>> Thursday, March 10, 2011

SANTA FE is (finally) closed.
107-18 70th Road
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 459-4040

Uno's, TGI Friday's, Sizzler. These three chain restaurants nestle themselves comfortably in the 11375 zip code. They serve decent, if not particularly impressive food, they don't cost a ton, and they're frequently crowded. I think we can add another chain to the list, even though it's only a chain of one. A single, lonely link. The Santa Fe Steakhouse. From the staff that wears embroidered Santa Fe polos to the Southwestern kitch theme, to the generic and patently unoriginal food, it's painfully clear that this was a franchise concept that never grew past this one location.

Service-wise, Santa Fe was great. Our waitress was very nice, very pleasant, very prompt. I can't say enough nice things about the service. The decor is straight out of Outback territory. Neon beer signs, wooden booths with tall backs, murals depicting the scenic vistas of the restaurant's namesake (the state, not the Hyundai), and so on. There's even a version of the Bloomin' Onion in the appetizers. Not being the world's largest trumpeters of the glory of mall food (go to Rego Park or Elmhurst if you are), I wasn't really expecting very much. ... Uh, to be honest, that's only partly true. I'd already eaten at Santa Fe a few times and I already wasn't impressed. But it had been a few years and I was wondering if they had, like a good steak, improved with some gentle aging. This would not, I would learn, be the case.

Pike and I arrived midweek and were promptly seated. The front was rather crowded; the rear was deserted. Come the weekends, I'm sure the place fills up. We ordered a couple of sodas while we scanned the menu. Good thing we drink diet soda because what you get here is literally a liter of cola. A pitcher with a straw in it is a single serving. If they do that with their beer, I'd be in heaven. In a sense, they do, come to think of it. You can get a bucket of five Coronas for $15. That's pretty good. But I digress.

We started with some Lobster Bisque. Here's the thing. We'd literally this past weekend been to Luke's Lobster and had lobster bisque there. Luke's Lobster makes a mighty amazing soup. So how did Santa Fe's stack up? Not well. It was thin, virtually tasteless, and almost devoid of any actual lobster. There was the smell of lobster, but when you sipped, your tongue would start accusing your nose of lying to it. "Bland" was the most often used word of the evening, as our entrees, soon to come, can attest.

The dinners come with a side dish and a salad. Some form of potato, be it baked or fried, or steamed vegetables. Pike and I, by sheer coincidence, are both on a low-carb kick so we stuck with steamed vegetables. Steamed broccoli and cauliflower are tasteless almost by design. It's hard to steam them just right to retain flavor and crunch. A good chef can, Santa Fe didn't, and most people can't anyway. My point is, I'm not complaining about the blandness of the steamed cauliflower. The salad is another story. A pitiful bowl of iceberg lettuce, a single slice of onion, a single slice of tomato, and a peppering of croutons does not a salad make. Now maybe you just soak your lettuce in a soup of French dressing and don't give a shit since you can't taste anything anyway with a mouth full of sugar and mayonnaise, but I'm not like that. Salads should stand on their own. If they can't, don't serve it.

I ordered the Rib Eye Steak, medium rare. It came medium rare but I don't know if I'd call it "steak". See, "steak" has flavor. This was more like a protein-delivery vehicle. One day, when robots make steak, they will make this steak. Soulless and artless, un-seasoned, un-crusted, perfectly designed to get 14 ounces of cow matter from a kitchen to a stomach with as little energy as possible. Santa Fe probably figures that their average customer is just going to slop a jar's worth of ketchup all over it anyway, so why bother. In that case, Santa Fe is forgiven and I shake my finger in shame at the customers. Tsk tsk. Pike ordered the Sagebrush Chicken, which Santa Fe describes as a "flame-broiled chicken breast smothered in mushrooms, bacon and jack and cheddar cheese". This is a bit of an exaggeration. Here's what it should have said: "a grilled chicken breast with two strips of bacon on top, with a few slices of Cracker Barrel melted on top. Then we take some mushrooms and put them next to it." This was marginally better than my steak, if for no reason other than because my steak didn't have bacon and melted cheese hugging it like a down jacket. Still, it was bland and somewhat pitiful to look at.

Calling Santa Fe a steakhouse when it's menu has all of six kinds of steak is a stretch. It's menu is a pretty good size with chicken dishes like the one we tried and burgers and fajitas and bar food and ribs. I imagine that it's great to take kids to since kids like theme restaurants and messy fingers and it's probably not bad if you're with some friends looking for a burger or nachos or the kind of food people in the suburbs like to be washed down with a bucket of beer or a pitcher of cola. But Santa Fe does call itself a steakhouse and it certainly isn't one. In fact, other than the sign outside, if my meal is any indication, I'd say it hardly even tries to be, save the price. My steak cost $24 and you can see what that got me.

2 sodas, 2 soups, 2 entrees, plus tax and tip came to $82. Yes. Eighty two dollars.


Anonymous,  March 11, 2011 at 10:47 PM  

You hit the nail on the head. I went there once, years ago. I ordered a NY strip. The steak I got was terminally well done, when I ordered medium. I pointed it out to the waitress, and it was removed, to be replaced by a perfectly done medium steak. Exactly the way I wanted it cooked. All that was missing was the flavor. None. Nothing. I could have gone to C-town and gotten a more flavorful steak (shudder!). Never went back....

Anonymous,  April 1, 2011 at 11:57 AM  

I ate there 2 times and once I saw a mice running around in the restaurant. I have never returned to eat there again. Mediocre food and vermin running thanks!

Cattyinqueens,  May 29, 2011 at 4:04 PM  

I find the sign at Santa Fe to be the biggest eyesore in the whole neighborhood, and that includes the macdonalds down the street and the Johnny Rockets. Ugh.

Zach,  July 1, 2012 at 9:16 PM  

I know I'm very late here, just found the site (thank you for this!), sadly there are other Santa Fe's one of which is in Manhattan (near 82nd and 2nd ave,). The prices work better there, food is just as plain.

FHAlex,  March 9, 2014 at 9:12 PM  

Years back it was OK, nothing special. However, once the economic crisis hit, they started serving cheaper cuts of meat. Also, the older manager was really rude to me once because I told him there was barely any chili on the nachos this one time. "There is as much as there ever was." Then he walked away before I could say anything.
So I stopped going there after that, about 4 years ago. I won't miss it.

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