It was a beautiful challenge with an amazing history," says Santa Fe Restaurant (3201 Esplanade Ave., 948-0077) co-owner Lale Ergun of her decision to reopen the eatery.
German chef Mark Hollger opened the original Santa Fe Restaurant on Frenchmen Street in the 1980s. With his secret margarita recipe and the European kick he gave Southwestern dishes, the eatery was a success, amassing a band of avid followers during the 20 years that it remained open, until Hollger was diagnosed with cancer.
"When I found out about Santa Fe and that it was having trouble, I fell in love with the history. It was just what I needed at that time in my life," Ergun says.
She and husband Carlos Lourenco reincarnated the restaurant on Esplanade Avenue in August 2009. Today, some traditional dishes remain, like chicken Maximilian and the Santa Fe combo, but an updated menu adds a Latin touch to the Southwestern cuisine.
"In Santa Fe, they don't put nuts and raisins on your burrito, but Hollger did. I have a lot of respect for him and kept a lot of those little details ... but we have improved the old menu, modernized it and innovated it to include a Latin influence," Ergun says.
Having lived in numerous countries, the couple brings international experience to the table when concocting dishes. All items are seasoned with international spices made in house. New favorites include tortilla-crusted crab cakes and other offerings that cater to what Ergun calls "the lighter palate" of the younger generation.
While food is a top priority for Ergun, ambience is another focal point in the restaurant's rejuvenation. Ergun added an outdoor seating area that customers love, and more remodeling is in the works.
"I want to turn the whole building into a little hacienda. Something very elegant but simple. I want guests to feel comfortable bringing children, elderly parents and even pets," Ergun says.
On Thursdays the restaurant features live Latin jazz, and on Sunday nights Brazillian musician Riccardo Crespo plays the guitar.
"Several customers have said, 'When we sit here, we could be anywhere in Spain. It is a vacation to come here,''' Ergun says.