Ben & Jerry’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Ben & Jerry's, a Vermont ice cream tradition now in New Mexico

Ben & Jerry’s is a different kind of restaurant–one with a social conscience–serving premium ice cream. Founded on and dedicated to a sustainable corporate concept of linked prosperity, its mission consists of three interrelated parts–a product mission, an economic mission and a social mission. Its product mission is to make, distribute and sell the finest quality all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment. Irrespective of your political bent, you’ve got to respect that.

In New Mexico, Ben & Jerry scoop shops support various nonprofit programs including the restoration of the Rio Grande Bosque. Founded in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in Burlington, Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s has since expanded to nearly 250 shops in the United States as well as in France, Israel, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Two lovely scoops

By year’s end (2004), there were three Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops in the Duke City where grocery stores have sold these wonderful ice cream concoctions for years. The restaurant features more than 50 ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet products and it’s a safe bet to assume they’re all delicious, but just in case you have doubts, you can ask for and will be given a sample. It was a small sample of oatmeal cookie ice cream that prompted me to add it to a scoop of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream on a sugar cone. The two distinctive flavors appeased on my taste buds so much that it was difficult to determine which was better.

Two more delicious scoops

In subsequent visits, my taste buds have been titillated and tantalized by such creamy creations as Phish Food and Cherries Garcia. Every new flavor is my new favorite. Ben & Jerry’s is more than a scoop above any other ice cream shop in the Duke City.

Ben & Jerry’s
11225 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2008
BEST BET: Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Oatmeal Cookie

Le Cafe Miche – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Cafe Miche has been regarded as one of Albuquerque’s best restaurants since its 1996 launch and according to the Zagat Survey, was the number one rated French restaurant in the state for three consecutive years. Honored with an Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator magazine and boasting of one of the city’s best wine lists, Cafe Miche has a passionate following of faithful followers. I suspect some of them visit almost as much for the wonderful cuisine as to enjoy the company of effusive chef Claus Hjortkjaer and his statuesque wife and partner Linda, both of whom seem to know most of their patrons (and if they don’t know you, they still make you feel quite at home).

A great Dane who studied classic French cuisine in Denmark, Claus has an impressive pedigree that includes previous stints at several highly regarded restaurants in New Mexico. In 2005, he began hosting a Sunday morning radio show on a local FM station, adding to the “Miche Man’s” celebrity status. When we complimented him on that show, he remarked that anyone could do it if they’re “full of it.” Full of talent might be more like it. He can meld seemingly disparate and concordant ingredients in a complementary fashion that results in divine creations.

In 2005, Cafe Miche also began offering a Sunday brunch at the reasonable price of $19 per person without champagne or $24 per person with champagne. If you don’t care to imbibe adult beverages, be cautioned that a glass of orange juice costs $3 with no free refills. The brunch experience starts with a basket of breads with butter and orange marmalade. The bread includes a buttery croissant, banana nut bread and a traditional French bread, all of which are fresh and delicious, especially if you spread on the slightly sweet, slightly tart orange marmalade. There are three options on the Deuxieme (second) course: New Mexico grown fresh fruit served with Meusli; Vishyssoise (a potato soup served chilled) with Applewood smoked bacon, creme fraiche and fresh chives; and an antipasto plate of salami, cheese and olives. We opted for the latter two and enjoyed them very much.

Eight “les entrees” options are available, several of them showcasing creative ways eggs and sauces can be combined. The “Left Bank burritos” were a unique twist on a New Mexico standard, featuring two crepes generously stuffed with scrambled eggs, cream cheese, chives and tomatoes. Accompanied by two strips of Applewood smoked bacon and a potato cake, the “burritos” are ethereal in their light texture and blend several flavors very well . The hand-carved, whole roasted New York steak a la Diane emboldened subtly with a Cognac cream sauce and snappy caramelized onions may be even better. Nearly fork tender, the steak is melt-in-your-mouth good and complemented perfectly with Pommes Gratin.

For dessert, only two options are available but they made the brunch’s final course the meal’s crowning moment, a fitting end to a lovely meal and a great way to start the rest of the Sunday. The fairy tale cream puff a la Hans Christian Andersen with caramel and chocolate sauce arrived shaped like a swan. It was no ugly duckling in taste or texture with a requisite lightness and subtle sweetness that made it one of the better cream puffs we’ve experienced in Albuquerque. The Chocolate fantasy a la Deborah, a flourless chocolate cake was even better if that’s possible. Crafted with a semi-sweet chocolate whose flavor properties don’t so much burst upon your taste buds as they do impressing themselves slowly, this was cake to die for.

Dinner at Le Cafe Miche begins with a complimentary amuse buche of house pate with thinly sliced French bread on which to nibble while imbibing the menu. This lagniappe is just one of the many things that make this strip mall restaurant a revered dining institution.

Le Cafe Miche
228 Gold Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 21 August 2005
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Escargot,

La Placita Dining Rooms – Albuquerque, New Mexico

La Placita Dining Rooms in Albuquerque's Old Town.

La Placita Dining Rooms in Albuquerque's Old Town.

For convenience, if not for fiery New Mexico authenticity, you can’t beat La Placita, a yawning restaurant housed in the historic Casa de Armijo hacienda on Old Town Plaza. The Casa de Armijo was built in 1706 and occupied for many generations by the prominent Armijo family.

Over the course of its three hundred year existence, the three foot thick adobe walled structure also served as a fort and a refuge before housing Armijo’s mercantile store in which gentlemen’s linen underwear could be purchased for $1 and dainty ladies’ lace gloves sold for 10 cents a pair.

The Casa de Armijo was restored to its present condition in 1930 when it was remodeled in conformity to its venerable character. Serving as the La Placita dining Rooms since 1931, it is one of the oldest continuous serving restaurants in New Mexico.

Today, the sprawling edifice houses several dining rooms, each replete with excellent examples of Southwestern art. La Placita also plays host to interesting paranormal phenomena.

The magnificent Spanish staircase in the restaurant's foyer area.

The magnificent Spanish staircase in the restaurant's foyer area.

In the foyer is a magnificent staircase imported from Spain by the family patriarch for his daughter’s wedding in 1872. The daughter’s wedding dress had a 30-foot train which must have draped from top to bottom of the staircase as she wed at the staircase’s foot.

The hacienda’s center courtyard, long since enclosed, includes an ancient cottonwood tree still living in the center of the room. It’s just one of the many things about La Placita Dining Rooms that leaves tourists agape.

In fact, for people watching, there are few spots in town as good as La Placita. Native Americans ply their turquoise and silver wares on the restaurant’s covered portal to the delight of passers-by.

In the early 1980s, La Placita Dining Rooms was embroiled in a controversy of sorts when it lobbied successfully to obtain a liquor license and dispense alcohol in close proximity to Old Town’s San Felipe De Neri church. Today that controversy is a memory of the past with margaritas and other adult libations flowing freely.

Years later, Old Town neighbor the “Candy Lady” shop was involved in a similarly contentious dispute with the church over the Candy Lady’s sale of risqué “for adults only” candy.

An ancient cottonwood from the days in which this dining room was the center courtyard.

An ancient cottonwood from the days in which this dining room was the center courtyard.

The menu includes all the New Mexican standards as well as some American food favorites. Fajitas (a Texas creation) are a popular choice and one that prompts copious head-turning as the wait staff parades them sizzling hot to a diner’s table.

La Placita’s salsa is cilantro laced and watery, making it difficult for the chips to stay onboard. Most New Mexicans would consider it “anglicized” as in not at all piquant. It has the bite of Chef Boyardee tomato sauce.

Not everything at La Placita caters to touristy tastes. In fact, I don’t know of many New Mexicans who bring out-of-towners to this Old Town restaurant, but many tourists do find it on their own. (It might do New Mexicans a world of good to see Old Town through the eyes of bewildered tourists so that we can be reminded of how good we truly have it.)

Fortunately both the red and green chile are quite a bit more incendiary than the salsa, not that either will give Sadie’s a run for its money in terms of degree of heat. The red chile is usually more piquant than the green, but for the best possible combination, order your meal “Christmas style” (both red and green chile).

"El Jefe" - two grilled pork chops, two eggs (any style) and fried potatoes.

"El Jefe" - two grilled pork chops, two eggs (any style) and fried potatoes.

My favorite entree is the breakfast burrito called Los Caballeros served all day long. Nearly a foot long and more than an inch thick, a finely formed tortilla envelops the usual breakfast burrito eggs, but La Placita changes things up a bit with cubed, roasted potatoes and bacon strips instead of the typical hash browns and bacon bits. With a nicely flavored Christmas style chile, it makes for an excellent meal.

Another popular breakfast (or anytime) treat is El Jefe, two eggs (any style), two grilled pork chops and fried potatoes. El Jefe, generally a term of endearment which can be used to mean “the man,” “the boss” or “the father” is an appropriate term for this breakfast, especially “the boss.”

That’s because everything on this plate is generally delicious, prepared to your exacting specifications. The fried potatoes are cubed and fried to a crispy, golden sheen. The bone-in pork chops are thin with grill marks that leave testament to their preparation style; they are delicious.

Prodigious portions are commonplace at La Placita. It’s a wonder any tourist has the energy to walk around after a hefty meal.

La Placita Original Old Town Special - two stuffed sopaipillas.

La Placita Original Old Town Special - two stuffed sopaipillas.

La Placita Original Old Town Special, for example, is a prodigious plate of two stuffed sopaipillas. One is stuffed with beef and pinto beans and the other with chicken and pinto beans. Both are topped with melted cheese and your choice of red or green chile (ask for both). This is a lunch or dinner entree that can easily be shared by two with room left over.

You definitely want room left over for the restaurant’s sopaipillas. These puffy deep-fried treats are wonderful, especially if served piping hot. It’s amusing to see tourists trying to figure out what to do with (or pronounce) sopaipillas. Fortunately an accommodating wait staff is on hand to lend a hand. It’s not unusual to see additional orders placed for this uniquely wonderful New Mexico pastry treat.

Salsa and Chips

Salsa and Chips

Other dessert options (if you have room) include natillas and a flan that is reputed to be among the very best in the city. Rare is the diner who can finish an entire meal and still have room for dessert. Rarer still is someone who won’t find at least one thing to enjoy about La Placita Dining Rooms, an Albuquerque and New Mexico landmark.

La Placita Dining Rooms
208 San Felipe, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 20 August 2005
COST: $$
BEST BET: Breakfast Burrito

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