Sante Fe Grille

A Southwestern-style restaurant comes to Rocky Hill.

By: Antoinette Buckley

Sante Fe Grille

137 Washington St., Rocky Hill

(609) 683-8930
Food: Fair to good

Cuisine: Southwestern/American

Service: Fair

Ambiance: Lively pub-like atmosphere in bar, quiet and comfortable in side dining room

Prices: Inexpensive to moderate

Hours: Dinner: Mon.-Sat,. 5-10 p.m., Sun. 4-9 p.m., Bar open until 1 a.m. Opening for lunch soon.

Essentials: Major credit cards accepted; liquor license; non-smoking except for bar; wheelchair accessible; reservations for parties of six or more are recommended.

   ROCKY HILL — About three months ago, Sante Fe Grille moved into the space that the former British-style pub, The Rocky Hill Inn, used to occupy. The Grille’s Southwestern theme is reflected in the decor of a quiet side dining room done in pretty pale hues and fringed with Aztec art. But the decor in the main dining room where the bar holds a prominent spot, hasn’t taken on the same Southwest feel. Instead, dark wood paneled walls enclose the space and some of the same decorative mirrors displaying beer logos dress the walls as they did when it was The Rocky Hill Inn. It remains a comfortable, warm space in spite of its uncanny resemblance to its former occupant.
   The menu is mostly Southwestern, yet still covers the basics such as hamburgers and pasta dishes. The selection is well rounded but not especially creative. As for the food’s success, it’s hit or miss. Appetizers are a strong point. A plate of breaded and fried veggies ($5.49) couldn’t miss with a cool, yet slightly spicy ranch dressing for dipping. And the Chicken Quesadilla ($6.49) stood up to some of the best I’ve had. Healthy slices of well seasoned chicken filled the center of two soft tortilla layers. And gooey cheese, having the habit of making anything taste heavenly, didn’t fail here.
   The Overstuffed Baked Potato Soup ($3.99 for a cup) was a pleasant surprise. A velvety purée of potato (missing the bacon that the menu promised) filled the bowl and a blanket of melted cheddar cheese completely covered it. For $5.29 you may have the soup served in a bread bowl which would make an already sinful soup even more indulgent.
   I wish we hadn’t wasted any room in our stomachs on the Spicy Quesadilla Rolls ($5.99) served with sour cream. Tortillas tightly wound to the width of a cigar were fried and slightly crunchy. The menu promised a spicy filling involving chicken, black beans and cheese. But only the heat of jalapeno peppers were discernible.
   Entrees got mixed reactions. Their accompanying sides needed some work as they had a tendency to drag down even the successful dishes. The two fish dishes we ordered were lacking. The Cajun Red Snapper ($16.99) tasted a little fishy. And the Cajun seasoning did not integrate well with it. Sides of stringy asparagus and chunks of bland sweet potatoes accompanied. The Drunken’ Salmon ($12.99) did better. It was kept moist, having been grilled just the right amount of time. But the Tequila lime sauce that dressed it was somewhat lifeless.
   Smothered Sante Fe Steak ($11.99) was a pleaser. It featured a tender marinated steak hidden under a delicious mountain of peppers, onions, mushrooms and pepper jack cheese. The Mexican rice that accompanied was good. But the corn that was placed alongside was mealy.
   The most artistic dish was the overstuffed Vera Cruz burrito, for a reasonable $8.99. A huge emerald-green spinach tortilla enveloped a multifaceted stuffing of Mexican rice, black beans and tasty jumbo shrimp. Yellow and red chips garnished the plate, adding brilliance to a colorful meal. We expected cheese to be served with the Vera Cruz by the way the menu read. But the Vera Cruz does not come with cheese, which can be a disappointment when you’re counting on it.
   A special dessert of Apple Crumble ($4.99) featuring warm sliced apples topped with an oatmeal-based crumb and served with vanilla ice cream was a favorite. And the Sante Fe Pie ($4.29) — a warm chocolate chip pie with pecans drizzled with chocolate sauce — was worth the calories. But I wasn’t fond of the Sante Fe Cinnamon Sticks ($3.99) served with cinnamon ice cream.
   To say that the service needed polishing is an understatement. Our waiter had an awkward manner and was uninformed about the food. We had to ask for things like extra napkins and water refills more than once. Two of our entrees came with a choice of Mexican rice, waffle fries or beans. However, our waiter never asked either diner his preference (Mexican rice accompanied both). Still, the most perturbing blunder was our entrees arriving to the table while we were still eating our appetizers.
   Sante Fe Grille is a three-month-old sister restaurant to the popular take-out shop, Sante Fe Express on Nassau Street in Princeton. The Grille seems to do best the things they’ve been doing well at Sante Fe Express for two years — quesadillas and burritos. There is much room for improvement at the Grille right down to the strawberry margaritas.
   But success is not out of reach with such a dedicated and well intentioned owner running the show. Jenna Kleinman is energetic and eager to please her customers, which are two key ingredients for any start-up business.