Kitchens are funny things. A busy one will often work better and faster than the same galley stuck in the doldrums of a slow day, week or age. And the whole fighting-ship analogy is apt: a busy crew, left with little time to think about their sorry lot, forever running under the constant pressure of the ticket printer, is a crew less likely to get up to pointless mischief and more likely to work together tightly, with every hand knowing its business and every plate a thoughtless, reflexive iteration of the one before. But a slow house? For a working cook, there’s no fear quite like the fear of being forced to stand, in heavy whites and checks, before a blazing flattop hour after hour with nothing to do but think about how much better your life might’ve been if only you’d taken your mother’s advice years ago and become a welder or maybe a car thief. I’ve seen kitchens mutiny. I’ve been part of a couple, even led one. And these days, when I sit down to eat in a slow house where I am the only customer (or close enough), I feel that same clutch of fear in my guts when I think about the boys standing on the line, brainlessly arranging and re-arranging their mise, jumping out for longer and longer cigarette breaks until, finally, they decide just not to come back. “Jesus…” I think. “What if I’d ended up here?”
“Jesus…” I thought, sitting in the echoing dining room of the Santa Fe Tequila Company a couple weeks back, my spine straight against the faux-adobe booth-back, fingers running across the brass brads decorating the edge of the table. “What if I’d ended up here?”
My recent dinners at the Santa Fe Tequila Company, which I review in this week's Cafe, weren't all bad, but they were all rather quiet. I visited the nine-month-old restaurant on three different occasions, and on all three my table was either the only one in the house or one of just a handful, attended to by servers who acted as though this was the rule, not the exception.
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On most days, customers were outnumbered by cooks and servers, bussers and barbacks, and more people were coming in to apply for those jobs. At every turn, there was this sense of hurrying-up-to-wait, the feeling that there might be a huge rush ready to come in any minute --but that would more than likely never arrive.
I tried a couple of decent dishes, some that were not so good, and then got an excellent green chile cheeseburger that, in being such a close copy of the one done at the Owl Bar in New Mexico, gives me immeasureable comfort. No longer will I have to drive six hours for a good green chile cheeseburger. Nor will I have to worry about fighting the kinds of crowds the Owl draws -- or, truly, about any crowds at all.
I talk about that burger in this week's Bite Me. And in Second Helping, I move down Santa Fe Drive for a memorable meal at El Noa Noa. -- Jason Sheehan