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Mint Tulip Vegan Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant on Central Avenue

My Friend Sr. Plata by The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant on Central Avenue

Once a year during a certain holiday in November, meat-eaters use the
hollowed-out rectum of a dead bird as a pressure cooker for stuffing.
And people think vegans are weird because we eat tofu?”
~Gary Yourofsky

In the spirit of the much debated question of “nature or nurture,” my inaugural visit to The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant prompted my own philosophical contemplation, “are veggie haters born or made?”  The answer is probably a little of both. Many of us were–as children–traumatized by well-intentioned parental chiding or threats regarding vegetables: “Eat Your Vegetables!”   “You’re not leaving this table until you eat your rutabaga!”  “No dessert until you finish all your vegetable medley!”

Then there are those of us who were once served a mushy bowl of peas, an overcooked plate of carrots, spinach suffering from freezer burn and the like.  Others of us may have, in an effort to lose weight, endured a fad diet consisting solely of certain vegetables.  Whatever the reason, it’s no wonder so many people become veggie-haters. 

Hummus Plate

Hummus Plate

The problem with hating vegetables is that they are, almost inarguably, the most healthful food group on Earth.  Vegetables are an amazing source of antioxidants, fiber, phytochemicals. potassium and other beneficial nutrients.  Eating a diet rich in vegetables (and fruits) as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, protect against certain types of cancers, reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes as well as decreasing bone loss.

Aside from the clinical benefits of vegetables, the truth is when prepared well, vegetables can be absolutely delicious–even if they’re not disguised as some “pseudo meat.”  Unfortunately, not even some of the very best chefs and cooks at much acclaimed restaurants do much more with vegetables than boil or saute them.  Talk about bland and boring.  Talk about unrealized potential.

Buffalo Ranch Wrap: grilled seitan tossed with our buffalo sauce, carrots, celery, mixed greens and ranch dressing all wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Buffalo Ranch Wrap: grilled seitan tossed with our buffalo sauce, carrots, celery, mixed greens and ranch dressing all wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant is that its menu looks so un-vegan.  Scrawled on a slate board behind the counter at which you place your order is a menu listing such carnivore favorites as a BLT, Club Sandwich, Reuben, Buffalo Ranch Wrap and Burger.  You can also order a Brat (with kraut and onions) or a hot dog.  Anyone contemplating a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle might be surprised by all the inventive and delicious potential of such a diet.

The aforementioned meaty sounding sandwich fare is made possible by something called a meat analogue…or meat substitute, imitation meat, faux meat, fake meat or mock meat, if you prefer.  Whatever you choose to call it, meat analogues approximate three essential aesthetic qualities of meat: texture, flavor and appearance.  Some meat analogues are so similar to the real thing that if you don’t know what you’re eating, you’d swear it was meat.  While many analogues are soy- or gluten-based, The Mint Tulip also offers a number of gluten-free items such as salads, grilled vegetable sandwich, grilled cheese sandwich and even the shakes (save for the mint cookie).

Pancakes with syrup

Pancakes with syrup

Accompanying me on my inaugural visit to The Mint Tulip was my good friend Sr. Plata.  We were the oldest diners in the Cafe by twenty years or more as well as the only patrons not sporting multiple tattoos, gauged piercings, multi-colored spiked hair or some other generational personal affectation.  We reminisced about once being the same age as the other diners and how we, too, sported the personal attributes that defined our generation (and ticked off our elders).  It’s no wonder we felt right at home. 

We also felt like welcomed guests courtesy of the kindness of co-owner Rosa Zamora who patiently answered our questions and made recommendations.  She pointed out that the breakfast menu, while limited, is served until breakfast items run out.  On any given day, that could mean a breakfast burrito (potato, spinach, sausage and red or green chile) or a sausage cheese biscuit (fresh-baked biscuit sandwich with Cheddar spread and a breakfast sausage patty).  

It could also mean pancakes, three golden brown and fluffy orbs served with syrup and Earth Balance butter, a plant-based vegan butter made without artificial ingredients or hydrogenated oils.  The pancakes are made from scratch with all-purpose flour.  The Mint Tulip made believers out of two converts with pancakes every bit as good as you’ll find at any conventional breakfast restaurants (and better than the pancakes at Annapurna, another Duke City vegan favorite).  The only thing missing is bacon…and drat my terrible memory for not having thought about ordering it on the side. 

Also as good as you’ll find at any “conventional” sandwich shop is the Buffalo Ranch Wrap, a flour tortilla encasing grilled seitan (wheat gluten which when grilled, has a texture and appearance very similar to meat), carrots, celery, mixed greens, ranch dressing and some of the best buffalo sauce this side of western New York.  In total, the sandwich is moist (you’ll be grateful for the cloth napkins) and delicious, but the buffalo sauce, in particular, is spectacular.  You can imagine dousing wings with it (not coincidentally, hot wings tossed in the buffalo sauce are on the menu). 

Chips and salsa, chips and queso and hummus are among the starters though if the entree-sized portion of hummus is any indication, they can easily be shared.  The hummus is served with grilled bread (brushed with olive oil), carrots, olives and artichoke hearts.  There are Middle Eastern restaurants in the Duke City who don’t prepare hummus as good as the Mint Tulip does.  It’s thick, garlicky and plentiful; you’ll run out of carrots and bread before you run out of hummus. 

Whether veggie haters are born or made, The Mint Tulip Vegan Cafe is good enough to convince them that vegetables can be delicious.

Mint Tulip Vegan Cafe
2110 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 8 March 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buffalo Ranch Wrap, Pancakes, Hummus Plate, Ginger Lemonade

Mint Tulip on Urbanspoon

Paddy Rawal’s OM- Fine Indian Dining – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Behind the glass, Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining Restaurant

It wasn’t New Mexico’s Chamber of Commerce winter weather that enticed Chef Pramad “Paddy” Rawal to remain in the Land of Enchantment. In fact, when he first landed at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, he wondered if he had gotten on the correct flight. Albuquerque was as frigid as his home in Michigan which he had left just hours prior. Attired in clothing more appropriate for a balmy spring day, Paddy had certainly not anticipated the winter snap that kept New Mexicans indoors for several days on that uncommonly cold December in 2010.

Paddy was in New Mexico to visit his artist friends Dick and Jane in Santa Fe. Michigan transplants themselves, his friends had long tried to influence Paddy to leave the Wolverine State and open up a restaurant in Santa Fe. They wined and dined their guest and did their best to point out the charms of the capital city, but Mother Nature would not cooperate. Then they took him to a couple of New Mexico’s most highly regarded Indian restaurants. That’s when he came to the conclusion that what passes for good Indian food in New Mexico wasn’t good enough for his friends. Four months later, Paddy opened up Raaga Fine Indian Dining in Santa Fe.

The interior of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant in Albuquerque

From day one Raaga has been a huge critical success in The City Different, beloved not only by a very grateful Dick and Jane, but by Santa Fe’s savvy, well-traveled dining public. The feeling is very much mutual. Paddy has fallen in love with Santa Fe and sees himself as potentially retiring in New Mexico. Considering the well-traveled Paddy has worked as a chef in India, Egypt, Dubai, Australia and Michigan, that’s quite a testament to enchantment and to much better weather than what first welcomed him to the state.

With the November 1st, 2012 launch of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant, Duke City diners have begun to experience for themselves what Santa Fe diners now know and what East Lansing diners have been missing since Paddy closed his two Michigan eateries. OM may be in a class of its own in New Mexico when it comes to fine Indian dining! A number of infatuated patrons, including Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, have already become confirmed habitues. In short order, OM will have legions of pleased patrons.

Chef Paddy Rawal brings Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken to our Table

The main reason, of course, is the cuisine. Boasting of rich, intricately flavored dishes prepared with the finest spices, freshest herbs and highest quality ingredients, OM takes Northern Indian fare to new heights, even incorporating local Southwest elements as well as Chinese dishes to create imaginative and sophisticated fusions of deliciousness.   There are two aspects of Indian cuisine at which OM exceeds.  One is in the use of spices, the true legacy of India’s culinary heritage.  While the primary function of spices is to enhance the flavor of food, it is experience and tradition which determine their optimal use, whether it be to season food, enhance its texture or introduce color.  The other aspect is in the preparation of sauces, each one designed to bring out the finest qualities of the ingredients on which they’re used.  

The other reason OM will, in short order, become a Duke City favorite is Paddy Rawal himself. A peripatetic presence, Paddy is the consummate host and a veritable whirling dervish who is seemingly everywhere at once. He wears the stains of spilled sauces on his chef’s coat as a badge of honor, evidence that he himself is preparing the incomparable cuisine himself. Expect him to check up on you frequently to ensure your dining experience is as good as it can be. Paddy is a very engaging, charming and modest fellow, quick to turn compliments about his cooking into something praiseworthy he noticed about you. Interacting with satisfied customers is imperative to him.

Stuffed Dried Fruit Naan and Chana Chaat with Mango Lasi

The OM menu offers an exciting culinary journey into superior taste and flavor, into subtle nuances and exotic complexity, into delicate spice blends and rich, creamy sauces.   All dishes can be ordered mild, medium, hot, hell or any variation thereof (medium plus for example). A daily lunch buffet–at a ridiculously low price considering the quality–features various vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes as well as rice, salad, naan and dessert.  Now if you’re sniggering at the seemingly contradictory notion of a fine dining restaurant offering a buffet, you’ll salute Paddy’s prowess at making all-you-can-eat a sublime offering.  With a menu that showcases vegetarian and vegan options as well as seafood and meat entrees, there truly is something for everyone at OM.

12 November 2012:  Thus far, Albuquerque’s favorite OM appetizer is chana chaat, one of the most popular of Indian street foods and not only because it can be served as a side dish, snack or salad. OM’s rendition combines chickpeas, cucumber, blueberries, whole wheat crisps, tomatoes, mint chutney and sweetened yoghurt. It’s a refreshing adventure in bright and lively flavors and textures, an absolute delight because so many flavors coalesce on your taste buds.  Those flavors are both contrasting and complementary, flavors that play off each other.

Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken (Bone-In Chicken, a Thigh and a Breast)

My mom, a tortillera in the most traditional sense  may disown me for this, but I’ve come to prefer naan to tortillas, even those she prepares with love on her seasoned comal.  OM offers nine varieties of naan, a flat, leavened bread made of white flour and baked in a tandoor; and roti, its wheat counterpart which is cooked on  a flat griddle. Now, three baskets of naan is far too many for a meal for two, but when you can’t make up your minds, order to your hearts’ content because you’ll have wonderful naan for later. Three distinctive varieties with which we fell in love are the rosemary-olive oil naan, stuffed cheese naan and stuffed dried fruit naan.  Each has its unique flavor profile with the commonality being a pinto pony-like char and a light burnishing with clarified butter (ghee).  Whether you nosh on the naan, dip it into a chutney or use it to sop up a superb sauce, you’ll savor every bite.

While Ancho and Amchur in combination may sound like a suppressed sneeze, they’re actually spices which Paddy employs.  New Mexicans are more familiar with Ancho, a powder made from a type of chile that lends a rich, subtle piquancy to foods.  Amchur, a greenish-yellowish powder of dried mangoes, lends the quality of fruity-sweetness, but not to a cloying degree.  The qualities of these two complementary spices are well in evidence on the Ancho-Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken.  The spices penetrate deeply into the bone-in thigh and breast, imparting a slight piquancy and tanginess to the tandoor grilling.  As if the moist, tender, delicious chicken isn’t wonderful enough, OM includes a sauce which also utilizes those spices.  It makes a terrific dipping sauce for the chicken or for the naan.

Seafood Korma (Scallops, Shrimp, Mahi Mahi, Cashew Cream Sauce)

Korma Sutra might be an appropriate descriptor for the Seafood Korma which just may have a foodgasm effect on your taste buds. Korma, a Northern Indian specialty, is a mild and creamy curry sauce with a distinctively rich, almost silky flavor.  The basis for Korma is a mixture of yoghurt, cream and pureed cashews blended with toasted spices.  OM prepares it to your specified level of piquancy, however, ask for any potency beyond  medium and you risk degrading the rich, complex flavors of the spice and sauce meld.  The seafood–scallops, shrimp and mahi mahi–is slowly simmered in the sauce so it’s infused with flavor.  This may well be the most memorable Korma dish I’ve had, besting my previous favorite from an Indian restaurant in London.  The portion size is generous so you’ll be taking some home.  You’ll luxuriate in the aromas that fill your kitchen.

Desserts, if you manage to save room for them, are outstanding!  The carrot pudding (halwa), a wonderfully unique dessert composed of grated carrots and ground nuts prepared in butter and boiled milk then lightly sweetened with raisins, is my early favorite.  Served warm, it showcases the natural sweetness of carrots while removing any residual bitterness.  At the other end of the spectrum texturally is mango kulfi, an Indian ice cream that is more dense and “more frozen” than American ice creams.  Besides mango, the most pronounced flavor comes from sweetened condensed milk complemented with cardamom.

Carrot Pudding and Mango “Kulfi” (House-made ice cream)

18 February 2013: Paddy pays tribute to the Land of Enchantment with a stuffed Poblano, a New Mexican-Indian fusion appetizer served with a side of mint-coriander chutney.  You’ll recognize the “innards” as the contents with which Indian Samosas are stuffed: spiced mashed potatoes and peas.  The Poblano barely registers on the Scoville Scale of piquancy, but the chutney seems to bring out whatever heat is inherent with the pepper.  While this is a nice dish, my native pride would have preferred a nicely roasted New Mexico Hatch green chile. 

As noted above, OM specializes in naan, the wonderful Indian flat bread prepared in a tandoor.  Roti is the whole wheat alternative, a wedge-shaped bread often found in Malaysian restaurants, too.  OM’s roti is quite good though not as moist and buttery as the naan.  Still, it’s not a bread any diner would kick off their plate.  As with naan, the roti goes very well with chutneys, especially the tamarind.

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

OM’s menu includes a number of Indian-Chinese fusion dishes.  Ask Paddy why he would combine the flavors of two ancient culinary traditions and he will remind you he’s a chef–not a chef who specializes in Indian food, but a chef formally trained in more than ten different cuisines.  He hopes someday to launch, perhaps in San Francisco, a restaurant showcasing a fusion of Italian and Indian food.  Paddy has already conceptualized several dishes he hopes to introduce to intrepid diners. 

You don’t have to be an adventurous diner to appreciate OM’s Chilli (SIC) Chicken, boneless chicken sauteed and cooked with ginger and garlic then finished in a tomato-based Szechuan sauce.  Appearances can be very deceptive.  At first glance you might think the crimson sauce will be as cloying as most Chinese sweet and sour sauces, but that’s certainly not the case.  The sauce has a savory-tart flavor profile, emphasizing the sour (but not overly so) aspects of sweet and sour.  The all white meat boneless chicken is tender and moist.  Vegetables–red and green peppers, onions–are perfectly prepared. 

Chilli Chicken

Chilli Chicken

Diners who enjoy Thai curry, but who don’t necessarily appreciate the qualities of Indian curry will almost certainly enjoy OM’s Chicken Madras, perhaps the one dish most responsible for winning over converts to Indian cuisine.  Named for the city of Madras, it’s a dish as varied as the hundreds of recipes from which it’s prepared.  This hearty tomato-based curry is redolent with the spices of curry leaves, ginger, mustard, coconut milk and peppercorn.  It can be prepared to the degree of heat you desire, but too much piquancy and you might not appreciate the richness and sophistication of the flavors.  Chicken Madras may be the perfect winter entree, as heart-warming an entree as your favorite winter soup. 

OM, by the way, is not an abbreviation.  It represents a mystical Sanskrit sound of Hindu origin, a sacred chant considered the “primordial seed” of the universe.  Om is considered the “root mantra” from which all other mantras emerge.  Ancient sages believed that through chanting om, one can experience the infinite within themselves. 

Chicken Madras

Chicken Madras

In 2012, Raaga was selected as one of the best new restaurants in America by Kunda Eats, the only restaurant in New Mexico honored. It will surprise absolutely no one if OM garners a similar accolade in 2013.  Duke City diners will beat a path to this restaurant, already one of the best in the city in any genre–and the path is familiar, too.  OM is located at the former site of Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine.

Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining
7520 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2013
1st VISIT: 12 November 2012
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chana Chaat, Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken, Seafood Korma, Carrot Pudding, Mango Kulfi, Mango Lassi,

View Paddy Rawal’s ‘OM’- Fine Indian Dining on »

Paddy Rawal's 'OM'- Fine Indian Dining on Urbanspoon

Vinaigrette – Santa Fe & Albuquerque, New Mexico

Vinaigrette, a salad bistro in Santa Fe

During a 1994 episode of Seinfeld, Elaine’s boss, Mr. Pitt becomes obsessed with finding a spaceship obfuscated within a stereogram, a computer-generated image that presents an optical illusion in which a 3D image is hidden within a single 2D image to be revealed only when the viewer focuses his or her eyes correctly.  To the detriment of a pressing business deal, Mr. Pitts loses three days trying to find the spaceship.  First he tries blurring his eyes as if staring straight through the picture before eventually finding success by employing an intensely deep focus.

Placitas resident Gary W. Priester calls creating 3D stereographic images his “all-consuming passion for almost 15 years.”  Gary has authored three books on stereogram images and is one of two contributors to a Japanese stereogram magazine series which has sold close to four-million copies.  His work is mesmerizing in its ability to captivate the viewer.  Fortunately for those of us who don’t always focus correctly, Gary does us all a favor on his Custom Stereographic Web site by explaining exactly how to see stereograms.

Garden Salad, a bright mix of baby greens, carrot ribbons, bell peppers and parmesan cheese. Tossed in a zippy Romesco dressing.

Gary’s clarity and focus aren’t  limited solely to stereograms.  He’s become a trusted advisor on dining options I might not otherwise know about or maybe even consider,  including introducing me to more healthful options.  For years I was of the ilk which associated salads with the word “diet,” an extension of the word “die.”  Though my advancing geriatric progression has changed that perception, I’m still not always as attuned to healthful alternatives as I am to where you can find the best new purveyor of green chile cheeseburgers.  Fortunately clearer-minded readers of my blog like Gary keep me honest.

Alas, it took almost two years before I followed Gary’s recommendation to try Vinaigrette, an environmentally aware “salad bistro” in Santa Fe.   Perhaps indicative of my meaty myopia and carnivorous cravings, I also neglected a recommendation from immensely talented writer Wolf Schneider when she interviewed me for Edible Santa Fe.   Had the restaurant been named “Blue Cheese” I surely would never have waited.

Cherry Tart: Dried cherries, mild feta cheese, peppery baby arugula and toasted pecans with Champagne vinaigrette.

Vinaigrette opened its Santa Fe doors in November, 2008, the unintended brainchild of Harvard graduate Erin Wade who had never previously worked in, managed or owned a restaurant.   Obviously a novitiate no longer,  she now owns and operates two of New Mexico’s very best and most highly regarded farm-to-table restaurants, having expanded to Albuquerque’s Old Town district in November, 2012.  Much of the medley of multicolored organic greenery used in her restaurants comes from an absolutely unimpeachable source–her own organic ten-acre farm about half (which includes a 1,200 square-foot greenhouse) an hour north of Santa Fe in the village of Nambe.  Local sources are used widely in the Albuquerque operation.

Wholly unlike the middling quality all-you-can-eat salad bar restaurants dotting the fruited plain, Vinaigrette offers a menu showcasing healthful salads in bountiful, but not profligate portions.  You won’t waddle out of this restaurant wondering how salad can be so filling.  Nor will you find such un-salad-like offerings as chocolate muffins, focaccia bread and other high-carbohydrate, high-calorie offerings.  That doesn’t mean every plate is heaping with barely edible “rabbit food” lacking in flavor or imagination.

The very best Cobb salad in the universe!

The very best Cobb salad in the universe!

The only rabbit-like aspect to Vinaigrette is the tendency for diners to hop from option to option unable to decide which salad to order, so replete with creativity is Vinaigrette’s inspired menu. Featuring ten signature salads and seven classic salads, the menu may eliminate any preconceived notions about salad restaurants you may have.  It did me…and that’s even before studying the available salad pairings, none of which are needed to make any  Vinaigrette salad outstanding, but any of which makes it just that much better.

You can pair your salad with meat (lemon-herb chicken breast, grilled flank steak, grilled pork tenderloin, hibiscus-cured duck confit), seafood (seared tuna steak, seared diver scallops, grilled shrimp and the day’s fresh fish) or choose from a category called “et cetera” which includes roasted seasonal vegetables, grilled tofu, grilled marinated baby artichokes and baked Panko-crusted goat cheese.  Sight unseen, these offerings are more taste bud tantalizing than ingredients which sit in steely repositories for who knows how long at those “other” salad restaurants.

A basket of bread

Vinaigrette’s palate-pleasing prowess doesn’t stop at salads.  The menu also includes a bevy of sandwiches, soups and sides.  Sandwiches are served with a side Garden, Greek or Caesar salad.  The “sides and soups” include Erin’s Mac & Cheese, fresh seasonal sauteed Nambe greens, mushroom stew and soup of the day.   Vinaigrette also offers beer and wine lists which change periodically to provide variety for guests.  There are a few differences between the Santa Fe and Albuquerque menus. 

Before launching in Albuquerque, Erin Wade had actually considered making Southern California the home of her second restaurant. As fate would have it, she was then introduced to a long vacant a 3,000-square-foot building on the fringes of Old Town with tremendous potential.  Fittingly the edifice was tailored for the type of “green” operation Wade desired, wanting to be “green outside the plate,” too.  The Albuquerque restaurant features reclaimed pine floors from Dixon, high efficiency lighting tracks, Energy Star kitchen equipment, recycled-content tiles, door hardware made from 90% post-consumer waste, eco-friendly fabrics and zero-volatile-organic-compound paint.  Vinaigrette recycles and composes all its organic waste.

In November, 2012, Vinaigrette launched in Albuquerque

In November, 2012, Vinaigrette launched in Albuquerque

The attentive servers at both locations are attired in bright tee-shirts on which the leafy parts of salad ingredients are painted.  It takes away much of the mystery as to what “greens” actually are and if you thought lettuce is the principle component of all salads, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.  Vinaigrette’s salads are sophisticated and inventive without being too fru-fru.  Even some of my troglodytic carnivorous colleagues will enjoy them.

Even Vinaigrette’s most rudimentary salad is an edible work of art.  The Garden Salad, a bright mix of baby greens, carrot ribbons, bell peppers and Parmesan cheese tossed in a zippy Romesco dressing is a colorful concordance of fresh and beautiful ingredients resembling a colorful painting.  It’s more than several orders of magnitude better than what most restaurants call a garden salad, typically a mound of iceberg lettuce, artificially ripened tomatoes, cucumbers and a large dollop of gloppy salad dressing.

Cuban Torta: Mustard-roasted pork shoulder and green chile ham, griddled with red onions and Swiss cheese on a split roll with avocado and mayonnaise, chipotle and sweet relish.

Cuban Torta: Mustard-roasted pork shoulder and green chile ham, griddled with red onions and Swiss cheese on a split roll with avocado and mayonnaise, chipotle and sweet relish.

If you’re a fan of bold flavors, it’s possible to enjoy them even with salad.  The Cherry Tart, while it may sound like a pastry dessert, is such an bold-flavored salad.  It’s composed of dried cherries (as fresh and delicious as any I’ve ever had), mild feta cheese, peppery baby arugula and toasted pecans with a Champagne vinaigrette dressing.  Baby arugula has been described as having a “subtle nutty flavor with a radish-like edge.”  While not entirely accurate, it is most certainly a bold and spicy, maybe even peppery green.  It’s clearly the star of this salad.  The Champagne vinaigrette dressing is lightly applied to allow other flavors to shine. 

If you don’t necessarily want to experiment with heretofore untried salad ingredient combinations, the “Classic Salads” section of the menu provides more familiar, traditional and time-honored options.  It may even restore your faith in how “Classics” such as the Cobb salad should be made and remind you why you loved them in the first place.  Kelly Koepke, (erstwhile restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal) who can turn a phrase better than anyone in Albuquerque, turned me on to Vinaigrette’s Cobb salad.  Though she liked my “best of the best for 2012” choices, she was confident the Cobb salad would make my list once I tried it.  She was right!  I’ll let her describe why it stands out: “It’s not the usual composed Cobb with gloppy dressing that most restaurants serve. Instead, it’s a chopped, tossed Cobb with the perfect amount of tangy dressing. Best. Cobb. Ever.”

Morty & Cheese: Mortadella and tangy melted robbiola with scallion yogurt sauce, on griddled and pressed ciabatta

Morty & Cheese: Mortadella and tangy melted robbiola with scallion yogurt sauce, on griddled and pressed ciabatta

A small basket of bread is available for the asking.  The bread is fresh and delicious with a nice crust surrounding soft, pillowy insides.  Best of all, it’s served warm.  A decanter of olive oil (and malt vinegar if you request it) accompanies the bread to your table.  Beauteous breads are also the canvas upon which some of the best sandwiches in New Mexico are made.  Vinaigrette’s sandwich menu includes some of the classics– Reuben, tuna melt, hot turkey–and some sandwiches upon which inventive liberties are taken to increase their deliciousness. 

You might think you’ve had every variation of the Cubano possible with little discernible difference between most of them.  Vinaigrette’s Cuban Torta (mustard-roasted pork shoulder and green chile ham, griddled with red onions and Swiss cheese on a split roll with avocado and mayonnaise, chipotle and sweet relish) actually surprised me in many pleasant and delicious ways.  The first surprise is the split roll on which the sandwich is constructed.  It’s not the de rigueur panini-style bread which is often abrasive enough to hurt the roof of your mouth.  It’s a soft bread somewhat reminiscent of just baked bagels without the chewiness.  The combination of chipotle and sweet relish provides a wonderful balance between tangy, sweet and piquant notes that complement the mustard-roasted pork shoulder and green chile ham, either ingredient of which would make the basis of a wondrous sandwich.  This sandwich doesn’t subscribe to any template of what a Cubano should be and taste like.  Viva la diferencia!

Peach berry pie

Another sandwich replete with surprises is the Morty & Cheese (Mortadella and tangy melted Robiola with scallion yogurt sauce, on griddled and pressed ciabatta).  Mortadella is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of cold-cut cured meats, often regarded as just “Italian bologna.”  As someone who grew up enjoying fried bologna (as well as fried spam) sandwiches, I’ll rise to the defense of this maligned meat.  Italian Mortadella is a fatty, nicely seasoned meat that goes well with any other sandwich ingredient.  That’s especially true of a good cheese such as Robiola, a soft-ripened, slightly tangy (with slight notes of sourness) cheese that couples well with yogurt.  The sandwich construction department at Vinaigrette obviously understands sandwich harmony.  This one has it in spades!

A number of fresh desserts is also available and all hold true to the restaurant’s commitment to serving organic and local as much as possible. One post-prandial treat which will impress itself on your memory is a peach berry pie made with peaches, blackberries and blueberries. The peaches are certainly not the canned variety; they have a recently picked texture and taste. This is a lip-puckering dessert also lacking that artificial pectin sometimes used to over-sweeten pies. It’s all natural and all delicious.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Even better is a pumpkin cheesecake so good you might wish for fall year-round.  The menu describes it simply as “aromatic, autumnal, satisfying!”  It has all those qualities and so much more, especially the satisfying adjective.  Its aromatic qualities are courtesy of using the right spices in perfect proportion to one another and the pumpkin itself which is garden-picked fresh.  For years my Kim and I have experimented with pumpkin cheesecakes and have never managed one quite as good.  

In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Vinaigrette a “Hot Plate” award for its chicken souvlaki.  Hot Plate awards are accorded annually to some of the city’s most delicious dishes as seen by the magazine’s editors and staff.  The magazine warns that you’ll be rooting for an encore after your first slow jam…” with this carrot cake.

Vinaigrette is, dare I say, a welcome departure from the superfluity of Santa Fe style so prevalent in the City Different.  Fortunately Santa Fe style, as represented by the bandana-sporting coyote baying at the moon  (ostensibly a carnivore who probably doesn’t like salads) who has come to symbolize Santa Fe style is adaptive and inclusive and there’s a place for great salads in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  That place is Vinaigrette.

709 Don Cubero Alley
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 820-9205
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 5 October 2010
COST: $$
BEST BET: Garden Salad, Cherry Tart, Peach Berry Pie

Vinaigrette on Urbanspoon

1828 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 842-5507
LATEST VISIT: 31 December 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cobb Salad, Cuban Torta, Morty & Cheese, Pumpkin Cheesecake

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