Starky’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Sometimes a new restaurant makes such a tremendous first impression that you’re torn between wanting to shout from the rooftops about your new find and wanting to keep your new find to yourself so that the new gem remains your carefully guarded little secret. Wanting to ensure the restaurant has a prosperous future, you’ll naturally take the former course and tell all your friends and neighbors about your newfound treasure–all the while keeping your fingers crossed that the incursion of “less deserving patrons” doesn’t change those things that made such a great first impression on you.

Starky’s is such a restaurant. Situated on the site of the old Assets Grill restaurant (once hailed as one of the city’s very best restaurants), Starky’s is named in honor of a Portland, Oregon restaurant on Stark Street owned and operated by its proprietors for 25 years. Those proprietors, Doug and Archie (along with their friend Karl) relocated to Albuquerque where the weather is more agreeable.

The triumvirate of Doug, Archie and Karl are a big reason savvy diners have been enjoying Starky’s. Not only have they brought a cosmopolitan panache and sophisticated menu to their new restaurant, but they’ve invigorated what used to be a dreary and stuffy restaurant edifice and added fun to the dining experience. Cosmetic changes include coloring over the large window which once provided a view of the Assets Grill brewery (now called the Isotopes Brewery and not affiliated with Starky’s), banning smoking in the bar and eliminating most of the bar’s televisions which unintentionally gave the large wooden bar area a sports bar feel.

Doug and Archie did retain the original Assets chef and a few Assets’ standards including the sesame-battered calamari, albeit with an uninspiring aioli instead of the Thai sweet and sour sauce which made the calamari one of the city’s best appetizers. Also retained is Assets’ green chile stew which, while not particularly piquant, is flavorful and delicious with large chunks of tender pork. Delicious bread from Fano Bakery (an Albuquerque treasure) is brought to your table and replenished faithfully.

The dinner menu includes an upscale selection of pastas and salads, the star attraction of which is a wilted spinach salad with hot bacon dressing prepared tableside by Doug. The bacon dressing is crafted from raw bacon, brandy, brown sugar and other rich ingredients. Hard-boiled eggs can be added to the salad if you like. At $7.50 per person (minimum of two orders), this salad is reputed to be sinfully rich and absolutely delicious.

Also prepared tableside is Steak Diane, a rich steak entree which has evolved over the years and rarely graces the menu at Albuquerque dining establishments. Typically Steak Diane is made from individual beef steaks pounded flat then quickly cooked in butter, flamed with Cognac and finished with sherry, butter and chives. We didn’t sample Starky’s version, but based on what we did order, will do so at a future date.

The suggestion of ordering an entree of Pork Loin Medallions might elicit a blasé reaction or even involuntary yawning because pork medallions have been served ad nauseum (and ad infinitum). Pork medallions are typically an inexpensive entree you might order if you’re uncertain of the quality of a restaurant’s food and don’t want to blow a week’s salary on a more expensive entree you might not like. Such was the case when we ordered this “Rodney Dangerfield” (no respect) entree.

We found out pork loin medallions don’t have to be boring. At Starky’s, they’re invigorated with a rich Mascarpone Marsala cream sauce complemented by thinly sliced Granny Smith apples. The pork loins were as tender as a bird’s heart, perfectly seasoned and absolutely delicious–well worthy of the beguiling sauce. They’re served with oven-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes which we used to dredge up that wonderfully rich sauce.

An ultra-rich Raspberry Jack Daniels sauce emboldens the restaurant’s Flat Iron Steak entree without detracting from the native flavor of the perfectly grilled ten-ounce steak which is sliced into thin medallions. Unlike the cloying Jack Daniels sauce served at TGI Friday’s, a subtle flavor concentration seems to have equal parts savoriness and sweetness. This wonderful entree is served with mashed potatoes.

The lunch menu features some excellent sandwiches including a unique Monte Cristo made with bread that doesn’t resemble flaccid French toast. It is instead made with a thick egg-coated bread that made a perfect host for ham, turkey and cheese. Each sandwich comes with your choice of soup or salad. The Caesar salad is an excellent choice with a strong garlicky flavor that enlivens fresh, crisp greens.

A decadent dessert menu would tempt Job and introduced us to the element of fun Starky’s proprietors bring to the dining experience. As we were pondering the tempting offerings, Doug told us to make sure we insisted that our Oriental waiter Kwan ensure our brownie sundae included the fresh brownies made that day. The joke was lost on Kwan, but everyone else enjoyed it–but not nearly as much as we enjoyed the sundae. The brownie (alas no longer on the menu) was made with luscious cream cheese, giving it a cheesecake-like texture and making it even more wonderful.

Starky’s is the type of restaurant in which the peripatetic owners are not only approachable, they’re an essential part of the ambience. The service is absolutely impeccable while the portions are bountiful and delicious. It’s the type of restaurant that will continue to grow in popularity by word of mouth alone. You get the feeling that’s the way Doug and Archie want it.

6910 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 1 April 2006
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Pork Loin Medallions, Flat Iron Steak, Chocolate Brownie Sundae

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