La Casa Sena, in the historic Sena Plaza complex, has been a major force on the Santa Fe dining scene since the mid-1980s. It was time for a change. As of early this summer, the restaurant has a fresh look and feel and a new menu. Executive Chef Patrick Gharrity, who’s held that title there since 2005, has simplified his kitchen and his menu. The new concept, which the eatery is calling “New American West,” features creative American cuisine with southwestern influences. Gharrity will work with locally grown and produced foods as much as he can. The bulk of his local produce comes from the Farm to Restaurant program and he shops at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market in season. The savvy chef knows the trend to local and sustainable is here to stay.
The Lunch menu is served daily in the restaurant’s dining room. In warmer weather, you can dine in their stunning outdoor courtyard. Later in the day, there are three dining venues to choose from: the restaurant, the bar and the Cantina (a nightly cabaret where the servers sing for your supper). Before the LCS redo, there were three different menus, one for each dining concept. Now, all share the same menus, a change that must make life in a hectic kitchen easier. Early Dinner, served from 3pm to closing, is a diverse menu offering “bar food” at reasonable prices. The simple Dinner Menu, served from 5pm on, offers four starters and five entrée options. The Weekly Specials allow Chef Gharrity to take advantage of what’s fresh and seasonal at the market. It’s a winning scenario. His food influences reflect the meat and potatoes of rural Ohio where he was raises and the chile, corn, beans and squash his adopted home in Northern New Mexico. La Casa Sena takes wine seriously. They even have a wine shop, also located in Sena Plaza. When they reopened after their recent remodeling, there was an exciting new wine program in place. Their short wine list offers glasses for $10 and bottles for $40. There are some great deals here. Their wine list, as thick as some books, is so extensive it has an index.
Patrick Gharrity grew up cooking. His mother, who he calls “a gourmet cook,” allowed him to help out in the kitchen at an early age. His began his restaurant career as a dishwasher, working his way through the ranks: cook, line cook, kitchen manager, sous-chef and pastry chef (at La Casa Sena). He loves the everyday challenge of keeping his kitchen consistent, which is the hallmark of a great restaurant. He says it’s like conducting an orchestra, coordinating many things at once. “When it’s all on”, he says, “the music gives me goose bumps.”
Gharrity says he fell in love with Santa Fe during a family trip when he was 10 and always knew he’d live here. Family is still important. When not slaving over a hot stove, he loves being outdoors with his family. Hiking and biking or “nurturing and playing in our garden,” are favorite pastimes. Years later, the love affair with Santa Fe continues. “The best thing about Santa Fe,” he says, “is Santa Fe as a whole.”
Chef Patrick Gharrity shares his recipe for a cooling summer treat with Santa Fe Travelers’ readers.
Serves 2 in bowls or 4 in cups
1 average-sized Cantaloupe, remove skin and seeds and cube
½ pound Sweet Onions, cut up
12 oz Coconut milk
1 average-sized peeled cucumber, cut up
Salt to taste
Place all the ingredients into the blender and puree. Season to taste. Serve with your favorite grilled seafood.
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Disclosure: We were guests of the newly reopened La Casa Sena. Their generous hospitality has not effected this post in any way.