My friend Bill Resnik, a professional stand-up comedian for more than two decades, performs a bit in which he “translates” Spanish terms for linguistically challenged audiences. “Paseo del Norte,” for example, translates to “Paseo of the Norte.” For Duke City residents, the “Northern Route” is no joke. It’s the corridor from the Northeast Heights to Albuquerque’s burgeoning West side, ferrying nearly 100,000 vehicles a day. Paseo del Norte is widely credited with the rapid development–from 30,000 residents in 1980 to more than 85,000 in 2006–of the city’s growth north of Interstate 40 and west of the Rio Grande. What most city residents don’t realize is that the official Department of Transportation designation for the 25-mile passage is State Highway 423.
It makes sense therefore that a restaurant in which people connections are made daily would incorporate into its name the highway designation for the bridge (figuratively and literally) between Albuquerque’s residents. Because of its extensive wine offerings, the word “Vintage” (as in the year or place in which wine of high quality was produce) also makes sense, ergo Vintage Four Twenty-Three, a sophisticated and trendy milieu unlike any in the Duke City. Launched in January, 2012, Vintage has since been a source of mixed opinions with vocal supporters and detractors alike expressing themselves passionately, especially on Urbanspoon.
Vintage 423 is the brainchild of owners Jason Daskalos and Rudy Guzman. Daskalos, a well-known Duke City developer and entrepreneur has been racing competitively since 2006 when he earned Rookie of the Year accolades in the Viper Racing League. His love of competitive racing is apparent throughout the restaurant in the form of thematic framed photographs depicting vintage race cars and motorcycles. By now means, however, is Vintage 423 just another sports bar trying to be an upscale eatery. Nor is it a high-end bar and grill (for one thing, there’s no grill on the premises). In some ways, it defies categorization.
The exterior facade, a departure from the abobe hued stereotype which dominates Duke City restaurant and residential architecture, belies a swanky interior unlike any in the city. An opulent cosmopolitan world of subdued lighting, black walls and dark woods provides a distinctly intimate ambiance coupled with a high energy, hip and happening atmosphere. From the minute you step in, you’ll get the feeling you’re no longer in Kansas. One of the first sights you’ll espy are mesmerizing rivulets of shimmering water cascading from the ceiling, a wall of wine bottles directly behind this lighted waterfall.
Vintage 423 sports an even larger wine wall which separates the dining area from the bar and lounge, boasting the largest selection in Albuquerque with some 500 bottles. It’s the type of wine wall you might expect to find at a high-end restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada or maybe South Beach, Florida. The serpentine blonde onyx bar is also backlit, not so dark that you can’t read the wine labels but dark enough to set a relaxed mood. An outdoor patio replete with fireplace and fire pits is available for seasonal dining.
Unlike at some fine-dining restaurants, there is no demarcation between lunch and dinner menus. You can order off the entire menu at all hours in which the restaurant is open. That menu not only showcases steaks, chops and seafood (such as steamed mussels, sauteed scallops, salmon, seafood linguine), but a number of sandwiches and burgers. Conspicuous by its absence is chile and, for that matter, other New Mexican food favorites. The menu does include a number of Asian inspired appetizers, some of which provide their own brand of piquancy, but for the most part, the menu is “American” in all its nuanced glory.
Perhaps because portions are so profuse, you’ll be asked whether or not you want bread with your meal. You’ll want this bread. Two slices of thickly sliced, lightly toasted, buttered bread are brought to your table along with a rectangular bowl of an olive oil and Parmesan mixture in which to dip or dunk the bread. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the de rigueur olive oil and Balsamic vinegar mix. The exterior of the bread is hard-crusted while the interior is chewy.
Appetizer options include such popular starters as an antipasto plate (mozzarella, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, salami hummus and flat bread), bacon wrapped quail, five layer spinach fondue and an Asian inspired ahi tuna roulade. Frankly we were expecting sashimi style ahi tuna. What our server delivered was instead reminiscent of a three-inch high maki sushi roll, albeit made with a cucumber wrapper. The red chile and cayenne rubbed ahi tuna is ground like hamburger to which a jicama-mango-carrot guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo are added. A drizzle of honey wasabi vinaigrette completes the flavor profile.
A number of sides, each enough for two, are available. Two of them, in the fine tradition of the world-famous Lawry’s: The Prime Rib, are creamed spinach and creamed corn. Vintage 423’s rendition is very different from Lawry’s. While the creamed corn is most assuredly the star of the dish, the flavor profile also includes a four cheese medley of Parmesan, Monterrey Jack, Fontina and Cheddar. The dish is topped with a thin layer of toasted bread crumbs. This is an excellent dish, creamed corn taken to its highest potential.
You won’t find a grill at Vintage 423. Chef Zach Johnson prepares each prime aged steak and chop to order on an infrared broiler which seals in all the juices and flavor. The temperatures on this broiler reach 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit which means the heat intensity penetrates all exposed surfaces of the meat, creating a meaty “crust” while allowing the interior of the steak to remain moist and juicy. This broiling process, by the way, is the same one used at high-end, high-dollar steakhouses such as Ruth’s Chris. Thankfully you’ll won’t pay Ruth’s Cris prices for a very good steak.
The steak is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and onion salt and is prepared to your exacting specifications. At medium, there’s a discernible pink center which couples with a crusty exterior to form a picture perfect steak. It’s as tender and juicy as advertised and even better tasting. The steak is served with your choice of garlic mashed potatoes or blue cheese mashed potatoes and asparagus spears. Blue cheese mashed potatoes are a real treat–fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes impregnated with the pungent, sharpness of blue cheese. The asparagus spears are nicely seasoned and delicious.
The Cuban sandwich (slow roasted pork, pit ham, mustard, tomato, Gruyere cheese, and banana peppers) is one of the restaurant’s most popular sandwich options. The menu also lists two burgers, each crafted with an eight-ounce 100-percent Angus chuck beef patty. Green chile is not an offered option so these burgers aren’t candidates for the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. The hickory burger is a candidate for best burger in the city, however. As its name implies, the hickory burger includes a smear of hickory barbecue sauce along with melted Swiss cheese, crispy bacon and fried onions which by themselves would make terrific onion rings. Even if you pluck the onion rings off the top, the burger is still thicker than you can put in your mouth. At medium the black Angus beef is juicy and delicious.
Burgers and sandwiches are accompanied by a number of sides, some fairly standard and others certainly non-traditional. One of the latter is a Thai peanut coleslaw which is creamy and fresh, but a bit on the salty side. It’s antithetical to many of the Thai peanut based dishes which tend to be overly sweet. French fries are also available. These are of the seasoned variety with a double-fried texture and taste.
Tragically there is no bread pudding on the desserts menu. We opted for a trio of sorbets: vanilla, orange mousse and a chocolate rum ball. Frankly, “sorbet” may be a misnomer for what we had. Though it had a smooth texture like sorbet, the vanilla tasted like a very good ice cream more than a sweet sorbet. The orange mousse was unlike any sorbet we’ve had. It was, well, very moussey–frothy, light and airy. The mousse was topped with a gelatinous marmalade. The chocolate rum ball was the most unlike any sorbet we’ve had. Texturally it resembled a dense cake-fudge amalgam shaped into a ball and covered in chocolate sprinkles.
Before our visit, I read all the diner reviews on Urbanspoon and was surprised at both the passion and diversity of opinion. Studies show that diners who have an unpleasant experience at a restaurant will tell twenty people, but diners who have a good experience will tell only four. The Urbanspoon reviews on Vintage 423 seem to bear this out. We had a good experience with a mix of hits and misses. None of the misses were overly frustrating while the hits (especially the creamed corn and hickory burger) were return visit worthy.
8000 Paseo Del Norte, N.E., Suite A1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 14 April 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Rib eye Steak, Cream Corn, Hickory Burger, Ahi Tuna Roulade