Steak–even the word conjures stereotypes of power brokers in suits and ties. There’s just something about sizzling, flame-kissed beef that seems to appeal to the wheelers and dealers and movers and shakers among us. Steak may just be the ultimate power food! That power is also wielded in the ultimate thumbing of the nose at vegetarians when carnivores emphasize that they didn’t claw their way to the top of the food ladder only to eat vegetables.
Vegetarians may retort that steak is antithetical to a healthful lifestyle. To carnivores, however, it’s not as important that steak may not be good for you as it is that steak is oh so good. Meat lovers emphasize that there is nothing like a perfectly prepared steak!
As a 1995 episode of Seinfeld illustrated, steak is also not just a guy thing anymore. When Jerry took a blind date to the Old Homestead Steakhouse, he admitted “I’m not really that much of a meat eater” to which his date replied “You don’t eat meat? Are you one of those…” Questions about his masculinity persisted when she ordered a porterhouse medium rare and Jerry had a salad.
Some of our neighbors take their steak more seriously, by far, than we do. Witness the 1998 suit of Oprah Winfrey under Texas’s “False Disparagement of Perishable Food Products” statute. America’s multiple-Emmy Award winning host of the highest rated talk show in television history was accused, in essence, of defaming a product fattened for slaughter in the feedlots outside of Amarillo, Texas then served up at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.
Alas, until recent years, the only potential steak related lawsuit contemplated in Albuquerque would have been by Duke City diners forced to choke down the artery-clogging, gristly, weakly flavored mediocrity that passes as steak at a plethora of chain steak restaurants. Until the past decade or so, Albuquerque’s carnivores didn’t have many options when it came to velvety, buttery textured, nearly sweet, perfectly aged, optimally marbled steak.
Today, our fair city can boast of several steak houses that aren’t just good by Albuquerque standards. Some of the Duke City’s steakhouses would be competitive in larger markets where steak has been king for a long time. The November, 2006 launch of Marcello’s Chophouse may have signaled that this Duke City steakhouse is confidently throwing down the gauntlet and will vie for accolades not just with the locals, but with some of America’s best steak restaurants.
The appellation “Chophouse” in and of itself means more than just another steakhouse. In cities like Chicago, chophouses are where you find the best prepared slabs of USDA prime bone-in steaks, chops and seafood served in elegant milieus with attentive tableside service amidst classy decor. We’re talking selected, hand-cut on the premises prime steaks served charred and bursting with prime-aged flavor.
Marcello’s Chophouse is the fifth Albuquerque restaurant launched by Frank Marcello, a restaurant impresario responsible for bringing to the Duke City Copeland’s of New Orleans, Zea Rotisserie & Grill, Gruet Grille and the Gruet Steakhouse. Marcello’s Chophouse is the most lavish and upscale of his impressive array of restaurants. At nearly 7,000 square-feet, this swanky anchor tenant of the ABQ Uptown, has already earned several accolades, including an award of excellence from Wine Spectator. Many Duke City oenophiles (wine aficionados) have even purchased their own wine lockers (pictured above) at Marcello’s. Every time they visit the restaurant, their favorite wines await them at optimum temperature.
The dinner menu is replete with chophouse steaks, bone-in specialties, chops, seafood and so much more. The lunch menu is abbreviated in both menu selections and prices. In fact, only two steaks grace the lunch menu, a seven-ounce petite filet mignon and a four-ounce steak Diane. Not everything on Marcello’s menu is exorbitantly priced. In fact, there are many items on the dinner menu within the easy reach of most price-conscious diners.
The lunch menu features many reasonably priced entrees that–although portioned somewhat smaller than dinner menu entrees–will let you feel like a million bucks without having to spend nearly that much. One dish available on both menus is the extraordinary lobster bisque, a soup which hearkens back to another Seinfeld episode in which Elaine recounts her date with a lawyer. “Yeah, I met this lawyer and we went to dinner. I had the lobster bisque, we went back to my place, yada, yada, yada, I never heard from him again.”Jerry rejoined with “but you yada yada’d over the best part” to which Elaine responded “No, I mentioned the bisque.”
You will never yada yada the lobster bisque at Marcello’s! It is simply one of the most sublime soups in Albuquerque. The soup, a rich and creamy bowl of deliciousness, circumnavigates a solitary reddish-hued lobster claw while other lobster bits are submerged beneath a steamy broth. The soup is ameliorated with brandied Crème fraîche, a high in fat content cream that improves the flavor of anything in which it is used. The lobster is sweet and delicious. Close your eyes and you might think you’re in America’s Northeast where this transcendent decapod swims from cold Atlantic waters practically onto your table.
If the lobster bisque doesn’t sate your lust for lobster, there’s always Marcello’s Lobster Mac-n-Cheese, a blend of lobster cream, cheese and Maine lobster pieces in a cast iron skillet. This is a rich, adult macaroni and cheese but perhaps too heavily dusted with parmesan, leaving it a bit desiccated. Save for the lobster bits, it’s not quite as good as the Ultimate Mac & Cheese at Chef Jim White’s restaurant (now defunct). Mind you, it’s still very, very good.
Marcello’s brines its steaks for 24 hours then flash fries them to order at very high temperatures, a technique mastered by few. Have the Lilliputian petite filet for lunch and you’ll be thinking about the “Chophouse Cut,” a 22-ounce bone-in rib eye cut from a slow-roasted prime rib, for dinner. At three times the size of the petite filet, the bone-in rib eye cut will have to go a ways to match the flavor of its smaller brethren.
The petite filet mignon, a mere seven-ounces, takes a back seat to no steak. Order it prepared at medium and it will arrive to your exacting specifications. That means a crusty exterior redolent with herbs and spices and seared to perfection. It means a slightly pinkish and moist interior replete with flavor. A great steak requires little or no help other than salt, pepper and garlic, but Marcello’s seasonings are extraordinarily flavorful. They seem to bring out the meat’s inherent flavors and heighten their impact on your taste buds.
The petite filet is served with a dinner salad crafted from a mix of greens and very lightly drizzled with a dressing that seems to heighten the greens’ native freshness. You might think a loaf of ciabbata bread might be more appropriate for an Italian restaurant, but somehow it works at Marcello’s. This crispy, fragrant herbaceous loaf is a welcome change from the de rigueur hard crusted breads at other high-end restaurants.
Marcello’s manages to incorporate New Mexico’s official state vegetable in a manner heretofore not seen at other restaurants throughout the Duke City. I’ve long contended that chile can improve everything it touches (including some desserts) and Marcello’s substantiates this by offering green chile and red chile cocktail sauce with its chilled “Really Big Shrimp” appetizer. Six jumbo shrimp (an oxymoron if there ever was one) looking more like miniature lobsters are offered with the chile offerings. The red chile cocktail sauce is especially good with a combination of horseradish bite and red chile piquancy. The shrimp are fresh with a nice snap to them and none of the mealiness you sometimes find in shrimp cocktails.
Not on Marcello’s daily menu, but perhaps it should be is a housemade pastrami sandwich. A half-pound of nicely marbled, just smoky enough and perfectly seasoned pastrami is served on thick, lightly toasted sourdough. The bread is slathered with a Dijonnaise (Dijon mustard blended with mayonnaise) sauce, lettuce and pickles. Though rye and mustard is normally my preference, this is a surprisingly good sandwich courtesy of the melt-in-your-mouth pastrami sliced into thin ribbons of deliciousness.
One of the challenges in selecting New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail worthy burgers is that many restaurants (even Lotaburger) offer green chile as a side and don’t necessarily have a green chile cheeseburger on their menus. Marcello’s leaves nothing to chance, calling its offering the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger. It’s a beefy half-pound behemoth topped with New Mexico green chiles, caramelized onions and a three cheese blend (white Cheddar, Fontina, Monterey Jack). The green chile is fairly mild, but the three chile blend is terrific. Normally served with fries, ask for the Chophouse Creamed Spinach instead. While some creamed spinach dishes have an acerbic aftertaste, this one is rather sweet, the result of a generous sprinkling of anisette and nutmeg.
A stunning selection of desserts completes the package. Perhaps in tribute to his Louisiana heritage, Marcello adds his name to only one–Frank’s Favorite “Bananas for Sundae,” a take-off on Bananas Foster. Frank’s favorite just might become your favorite. This dessert features a vertically split banana caramelized with cajeta (a Mexican confection made from goat’s milk) surrounding scoops of chocolate, vanilla and dulce de leche ice creams which are topped with a fresh raspberry compote, chocolate ganache and housemade whipped cream. This is a “died and went to heaven” dessert–sinfully rich, unbelievably delicious and totally terrific. It’s no wonder it’s Frank’s favorite!
One caution about another of Marcello’s dessert offerings–if you’re going to order the chef’s selection of cheesecake, ask for spoons instead of forks because if you’re sharing this postprandial treat, you might stab your companion, so enthusiastic will you be for the next bite. The cheesecake selections are seasonal. Summer is apparently the season for milk chocolate cheesecake on a Graham cracker crust paired with white chocolate cheesecake on an Oreo crust drizzled with a dark chocolate ganache. Shaped more like flan than cheesecake, this delicious duo will leave a memorable impression on your taste buds.
There’s a strong chance Marcello’s Chophouse may become your favorite steakhouse in Albuquerque. It’s got the pedigree to be successful and the arsenal of deliciousness to win over even the most staunch of critics. It’s steak at its best and oh so much more.
2201 Q Street N.E., Suite 9B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2012
1st VISIT: 11 April 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Lobster Mac-n-Cheese, Petite Filet Mignon, Lobster Bisque, New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger, Pastrami Sandwich, Chilled “Really Big Shrimp,” Chef’s Selection of Cheesecake, Frank’s Favorite Bananas for Sundae