Rustica offers classic Italian with a contemporary twist
South Santa Fe is booming with new growth and construction that offers endless reasons to venture south from Siler or head north from Albuquerque to sample what’s new at The City Different. After reviewing many restaurants over the past year, I have yet to feature a South Side dining establishment. After a friend took me to Rustica for my birthday – which exceeded my expectations, I came back another night to make sure it was the real deal. And it’s.
Located off Cerrillos Road, opposite highly successful sister restaurant The Ranch House, owners Josh Baum and Ann Gordon are building a culinary empire. Although Rustica opened to mixed reviews a year ago, it was during Covid and anyone brave enough to open a restaurant during a pandemic deserves a break. However, after reading countless rave reviews on social media lately, I was thrilled to make my inaugural visit.
The restaurant is a wonder of the south. The tiled floor in the lobby will immediately put a smile on your face. Bright and bold, but not too daring, the tile is a centerpiece that escapes happiness. With three dining areas to choose from, the indoor dining area is large and filled with banquettes and four-tier tables, the bar offers high chairs as well as a dining area, while the patio offers covered space to enjoy. good food and good weather.
While the clean, modern, and sophisticated interior lends itself to high prices, the thoughtful menu is both accessible and affordable, and a full bar invites guests to sip a specialty cocktail to start the evening. We were smitten by the Rosemary Gin and Tonic ($7), Aperol Spritz ($7) and Rustica Margarita ($10). The smell of rosemary when sipping the gin and tonic is clever and adds an herbal layer to a simple drink and the Rustica Margarita is made with homemade limoncello which gives this signature cocktail an Italian touch. A wide range of creative, homemade dishes promise something for everyone and the kitchen prides itself on gluten-free options.
During two visits in one week, my dining companions and I enjoyed the Caesar salad ($10) and the kale and apple salad ($10). Using pesto as the base for the Caesar dressing, this is a standalone salad that will accompany you long after you leave Rustica. The basil pesto dressing is so tasty they could serve it on a flip flop and we would lick the sandal clean. The use of romaine and baby kale is a healthy nod that I didn’t miss and the grated parmesan cheese makes you appreciate the kitchen’s attention to detail.
On the lighter side, the kale and apple salad could easily be topped with choice protein to make a light and healthy dinner. Baby kale is tossed with crisp and tangy green apple sticks, dried cherries, thinly sliced red onion and crumbled gorgonzola for a combination that will knock your socks off.
For comfort food, we ordered fried calamari ($10) which features perfectly crispy calamari rings and tentacles with fried pepperoncini slices for a nice marinated zing. Served with an aioli and a hot marinara, we weren’t sure which sauce we preferred.
Because gluten-free is often a challenge, this kitchen makes its own gluten-free pasta and pizza dough, so we ordered both. Cavatelli Pasta ($18) is a savory and rich pasta dish that includes homemade crumbled Italian sausages with a creamy rossa sauce, a tomato-based sauce and red peppers for a sweeter sauce, and a few stalks of broccolini for a punch of color. Although I think this dish would be better when the weather is cooler, we devoured this serious pasta dish and the homemade gluten-free fettuccine was more than impressive.
On the other hand, the gluten free pizza wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was ok. We deviated from the norm and ordered the Rustica ($14) with ricotta, fresh mozzarella, gorgonzola, garlic, pecorino, red onion, prosciutto and calbrian pepper honey . The crust was chewy and the dough seemed quite moist before baking, but I admired the attempt.
For the second visit, my table mates had Shrimp Piccata ($18) and Duck Ravioli ($18), while I ordered the Branzino ($24). Typically, branzino is served in high-end restaurants and can cost upwards of $40. Served with crispy potatoes and roasted tomatoes and a side of broccolini, this fish dish was delicious but definitely craves a light sauce to bring it all together – and the potatoes could also have used a sauce as they were a bit dry.
The sauce on the Shrimp Piccata was the show stopper. Salted capers pair brilliantly with butter, garlic, parsley, white wine and olive oil to form a sensational sauce that clings to homemade pasta. Small tomato halves are cooked until almost broken down to add even more flavor to this sauce. The dish includes six prawns which were small, but not overcooked.
The kitchen also prepares the pasta for the ravioli. Eight large ravioli are stuffed with shredded duck and topped with a stellar Marsala wine and mushroom sauce. It seems the kitchen has a knack for sauces, so the lack of light sauce for the branzino seems like an oversight.
Even though we didn’t have room for dessert, we had to make sure their desserts were up to snuff. On my first visit, we shared the Warm Chocolate Budino ($8). Think really undercooked chocolate lava cake. The pudding didn’t do it for me, but I was captivated by the textural combination of the hot pudding and the cold salted caramel ice cream. On the same note, we weren’t mesmerized by the Apple Crostada ($8). The crust was overcooked and there were hardly any apples in the filling. But the vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce was just what we needed on a hot summer night.
Overall we found the staff to be welcoming, caring and proud of the high quality food and unique dining experience. Savannah looked after us on the patio on our first visit and although we waited a bit for our server to reach us on the second visit, having Divine looking after us was well worth the wait. Her dimples, her smile and her genuine happiness lifted our spirits. During class, Divine placed a new rolled napkin with fresh silverware in front of me as she surreptitiously slung my cloth napkin over my lap. It was magical the way she did that and it made me feel super special.
The next time you want classic Italian with a contemporary twist at a fair and reasonable price, know that Rustica is waiting for you with a cheerful interior, homemade pasta, long-simmered sauces, friendly staff and competent cuisine. It’s a powerful combination that deserves a lot more attention.