The Artichoke Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque’s Artichoke Cafe for the Finest in Fine Dining

These things are just plain annoying.
After all the trouble you go to, you get about as much actual “food”
out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking 30 or 40 postage stamps.
Have the shrimp cocktail instead.”
Miss Piggy

Miss Piggy, that shrill and garrulous walking side of bacon, may not appreciate the humble artichoke much, but among both health conscious and discerning diners, the artichoke has long been a healthful and delicious dining option.  Considered a “super food” for its high antioxidant, fiber, potassium, phosphorous, iron, calcium and magnesium content, artichokes have long been used in the treatment of gall bladder and liver conditions because it improves liver functions and is recognized for its ability to lower blood pressure.  It’s also been known, in some cases, to help with migranes and to give skin a healthy glow. 

In 16th Century Europe, eating an artichoke was considered scandalous behavior for women because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac (along with the humble tomato) and was reserved exclusively for men (especially aristocrats like Henry, VIII).  Catherine de Medici, bride of King Henry, II of France, denounced that social more, introducing the artichoke along with traditional Italian foods and cooking to the French kitchen.  Catherine was passionate about artichokes, consuming them in large quantities. Henceforth the French elevated the artichoke to the stature of a gourmet ingredient.  It was treated as such when introduced to the American colonies.

The Exquisite Elegance of the Artichoke Cafe

It’s only fitting that one of Albuquerque’s most highly regarded fine-dining gourmet treasures pay tribute to the artichoke by  festooning its name on the marquee.  When the Artichoke Cafe opened in 1989, the artichoke was hardly ubiquitous on Duke City restaurant menus, many of whom seemed to believe vegetables stopped and ended with green chile.  In its two and a half decades plus  of serving the city, the Artichoke Cafe has helped pioneer culinary trends diners now take for granted.  That includes concepts such as seasonal menus, sustainable foods, a wine bar and…a mission statement. 

Mission statements are commonplace in the military and in the corporate world, but not necessarily among restaurants.  They should be!  The Artichoke Cafe’s mission statement is inspired, especially the part which reads, “The guest is always is always right and we will accommodate every guest’s dietary needs to the best of our ability. We strive to make our guest’s dining experience a delicious and memorable one at the Artichoke Cafe.  We encourage every employee working at the Artichoke Cafe to make this vision a reality. On any given day we are only as good as our best effort. Therefore, every employee is an important link in the chain of our mission statement and is valued as such.”

A Basket of Bread and Muffins with Herbed Butter

From the onset, the Artichoke Cafe has been a trend-setter, launching in the East Downtown (EDO) district long before it was the burgeoning residential and business district regarded by real estate experts as one of the “top five up-and-coming areas in the nation.”  In 1989, the district was actually considered failing.  You can’t underestimate the impact the Artichoke Cafe has had on the area nor that it has rightfully earned the sobriquet “heart of EDO.”  In fact, there’s no disputing the veracity of any of the other slogans the Cafe has used: “the saucy little bistro at the heart of creative cuisine” and “where artisan cocktails meet creative cuisine” among them. 

The 5000-square foot, 120-seat establishment is the brainchild of proprietors Pat and Terry Keene.  Pat serves as the restaurant’s executive chef, a vocation for which she was formally trained in New York City while Terry has more than 30 years experience in restaurant management.  While that marital pairing was certainly made in heaven, the restaurant is reputed to serve heavenly pairings of fine wine and exquisite cuisine.  As a non-imbiber of adult beverages, I can’t speak for the wine, but The Wine Spectator certainly can, perennially listing it in its annual dining guide.   

French Onion Soup Gratinee with crostinis and Gruyere

The Cafe’s walls are adorned with art whose beauty pales in comparison to the the truly artistic cuisine, whose artists are merely stick figure novices in comparison to the classically trained masters who create in the kitchen.  From the complimentary bread basket to desserts, this restaurant exudes four star first class with a culinary repertoire which melds the finest in creative American, Italian and French cuisines.  Be aware, however, that it’s easy to fall in love with an entree that may not be available because of a seasonal menu rotation. 

The love starts early as in when the basket of fresh bread is delivered to your table along with a delicious herbed butter.  The basket typically includes a triumvirate of breads including a very good French bread.  It’s an excellent bread for sopping up the restaurant’s inspired soups, among them memory-triggering Potato-Leek soup.   The Artichoke’s rendition transported us back to  The Mermaid Inn in picturesque Burford, England where we luxuriated in its warmth and depth of flavor.  It’s a high compliment to the Artichoke’s version that it can even be mentioned in the same sentence as the wondrous elixir served at the Mermaid Inn.

Sliced Steak

28 December 2011: Also quite inspired is the French Onion Soup gratinee with imported Gruyere.  It’s easily among the very best French Onion Soups in Albuquerque, so good even French-hating xenophobes would appreciate a steamy bowl of aromatic beef broth in which sweet onions and pungent cheese swim merrily with spongy, soft crostinis.   Considered a “peasant food” by virtue of its humble, economically borne origin, French onion soup has risen to the level of much coveted, highly sought after gourmet favorites.

26 December 2016: Don’t be surprised if lunch entrees at the Artichoke are exceedingly better than more expensive dinner entrees at other fine dining establishments. Such is the case, in part because the lunch menu includes sliced steak.  As described on the menu (flat iron steak, angel hair pasta salad, basil, asparagus, red pepper, Parmesan, Balsamic reduction), you’re not quite sure what exactly will be delivered to your table, but you can rest assured it’ll be outstanding.   Flat iron steaks are a value-priced cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak. The Artichoke Cafe exploits these qualities to their utmost, serving a fork-tender steak that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy at about medium-rare which means plenty of delicious pink.  The Balsamic-blessed asparagus spears shine!

Salmon and Broccolini Crepe with Marsala-Goat Cheese Sauce

26 December 2016: The lunch menu during our December, 2016 visit listed both a crepe of the day and a chef’s daily preparation of shepherd’s pie.  Although chicken was the listed filling for the crepe, the accommodating kitchen staff agreed to substitute salmon for a small up-charge.  Well cognizant that the Artichoke Cafe prepares salmon better than just about any restaurant in Albuquerque, it was a substitution this persnickety diner relished.  Picture if you will a thin crepe nearly bursting at its seams with sweet, earthy broccolini and tender, flaky salmon all covered with an absolutely addictive Marsala-goat cheese sauce served with a side salad and vegetables.  Broccoli haters might enjoy its more palatable cousin broccolini whose flavor is more mild and less bitter.  It’s an excellent complement to salmon and absolutely shone under the resplendent Marsala-goat cheese sauce which is so good you’ll want to mainline it.

26 December 2016: Author Anna Lappe rhapsodized “the joy of eating seasonally is the joy of fresh produce and fresh foods.”  That’s what you find on the Artichoke Cafe’s greens menu–an array of seven artfully composed and inspiring salads so inviting you might eschew the restaurant’s magnificent appetizers.  Available year-round is the best Salad Nicoise in New Mexico as well as the restaurant’s most popular salad, the extraordinary Pear and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad.  This is a salad comprised of complementary flavor and textural elements for which all great salads should strive: fresh, crispy greens; a pungent, fetid blue cheese; sweet-juicy pears; tangy-sweet cranberries and savory umami-laden Tamari pecans all drizzled with a honey-champagne vinaigrette that pulls everything  together.  This is one of my favorite salads anywhere!

Pear and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad

At the Artichoke, we’ve also discovered one of the very best Italian entrees we’ve had in the Duke City, an inspired lunch entree of Italian sausage and roasted hot peppers, a concordant marriage of sweet, savory and piquant flavors that had us salivating with every delicious morsel.  The Italian sausage is of Chicago or Philadelphia caliber with the perfect amount of fennel.  Italian sausage and roasted hot peppers are a quintessential Italian dish, especially popular throughout the East Coast where they’re often stuffed into sandwiches.

For dinner, perhaps no restaurant in New Mexico serves a lamb quite as luscious as the Artichoke Cafe.  The oven roasted New Mexico rack of lamb, as succulent as you’ll find anywhere in the state, is not to be missed.  It is tender and mouth-watering without the prevalent gamy smell of lamb served in restaurants not of the Artichoke’s caliber.  The only fault you can ever find with outstanding lamb is that you’re always left wanting more.  That’s the case with this luscious lamb.

Mocha Semi-Freddo and chopped Serrano chiles (added at my request)

28 December 2011: One of the hallmarks of the Artichoke Cafe is its commitment to sustainable seafood. Past menus have featured a “chef’s daily creation” in which only sustainable king salmon and seafood are used.  You’ll want to pay rapt attention to your server’s description of this daily seafood bounty though doing so may dissuade you from ordering what you thought you had wanted. One daily special we happened upon during a December, 2011 visit showcased sustainable king salmon atop a bed of ginger and scallion sticky rice and topped with pickled onions and a chopped Serrano chile relish served with snap peas and carrots. 

This is an entree with one surprise after the other.  The salmon has a near “just caught” freshness that seems enlivened by the mouth-watering combination of pickled onions and a chopped Serrano chile relish.  The combination of tanginess and piquancy is a winner, far better than disguising the native flavors of the salmon with some syrupy sweet sauce as other restaurants are apt to do. The ginger and scallion sticky rice had me longing for ripe Thai mangoes.

King Salmon over Sticky Rice

28 December 2011: The Serrano chile relish so captivated me that I asked for it to be added to my dessert choice of mocha semi-freddo.  To our server’s credit, he didn’t call for a straight jacket or attempt to dissuade me from potentially ruining what is an excellent dessert.  Alas, instead of the Serrano chile relish served with the salmon, chopped Serrano chiles were delivered in a plate.  It didn’t matter.  I garnished the dessert with the chiles and enjoyed my fiendish concoction thoroughly.

The Artichoke Cafe is one of the Duke City’s premier dining destinations, a fact not lost among the city’s movers and shakers who make it their destination of choice for “power” lunches and dinners.  Whether or not you consider yourself a “player” in the arena of business, politics or any other enterprise, you’ll feel right at home at the Artichoke Cafe, truly one of the city’s very best restaurants of any genre.

The Artichoke Cafe
424 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 243-0200
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 26 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 24
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Italian Hot Peppers, New Mexico Rack of Lamb, Pear and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad,

Artichoke Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

BLADES’ BISTRO – Placitas, New Mexico

Blades’ Bistro in Placitas, New Mexico has one of the most beautiful patios around.

Ask three Placitans what they like best about living in Placitas and…
one will say it is being so far from everything, another, being so close to everything–and both will be right
.”
– The Placitas Chamber of Commerce

Chamber of Commerce not withstanding, the distance from Placitas to fabulous gourmet restaurants has spanned both great  mileage and the healing passage of time for residents. When hungry, the mileage between Placitas and either Santa Fe or Albuquerque has seemed interminable.  When fondly recalling a glorious meal within its doors, time has been the sole comforter for residents still missing their beloved Cafe De Las Placitas, a magnificent shooting star which faded away much too quickly but left an indelible afterglow. Most residents will agree the distance to fine restaurant dining is a small price to pay when you live in an idyllic haven back-dropped by the reddish Sandias and surrounded by panoramic views of hills dotted with dessert flora, weather-worn mesas and verdured mountains.  Compared to its bustling, burgeoning, boisterous neighbors, Placitas is a serene harbor of refuge and respite.

Blades’ Bistro, which opened on March 19th, 2009, has greatly narrowed the distance to fine-dining for Placitas residents while rekindling fond memories of fabulous gourmet experiences at the long defunct Cafe De Las Placitas. For diners who frequent the former, comparisons to the latter will be inevitable–and they will be favorable. In fact, Blades’ Bistro has become a standard by which restaurant greatness is measured–not just in Placitas, but throughout northern New Mexico. It’s that good!

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The Bladergroens: Chef Kevin and Anja, the first lady of Placitas

The village of Placitas (in Spanish, literally “small places”) was formed by the San Antonio de las Huertas (Saint Anthony of the Gardens) Spanish land grant in 1745.  While many descendants of the original land-grant families still reside in Placitas, it has in recent years blossomed as an affluent bedroom community for residents employed in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  Fewer than a dozen non-realty businesses call Placitas home, most of them ensconced in the Homestead Village shopping center, home of Blades’ Bistro.

Within a week after Blades’ opened, an excited Bruce Schor, a long-time friend of this blog, shared the news of its launch with me. “My first impression was I’m not in Placitas any more,” he related. “It has a sophisticated ambiance, very big city feel and the food is terrific.” Bruce’s glowing descriptions of what he ate were the inspired impetus for our first visit.  Ive since had the great fortune to have met Bruce and his aptly named better half Grayce at Blades.  It remains one of their very favorite restaurants.

Chef Kevin maintains one of the cleanest kitchens anywhere

Had it not been for Bruce, we might have thought the name “Blades” had to do with Rio Rancho’s multiplex arena by that name expanding into Placitas and into the restaurant business.  Apparently several people have made that mistaken assumption.  Blades’ Bistro is actually named for brothers Michael and Kevin Bladergroen.  Their name is Dutch, while their restaurant is a veritable melting pot of European and American culinary influences.

An exhibition kitchen is the domain in which Kevin Bladergroen plies his chef trade as he has now for three and a half decades. After years of opening, working in and managing the kitchens of several restaurants in Europe and America, he has set down roots in Placitas. No stranger to New Mexico, he started his professional career in 1975 at Casa Vieja, a Corrales institution. He has also worked at the Prairie Star and before partnering with his brother and wife Anja to launch Blades’ Bistro, was executive chef at the innovative Standard Diner. Anja runs the front of the house.  She is as charming and gracious a hostess as there is in New Mexico, the true first lady of Placitas.

Happy patrons enjoying their dinner on the patio in a mid-August day 2013

Happy patrons enjoying their dinner on the patio in a mid-August day 2013

Chef Bladergroen is classically trained, having attended the prestigious “La Varenne” cooking school in Paris.   His curriculum vitae also includes a unique professional odyssey by motor home.  To broaden his culinary edification, he and Anja traveled across the country to work in several restaurants with chefs he admired.  The journey included stops at a small coastal resort town in Maine; Aspen, Colorado, the glitzy playground for the rich and famous; and Pebble Beach, California, home of the national pro-am, one of golf’s most important events.

Chef Bladergroen’s menu is a culmination of his vast culinary training and experience. His cooking philosophy centers around using high quality ingredients to create a “melting pot of taste” with an innovative yet surprisingly unpretentious and simple menu influenced by the European and American culinary cultures from which he learned.  Some facets–moderately priced culinary fare and pleasant service–of Blades’ are true to the Parisian bistro concept, however, it could be debated that the setting is not exactly casual. It’s very well appointed and stylish, certainly more upscale than your typical bistro (albeit without being overweening). It’s a restaurant in which you’ll feel right at home and have fun while being inspired to be on your best behavior.

Most of the diners on a beautiful Sunday morning were enjoying brunch on the patio instead of in the dining room.

Although the bistro doesn’t have a formal “chef’s table” per se, you can still feel like like a VIP by sitting in an area directly adjacent to the exhibition kitchen. Only a plexiglass sneeze guard and an extended countertop separate you from the kitchen. You’ll be close enough to converse with the chef, an amicable gentleman with a quick wit. Chef Bladergroen is very well organized and purposeful in every motion. He is a treat to watch.

As enlightening and inspiring as sitting in close proximity to the kitchen might be, even better are the intoxicating aromas emanating from the panoply of pots and pans perpetually sitting atop high flames. Watching every appetizer and entree in every phase of its preparation, unfortunately doesn’t make it any easier to decide what you want to eat. Everything looks and smells absolutely fabulous. My advice–let the chef pick something for you. Don’t even let him tell you what it is so you can be surprised when it arrives at your table. That’s what I’m happy to have done.

Baked Mushrooms (escargot style) / white wine, garlic herb butter, fresh parmesan

Baked Mushrooms (escargot style) / white wine, garlic herb butter, fresh parmesan

Appetizers

31 March 2009: Blades’ array of appetizers is impressive, but not because of sheer numbers. Including daily specials there are only about a half dozen appetizers available, but if our inaugural choices are any indication, they are of four-star quality. Fans of fleshy and fabulous fungi will fawn over baked mushrooms served escargot style. Blanketed by a light, flaky puff pastry, rich, mellow mushrooms are baked in a light white wine broth with garlic herb butter and parmesan. Mushrooms, it turns out, are the ideal vehicle for soaking up all the buttery goodness (which even Gourmet magazine believes is the best best part of escargot).

It’s not easy to sop up any remaining broth with the hard-crusted crostini which accompanies the mushroom dish, but the crostini is lightly toasted and provides a nice counterpoint to the starring attraction’s richness. As do several of the best fine dining restaurants in the Duke City area, Blades’ Bistro acquires its staff of life offerings from Albuquerque’s Fano Bakery which specializes in artisan-style rustic and specialty breads. Characteristics of baguettes from Fano, a hard-crust complements a soft, airy texture on other breads served during meals at Blades’.

Roasted Fresh Beets

21 August 2016: Beauteous, blood-red beets and gorgeous golden beets roasted so they retain a soft inside and a firm exterior are the center point of a second appetizer, roasted red beets with toasted goat cheese and a Balsamic glaze drizzle on a bed of Arugula and Radicchio. The fresh red beets are moist and tangy, a flavor complement to the smooth, creamy texture and mild flavor of the goat cheese and both are a perfect counterbalance to the savory salt and pepper flavors of the Arugula and Radicchio salad.  The golden beets, grown locally, are not quite as earthy as their red siblings, but have a comparatively mellow quality and maybe a tad more sweetness.  Beets are unique for their high levels of anti-carcinogens and their very high carotenoid content. It’s also heartening that they’re so delicious especially at the hands of a skilled chef.

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad

16 August 2013:  Before even having a real opportunity to peruse the menu, Anja walked by and whispered two words “Caprese salad.”  That was good enough for us.  Chef Kevin’s takes some liberties with the traditional Caprese salad.  As made in the Isle of Capri, this simple salad is made of sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, seasoned with salt, and olive oil.  Blades’ rendition replaces tomatoes with fresh, sliced peaches and adds mint, an edible flower and a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar to the plate.  Vive la difference!  This is one lively salad with invigorating greens complementing the fresh, sweet-tangy peaches.  The creamy mozzarella is the perfect foil, tempering all the bold flavors with its subtle qualities.

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Cajun style fried oysters with Remoulade sauce

16 August 2013:  Hearing that one of the specials of the night was Cajun style oysters led to some trepidation.  Oysters, after all, have one of nature’s most unique flavors (albeit one that doesn’t appeal to all diners).  A heavy hand with Cajun seasoning–or worse, blackening techniques–could bring ruin to those flavors.  Thankfully Chef Kevin knows oysters are to be treated with utmost subtlety and delicateness.  The oysters are lightly seasoned which allows their natural brininess to shine.  The zingy, but certainly not overwhelming, Cajun personality comes from the accompanying Remoulade sauce.  During our visit, the oysters shared the plate with a cold, peanuty noodle salad, likely Thai inspired.

Entrees

Veal Sweetbreads: pan-seared with apples and finished with Calvados Brandy Sauce

23 February 2012: There are entrees a plenty for landlubbers, too, including some not attempted by other restaurants in the Duke City area.  The seasonal menu for winter 2012 included two such rarities, veal sweetbreads and rabbit (if Anja has her way, these two stick around longer, especially the rabbit, her absolute favorite).  Sweetbreads are one of those words which demonstrate English is a crazy language.  They’re neither sweet nor bread.  They’re in the offal (animal entrails and internal organs) family, though many would spell it “awful.”  They’re also an acquired taste and one of the most misunderstood entrees–being mistaken for everything from bull’s testicles to liver–on any restaurant’s menu.  Sweetbreads come from two organs–the thymus (sometimes called the throat sweetbread) and the pancreas (sometimes called the stomach sweetbread).  Of all offal meat, sweetbreads are the most prized thanks to their mild flavor and color and their velvety, rich texture.  Veal sweetbreads are the most popular. 

My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, is a sweetbread savant, enjoying them so much he once had them every other week for six straight months at Chicago’s La Grenouille. When he compared Blades’ version to the one he enjoyed so much in the Windy City, I knew I had to try them, gout be damned (purine rich sweetbreads top the list of things gout sufferers should avoid). What’s a little joint pain and threat of kidney stones compared to the decadent deliciousness of great sweetbreads. Blades’ sweetbreads are outstanding–pan-seared, fork-tender veal sweetbreads in a rich, creamy Calvados brandy sauce perfumed ever so slightly with sweet, delicate apples. Texturally they’re absolutely perfect and flavor-wise, they’re incomparable. The sweetbreads are served with mashed potatoes and a salad of julienned carrots and red cabbage, a good counterpoint to the richness of the sweetbreads.

Rib Eye Steak with Cremini Mushroom Demiglace

23 February 2012: Another entree any carnivorous landlubber will lust after is a ten- to twelve-ounce rib eye steak which can be prepared with either a green chile or a crimini mushroom demiglace.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications and arrives at your table surrounded by a rich, glossy pool of pure deliciousness.  Unadorned it’s an excellent steak.  The crimini mushroom demiglace with its discernible red wine influence elevates it to another level.  Served with asparagus spears and one grilled tomato, it’s a terrific entree. 

Green Chile Cheeseburger

Green Chile Cheeseburger

9 August 2013:  You’re also well advised to heed any culinary recommendation from Bruce Schor, a bon vivant who rates Blades’ Rustique Bistro green chile cheeseburger as among the very best he’s had in the Land of Enchantment.   What distinguishes this burger from so many others is the Angus reserved beef from which it’s made.   Angus reserve beef is consistently tender, juicy and rich with flavor.  With the Bistro burger, you might swear you’re eating a fine steak nestled between a hardy Brioche bun.   The green chile, splayed generously beneath melted Cheddar, is of medium piquancy with a nice roasted flavor.   If you top the burger with the red onions, ripe tomatoes and lettuce provided, you’ll have to open wide to bite down.  The beef itself is easily eight to ten ounces.  It’s a very thick slab of beefy deliciousness, extending slightly beyond the bun.  If burgers are truly about beef, this is one burger which emphasizes beef.  It’s an outstanding burger, now in my hallowed list of New Mexico’s best burgers

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

9 August 2013: My Chicago born-and-bred Kim, raised on a typical 1960s Midwest meat-and-potatoes diet, has consistently found much better steak at Blades’ Bistro than at any Duke City steakhouse.  She’ll also tell you that Blades’  prepares a better steak frites entry than any French restaurant in Albuquerque.  The steak is a grilled New York strip topped with herbed butter and served with French fries which don’t have that all-too-famiiar and insipid out-of-a-bag taste.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications and is an exemplar of beefy perfection at just under medium.  The herbed butter pools with the juices of the steak to form an addictive flavor combination.  The fries are crispy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside with just the right amount of salt.  This is a classic French meat and potatoes entree no one does better than Chef Kevin.

London Steak: Pan-seared top round filet topped with bleu cheese and port wine demi sauce.

London Steak with scalloped potatoes and roasted vegetables

16 August 2013:  Just when my Kim thinks she’s had the very best steak on Blades’ menu, Chef Kevin introduces another, even more delectable slab of perfectly prepared steak.  Called a London Steak, it is indeed reminiscent of the steaks we enjoyed so much at The Mermaid in picturesque Burford, England.  The London steak is a pan-seared top round filet topped with bleu cheese and a port wine demi sauce.  Because top round is one of the most lean cuts of beef you can find and has very little fat, it’s a perfect vehicle for demi sauces or Bourguignon.  The Blades’ cut is topped with a port demi sauce as well as a pungent, sharp bleu cheese.  The sauce is thick and it is magnificent with sweet and beef stock elements.  With nary a hint of fat or sinew, this steak somehow manages to be tender and moist even without the sauce.

Roasted Prime Rib Served with Au Jus and Horseradish sauce

Roasted Prime Rib

24 January 2014: One of the most popular of “cold weather dishes” on the Blades’ menu is roasted prime rib served with au jus and horseradish sauce.  The prime rib, as with all meats we’ve enjoyed at Blades’ is outstanding: rosy colored and bursting with copious juices flowing at medium rare, devoid of excess fat though nicely marbled and with a nice concentration of  deep fresh-roasted flavors.  At about twelve ounces it’s “right-sized” slab of beauteous beef, one of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico.  The prime rib is served with garlicky mashed potatoes, sauteed vegetables and a sweet, tart and sour red German cabbage as good as you’ll find at any German restaurant.

Entrees: Seafood

Shrimp Melanaise

Shrimp Melanaise

31 March 2009: The entree chef Bladergroen prepared for me during our inaugural visit is a dish he started preparing while serving as chef in a Fort Pierce, Florida restaurant overlooking an Atlantic waterfront. It’s Shrimp Milanaise, an entree named for the Italian city of Milan. For the most part I’ve equated breaded shrimp with disdained restaurant chains that tend to serve them in all-you-can-choke-down quantities. I had also assumed initially that the breading would be similar to the breading used on steak Milanesa, a Mexican favorite. Blades’ Bistro has forever changed those conceptions.

The breading is light and very well seasoned, adhering like a second skin to the perfectly prepared, sweet and succulent shrimp without dominating their native sea born flavors. Appropriately–being this entree is prepared by a chef of Dutch heritage–the shrimp are served with dollops of smooth and creamy Hollandaise sauce which imparts a rich, buttery flavor with a mild tang. Also served with the dish are rice and carrots, green beans and fennel served al dente. There are only two things wrong with the entree: it doesn’t come with a dozen or more of the crusty crustaceans and it’s not on the daily menu.

 Con Frutti de Mar -- (The Fruit of the sea) Shrimp-Scallops-Lobster with white wine garlic cream sauce over linguini

Con Frutti de Mar

31 March 2009: Seafood lovers in land-locked New Mexico have rarely had the quality of succulent shellfish and mollusks available in one dish–Blades’ Bistro’s Con Frutti de Mar, literally fruit of the sea. This entree features shrimp, scallops and lobster with a white wine garlic sauce over linguini. It’s an inspired entree in which the richness of the sauce is a concordant marriage for the sweetness of the seafood. It will not only sate your lust for protein and carbs, it may leaving you swooning in appreciation. In its annual food and wine issue for 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the Frutti de Mar entree a “Hot Plate Award” as the hot entree Albuquerque diners can’t do without.

Black Cod with a Miso Glaze and Assorted Vegetables

Black Cod with a Miso Glaze and Assorted Vegetables

9 August 2013: When Anja recommends a dish, you’re well advised to heed her advice especially when it’s the special of the night. Special often means spectacular at Blades’ Bistro. Such was the case when the featured special was the black cod with a miso glaze. It’s an amazing dish Chef Kevin was taught to prepare by restaurant impresario and celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi, founder of Hawaiian fusion cuisine. Black cod, also known as “sablefish” is a delicate, flaky fish with a rich, buttery flavor and silky sweet and rich overtones. The miso glaze lends a savory-sweet element that pairs magnificently with the fish. It’s one of the very best fish entrees I’ve had in New Mexico, a luscious dish which will make grown men swoon in appreciation. Though I wasn’t bright enough to heed Anja’s recommendation, cousin Susie did and she was nice enough to share her bounty.

16 August 2013: Just how good is the black cod with a miso glaze? It’s good enough to inspire a return visit one week later and this time, I had all six ounces of deliciousness all too myself. It was just as wonderful the second time around.  This superb entree made my “best of the best for 2013,” a tribute to the very best dishes I had the pleasure of consuming during the year. I also paid much more attention to the sides: scalloped potatoes and roasted vegetables (carrots, asparagus, zucchini, beets and a single tomato. All were prepared to perfection. The scalloped potatoes had the right blend of cheese and creaminess to appeal to diners of all ages.

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Sole Meunière

24 January 2014: The mark of a truly outstanding chef is often the ability to take what outwardly appears to be a simple dish and execute it perfectly.  At its bare essence, Sole Meunière is simply sole dredged in flour, prepared in a hot skillet then doused with a pan sauce of butter, lemon and parsley.  Though this dish has relatively few ingredients, it’s a daunting dish to prepare because any mistakes or flavor imbalances are glaring.  Whether from years of practice or deft skill, Chef Bladergroen prepares this dish perfectly.  The pan-fried sole is imbued with a very light golden blond crust.  A press of a fork reveals sweet, creamy meat.  The sauce is rich: a revelation in nutty butter, fragrant parsley and the tartness of lemon, all in perfect proportion.

Dover Sole En Papillote

Dover Sole En Papillote

24 January 2014: Yet another way in which Blades’ showcases sole, a flat fish member of the extended flounder family, is as Dover Sole En Papillote, a classic marriage of British and French cuisine.  “En Papillote” is a method of baking fish within sealed parchment paper which creates a self contained mini “oven” in which the flavors blend and infuse the dish.  Because the parchment paper is porous, it allows steam to escape so the fish is baked rather than steamed.  The British contribution to this dish is the Dover sole itself.  Found in the waters below the Cliffs of Dover, this sole is sometimes considered the “Porterhouse of fish” and is one of the most delicious fish, cherished and beloved by gourmets who love fish.  Chef Bladergroen’s rendition of Dover Sole is as good as we remember the Dover Sole we enjoyed in England.

Soups

French Onion Soup

23 February 2012: The only sane reason for which you should forgo an appetizer is if you’re going to luxuriate in one of the chef’s wondrous soups. The French onion soup is among the most aesthetically appealing and delicious of its genre in New Mexico. Served in a traditional two-tone soup crock, it arrives at your table steaming hot with the cheese brown and bubbling over the top of the crock. The aroma of onions is intoxicating and the broth is thicker than most French onion soups. The onions are cut larger, too, imparting the wonderful sweet flavor of perfectly prepared onions. You’ll risk the molten cheese and sacrifice the roof of your mouth to dig into this soup right away.

Clam Chowder

23 February 2012: Ask any New England transplant to New Mexico what soup they miss most and invariably the answer will be clam chowder (chowdah to Bob of the Village People), the thick, hearty, soul-warming favorite of folks from Maine to Connecticut. Expats will also lament the absence of good clam chowder in the Land of Enchantment. Blades’ rendition is the best we’ve had since vacationing in Massachusetts in 2009. It’s creamy and thick, but not overly so. The potatoes are perfectly prepared and the clams are plentiful –a nice ratio of potatoes to clams. Best, they were neither tough nor chewy. It would have been interesting to see Chef Bladergroen attempt oyster crackers.

Borscht, one of several soups on the winter soup rotation

06 February 2011: If the soup du jour gracing the menu is Borscht, contemplate the rest of the starters menu no further (unless it’s to have Borscht and another starter).  The Borscht, one of several soups on the chef’s winter soup rotation, is excellent. Deep reddish-purple in color courtesy of beetroot, it is redolent with tomato, potatoes, beef, sour cream, garlic and dill.  Borscht, a veritable culinary treasure in Eastern and Central Europe, is one of those dishes for which there is no one universal recipe.  Cultural differences (Russian, Jewish, Ukrainian, etc.) account for variations in ingredients and preparation.  There are also seasonal variations that include serving it as a cold soup or a hot soup.  Blades’ version is served steaming hot and it’s terrific! 

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup

24 January 2014: In January, 2014, Blades Bistro debuted the soup it would enter in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souper Bowl.  It’s called a tortilla soup, but it’s much more complex than its simple name would imply.  Among its components are red chili (sic), roasted corn, avocado and melted shredded cheese, all seasoned with rosemary, oregano, nutmeg, cinnamon and more.  Its diversity of ingredients imbue it with a very interesting and delicious flavor profile.  If you enjoy the adventure of ingredient discernment, this is a soup you will love.

Brunch

In 2010, Blades’ Bistro began serving  brunch on Sundays from 10AM through 2PM.  Brunch is the best of two worlds–not quite breakfast and not quite lunch, but the very best of both.  It’s a leisurely weekend repast which makes you feel you’re getting away with something, almost as if you’re defying your mom’s mandate not to have dessert before your main entree.  Brunch in Placitas has the additional feel of going out-of-town, away from the maddening traffic and crowds to a more sedate and tranquil paced haven. 

21 August 2016:  Had Normal Rockwell visited Placitas on a leisurely late summer Sunday morning for brunch at Blades’, he might have been inspired to paint the event.  Thematically his portfolio of small-town American scenes for The Saturday Evening Post often depicted happy events shared by friends and neighbors.  That’s precisely what brunch at Blades’ is.  No sooner had we stepped into the outdoor patio than we ran into our friend Bruce Schor and his affectionate four-legged child Chloe who were finishing a splendid repast.  We lost ourselves in conversation for nearly an hour, our visit punctuated occasionally by dog lovers stopping to greet Chloe.  Almost everywhere else the waitstaff might rushed us, but Blades’ isn’t like other restaurants.  It’s a second home for residents of Placitas and a welcoming milieu from visitors like us.

Fettuccini alla Carbonara

06 February 2011: Perhaps the most sinfully rich brunch entree (on a menu which includes a Croque Monsieur made with Gruyere cheese topped with a cheese bechamel sauce) is the Fettuccini alla Carbonara, pasta tossed with cream, eggs, bacon and Parmesan.  This version is more cheesy than it is creamy and it’s thicker (though not clumpy and sticky) than some Carbonara dishes.  Carbonara, an Italian pasta dish with its genesis in Rome, is best made with al dente pasta and while Blades’ rendition is certainly not al dente, it’s so good and so rich you won’t–you can’t–stop eating it.  Besides that, every spoonful includes bacon and you can’t go wrong with that.  This dish is so rich, it should be served with a side of angioplasty.

Mongolian Ribs with Sweet Potato Fries and Coleslaw

6 February 2011: During our inaugural brunch visit, we lucked upon a special-of-the-day offering called Mongolian Ribs, a veritable tower of meaty ribs glazed with a ginger-sesame sauce.  The plating of the ribs is tower-like, indeed.  At least six ribs are stacked atop one another, buttressed by a mound of coleslaw and a phalanx of sweet potato fries.  The ginger-sesame sauce is practically shellacked onto the ribs, but if that description leaves you dubious based on similarly described Chinese rib dishes, fear not.  Unlike some Chinese ribs, these are not candied meat lollipops.  The ginger-sesame sauce complements the beef ribs; it does not overwhelm them.  Did I mention these ribs are meaty?  Though they’re not quite Flintstonian in size, they will appease any a carnivore.  The accompanying coleslaw is tangy and delicious, made with Fuji apples and julienne carrots on a bed of greens. 

Tenderloin Sate with Thai Peanut Sauce

21 August 2016: Perhaps stemming from time immemorial when meats were first prepared over a flame, human beings seem genetically predisposed to enjoy meat on a stick.  Whether it be shish kabobs from the Middle East, barbecue skewers from Texas or satay from Southeast Asia, we love the primal feeling of gnawing meats right off the stick before slowly, carefully extricating the meat from its host.  Some of the Duke City’s best skewers of meat can be found in Thai restaurants where satay, a popular street food meat “Popsicle” is served, typically with a peanut sauce.  With apologies to so many Thai restaurants we love, Chef Kevin’s beef sate (skewered and grilled beef tenderloin topped with an Indonesian peanut sauce served with an Asian salad) is better than your satay.  The main reason is the superior cut of meat he uses—a perfectly grilled beef tenderloin that tastes like a premium steak.  Then there’s the peanut sauce which doesn’t have the cloying, almost peanut-candy-like flavor of peanut sauce at some Thai restaurants. You’d have to beat me with a stick to make me loosen my grip on the three meat stick skewers.

Biscuits

21 August 2016: American poet Carl Sandburg defined poetry as “the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits,” two of life’s enduring passions.  The purplish bloom of the Russian sage encircling Blades’ patio reminded us of hyacinths, so to complete the synthesis we had to order biscuits.  Served with high-quality marmalade (orange and strawberry), the biscuits are dense yet delicate, light but not flaky.  They’re also as delicious as biscuits can be made, particularly if you slather on the marmalade.  With biscuits this good, we’re inspired to try Blades’ version of biscuits and gravy during an upcoming brunch visit.

Cajun Grits

21 August 2016: In the late 1970s, a television sitcom named Alice introduced the catchphrase “kiss my grits” into the American vernacular.   From the moment the catchphrase was first uttered by Flo, a man-hungry Southern belle who worked at a roadside diner in a Phoenix diner, it garnered widespread popularity.   We weren’t at all happy to kiss grits good bye when we left Mississippi in 1995, figuring we’d never again enjoy a transformative version of this Deep South staple.  Two decades later, it seems almost heretical to declare that the three best grits dishes we’ve ever enjoyed have been in New Mexico, served in chronological order–from earliest to most recent–at The Hollar in Madrid,  The Point Grill in Rio Rancho and Blades’ Bistro in Placitas.   The Cajun Style Shrimp and Grits (sautéed shrimp with a zesty Cajun sauce, green onions, red pepper and bacon served over creamy cheese grits) are the best of the best.   It’s the version you’d serve to someone who’s never had grits or even better, to someone who’s never had good grits.  These are great grits, a mélange of flavors and textures that play off one another like a well-tuned orchestra.

Bacon, Green Chile and Cheddar Quiche

21 August 2016: If real men don’t eat quiche (a best-selling book published in 1982 satirizing masculine stereotypes), it’s a sad indictment of my gender.  Quiche, after all, is made from ingredients men love—things such as cheese, meat and seafood.  Those manly ingredients are added to a custard made from eggs and milk then poured into a pie crust (something else we love).   Blades’ brunch menu features a quiche of the day, but if you’re not careful the quiche du jour may have sold out.  Such was the case during our August, 2016 visit.  Because the salmon and goat cheese quiche had sold out quickly, we “settled” (a poor word choice) for a quiche filled with Cheddar, green chile and bacon, a tasty (and manly) triumvirate if ever there was one.  We made quick work of the quiche, relishing every bite.  The quiche is served with fruit and some of the best roasted potatoes you’ll find anywhere.  If you’re of the XY-chromosome persuasion and refuse to order quiche because of some tongue-in-cheek 1980s book, ask your wife to order it, but by any means just make sure Blades’ fabulous quiche graces your table.

Desserts

31 March 2009: What many will love most is dessert and Blades’ Bistro doesn’t disappoint here either. An outstanding option sure to please one and all is the tiramisu.  Blades’ rendition is served in a large goblet but the cake’s component parts are certainly present: ladyfinger biscuits dipped in espresso layered in a whipped mixture of mascarpone, sugar, egg yolks topped with cocoa.  The distinct addition of a liqueur is also discernible.  It is a phenomenal dessert and that’s selling it short.  Along with the incomparable offering at Torinos @ Home, this rendition is at the top of my list of my very favorite tiramisu desserts in New Mexico, a Tuscan treat so good I’d eschew my other favorite (if it was on the menu) dessert–bread pudding.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

17 December 2011: In the June, 2010 edition of New Mexico Magazine celebrating “New Mexico’s Best Eats,” a three person panel of culinary experts of which I was a part, selected as the Land of Enchantment’s best uptown dessert, the red chile soup at La Casa Sena.  Studded with Chimayo chile that enlivens the chocolate, it is one of my favorite desserts.  In the Chocolate Chili Pot, Blades’ Bistro may have one-upped La Casa Sena.  The chocolate chili (sic) pot is a ramekin brimming with dark chocolate pots du creme with toasted Chimayo chili.  Its consistency is reminiscent of a very thick frosting served cold, but it certainly doesn’t taste like the topping for a cake.  The adult chocolate is made even more flavorful with the infusion of Chimayo chile (better, by the way, than Hatch chile).  It’s topped with whipped cream studded with blueberries.

Chocolate Chili Pot: Dark chocolate Pots du Creme with toasted Chimayo chili

23 February 2012: Even in winter, savvy restaurateurs will serve cold dishes, perhaps figuring that frozen desserts are good any time of year.  That’s certainly the case with Blades’ trio of sorbets, a refreshing, teeth-chattering bowl of flavor explosions.  This housemade triumvirate is as good a chilly dessert as there is in the Land of Enchantment.  As with all excellent sorbets, each truly captures the essence of the flavors they represent.  The pear sorbet tastes like fresh-picked pears (only served ice cold).  The pineapple-mint sorbet blends two distinctive flavors into a composite of what’s good about both.  The blackberry-cantaloupe sorbet is similarly fruity and delicious.

A trio of Sorbet: Pineapple-Mint, Blackberry-Cantaloupe and Pear

23 February 2012: Besides sweetbreads, another addiction my friend Larry McGoldrick and I share is for bread pudding.  It’s our catnip and kryptonite–practically bringing us to our knees in gratitude to the bread pudding gods when it’s made right.  Blades’ bread pudding made Larry’s Bread Pudding Hall of Fame, an indication of its rarefied greatness.  It’s at or near the top of my list, too.  Unlike the soggy, custard-like bread pudding that relies on cloying sauces for flavor, this is a firm yet spongy bread pudding with a texture that’s absolutely spot-on.  In terms of taste, it’s an eye-opener with the pronounced flavor of banana and rum, the latter cutting the sweetness of the former.  It’s a winning combination.

Banana Rum Bread Pudding

9 August 2013: There’s only one thing wrong with the dessert menu at Blades’  It’s that every single dessert item with which you fall in love doesn’t always grace the menu.  Desserts, as with entrees and appetizers, rotate with seasonal regularity.  Perhaps the most perfect of summer sweets is Key Lime Pie, the official state pie of the state of Florida.  The key lime pie at Blades is terrific with a pronounced key lime flavor (key lime juice, by the way, is yellow not green the way faux key lime pies are presented) tempered with sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks.  Kenney Chesney once sang about the perfect key lime pie, describing it as “not too tart, not too sweet.”   That’s the perfect description for the key lime pie at Blades’ Bistro.

Key Lime Pie with Graham Cracker-Coconut Crust

Key Lime Pie with Graham Cracker-Coconut Crust

16 August 2013:Could there possibly be a more appropriate name for a triumvirate of chocolate decadence than  chocolate decadence trio?  It’s a no brainer.  If you’re a bonafide chocoholic, having this dessert is also a no brainer.  Quite simply, it lives up to its name.  The chili (SIC) lime chocolate pot’s du creme has the type of heat which hits the back of your throat coupled with the rich, adult chocolate to generate an endorphin rush.  A sole peanut butter truffle, the coupling of two great tastes (chocolate and peanut butter) that taste great together will have you wishing for a bowlful.  The flourless chocolate torte with strikes of raspberry sauce is dense and intensely flavored with adult chocolate notes.  This is the type of chocolate dessert that provides the same “high” as falling in love.  You’ll certainly fall in love with this dessert

Chocolate Decadence Trio: Chili Lime Chocolate Pot's du Creme, Peanut Butter Truffle and Flourless Chocolate Torte

Chocolate Decadence Trio

24 January 2014: Blades certainly knows how to capture my heart, offering a bread pudding du jour that proves the diversity and deliciousness of my favorite dessert, even managing to make a great bread pudding out of an ingredient I don’t like.  That ingredient is white chocolate (which is technically not chocolate at all even though it contains cocoa butter), perhaps the only item bearing the name “chocolate” I don’t like.   Blades’ white chocolate and macadamia bread pudding topped with a housemade brandy sauce is so good, it might even make Larry McGoldrick’s Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  The macadamia nuts cut the sweetness and richness of the white chocolate while the housemade brandy sauce lends its own richness.  Make sure you order this bread pudding a la mode because the housemade ice cream is rich and delicious.

White Chocolate Macadamia Bread Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream

White Chocolate Macadamia Bread Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream

21 August 2016: Just when you think salted caramel has run its course, you find a dish that reels you back in and reminds you why salted caramel became a culinary obsession in 2008.  Though there’s virtually no surcease to the number and type of desserts which can be transformed from merely good to addictively delicious with the addition of salted caramel, it just seems sweet caramel seasoned with fancy salt has been tried on everything.  As a result, some of us have started to take it for granted.  That’s where we were until our first spoonful of the salted caramel cheesecake at Blades’.  In optimal proportions of each flavor profile, the salty-sweet combination is a perfect counterbalance to the a light, creamy cheesecake.  It was so good, it justified my decision to forego bread pudding.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake

21 August 2016: Anja is justifiably proud of the verdant flowers and dense shrubbery which grace the patio.  Some, such as the Lavender de Provence and Rosemary have more than esthetic value and are actually used in the kitchen by the superbly talented Chef Kevin.  The pairing of Rosemary with its highly aromatic-peppery-woodsy flavor notes and watermelon with its sweet, most flavor was our favorite of three wonderful sorbets, but it was close.  The cucumber-lime marriage is no mere Miss Congeniality.  It’s a superb pairing of flavors who share little more than a shade of green, but which combine magnificently.  The third in a tasty triumvirate was blood orange, always a palate pleaser.  Computer dating services should be as good at match-making as Blades’ is at pairing flavor combinations.

Sorbet Trio: Cucumber Lime, Rosemary Watermelon, Blood Orange

Placitas has become a dining destination frequented not only by local loyalists, but by diners from throughout the state and beyond.  In 2011, Blades’ Bistro was selected by readers of Local IQ as the Duke City area’s best romantic restaurant, best fine-dining restaurant and for having the area’s best bartender.  The operative term here is “best,” a term that has become synonymous with this stand-out restaurant and with its superbly talented chef and of course, the first lady of Placitas.

BLADES’ BISTRO
221 Highway 165 Suite L
Placitas, New Mexico
505) 771-0695
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 August 2016
1st VISIT:  31 March 2009
# OF VISITS:7
RATING: 25
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Baked Mushrooms (escargot style), Roasted Fresh Beets with toasted Goat Cheese @ Balsamic Glace Drizzle, Con Frutti de Mar, Shrimp Melanaise, Tiramisu, Trio of Sorbets, Chocolate Chili Pot, Mongolian Ribs, Borscht, Fettuccinni alla Carbonara, Banana Rum Bread Pudding, Veal Sweetbreads, Rib Eye with Mushroom Demiglace, Steak Frites, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Black Cod with Miso Glaze, Key Lime Pie, London Steak, Chocolate Decadence Trio, White Chocolate Macadamia Bread Pudding, Roasted Prime Rib, Sole Meunière, Dover Sole En Papillote, Tortilla Soup, Dutch Style Mussels, Cajun Grits, Quiche, Salted Caramel Cheesecake, Biscuits

Blades' Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jhett’s Restaurant – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

The Rio Rancho Country Club, home to Jhett’s Restaurant

In its halcyon days, the Chamisa Hills golf course and country club in Rio Rancho was considered one of the city’s crown jewels.  Its undulating 18-hole championship course with strategically placed deciduous trees and challenging water hazards once hosted the Charley Pride Golf Fiesta, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the state.  Built in 1970, the 212-acre development was flanked by upscale gated communities and boasted of magnificent panoramic views showcasing the reddish hues of the Sandias at sunset and the twinkling city lights of Albuquerque at night. 

Alas, over time escalating water rates made operating the course economically onerous.  Soon denuded fairways and eroded bunkers replaced the once verdant grounds.  In 2013, the Chamisa Hills golf course and country club was auctioned off to be purchased nearly a year later by visionary entrepreneurs Bob Gallagher and Jhett Browne who immediately began putting into action their plans for restoring the operation to prominence and profitability.  The two negotiated significant water rate reduction rates and plan for reduced turf areas to conserve water.  At fruition, they hope to revivify the facility into one of the area’s best event centers, not just golf clubs.

View to the East from the dining room patio

Rebranded as Club Rio Rancho, the sprawling complex includes two nine-hole golf courses, six resurfaced and lighted tennis courts, a remodeled swimming pool, a members-only restaurant and lounge with an outdoor cigar bar, a three-level bar and grill with televisions and outdoor patio seating and a remodeled indoor restaurant with a patio facing the Sandias.  While some of the facilities and amenities remain available only to club members, the priceless “billion-dollar views” are available to the general public as is what promises to be an exciting fine-dining venture.

From its sprawling patio, the eponymous Jhett’s Restaurant may just have the very best views of any restaurant in the metropolitan area with the possible exception of Sandiago’s Mexican Grill.  There’s a view for all seasons and times of day from the east-facing large picture windows, too.  Jhett’s offers live music and dancing every Friday and Saturday starting at 8PM and a bountiful Sunday brunch, the type of which have seemingly become an anachronism.

The dining room in which Sunday brunch is served from 11AM to 2PM

The dinner menu bespeaks fine-dining belied by a price-point that’s surprisingly competitive with fine-dining establishments in far less ostentatious digs.  Whether your choice emanates from the land (such as the Bleu Cheese Crusted Angus Filet, Ribeye Steak or Lamb T-Bone) or sea (Stuffed Filet of Sole, Honey Ginger Shrimp or Lobster tail), you’ll find it on the menu.  Soups and salads as well as “nothing but noodles” entrees (such as Baked Lasagna Bolonaise and Spinach Ravioli) are also available. 

The all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch is quickly becoming a Rio Rancho Sunday tradition.  Available from 11AM through 2PM, the buffet-style brunch is the antithesis of the grab, gobble and go fare one associates with the terms “all-you-can-eat” and “buffet.”  A fusillade of well-laid out tables with silver heating trays offer dish after dish of beautifully edible creations arranged aesthetically.  An omelet station with eight different fillings is at the ready as is a carving station where a deft server cleaves generous slices from a large roast beef prepared at medium rare.  Desserts aplenty and a beverage table round out the cavalcade of deliciousness.

Some of the magnificent brunch offerings

4 January 2015: Rightfully so, the hand-carved roast beef is the primary draw.  The roast beef has a deep brown, crisp, crackly, unctuous crust around the edges.  The medium-rare interior is moist and tender, signs of optimum temperature control and cooking time.  You can have your roast beef with au jus or with a creamy horseradish that’ll water your eyes.  There are a number of other proteins on the buffet trays: bacon, sausage, fish and more.  The macaroni and cheese is some of the best we’ve had in a while while the Eggs Benedict dish is delightfully creative.  Instead of an English muffin, the poached egg and Hollandaise sauce rest inside a hollowed-out tomato.

13 September 2015: On Sundays in which the roast beef isn’t featured fare, you’ll find a large hand-carved ham served with a cranberry-pineapple glaze.  The ham is hardly a consolation prize.  It’s pulchritudinously pink with a salty-smoky deliciousness that complements the glaze so well.  Few things go as well with ham as au gratin potatoes and Jhett’s version is seconds-worthy.  We honestly couldn’t remember the last time we had a second portion of au gratin potatoes.  That’s how good these are.

Desserts

The dessert table doesn’t have tremendous variety, but what it lacks in quantity, it made up for in deliciousness. Alternatively you can sate your sweet tooth with the various fruits. The cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple have an in-season freshness and flavor. Throughout our meal we were well taken care of by an attentive server staff who replenished our beverages and made savvy recommendations. All this and million dollar views of the Sandias.

Jhett’s Restaurant is a welcome addition to the Rio Rancho fine-dining scene. An excellent brunch is just the prelude to future fine-dining ventures in what is once again becoming one of Rio Rancho’s crown jewels.

Jhett’s Restaurant
500 Country Club Drive, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-5000
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 September 2015
1st VISIT: 4 January 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sunday Brunch

Jhett's on Urbanspoon

Santacafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santacafe, a Santa Fe Institution Since 1983

Is there anything as pure and simple as the innocence of a child, especially during the most magical time of the year? When my then six-year-old niece penned a heartfelt letter to Santa Claus, there was no doubt in her mind that her letter would be delivered and her wish would be granted. After all, she had been extra good all year long and what she wanted for Christmas was so reasonable. My niece’s fondest Christmas wish was that her family dine at Santacafe—not because of its reputation for inspired cuisine, but because she was sure she would meet jolly old Saint Nick at his restaurant “Santa Café.”

It’s entirely possible my niece may have been the only person ever to have suffered a crushing disappointment at Santacafe, an elegant edifice which has been fulfilling wishes of discerning diners ever since it launched in 1983. In its three decades plus of pleasing the refined and pedantic palates of Santa Fe’s residents and visitors, Santacafe has been consistently regarded as one of the City Different’s very best, an institution the New York Times called “a restaurant to love, offering perhaps the best combination of inspired food and attractive surroundings in the city.”

Georgia O’Keefe Inspired Dining Room Complete with Elk Antlers Over Fireplace

As you approach from Washington Avenue, those attractive surroundings won’t jump out at you nor will Santacafe’s rather austere signage. In fact, the restaurant’s frontage is rather homogeneous, albeit a lighter adobe hued than most. Step into the boulder-strewn courtyard with its canopies of towering shade-providing trees and you’ll be magically transported (at least for a little while) to another place, an even better Santa Fe. When the air cools, you can retreat to one of the four small dining rooms where kiva style fireplaces form the cynosure for otherwise minimalistic and immaculately white surroundings in which the color of the tablecloths matches the color of the walls. Close proximity seating has the advantage of being able to see the culinary classics being delivered to your neighbors’ tables.

Long before it was a restaurant, the adobe abode was the home of Jose Manuel Gallegos, an ordained Roman Catholic priest who eventually dedicated himself entirely to politics, even serving two stints on the United States Congress. In the novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, author Willa Cather depicted Padre Gallegos as a hedonistic glutton and gambler. These contentions were disputed and disproved by noted historian Fray Angelico Chavez who ultimately established that racist writers and historians had unjustly besmirched New Mexico and its Hispanic citizenry whom they painted as dissolute and indolent.

Bread

Over the years, Santacafe has attracted its share of the glitterati—both to the “front” and the “back of the house.” From 1997 through 1997, Ming Tsai served as executive chef, earning “best chef in Santa Fe” honors and garnering a “27” out of “30” in the 1996 Zagat Guide. Tsai’s “East meets Southwest Cuisine” concept drew the interest of the Food Network where a year after leaving Santacafe, he began hosting an Emmy award-winning show called “East Meets West.” Giada De Laurentiis, another Food Network luminary never worked Santacafe’s hallowed kitchen, but she did visit the restaurant in 1997 for her “Giada’s Weekend Getaway” show.

The influence of Ming Tsai is still very much in evidence on the menu (including the shiitake-and-cactus spring rolls with Southwestern ponzu dipping sauce), but Giada’s influence may be even more prevalent in the form of diners attempting to mimic her dining experience. Like the toothsome beauty, they ogle the covered 40-foot well by the bar which dates back to 1857. They pick up the crayons provided on each table and draw on the white paper atop the even whiter table cloths. They order what Giada ordered. That would be the swoon-inducing crispy calamari and the vegetarian chile relleno. Both are excellent choices!

Mexican Braised Beef & Chorizo Quesadilla

The menu is replete with excellent choices. It’s a frequently changing digest of deliciousness, with items in red denoting changes through the month as fresh, seasonal produce becomes available. It’s the type of menu about which you’re likely to ask your servers a few clarifying questions (is the lobster roll made with mayo, for example). It’s the type of menu you’ll peruse at length because there are so many options that sound equally appealing.

Fortunately while you’re perusing the menu, your servers will deliver a basket of yeasty, crusty bread and crispy flatbread impregnated with red chile. Whipped butter from a small ramekin spreads easily over the bread, but you won’t want anything touching the flatbread which has a discernible bite (the type of which traumatizes tourists, but delights locals). You’re likely to polish off the basket before appetizers arrive, but servers will happily oblige (and likely expect) requests for bread replenishment.

Grilled Angus Petite Filet

The aforementioned crispy calamari that so besotted Giada spearheads the triumvirate of appetizer “classics” which also include the aforesaid cactus spring rolls as well as shrimp and spinach dumplings with tahini sauce. Chimayo red chile onion rings with Judy’s catsup (more on this later) are another popular choice. You might also opt for the Mexican braised beef and chorizo quesadilla with Asadero cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo and crema fresca. The tortilla, with prominent striations from a grill, can’t hold in all the ingredients or their flavor.  It’s a winner and so are accompanying condiments, especially the dill-infused crema fresca.

One of the reasons I suggested earlier that you ask questions about menu items in which you’re interested is  because you want to ensure what you order is precisely what is delivered to your table and not necessarily an interpretation of an item you ordered.  In ordering the grilled Angus petite filet with pommes frites, we expected traditional French fried potatoes–not necessarily thickly cut but certainly not elongated, thinly-cut shoestring potatoes.  Ordinarily shoestring potatoes are fine, but they are absolutely wasted on some of the best restaurant ketchup we’ve had in years.  “Judy’s Catsup,” named for co-owner Judith. Ebbinghaus, is so good we picked up a bottle when we left.

Baby Arugula Salad

As for the grilled Angus petite filet, there’s accuracy and truth in the menu.  It’s most definitely petite, probably no more than five or six ounces.  It’s also swimming in a pool of thyme demiglace.  Thyme, with its light bouquet, probably gained more notoriety from Scarborough Fair, the Simon & Garfunkel song, than it has from any items with which it’s prepared.  Because thyme has a faintly lemony flavor and light bouquet, it’s not an overpowering culinary herb.  Had it been rendered from just about any other herb, the demiglace would have obfuscated the flavor of the filet entirely.

Salads, some of the most creative and delicious in town, are always a good bet at Santacafe.  The Baby Arugula Salad is our favorite, a large plate splayed with a mound of baby arugula crowned with a single Spanish goat cheese croquette, pears, Chimayo red chile candied pecans and pomegranate seeds drizzled with a pomegranate vinaigrette.  The distinctive peppery flavors of adult arugula are diminished somewhat on baby arugula, but you’ll likely be focusing on the harmony of the many complementary ingredients on this salad.

Award-Winning Chocolate Mousse

For some reason, the highlight of our visits to Santacafe tends to be the restaurant’s decadent and delightful desserts.  A half dozen tempting treats are available for your postprandial pleasure.  Make sure the one you order if you’re only having one is the award-winning chocolate mousse, an “adult” chocolate mold stuffed with a thick mousse on a plate decorated with a blood orange-caramelized pineapple glaze and Grand Marnier whipped cream topped with red chile candied pecans.  It’s one of my very favorite desserts in New Mexico, a dessert worth doing several hundred extra sit-ups for (and I hate sit-ups).

For my Kim, sweltering summer days are the best excuse for her favorite dessert of all–ice cream or any of its relatives.  In Santacafe’s sorbet trio, she may have found her very favorite.  That terrific trio showcases the fruity deliciousness of mango, lemon and raspberry, all made on the premises and each idealizing the native flavors of the fruits from which they are made.  She enjoys the sorbet trio so much, she gives me the three accompanying old-fashioned cookies so the cookies don’t interrupt her enjoyment of the sorbet.

Sorbet Trio

My niece long ago came to the realization that Santa Cafe isn’t Santa’s Cafe.  She’s also come to the realization that Santacafe is a gift that keeps on giving and has been doing so for more than three decades.

Santacafe
231 Washington Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 984-1788
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Chocolate Mousse, Sorbet Trio, Mexican Braised Beef & Chorizo Quesadilla, Grilled Angus Petite Filet, Baby Arugula Salad, Bread

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Elaine’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Elaine’s on Central Avenue in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District

“They were all impressed with your Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine’s”.
~Big Shot by Billy Joel

For nearly five decades–from 1963 through 2011–“the place to be” in Manhattan’s trendy Upper East Side was Elaine’s, perhaps the city’s most celebrated and revered A-lister’s hangout.  Everyone who was anyone frequented Elaine’s, an eponymous establishment in which luminaries came to see and be seen.  Celebrity habitues included glitterati from stage, screen, television, literature and politics such as Woody Allen, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Mick Jagger, Jacqueline Kennedy, Jack Nicholson, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Andy Warhol and Raquel Welch.  Elaine Kaufman was the peripatetic presence around whom the celebrities flocked, the geocentric personality whose gravitational pull drew them all in.

Every chic and cosmopolitan city has its own “place to be,” a vibrant cultural, retail and entertainment hub with its own distinctive sights, sounds and flavors. In Albuquerque, that cultural hub is Nob Hill, a fusion of trendy shops, eclectic galleries and swank dining options. The history of Nob Hill is interlaced with that of Route 66, the fabled “Mother Road” which once traversed the fruited plain from Chicago to Los Angeles. Remnants of Route 66 in its halcyon days festoon Nob Hill in the form of vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through Central Avenue where Route 66 once ran. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon is akin to a siren’s call, drawing visitors to the area like moths to a flame.

The interior of Elaine’s

In October, 2013, a new fine-dining restaurant patterned after chic Manhattan eateries launched in the Nob Hill district. Fittingly, the restaurant’s name is Elaine’s which translates from Greek to “ray of light,” a term which not only describes the resplendent nighttime glow of Route 66, but  the lovely lady for whom the restaurant was named. That would be Elaine Blanco, long-time general manager of Scalo, a Duke City dining institution situated directly across the street.

It remains to be seen whether Elaine’s of Albuquerque ever achieves–at least at a local level–the eminence and prominence of its fabled Manhattan namesake or even whether or not it becomes “the place to be” in the Duke City. In less than two years (as of this writing), however, Elaine’s has already been recognized by one source with a worldwide presence as one of “Albuquerque’s ten best restaurants.”  The Albuquerque Journal touted Elaine’s for bringing a “New York vibe to Nob Hill.”  In that respect, Elaine’s actualizes the vision conceptualized by founders Elaine Blanco and restaurant impresario Steve Paternoster.

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An amazing amuse bouche: sopaipillas with honey butter sprinkled with shaved prosciutto

Elaine’s is elegant yet unpretentious with an energetic vibe hinting at targeting a young professional demographic. Seating for 52 guests is in personal space proximity with banquettes hugging the walls and tables in the center adorned in white linen tablecloths and fine silverware. The cynosure of the dining room is a well appointed bar. Evocative art hangs on the walls while eclectic music plays in the background.

Initially serving only dinner, Elaine’s culinary philosophy is ambitious but simple: “We combine fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers and purveyors with the best products from around the world. We strive to bring a new approach to food and dining in Albuquerque with the latest cooking techniques and exciting flavor profiles.”  The menu features rotating seasonal dishes at price points that won’t break the bank. That is unless Elaine’s is offering Osetra caviar from Russia, (as they were during the night of our inaugural visit) one of the premium caviars in the world. We were tempted, but an ounce would have set us back a princely sum.

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Blue Crab & Cauliflower Soup

1 November 2013: More to the liking of my wallet is an amuse bouche of tiny sopaipillas served with a honey butter laced with shaved bits of prosciutto. The sopaipillas are served just out-of-the-fryer-hot, with wisps of fragrant steam escaping when you bite into them. They’re so addictive, we asked for another order.  Don’t spare the butter even if it means a couple hours longer on the treadmill.  The melding of salty prosciutto and luscious honey is sheer genius.

The “small plates” section of the menu features an array of tempting starters showcasing creatively prepared vegetables and salads as well as proteins from the land and sea.  Albuquerque the Magazine bestowed its highest culinary award, a “Hot Plate” to one of those small plates–the miso ramen.  The award signifies appetizers, dishes, desserts, drinks and restaurants “that we can’t live without.”   The starters menu is replete with sophisticated options that speak volumes about the chef’s creativity.  That chef would be Andrew Gorski, a highly credentialed sage who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America before studying under world-renowned chefs and working at some of the most celebrated restaurants in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Lamb Chops

The “large” menu is a descriptor for the more costly and sizable dinner entrees.  In numerical terms, it’s certainly not a large menu, listing only six entrees.  The spring, 2015 menu lists a burger (brioche, foie gras, aioli, kale, onion, cheese), half chicken, pork rib chop, halibut, filet mignon and Maine Lobster.  Don’t get too used to any of these entrees because the menu does rotate with the seasons.  On one hand, not seeing your favorites on the menu every time you visit can be heartbreaking, but on the other, you’re sure to find new favorites.

1 November 2013: Chilled to our bones from winds that buffeted our car mercilessly on the night of our inaugural visit, we opted for a blue crab and cauliflower soup redolent with the fragrance of black truffles and curry oil. The two-step presentation of this soup enhanced our enjoyment. First our server directed our attention to a concave bowl, the bottom of which was brimming with finely chopped blue crab strewn and shaved black truffles. Then he poured the contents of a decanter of cauliflower soup atop the contents.

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Potted Black Pig

Superb as the blue crab and black truffles were, it was the curry oil that elevated the soup beyond mere comfort food level to the rarefied air of greatness. The delicate blue crab was allowed to shine in a flavor profile of ingredients which could have easily taken over had they not been so well balanced. This soup was the perfect elixir for a blustery evening, imparting the type of warmth that caresses your joints without singeing your tongue.

1 November 2013: During our inaugural visit, the line-up of luscious proteins features two seafood dishes and three meat entrees. The lamb chops were almost picturesque in their presentation. Nestled in a pool of whipped Yukon mashed potatoes were a trio of lollipop lamb chops, so called because part of the bone is exposed, making them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine-dining restaurant). Each lamb chop is pert and petite, but packed with flavor and tenderness. The chops are rimmed with a slight layer of fat that adds to the flavor, melding well with a tamarind sauce.

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Warmed Carrot Cake

1 November 2013: Pork, the other white meat, was well represented with a spotted black pig entrée in a miso broth served with a single ash ravioli topped with brussel leaves. The spotted black pig was deliciously decadent with a flavorful balance of unctuous fat and rich, tender meat. This was porcine perfection, as delicate and flavorful as any pork dish we’ve had.  It’s easy to see why the miso broth would go on to earn a “Hot Plate” award from Albuquerque The Magazine.   The ash ravioli, engorged with sweet parsnips, was worthy accompaniment.  Parsnips, by the way, are a vastly underutilized root vegetable.

1 November 2013: Desserts are avant-garde in their interpretation of traditional favorites. The warmed carrot cake, for example, is hardly your mom’s carrot cake. It is, instead, a way to appreciate carrots in three ways: candied, confit and with a cream cheese spume. It’s not sliced into a traditional carrot cake slab, but plated in seeming disarray with cake on the rim of the plate as well as on the cream cheese spume. While it may not win awards for neatness and presentation, it will win over your heart and taste buds.

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Elaine’s Candy Bar

1 November 2013: Named for the peripatetic restaurateur, the Elaine’s Candy Bar is a chocoholic’s dream, a rectangular slab of rich dark chocolate served with a single scoop of coconut ice cream and toasted cashews. The effect of capturing both candy bar and coconut ice cream on each spoonful is akin to partaking of the very best Mounds bar you’ve ever had.

31 May 2015:  In New Mexico, there almost seems to be a template for brunch.  Some diners like the comfort of knowing what to expect–huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, omelets and the like.  Others, however, have been clamoring for something different, something new and exciting.  That’s what Elaine’s is striving to offer with the brunch offering it inaugurated on 31 May 2015.  It’s a brunch heretofore unseen in the Land of Enchantment.  It’s a brunch you’re more likely to see in…well, Manhattan.

Ceviche

31 May 2015: There are only nine items on the menu.  The first two are composed salads.  The remainder are seafood items.  Red and green chile don’t appear anywhere on the menu so if you’re of the ilk who has to enjoy chile with every meal, you’re out of luck.  Others who have lamented the absence of high quality seafood in the landlocked Land of Enchantment will find Elaine’s brunch a welcome difference. It’s the brunch for the seafood lover in you.

31 May 2015:  Many New Mexicans, especially those who frequent Mexican restaurants, have an intimate relationship with ceviche, raw seafood “cooked” in citrus juices.  Often served on a tostada shell, ceviche is a terrific way to start a meal.  The ceviche at Elaine’s is reminiscent of a cross between a campechana and ceviche.  The former is a Mexican seafood cocktail served  with Clamato and lime juices in a goblet and tinged with a hot sauce and diced vegetables.  Served in a bowl, the ceviche at Elaine’s is more liquefied (Clamato or tomato juice spiked with Tabasco sauce) than ceviche served in Duke City Mexican restaurants.  Swimming in that liquid pool are avocados, cucumbers, red onions, garlic and a generous complement of tiger shrimp.  It’s an excellent starter.

Lobster Roll

31 May 2015:  Throughout New England, there’s a contentious debate as to how to prepare a lobster roll.  While no one will debate the sheer deliciousness of luscious lobster nestled in a split top roll, some New Englanders consider it sacrilegious to desecrate a lobster roll with mayo.  Some purists will accept only warm clarified butter as the proper dressing for a lobster roll.  At Elaine’s, the lobster is generously endowed with mayo and it is perfectly fine with us.  Spilling over the sweet, tender split roll is at least half a pound of rich lobster meat, mostly from claws and knuckles.  Lobster love in Albuquerque is alive, well and delicious at Elaine’s.

31 May 2015:  Fittingly, the largest brunch item has been christened the “Grand Plateau,” a platter brimming with a netful of seafood: four king crab legs, six oysters on the half shell and eight tiger shrimp.  Served on an ice bed isn’t my Kim’s preference for crab legs, but she was well sated when our server ferried over a ramekin of hot, clarified butter.  The accompanying sauces–a combustible cocktail sauce and a remoulade–paired well with the other seafood items, but crab legs marry best with butter. The oysters and shrimp are excellent reminders that while chile is incomparable, seafood is sensational, too.

Grand Plateau

The wait staff is ambassadorial in its courtesy and nearly encyclopedic in its knowledge of the menu and wine list. Elaine’s is a relatively new addition to the Nob Hill dining scene, but it has all the memorable qualities needed to become a Duke City fixture like Route 66 and Nob Hill.

Elaine’s
3503 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 555-5555
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2015
1st VISIT: 1 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Blue Crab & Cauliflower Soup, Spotted Black Pig, Lamb Chops, Warmed Carrot Cake, Elaine’s Candy Bar, Ceviche, Grand Plateau, Lobster Roll

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Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nick & Jimmy's Bar & Grill on Pan American Frontage Road

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill on Pan American Frontage Road

Legendary American chef, author and television personality Julia Child was often exasperated with what she perceived as American’s propensity for culinary laziness, once commenting that “the trend in the U.S.A. was toward speed and the elimination of work.”   “Americans,” she noted, equated as “gourmet” such “horrible glop” as “TV dinners, frozen vegetables, canned mushrooms, fish sticks, Jell-O salads, marshmallows and spray-can whipped cream.

Julia Child obviously didn’t know Dave Hurayt, a good friend and fellow gastronome who’s shared some wonderful recipes with me.  While Dave may not have spent two years and nearly 300 pounds of flour attempting to bake the perfect loaf of French bread as Julia Child once did, he experiments painstakingly with the recipes he creates, laboring assiduously until those recipes achieve his high standards of perfection.  Perfection can sometimes be painful as he found out while experimenting with a recipe utilizing burnt bourbon.  Much like a mad scientist adding a catalytic chemical to a burning beaker, the results were dramatic.  He blew the glass right out of his new KitchenAid oven.

Basket of bread and Spanakopita

When a true kitchen warrior and gourmet such as Dave eschews his culinary domain and eats at one restaurant for seven out of nine consecutive weeks, that restaurant has got to be special.  A restaurant capable of besotting his sophisticated palate has got to offer extraordinary quality and quality.  Like me, Dave is not a monogamous gastronome when it comes to restaurants.  When he does go out to eat, he typically will visit a variety of restaurants, not a select few like the truly culinarily lazy Americans to which Julia Child referred.

The restaurant which captured Dave’s heart and taste buds is Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill on restaurant row off the Pan American Highway on the west side of I-25.  Nick & Jimmy’s has been wowing dining patrons since it launched in September, 2009.   One of the high wow factors is the restaurant’s redesign which might more appropriately be called a metamorphosis because Nick & Jimmy’s occupies what was once Johnny Carino’s, a middling quality Italian chain.

Preparing our flaming Kaseri cheese appetizer

Preparing our flaming Kaseri cheese appetizer

The estimate as to what the transmogrification cost ranges from one-million to two-million dollars, either amount impressive.  The restaurant is an oasis of elegance in a restaurant row landscape dominated by chains.  The walls are festooned in muted earth tone colors that seem to beckon hungry diners.  Overhead, large wooden beams painted brown seem to signify strength and solidity.  As you walk in, you have the option of dining in a sprawling dining room in which tables are in fairly close proximity to one another or in a more casual room in which a well-provisioned bar holds prominence.  The two rooms are separated by smoked glass accented half walls.

A semi-exhibition kitchen is partially obfuscated from diners by the smoked glass accents.  It’s a nice touch that gives you a hint of the bustling activity at a busy kitchen without being too distracting.  As luxurious as the setting is, not all the improvements are readily apparent.  One thing diners can’t see, but which is most definitely a hallmark of the restaurant is the 1400-degree broiler reputed to sear in all the juices and flavor.

Dolmades Avgolomono

The menu is inventive and eclectic, offering a smattering of steak and seafood entrees as well as Greek, Italian and American inspired cuisine.  You’ll also see more than just a perfunctory tribute to the Land of Enchantment’s red and green chile, starting with posole which is often the “soup” of the day.  Almost all the entrees on the lunch menu are also available for dinner.  It’s a very diverse menu which includes steak, chops and chicken entrees the likes of which every great steakhouse offers, but few prepare exceptionally well. 

Most entrees are served with your choice of soup or salad, seasonal vegetables and one of the following: oven-roasted potatoes, rice pilaf, old-fashioned mashed potatoes or au gratin potatoes.  Unlike some of their peers in the upscale casual market, Nick & Jimmy’s have a price point to which more patrons will relate and no a la carte offerings.  Portions are generous so you shouldn’t walk out hungry.

Pan Seared Scallops

As you peruse the menu, a basket of bread will be brought to your table and your attendant will prepare a dish of olive oil and seasonings in which to immerse the bread (which just happens to be some of the very best bread in town).  The bread is courtesy of Fano’s Bakery, a local institution.  It encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread.  Also served in the bread basket are small wedges of the restaurant’s pizza bread which are infiltrated with Parmesan cheese and chili flakes.

More than half of Nick & Jimmy’s appetizer options are succulent selections from the sea: shrimp cocktail, crab cake, Parmesan prawns, baked crab and artichoke heart dip, sesame seared Ahi tuna, fried calamari, shrimp scampi and pan-seared scallops (raved about by Dave).  The sole landlubbers are hummus served with toasted pita wedges, jumbo steamed artichoke, chicken quesadilla, dolmades avgolemono and Saganaki, flaming Kasseri cheese, also served with toasted pita wedges.

Seafood Soup

14 November 2009: The Saganaki is almost as much fun to see prepared tableside as it is to eat it.  Alit courtesy of a common lighter, the flames ascend toward the heavens, leaving blue and orange plume trails in their aromatic wake.  Your well-trained attendant turns the cheese over with but a steak knife, manipulating the flames so they lick the cheese, imparting high heat through and through and with an evenness that ensures every bit of the cheese is flame-kissed.

In Greece, Kasseri cheese is made from sheep’s milk while its American counterpart is made with cow’s milk.  Nick & Jimmy’s Kasseri is made from an amalgam of goat milk and cow’s milk.  Its flavor is of medium sharpness with a salty prominence.  It’s not meant to be spread on the pita wedges so much as it’s intended to be placed atop the pita, akin to a crown of cheesy deliciousness.

Beef and barley soup at Nick & Jimmy's

Beef and barley soup at Nick & Jimmy’s

30 October 2010: Dolmades (grape leaves rolled around rice, ground beef and herbs) Avgolomono (an egg and lemon sauce) is another great Greek starter.  If you’ve ever lamented the fact that most dolmades in the Duke City come from a can, you’ll appreciate these housemade gems which, also unlike at most other Albuquerque restaurants, are served warm.  The herbaceous aroma and flavor of the ground beef and rice combination coupled with the tangy richness of the Avgolomono sauce make these (five to an order) stubby cigar-shaped beauties some of the very best in the city. 

16 May 2015: Finding scallops on an appetizer menu is as rare as a “good hair day” for Donald Trump.  In fact, Nick and Jimmy’s might be the only restaurant in the metropolitan area to do so.  Best of all, an order of pan-seared scallops won’t break the bank…and we’re not talking the smallish bay scallops here.  This appetizer features three large scallops served over a single grilled tomato and topped with bay shrimp in a lemon-caper butter sauce.  Usually “fruity” sauces, especially tart-tangy sauces detract from the natural sweet brininess of scallops, but not so at Nick and Jimmy’s where the lemon-caper butter sauce is so rich, so delicious and so complementary of the scallops that you’ll sop up any remaining sauce with bread.

Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley

Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley

The soup of the day rotates frequently and as noted previously, is served complementary with many of the restaurant’s entrees.  Separately, soup is available for five dollars a bowl.  Alternatively, the menu offers five salads: Caprese Salad, Iceberg Wedge, Dinner Salad, Greek Salad and a Caesar Salad with your choice of dressing: Bleu cheese, Ranch, Greek, Caesar, Thousand Island or Raspberry Vinaigrette.

Legendary French chef and restauranteur Auguste Escoffier once said “Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”  Not all soups warrant such lavish praise, but some soups seem to have been the inspiration for Escoffier’s sage words.  Nick & Jimmy’s Beef Barley Soup is one of these.

Gyros with potatoes au gratin

Gyro Sandwich with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce, served with pita bread

14 November 2009: The beef and barley soup is rich, hearty and tasty, replete with a thick, savory beef stock ameliorated by a generous amount of tender beef.  It is served piping hot with steam wafting upwards to tease and tantalize your olfactory senses.  This soup exemplifies all that people equate with the comforting and nurturance of a truly good soup.  It is a soup Nick & Jimmy’s should consider for the daily menu–or at least as a seasonal offering available in cold weather.

30 October 2010: Another soul-warming soup, one which might make you long for a cold day, is the seafood soup, showcasing calamari, squid, crab, fish and shrimp in a heavily-seasoned broth with potatoes.  Heavily seasoned in this case doesn’t mean the seafood flavor is obfuscated in any way.  Especially delightful are the calamari ringlets which are chewy and delicious.  This is wholly unlike most chowder-like seafood soups which are thick and seem to beckon for oyster crackers.  The only things this soup cries out for are a large spoon and a second helping. 

Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Rice Pilaf and a Vegetable Medley

Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Rice Pilaf and a Vegetable Medley

16 May 2015: Menus at New Mexican restaurants don’t usually offer soups unless they involve green or red chile and more often than not, they’re more along the lines of a stew than they are a soup.  At Nick and Jimmy’s, the soup-of-the-day might also include posole, a Land of Enchantment standard.  Though this rendition is more akin to hominy than to true posole, it does include a generous amount of cubed pork and a chile sauce that livens things up quite a bit. 

The lunch and dinner menus both include eight Italian inspired pasta dishes as well as four wood-oven fired pizzas.  For lunch you can also order a hamburger with green chile, a traditional gyro sandwich or a chicken gyro sandwich, all served with French fries and a house salad served with your choice of dressing. The lunch menu lists five items on the steaks, chops and chicken section, a number which doubles on the dinner menu.  You might be surprised to find such upscale meat entrees as oven braised lamb shank and spiced, braised short ribs on the lunch menu.  Don’t hesitate to order either.

Beef Tenderloin Tip Rigatoni in cayenne cream sauce with wild mushrooms and red peppers

14 November 2009: The spiced, braised short ribs come six to an order.  Braised slowly and marinated for hours, they are fall-off-the-bone tender and taste like very good, very expensive Irish pot roast seasoned very well though the “spiced” adjective doesn’t appear to equate to piquant.  Coupled with roasted potatoes, this entree reminded me very much of the wonderful comfort meals we’ve had in Irish restaurants. 

16 May 2015:  New Mexicans have been known to incorporate red and green chile into virtually every savory entree.  Intrepid cooks will even add a smidgeon or more to various dessert dishes.  It makes good sense then that green chile be part and parcel of an American comfort food standard.  Nick and Jimmy’s green chile meatloaf is an amalgam of two great tasting items that taste even better together.  A thick slab of dense, moist meatloaf punctuated with a discernibly piquant green chile and slathered with a peppery red gravy goes very well with mashed potatoes in which a well has been dug out for even more gravy.  These are real mashed potatoes, not out-of-a-box.  During our inaugural visit to Nick and Jimmy’s in 2009, my sole complaint was about the uninspired vegetable medley.  How things have changed!  The vegetable medley is reminiscent of the French preparation style for vegetables.  Carrots, pea pods, zucchini and red peppers all are redolent with sweet freshness.  All vegetables should taste this good!

Green Chile Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetable Medley

14 November 2009: Another entree at which Nick & Jimmy’s excels is the roasted spring chicken which is slow-roasted with fresh herbs, prominent among which are garlic and oregano.  The chicken is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all moist and thoroughly delicious.  Easily large enough to share, you probably will want this chicken all to yourself.  An excellent complement to the chicken is the buttery and rich rice pilaf, each grain of which is imbued with flavor. 

16 May 2015: A half dozen pizzas fired on the restaurant’s wood oven are a popular draw.  if the Athenian Pizza (spinach, roasted garlic and feta) is any indication, Nick and Jimmy’s could compete with the city’s pizzerias.  This thin-crusted beauty is generously endowed with ingredients: enough roasted garlic cloves to ward off a werewolf or two, enough feta to wreck your breath for a day and a nice blanket of spinach over a crusty canvas lightly slathered with tomato sauce.  It’s not always the case that a pizza will taste even better cold than it does warm, but this one does.  Thankfully we took half the pizza home and enjoyed it for breakfast the following day.

Athenian Pizza

30 October 2010: If Greek entrees are what appeal most to you from the menu, but you also want a sandwich, Nick & Jimmy’s offers a gyro sandwich with tomatoes, onion, tzatziki sauce and an amalgam of beef and lamb nestled in a thick, warm pita.  Though a good sandwich, this one isn’t overstuffed with beef and lamb the way I enjoy my gyros. Thankfully it is very moist and very well-seasoned, a perfect foil for the thicker than usual tzatziki sauce.

30 October 2010: Dave Hurayt often extols the excellence of Nick & Jimmy’s pasta dishes.  No longer exclusively the domain of Italian restaurants, pasta dishes are often better prepared in fine-dining  eclectic establishments than they are in their more well-practiced Italian brethren.  That’s certainly the case with the Beef Tenderloin Tip Rigatoni, a swimming pool-sized bowl brimming with rigatoni in a cayenne cream sauce with wild mushrooms and red peppers studded with beef tenderloin.  The cayenne cream sauce is redolent with a peppery piquancy that New Mexicans will love.  The pasta is perfectly prepared at a shade beyond al dente while the beef tenderloin, at medium-rare, is tender and succulent, a real treat.

Pineapple Upsidedown Cake at Nick & Jimmy's

Pineapple Upsidedown Cake at Nick & Jimmy’s

14 November 2009: The dessert menu includes such seemingly de rigueur standards as creme brulee and bread pudding.  It also showcases a pineapple upsidedown cake, not a very common dessert offering in New Mexico restaurants.  This is wholly unlike other pineapple upsidedown cakes I’ve ever seen as it’s not sliced from a large sheet cake.  These are individually portioned cakes sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and surrounded by rich whipped cream and fresh berries.  The cake is moist and thoroughly delicious, not too sweet as some of its ilk are apt to be.

30 October 2010: Another Greek-inspired dessert favorite is the Baklava Sundae, a sundae glass in which two mounds of Blue Bunny’s vanilla ice cream are topped with a triangle of moist and rich baklava replete with sweet honey.  The baklava sweetens the ice cream all the more, forming a decadent marriage sure to appease the most discerning of dessert aficionados.

Coconut Cream Pie

16 May 2015:  Not even Gilligan’s crew enjoyed coconut cream pie as good as prepared at Nick and Jimmy’s.  From its frothy whipped cream top sprinkled with shreds of toasted coconut to its flaky Graham cracker crust, this thick pie served cold is an absolute delight.  Texturally, it’s thicker than most puddings though not quite as thick as a cheesecake.  It’s the type of dessert for which you’d risk your svelte figure.

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill is owned by Albuquerque’s dynamic partnership duo of Nick Kapnison and Jimmy Daskalos, restaurant impresarios with a small empire of restaurants throughout the Duke City.  A hallmark of their restaurants is great service.  You can’t do better than Michelle, one of the best servers in town.  Ask for her.

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill
5021 S Pan American Freeway,  N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 344-9169
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 May 2015
1st VISIT: 14 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET:   Pineapple Upsidedown Cake, Spicy Beef Short Ribs, Greek Style Roasted Chicken, Saganaki, Gyros Sandwich, Baklava Sundae, Dolmades Avgolomono, Beef Tenderloin Tip Ravioli, Seafood Soup, Coconut Cream Pie, Athenian Pizza, Green Chile Meatloaf.

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Soul and Vine – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Soul And Vine on Gold Street Just West on First Street

“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.”
~Thomas Keller

A recent tweet from Ortega (yes, that purveyor of “high quality Mexican products”) posed the existential question “What’s your cooking style: cooking from the soul, from your taste buds, from a book or from your gut?” While most cooks and almost all chefs would contend they cook with their souls, their assertions are belied by the absence of the qualities and experiences diners might associate with the term “cooking from the soul.” For many of us, that term kindles cherished memories of our precious mothers lovingly preparing our favorite dishes, every spoonful an expression of their boundless love. For others, “cooking from the soul” may engender fond recollections of a perfectly executed gourmet meal served by a fabulous staff against a spectacular backdrop.

Whatever imagery the term “cooking from the soul” conjures, most of us know when we’ve experienced it just as we can usually surmise that a cook or chef is just “going through the motions” in rote fashion. If you’re uncertain just what constitutes cooking from the soul, let’s turn to the wit and wisdom of The Ramen Girl: “You must learn to cook from the quieter place deep inside of you. Each bowl of ramen you prepare is a gift to your customer. The food that you serve your customer becomes a part of them. It contains your spirit. That’s why your ramen must be an expression of pure love. A gift from your heart.”

View of the dining room as you step into the restaurant

When Tony Punya walked up to our table and introduced himself as the owner of Soul and Vine, a casual fine-dining restaurant in the downtown district, my first question was “why the name?” though I’d already surmised the answer. Not surprisingly, he confirmed that “Vine” represents the fruit of the vine, a sommelier’s dream of red and white wines from California, Oregon, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia and even New Zealand. The “Soul,” he explained, describes the passion and energy with which executive chef David Ruiz prepares each and every meal.

From ambiance alone, it’s hard to feel “cooking from the soul” as you’re seated in a milieu perhaps best described as scrupulously immaculate and maybe even lacking warmth (courtesy of painted concrete floors and a fairly monochromatic palette). It’s not that Soul and Vine is unattractive or unappealing. Far from it. It just doesn’t have those warm, embracing qualities some restaurants have that make their guests feel as though they’re enveloped in a nurturing and comfortable cocoon. Attentive, personable service, the type which seems standard at Soul and Vine, goes a long way toward offsetting an impersonal ambiance. Both our server and the owner could not have been more gracious.

Flatbread with Green chile Butter

Ironically, Soul and Vine is ensconced in a space that previously housed Thai Saweiy and before that Thai Crystal, two restaurants with decorative touches that seemed just a tad more homey. Even more ironic is that the original concept for the restaurant wasn’t fine dining showcasing American tapas and a wine bar, but a food truck.  That’s when serendipity played a hand.  At about the time plans started to move forward with the food truck idea, Chef Ruiz was in search of a new opportunity and Thai Sawely had just closed.  The space on Gold Street just west of First beckoned. Soul and Vine launched in October, 2014.

Lunch and dinner menus include several commonalities as well as distinct differences that extend beyond price.  Because Chef Ruiz meticulously plans and preps dinner entrees for “just in time” service, they’re not available during the lunch serving.   Available during both lunch and dinner, starters include eleven “soulful apps,” tapas-style appetizers big enough to share, but not so large that they’ll leave you too full for your meal.  Soups and salads are also available for both servings.  While the lunch menu showcases crafted sandwiches, for dinner it’s seasonal favorites (such as Papardelle Pasta and Carmelized Sea Scallops) that steal the show.  Value oriented options are available for both lunch and dinner.  For lunch, it’s the “Soul and Vine Trio,” a terrific threesome featuring sinful soup, savory salad and a crafted sandwich.  For dinner, the “Soul and Vine Quartet” offers soup or salad, a soulful app, seasonal favorite and truffles.

Left: Bay Scallop Ceviche on Lettuce cups; Right: Pork Cubano Tacos

As you contemplate your meal, a basket of flatbread and green chile-infused butter is delivered to your table.  The flatbread, thicker than Indian papadum, but not as thick as a corn chip) is impregnated with cracked pepper.  The green chile-infused butter spreads easily on the flatbread and couples with the cracked pepper to provide piquant-savory notes which complement the sweet mildness of the flatbread. 

There’s significant variety in the soulful apps menu where you can find everything from an artisan cheese and charcuterie pairing to white Cheddar truffle mac and cheese.  Any more than three or four of them are filling enough to constitute a meal, but you’ll want to order at least two.  Make one of them the bay scallop ceviche on lettuce cups.  Bay scallops are the 98-pound weakling of the mollusk family as they’re dwarfed by much larger scallops.  The size limitation doesn’t apply to flavor.  Bay scallops put their behemoth brethren to shame when it comes to flavor.  They’re the perfect scallop for ceviche.  Best of all, Chef Ruiz doesn’t obfuscate the natural brininess and flavor of the scallops by drenching them in citrus juices.  The citrus juices complement the bay scallops very well.

Soul and Vine Trio: Smoked BLT, Tomato Basil Bisque, Scarborough Farms Baby Greens

Another soulful app not to be missed is the Pork Cubano Tacos, a trio of open-faced tacos stuffed with wonderfully moist, perfectly seasoned and absolutely delicious pork topped with caramelized onions punctuated with pickled Fresno chili.  Now this is a soulful appetizer!  Its flavor profile includes savory, sweet, tangy and piquant notes that work very well together.  The soft corn taco shells have a pronounced corn taste that serves as a nice foil for the marinated pork and caramelized onions.  These are the type of tacos you might want to eat by the dozen. 

Mathematically there are probably hundreds of combinations possible with the Soul and Vine Trio and it’s likely they’re all delicious.  Think about it.  Is there anything better for lunch than the tasty trinity of soup, salad and a sandwich?  Of the three it’s often the salad that’s most under- if not unappreciated.  The Scarborough Farms Baby Greens salad (candied pecans, goat cheese, grilled onions with a white Balsamic dressing) may sound like many salads you’ve had, but the freshness of the ingredients and the tangy Balsamic elevate it to a rarefied state.  So does the creamy, delightfully tart goat cheese.  Soul & Vine also elevates the BLT to more than your everyday basic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  Smoked bacon is the most elevated ingredient, rendered absolutely transformative with a light, delicate smoking process.  Pairing perfectly with the sandwich is a tomato basil bisque, the very essence of comfort food and every bit the essence of soul cooking.  It’s a terrific soup any time of year.

Butternut Squash and Sage Ravioli

Not on the menu, but perhaps it should be is the butternut squash and sage ravioli which is served over a bed of toasted rainbow chard and topped with a piñon butter sauce and citrus curls.  There are only seven raviolis per order, but each is roughly the size of a baby’s fist.  Moreover they’re replete with ingredients and flavors which coalesce into a harmonious and yes, soulful platform of rich deliciousness.  That richness is counterbalanced by the earthy, nutty, mineral-rich qualities of the rainbow chard.  The citrus curls sneak in on occasion to provide a delightful contrast. This dish is a winner!

Soul and Vine may not look like a restaurant imbued with soul, but there’s plenty of cooking from the soul going on in the kitchen.  Ultimately that’s what matters most.

Soul And Vine
109 Gold Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 2 May 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Butternut and Sage Ravioli, Soul and Vine Trio, Bay Scallop Ceviche, Pork Cubano Tacos

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