In New Mexico, a “matanza” is a celebration, a something like a rodeo with the addition of a communal slaughtering of livestock. In the more rural parts of our state, matanzas follow this tradition, offering prizes for butchering and slaughtering skills. In Nob Hill, though, Matanza has instead become a restaurant. So it goes, tradition becomes appropriated and commodified, but hey, it’s a catchy name, right? Maybe we can chalk it up to hometown pride. And what really matters here is the dining.The space, which took over the old Savvy Boutique, is large for Nob Hill. A few televisions hang over the bar showing The Game; there’s lots of raw stone and wood and metal. Large tables and low booths take up the center of the room, while two-tops nestle in by the windows. It’s a sleek and comfortable space with a distinct upscale sensibility.First, the beer: There are about a million draft taps lined up on the back wall behind the marble bar counter. The rainbow of tap handles represent over a hundred beers from a seriously expansive lineup of New Mexico breweries, even some far-flung offerings like a pecan ale from (where else) the Pecan Brewery in Las Cruces. And, naturally, plenty from the ABQ metro area, like Marble, Boxing Bear, Red Door, La Cumbre and B2B. Feeling like I needed something new, I tried two of Matanza’s own branded offerings. One, simply called “Habañero” was quite good, a pale ale with spice from the chile just hot enough to make an impact without overwhelming the other flavors. The other, an “Indian stout” laces its dark barley with curry. Too much, really. Skip it unless you’re excited about a beer that tastes like an Indian restaurant smells.So far, not too bad. Appetizers include a phenomenal calabacitas bisque, which is warming and homey and squash-sweet with a slow-burn heat from green chile. Skip the “trifecta” of salsa, guacamole and queso, though. It has a lackluster impact for its $10 price tag with little to recommend the bland salsa and queso. Instead, maybe opt for flying hogs, a plate of pork-on-the-bone cooked either Buffalo style or New Mexican. Same price, but more satisfying.The lunch menu offers some great sandwiches and salads (or “sangwiches” and “ensaladas,” as the Burqueño pastiche lays it out on the menu itself). The Burgesa, with red chile aioli is a tremendously good hunk of meat, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that the owners also run Q Burger. The N’Orleans offers a spicy take on a muffuletta, though it’s presented more as a club sandwich than the traditional Louisiana form. The olive tapenade on the sandwich offers the kind of flavor that you’ll dream about. Skip the Sparta vegetarian burrito; its filling is a light purplish mixture of black beans and hummus, overpoweringly flavored with garlic. It seemed, so help me, more like a chip dip in a tortilla than a burrito.Ironically, the menu section labeled “Favoritos” wound up offering my least favorite items. Duck tamales, for instance, though promised as a “future award winner” on the menu, wound up as less than spectacular. The duck was begging for more spice, and the masa was too dry and crumbly. The dish comes with a sweet red chile molé, but the flavor didn’t meld with the tamale so much as flood over it.Like all of the entrées, it comes with calabacitas. These are particularly heavy on the corn, with the squash slices few and far between. Like the Sparta, the calabacitas are heavily laden with garlic. It’s a peculiar thing at Matanza, but it seems like the food is either far too subtly spiced or over-spiced.My companion tried the black and blue label tacos, which offer blue corn tortillas filled with kobe beef and (according to the menu) bleu cheese. The beef was flavorful, though dry, and the bleu cheese was, well, hard to find and hardly offered much to the overall taste.Given the price of these entrées, I unfortunately can’t recommend them. The ideas behind them are innovative, but the plated reality can’t quite measure up. For now, I suggest that diners stick with the sandwiches and beer. The bottom line still tends toward the pricey, but the sandwiches I had were far more satisfying.Here’s hoping that these are issues that can be worked out as the restaurant continues to evolve. Perhaps then Matanza can be worthy of a celebration of its own.
Matanza 3225 Central NE312-7305matanzanm.comHours: 4pm to 11pm Mondays11:30am to 11pm Tuesday through SundayVibe: Sleek yet comfortableExtras: Nob Hill people watchingAlibi recommends: N’Orleans, burgesa and calabacitas bisque