Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Palace Restaurant and Saloon…

“is built on one of Santa Fe's most notorious sites, the 18th-century gambling house of Doña Tules, patronized by wealthy Santa Feans, merchants from the East, and U.S. Army officers….Doña Tules saloon has long passed from the scene, but the Palace Restaurant…has built a tradition of its own” (

“There are many stories, truths, half-truths and myths about the powerful and inspirational Doña Maria Gertrudis Barceló, called “La Doña Tules” (tules can refer to a woman’s sheer veil or a thin reed which could have described her willowy frame). What is certain is that she ran a very successful gambling establishment (and, perhaps, offered more intimate diversions upstairs) on or near the site of The Palace during the 1840s and early 1850s. La Doña personally presided over late night hands of Spanish Monte and her clients came from every walk of life…. La Doña was a fiercely independent woman, unusual for the time. She controlled her property and wealth directly without the encumbrance of a husband or guardian” (

“A Santa Fe standby has been granted a new life in a space that has been shuttered for a long time after a couple of serious missteps. The touristy menu is gone along with the bordello-style red velvet wallpaper (except for the bar). The dining room has been redone in tasteful, understated browns, tans, and golds….
Well-known chef, Joseph Wrede has moved from the mountains of Taos to create an outstanding menu…” (SFChowhound at

“Chef Joseph Wrede, whose inimitable Joseph's Table restaurant in Taos closed last year, has been named executive chef of the legendary Palace Restaurant, which is scheduled to reopen…under the ownership of David G. Bigby.

“The Palace closed in 2005 after operating for 40 years under numerous owners, and became the short-lived Señor Lucky's until that business—mechanical bull, bikini night and all—closed suddenly in 2007. The reopening of the Palace…marks Wrede's debut as executive chef of a Santa Fe restaurant property” (Rob De Walt for The New Mexican).

We knew next to nothing about the Palace Restaurant and Saloon other than it was just a short block and a half walk from the Plaza (site of the Indian Market) and that we had never eaten there. So it seemed a natural when we wanted to take a brief lunch break. And what we found was much more than we expected.

Being dressed in our uniform of t-shirts, we elected to sit in the more—much more—casual saloon rather than in the formal dining room. In fact, during our lunch the dining room remained almost vacant while the saloon was soon full to capacity. While during the week the Saloon offers a casual “bar” menu, like most restaurants on weekends the more elaborate and expensive menu prevails. And, being Sunday, we could have also ordered from the brunch menu.

Since the day was somewhat warm (for Santa Fe), I wanted to eat light. I was ready to order the day’s soup—cold avocado cumin—when Chuck suggested that we start by sharing the flash-fried calamari with mixed greens salad. Thank you, Chuck. The plate contained a small portion of baby greens dressed in a soy vinaigrette and a good sized portion of lightly battered calamari—both rings and tentacles.
Accompanying the calamari were two dipping sauces. The first was a basil and garlic aioli that was quite good but was no match for the other which was described on the menu as a Vietnamese dipping sauce. I suspect that the slightly sweet and salty taste came from nước chấm or Vietnamese fish sauce blended with a bit of lemon or lime juice.

And can I tell you that one of the worst mistakes of my life was encouraging Chuck to try the tentacle portion of fried calamari. These are my favorites, and I now have to share with him.

Staying with the light lunch approach, I selected Chilean Sea Bass Ceviche from the appetizers list as my entrée. “Ceviche… is a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of the Americas, especially Central and South America. The dish is typically made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices such as lemon or lime and spiced with chili peppers” ( The acid in the marinade “cooks” the fish and turns it a pearly opaque color.
I can say without hesitation that this was the best ceviche that I have eaten. The cubes of sea bass were amazingly tender and the marinade was only slightly acidic. To give some heat to the dish were thin slices of green and red serrano (or I think they were serranos and not jalapenos) peppers. And the accompanying guacamole was slightly chunky and contained just enough lime juice to cut the richness.

Keeping with what seemed to be the theme for this lunch, Chuck ordered the fish and chips. The plate contained five good sized pieces of sweet, moist, and flakey Alaskan cod in a delicately thin beer batter. Both of us prefer the fish to be cut into smaller portions like this because you get a greater fish to coating ratio.

Accompanying the fish was a serving of hand-cut and skin on fries that were tossed with black pepper and parsley. As with a good fry, these had a nice and crisp exterior and a soft and steamy interior. And the plate also contained the “slaw of the day” which was a combination green and red cabbage and shredded carrot tossed with an oil and vinegar dressing that had hints of Asian ingredients.

This was a wonderful to take a lunch break. Later we tried to find something to criticize and came up empty. So there is nothing left to do but give The Palace Restaurant and Saloon 5.0 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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