ON A SATURDAY EVENING AT LAMBERT’S of Taos, the intimate dining rooms are full of people. A joyous atmosphere reigns, accompanied by enticing aromas of grilled filet mignon, house-made pasta with lobster and prawns, and other fresh fare. A low din of delight is audible from where I sit at a linen-topped table in the bar.
The bartender greets guests like old friends as he pours signature Treehouse margaritas and other craft cocktails. Locals and out-of-towners alike slide into bar chairs, happy to be in this turn-of-the-century adobe residence turned charming restaurant on historic Bent Street.
I’m joined by Nathaniel Troy Jr., whose family owns this revered restaurant. “We’re known for contemporary American cuisine with locally sourced ingredients,” Troy tells me. I’m about to cut into a grilled petit filet mignon with a luscious mulled-red-wine demi-glace. “A lot of people order the filet consistently, along with the game and seafood specials.”
Servers wind their way through four romantic dining rooms connected by arched doorways and thick adobe walls. Light glows from beehive fireplaces and glass candle holders on tables. The windows in the Governor’s Dining Room overlook the former adobe home of Charles Bent, New Mexico’s first territorial and American governor, who was appointed in 1846. (Bent’s house is now a museum, and Bent Street is named for him.) From the bar window, a view of a towering apple tree on the patio reminds me of the iconic Apple Tree restaurant, which occupied this building for more than 30 years before closing in 2009.
You can feel the history in these rooms—not just of Taos, but also of this storied restaurant. Troy says its origin story is well-known: In 1985, Zeke and Tina Lambert traveled from San Francisco to Taos for their honeymoon and never left. Zeke, a chef inspired by Alice Waters’s commitment to local, seasonal cuisine at her Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, earned acclaim as the executive chef at Doc Martin’s at the Taos Inn. The couple launched their own restaurant in 1989 in a small house on Paseo del Pueblo Sur. The elegant cuisine and warm ambience made Lambert’s one of the best-loved restaurants in Taos.
“Zeke was in the kitchen, and Tina was often the maitre’d,” says Troy. “It was elegant but not stuffy, the same kind of thing that we’ve tried to carry on. It was very Taos, so it kind of captured that eighties era.”
A year before Lambert’s opened, 15-year-old Troy moved to Taos from Monroe, Louisiana, with his father, Nathaniel Ragland Troy, and mother, Connie. The family had discovered the town on a ski holiday in 1973 and bought a condo in the ski valley for frequent visits. They became Lambert’s regulars. “It was one of our favorite restaurants,” Troy recalls. “I remember a really good rack of lamb. I loved the duck. They always did a game special and a seafood special.”
Troy’s father knew a few things about excellent food. In Monroe, where he ran the family mortgage banking business, he opened the first of several steak houses and went on to open more in New Orleans; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Maui, Hawaii. “My dad had always been a side investor in restaurants,” Troy says. “He loved the restaurant business and he had a passion for people.”
After 18 years, the Lamberts were tired of running a restaurant and put Lambert’s up for sale. By this time, the Troys owned a few eateries in Taos, including Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina and the Old Blinking Light. To ensure that Lambert’s wasn’t lost to history, the Troys bought the restaurant in 2008.
In 2013, they more than doubled the seats with a move to the Bent Street location. Upstairs, they opened the laid-back Treehouse Bar & Lounge to serve hip cocktails and snazzy bar food such as mole tostadas. “It feels like you’re in the apartment of a friend who’s throwing a party,” Troy says.
Executive chef James Crowther III oversees the food for the bar and restaurant. A native of St. Thomas, he’s helmed the kitchen for eight years. The menu changes monthly, often paying tribute to the original Lambert’s with the items that don’t change, like duck and lamb. “They always had sea scallops, and we still carry that on,” he says. “People really appreciate the longevity.”
Then and now, Lambert’s relies on locally sourced ingredients, which helps to “build connections with other local businesses that share our values,” Troy says. “Our fruits come from Freshies in Velarde. Our microgreens come from Midori Acres Microgreens in Taos. We source our honey from Taos Honey Co. and our coffee from Taos Coffee Roasters.” Meats including lamb loin, bison short ribs, boar, and beef tenderloin come from Beck & Bulow, in Santa Fe.
The cocktail menu includes a genuine holdover from the original restaurant. “Zeke’s Manhattan was one of those items that we were proud to continue,” Troy says. “So many Lambert’s patrons, including my own family members, always loved that cocktail, especially during the winter holidays.”
Celebrating at Lambert’s is a Taos tradition. The restaurant joins Bent Street merchants and John Dunn Shops for the annual Bonfires on Bent Street, when farolitos and luminarias light up the night. This year’s celebration takes place on Saturday, December 9, from 4 to 7 p.m. In between joining the caroling, holiday gift shopping, and admiring the festive lights, more than a few revelers, I imagine, will duck into Lambert’s to raise a glass of holiday cheer—perhaps a Zeke’s Manhattan.
Demi-glace, a classic French brown sauce, is traditionally made with beef stock and simmered for days until it’s reduced to a thick, velvety consistency. While shortcuts exist, including substituting gravy, Lambert’s recommends using store-bought demi-glace to save yourself time, which is so essential during the holidays.
Steak and potatoes are always better together, but during the holidays, it’s nice to dress them up a bit. This recipe for creamy, buttery mashed Yukons makes an elegant addition to your festive table, especially served with Lambert’s petite filet mignon.
This rich, chilled chocolate dessert originated in France. According to some, the recipe honors 17th-century French aristocrat Marquise de Sévigné, who often extolled the benefits and joys of chocolate.