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
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bacon & Eggs, Mixed Berry Cobbler A La Mode
Cafe Bien Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Oak Tree Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

 The Oak Tree Cafe is now on Alameda as of April, 2013

The Oak Tree Cafe is now on Alameda as of April, 2013

This isn’t Burger King!
You can’t have it your way.
You get it our way or you don’t get it at all.

For some reason, human beings seem inclined to level criticism by the shovelful while apportioning praise and plaudits by the thimbleful.  We  seem genetically predisposed to put more stock into negativity than we are to believe the best of others.  We consider compliments to be based on insincerity or ulterior motives.  Even our television viewing preferences gravitate toward gratuitous depictions of misbehavior and depravity.  We consider unwatchable any movie or television show portraying kindness and humanity.

That grim indictment of humanity is, by virtue of its own unflattering characterization, itself an example of misanthropic pathos.  In the spirit of John 8:7, I will cast the first stone at myself.  For years, I heard about a humble little sandwich shop in which customer service was said to be more than a slogan; it was a way of doing business.  Instead of embracing this supposed people-pleasing panacea, my first inclination was skepticism and a willingness to lump the Oak Tree Cafe with any number of other eateries which provide good service, albeit with transparent insincerity.


Affable proprietor Rob Carson at the counter where you place your order

You’re no doubt familiar with the type of restaurant of which I’m talking  (chains are especially good at this). The minute you walk in, a painted-on smile approaches you and begins the well-rehearsed wait “schtick” that typically begins with something like, “I’m Julie and I’ll be your server tonight.”  Periodic visits to your table (usually when your mouth is full) include perfunctory chit chat as well as refills and more napkins.  Though typically not unpleasant, this type of service is still rather impersonal and unmemorable.  It’s essentially a game of reciprocal expectations between customer and client; both parties know what to expect and fulfill their respective roles.  It’s basically harmless.

Unfortunately, as feedback to this blog will attest, for some restaurants, harmless would be a vast improvement. Some restaurants, it seems, don’t seem to understand that good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. All too often, customer service appears to be of the “This isn’t Burger King!  You can’t have it your way.” variety.   This type of service is characterized by a haughty disregard for the axiom that the customer is always right.  Its rendition of the golden rule stops at “do onto others” as in “do ignore them,” “do belittle them,” do patronize them.”  Quite naturally it dissuades return visits.

The Taos

Since most customer service seems to fall somewhere between the impersonal and well-rehearsed wait schtick and the “you get it our way or you don’t get it at all” approach, you’ll forgive me if I was skeptical about the Oak Tree Cafe.  It really is too easy to be cynical about a restaurant which has made its reputation not only because of its great sandwiches, but because of its genuinely warm, personable and attentive service.  Though I’m not from Missouri, Oak Tree would just have to show me.

The Oak Tree Cafe was founded just over a quarter century ago by the father-son duo of Michael and Rob Carson who worked side-by-side until Michael’s death at age 86 in 2009.  Today Rob is ably assisted by a kitchen staff which abides with the cafe’s long-standing tradition of excellent customer service.  In the tradition of Cheers, television’s friendliest bar, it seems everyone–or at least Rob–knows the name of all regulars as they walk in.  He also knows each regular’s “usual,” what those regular patrons like to order when they visit.  If my first few visits are any indication, the regulars outnumber new visitors undoubtedly eager to find out if the cafe’s reputation for outstanding food and exceptional service is well deserved.

Hot Corned Beef on Rye With a Side Order of Chips and Fresh Fruit

In April, 2013, the Oak Tree Cafe relocated from its Uptown location to a new shopping center at 4545 Alameda, N.E. (just west of Jefferson).  The Oak Tree Cafe’s digs are 2,500 square-feet of welcome to west side diners whose sandwich options were primarily chain restaurants which blight their neighborhoods.  An outdoor patio with umbrella-shaded tables accommodates another forty guests or so.  At its expansive new location, the Oak Tree Cafe now serves burgers, beer, wine and appetizers. 

As of my initial visit to the Alameda location on 10 May 2013, only the famous Oak Tree bell hasn’t made it to its new home.  At the Uptown location, once you took your seat, conversations with your dining companions were periodically be punctuated by the tintinnabulation of a bell positioned by the cafe door.  As customers exited, they were invited to please ring the bell “if the food was great and service was crazy.”  Without exception, everyone exiting the premises rang the bell.  Even if Rob doesn’t bring the bell back, the service remains great and the service as crazy as ever.


The Oak Tree Combo Sandwich

For a restaurant with a reputation for service, it’s surprising to find that there is no tableside wait service.  Instead you’ll place your order at a counter, interacting with an affable server (maybe even Janet, Rob’s pulchritudinous fiance as of August, 2015) who’s happy to answer any questions you may have or to make recommendations if you need them.  When you first walk in don’t be surprised to be greeted with a friendly handshake and an introduction “I’m Rob Carson.  Welcome to the Oak Tree Cafe.”  It probably won’t be the only time you interact with Carson who’s a peripatetic presence at the restaurant, flitting throughout the premises with an ambassadorial flair.

The sandwiches warrant not only bell-ringing, but cheers. They’re that good! The sandwich and wraps menu is formidable, nearly two dozen different sandwiches crafted on fresh bread, (sub rolls, wheat, rye, white, Kaiser rolls and French rolls) either toasted or untoasted.  Meat products come from Boar’s Head.  Sandwiches are named for faithful customers, New Mexico landmarks and celebrities such as Monty Hall and Al Capone.  Each sandwich towers with meats, condiments and ingredients, some of which are infrequently found at other Duke City sandwich shops.


Beer-battered “Black and Tan” onion rings, some of the very best in Albuquerque

5 July 2011: If you’re uncertain as to what sandwich to order, focus your study of the menu on those crafted with roast beef, a specialty of the house. The roast beef is slow-cooked on the premises from choice top round. It’s as tender as a marshmallow and as moist and delicious as any roast beef you’ll ever have anywhere! The Taos–hot USDA choice top round roast beef, melted Monterey Jack, grilled onions, grilled green chile, tomato, mayo and lettuce on a fresh-baked Kaiser roll–showcases layer upon layer of roast beef, so juicy and unctuous it resembles a hamburger patty until you taste it.  That’s when you gain an appreciation for how wonderful roast beef can be.  It’s especially wonderful when its flavor profile melds with the other ingredients which make this my choice for best roast beef sandwich in town.

5 July 2011: During my inaugural visit to the Menaul location, the special of the day featured an ingredient combination–hot corned beef on rye toast topped with grilled onions, Monterey jack cheese, banana peppers, lettuce, tomato and deli mustard–that made my taste buds very happy.  The combination of banana peppers, deli mustard and grilled onions was especially notable, a complementary mix of sweet, savory and tangy flavors.  This sandwich is piled about twice as high as many other sandwiches you’ll find in local eateries.  It also stands tall above the rest in terms of pure deliciousness.

Fried green beans with green chile Ranch dressing

Fried green beans with green chile Ranch dressing

The sprawling Alameda location is every bit as accommodating and friendly as its previous home.  Even the menu bespeaks of friendliness with the slogan “A warm, friendly atmosphere full of camaraderie and congeniality.”  Location aside, the biggest difference between one location and another is the menu which now includes three gourmet burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads and appetizers.  Sandwiches are the Oak Tree Cafe’s raison de’etre and will probably always be the most popular draw, but burgers and chicken sandwiches will beckon, too.

Although all sandwiches are served with a pickle spear and your choice of homemade apple coleslaw, homemade macaroni salad or fresh fruit, you owe it to yourself to try some of the other sides on the menu: hand-cut fries, sweet potato fries or beer-battered onion rings.  The beer-battered black and tan onion rings are among the two  best in the city (the others being from Flamez Burgers & More).  These golden hued beauties are served on a tree-like apparatus, just ready to be plucked.  Bite into them and onion juiciness squirts out, a wonderful departure from the usual desiccation you experience with out-of-the-bag onion rings most restaurants serve. 

Janet's Bacon Green Chili Burger

Janet’s Bacon Green Chili Burger

10 May 2013: Much as the burgers and chicken sandwiches beckon, chances are you’ll succumb to the stronger calling of a sumptuous sandwich.  One of the best is the Oak Tree Combo, a sandwich honoring the years spent at the San Mateo (Uptown) location.   This is a sandwich’s sandwich, a meaty behemoth on a Kaiser roll.  The ingredients–USDA top round roast beef, turkey breast, corned beef, melted Swiss cheese, melted Cheddar cheese, mayo, lettuce and tomatoes–go very well together.  It’s such a good sandwich, you may mourn finishing your last bite. 

13 June 2013:  On the day of my second visit to the Alameda location, it did my heart good to see more cars parked in front of the Oak Tree Cafe than there were in front of Panera Bread, a chain restaurant five miles away which also serves sandwiches.  It goes to show Duke City Diners can be a discerning lot that recognizes the superiority of locally owned and operated restaurants and home-grown touches such as the Oak Tree Cafe’s green chile Ranch dressing which accompanies the fried green beans.   While no dressing is necessary for these perfectly breaded, perfectly fried green beans, a little piquancy and roasted flavor goes a long way.

The Father Paul Sandwich, "Heaven In A Sandwich": USDA top round roast beef, melted Swiss cheese, red onions, deli mustard, lettuce and tomatoes on a baguette

The Father Paul Sandwich, “Heaven In A Sandwich”

13 June 2013: The best new green chile cheeseburger I’ve had in 2013 is the quaintly named Janet’s Bacon Green Chili (SIC) Burger, a burger so good the Oak Tree Cafe can get away with the Texas-like spelling of New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  The burger is named for the delightful Janet, Rob’s fiance and a partner in the restaurant.   All the burgers at the restaurant are made from fresh ground beef from Nelson’s Meat Market formed on the premises daily and served on a fresh bakery bun.  The Janet invites you to “Cowgirl It Up” (a phrase meaning stop being a sissy) with this half-pound behemoth topped with pecan-smoked bacon, Pepper Jack cheese, New Mexico green chile, red onions, lettuce and tomatoes.  The green chile has a nice roasted flavor and just enough bite to let you know it’s there.  The beef is moist and perfectly prepared at about medium.  The bacon is terrific as is the cheese.  It’s a burger which goes very well with the onion rings.

13 June 2013: If you’ve ever wondered what “heaven in a sandwich” tastes like, try the Father Paul Sandwich, named for a Catholic priest friend of Rob Carson.  Although Father Paul is now in Florida, this sandwich is a terrific legacy to leave behind.  The sandwich is constructed on a baguette which is ungashtupt (that’s Yiddish for overstuffed) with USDA top round roast beef, melted Swiss cheese, red onions, deli mustard, lettuce and tomatoes.  The deli mustard pulls no punches, enlivening the sandwich with an eye-watering flavor that complements the tender as butter roast beef.  If you’ve discerned a predilection for ordering roast beef sandwiches, it’s simply because The Oak Tree Cafe serves the very best roast beef in Albuquerque.

Mike's Chicken Sandwich: Six-ounce chicken breast, jalapeño bacon, Pepperjack cheese, honey mustard, topped with lettuce and tomatoes

Mike’s Chicken Sandwich

18 June 2013: While turkey is often blamed for post-meal Thanksgiving lethargy, chicken actually has more of the serotonin-boosting tryptophan than turkey does.  Perhaps that’s why most chicken sandwiches bore me to the point of sleepiness.  In the spirit that the Oak Tree Cafe can do no wrong, I didn’t put up much resistance when Janet recommended Mike’s Chicken Sandwich, a six-ounce grilled chicken breast, jalapeño bacon, Pepperjack cheese and honey mustard topped with lettuce and tomatoes.  This is what all chicken sandwiches should aspire to. The chicken (no breading) is grilled to perfection, but what makes this sandwich special is the combination of smoky-piquant bacon, slightly incendiary Pepperjack cheese and the honey mustard.  This is a multi-napkin affair, a very juicy and delicious chicken sandwich that won’t leave you sleepy after consuming it.

8 July 2013: It’s entirely conceivable that if the 1982 best-seller Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche were to be rewritten for the new millennium, quiche would be replaced on the title by tortilla wraps or maybe quesadillas.  It’s practically an XY chromosome expectation that real men order behemoth sandwiches overstuffed with ingredients.  Real men certainly wouldn’t order a tortilla wrap with raspberry sauce of all things.  That is unless real men are really comfortable in their own skin or who don’t want to miss out on a terrific tortilla wrap constructed with superb ingredients.  The Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Wrap is bursting with roasted turkey breast, cream cheese, New Mexico green chile, spring mix, tomatoes and raspberry chipotle sauce wrapped in a tortilla.  The combination of green chile and raspberry chipotle gives the wrap a piquant personality with a sweet kick.  The turkey, and there’s plenty of it, is terrific, the antithesis of the boring turkey.  Real men would love this sandwich…if only they would try it.

Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Wrap: Turkey Breast, Cream Cheese, New Mexico Green Chile, Spring Mix, Tomatoes, Raspberry Chipotle Sauce Wrapped in a Flour Tortilla

Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Wrap

Contemporary culinary culture is so competitive (forgive the alliteration) that a purveyor of sandwiches can’t just slap some meats and cheeses on bread and expect to stay in business for long.  The very best restaurateurs are constantly reinventing their menus, looking for exciting new options with which to entice their diners.  Since the Oak Tree Cafe moved into its commodious new digs, the opportunities for tinkering with an already outstanding menu have been more readily available.  A number of new burgers (including an excellent blue cheese burger) show up in the menu of daily specials.  The most successful among them will hopefully make it onto the everyday menu

27 March 2014: Call it audacious if you will, but the Oak Tree Cafe serves the very best fish and chips in the Duke City area.  Yes, better than the fish and chips at Fat Squirrel Pub & Grill and the Two Fools Tavern.  Rob Carson and his crew didn’t just decide one day to start serving fish and chips then immediately started doing so.  They worked on the batter for two months (going through boatloads of fish) before considering it worthy of the guests they value so much.  It’s a light and crispy beer batter that sheathes two large pieces of tender and flaky haddock.  The light batter allows for excellent penetration by malt vinegar and pairs well with the superb tartar sauce with which the fish are served.  The fish is delicate and delicious and because it’s virtually grease-free, you can eat it with your hands.  The fries have a twice-fried texture and also absorb malt vinegar well.  An accompanying coleslaw is crisp, fresh and delicious.

Possibly the very best fish and chips in the Duke City area

Possibly the very best fish and chips in the Duke City area

28 August 2015:  My friend Franzi, Albuquerque’s most beauteous barrister, books time with a “personal shopper” at Macy’s when she flies into Chicago.  I can one-up her by having my very own personal sandwich advisor every time I visit the Oak Tree.  Not only are reservations not required to book this service, anyone can avail themselves of getting great sandwich advice every time you visit.  All you’ve got to do is ask Janet for a recommendation.  She’ll ask some questions to discern your tastes and desires before recommending your next favorite sandwich at the Oak Tree.  

My Kim is eternally grateful to Janet for recommending the Don Juan (which isn’t named for the legendary libertine, but for John who conceptualized it).   The Don Juan (ham, pepperoni, melted Provolone cheese, Balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, red onion, artichokes, lettuce and tomatoes on a baguette) is a concordant masterpiece of ingredients which work so very well together.  The Balsamic vinegar and artichokes are a very nice touch, lending a tangy contrast to otherwise savory ingredients.  The baguette is the perfect canvas, lending the properties of chewiness and staff-of-life deliciousness to the meats and cheeses.

The Don Juan

13 November 2015: Most sandwich restaurants tend to have a turkey sandwich and invariably it lives up to its name, turkey being a term used to describe something that is extremely or completely unsuccessful.  The Oak Tree Cafe’s version of a turkey sandwich is the antithesis of every boring turkey sandwich out there, second in my estimation only to the turkey sandwich at the legendary Smokehouse.  The canvas for this terrific turkey is toasted sourdough bread topped with green chile, melted Monterey Jack, homemade guacamole, lettuce and tomatoes.  The turkey breast is moist and delicious, a natural complement to the other ingredients and a perfect foil for the incendiary green chile and rich, buttery guacamole.

13 November 2015: In her terrific tome American Sandwich, my friend Becky Mercuri explains that the origin of the Reuben sandwich is hotly contested with at least three sources claiming to be its progenitor.  None of those sources credit the sandwich as being named for Baroque painting genius Peter Paul Rubens, but an argument could easily be made for his cause.  That’s especially true if you consider his preference for plus- or real-sized women, the genesis for the term Rubenesque meaning plump or voluptuous. Those terms could apply to the sandwich as well, especially its homonym, the Rueben sandwich.  The Oak Tree’s rendition is a triple-decker beauty constructed of housemade lean corned beef (cooked in Guinness which imparts a dark, rich, complex flavor); tart and tangy sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and housemade Thousand Island dressing on a beautiful light rye.  It’s one of Albuquerque’s very best!

Triple Decker Reuben

The Oak Tree Cafe has made a believer our of this cynic who often laments the absence of truly sincere, truly personable service coupled with excellent sandwiches. This cafe is an anachronism, a throwback to the days in which the customer was always right and you could get things done your way. At its new Alameda location, the Oak Tree Cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 8PM.

Oak Tree Cafe
4545 Alameda, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 830-2233
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 November 2015
1st VISIT: 5 July 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Taos Sandwich, Hot Corned Beef Sandwich, Oak Tree Combo, Onion Rings, Fried Green Beans, The Father Paul Sandwich, Janet’s Green Chili Burger, Mike’s Chicken Sandwich, Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Wrap, Apple Coleslaw, Fish & Chips, The Don Juan, The Pauley, Triple Decker Reuben 

Oak Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

La Crêpe Michel – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Le Crepe Michele in Albuquerque's Old Town

Le Crepe Michele in Albuquerque’s Old Town

The crêpe is, at its essence, not much more than a very thin cooked pancake, but ask even the most accomplished chefs to relate their initial attempts at baking crêpes and you’ll be regaled with tales of exasperation, woe, despair and misery. Use too much water or milk and not enough fat and the crêpes will turn out elastic and tough. If your pan isn’t hot enough, the crêpes will stick to it; too hot and the crêpes turn out lacy. Roll them too tight and they’ll explode and scald your face…

Or at least that was the experience of Dominicans trying to pass off as Cuban cigar rollers in a hilarious episode of Seinfeld. When the owners of the Magic Pan crêperie became incapacitated, Jerry had the “Cubans” fill in at the restaurant rolling crêpes. Not surprisingly, the “Cubans” rolled the crêpes cigar tight, causing the filling to spray out and burn diners trying to eat them.

The back dining room includes a live tree growing through the roof

The back dining room includes a live tree growing through the roof

My own experiences include a sprained wrist from trying to flip crêpes on a pan for lack of a crêpe spatula. Using a spatula improved things just a bit, but the resultant effort was something tasting more like crêpe paper than pancakes.  The   etymology of the word pancake is, in fact, derived from the French word “pannequet,” which is what crêpes used to be called until someone noticed the resemblance of a very thin pannequet to crêpe, the crinkly fabric. 

Crêpes are believed to have originated in Brittany, a region in the Northwest of France. While no one knows the precise origin of crêpes, I know a proud (most would say haughty) Frenchman who claims the crêpe is the progenitor or inspiration for the Mexican tortilla, the Russian blinchki and even the Indian masala dosa.  Most would ascribe that claim to French pride.

French bread with butter

French bread with butter

Whatever their origin, there’s no denying the crêpe (referring to both the thin pancake by itself or one filled with sundry ingredients) is extremely versatile. Crêpes can be made savory or sweet. They can be had as a main entree or as dessert. In Paris, crêpes are a ubiquitous street food and in rural America, they’re still rare enough to be considered a special treat. In Albuquerque, there is no more practiced and proficient purveyor of the crêpe than the venerable La Crêpe Michel in Albuquerque’s Old Town.

For more than a quarter-century, La Crêpe Michel has provided one of the city’s very best alternatives to New Mexican cuisine. Set back in an easy-to-miss alcove, this unpretentious, cafe-style restaurant has an unmistakably relaxed European feel to it. Housed in a charming adobe house and protected by codes governing historic buildings, it provides an interesting dichotomy–a French restaurant in a distinctly New Mexican edifice whose ceilings have vigas and brass light fixtures and the floors are made of red brick.

Pâté de Campagne Maison

Assisette Payasanne

The dining room is small enough for diners in adjacent tables to participate in each others’ conversations (they’re usually about how great the food is). An enclosed garden room includes a charming feature also found in two other Old Town dining establishments–a living tree growing through the ceiling.  Ambiance is only one of the reasons La Crêpe Michel has remained a popular hometown favorite for so long.  In 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine readers selected it as one of the Duke City’s five best French restaurants while Alibi readers named it the Duke City’s very best French restaurant in 2013.

True to the restaurant’s name, crêpes are a featured fare, prominent on both the entree and dessert portions of the menu. Other entrees illustrating the kitchen’s culinary diversity as well as an assortment of salads and appetizers are also available.  So is what appears to be a selective beer and wine list. The dinner menu changes seasonally with the special of the day posted on a slate board.

Crepe Aux Fruits de Mer--the fruits of the sea in a crepe.

crêpe aux fruits de mer

Arriving at your table shortly after your menu is a basket of sliced French bread with a tub of real butter and a black and green olive tapenade. It’s a delicious prelude to a magnificent meal–or a part of it if you can manage to stave off eating more than a slice or two and saving those slices for serious sauce dredging.  if, however, you’re famished, you’ll be happy to hear the wait staff will replenish the bread basket faithfully.

23 March 2013:  Since diners alone can’t live on bread alone, La Crêpe Michel offers Assisette Payasane, a hearty charcuterie showcasing a country blend of choice marinated pork, veal and chicken liver pates baked with spices, herbs and fine wines.  The pâté is accompanied on the plate by tiny cornichons (sour crisp pickles made from tiny gherkin cucumbers), some of the very best grainy mustard I’ve ever had (with almost as much pungency and heat as horseradish)  a small salad of mixed greens and if that’s not enough, you’re also treated to a triumvirate of fetid fromage.  Though advanced geriatric progression is my excuse for forgetting the names of those cheeses, what’s not to be forgotten is their taste and texture.  One soft cheese was certainly in the brie family.  Another soft cheese had a nutty, creamy texture and slight tanginess.  The third had a hard rind and rich flavor, perhaps a Munster.


Sole Meuniere with scalloped potatoes and fresh vegetables

1 June 2007: The selection of crêpes is mouth-watering. It will take repeated visits to try them all, but you’ll be happy to do so because they’re all reputed to be excellent. Best of all, they’re reasonably priced and each one is full-meal sized. The crêpe aux fruits de mer, a blend of sea scallops, bay scallops and shrimp in a veloute sauce, is memorable. The shrimp and scallops are succulent, sweet and perfectly prepared. The veloute sauce is smooth, creamy and rich, a credit to various stock bases thickened with a roux. 

12 November 2015: On a damp winter day, one of the most comforting of comfort foods is the Ficelles Picardes, a savory crepe stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, and ham.  When typing the name of this spectacular entree, my spellchecker suggested “picturesque”  and indeed, the dish may make you swoon at first glance with bubbling, molten, melting cheese and a thick, creamy Bechamel sauce creating a savory steam which wafts upwards toward your eagerly awaiting nostrils.  That promise of deliciousness is delivered on in every bite.  The earthy mushrooms and salty ham pair together very well.  In fact, the ingredient and flavor profile combinations are absolute genius.  This is one of the best savory crepes in creation!

Ficelles Picardes

23 March 2014: In her 2006 autobiography My Life in France, legendary chef Julia Child wrote that eating sole meuniere on her arrival in France was an “epiphany.”  The dish is widely credited with setting her on her culinary path.  She described the sole meuniere as “a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top.”  If that description sounds rather simple, it’s because the dish itself is supposed to be rather simple.  The challenge is in creating a sauce that isn’t too buttery or too lemony.  It also helps to use a superb quality fish.  The sole meuniere at La Crêpe Michel is hardly life-altering, but it’s a good representation of the dish.

Filet De Boeuf, a special entree.

Filet de Boeuf

1 June 2007: A featured entree you’ll find only on the slate board is the Filet de Boeuf, beef tenderloin prepared to order with your choice of a black peppercorn cream sauce or a Roquefort cheese sauce. While each of these two sauces by themselves have flavor characteristics with the potential to overwhelm a slab of beef, at La Crêpe Michel, the sauce is a subtle flavor ameliorant that enhances the flavor of the beef. (This is where you can use the restaurant’s wonderful bread to sop up any remaining sauce.) Sharing plate space with the Filet de Bouef are some of the best scalloped potatoes you’ll find anywhere as well as a side of fresh vegetables cooked just enough to give them a crispy snap when you bite into them. 

23 March 2014:  Whoever said “real men don’t eat quiche” didn’t ever eat at La Crêpe Michel where the quiche du jour is more than a good, safe bet if your taste buds aren’t hankering for something specific.  Here quiche is a draw to the restaurant–even among the manliest of men.  There are several reasons for this.  A thick wedge of creamy quiche proves light and flavorful with fluffy eggs and a thin, lightly seared crust.  A simple quiche made with blue cheese, scalloped potatoes and parsley is an exemplar of simplicity made well.

Quiche of the Day: Blue Cheese,

Quiche of the Day: Blue Cheese, Scalloped Potatoes, Parsley

As superb as the savory entrees might be, an evening of fine dining at La Crêpe Michel is incomplete without at least one of the restaurant’s famous dessert crêpes. These are the type of crêpes about which you dream at night, the type you don’t want to share even with someone you love, the type you know will mean a return visit is in order…and very shortly.

1 June 2007: When you see Crêpe Au Poivre on the dessert menu, you’ll probably wonder if it’s French ingenuity in play or a bit of French whimsy. One bite, however, and you’ll know there’s not only inventiveness in this crêpe, but a chef who knows how to apportion sweet and savory ingredients in perfect proportion. This crepe is filled with vanilla ice cream and “seasoned” with black pepper and Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur from Italy. It is absolutely wonderful!

Crêpe Au Poivre

1 June 2007: More traditional is the Crêpe Au Chocolate, a thin crêpe filled with melted Belgian Callebaut chocolate and Chantilly cream. To say Callebaut is a fine chocolate is an understatement. Created with prime grades of cocoa beans and replete in fat content, it is rich and hearty chocolate decadence, an exemplary confection. Chantilly cream is sweetened whipped cream flavored with vanilla or brandy. Put all this together and you might have to ask for an angioplasty with your dessert, but oh, what a way to go! 

12 November 2015:  When given a choice from among the Sheik’s seven daughters, Moses (as portrayed by actor Charleton Heston) responded “can a man choose from the stars of the sky.”  This sentiment crosses my mind every time we peruse the dessert crêpe menu at La Crêpe Michel.  Every crêpe sounds absolutely fabulous, each better sounding than the rest.  With every visit, it’s likely a new favorite will emerge.  My most recent favorite is a crepe stuffed with nutella and vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate and Chantilly cream.  God bless the French for having conceived of such deliciousness.

Crepe Stuffed with Vanilla Ice Cream and Nutella then Topped with Chocolate and Chantilly Cream

La Crêpe Michel is one of Albuquerque’s premier French restaurants as well as one of the best reasons to visit Old Town. 

La Crêpe Michel
400 San Felipe Drive., #C2
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-1251
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 12 November 2015
1st VISIT: 1 June 2007
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Pate De Campagne Maison, Filet De Boeuf, Crêpe Aux Fruits De Mer, Crêpe Au Poivre, Crêpe Au Chocolat, Ficelles Picardes

La Crêpe Michel on Urbanspoon

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