Cafe Bien – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Cafe Bien in Albuquerque’s Downtown Area

My friend Hannah, a brilliant linguist who’s become rather expert in the etymology and evolution of languages, speech patterns and morphology would find it dismaying should she hear someone attribute the term “Romance language” to the seductive sweet nothings spoken by such onscreen Lotharios as Ricardo Montalban.  With the mere utterance of “Corinthian leather,” Montalban could make women (and some men) swoon, but while his smooth intonations and thick, sophisticated accent may sound “romantic,” “Romance languages have nothing to do with love and romance. 

Romance languages (the R is always capitalized) are languages that developed out of the Latin used in the Roman Empire between the sixth and ninth centuries A.D..  By the beginning of the 21st century nearly one billion people claimed a Romance language as their mother tongue, 300 million people as a second language. The five most widely spoken Romance languages are Spanish (410 million), Portuguese (216 million), French (75 million), Italian (60 million), and Romanian (25 million).     Romance languages still share several commonalities and a surprisingly high proportion of basic vocabulary.

The dining room at Cafe Bien

Though more a polyglot (if knowing cuss words in multiple languages qualifies me as such) than a linguist, my first inclination at hearing about Cafe Bien was to wonder if “Bien” was indicative of the restaurant’s cuisine.    Depending on how it’s used (in combination with other words), “bien” can translate to “very well” or “very good” in both Spanish (muy bien) and French (tres bien).  Though just slightly different in Italian (abbastanza bene ) and Portuguese (muito bem), there’s no mistaking that these four terms have their genesis in a Romance language.  There are dozens of “common” phrases in use today. 

Subscripted directly below the name “Cafe Bien” is the term “a fine creation,” confirmation of what the term “bien” means without attributing it to the cuisine of any country.  Fine cuisine is fine cuisine, apparently…and that’s not necessarily synonymous with fine dining.  Peruse the menu and you’ll find delightfully eclectic offerings that are just a little different from those served at most “American” eateries throughout the city.  It’s got burgers, sandwiches, entrees and other “fine” dishes that have been bringing in breakfast and lunch crowds since Cafe Bien first launched in the autumn of 2013.

Brioche Toast and Croissant

Cafe Bien’s first home was on the bottom floor of the Simms Building on Gold Avenue, a block south of Central Avenue.  Not quite two years later, the restaurant relocated to Route 66, within easy walking distance of its first home.  Comfortably ensconced in the former home of Nick’s Crossroads Café, Cafe Bien is sure to benefit from increased traffic and the visibility of being on the corner of a very busy intersection (Fourth and Central).  East-facing windows let the sun shine in while the walls on the western wall are festooned with several televisions tuned to the Food Network (as if imbibing the intoxicating aromas emanating from the kitchen isn’t incentive enough). 

Ever since The Spot shuttered its doors in Corrales, we’ve been craving biscuits and gravy.  Cafe Bien’s rendition (chive biscuits with white gravy, green chile sausage, eggs sunny-side-up, house fries) sounds as inviting as a warm smile.  Alas, by the unholy hour of eleven o’clock on the Saturday morning of our inaugural visit, the restaurant had run out.  Not bien!  Housemade brioche toast and a croissant are poor substitutes when you’ve got a craving for biscuits.  It’ll take some doing for any restaurant’s biscuits to be nearly as good as The Spot’s, but on paper alone, Cafe Bien’s just might do the trick.

Bacon & Eggs

As she consoled us for having run out of biscuits, our server promised a breakfast entree sure to cheer our disconsolate hearts.  Telling us the “bacon and eggs” was one of Cafe Bien’s most popular dishes seemed as empty as a campaign promise during the primaries.   As she described it, the entree sounded more and more like “deconstructed Eggs Benedict” until she got to the “bacon” part of the entree: two half-inch thick slabs of caramelized pork belly.  That’s right.  Pork candy!   Though she had us at caramelized pork belly, the deal was sealed with the mention of green chile potato pancake. Everything else–toasted brioche, poached eggs and Hollandaise–was more of the “been there, done that” variety.  The caramelized pork belly lives up to expectations as a fatty, meaty, sweet, smoky, seductive bacon on steroids.  Similarly the green chile potato pancakes are par excellence with a pleasant piquancy enlivening what is often a boring, bland item. 

As if to prove cobbler isn’t just for barbecue restaurants, Cafe Bien offers a number of cobbler dishes, none of which will have you craving ribs lacquered with a sweet-sticky sauce.  The mixed berry (raspberry, blueberry, blackberry) cobbler a la mode is a winner courtesy of tart-sweet berries and a glorious sweet crust.  By serving the ice cream in a separate dish, you’re allowed to introduce the element of cold to the hot berries as you see fit.  Vanilla ice cream is a perfect foil for tart berries, its sweet creaminess providing a nice contrast to the lip-pursing berries.  Whipped cream is provided on the side, but it’s wholly unnecessary.

Mixed Berry Cobbler A La Mode

Cafe Bien is one of the reasons “todo esta bien” (all is well) in the downtown area.  Now if they could only manage not to sell out of biscuits before we get there…

Cafe Bien
400 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 14 November 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bacon & Eggs, Mixed Berry Cobbler A La Mode
Cafe Bien Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

9 comments

  • Ruben

    Yet another one and done visit, Gil. First the Vegan place, now this. They say these things occur in 3’s.

    • Loving Vegan closed two days after our sole visit. Cafe Bien lasted a whole week after my visit before its owners were indicted on drug trafficking charges. With that trend, one of the restaurants reviewed more recently should last at least two weeks (there’s probably an algorithm for that).

      The timing of your lifestyle change to vegetarianism really stinks. I found a place near you that makes a very good Sonoran Hot Dog. Should you revert back to an unhealthy omnivores’ diet, let me know when you’d like a melange of nitrites, nitrates, saturated fats and other good stuff in the form of a great hot dog.

      • Vegan? But what about adovada?

        Is Ruben really going Vegan, or just trying to eat healthier? If so, then I feel his pain of not being able to enjoy Carne Adovada…if I remember correctly, he is a fan.

        Best of luck with the change, Ruben. I hope your health goals are achieved.

  • Jim Millington

    I saw Cafe Bien’s “commercial” on News 13 this morning and couldn’t help wondering why you were not served “happy” cookies. They should have freely given them to the police who were so unkind as to bust them. Unfortunately Cafe Bien will probably soon show up as “Gone but not forgotten” and we will all have to find another supplier for our biscuit and gravy addictions.

    • The Federal indictment of the family who owns Cafe Bien might explain why we found the bacon so addictive. It was like eating pork crack.

      Probably not indicative of the character of our local restaurateurs, several months ago KRQE reported the theft of about a million dollars from an ATM at the Route 66 Pit Stop (home of the fantastic Laguna Burger). The perpetrator was a young man I praised lavishly on my review.

      Perhaps my reviews need to be accompanied by a caveat that “my reviews do not constitute an endorsement of any illegal or immoral activities perpetrated by the restaurateurs referenced therein.”

      • Jim Millington

        I am confident that your reviews are not an endorsement of any illegal activities. I just thought that it was a remarkable timing coincidence. In fact, even one so above reproach as myself has unknowingly been involved with alleged perpetrators.

        A number of years ago on the day before we were to make a final inspection of a project for a client city the mayor of said city was charged with fraud. I showed up for the final but Jeff Bingaman (as expected by me but to the shock of said mayor) did not show as scheduled. I guess he didn’t want to be photographed by reporters being hugged by Mayor Fraud. For two hours the mayor was so close to me that any viewer would have thought I was making an unconditional endorsement even though I was not a resident of said city.

      • Schuyler

        Dude, unless the restaurants are owned by one of New Mexico’s paragons of virtue–either a Secretary of State or an APS Superintendent, you shouldn’t need a disclaimer. Most restaurant owners are pretty honest.

        Bob, you don’t have to worry about Gil getting into the “chive.” The strongest adult indulgence he allows himself is Yoo-Hoo. He’s a boy scout.

    • BOTVOLR

      Yo Jim…I’m guessin you and maybe only a few other Curmudgeons read the AJ or view news channels for the news….given that some reports are usually so off-putting, let alone possibly tilted. Be that as it may, this would’ve been my Comment to The Gil had you not already beat me:
      “Per the owners using “Bien” and your raving about the “chive” biscuits:
      Dang! I didn’t get “the code”! What would you be calling “Brownies” lest you ran into an eatery serving them nowadays? E.g. Couchlocky Brownies?”

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