Parcel 104 – Santa Clara, California

Freshly caught trout, free-range chickens, hand-picked fruits and vegetables–those are what most influence Bradley Ogden, an uber chef and restaurant impresario dedicated to seasonal, farm-fresh American fare. Like a sculptor who painstakingly fashions inspiring masterpieces, Ogden crafts memorable dining experiences from the freshest ingredients available, melding them so that their inherent flavors, colors and textures combine to bring out the best in each other.

Proprietor of several high-end restaurants primarily in northern California, his name has become synonymous with new American cuisine. Las Vegas chowhounds wax poetic about Ogden’s eponymous restaurant, most often singing the praises of the Maytag blue cheese soufflé. In 2003, that Vegas restaurant earned James Beard accolades as the “best new restaurant” in America.

While not as nationally celebrated, Parcel 104 (whose name comes from the tract of land on which sits the Marriott which houses this restaurant) has earned a lion’s share of awards in the San Francisco area where competition for plaudits is keen. My expectations were high, but dashed almost immediately when I couldn’t be seated in the dining room.

Assurances by the hostess that the restaurant’s menu was also available on the spacious lounge placated me somewhat, but the long wait for service (the beginning of a pattern) tried my patience. A sole, hurried and ultimately haggard looking waitress tried hard to keep up with orders of appetizers, entrees and libations, but struggled to do so. Perhaps as a result, I was not treated to an amuse bouche, a complementary chef’s surprise for which Bradley Ogen’s restaurants are famous.

The restaurant calls its appetizers “beginnings” and my introduction came in the form of Mediterranean mussels and Willapa Bay clams served with a fennel-leek confit. Freshness was evident in every savory morsel and best of all, not a grit of the annoying sand could be found that often makes its way into mussels. Alas, there are several Albuquerque area restaurants (the Indigo Crow comes to mind) which serve better mussels and certainly in bigger portions.

Entrees ranged in price from $22 to $36. My choice was the Central Valley rabbit “pot-au-feu” with summer truffles. A pronounced sage and garlic taste permeated both the rabbit and truffles, but didn’t necessarily make either resonate with flavor as I had hoped. In fact, I’ve had simple rotisserie chicken that did more for my taste buds than did this lagomorph (Latin for rabbit).

The sole redeeming facet of my meal was the dessert, a triumvirate of terrific chocolate that included a thimble-sized milk shake, two miniscule volcanic chocolate cakes and a ceramic spoon of ice cream. While the chocolate troika was deliciously decadent, it was so small that just as my taste buds began to discern its composition, there was nothing left.

Perhaps the one thought that helps synopsize my inaugural experience at a Bradley Ogden restaurant comes from Luke 12:48, “To whom much has been given, much will be expected.” Both the chef and the restaurant have been given much acclaim and I certainly expected Parcel 104 to live up to its reputation, but defining my review as a “dining disappointment” certainly indicates my expectations were far from met.

Parcel 104
2700 Mission College Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA

Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 21 July 2004
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Dessert

Plaza Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The world famous Plaza Cafe

The world famous Plaza Cafe

Just as with people, a city is best defined by its heart. For Santa Fe, that would be its historic Plaza which has been, for much of four centuries, the city’s hub of commerce, culture and government.

The Plaza is at the confluence of El Camino Real (the Spanish Royal Road from Mexico City), The Old Pecos Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. These historic transportation routes made settlement possible and facilitated trade and commerce.

Today the Plaza is comprised of numerous shops, museums and restaurants surrounding a central park lined with towering shade trees. Because many of its buildings have changed little since Spanish colonial times, the Plaza is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The city’s oldest restaurant, the Plaza Cafe which has been serving Santa Fe since 1918, is on the southwestern side of the quadrant which comprises the Plaza. As it approaches its centennial, the Plaza Cafe remains one of the city’s most popular dining destinations, sought out by locals and tourists alike.

The 2006 edition of the New Mexico Blue Book published by the Secretary of State’s office documents that in 1947, the Plaza Cafe was purchased by Dionysi Razatos, a Greek immigrant who married a local girl from the Vaughn, New Mexico area. The Razatos family, which grew to include six children continues to operate the restaurant. Andy, the youngest son currently serves as chef.

The Plaza Cafe remains a charming dining destination and is largely unchanged over the years. It is one of New Mexico’s most authentic examples of a traditional American diner, albeit one in which the menu features American conform food favorites as well as New Mexican specialties prepared exceptionally well and even a few Greek standards from Razatos’ ancestral homeland.

Framed posters on the wall depict vintage Santa Fe back when it was a more innocent frontier town yet to be discovered by new-agers and counter culturalists. Cowboy legend Randolph Scott graces other posters of movies made in the Santa Fe area when sound was a cinematic novelty.

Near the entrance to the kitchen is a unique piece of functional artwork. It’s a map of the southwest in which the state of New Mexico is framed by blue neon. The map shows only the the states major towns, city’s and roadways.

For years the Plaza Cafe was a mainstay on Chile Pepper magazine’s “Best of Zest” categorization of the best Mexican restaurants in the country. A half hour wait for a seat isn’t atypical. When locals have to wait too long to get a seat, you might the impression that their willingness to share this restaurant with tourists is done so begrudgingly. Santa Feans are too polite to really say anything that would be impolite, but when stomachs growl they might not be that welcoming either.

Your mood for the day will also dictate what you’ll have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are so many sublime options, any one of which is bound to improve the disposition of anyone suffering the pangs of hunger. The greatest challenge will be in deciding what to have; there are so many options.

A great way to start your dining excursion is with roasted garlic and carnitas quesadillas which explode with flavor. Thin tortillas with a nice amount of char from the grill enwrap tender grilled beef, roasted garlic and a white Mexican cheese. It’s hard to contain so much flavor in between tortillas so you can expect excess “flavor” to drip onto your plate and if you’re not careful, down your arms.

It’s surprising non-traditional combinations that make some of the entrees so uniquely wonderful. Take for example, an entree called enchiladas placeras featuring the unlikely but surprisingly savory amalgam of griddled Guajillo cheese enchiladas topped with crema, grilled zucchini, Mexican cheese, cabbage and onions. For vegetarians who still eat cheese and cream, it’s a feast. Heck, even the most ardent of carnivores will enjoy this delicious enchilada plate.

The Plaza Cafe’s mouth-watering cashew mole blends Mexican chocolate, mole, cashews, chicken, onions, beans and sour cream into a savory entree you won’t find anywhere else. Many New Mexicans shun mole because outwardly it has some semblance to red chile, but doesn’t taste like their favorite piquant sauce. The Plaza Cafe’s cashew mole may make converts out of those diehards.

The carne adovada plate leaves a wonderfully different aftertaste because the chile most certainly includes a bit of achiote, a seasoning which imbues food with a rich, earthy flavor with just a residual hit of sweetness. The tender pork shards are absolutely delicious.

The Plaza Cafe's world-famous cajeta apple pie

The Plaza Cafe’s desserts are to die for and include the cajeta apple pecan pie, a huge slab in the finest tradition of America, mother and baseball.

Plaza Cafe
54 Lincoln Avenue
Santa Fe, NM
LATEST VISIT: 20 July 2004
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cajeta Apple Pecan Pie, Enchiladas

Wingstop – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Wing Stop

During his illustrious NFL career Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman passed for 32,942 yards and 165 touchdowns. What it seems he can’t pass is the opportunity to add to his wealth by endorsing mediocre products. How else can you explain the marketing campaign touting Aikman as their “biggest fan?” Maybe he did receive one concussion too many during his playing career?

Whatever the case, it appears the future Hall of Famer may have fumbled on this one. Sure Albuquerque is in the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan desert but that’s no reason chicken wings and legs should be so wrinkly dry. The menu claims the garlic parmesan wings are “worth wrecking your breath for” but what really wrecks this offering is the dust bowl sized dousing of parmesan. Even cheese lovers might pass on the garlic parmesan wings while garlic enthusiasts are left wondering where the garlic is. Slightly better are the Hawaiian barbecue wings, a gooey, sticky mess sweetened with pineapple and honey. Your wings are served with bread rolls–no butter, just the rolls.

There are several sides on the menu, but if they’re anything like the bourbon baked beans, we’ll pass. These beans were nearly as dry as the wings and that’s saying something.

4400 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-9464

LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2004