Feb 252015

Restaurant Review — Premium fuel: Café Fina

Posted: Friday, January 2, 2015 5:00 am | Updated: 8:20 am, Mon Jan 5, 2015. Pasatiempo.

cafe finaCafé Fina is housed in a renovated building that was once a Fina gas station and, more recently, Real Food Nation, a restaurant that didn’t succeed but had a lot of fans. Getting there requires a field trip — it’s 11 miles from the Plaza — but it doesn’t take long, usually around 20 minutes. You can stay on Old Las Vegas Highway the whole way — rolling past Harry’s Roadhouse and what used to be Bobcat Bite — or take I-25 to exit 290, which leads to the Eldorado community and Galisteo. Go left off the ramp instead of right, and you’ll see it soon. There’s ample parking.

Café Fina’s owner, local restaurant veteran Murphy O’Brien, launched it in 2012 with a breakfast-and-lunch-only menu that, as of early December, has been expanded to include dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. (Though this development isn’t mentioned on its website, it is on the café’s Facebook page, which is more actively maintained.) The interior is spacious and bright, with big windows that offer views of the rolling foothills that characterize this part of Santa Fe County. You order at a wide counter that has a bakery case to the left and other baked goods — including quiche — in the middle. Don’t overlook the pastries, pies, cookies, and cakes. Everything we tried on two visits — Meyer lemon Shaker pie, pecan-sour cream coffee cake, and apple galette — was very good.

The café’s daytime menu combines pancakes, egg dishes, salads, Southwestern breakfast staples like migas and a breakfast burrito, sandwiches, and a cheeseburger that dares to feature poblano chile instead of New Mexico green. (More about this heresy in a moment.) On a recent breakfast visit, I ordered the huevos motuleños, an old classic that shows up in Diana Kennedy’s influential 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mexico, in which she describes the dish as “huevos rancheros with Yucatecan flourishes.” Café Fina’s chefs have localized their version to fine effect, using red chile instead of the tomato-based sauce that Kennedy calls for. This was a perfect meal, consisting of two fresh, fried eggs on a homemade corn tortilla with a combination of black beans, green peas, feta cheese, and sautéed sweet bananas on the side.

My compabrunchnion ordered the basic breakfast — two eggs, hash browns, and toast — and was mostly pleased. The only problem was the eggs, which she ordered poached. Not every restaurant will even do poached eggs these days, so hats off to the place for giving it the old whirling-water try. But the whites came out rubbery, which probably means the water was too hot. On the plus side, the hash browns and toast were good, and the Mexican mocha she ordered was excellent — hot enough and perfectly sweetened, with just the right balance of cinnamoned chocolate and robust but mellow coffee. Another hit was the slice of pecan-sour cream coffee cake we shared: It was moist and full of nutty, spicy flavor.

A second visit, for dinner, was also enjoyable, revealing a couple of small problems that will probably be fixed soon. One is the nighttime illumination, which comes primarily from overhead track lights that are spiky on the eyes at some tables. The dinner menu is small at this point, but that’s most likely going to change as a customer base develops. O’Brien partners on the dinner selections with local chef Chris Galvin; the two carry over the chile cheeseburger from lunch, but also offer swankier entrees like fried oysters, seared salmon, and duck confit. All of these would go well with a glass of wine, and those in your group who aren’t doing any of the chauffeuring will feel a pang of regret that alcohol isn’t available. Good news on that front: The café should be licensed to serve alcohol by early February.

My companion that night ordered a cup of split pea soup — it was rich, dark, and deliciously hammy — and a veggie enchilada loaded with zucchini, asadero cheese, and red chile sauce. She loved it, along with the sides of black beans, slaw, and cilantro rice. The best thing we had, though, was the polenta appetizer, which was surprisingly light, delicately crispy on top, and herbed perfectly with rosemary. It comes plated in a pool of Gorgonzola sauce that contains traces of breadcrumbs and scallion greens.

I’d been brooding about that poblano chile cheeseburger, so I went for it. Many burgers these days are a mess — wobbly stacks of ingredients that end up squirting out of your hands — but the one on offer here is a tidy creation that comes on a ciabatta bun. I’m not always a fan of poblano chile, but it worked well in this burger, giving it a mildly hot, smoky taste. The fries that came with it were nothing special. But that seemed minor, considering all the good things I’d had. I’ll definitely be going back for more of Café Fina’s creative and affordable food. We’re lucky it’s part of the local scene.

May 172013

santa fe reporter

Original Article From: Santa Fe Reporter

Fill ‘Er Up!

By Rebecca Withers Chastenet

p 47 FoodIt’s chile cheeseburger vs. fries: Which will disappear first? – Rebecca Withers Chastenet

You gotta love a restaurant that names itself after a gas station.

Not that Café Fina (624 Old Las Vegas Hwy. 466-3886)—the new brunch spot occupying the space that once housed the beloved Real Food Nation—feels anything like a garage with its crisp, clean interior, friendly counter service and sweet, family-centered vibe. Fina might just as well mean “fine,” as in “fine food”—honest homespun breakfast and lunch entrees made from the heart.

Inside the bright space, Murphy and Annamaria O’Brien, with their two adorable children skipping in, out and around their legs, serve a simple daytime menu, heavy on comfortable egg-based dishes that best define the café as a brunch spot.

There are omelets ($8.50 and $9.75) with hash browns and toast or English muffins and the more racy, over-easy huevos motuleños ($9.75), studded with black beans and feta, plus peas and sautéed bananas, all blanketed with red or green chile. A fat breakfast burrito ($8.95) comes more “gourmet” than most others, filled with organic scrambled eggs, home-grated hash brown threads, strips of crisp bacon and a pungent kick of New Mexican asadero and Gouda cheeses.

The cafe’s green chile is of the mild variety—fresh, smooth, bright green and almost sweet. And the salsa is mild too, scrambled into eggs, corn tortillas and cheese as migas ($8.95)—a chilaquile-type dish that I know as Texan in origin, served with black beans, sour cream, guacamole and a triangle of flour tortilla.

I don’t usually do eggs, even though they’re the “perfect” food, but I make an exception for good migas, and these exited the kitchen just right—hard scrambled and having absorbed the earthy flavor of corn tortillas, if sadly missing the topping of fresh jalapeño rounds or scallions that I’m used to seeing.

The lunch half of Café Fina’s “brunch” menu sticks out with a predominantly Southwestern theme, veering outside the region with only two offerings: a beautiful chopped salad ($8.95) with feta and pine nuts in a garlic vinaigrette, and a fish filet sandwich ($9.75), panko-crusted and topped with house-made tartar sauce.

The green chile cheeseburger ($9.50) turned out to be the table favorite, a neatly hand-formed quarter -inch slab of juicy ground beef that the menu says comes from a New Mexico ranch, layered with a bubbling melt of yellow cheddar, lined with strips of fresh-roasted, deeply smoky poblano pepper. The generous patty sits inside a flour-dusted ciabatta-type bun that soaks up the juice without turning to mush, and the accompanying pile of fries quickly disappeared! Crunchy on the outside, with just enough peeling on them to make you believe they are healthy, the fries can be ordered alone as a side dish ($4).

Better yet, hit the establishment mid-afternoon for a snack of sides. Garlic and sesame oil green beans or sautéed shishito peppers with garlic and sea salt ($5) might balance out a potato indulgence that could find the fries sharing space with a plate of hash browns topped with chile and cheese ($5).

Café Fina’s future plans include securing a liquor license for wine and beer service. For now, it offers aguas frescas, natural sodas and coffee drinks.

Plus, as young parents, the owners hope to open a drive-up kids’ lunchbox window service for time-pressed Eldorado and Cañoncito residents doing the weekday school-morning shuffle into town. Boxed lunches would include fruit and a baked good, and could be preordered to save precious time

Feb 252013

Our Planet:

We are proud to say that the farmers pick up Cafe Fina nearly all of its kitchen waste for compost. From carrot tops, to chicken bones, to wax-coated boxes that can’t be recycled, it all goes in our big composting bin out back.

Our Suppliers:

Talus Wind Ranch – delivers the highest quality natural meats. They strive to maintain the highest health and humane standards in raising and preparing animals for market.

Niman Ranch All-Natural Meats – The quality of Niman Ranch beef, raised traditionally, humanely and sustainably with no hormones or antibiotics on family-owned ranches.

Van Rixel Bros. Gelato from Albuquerque – we are serving 6 delicious flavors such as Chocolate, Espresso, Stracciatella, Salted Caramel, Coconut and Strawberry-Lime.

Special Occasions/Celebrations:

We are currently closed for dinner, this allows for the unique opportunity to host fundraiser events and special celebrations. Please contact us for more information.

Jul 172012

From: Eldorado in Santa Fe

by LISA SMITH on JULY 13, 2012

Murphy O’Brien, former manager of Mu Du Noodles, makes migas at Cafe Fina on Wednesday. – Jane Phillips/The New Mexican

‘ Cloud cakes’ — ricotta pancakes with fresh berries and maple syrup — are among the offerings at Cafe Fina. – Jane Phillips/The New Mexican

Lucia Leon serves Lisa Velarde, left, and Marcella Romero at Cafe Fina on Wednesday. The restaurant is located where old Real Food Nation was on Old Las Vegas Highway. – Jane Phillips/The New Mexican

Annamaria and Murphy O’Brien, former manager of Mu Du Noodles, recently opened Cafe Fina and celebrated their first week in business Wednesday with their children, Luca, 6, and Ella, 4. – Jane Phillips/The New Mexican

The grills are fired up again at the former home of Real Food Nation, a renovated gas station-turned-restaurant space near Eldorado.

The owners of Real Food Nation, which closed its doors in March, have leased the space near the intersection of Old Las Vegas Highway and U.S. 285 to a couple of restaurant business veterans who opened Cafe Fina on Independence Day. Annamaria and Murphy O’Brien said they envision Cafe Fina as a neighborhood meeting place that serves “modern comfort food” in an area that desperately needed more options for cuisine.

Blyth Timken, one of Real Food Nation’s owners, told a reporter in March that “novice mistakes” doomed her business. But the O’Briens both have worked in restaurants for years — Murphy since he was a kid who spent summers helping out at his sister’s restaurant in Dallas. He remembers cooking up hash browns and eggs in a sweltering kitchen and says his experiences inspired a career in food and many of the menu items at Cafe Fina, named for the Fina gas station that used to occupy the site.

Annamaria said this is the first time the couple has gone into business together. “I was scared, but it’s really been a nice collaboration,” she said. “When this came up, I was Murphy’s biggest cheerleader because I really wanted to stay in Santa Fe.”

The couple met in October 2005, and by the beginning of 2006 they were married. They have two children.

The menu items include basic New Mexican brunch fare such as a breakfast burrito and an enchilada plate, with a few unexpected dishes such as a tilapia sandwich and ricotta pancakes, also known as “cloud cakes.” All of the baked goods (cookies, lemon bars and sour cream coffee cake, to name a few) are made from scratch, in-house, with the exception of the croissants.

“These are things I’ve craved from meals I’ve had in my life,” said Murphy, former manager of Mu Du Noodles in Santa Fe.

The O’Briens said they plan to expand the menu to include quiches and more sandwich and salad options. They plan to open a drive-up window and offer a service in which parents can order box lunches for their children that the pair will either deliver or that parents can pick up. They also want to obtain a beer and wine license and start serving dinner (the restaurant currently closes at 3 p.m.).

Still, their business model is to “keep it simple,” which they said the owners of Real Food Nation failed to do. Real Food Nation grew much of the restaurant’s ingredients on-site and the owners also operated an adjacent restaurant called the Supper Club, which closed along with Real Food Nation.

“They were taking a lot on,” Murphy said. “They were trying to operate two restaurants and a garden. We’re just doing this cafe.”

Murphy knows what it is like to start a restaurant and see it fail. In 1998, he closed the doors to Atalaya Restaurant and Bakery, which he owned and operated for three years in the space on South Guadalupe Street now occupied by Whole Hog. He said he, too, failed to keep things simple with that business and took on too much.

“We took over a building that needed a lot of work. It had no commercial kitchen,” he said. “This building was ready to go.”

This time he relied on the kindness of friends to help him with everything from renovations to designing a Cafe Fina website. “Everyone’s so invested in us succeeding,” Murphy said.

Real Food Nation’s owners were two of the biggest supporters. “They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” Murphy said. “They want us to succeed.”

During the interview Stephanie and Joe Galarza stopped in for a bite after going on a bike ride in the area. Joe ordered a cheeseburger and Stephanie got the tilapia. They said they make it a point to support local businesses.

“This is a nice little spot to catch a bite on the way back to Santa Fe,” Joe said.

What: Cafe Fina
Where: 624 Old Las Vegas Highway
Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday