While contemplating a name for their second Duke City restaurant venture, Maxime and Daniela Bouneou wanted to convey the feeling of a refreshing and invigorating venue in which their patrons could relax and enjoy themselves. After deliberating several options, they ultimately decided on Limonata, the Italian word for lemonade. When Daniela proudly told her friends in Italy what the new restaurant would be named, they laughed, reminding her that Limonata is an Italian slang term for “French kiss.”
Though Maxime and Daniela may have become a bit more “Americanized” by having lived in the United States for more than a decade, Limonata has the look, feel and most importantly, tastes of a true Italian trattoria. Limonata is the more informal and sassy younger sibling of Torinos @ Home, the sensational Italian ristorante many of the cognoscenti consider one of, if not the Land of Enchantment’s best for Italian cuisine. Limonata’s menu focuses on simple fare–Italian street food–at relatively low prices in a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere and as the Bouneous envisioned, it’s a refreshing change of pace.
Limonata is located in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, one block south of Central Avenue on Silver. There’s a bit of delicious irony in that its next door neighbor is a French kiss of deliciousness, the second instantiation of P’Tit Louis Bistro. The contiguous complex which houses both restaurants is, save for the Spanish tiled roof, wholly antithetical to the abobe hued stereotype of Duke City architecture. Limonata actually more closely resembles its residential neighbors than it does other area restaurants.
Step inside the welcoming edifice and you’ll be enveloped in a swath of warm colors and the architecture of a bygone era. The front room, where you place your order invites browsing through interesting bric-a-brack, but first you’ll want to peruse the slate board on which the menu is scrawled in chalk. You’ll want to carefully study the glass display cases and their treasures. It’s a wonder there aren’t drool tracks on the glass because the tortas (Italian-style quiches) and pastries are mouth-watering.
The best part of waking up may just be breakfast at Limonata which offers cappuccino, espresso, lattes and cioccolata calda all’Italiana (Italian hot chocolate) as well as such breakfast favorites as granola, pastries, waffles and the New Mexican breakfast standard, the breakfast burrito. Though he’s French, Maxime is such a capable chef that you can trust that the burritos will not only be delicious, they’ll be authentic. Pastries are but one of his specialties. Trust that the housemade desserts at Limonata are outstanding.
In the spirit of the true and authentic Italian trattoria, Limonata’s menu focuses on housemade pastas, fresh and locally sourced vegetables and produce, fine cheeses and delicious antipastos. The specialties of Northern Italy’s Piedmont region are showcased in a number of panini and tramezzino sandwiches made from fantastic bread procured from Albuquerque’s incomparable La Quiche Parisienne which also provides fresh croissants, tartes and chocolate croissants. You can wash down your meal with the aforementioned coffees or with the name on the marquee, a lavender limonada that will purse your lips and quench your thirst.
Launched on June 26th, 2012, Limonata is open from 7AM to 5PM Monday through Friday and 8AM to 5PM on Sunday and has something for all tastes, including one of the most vegetarian-friendly menus in town. The tortas are all vegetarian: zucchini with basil, goat cheese and caramelized onions; leek and Parmigiano Reggiano; oven-roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions. A grilled vegetable panini (eggplants, red bell peppers, goat cheese spread and home made pesto) is also available for diners who eschew animal flesh.
It’s been my experience (Gutiz comes to mind) that when a restaurant offers an outstanding chocolate croissant (also known as pain au chocolat), you’d better order one before they’re all gone. Don’t wait to decide if you want dessert or not. Order the chocolate croissant and don’t worry about saving the best for last. This is a life-altering chocolate croissant, on par with those at the aforementioned Gutiz. The croissant itself is very delicate and flaky. It’s also buttery, but not overly so. The chocolate is an adult chocolate, not the cloying kid stuff and there’s just enough of it.
During our inaugural visit to Limonata, we had the great fortune of running into Maxime who was very pleased that we were enjoying the Salame Platter (salame, grilled vegetables, olives, cipoline and butter bread). Though he cared to know our opinion of everything else on our table, it was obvious he took great pride in the salame platter–for good reason. The salame is nicely marbled (but not at all greasy) and dry, the result of dry-aging for optimal flavor. It’s not overly spicy and is sliced into eighth-inch thick slices, each one oh-so-delicious. The grilled vegetables–red and green peppers and zucchini–are nicely pickled so that their natural flavors are accentuated, not masked. One of the platter’s many highlights are the pickled cipolline onions. Cipolline onions are saucer-shaped Italian pearl onions with a uniquely sweet and mild flavor. They are positively addictive.
The perfect complement to the Salame platter is, of course, the cheese platter. The European practice of serving cheese as dessert is increasingly catching on across the fruited plain, even in New Mexico. In Europe, almost any fine cheese–even the most fetid fromage–can be served as a dessert course, especially if paired with sweet elements such as fruit chutneys. Limonata’s cheese platter includes four cheeses of varying sharpness and diverse flavor profiles. They’re paired with a small bucketful of delicious butter bread and the sublime Cipolline onions. The cheeses are a Fontina, Gorgonozola, Goat Cheese and Pecorino–all different and all absolutely wonderful. The fresh, mild goat cheese is a nicely neutral foil for other flavors such as the salame while the Gorgonzola can be a bit overpowering for other flavors and is best left for last.
A good counterpoint to the sharp Gorgonzola is the simple combination of ciabbata bread toast with sweet creamy butter and apricot jam. The jam is absolutely wonderful and it’s homemade by Maxime himself. It’s redolent of the aroma and flavors of fruit, not pectin or some other filler. The apricot jam is thick and a challenge to spread, but it’s so good you might want to eat it sans toast. You’ll want to take a couple of jars home with you. The ciabatta is lightly toasted and ridged nicely with grooves which hold in the butter and jam very well.
That terrific ciabbata is the canvas upon which Limonata’s fabulous panini sandwiches are crafted. The Pollo (poached natural chicken, tomato, capers, artichoke hearts, hard boiled egg, fresh herbs, fresh mozzarella cheese and vinaigrette) is a good bet. As with all great sandwiches, it’s a concordant marriage of diverse elements and flavors which go so well together. Nothing goes as well with a sandwich as hot soup. Limonata’s tomato-basil soup makes for a wonderful soup-sandwich pairing. It’s so good you might wish for a cold winter day so it’ll warm your bones as well as it warms your heart.
SECOND VISIT -15 APRIL 2013: Some critics will tell you that one of the tried and true tests of an ethnic restaurant’s muster is to have someone deeply rooted in that ethnicity certify it as good. My sister-in-law Lola DeVito-Laws is as proudly and fiercely Italian as you’ll find anywhere. She frequents the best Italian bakeries, markets, delis, grocery stores and trattorias in the Chicago area, not to mention four and five star Italian restaurants. We were just a bit trepidatious about taking her to a simple Italian trattoria in the Duke City. We need not have been. Lola loved Limonata.
She especially loved the antipasto platter (Prosciutto di Parma, Speck from Tirolo, grilled eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, homemade tuna salad, goat cheese with extra virgin olive oil, cipolline, olive nicoise, butter and ciabatta bread). What’s not to love? Every glistening, oleaginous vegetable on the prodigious platter for two complements the other. Unique and varied flavor profiles don’t always intermarry well, but every element of this platter does. Had the platter been piled high solely with cipoline and goat cheese, it would have been a rousing success, but Maxime and Daniela leave nothing to chance. They titillate your taste buds with an antipasto platter that is peerless in the Duke City (save for the antipasto at elder sibling Torinos @ Home).
The Tonno Sandwich (canned tuna, hard-boiled egg, artichoke heart, capers, diced tomato, mayo and Fontina cheese) is a melange of strong flavors (tuna, capers, hard-boiled egg, Gorgonzola) tempered only slightly by mild and mellow flavors (Fontina, mayo, tomato). Because of the strong elements, it won’t appeal to all taste buds. If like me, however, you like all the individual components of this sandwich, you’ll love the collective deliciousness. The Prosciutto Sandwich (Italian cured ham, sliced tomato, mayo and Gorgonzola cheese) will be more agreeable to most taste buds. The sweet acidity of the tomatoes and richness of the mayo are a perfect foil for the salty qualities of the prosciutto and Gorgonzola. The canvas for these sandwiches is a crusty sandwich roll.
Contrary to popular belief, chocolate bark (flat rectangles of rich, delicious chocolate) isn’t just a duplicitous ploy by clever confectioners to melt chocolate scraps into rectangles and charge a pretty penny for them. Made well, chocolate bark is a gourmet quality treat replete with fresh nuts and antioxidant rich dried fruits. At Limonata, we experienced the very best chocolate bark we’ve had in New Mexico. The milk chocolate bark is studded with mixed nuts (pistachios, hazel nuts, almonds) and dried figs. The dark chocolate bark is festooned with the type of dried fruits you’d find in a fruit cake (the bane of Christmas for many). Both are exceptional!
Limonata is a fabulous Italian trattoria with an inspired menu served in the European fashion. There is, however, one glaring thing wrong with it. The vivacious Daniela doesn’t spend much time at Limonata and though the staff is very accommodating and attentive, Daniela is Albuquerque’s hostess with the mostest as in the most charm, personality and warmth. Perhaps the über-talented Maxime can figure out how to clone her; he’s already figured out how to launch and operate perhaps the two best Italian restaurants in Albuquerque.
3222 Silver Street, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 15 April 2013
1st VISIT: 3 November 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Cheese Platter, Salame Platter, Toast and Jam, Chocolate Croissant, Pollo Panini, Antipasto Platter, Milk Chocolate Bark, Dark Chocolate Bark, Tonno Sandwich, Prosciutto Sandwich, Lavender Lemonade