Elaine’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Elaine’s on Central Avenue in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District

“They were all impressed with your Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine’s”.
~Big Shot by Billy Joel

For nearly five decades–from 1963 through 2011–“the place to be” in Manhattan’s trendy Upper East Side was Elaine’s, perhaps the city’s most celebrated and revered A-lister’s hangout. Everyone who was anyone frequented Elaine’s, an eponymous establishment in which luminaries came to see and be seen. Celebrity habitues included glitterati from stage, screen, television, literature and politics such as Woody Allen, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Mick Jagger, Jacqueline Kennedy, Jack Nicholson, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Andy Warhol and Raquel Welch. Elaine Kaufman was the peripatetic presence around whom the celebrities flocked, the geocentric personality whose gravitational pull drew them all in.

Every chic and cosmopolitan city has its own “place to be,” a vibrant cultural, retail and entertainment hub with its own distinctive sights, sounds and flavors. In Albuquerque, that cultural hub is Nob Hill, a fusion of trendy shops, eclectic galleries and swank dining options. The history of Nob Hill is interlaced with that of Route 66, the fabled “Mother Road” which once traversed the fruited plain from Chicago to Los Angeles. Remnants of Route 66 in its halcyon days festoon Nob Hill in the form of vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through Central Avenue where Route 66 once ran. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon is akin to a siren’s call, drawing visitors to the area like moths to a flame.

The interior of Elaine’s

In October, 2013, a new fine-dining restaurant patterned after chic Manhattan eateries launched in the Nob Hill district. Fittingly, the restaurant’s name is Elaine’s which translates from Greek to “ray of light,” a term which not only describes the resplendent nighttime glow of Route 66, but the lovely lady for whom the restaurant was named. That would be Elaine Blanco, long-time general manager of Scalo, a Duke City dining institution situated directly across the street.

It remains to be seen whether Elaine’s of Albuquerque ever achieves–at least at a local level–the eminence and prominence of its fabled Manhattan namesake or even whether or not it becomes “the place to be” in the Duke City. In less than two years (as of this writing), however, Elaine’s has already been recognized by one source with a worldwide presence as one of “Albuquerque’s ten best restaurants.” The Albuquerque Journal touted Elaine’s for bringing a “New York vibe to Nob Hill.” In that respect, Elaine’s actualizes the vision conceptualized by founders Elaine Blanco and restaurant impresario Steve Paternoster.

An amazing amuse bouche: sopaipillas with honey butter sprinkled with shaved prosciutto

Elaine’s is elegant yet unpretentious with an energetic vibe hinting at targeting a young professional demographic. Seating for 52 guests is in personal space proximity with banquettes hugging the walls and tables in the center adorned in white linen tablecloths and fine silverware. The cynosure of the dining room is a well appointed bar. Evocative art hangs on the walls while eclectic music plays in the background.

Initially serving only dinner, Elaine’s culinary philosophy is ambitious but simple: “We combine fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers and purveyors with the best products from around the world. We strive to bring a new approach to food and dining in Albuquerque with the latest cooking techniques and exciting flavor profiles.” The menu features rotating seasonal dishes at price points that won’t break the bank. That is unless Elaine’s is offering Osetra caviar from Russia, (as they were during the night of our inaugural visit) one of the premium caviars in the world. We were tempted, but an ounce would have set us back a princely sum.

Blue Crab & Cauliflower Soup

1 November 2013: More to the liking of my wallet is an amuse bouche of tiny sopaipillas served with a honey butter laced with shaved bits of prosciutto. The sopaipillas are served just out-of-the-fryer-hot, with wisps of fragrant steam escaping when you bite into them. They’re so addictive, we asked for another order. Don’t spare the butter even if it means a couple hours longer on the treadmill. The melding of salty prosciutto and luscious honey is sheer genius.

The “small plates” section of the menu features an array of tempting starters showcasing creatively prepared vegetables and salads as well as proteins from the land and sea. Albuquerque the Magazine bestowed its highest culinary award, a “Hot Plate” to one of those small plates–the miso ramen. The award signifies appetizers, dishes, desserts, drinks and restaurants “that we can’t live without.” The starters menu is replete with sophisticated options that speak volumes about the chef’s creativity. That chef would be Andrew Gorski, a highly credentialed sage who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America before studying under world-renowned chefs and working at some of the most celebrated restaurants in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lamb Chops

The “large” menu is a descriptor for the more costly and sizable dinner entrees. In numerical terms, it’s certainly not a large menu, listing only six entrees. The spring, 2015 menu lists a burger (brioche, foie gras, aioli, kale, onion, cheese), half chicken, pork rib chop, halibut, filet mignon and Maine Lobster. Don’t get too used to any of these entrees because the menu does rotate with the seasons. On one hand, not seeing your favorites on the menu every time you visit can be heartbreaking, but on the other, you’re sure to find new favorites.

1 November 2013: Chilled to our bones from winds that buffeted our car mercilessly on the night of our inaugural visit, we opted for a blue crab and cauliflower soup redolent with the fragrance of black truffles and curry oil. The two-step presentation of this soup enhanced our enjoyment. First our server directed our attention to a concave bowl, the bottom of which was brimming with finely chopped blue crab strewn and shaved black truffles. Then he poured the contents of a decanter of cauliflower soup atop the contents.

Potted Black Pig

Superb as the blue crab and black truffles were, it was the curry oil that elevated the soup beyond mere comfort food level to the rarefied air of greatness. The delicate blue crab was allowed to shine in a flavor profile of ingredients which could have easily taken over had they not been so well balanced. This soup was the perfect elixir for a blustery evening, imparting the type of warmth that caresses your joints without singeing your tongue.

1 November 2013: During our inaugural visit, the line-up of luscious proteins features two seafood dishes and three meat entrees. The lamb chops were almost picturesque in their presentation. Nestled in a pool of whipped Yukon mashed potatoes were a trio of lollipop lamb chops, so called because part of the bone is exposed, making them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine-dining restaurant). Each lamb chop is pert and petite, but packed with flavor and tenderness. The chops are rimmed with a slight layer of fat that adds to the flavor, melding well with a tamarind sauce.

Warmed Carrot Cake

1 November 2013: Pork, the other white meat, was well represented with a spotted black pig entrée in a miso broth served with a single ash ravioli topped with brussel leaves. The spotted black pig was deliciously decadent with a flavorful balance of unctuous fat and rich, tender meat. This was porcine perfection, as delicate and flavorful as any pork dish we’ve had. It’s easy to see why the miso broth would go on to earn a “Hot Plate” award from Albuquerque The Magazine. The ash ravioli, engorged with sweet parsnips, was worthy accompaniment. Parsnips, by the way, are a vastly underutilized root vegetable.

1 November 2013: Desserts are avant-garde in their interpretation of traditional favorites. The warmed carrot cake, for example, is hardly your mom’s carrot cake. It is, instead, a way to appreciate carrots in three ways: candied, confit and with a cream cheese spume. It’s not sliced into a traditional carrot cake slab, but plated in seeming disarray with cake on the rim of the plate as well as on the cream cheese spume. While it may not win awards for neatness and presentation, it will win over your heart and taste buds.

Elaine’s Candy Bar

1 November 2013: Named for the peripatetic restaurateur, the Elaine’s Candy Bar is a chocoholic’s dream, a rectangular slab of rich dark chocolate served with a single scoop of coconut ice cream and toasted cashews. The effect of capturing both candy bar and coconut ice cream on each spoonful is akin to partaking of the very best Mounds bar you’ve ever had.

31 May 2015: In New Mexico, there almost seems to be a template for brunch. Some diners like the comfort of knowing what to expect–huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, omelets and the like. Others, however, have been clamoring for something different, something new and exciting. That’s what Elaine’s is striving to offer with the brunch offering it inaugurated on 31 May 2015. It’s a brunch heretofore unseen in the Land of Enchantment. It’s a brunch you’re more likely to see in…well, Manhattan.


31 May 2015: There are only nine items on the menu. The first two are composed salads. The remainder are seafood items. Red and green chile don’t appear anywhere on the menu so if you’re of the ilk who has to enjoy chile with every meal, you’re out of luck. Others who have lamented the absence of high quality seafood in the landlocked Land of Enchantment will find Elaine’s brunch a welcome difference. It’s the brunch for the seafood lover in you.

31 May 2015: Many New Mexicans, especially those who frequent Mexican restaurants, have an intimate relationship with ceviche, raw seafood “cooked” in citrus juices. Often served on a tostada shell, ceviche is a terrific way to start a meal. The ceviche at Elaine’s is reminiscent of a cross between a campechana and ceviche. The former is a Mexican seafood cocktail served with Clamato and lime juices in a goblet and tinged with a hot sauce and diced vegetables. Served in a bowl, the ceviche at Elaine’s is more liquefied (Clamato or tomato juice spiked with Tabasco sauce) than ceviche served in Duke City Mexican restaurants. Swimming in that liquid pool are avocados, cucumbers, red onions, garlic and a generous complement of tiger shrimp. It’s an excellent starter.

Lobster Roll

31 May 2015: Throughout New England, there’s a contentious debate as to how to prepare a lobster roll. While no one will debate the sheer deliciousness of luscious lobster nestled in a split top roll, some New Englanders consider it sacrilegious to desecrate a lobster roll with mayo. Some purists will accept only warm clarified butter as the proper dressing for a lobster roll. At Elaine’s, the lobster is generously endowed with mayo and it is perfectly fine with us. Spilling over the sweet, tender split roll is at least half a pound of rich lobster meat, mostly from claws and knuckles. Lobster love in Albuquerque is alive, well and delicious at Elaine’s.

31 May 2015: Fittingly, the largest brunch item has been christened the “Grand Plateau,” a platter brimming with a netful of seafood: four king crab legs, six oysters on the half shell and eight tiger shrimp. Served on an ice bed isn’t my Kim’s preference for crab legs, but she was well sated when our server ferried over a ramekin of hot, clarified butter. The accompanying sauces–a combustible cocktail sauce and a remoulade–paired well with the other seafood items, but crab legs marry best with butter. The oysters and shrimp are excellent reminders that while chile is incomparable, seafood is sensational, too.

Grand Plateau

The wait staff is ambassadorial in its courtesy and nearly encyclopedic in its knowledge of the menu and wine list. Elaine’s is a relatively new addition to the Nob Hill dining scene, but it has all the memorable qualities needed to become a Duke City fixture like Route 66 and Nob Hill.

3503 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2015
1st VISIT: 1 November 2013
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Blue Crab & Cauliflower Soup, Spotted Black Pig, Lamb Chops, Warmed Carrot Cake, Elaine’s Candy Bar, Ceviche, Grand Plateau, Lobster Roll

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9 thoughts on “Elaine’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. WTH is happening in ALBQ? Went to Elaine’s website http://www.elainesnobhill.com/ to check a menu item and found this notation: “We at Elaine’s are sad to inform you that our restaurant has closed.”

    Indeed, I’am being purely selfish Folks, but if I may, please make a New Year’s Resolution to visit what you consider as your best Fine Dining Spots…and resolve to make at least one visit in the first 3 months of the new year…For me that’d be Antiquity; Scalo’s; Indigo Crow (altho am already reserved for what’s becoming an annual venue for a family Christmas Gathering); I’ll make Frenchish for the first time; been too long since enjoyed Le Troquet and Luna Mansion; Artichoke Cafe;…Please enter your own that I overlook.
    Eh! So called Fine Dining not your thing? Give a “shout out” for what gets your rocks off!!! E.g. The Foot Long (NM Red) Chile Cheese Dog con onions of The Dog House’s?!!!

  2. Just for fun, we took a ride up “former” Route 66 from Third St. to Elaine’s. OMG, what a thrill ride trying to figure which lane to drive in per fART to avoid an $80 ticket per crossing lane lines (can hardly wait for a snow to obliterare “directives”!). A new game/fad apparently is whizzing up the ‘Bus Only’ lane without getting caught. Elsewise, to those HumBuggers who claim busses will ride empty, consider parking “safely” at EXPO and taking ART to solve the parking search in Nob Hill!…albeit a piece of cake compared to other celeb cities!!! Otherwise, take Carlisle off I-40!
    Alas, it is shameful that it’s been a year to return, let alone to do a repeat of the birthdays and anniversaries of my Daughters. Sorry Gil, can’t avoid being mundane by having the Filet (an off the current menu listing) instead of the 20 oz Bison/2. Elsewise, 3 others had Hanger Steaks which they delighted in and from whose plates I purloined several tastes of yummy, ultra-skinny-string tatoes. Same goes for repeating Nutella SemiFreddo (NSF) which I first enjoyed across the street at Scalo’s with my G-Daughters. Other Daughter/SO split a “Soup” concoction featuring ingredients for Smores which, for me, comes close to the NSF…LOL
    WaitStaff are excellent as previously. Disappointment? for all of us and which our server agreed and says he pushes Chef for a return, is the amuse-bouche of mini “sopapiallas” with honey butter sprinkled with shaved prosciutto. Lest a reader goes, please make a point of asking for them, even if you’ve only heard about ’em here.
    Suggestion? Reduce time a tad for the serving of entrees.
    Bottom line? Gets my 4.5 *s for value/service/ambience.

  3. I’ve been looking forward for a week and a half to venture herein given Gil’s review and some stellar Comments of the past. Alas, the eponym took me to task a few years ago over a parking space across the street and I’ve been scared to venture in. Now that she has “left the building”, I took my daughters and their spouses to celebrate October birthdays/anniversaries…one of the latter being a 25th…besting myself…LOL
    – One must give Kudos to how this otherwise retail store space (ala the initial days of the ’50s of Nob Hill?) had been soo ‘transformed as best described by Gil…a really moderne vibe with yet a subtle warmth. Well worth trying to support Rt 66 shoppes to spite the atrocious Berry ARTwork, given there still being road construction thingies on the street affording a taste of what the single lane driving will be like!
    – WaitStaff: Oh my! a tad younger than what one might associate with fine dining of yore. Nevertheless, quite ‘Welcoming’ without that cloying ‘let me sit in your lap so we can be BFFs’ schtick. Never to old to learn: Our Gal had recently transitioned from Scalo’s where she had been an “Expediter” as one who assured which plates (and I presume contents) were picked up by the correct WaitStaff going to the designated table. (I still presume, the ultimate responsibility, which in part engenders one’s gratuity, remains that of the WaitStaff.) Exhibiting teamwork, one of the other staff, despite his own “youth” and while not wearing a Sommelier’s tastevin, quite proficiently laid out the nuanced differences between two of the Ports while offering tastings! Did I mention, Le Chef treated us with a generously fantabulous plateful of Roasted Brussel Sprouts en sauce in addition to the regular amuse-bouche of mini “sopapiallas”?
    – Entrees: Halibut, Salmon and 3 Filets Mignon con Truffle pommes macaire, fines herbs, asparagus tips, red wine confit onion, Béarnaise, veal jus. OMG, barely got a chance to see the savory presentations of the fish, but they did get Thumbs up and the same with the Filets. Mine was exquisitely tender, cooked as asked, taste- and bountiful, albeit Le Chef did graciously accept my personal bias for “their” Risotto across the street, besting the otherwise delicious ‘glorified hash browns’ as a base here. Oh, did I mention the saucing? Seriously, and meaning no disrespect, I do not think Red or Green can outdo what you are pleasured with here.
    Reluctantly, I did share a slice of Filet with my Daughter who previously shared exclamatory praise….e.g. Best Ever!…for that of Frenchish, but a few doors away. As such, it seems that within just a few steps of one another we have The Albuquerque Triangle of the Best Filets!
    – Après Entrées: I am not a Dessert person, But: Aged Balsamic Nutella Semifreddo meringue kisses, hazelnuts, butterscotch crumble…Est à mourir pour!
    – If I may, as previous extolled by others, you wont go wrong at Elaine’s; your patronage of any places along Rte 66 is greatly appreciated, but especially while ART drags on. Eh! some might say we are making Rte 66 “Retro” by having suicide islands like avant garde LA did circa the ’50s http://tinyurl.com/yag2vc8w !?)

  4. Once again Elaine’s was terrific. A great place for my wife and me to celebrate our anniversary with our son an daughter in law.
    There were four small starter plates, a cheese plate, a foie gras plate, one of smoked salmon and the fourth, roasted olives. My son, a somewhat picky eater, remarked that foie gras should be illegal, it’s that good. The roasted olives were exceptional, roasting adding a new level of olive-ness to its taste. Neither the smoked salmon or the cheese platter disappointed.
    The entrees were excellent including a top notch ramen dish devoured by my kids as I expected, my wife’s fish of the day proved once again the kitchen does fish exceptionally well and I had the scallop special reconfirming how well the chef’s can do with fish and shellfish.
    We finished with a dense chocolate cake that ended the evening on a very high note.
    Service was as always great.
    In the words of that fellow: I’ll be back.
    No not MacArthur, Schwartznegger.

  5. On the topic of “brunch,” I am reminded of what Anthony Bourdain said 15 years ago:

    “Brunch menus are an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights. How about hollandaise sauce? Not for me. Bacteria love hollandaise. And nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order. And how long has that Canadian bacon been festering in the walk-in? Remember, brunch is only served once a week – on the weekends. Cooks hate brunch. Brunch is punishment block for the B-Team cooks, or where the farm team of recent dishwashers learn their chops.”

  6. My wife and I had dinner at Elaine’s before attending a downtown concert.
    The food, service and general ambiance was top notch. Our waitperson was superb.
    I was torn between two very enticing appetizers, one being a fois gras plate and the other being a morel and polenta dish.
    Both of us opted for the morel dish after asking the server for her opinion. Her answer was fast and definitive, saying that morels, being seasonal, was the way to go. She, of course, was spot on. The dish was superb. Very tasty and very very good. Thinking about the dish a day later I thought it was lacking in one important aspect, visually. I thought the morels should not have been chopped up but left either whole or at least halved. Not because I might have thought they weren’t morels per se but the visual aspect of morels which I always describe as “little Xmas tree shaped mushrooms” was lost in the preparation. Nitpicking for sure but if that was my only complaint Elaine’s is a fine dining experience that earns several more visits and a welcome addition to Albuquerque’s ever expanding fine dining network.
    And one more thing, the fois gras plate, delivered to the table next to ours, will be my next appetizer at our next visit’ depending on my cholesterol test results.
    And Elaine is a wonderful hostess who easily connects with her guests and makes them feel right at home. Always a plus.
    BOTVOLR, save up those shekels, it is pricey but worth missing your coupon driven red chile EP ribs a few times.

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