Indigo Crow Cafe – Corrales, New Mexico
Now I lay myself down to sleep
I pray oh lord my soul to keep
Cause if I should die before I wake
I hope up in Heaven they’ve got lobster and steak
It’s a sin if Heaven ain’t got an Indigo Crow
Best food down here up there they’ve gotta know.
A Sin if Heaven ain’t got an Indigo Crow
But if they don’t then why the hell should I go.
Now I’ve tried every joint around here
I’ve had green chile stew, I’ve had had my root beer
But when I want to treat my taste buds right
I know this place is drop-dead tight
It’s a sin if Heaven ain’t got an Indigo Crow
Best food down here up there they gotta know.
– Oscar Butler
What would possess troubadour Oscar Butler to rhapsodize in his inimitable melodious timbre about a charming rural retreat in Corrales, New Mexico which serves some of the very best food in the metropolitan Duke City area? A native New Yorker now living in Albuquerque, Butler sums it up in four words, “Great food, great atmosphere!”
There’s a lot to love about the Indigo Crow and it starts with ambiance (atmosphere, if you prefer). During a moonlit autumn or spring night, savvy diners will dine on the restaurant’s patio where very little light pollution interferes with the twinkling of celestial bodies punctuating the ebony night skies. When spring is in the air and trees are starting to bloom, the melodic songs of birds provide nature’s best entertainment. When the weather turns cold, a raised fire pit is set up on the patio and though plumes of smoke ascending toward the skies obscure the stars, the fragrant bouquet of piñon more than makes up for it.
Ambiance isn’t lost on the inside of the restaurant, especially on cold winter nights when the restaurant is dimly lit and the crackling firewood on the Kiva hearth provides a gavotte of light and shadows. It’s especially memorable if you have the occasion to be seated across the restaurant from Marla Tellez, KOB’s pulchritudinous former morning anchor whose smiling countenance and beauty are accentuated by the undulating lights of the fireplace. A January, 2010 visit to the Indigo Crow was made more memorable because I was fortunate enough to have been seated with just that perfect vantage point.
Ms. Tellez and the aforementioned Mr. Butler aren’t the only local celebrities who love the Indigo Crow. KRQE’s manic meteorologist Mark Ronchetti revealed in the 2009 edition of Albuquerque The Magazine’s “Best of the City” magazine that his favorite restaurant is Indigo Crow. Tending to be more star-struck by food than television personalities, I’d better not think much more about the beauteous Marla Tellez or I might never finish this review.
The Indigo Crow is nestled beneath towering deciduous trees in what was once a family home which also housed the Desert Rose, one of the village’s most popular restaurants back in the early to mid-1990s. The Indigo Crow has been wowing patrons for more than a decade now and despite the economic downturn, there appears to be no surcease to its popularity. This is a restaurant for which reservations are definitely recommended, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, but even if you don’t make a reservation, the staff will do their best to accommodate you.
That may mean eating at the bar which is in close proximity to a kiva fireplace, something for which you might be thankful on winter nights because most diners enter through the bar. The bar is reputed to have a very good wine list, one worthy of the food destined to accompany the fruit of the vin. During the summer, the Indigo Crow offers live music on the patio featuring local musicians like the aforementioned Oscar Butler. During the winter, the restaurant features acoustic solo artists at the bar.
Since the Crow’s menu tends to be seasonal, ingredients also tend to be incomparably fresh. No vegetable is served before or after its time; they’re all served at the optimum of in-season freshness. Even avowed vegetable haters can be converted at the Indigo Crow. Salad lovers will appreciate the nine salads on the menu, especially if you want a back to basics salad that doesn’t include every ingredient conceivable. There’s plenty to love on the Gorgonzola Wedge (iceberg lettuce, bacon, tomatoes, marinated red onions and creamy Gorgonzola dressing). On most restaurant’s menus, it would probably be the most popular salad, but at Indigo Crow, that honor goes to The Catalina (chopped romaine, tomatoes, eggs, bacon, avocado, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Louie dressing), the chef’s unique interpretation of a Cobb salad. It’s a beautifully presented masterpiece prepared in a large bowl then shaped in a circular timbale to give it a memorable and enticing appeal. Half and full portions are available.
Our favorite appetizer when on the menu is the Crow’s rendition of satay, the popular Thai street food which is essentially marinated meat skewered onto bamboo sticks and grilled over an open flame. At some local Thai restaurants, the grilled meat is so thin that the grilling dries it, leaving it chewy and tasteless. The Crow’s satay is somewhat thicker and grilled to about medium, imparting it with a moist deliciousness. A nearly as terrific lunch-time alternative sometimes on the menu is an orange glazed beef with sesame seeds and a tangy teriyaki sauce.
The lunch menu showcases a number of sandwiches, wraps and burgers, none of which are the standard “you can make it at home” variety. Most of us can craft a fairly decent grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It takes genius to craft something like the grilled ham and smoked Gouda sandwich (grilled ham, smoked Gouda, jalapeño mustard, lettuce and tomatoes on a French baguette). The jalapeño mustard is nearly as incendiary as Chinese hot mustard, lending a delicious kick that counterbalances the saltiness of the grilled ham, the sweet creaminess of the Gouda and the acidity of the tomatoes.
My friend Larry McGoldrick, the esteemed professor with the perspicacious palate, rates the Indigo Crow’s green chile cheeseburger as one of New Mexico’s top ten. For uniformity of comparison, he orders his burgers “competition style” meaning bun, patty, cheese and green chile only; no adulterants or contaminants. Alas, my good intentions to try a plain green chile cheeseburger were quashed by the Chefs Hobo Burger, the very antithesis of competition style. The canvas for this behemoth burger is a thick green chile Cheddar cheese kaiser roll in which both green chile and Cheddar are baked right onto the bun (which would make a great dinner bread on its own). As with Hobo stew which is made with virtually any ingredient you can find, the Hobo Burger is a virtual mishmash of ingredients inventively put together. Standard offerings are portobello mushroom, bacon, smoked Gouda and guacamole. Green chile isn’t a standard ingredient on the burger unless you request it. It’s a unique take on a green chile cheeseburger and is large enough for two to share.
The dinner menu includes a surprising number of seafood items, the hallmark of each being uncommon freshness. You may forget you’re in land-locked New Mexico when your palate is luxuriating on the very best mussels anywhere in the Land of Enchantment. There was a time, just a few years ago, in which a bowl of mussels at the Indigo Crow was big enough for a party of four to share. During a visit in January, 2010, our serving of this magnificent mollusk was miniscule, a penurious portion of twelve mussels, just enough for three a piece among the four of us. The mussels were submerged in a saffron and white wine sauce which by itself would have made a superb soup.
Though we felt deprived of the briny sweetness of the mussels, we indulged lustily in the perfume-like essence of fragrant saffron sauce which we sopped up with the Indigo Crow’s wonderful garlic-infused bread. Tiny cloves of roasted garlic were actually embedded in the yeasty, oven-warm bread, a perfect complement for the sauce. An olive oil dip resplendent with fresh herbs, red pepper flakes and garlic proved an excellent complement for the more tempered saffron sauce. The Crow’s bread is among the very best in New Mexico and it’s replenished faithfully by the always attentive wait staff.
The mussels are served with perfectly salted shoestring fries, perhaps an Indigo Crow tribute to the French favorite Moules Frites (mussels and fries). The shoestring fries, as thin as the name suggests, straddle that fine line between crispy like a potato chip and just soft and pliable enough to be considered fries. They are delicious, particularly when dipped in whatever saffron sauce you may want to allocate to these waifishly thin fries.
Another certain to satisfy seafood starter you will savor are the chipotle clams, delicious bivalved mollusks in a white wine, sun-dried tomato and chipotle broth. As with the mussels, the bowl isn’t exactly brimming with a profusion of clams, but the flavor combinations–smoky and slightly piquant chipotle, acidic and rich tomato, sea-savory clams–go so well together, you’ll relish each and every bite, all the while wishing there were more.
The Indigo Crow incorporates seafood in several pasta entrees, one of our favorites being the lobster ravioli, an open face ravioli with a three cheese (Mascarpone, Asiago, Parmesan) triumvirate (four if you count the ricotta filling), spicy lobster cream sauce, fresh slipper lobster tail, and lobster claw meat. It’s a plate-licking concoction that melds piquant, sweet and creamy flavors and textures, not to mention the richness and utter sea spawned deliciousness of lobster. As much as you may want to ravage this ravioli, take your time because there’s not a lot of it. (I have a theory that all my favorite Indigo Crow entrees are in smallish portions just to keep me wanting more.)
If your lobster lust isn’t sated by the lobster ravioli, Indigo Crow’ summer menu has offered a bucket of five slipper lobster tails served with garlic butter and spicy fries. Slipper lobster meat is almost pearly white in color and has a sweeter taste than regular rock lobsters. Slipper lobsters are fairly uncommon, some say even rare, and tend to be used mostly in soups such as bouillabaisse. Interestingly, the French refer to them as “sea cicadas” because the sound the slipper lobster makes when it cracks its claws sounds like the chirping of the cicada, an insect with which New Mexicans are well acquainted.
Carnivorous types will love the Lolly Pop Pork Chops grilled and served with a raspberry chipotle sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and the sweetest snap peas you’ve ever had. Despite the name, those pork chops are formidable–almost an inch thick and as tender as any pork chops you’ll find anywhere. The raspberry chipotle sauce imbues the chops with a smoky, sweet and slightly piquant flavor. It’s an excellent entree.
The restaurant’s most expensive entree (and my favorite) is the grilled rack of lamb served with a roasted red pepper and cucumber mint relish, parmesan risotto and garlic sauteed baby spinach and carrots. To me, this is the epitome of a fine-dining, gourmet entree and one of my very favorite meals. Lamb is the Rodney Dangerfield of meats, not accorded with the respect it richly deserves. Dissenters decry it as a gamy meat and while that may be the case with inferior lamb, it’s certainly not so at the Indigo Crow where the lamb is succulent and utterly delicious.
Desserts take a backseat to no restaurant in the Albuquerque area. In the summer, the epitome of seasonal freshness can be found in the Indigo Crow’s fruit pizza, a sugar cookie crust topped with cream cheese and a panoply of berries–raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. Not only is this dessert rich in antioxidants, it’s absolutely delicious, a melange of sweet and tangy flavors sure to please even the most discerning diners. The winter equivalent may be the Lemonberry cake, a rich white cake layered with mascarpone and imbued with berries. Oh, the delicious decadence. It’s almost sinful.
The chef’s creativity certainly extends to desserts. A sliver of chocolate mousse pie certainly demonstrates this. The chocolate mousse is a decadent combination of Bailey’s Irish Cream and milk chocolate. The Bailey’s Irish Cream leaves a faint reminiscence of the cream-based liqueur and tempers the sweetness of the milk chocolate. What makes this dessert special is the pretzel crust which lends just enough saltiness to balance the sweeter, creamier ingredients. The pretzel crust also provides a delightful textural contrast.
Rating number four (as of May 1st, 2013) on Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall of fame is the Indigo Crow’s Tree Berry Bread Pudding. It’s one of my very favorite bread puddings, too. There are many elements that make this a very special bread pudding. Texturally it is about as perfect as bread pudding can be and the tartness of the berries prevent it from being cloying, but one of my favorite elements is the dash of salt.
The Indigo Crow’s ambiance is hard to beat and it remains one of the most romantic restaurants in the Albuquerque area, particularly on nights when the moon is full. In nearly two dozen visits over the years, we’ve sampled many menu items and have enjoyed almost everything we’ve had. It’s so good we just might join Oscar Butler in a chorus or two of his Indigo Crow song.
4515 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 April 2013
# OF VISITS: 21
COST: $$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Mussels, Lobster Ravioli, Lolly Pop Pork Chops, Slipper Lobster Tails, Lemonberry Pie, Fruit Pizza, Grilled Rack of Lamb, The Catalina Salad, The Hobo Burger, Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich, Three Berry Bread Pudding