Cafe Bien – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…