Liu Liu Liu is an upscale restaurant like you’ve under no circumstances found right before.
You squint at the map, then into the blinding sunshine of 7 p.m. Prior to you: the illustrious Food items King on St. Michael’s Travel. Following to it, a forlorn-wanting, vacant Kmart. According to the quivering dot on your mobile phone, you have arrived at your vacation spot.
Could this restaurant be … inside of the deserted Kmart? Your mind runs wild. Your dinner date pulls up following to you and gestures at you from inside of her VW. She would seem to have figured it out.
Not so speedy. Very first, you should the two mistakenly enter a driver’s instruction college – midsession – just before worming your way again out and all-around to a patio desk outside the dim, nameless storefront of the new cafe Liu Liu Liu. The moment you’re seated, the cryptic aspects you listened to on the restaurant’s voicemail start out to make perception. You are in fact at “the doorway beside the barber shop,” sitting down on an artificial turf-lined square of sidewalk driving a cartoonish black picket fence. You’re at “an upscale restaurant where the music performs loud and the knowledge will be considerably from the norm.”
It is an understatement. You could possibly just be in for the most strange dining encounter Santa Fe has to offer. With Liu Liu Liu’s impeccably executed plates of Taiwanese-worldwide haute delicacies, you are about to decide on your possess adventure.
Go away it to a couple of restaurateurs from Los Angeles to preserve Santa Fe bizarre – or, instead, to one-handedly rework the city’s alternatively staid white-tablecloth landscape into a decidedly more exciting one. Owner-operators Cameron Markham and Elizabeth Blankstein achieved when establishing high-quality eating ventures in Southern California they’ve considering that opened 5 eating places together. Liu Liu Liu is their first Santa Fe youngster, a compact-plate-focused, spouse and children-design and style endeavor born of their COVID-postponed wedding ceremony, as very well as a need to shake items up in the Metropolis Distinct. (Albuquerque-lifted Markham reduce his enamel in Santa Fe in the hospitality field soon after high faculty.)
Blankstein cooks in the 10-desk storefront’s open up kitchen area, in an environment very best described as estate-sale gothic, with a loud soundtrack that veers from Vivaldi to the Violent Femmes. Markham hosts and waits tables, with the help of server Edgar Meija. Markham also performs the unconventional obligation of drinking water sommelier, a title he acquired from studying under qualified Martin Riese, a guy whom the Eater web page known as “America’s only h2o sommelier” in 2015.
Markham will happily rattle on about the mineral written content of any of the very long checklist of glowing and still waters on the menu. Just before you know it, you’re quaffing a $20 bottle of Vichy Catalan, a heady Spanish blend with a significant total dissolved solids material that Markham says is accessible in only just one other American locale. You could possibly pair it with a collection from the global menu of sodas and juices, this sort of as an apple soda from Taiwan ($4) or a carbonated yerba mate mix manufactured in Miami ($4). The waters are presented and served in Champagne coupes all around about the time you notice that Liu Liu Liu is building the best argument for the return of sit-down eating given that the onset of the pandemic.
The owners’ world-wide fusion inspirations are greatest tasted in an appetizer of chicken liver mousse ($16) threaded with an apple brandy gelée, paired with a swath of taro honey beneath a selection of pillowy mini-sopaipillas dusted with pink chile. There’s also the astonishing artichoke ($16), a long-stemmed specimen braised in an fragrant five-spiced Taiwanese lu wei broth with daikon radishes and carrots, served with a tangy white garlic aioli.
Tamer options may possibly be the mellow marinated cucumbers, bathed in sesame oil, and served with yellow squash and garlic oil ($11), or even the sweet-and-salty black hummus, blended with black sesame and served with crudité ($12). Blankstein states the thick-slash noodle and beef soup ($26) arrives from a Taiwanese spouse and children recipe an entrée of ground pork served about purple forbidden rice with pickled mustard greens ($22) bears out supplemental East Asian thrives.
The swordfish ($38) is spritzed with absinthe, served more than a mash of chayote squash, married with an earthy smear of beet purée, sprinkled with edible lily bouquets, then offered at the desk with a pour-about Pernod velouté. It’s a delicately flavored, subtly nuanced dish, with velvety notes that roam from sweet fennel to savory soil. The tofu with inexperienced Sichuan peppercorns, harissa and haricots verts ($20) could look a little bit ho-hum in comparison, right until you style the peppers tingling the tofu in your mouth – and then acquire a comfortable sip of the Austrian medium-minerality Liquid Loss of life drinking water ($8).
At this level, your food might get even weirder – for instance, driver’s ed class lets out future doorway, a lost white dog wanders nearby, and the sunlight glows pink across the parking great deal over the mountains. “Where are we?” I happily ask my companion. But any peculiar happenings afoot are unmatched by the entertaining of popcorn-fried chicken ($38), a Taiwanese road foodstuff staple that Blankstein updates with fried basil, white pepper and Périgord black truffles generously shaved about the dish in advance of you. Did I point out it’s served in a vessel carefully resembling a fishbowl?
Irrespective of the incongruity of the restaurant’s surroundings, there’s a sweet harmony present in almost just about every dish at Liu Liu Liu. About two visits, I listened to excited supper company – locals and holidaymakers alike – praise the restaurant’s singular stage of view, its raucous environment and adventurous spirit. Markham suggests he and Blankstein (equally of whom have standard sommelier instruction) are getting ready to debut a beer and wine menu, fusing his know-how of New World wines with her Outdated World abilities. True to Liu Liu Liu kind, he claims, “You’re heading to come across objects on that list you simply cannot get any where else.”