In 1881, the Savoy Theater in London’s trendy West End was built to showcase the brilliant Victorian era collaboration of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan who composed fourteen comic operas. The Savoy was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity. It also has the distinction of being fronted by the only road in Britain where traffic is required by law to drive on the right-hand side.
In 2006, the Savoy Bar & Grill was built in Albuquerque to showcase yet another brilliant collaboration, that of identical twin brothers Keith and Kevin Roessler who also own and operate Seasons Rotisserie & Grill in Albuquerque’s Old Town and Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro in fashionable Nob Hill. As restaurant impresarios, the Roessler brothers may have no equal in Albuquerque with each of their three restaurants being regarded as among the best in the city, particularly for high-end dining.
Savoy, the latest addition to the Roessler restaurant triumvirate, resembles a California wine-country bistro in both ambiance and menu. That’s a natural considering their uncle and mentor Roger Roessler is a successful restaurateur in Sonoma County, California where the fruit of the vin is showcased in some of America’s finest wineries. Roessler Cellar wines are featured at Savoy though not exclusively.
As one of the Northeast Heights’ few fine-dining establishments, the Savoy Bar & Grill helps fill a niche in an area that includes High Desert, Tanoan and North Albuquerque Acres, three of the city’s most upscale residential areas. Fittingly, Savoy is an extravagant milieu, the result of a million-dollar plus renovation which saw the metamorphose of what used to be YesterDave’s, a 50s-style neon spangled burger and malt joint into one of the city’s most capacious and classy fine-dining eateries.
Facing Montgomery Boulevard, Savoy is an impressive sight, a 10,000 square-foot building which incorporates a stucco facade with an imposing grey brick frontage. Step inside and there’s little architectural resemblance to any restaurant in Albuquerque. The restaurant is smartly partitioned into several sections, each designed for optimal function and stylish comfort.
The bright and open main dining room includes comfortable seating for more than 140. It also features unobstructed views to an arresting 1,800-square-foot exhibition kitchen where, despite the hustle and bustle of activity, sound is muted and won’t interfere with the enjoyment of an intimate mealtime conversation. Strategically positioned skylights and natural New Mexico sunlight allowed in by large windows coupled with light colored walls complement some of the dark wood touches to form an elegant milieu.
A wood-burning oven is the exhibition kitchen’s culinary cynosure, the heart of the kitchen whose olfactory-arousing aromas will draw the rapt attention of Savoy’s guests as cedar planked salmon and seasonal flatbreads are prepared. To the immediate west of the kitchen is the 25-seat Tasting Room highlighted by walls of glass-encased, refrigerated wine cubbies, a continuation of the restaurant’s wine-friendly theme. Saturday afternoon wine-tastings are held in this venue.
Savoy’s Napa Room which seats as many as 50 guests and features state-of-the-art audiovisual drop-down equipment is ideal for corporate events and private parties. A semi-private room with windows on three sides accommodates another 36 guests while a 45-seat bar and lounge lead to a 60-seat, vine-covered patio. The sophisticated milieu has several fireplaces and seems tailor-made for long visits.
Like Gilbert and Sullivan, the Roessler brothers’ collaboration is complementary. Keith is the operations and financial manager while Kevin serves as the restaurant’s wine manager. It’s a formula that works well. You can’t mention collaboration without a word or two about Savoy’s food and wine pairing. The menu is designed to accentuate the combination of food and wine so they balance and complement one another’s natural flavors. My best advice is to enjoy the foods you like with the wine you like. Fortunately, the staff is on hand to provide good advice on food and wine pairings that make the most of both.
Keith Roessler describes Savoy as “like a chophouse, a blend between a steakhouse and a seafood restaurant.” Unlike at some chophouses, sides aren’t a la carte, making the high (for Albuquerque) price point very reasonable considering the high quality of the cuisine. As much as possible, both produce and meats are procured locally. The menu changes with the seasons to accentuate the availability of the freshest ingredients.
The restaurant’s executive chef and co-owner is Bob Peterson whose previous experience includes stints at both the Seasons Rotisserie & Grill in Durango, Colorado and Albuquerque’s Old Town, both of which were founded by the Roessler brothers’ uncle. Peterson’s cooking philosophy centers around providing a balanced dining experience in which flavors, textures, food temperatures and nutritional value are considered in the preparation of an entree.
Shortly after you’re seated and the menu is presented, a plate of breads will be brought promptly to your table. Savoy bakes its own bread in an oak-fired oven, but it’s the bread’s flavor which places it in a rarefied class. A housemade focaccia infused with caramelized sweet onions and rosemary is some of the best restaurant bread in town as are the restaurant’s sliced baguettes. Best of all, you can purchase either or both the focaccia or baguettes and take them home with you. It’s better than bakery-quality bread.
The breads are served with a creamy whipped butter made in-house with garlic and thyme though tempered so it’s not as strong as garlic butter can be. The butter spreads easily on the focaccia and sliced baguettes, both of which are fresh and delicious. Characteristic of great baguettes, a hard-crust complements an airy inside texture. The focaccia is soft and chewy. Both are so good, you might finish a plate or two before your appetizers are delivered.
In general, critics don’t advocate ordering a bread-based appetizer when a restaurant’s in-house bread is as good and filling as Savoy’s bread is, however, if you exercise sufficient restraint with the complimentary bread, you shouldn’t miss the baked local goat cheese. The goat cheese is procured from The Old Windmill Dairy in McIntosh, New Mexico. It is packed in a “rind” of prosciutto and is served with toasted baguettes and a black pepper-cranberry chutney. It’s pillow soft and has a mild flavor accentuated by the saltiness of the prosciutto. The black pepper-cranberry chutney lends dimensions of flavor that seem to bring out unexpressed qualities in the cheese. This is an excellent appetizer!
From among the ten appetizer menu, you’ll probably want to try at least two starters. The pomegranate glazed quail with sweet potato fries is an excellent option. Despite its diminutive size, quail is a meaty fowl with little fat or sinew. It’s also a fairly juicy bird which absorbs complementary flavors well. The quail is lightly encrusted in a thin sheath that allows the sweet-tart flavor of the pomegranate glaze to penetrate deeply. The sweet potato fries, just a handful, are thick and soft with a sweet, delicious flavor.
On a blustery winter day, there may be no more comforting appetizer than a soul-warming bowl of soup, whether it be in the form of a pho, chowder, stew, consomme or bisque. Savoy’s autumn squash bisque, is a rich, thick, creamy soup that has been pureed so that it has an even texture. It is delicious in its flavor profile and made even more magnificent because it’s served piping hot. The sweet-savory flavor of the autumn squash is punctuated by the sour-tanginess of creme fraiche and the mildly astringent touch of fried sage. The prevalent flavor, however, is that of succulent squash. This is a soul-warming soup you will crave year-round.
Savoy’s antipasto plate is in rarefied air among all the antipasto plates offered throughout the Duke City. The burrata, an almost unnaturally soft and moist fresh Italian cheese made from cream and mozzarella, is ethereal in its texture. While it complements other plate ingredients, it’s best on its own. The duck pate is mellow, the strong flavor of liver cut by spices (maybe even star anise) and perhaps a sherry or cognac. The flavor of the hummus would be more discernible with pita slices rather than crostini or the parmesan breadsticks. On its own, you’ll discern some the wonderful Middle Eastern spices used to flavor hummus. The marinated olives are meaty, moist and flavorful.
Chef Peterson’s favorite meat is lamb, an overt invitation for diners to try the thin-sliced lamb sandwich for lunch. The lamb comes from the Talus Wind Ranch in Galisteo, New Mexico which purchases, transports, processes and distributes the lamb and literally tracks it from ranch to refrigerator. With a pedigree like that, when you can track a lamb’s parents, how can you possibly go wrong, especially when you order something like the amazing Thin Sliced Lamb Sandwich.
True to the menu, the lamb is thinly sliced, almost like the packaged stuff grocery stores call roast beef (but infinitely better). Layers of pinkish-reddish hued slices of succulent lamb are embellished by a basil aioli, lettuce and tomatoes and served generously between two glorious slices of toasted olive bread. It’s a thick sandwich, succulent, juicy and wholly wonderful. The lamb sandwich is served with a side pine nut, red pepper and risotto salad served cold. Unlike some risotto which tends to be clumpy, Savoy’s rendition showcases each and every grain of rice, all of which are perfectly prepared. The salad collaborates fantastically with the sandwich.
If sandwiches are what calls you loudest (and they often do, me), one sandwich which will absolutely sing is the Prime Rib Peppersteak Sandwich. While peppersteak is known to have originated as a Chinese-American dish made with strips of steak sauteed with bell peppers and seasoned with pepper, ginger, and soy sauce, Savoy’s rendition is very unlike any Chinese version you’ve had. The prime rib is sliced into tender strips, drizzled with a spicy Tabasco remoulade and topped with melted Gruyere cheese. It’s not nearly as peppery or spicy as its name might imply, but instead resonates with the characteristics of the high-quality prime rib from which it is made. The sandwich is served with twice-fried parmesan fries.
During a visit in December, 2012, the lunch special of the day at Savoy was an intriguing burger unlike any burger I’ve ever had. It’s an antelope sausage burger the size of a small skyscraper. It’s a marvel to behold and far too large to fit in most human mouths. In fact, it’s probably best consumed with a steak knife and fork. The base for this behemoth burger is a toasted sesame seed bun baked on the premises. It’s topped with organic arugula, a thick red tomato, crispy onion rings, melted housemade mozzarella, a house marinara sauce and one of the largest meat patties conceivable. The patty is constructed of 85 percent antelope, pancetta and pork fat then seasoned with rosemary, thyme, pepper and fennel. The concept is compelling, but frankly, this burger might have been best served as a pasta dish. That’s what the combination of antelope sausage, marinara and mozzarella will remind you of. Though flavorful, this burger isn’t exactly enjoyable to consume. It’s just too large to enjoy as a true burger. If you “squash” it down, the effect is similar to a car running over a squirrel (don’t try to picture that). It’s not a pretty picture.
For dinner, New Mexico lamb is showcased in some of the most succulent lamb chops you’ll find anywhere. For some reason, there are several high-end, fine-dining restaurants in New Mexico touting their use of Colorado lamb entrees. They apparently don’t know that New Mexico’s lamb doesn’t’ take a back seat to lamb from anywhere. Prepared at medium-rare, there’s more than a hint of pink on each of the three chops. In fact, the meatiest part of the chops are even a bit chewy, courtesy perhaps of not being done sufficiently. The edges, and especially around the bone, are grilled perfectly. These chops have little of the characteristic gaminess of lamb and what little gaminess there is, is obfuscated by a sublime roasted garlic port wine glaze. Never mind the mint jelly; this glaze is fantastic…sopping up with bread good. Though this entree is served with a couscous dish, substitutions are allowed. The sour cream mashed potatoes are a worthy accompaniment to the lamb.
A special restaurant like Savoy tends to have wonderful daily specials. We happened upon such a special during our inaugural visit for lunch–a pasta dish with a Fontina cheese, port wine and cherry sauce with sage infused chicken sausage. Quite simply, this is an exquisite entree, as wonderful a pasta dish as can be imagined. The flavors are rich and deep with heightened deliciousness, a perfect coalescence of complex and simple ingredients melding together perfectly. This is an entree which would be the starring attraction of many a menu. Sage is a vastly underused ingredient which really stands out in chicken sausage.
A true stand-out in the dinner menu is the seared ahi tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, sauteed mushrooms and a sake burre blanc (an ultra-rich, buttery sauce). The sashimi grade ahi tuna is perfectly seared (the only way to truly appreciate tuna) with lightly crusted edges bordering the beautifully pink flesh. The wasabi mashed potatoes aren’t nearly as Americanized Japanese horseradish tends to be, but it certainly imbues the potatoes with a slight burning sensation. The sugar snap peas are a delight, as much fun to eat as they are delicious.
Dessert options are limited–at least in terms of quantity. An apple strudel with vanilla ice cream sounds simple and commonplace, but at Savoy it’s a transcendent dessert. A flaky puff pastry enrobes thinly sliced apples which are a perfect balance of tart and sweet. A small scoop of luxurious vanilla ice cream seems tailor-made to bring out the tartness of the apples even more, a perfect collaboration of flavors.
Peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream showcases the natural fruitiness of in-season peaches, not the artificial pectin that tends to be overly sweet. The peaches are juicy and tender, topped with a rich, buttery crust. You can taste the vanilla bean on the vanilla ice cream, a wonderful surprise. Though not a big dessert, it’s big in flavors.
The Savoy Bar & Grill is all about collaboration: the collaborative partnership between entrepreneurial brothers who are bringing refined dining elegance to Duke City dining as well as the exquisite pairing of bold flavors in both food and wine. Savoy is among the finest in fine dining in the Duke City.
Savoy Bar & Grill
10601 Montgomery Boulevard Northeast
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2012
1st VISIT: 30 December 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Baked Local Goat Cheese, Pomegranate Glazed Quail, Thin Sliced Lamb Sandwich, Apple Strudel, Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream, New Mexico Lamb Chops, Seared Ahi Tuna