At tables on the outdoor patio at La Cantina, diners watch steaks cook. Few culinary rituals are so dramatic. Slid into an 1800 degree wood-burning horno (oven) on iron skillets that rest directly upon red-hot logs, the sirloins are enveloped in flame for a minute or so, emerging in a swirl of smoke that sends red-meat perfume across the patio. They are beautiful pieces of food with crusty blackened edges that shore in tidal waves of succulence.
It is hypnotic to watch chef Rusty Lindberg shuffle his iron skillets in and out of the fire, but his dexterity with meat is only one of a multitude of talents on display at La Cantina. He also is a ventriloquist puppeteer, and when dinner comes to an end, chances are he will put on a show with puppets he has personally hand-carved. Or he may pick up his guitar and play classical or flamenco tunes or his own compositions. Lindberg is a relentlessly creative soul, but in our book, his skills as a chef are what matter.
Beyond well-marbled strip steaks and occasional filets mignon (which are available topped with pico de gallo or with shrimp), highlights of the menu include almond-crusted herbed salmon; “Lamb Istambul” seasoned with rosemary, garlic, and tamarind; a lavish “Seafood Macarhena” that includes shrimp, chicken, and sausage; and an immense, almond-crusted chicken breast stuffed with house-made herbed cheese and presented atop a bed of pasta with potent marinara sauce.
Various pies and cakes are available for dessert and they will sate a sweet tooth, although they are no match for the fabulous main courses.
Note that La Cantina is open only for dinner, and only Friday and Saturday. Reservations are essential. Also note: no credit cards are accepted.