Prickly Pear Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)
Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield offered the following advice to his son: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” To Chesterfield, focusing on a singular task was not only a practical way of structuring one’s time; it was a sign of intelligence. “This steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”
In university life as in the workforce of the 21st century, the notion that to work efficiently we have to focus on one task at a time is fairly well understood. To understand that notion, however, is not necessarily to abide by its wisdom. Students eat lunch in front of the television with their laptops open as they cram for a test, taking frequent breaks to tweet and post on Facebook while sending emails and chatting online, too. The same research which has borne out that multi-taskers are most certainly not being more productive, reveals we feel more emotionally satisfied, more fulfilled and more efficient in our work when we’re doing many things at once.
My own unofficial research, the result of hundreds of restaurant meals over the years, is more inconclusive. Some restaurants whose menus are a veritable compendium of multi-faceted, multi-tasking cooking–a comprehensive compilation of almost every conceivable item of a specific genre–actually execute their menus very well though it could certainly be argued that if those same restaurants focused on a select few items instead of several dozen, they would be even better. To find a restaurant with an abbreviated menu actually invites the question, “can there possibly be enough variety to please finicky American diners?”.
Take Albuquerque’s Prickly Pear Bar & Grill restaurant for example. The lunch menu lists only seventeen items. That’s it! At some restaurants, seventeen items might constitute just the appetizer section of a multi-page menu. Our first impulse, before even reading Prickly Pear’s menu, was to turn the laminated single page menu over to see where the rest of the menu was. There is no second page. There’s also no lengthy perusal or carefully weighed deliberation over too many items to fully appreciate. Frankly, it’s a welcome change.
The Prickly Pear Bar & Grill opened in September, 2012 at the former site of several short-lived restaurant endeavors including Sabroso’s, a New Mexican restaurant similar to the Prickly Pear. Ironically the abbreviated menu belies the capacious confines of the restaurant which offers a plenitude of both table and booth seating. Contrary to the restaurant’s name, the menu doesn’t include nopalitos, the Spanish term for the verdant strips of prickly pear cactus pads which have long been a staple in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking.
You will see prickly pear cacti used in the restaurant’s decor, but not the ones with painful spines and prickles. Instead you’ll find multi-hued artist’s renditions of the prickly pear in the form of a tin sculpture. The restaurant is a very attractive, artsy milieu adorned in a soft Southwestern color palette and hard-wood floors. A sizeable waiting area with large enveloping couches has the feel of a comfortable family den. An adjacent full-service bar offers several televisions for your viewing pleasure. The overhead lighting above the booths is in the shape of balloon envelopes, fashioned from wire.
Though the menu may list only seventeen items, many of them offer variations. Enchiladas, for example, can be made with blue corn or yellow corn tortillas and constructed with shredded beef, ground beef, carne adovada, chicken or just cheese. You can have them with red or green chile (or both). The menu does have five line items listing different types of tacos: pan fry tacos, taco salad, puffed tacos (corn masa tortillas stuffed with sundry ingredients), tacos al pastor and fish tacos. Viva variety.
While you’re perusing the menu, your server will bring a basket of chips and a metal ramekin of salsa to your table along with a bowl of bean dip. Your first order is complimentary. Thereafter you’ll be charged a pittance. The salsa is quite good, a rich red sauce punctuated by red chile. It may be the most piquant item on the menu. The bean dip is a wonderful surprise, a bowl of hot beans, shredded white Cheddar and green chile. It’s wholly unlike the cold Frito Lays bean dip you might remember. The chips are light and thin, but formidable enough to hold up under the weight of Gil-sized portions of salsa.
Prickly Pear’s pan fry tacos are a good option, offering versatility and variety. You can ask that they be made with your choice of ground beef, shredded beef, carne adovada or chicken or you can mix-and-match because each order comes with three tacos. You also have your choice of pan fried corn or flour tortillas and if you’re tired of tacos which are mostly lettuce and tomatoes, you’ll be happy to see that most of the “salad” is on the side and you can add as much or as little as you’d like. A triumvirate of carne adovada, chicken and shredded beef tacos crafted on pan fried flour tortillas is what my Kim had during our inaugural visit. The tortillas are fried lightly so they remain pliable and soft. Each of the three tacos we sampled had their own distinct flavor profile and were seasoned well. Only at Monroe’s has she enjoyed flour tortilla-based tacos more.
Enchiladas are also a good bet. At the Prickly Pear, they’re served stacked as so many Northern New Mexico restaurants prepare them. Try them with perfectly prepared blue corn tortillas, circular orbs which drape over a heaping helping of shredded beef topped with melted shredded Cheddar cheese, two eggs over-easy with Christmas-style chile. The red chile has very little piquancy and we found it a bit over-salted, but the green chile is quite good. It’s got a bit of a bite and a roasted smokiness. It’s the superior of the two chiles.
Available as a plate or a la carte are some of the best chile rellenos in town. A large New Mexico chile is engorged with a white Monterrey Jack cheese then topped with your choice of red or green chile and even more cheese. The chile rellenos’ best feature is a light egg batter which allows the rellenos to remain crispy without compromising the integrity of the chile itself. Top it with green chile and you’ll get a double dose of a pleasantly piquant chile with a good flavor.
Entrees are served with your choice of two of the following: beans, rice, calabasitas and green chile mashed potatoes. The beans are an absolute must-have. While several New Mexican restaurants prepare their beans in lard, the beans at Prickly Pear have the unmistakable bouquet and flavor of smoky bacon. Bacon and beans are one of my favorite combinations, made even better with shredded white Cheddar. The green chile mashed potatoes are a pleasant surprise though we thought they lacked creaminess and the green chile didn’t really make its piquant presence felt. Still, it’s a refreshing change from the de rigueur beans and rice choices.
The Prickly Pear Bar & Grill may not have a War and Peace novel-sized menu as other New Mexican restaurants have, but the few items it does offer are prepared well and are generally quite good. It’s a restaurant which has figured out that you can still have great diversity with a select few items.
Prickly Pear Bar & Grill
5210 San Mateo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 October 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Chile Relleno, Pan Fried Tacos, Enchiladas, Salsa and Chips, Bean Dip, Sopaipillas