured items include a prosciutto sandwich, sauteed Northwest Pacific mussels, mini antelope burgers and a cheese plate. A la carte dinner in the main dining room and on the attractive garden patio includes small plates like grilled tofu, halibut ceviche and coffee-seared Axis venison. Among starters are a quinoa tamale, mussels and Baja scallops and Hudson Valley foie gras. Entrees include red chile crusted natural pork tenderloin, New Mexico lamb shoulder, grilled Nilgai antelope rib chop, New Mexico beef ribeye and grilled natural Vermont quail.

La Casa Sena combines fine dining with a relaxed and entertaining cantina. Chef Patrick Gharrity is committed to using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients.

La Casa Sena
125 E. Palace, 505.988.9232
11:30a-2:30p, Mon.-
Sat., 11a-3p, Sun.
5:30-9p, Sun.-Thu.,
5:30-10p, Fri.-Sat.
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