401 Fine Neighborhood Dining - a new addition to Santa Fe’s dining scene

Update: 401 is no longer in business. It was a short run!

For a food lover, at least this one, it’s always exciting to find a chef who’s obviously passionate about food and cooking. When I called Santa Fe’s new 401 Fine Neighborhood Dining (named for ts address on Guadalupe Street), to get information for our monthly Tidbits post, Chef Laura (pronounced Lao-ra), answered the phone. It was the first day the new restaurant was officially open and though busy, she took a moment to talk. Her enthusiasm for food and the new restaurant was contagious. When she heard we had a blog and wrote about food, she invited us to dinner as her guests. We gave 401 restaurant a few weeks to get up to speed and went to dinner on a hot early summer Friday night.

About Chef Laura

401 Restaurant Esecutive Chef Laura Licona

Executive Chef Laura of 401 photo/courtesy 401 Fine Neighborhood Dining

Chef Laura Licona is almost a native. Her family moved to Nambe, northeast of Santa Fe when she was two.  She’s passionate about food and cooking. You’ll discover this seconds into a conversation with her.

Licona, who studied for a doctorate in food anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle, spent a bunch of time there before returning to Santa Fe. She considers herself a nose to tail chef, sites British chef, Fergus Henderson, as one of her inspirations. She subscribes to his theory about making friends with your ingredients. She puts it this way, “if you’re ingredients know you’re afraid of them they will misbehave and run away from you.” They are putty in Licona’s talented hands. Licona calls 401’s food “global American and feels she’s offering “high end food at affordable prices.” There’s a strong Italian influence on the menu and a bit of France as well. Not surprising as she studied at the Cordon Bleu honed her cooking skills working in kitchens in Emilia-Romagna. Her last gig as a chef before 401 restaurant was at Corretto Trattorria, a Seattle pasta eatery.

When asked how she got interested in cooking, Licona replied “It was part of my core when I was little.” At age sic she butchered a quail. By age eight she’d moved on to cows and goats. “That was part of my being,” the enthusiastic chef said. “I thought everyone was like that.” Most of the family’s cooking was done outside; on a grill or smoker, on a disk (this is where you cooked anything that could fall through the grill grate) or in a fire pit. No wonder she’s a nose to tail chef.

Licona, who is committed to locally grown and produced foods, plans to offer a “Market Lunches” on Saturdays later this summer401 Fine Neighborhood Dining’s email list.

Chatting with Jack Shaab

Want to know why there are zebras on the wall. Ask Jack Schaab when you go to 401 photo Steve Collins

Want to know why there are zebras on the wall. Ask Jack Schaab when you go to 401 photo/Steve Collins

We chatted a bit with 401 Fine Neighborhood Dining’s co-owner Jack Shaab, who’s opened and owned successful Santa Fe dining establishments. Shaab, who runs the front of the house and has been visiting Santa Fe since the late 1970s, moved here permanently in 1991. He opened Bistro 315 (now 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar) a few decades ago with Chef Matt Yohalem, then the pair went on to open Il Piatto which Yohalem still runs. Before moving to The City Different, he worked at several renowned NYC eateries. When asked how he and Licona get together, he responded, “Craig’s List.” He interviewed three chefs. The first, an Italian chef from Philly was great but didn’t want to relocate to Santa Fe. The second was technically perfect but lacked what Shaab called”soul.” The third was just right. He invited Licona to his home to cook for him. “That’s it!” he thought and the rest will hopefully be Santa Fe culinary history.

Our dinner

When we arrived at 401 Fine Neighborhood Dining at 6:15 the dining room with its red walls painted with leaping zebras was empty. This didn’t bode well, but by 7, the room was filled with diners. Our delightful server, Leticia, who hails from Belgium, was very welcoming. Chef Laura came out to meet us and asked if we wanted to order off the menu or have her surprise us, we chose to be surprised. She nailed it.

Pâté and Pickles

401 restaurant- Pâté and Pickles and a side of house-made potato chips photo Steve Collins

Pâté and Pickles and a side of house-made potato chips photo/Steve Collins

Our first course the Pâté and Pickles plate was definitely the appetizer we would have chosen to order. It was a tempting array o chicken liver mousse paté with mustard “caviar, duck rillette, fois gras torchon (for a surcharge), strawberry/pepper chutney, pickled onions. Our plate came with Parmesan crisps, but according to Chef Laura, it’s now served crispy crostini. It arrived with a side order of house-made potato chips ($6), which are now served with a smoked tomato aioli which I imagine is heavenly. We’ll have to go back and try it. I love chicken liver and sat there savoring the velvety pate with my eyes closed. The buttery torchon (which spent the night in Cognac, was soaked in milk in the morning and then poached in duck broth), was rich and silky smooth and went well with the strawberry/pepper chutney, a pleasing balance of sweet and hot.

Burata, gazpacho and gnocchi

401 restaurant - Burrata with poached pear and asparagus, photo Steve Collins

Burrata with poached pear and asparagus, photo/Steve Collins

Our next course, buratta, was topped with poached pear and asparagus spears with a balsamic reduction and pepita gremolata. This was followed with a sweet, savory strawberry gazpacho with a hint of cucumber and a dollop of crème fraiche, was perfect on a hot summer evening.

491 restaurant - Feather light gnocchi with parsley pesto, photo Steve Collins

Feather light gnocchi with parsley pesto, photo/Steve Collins

Next up, a bowl of pillowy gnocchi made with ricotta, Parmesan, and a soupcon of flour was sauced with a parsley pesto. The light as a feather circles bursting in my mouth were a pleasant surprise. Confession: I wouldn’t have ordered gnocchi. I’d tried a leaden version decades ago and wasn’t impressed. When I told her how much I liked hers and shared my gnocchi experience, she immediately told me I’d had potato gnocchi; she was right. I’m so glad Chef Laura didn’t ask but just sent it out. My food horizons were broadened.

The main event

401 restaurant - Rib lamb chops over lemony risotto and garden-fresh pea puree, photo Steve Collins

Rib lamb chops over lemony risotto and garden-fresh pea puree, photo/Steve Collins

It was time for the main course. Chef Laura asked our preference from the proteins offered on the menu; we opted for lamb. Two double locally-raised rib chops arrived topped with savory salsa verde, a mix of fresh herbs, anchovies and olive oil served over lemony risotto atop pureed peas fresh from the farm. The peppery Frenched chops were perfectly rare.

The wind-up

401 restaurant - The finale -tiramisu, photo Steve Collins

The finale -tiramisu, photo /Steve Collins

We were full and would have passed on dessert, but a creamy, delicious tiramisu arrived at the table. What were we to do? Eat it of course! At least some of it.

Sated and smiling we emerged from 401 Fine Neighborhood Dining into the cooling Santa Fe evening at evening knowing that we had discovered another worthy Santa Fe restaurant.


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8 Responses to “401 Fine Neighborhood Dining - a new addition to Santa Fe’s dining scene”

  1. Rebecca
    July 18, 2019 at 3:47 am #

    What a medley of dishes to try out! I love pate, and tirimisu does it for me every time. I’d never heard of Food Anthropology as a field of study!
    Thanks for sharing this - I shall be sure to look out for 401 Restaurant if I ever make it to Santa Fe (and I would love to visit one day).
    Rebecca recently posted..Celestyal Cruises - Around the AegeanMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      July 19, 2019 at 12:18 pm #

      Maybe it’s where we live but I’ve met several food anthropologists. It’s fascinating. I’m a big pate fan. too, especially soft pates.

  2. The GypsyNesters
    July 20, 2019 at 10:42 am #

    Looks wonderful, and a definite change of pace from the usual southwestern flavors of Santa Fe.

    • Billie Frank
      July 21, 2019 at 9:50 am #

      Actually, we have very diverse culinary options in Santa Fe- southwestern, which is Northern New Mexican in these parts, is only one of them.

  3. Irene S. Levine
    July 21, 2019 at 11:47 am #

    Looks like a lovely meal at 401 restaurant. And doesn’t the food taste better when you fall in love with the chef?:-)
    Irene S. Levine recently posted..Repurposed hotels offer a glimpse into the pastMy Profile

  4. Judy Freedman
    July 21, 2019 at 2:16 pm #

    I’ve never been to Santa Fe. It’s high up on my life after 50 travel list. This post makes me want to go even more.
    Judy Freedman recently posted..“Absolutely Fabulous – The Movie” Is Fabulous, Fashionable, and FunMy Profile

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