O M I R A
Story by Erin Brooks. Photos by Gabriella Marks. To see more of Gabriella’s work, visit http://gabriellamarks.com. There’s a reason she’s my favorite photographer to work with! First published in the October issue of Local Flavor Magazine.
One often discovers some of Santa Fe’s best spots in unlikely places: up or down a flight of stairs, off a tiny side street or concealed behind other businesses. This is the case with Omira Bar & Grill, Ziggy Rzig’s new restaurant tucked away inconspicuously in the shopping center on the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road. Omira, which opened in June, borrows the concept of the Brazilian rodízio, a style of service common at churrascarias, or Brazilian-style steakhouses. For a fixed price, customers enjoy samples of various grilled meats sliced off a skewer by servers, or carvers, who keep coming back until the table signals they’ve had enough. The location may be a bit off the beaten track, but I have a feeling Omira won’t be unknown for long.
That’s because this isn’t the average all-you-can-eat restaurant, and Ziggy Rzig isn’t the average restaurant owner. Originally from Tunisia, Ziggy came to the US in 1998, he tells me, “with only $100 in my pocket.” While in school for civil engineering, he supported himself by working in restaurants. In 2003 he walked into the failing Pyramid Café and convinced the owner to sell it to him. “The previous owner was about to close the restaurant, but I saw potential there,” the entrepreneurial Ziggy says. “It was a gamble, but it turns out I was made for the restaurant business.” He later opened a second Pyramid Café in Los Alamos.
The advent of Omira came after the closure of Ziggy’s International Market, which opened in 2008 but closed after Talin Market World Food Fare came to town. “That was a big turn in my life—it was a whole different ball game than the restaurant business,” Ziggy reflects. “It needed a lot of capital, which I didn’t have, so I was breaking my back to support the place.” He decided it was time to move on to the next thing. “I love taking challenges,” he says, smiling. “I get bored quickly, so looking for the next challenge keeps me going. When Talin came to Santa Fe it was a big disappointment, but I decided to let them do their thing, and move on to the next venture.”
Like any good businessman, Ziggy looked for a niche, something no one else has done in Santa Fe. He started with the Brazilian concept of serving grilled meat from a skewer. But from here he branched out, consulting with three chefs—each from a different background—to come up with what he calls international cuisine. “I don’t consider this a Brazilian restaurant,” he says, making the distinction between the variety of food he offers and the Brazilian concept he took as his model. “Each of the chefs I worked with did their own traditional cooking. This was a combined effort.”
Ziggy consulted David Boxer, a chef from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, who decided to focus on Indian and Caribbean cuisine for the menu. Michel Gerard, whom Ziggy calls “the master of meats,” brought his knowledge of Brazilian barbecue into the mix. Ziggy’s wife Sally, who currently resides as chef, is from a South East Asian background and brings a bit of Asian influence to Omira’s menu. The result is an international mix of dishes: Asian coleslaw, Caribbean beef stew, curry mango chicken and meats ranging from Mediterranean chicken wrapped in bacon to Tokyo-style beef and German sausage. Even the “salad bar” is not what you’d expect. Forget lettuce, tomatoes and vinaigrette. Here, you can choose from almost two dozen already prepared dishes like soups, two types of kale salad, warm potato cakes, basmati rice and delicious chopped watermelon and cantaloupe in mint dressing.
What really makes Omira unique and a cut above other all-you-can-eat restaurants is the quality of the food. Meats and produce alike are sourced locally, and Ziggy tells me that the most important thing for him is the quality of the food. Grass-fed pork and lamb come from Talus Wind Ranch Heritage Meats, a 460-acre ranch in Galisteo with a dedication to humanely raised meats and environmental sustainability. Grass-fed beef is sourced from 4 Daughters Land & Cattle Company, located south of Los Lunas. Ziggy also visits the farmers’ market each week to find local produce. He is excited at the freedom sourcing locally brings to the menu at Omira. “I can go to the farmers’ market twice a week and change the menu every day if I want,” he says excitedly.
Sourcing food locally also gives Ziggy the opportunity to form relationships with local producers. “When I buy locally,” he says, “I know the producers, and I know they care about what they do, just like me. They’re knowledgeable, and they do what they do because they enjoy it and have a passion for it. It’s not like the big companies who just care about making a profit.”
Ziggy’s enthusiasm and dedication are apparent when I stop by Omira for dinner. Before moving to a table I take a few minutes at the bar, and Ziggy explains his eccentric beer selections. All the beers on tap are from Belgium, and they aren’t available on tap anywhere else in Santa Fe. “This is what Stella Artois wants to be,” Ziggy boasts as he pours me a taste of the light, fresh Bavik Premium Pilsner. Next, I try the Lucifer Blonde, a very “Champagne-like” beer, which is extraordinarily light and crisp at eight percent alcohol. Ziggy has also taken care with the wine list, choosing several food-friendly by-the-glass wines like a Terredora Aglianico from Italy and an aromatic 2 Copas Macabeo from Spain. Bottles are reasonably priced, with the widest selection ranging from about $20-$60. If you don’t want beer or wine, you can always go for a Brazilian lemonade or limeade.
I made sure to save my appetite for dinner, thinking I’d try a bit of everything, but the sheer number of dishes quickly got the best of my dinner companion and me—we’re already looking forward to going back to try more. Our first stop was the salad bar. We loaded our plates with Caribbean-style beans, curry chicken and both potato and kale salad. Signs designate which items are made from local ingredients. I loved the hearty Caribbean beef stew, which was wonderfully flavorful, and the curry mango chicken that fell right off the bone. Most of the dishes at the salad bar are great options for herbivores, and dining without grilled meats costs about a third less. Vegans will find some items here as well (mushrooms in balsamic vinaigrette, kale salad, rice and fresh fruit).
Next, we tapped on the silver lamp on the table, which signals to carvers to come over with samples or, if the light is turned off, to stop. With the light on, our journey through the meats began. The super friendly carvers came one by one to our table to offer us small bites of different meats, explaining the preparations and marinades. First was leg of lamb marinated in mint yogurt sauce, followed by ground turkey eggrolls with an Asian-style Sriracha and soy sauce hot sauce—so yummy! The prime rib was a highlight, having been cooked slowly on a skewer with a bit of fat, which flavored and softened the meat. The jerk chicken was deliciously juicy and I loved how all the meats, whether sausage or filet mignon, came out piping hot and dripping with juices. The grilled pineapple basted in butter and brown sugar was the perfect dessert. I’ve never had warm pineapple, but it’s incomparable to the fruit’s flavor when served at room temperature—the heat makes the juices explode in your mouth. My favorite part about our dinner was the melding of different flavors on our plates: prime rib with Caribbean beans, potato cakes with kale, spicy egg rolls with basmati rice.
Although the portions are small, it’s impossible to leave Omira hungry, as there are so many dishes to sample. The price is more than fair—$27.95 per person. I can’t think of another restaurant in town that offers higher quality food at such an inexpensive price tag, and I’ve easily racked up $150 bills at tapas restaurants in town. Ziggy explains that volume will be the key to success at Omira, and hopes to fill the restaurant for both lunch and dinner (it seats about 100). With private booths lining the walls and tables for larger parties, this will be the perfect spot for couples and large groups alike. I can’t wait to see Omira catch on—this is a great addition to our City Different.
Omira Bar & Grill is located at 1005 South St. Francis Drive (right next to Susan’s Fine Wines). 505.780.5483. omiragrill.com