Restaurant Review: La Casa Sena
By: Susan Meadows
Published online: Friday, July 13, 2012
Appeared in: Pasateimpo
In 1983 local mogul Gerald Peters
La Casa Sena
3 ½ chiles
125 E. Palace Ave. 505-988-9232
Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily, dinner 3 p.m.-10 p.m. daily, summer patio bar opens at 11 a.m. daily
Noise level: twittering birds on the patio, and lively conversation in the dining room, Vegetarian options, Handicapped-accessible, Staff performs standards & show tunes at 6 p.m. nightly at La Cantina bar
In short order:
The house at Sena Plaza has been hosting Santa Fe
residents and travelers since the 1860s, with
Gerald Peters’ restaurant La Casa Sena
the tradition very much alive for almost 20 years.
Part of the credit goes to executive chef Patrick
Gharrity, at the helm since 2005, for serving
luscious combinations that delight and surprise
both carnivores and vegetarians. The most
beautiful patio in town, coupled with one of
the most romantic dining rooms around, not
to mention a wine list that’s a sightseeing trip
all by itself, may have something to do with it.
Recommended: gazpacho, granita, Flap-Jack
Griddle, poblano relleno, foie gras, Maytag blue
cheese and iceberg lettuce salad, mussels and
scallops, braised lamb, and chocolate-chile soup.
*Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles, including half chiles.
This reflects the reviewer's experience with regard
to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value
opened La Casa
Sena, where you can still enjoy the prettiest patio and
one of the most elegant and historic dining rooms in
Santa Fe. Located in the 1860s Territorial-style hacienda
of Don Juan Sena, the place has a long tradition of
hospitality. Executive chef Patrick Gharrity, hired as
pastry chef in 1999 and wearing the top toque since
2005, aims for a sustainable, often locally sourced
cuisine that’s a delicious riff on Southwestern, Mexican,
and new American ideas.
There’s no place better for Sunday brunch (now with a
revamped menu and outdoor bar) than under the grand
old cottonwood tree in the midst of the blooming garden
of Sena Plaza. Our brunch felt like a fairy tale, where
even the frog turned out to be a prince. First our server
flubbed our order, so the first courses came with the
mains. But the day’s special, a cup of watermelon and
tomato gazpacho, made with bright-tasting ingredients
blended into perfect harmony, was just what I wanted
after a spicy chile poblano relleno — fresh and cool.
And a house-made granita played light dessert with
intense watermelon and mild Chimayó chile-flavored
ice. Other starters might not have worked out so well,
but our server took notice of the slip-up and deducted
the items from the check. The perfect handling of this
mistake, the setting, and the delicious food made for a
For those who love pancakes, waffles, and French
toast, there’s the Flap-Jack Griddle comprising all three:
an impeccably crisp-tender waffle, a berry pancake,
and, best yet, French toast served with a pile of berries
and sweet butter. The chile poblano relleno bursts with
quinoa, squash, and crimini mushrooms under melted
asadero cheese, all on a complex sauce where red chile
and tropical fruit had been blended into bliss for the
chile lover. Even a confirmed carnivore would have no
regrets. Gharrity is one of those rare chefs who doesn’t
let the meat eaters have all the fun.
Alas, as at many busy restaurants, the cappuccino
was a disappointment — too much milk in espresso
that lacked depth and richness. Next time I’ll just order
a glass of wine. La Casa Sena has won Wine Spectator’s
Best of Award of Excellence for many years running.
And rather than just a few overoxidized bottles of
mediocre quality, wines by the glass (two pages’ worth)
are part of the adventure here. There are recommended
well-chosen pairings for each of the dinner mains,
eliminating the need to compromise on a bottle that
doesn’t really complement everyone’s order.
At dinner, service was impeccable, both professional
and open to friendly discussion about the food and wine
— my favorite subject. A gift for the undecided, the
hungry, and the curious is the occasional tasting menu,
where two or four courses from the menu can come
as starters. An iceberg and Maytag blue cheese salad
boasted a perfect green heritage tomato and golden
beets. The generous foie gras, seared and caramelized
American style and drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar,
was ornamented with dried cherry, steamed bread, and
a poached quail’s egg for an orgy of luxurious flavor.
A Ferrari-Carano chardonnay was pure California in
character, though not over-oaked. The excellent Pacific
Northwest mussels and Baja scallops with kaffir lime
leaves, coconut, and ginger surprised with the subtle
bitterness of the lime leaves and the bright note of
scallions, a combination that built to irresistibility so
that not a drop of broth went wasted. Their perfect
companion resides in a pale Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence
rosé with a hint of grapefruit and characteristic mineral
A heady aroma rose from the pan-roasted quail, with
its deep poulard jus and smoky yet bright baby bok
choy, though the quail wanted a bit more succulence.
The austere blaufrÄnkisch red was a natural pairing.
The knockout punch came from a long-braised lamb
shoulder with huitlacoche (Mexican corn fungus) lamb
jus — earthy big flavor amply matched by the Glen
Carlou meritage from South Africa. The chocolate-chile
soup went down effortlessly, even after all this, while
a pine nut tart wanted only a darker dark-chocolate
sauce. Hospitality like this will hopefully survive into
yet another century.
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