“These things are just plain annoying.
After all the trouble you go to, you get about as much actual “food”
out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking 30 or 40 postage stamps.
Have the shrimp cocktail instead.”
– Miss Piggy
Miss Piggy, that shrill and garrulous walking side of bacon, may not appreciate the humble artichoke much, but among both health conscious and discerning diners, the artichoke has long been a healthful and delicious dining option. Considered a “super food” for its high antioxidant, fiber, potassium, phosphorous, iron, calcium and magnesium content, artichokes have long been used in the treatment of gall bladder and liver conditions because it improves liver functions and is recognized for its ability to lower blood pressure. It’s also been known, in some cases, to help with migranes and to give skin a healthy glow.
In 16th Century Europe, eating an artichoke was considered scandalous behavior for women because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac (along with the humble tomato) and was reserved exclusively for men (especially aristocrats like Henry, VIII). Catherine de Medici, bride of King Henry, II of France, denounced that social more, introducing the artichoke along with traditional Italian foods and cooking to the French kitchen. Catherine was passionate about artichokes, consuming them in large quantities. Henceforth the French elevated the artichoke to the stature of a gourmet ingredient. It was treated as such when introduced to the American colonies.
It’s only fitting that one of Albuquerque’s most highly regarded fine-dining gourmet treasures pay tribute to the artichoke by festooning its name on the marquee. When the Artichoke Cafe opened in 1989, the artichoke was hardly ubiquitous on Duke City restaurant menus, many of whom seemed to believe vegetables stopped and ended with green chile. In its two and a half decades plus of serving the city, the Artichoke Cafe has helped pioneer culinary trends diners now take for granted. That includes concepts such as seasonal menus, sustainable foods, a wine bar and…a mission statement.
Mission statements are commonplace in the military and in the corporate world, but not necessarily among restaurants. They should be! The Artichoke Cafe’s mission statement is inspired, especially the part which reads, “The guest is always is always right and we will accommodate every guest’s dietary needs to the best of our ability. We strive to make our guest’s dining experience a delicious and memorable one at the Artichoke Cafe. We encourage every employee working at the Artichoke Cafe to make this vision a reality. On any given day we are only as good as our best effort. Therefore, every employee is an important link in the chain of our mission statement and is valued as such.”
From the onset, the Artichoke Cafe has been a trend-setter, launching in the East Downtown (EDO) district long before it was the burgeoning residential and business district regarded by real estate experts as one of the “top five up-and-coming areas in the nation.” In 1989, the district was actually considered failing. You can’t underestimate the impact the Artichoke Cafe has had on the area nor that it has rightfully earned the sobriquet “heart of EDO.” In fact, there’s no disputing the veracity of any of the other slogans the Cafe has used: “the saucy little bistro at the heart of creative cuisine” and “where artisan cocktails meet creative cuisine” among them.
The 5000-square foot, 120-seat establishment is the brainchild of proprietors Pat and Terry Keene. Pat serves as the restaurant’s executive chef, a vocation for which she was formally trained in New York City while Terry has more than 30 years experience in restaurant management. While that marital pairing was certainly made in heaven, the restaurant is reputed to serve heavenly pairings of fine wine and exquisite cuisine. As a non-imbiber of adult beverages, I can’t speak for the wine, but The Wine Spectator certainly can, perennially listing it in its annual dining guide.
The Cafe’s walls are adorned with art whose beauty pales in comparison to the the truly artistic cuisine, whose artists are merely stick figure novices in comparison to the classically trained masters who create in the kitchen. From the complimentary bread basket to desserts, this restaurant exudes four star first class with a culinary repertoire which melds the finest in creative American, Italian and French cuisines. Be aware, however, that it’s easy to fall in love with an entree that may not be available because of a seasonal menu rotation.
The love starts early as in when the basket of fresh bread is delivered to your table along with a delicious herbed butter. The basket typically includes a triumvirate of breads including a very good French bread. It’s an excellent bread for sopping up the restaurant’s inspired soups, among them memory-triggering Potato-Leek soup. The Artichoke’s rendition transported us back to The Mermaid Inn in picturesque Burford, England where we luxuriated in its warmth and depth of flavor. It’s a high compliment to the Artichoke’s version that it can even be mentioned in the same sentence as the wondrous elixir served at the Mermaid Inn.
28 December 2011: Also quite inspired is the French Onion Soup gratinee with imported Gruyere. It’s easily among the very best French Onion Soups in Albuquerque, so good even French-hating xenophobes would appreciate a steamy bowl of aromatic beef broth in which sweet onions and pungent cheese swim merrily with spongy, soft crostinis. Considered a “peasant food” by virtue of its humble, economically borne origin, French onion soup has risen to the level of much coveted, highly sought after gourmet favorites.
26 December 2016: Don’t be surprised if lunch entrees at the Artichoke are exceedingly better than more expensive dinner entrees at other fine dining establishments. Such is the case, in part because the lunch menu includes sliced steak. As described on the menu (flat iron steak, angel hair pasta salad, basil, asparagus, red pepper, Parmesan, Balsamic reduction), you’re not quite sure what exactly will be delivered to your table, but you can rest assured it’ll be outstanding. Flat iron steaks are a value-priced cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak. The Artichoke Cafe exploits these qualities to their utmost, serving a fork-tender steak that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy at about medium-rare which means plenty of delicious pink. The Balsamic-blessed asparagus spears shine!
26 December 2016: The lunch menu during our December, 2016 visit listed both a crepe of the day and a chef’s daily preparation of shepherd’s pie. Although chicken was the listed filling for the crepe, the accommodating kitchen staff agreed to substitute salmon for a small up-charge. Well cognizant that the Artichoke Cafe prepares salmon better than just about any restaurant in Albuquerque, it was a substitution this persnickety diner relished. Picture if you will a thin crepe nearly bursting at its seams with sweet, earthy broccolini and tender, flaky salmon all covered with an absolutely addictive Marsala-goat cheese sauce served with a side salad and vegetables. Broccoli haters might enjoy its more palatable cousin broccolini whose flavor is more mild and less bitter. It’s an excellent complement to salmon and absolutely shone under the resplendent Marsala-goat cheese sauce which is so good you’ll want to mainline it.
26 December 2016: Author Anna Lappe rhapsodized “the joy of eating seasonally is the joy of fresh produce and fresh foods.” That’s what you find on the Artichoke Cafe’s greens menu–an array of seven artfully composed and inspiring salads so inviting you might eschew the restaurant’s magnificent appetizers. Available year-round is the best Salad Nicoise in New Mexico as well as the restaurant’s most popular salad, the extraordinary Pear and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad. This is a salad comprised of complementary flavor and textural elements for which all great salads should strive: fresh, crispy greens; a pungent, fetid blue cheese; sweet-juicy pears; tangy-sweet cranberries and savory umami-laden Tamari pecans all drizzled with a honey-champagne vinaigrette that pulls everything together. This is one of my favorite salads anywhere!
At the Artichoke, we’ve also discovered one of the very best Italian entrees we’ve had in the Duke City, an inspired lunch entree of Italian sausage and roasted hot peppers, a concordant marriage of sweet, savory and piquant flavors that had us salivating with every delicious morsel. The Italian sausage is of Chicago or Philadelphia caliber with the perfect amount of fennel. Italian sausage and roasted hot peppers are a quintessential Italian dish, especially popular throughout the East Coast where they’re often stuffed into sandwiches.
For dinner, perhaps no restaurant in New Mexico serves a lamb quite as luscious as the Artichoke Cafe. The oven roasted New Mexico rack of lamb, as succulent as you’ll find anywhere in the state, is not to be missed. It is tender and mouth-watering without the prevalent gamy smell of lamb served in restaurants not of the Artichoke’s caliber. The only fault you can ever find with outstanding lamb is that you’re always left wanting more. That’s the case with this luscious lamb.
28 December 2011: One of the hallmarks of the Artichoke Cafe is its commitment to sustainable seafood. Past menus have featured a “chef’s daily creation” in which only sustainable king salmon and seafood are used. You’ll want to pay rapt attention to your server’s description of this daily seafood bounty though doing so may dissuade you from ordering what you thought you had wanted. One daily special we happened upon during a December, 2011 visit showcased sustainable king salmon atop a bed of ginger and scallion sticky rice and topped with pickled onions and a chopped Serrano chile relish served with snap peas and carrots.
This is an entree with one surprise after the other. The salmon has a near “just caught” freshness that seems enlivened by the mouth-watering combination of pickled onions and a chopped Serrano chile relish. The combination of tanginess and piquancy is a winner, far better than disguising the native flavors of the salmon with some syrupy sweet sauce as other restaurants are apt to do. The ginger and scallion sticky rice had me longing for ripe Thai mangoes.
28 December 2011: The Serrano chile relish so captivated me that I asked for it to be added to my dessert choice of mocha semi-freddo. To our server’s credit, he didn’t call for a straight jacket or attempt to dissuade me from potentially ruining what is an excellent dessert. Alas, instead of the Serrano chile relish served with the salmon, chopped Serrano chiles were delivered in a plate. It didn’t matter. I garnished the dessert with the chiles and enjoyed my fiendish concoction thoroughly.
The Artichoke Cafe is one of the Duke City’s premier dining destinations, a fact not lost among the city’s movers and shakers who make it their destination of choice for “power” lunches and dinners. Whether or not you consider yourself a “player” in the arena of business, politics or any other enterprise, you’ll feel right at home at the Artichoke Cafe, truly one of the city’s very best restaurants of any genre.
The Artichoke Cafe
424 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 8
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Italian Hot Peppers, New Mexico Rack of Lamb, Pear and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad,
8 thoughts on “The Artichoke Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
My husband and I used to be the regulars, but their food quality seems to change drastically. It is overpriced, and the portion is so much smaller that we hardly get full, without a basket of tons of carbo.
OMG…While have been to the “back” Gathering Room for reunions of former coworkers with fine food and service, can’t believe 5 yrs have slipped by since noted above. A matter of ‘Out of sight; out of mind perhaps’? E.g. Used to go once in a while for a Pop-n-Taco-on-Bun across the street being a reminder, but it is, sadly, no more.
Today, went On-the-Cheap for Lunch! They’d graciously offered a 20 bucks-for-10 deal that I couldn’t refuse. Always love the option of seatings by the window for its Parisienne, sidewalk cafe effect while sheltered from the elements or the neatly appointed, bi-level main dining room, albeit I chose the bar which I’d never seen/been in before…small/subdued: I’m thinking nice for a tryst, except ya might be espied as there are restrooms at one end. As such, would be nice for a Date Night especially if the weather doesn’t permit or you aren’t ready to take it up to that next romantique level by making it up onto the Apocothery Lounge of the Hotel Parq Central http://tinyurl.com/o25ebfq before dinner.
– Chose their French Onion served in a traditional handled bowl http://tinyurl.com/qja5szn which, except for mine being a variegated blue glaze, I enjoyed hanging on my kitchen wall for awhile as avant garde “art”. Reminds me that my late Vieja’s FOS was even better than my ‘standard’ of Chez Bob’s for a bit of ‘thickness’. In any event, Artichoke’s was plentiful and delicious including the just right “elasticity” of the cheese!
– Had the crab cakes which make for a LyteLunch. Nice accompaniment of greens including the pickled red onions. Indeed, a Classic Landmark for fine dining with a watched over parking lot right across from it.
My father used to say if you have a “boss” you will eventually think of her or him as a jerk. I say if you frequent a restaurant enough you will hit a culinary speed bump that causes disappointment.
So it was with the Artichoke Cafe this past Thursday evening. My wife and I upon arriving home from California took my son and his newly appointed fiancee to dinner there to celebrate the engagement. Place was jammed at 7:30 but empty by the time we left. The late hour, relatively speaking, might have contributed to the hit and miss dinner but the misses were glaring considering the usual standards of the restaurant.
My Tomato bisque reminded me in taste and texture of Campbell’s tomato soup. Campbell’s with a few garnishes but canned soup none the less. And I must admit to really liking Campbell’s, great for home use when one has a craving for tomato soup. Then I had the ravioli entree which took al dente and went all in until tapping the pasta with my utensils made the sound that a good NY bagel crust makes, kind of a thump. Unedible by all standards from texture to taste to very bad saucing.
My son had the steak frites which unfortunately should have been called gristle frites being more than 1/3 that ingredient.
My dogs enjoyed it though.
The calamari was way too “corn meal encrusted” to my taste, preferring to have the calamari being the star of the dish.
To their credit they used rings and tentacles not the usual strips.
My wife’s artichoke was so watery she had to continually squeeze the moisture out of the leaves to eat them.
My future daughter-in-law did enjoy a duck confit entree.
It may have been the late hour or just an off day but it was disappointing. I have had some excellent experiences at Artichoke but this didn’t qualify as one such.
Oopsy….Artichoke Cafe Menu website is http://www.artichokecafe.com/menu
Taking an X of “a 100 years ago” out to celebrate one of those Big O birthdays, reminded me I ‘need to get out more’ to places that stand the ‘test of time’ in ABQ like THE Artichoke Cafe.
M’Lady gave 2 Thumbs Up to the presentation and gustatory delight of her Scallops as did I to the (and I hope some of Y’all don’t have a cow!!) the Veal Piccata along with the French Onion soup which didn’t embarrass me with a never ending string of cheese dangling off my spoon!!! Eh…neither can Y’all go wrong with The Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte. Prices (coffee for only 2 bucks???) are “money clip” friendly for a setting with this level of ambiance and height of service Y’all receive not only from the wait staff (e.g. our busy, but attentive one, was Denise), but the hostess and bussing staff. (Not only did the “not-my-wait-staff-gal” passing by remind me of TWO routes I could take to the Men’s room, but I had the slightest impression I might have to fend her off from taking me by the hand to it!!!)
On the UP/DOWN side – Yesterday was a freekin freezin Wednesday night and the place was jammed by 6:30 to 7!!!…i.e. don’t discount making reservations. Whoa!!!! 3/4 of the place were relatively young scampers!! Hopefully, that is a rousing sign the Economy is on an upswing. Or is it a sign we have failed to instill value/foresight in our young offspring and Younguns have no regard for their future retirement which will require a whole new “welfare’ state be created down the road given the current threats to Social Security and the decimation that has occured regarding “private” retirement plans!! (As an epitaph, I’m considering “Thank Gawd I’m outa here…Good Luck, Y’hear!”)
On the only Down side: do not go off the beaten path and request a Mai Tai !
Oooo Oooo!!!! Momentarily gazing out the window reminded me that….speaking of standing the test of time!!!! its been a few months since I’ve run by the Pop n Taco, kitty korner across Central….to catch a ‘Beef Taco on a Bun’ that’s over 40 years old!!!
This place is amazing. I had the lamb salad and the lamb was cooked to perfection. The service was stellar. This place is a “Must eat”.