“Italy is an illusion, indeed, a mirage, the stuff of wishes.”
In the 1996 motion picture Big Night, two Italian restaurants across the street from one another operate in diametric opposition to one another both philosophically and in practice. One is enormously successful because it gives customers what they want and expect (even though savvy diners would consider the culinary fare mediocre and uninspired). In the other restaurant, the chef is a perfectionist who will labor all day to create a perfect dish and becomes exasperated when diners don’t recognize the authentic culinary art he creates, preferring “Americanized” Italian food instead.
You might think the American dining public would prefer the latter and reject the former. Our inaugural visit to Piatanzi seems to indicate the opposite may be true in Albuquerque. Our route to Piatanzi took us past an Olive Garden where throngs of patrons lined up to get their fill of mediocre Americanized Italian food. When we arrived at Piatanzi, we practically had our choice of seating. The cavernous restaurant was nearly empty on a Saturday at noon. We could only hope this was an anomaly because diners should be beating down the doors to dine at any restaurant owned and operated by Chef-Owner Peter Lukes.
Chef Lukes and his wife Maggie launched Piatanzi in May, 2014 after a 16-year-stint at Terra Bistro, one of the Duke City area’s very best Italian restaurants, despite violating the three most important tenets of successful restaurants: location, location, location. Situated in the North Valley on heavily trafficked (mostly commuters trying to get to and from the west-side) Alameda, Terra was the very definition of a destination restaurant, one with a strong enough appeal to draw customers from beyond the city’s burgeoning Northwest side.
Piatanzi is much more centrally located than was Terra, although Girard is somewhat less trafficked than Alameda. Located just a few blocks north of the University of New Mexico, Piatanzi occupies the space long held by the Grocery Emporium in a neighborhood that’s more residential than it is retail. No vestiges of the grocery store remain. Piatanzi is a beautiful space courtesy of Maggie Lukes, an über-talented interior designer with a flair for creating spaces which are both comfortably cozy and upscale. A second instantiation was launched in 2015 in a 6,000-square-foot venue that used to house R & S Yamaha motorcycle dealership. The transformation is spectacular!
As much as we’ll miss Terra (and selfishly, our proximity to it), in time the lure of innovative and well-executed Italian cuisine will make Piatanzi a favorite. Where Terra was more formal and upscale, Piatanzi is just a bit more casual and relaxed. While Terra featured a more conventional antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, dolci format, Piatanzi ‘s focus is on small plates similar to Spanish tapas or Chinese dim sum. Many of the familiar favorites from Terra are still available though scaled down to fit the format.
The dinner menu at Piatanzi is segmented somewhat differently than at Terra, at least in terminology. Starters or appetizers are called “Boccone” which translates to “morsels.” Next on the menu is the “Giardino” or “Garden” section which lists the restaurant’s salads. The “Fattoria or “Farm” section lists small plates of meats and cheeses while the “Mare” section lists seafood items. The “Farina e Acqua which translates to “Flour & Water” is a compilation of pasta dishes. Then there’s the “Pietra” or “Stone” which lists Piattini’s pizza selections. The “Contorni” section lists sides.
The Pièce de résistance is the “Grandi Piatti” or “Large Plates” section of the menu. This section features several items with which we were familiar from having dined at Terra. On his outstanding blog Larry’s Albuquerque Food Musings, my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, was especially effusive about the dinner menu which, unfortunately, is not available during the lunch hour. Serendipitously, we did visit on the day Piattini introduced its new weekend brunch menu so even though we missed out on the fabulous dinner menu, there were many terrific options available. Note: Brunch is no longer served on weekends, but you can sleep in and visit for dinner.
Alas not available at Piattini is the warm, fresh, house-made bread right out of the oven which was a staple at Terra. It’s entirely unfair to consider bread from Albuquerque’s artisan Fano Bread bakery a consolation prize since it’s excellent bread, but the bread at Terra was peerless in the Duke City. Still, Fano bread encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread. When dipped into mixture of virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar the character of the bread really stands out. If you’re not careful, however, you can easily fill up on bread.
27 September 2014: Time was the only restaurants in which you could find ceviche were either Peruvian or Mexican. Today ceviche can be found in Japanese restaurants as well as avant-garde Italian eateries such as Piatanzi . Each restaurant puts its own spin on a dish which is essentially seafood catalyzed in citrus juices. At Piattini, the Ceviche Italiano ( scallop, shrimp, tuna, tomato, cucumber, lime, parsley, basil) would never be mistaken for the ceviche at a Mexican restaurant where the citrus flavors can be a bit overwhelming. The emphasis at Piattini is on the freshness and natural flavor of the seafood and the way it plays against a lesser citrus influence. The invigorating Italian basil and its peppermint-anise notes is a terrific twist.
27 September 2014: Many adults grow up to rue the wasted years in which foods such as spinach, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus were feared and hated. Fussy eaters as children sometimes become adventurous diners who grow up to love those foods they once avoided like a plague. Asparagus is usually near the top of public enemy number one lists. If asparagus was prepared everywhere as it is at Piatanzi, even persnickety diners would enjoy it. The Asparagi (grilled asparagus, prosciutto di parma, balsamic vinaigrette, Gorgonzola cheese) is an amalgam of ingredients and flavors that complement one another very well though the grilled asparagus is excellent in its own right.
29 July 2016: A cynical quote posits “who needs friends when you have pizza?” During a Friends of Gil (FOG) dinner hosted by Piatanzi, several FOG members, including my Kim, ordered the pizza. Perhaps the aforementioned quote should be reworded “When you have pizza, you have friends” (or vice-versa). Our long-time friend Jim March (Albuquerque’s bartender nonpareil, now plying his craft at Piatanizi) recommended the Salsiccia, knowing Kim is originally from Chicago where the sausage is sourced. The Salsiccia (fennel sausage, roasted peppers, tomato sauce, blended cheeses) is a magnificent pie and the fennel sausage lives up to its name. The fennel imparts an aromatic, mild licorice flavor that marries wonderfully with the pork-based sausage. With a balance of crispiness and pliability, the crust is a terrific canvas for the bubbling cheese blend, roasted peppers and sausage. This pizza belongs on the pantheon of great pizzas along with the Funghi & Tartufo which you’ll read about next.
19 January 2016: There are some ingredients on pizza that, at least for some of us, are solely “supporting cast.” For example, the “more is better” crowd wouldn’t conceive of constructing a pizza whose sole topping is black olives, red onions, green peppers or mushrooms. No, these are complementary ingredients, toppings which go well with pepperoni, sausage, bacon and the like. When my friends Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and Dazzling Deanell raved about a “mushroom” pizza, my first inclination was to dismiss it as “boring!” Larry went so far as to declare it the best pizza he’s ever had while Deanell confessed to having dreamed about it. It was a pizza I held off trying until I could share it with Larry and Deanell who’ve never steered me wrong. If anything, they may have undersold it.
Piatanzi’s Funghi & Tartufo, a mushroom pizza is a masterpiece—constructed with a lavish field of criminis from each tapered slice’s triangular endpoint to the cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza. A sprinkling of Gruyere, strategically placed scallions and a liberal dousing of truffle oil on a crust that’s crispy or soft where it should be allowed the criminis to shine, imparting their earthy flavor profile in every bite. Truffle oil, the one ingredient surly cur Gordon Ramsey contends no self-respecting chef should have in his or her pantry, imparts an earthy, pungent aroma that complements the criminis very well. Ramsey should try this pizza. This probably isn’t a pizza everyone will enjoy, but if you’re a fan of the fetid, fleshy fungi, you’ll fall for this one.
29 July 2016: There are several items available for dinner that you won’t find on the lunch menu. Since Piatanzi’s launch, Larry has raved to me about several of them, none more effusively than the Pescatore, an entree he ordered the first two times he visited the restaurant. Pescatarians and landlubbers alike will love this dish which just may transport you back to San Francisco where similar dishes abound. Swimming in a delightfully assertive marinara and Pinot Grigio broth enlivened with chile flake are clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops and some of the best potato gnocchi we’ve ever enjoyed. The next time someone laments that you can’t find great seafood in Albuquerque, mention this dish. Words can’t do it justice.
19 January 2016: While not quite as effusively as they raved about the mushroom pizza, Larry and Deanell waxed poetic about the deliciousness of Piatanzi’s calamari. A plateful of calamari ringlets delicately dusted with a rice flour and lightly fried is the antithesis of the fried rubber band (typically denoting overcooking) calamari some restaurants serve. Each ringlet is textbook perfect, described by Larry as “almost butter soft and tender.” Though you can have the calamari with marinara, it’s best with the restaurant’s lemon aioli which lends the qualities of acidity and richness to some of the best calamari you’ll find in the Land of Enchantment.
29 July 2016: Another of the aforementioned foods of my wasted youth are beets which novelist Tom Robbins described as “the most intense of vegetables.” As a child, beets ranked with spinach and verdolagas (purslane) as vegetables to be feared and loathed. Beets were so awful not even our omnivorous scrounging dogs would eat them. In my estimation as an adult, beets can’t be beat. They’re among my favorite vegetables. Only at the phenomenal Blade’s Bistro in Placitas have we had beets as good as the Barabietola (beets, tomato, pickled fennel and red onion, goat cheese, walnuts) at Piatanzi. Your taste buds will do a happy dance over the melange of flavors while your sense of esthetics will appreciate the sheer beauty of this dish…and if you’ve never had yellow beets, you’re in for a treat. Paired with goat cheese, they’re spectacular.
Several years ago, a case could easily be made that great Italian restaurants in the metropolitan area were far and few in between. Restaurants such as Piatanzi have certainly changed that perspective. Piatanzi ranks with the best!
1403 Girard, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2016
1st VISIT: 27 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Asparagi, Fano Bread, Barabietola, Pescatore, Funghi & Tartufo, Salsiccia
18 thoughts on “Piatanzi – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
The folks over at the Piatanzi Girard location have confirmed what I already knew that the Juan Tabo location aka Piatina is gone, a victim of mengerial chaos caused by nobody being in charge. I lived the food but (to use a common term) the service sucked and nobody tried to do anything about it.
Per noting the change on Juan Tabo recently, got me hankering for the Carpaccio on Girard. Met up Tues circa 6:30 and the place was 90-95% occupied. Thank goodness my Daughter had set a reservation to meet with her Viejo and me.
Despite such a nice to see/mid-week occupancy (which to my mind’s eye of profiling, were probably a lot of neighboring UNM…faculty….types), service was timely/attentive/but not intrusive.
Alas, my Benefactors ordered some Fried Brussel Sprouts. While they scarfed up the whole bowl full, I lamented the (first) ones I had at the place that took over the Quarters on 528. If they never got anything right…well it didn’t last…., they done did those with excellence!!!
My Daughter had the Carbonara which she gave Thumbs up for its richness while I thought its chunks of Prosciutto were quite noticeable. My Son-i-L did the same RE his Vedure of Eggplant etc. which, like the Carbonara, could have easily fed two.
Me? I chose meeting here as once again for the Carpaccio as I’d been remiss in getting back for some. While I typically only go Medium with e.g. a Filet, let alone a Big Mac, LOL, I’ve never been “effected” by Piatanzi’s bare naked servings…Delicioso! IMHO. Alas, I’m thinking today’s version was a tad more lemony, but supreme nevertheless. Once tried Scalo’s and while fine, Piatanzi’s is my Standard.
Bottom line: Piatanzi offers a varied menu http://tinyurl.com/yxt726ba with the majority of tasty offerings being budget conscious in a relaxing setting; yo, more upscale offerings are also available, as well as wine/beer.
– As an aside: while coming and going on Girard, I couldn’t but help notice that Padilla’s http://tinyurl.com/yxqf3g32 just to the North, had a full parking lot as well.
The owner of Piatanzi restaurants is changing its Juan Tabo venue to Pentola offering French, Moroccan, Greek, and Spanish cuisine with some Italian left over, like pizza, from the former menu. Early February is tarketed for the change, while the Girard place stays the same.
Uh Oh…just saw….and makes me wonder if Gil, let alone others herein, will ever visit as apparently Chef Lukes will challenge their palates per The C word(s)!:
“Chef Pete Lukes has been harboring a secret he’s finally letting us crow about. The owner of Piatanzi is kicking off a new restaurant, Pentola at 3305 Juan Tabo Blvd. NE, which is the current location of his second Piatanzi restaurant. The menu will be a celebration of both sides of the Mediterranean, with dishes from France, Spain, Italy and Morocco. While several of Chef’s most popular dishes from Piatanzi will remain, he’ll also introduce new plates, from paella risotto to a highly anticipated lamb ragout with cardamom, coriander and cumin. I’m personally anticipating a possible new lunch favorite, the duck confit sandwich with onion marmalade apple fries and brie. For all of you event planners, there’s a 40-person private room for your special event, and all of this is slated to kick off early in 2019. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/y47rbx2e )
Since Gil & Larry both praised the mushroom pizza so highly we dashed by tonight and split the outstanding Beet Salad and the aforementioned pizza. I won’t say that it was the best pizza I ever tasted but it was certainly in the top two along with the Bacon, Salame, Fennel Sausage, Guanciale, Tomato and Mozzarella pizza of death that I was forbidden to finish at Pizzeria Mozza (possibly I am being influenced by the memory of forbidden fruit). In any case, even the Child Bride loved it and we had previously experienced many truly awful mushroom pizzas.
We were driving down Juan Tabo a couple of nights ago and could see heads eating in the new location, 3305 Juan Tabo NE. I am sure that it is open. We have enjoyed everything EXCEPT the pizza.
Aargh Geez…Come On! While I’m still hesitant re “raw” sushi, still no takers for the Carpaccio ala Piatanzi’s…let alone other entrees? Probably have had my first half dozen enjoyments without untoward effects!!! Despite it only being a Thursday night, it was still 1/2 – 3/4 full with Folks, many of whom appeared to be regulars.
– Tip o the Day: I found I could buy a mixture of seasonings Zio’s uses for their bread dip. Thus, I bring a stash along to just get EVO sans Balsamic to enjoy Piatanzi delicious bread and plan to do the same at Scalo’s! Later this month, I’m gonna check if I can get some of Indigo Crow’s more spicy version, when I gather my families for a fireside Christmas/Holiday repast in this Southwest setting http://tinyurl.com/gqabvv8. Salud!
Saturday, met up with my Senior High, Teen G-daughter to ‘casually/offhandedly’ chit-chat, amongst other things, about her post graduate aspirations/plans. (Whoa! Per her beauty, felt a bit awkward per stares…Geesh people, I still can hold my own…LOL) Anyway, I recommend reservation for after 6/6:30 as Folks have apparently become tuned in to the offerings and ambiance of Piatanzi!!!
– Surreptitiously, i.e. I’d box any of your ears if you tried to do the same by ordering the intestine of a slug if we dined, I introduced her to Carpaccio which I fell upon just a couple of months ago!!! Whoa…she gave it a Thumbs Up while we accompanied it with “plain” fettucini as she wished to avoid the prosciutto/peas (LOL) option.
Ooops, tried the Chocolate Cannoli. IMHO, stay with the traditional.
Bottom Line? Can’t someone else check this place and offerings out? If nothing else, ya can’t beat the prices!
Despite my hesitancy for the rarest of rare beef offerings and given the proximity of Italy to Greece….Aha!!! a haunting Siren called me back for Piatanzi’s Carpaccio! Thus, for Reliability, consistency continues re ambiance which includes the hospitality of staff as well as the tastiness of this dish. (In terms of Full Disclosure: perhaps I may have a bias because the first classical piece that really caught my ear as a teen was Capriccio Italien…talk about dyslexia, my nonconforming bent also came out per preferring the flip side of what is the more “popular” side of the album: http://tinyurl.com/ptyt6bs I still have that very album and it had to be the Minneapolis Symphony (of the US) as I had the op to hear, in person, the lackluster performance by Igor’s Moscow State Symphony (circa ’61). Caveat: do not listen to while driving and for all you wannabe Lotharios out there, see if you can use its yin and yang themas (much like as found in the Carpaccio) and make it all the way to the end!
– FYI: the opening of the JT at Candelaria site targets a month and a half or so and it will have a “meeting space” as well.
– As an aside: Is there a tag for the “Italian” dipping offering for bread? And, what/where are Folks’ preference: EVO; EVO & Balsamic; EVO and spices; Other? Setting aside consideration of taste (let alone…OMG… 7700 mg of Sodium for Grilled Salmon and 10700 for Grilled Sirloin!) I’ve enjoyed Zio’s spiced EVO (even tho I don’t know its sodium) as well as Indigo Crow’s spiced EVO.
Aha…no one updated the uninitiated and like Child Bride, I muffled a gasp upon seeing the raw beef slices, altho exquisitely, ultra-thinly sliced and set on a platter, for Carpaccio as it is not offered at Olive Garden, albeit I haven’t been in years. Alas, beef tenderloin was not so defined on the menu. Maybe I should’ve taken a cue from my hospitable waiter (who reserves being titled a waitress for lunchtime), not asking me how I wanted it cooked. So now what do I do as I’m usually a “medium” eater? To add to my quandry, visions of a former F-i-L sprang to mind when dating his daughter. He loved ordering Steak Tartare when treating us to fine dining, e.g. Scandia on Sunset Strip….LOL, like it was de rigueur back in the day….a lump of raw hamburger fashioned in the shape of a horno with a place hollowed out of the top….like the punt of a wine bottle…into which a raw egg had been plopped. So, girding my loins, I looked upon it as a rare slice from a roast beef sandwich and took a bite. Aah Geez….tell Child Bride that combined with the EVO and Parmigiano(?) shavings and capers it sits in: it is divine! The arugula adds a nice splash of flavor and there are several ‘large’ capers to munch as well. Personally, the crouton disc that decoratively hides a cut of lemon didn’t do much for me, but that’s really neither here nor there.
IMHO…Un piatto molto gustoso! in this subtly trendy, neo-Italian setting! As the 2nd locale will be larger, perhaps it might afford a space for a FOG once refashioned. In terms of this location being out of the way: e.g. from I-40 go unfettered a long block south on Carlisle, turn west on Indian School for a couple of blocks to go south on Girard. I can’t but see it catering to med center and med school staff as well as faculty of the law school, let alone main campus. While granted Terra was on very heavily travelled 528, it was mostly the same cars day after day (lacking annual vehicle emission inspections) headed up the hill to pick up a pizza to-go in Rio Rancho.
Are the owners moving closing the Girard location or branching out into the NM Heights? I noticed signage on a former motorcycle shop just north of O’Niell’s on Juan Tabo. The building is obviously being remodeled. Just wondering?
Roland, you are eagle eyed. I drive by there 2-3 times every day and the only thing I had noticed, several years ago, was that I had lost my opportunity to buy a Yamaha in the neighborhood. The sign doesn’t just say “Piattini” but it is in our local Piattini’s logo thus not an out of towner enforcing their trademark. I don’t know the answer to your question but the Girard location is not a great one. I am not certain however that this location would be a lot better.
Roland, I should have searched before commenting. It will be a 2nd location. Read the article:
I hear what you’re saying as oft times things can get ridiculous…Who doesn’t remember the kerfuffle between Jordache Jeans and a couple of everyday gals trying to expand the choices for certain other woman by manufactuaring Lardashe Jeans: http://tinyurl.com/kgn4jco.
Be that as it may: Oooeee….probably sticking my neck in a guillotine…LOL Just a couple of months ago, the Folks at Dee’s CheeseCake Factory (DCCF) decided to retire their restaurant on Menaul across from American Furniture after 41 years!!! Years ago…and nobody please get your shortehz all in a wad… but I queried THE CheeseCake Factory (CCF) (lest ya don’t know, the one with now 200 Locales in 40(?) states; a 10(?) page menu and a logo noting
‘More than 250 menu items made from scratch daily” and 40 legendary cheesecakes and desserts) about coming here, and was told that trademark restrictions prevented them from registering the name in New Mexico. When you apply for a business license in NM, you can’t open a place with a similar name, e.g. Mary & Tito’s, so The Public won’t possibly be wasting money on offerings of perhaps lesser quality, as well as leeching income away from M&T’s!) DCCF now relinquished their trademark to CCF http://tinyurl.com/lg6urxz (I’m not sure, but if Dee’s had not taken the extra step to “trademark” their name with the US Gov, they may have had a harder time.
If I may, before some flame me, please check out an historical, Mom n Pop perspective http://tinyurl.com/n4d8gd9 Isn’t that/this The American Dream?
I don’t know about the Cheesecake Factory because I have never been in one and never will (Primarily because I have asked several if Penny was in today and she never was). Something is wrong with what you said though as Panda had been established in NM for several years and no Panda Express was in sight. In the others that I mentioned the places trademarking the name are far away and will never be here.
I also remember many years ago Ralph Lauren Sued Polo Magazine which had existed for over 100-years because he was afraid people would confuse a magazine about Polo with his shirts. I still make my wife return it when she buys me anything with Ralph Lauren’s name on it but I do not hesitate to buy Knock off Polo shirts when I see them in China or Thailand. Lauren had much more expensive lawyers than the dinky little magazine & won.
In the 90’s McDonald’s ordered Lord McDonald to change the name of his Fine Dining Restaurant in his Scottish castle. I remember him saying that if they were afraid people would confuse his restaurant with a greasy hamburger shack they were welcome to explain to a Scottish Jury why he could not use the name McDonald’s in Scotland. I don’t know how that one came out.
This mornings Journal said that Bistro Piattini was forced to change its name because on the east coast is using the name Piattini. Looking up on Google I can find the name being used in Boston, Brooklyn and Florida, all raging competition here in Albuquerque thus very confusing to we customers. Whichever was the “original” will have to sue several people.
This seems to be the fashion now. Haru Sushi Just had to change its name to Naka because someone in NYC had the name. I find several by that name around the US. Haru Sushi in LA (named after the owners wife) was hit by the same Lawyers and became “Sushi By H.” Many people assume an ownership change under these conditions and business goes to hell. I remember about 15-years ago Panda, one of the few “Chinese” restaurants I actually liked was sued by Panda Express years before thy came to town and changed to a very forgettable name.Closure came soon, the building now houses a funeral business.
If this goes on I wonder how many names are even available for restaurants. I know there are many unrelated Pho 79’s across the country.
We went by last night and I believe our experience was much better than yours. We slit up three orders, Aspargi: grilled asparagus, prosciutto di parma,balsamic vinaigrette, gorgonzola cheese; Barbabietola: beets, pickled fennel & red onion,goat cheese, walnuts; Carpaccio: beef tenderloin, capers berries, olive oil, cheese crouton, arugula; & Gamberoni: grilled shrimp, spicy diavolo sauce. I can’t come up with a single complaint about any of them. Our excellent waiter praised my intelligence stating that we were his first customers who didn’t overorder. I hate to think what others were ordering as I left my diet in flames.The main reason was that when we were in Rome several years ago The Child Bride’s favorite meal was Carpaccio which was finely chopped so she couldn’t tell whan it was and I kept my mouth shut. Last night it was sliced and she identified it in 2-3 seconds so I got to eat her share.
Other observations were that others seam to agree with your Kims’ opinion of the pizza as I spotted many on there way to the garbage bin. I had also read many reviews commenting with the word “empty.” We had 6:45 reservations and it was nearly full when we arrived. By the time we left there was a line of people waiting. I couldn’t tell if it was mostly local yokels like us or out of towners in for the balloons who looked it up on Open Table without realizing the horrible out of sight location which I fear may be the death of it.
Senile Old Geezer! You need to learn how to spell.