Tratta Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Al Fresco Dining at Tratta

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, a Louisiana native who attended Ole Miss, has no problem poking fun at himself…and at stereotypes. During his opening monologue on a 2012 episode of Saturday Night Live, the two-time Super Bowl most valuable player, told the audience he finally feels like a “real New Yorker.” Then as if to demonstrate his urban sophistication, he entertained questions from out-of-towners in the audience. When asked where to get good Italian food in New York, Manning responded “Well, there’s a great place called The Olive Garden. You’ve got to go to New Jersey, but it’s worth it. Hey, I play for the New York Giants, but all my games are played in New Jersey.”

It’s been a long time since the Olive Garden has garnered “Best Italian Restaurant” honors in any of the Duke City’s “best of” polls. In that respect, Albuquerque is one-up on Las Vegas, Nevada where “what happens there, doesn’t always stay there.” Despite Italian restaurants sporting such Food Network celebrity cognomens as Batali, Giada and Bastianich, Sin City diners have consistently voted The Olive Garden as the very best the city has to offer. Does this mean denizens of the Duke City are more sophisticated than those of the gambling capital of the world? Could it possibly mean Albuquerque’s Italian restaurants are superior to those of Las Vegas?

Bruschetta of the Day

You don’t have to be smarter than a fifth grader (or even a politician) to know the answer, respectively, to these questions is “probably” and “not yet.” The latter response is based on extrapolating from the quantum improvements in Albuquerque’s Italian restaurant scene over the past ten years. If the Duke City’s Italian restaurant scene improves as much over the next ten years as it has over the past decade, it’ll be a force with which to be reckoned.

It’s much too early to know if Tratta Bistro will be mentioned in the rarefied company of Torinos @ Home and M’Tucci’s Kitchina for ushering in a new era of greatness among twenty-first century Italian restaurants. Tratta, which opened its doors in April, 2015, offers the winning combination of an active and engaged owner, talented and creative chef and a limited, but inventive menu sure to entice return visits. Tratta occupies the space previously held by the transcendent Bouche. It’s an intimate space which, season permitting, extends to the outdoors, with an expansive courtyard for al fresco dining.

Arancini

Tratta’s unique menu is the antithesis of what you’ll find at any of the area’s “red sauce” Italian restaurants. An apt descriptor might be Northern Italian meets fine-dining with distinctive offerings during lunch and dinner servings. The lunch menu lists five salads, four entrees and something heretofore unseen in any restaurant of any genre in Albuquerque: a dozen sliders served three per order. These aren’t your typical burger-based sliders either. Imagine if you will, a terrific trio of sliders constructed from seared ahi tuna, salmon and pancetta, Mediterranean crab cake and baby greens.

The dinner menu showcases five salads and four antipasto dishes, including a bruschetta of the day. Then there are the entrees—a phalanx of steaks, chops and seafood entrees interspersed with other entrees you won’t see elsewhere. It’s obvious someone put a lot of thought into creating a sui generis menu. You just might find yourself selecting dinner based as much for the way the named entree is sauced and with what it is accompanied as you will for that item itself. For example, don’t “Porter House Chops” read better on the menu when they preface cherry cacao sauce and crispy rainbow fingerling potatoes.

Fried Artichokes over Hand-Cut Pasta

Bruschetta is akin to an unpainted Sistine Chapel, a veritable blank canvas waiting to be painted by a culinary artiste. That canvas is essentially just toasted bread, boring by itself but with unlimited creative potential. Tratta’s bruschetta of the day aims to do exciting things to that boring toasted bread. Good fortune smiled upon us when the topping for the toasted bread was a tapenade (tomato, olives, bell peppers) served in a hollowed-out lettuce cup. This relish-like puree of fresh ingredients blended together when still raw is a great way to start your Tratta experience.

Arancini might sound like something involving spiders–and in fact, this deep-fried Sicilian specialty is indeed named for the “spider,” but not the kind that crawls up the wall. They’re named instead for a utensil called a spider, a wide shallow wire-mesh basket with a long handle that’s used to extricate the arancini from the fryer. Three breadcrumb-covered risotto balls stuffed with sausage and mozzarella are served on a shallow pool of marinara. Pierce each gilded orb with your fork and you’re immediately reminded that the chief ingredient in arancini is risotto, a rich, creamy, delicious foundation for a great dish. The marinara is sweeter than it is savory and is seasoned very well. It would make an excellent sauce for any pasta dish.

Quails Wrapped in Prosciutto

That is, unless the pasta dish is Tratta’s fried artichokes over hand-cut pasta tossed in a blood orange-grappa cream sauce with pancetta, seasonal veggies and toasted pignolias (pine nuts). Despite having perused this menu item thoroughly, we were somewhat surprised (very pleasantly) at the agrodolce (sweet and sour) nature of the sauce and how it played on the other ingredients. While artichokes are a naturally complementary vehicle for the agrodolce flavor profile, it’s not everyday you have Italian pasta and pancetta tinged with sweet and sour notes. Perhaps we should experience it more often. This is a surprisingly good dish with plenty of pancetta to contrast the agrodolce.

Complements and contrasts also exemplify the quails wrapped in prosciutto engorged with a savory stuffing over a blackberry port demi glace served with a goat cheese risotto. The only element on this entree to which we didn’t apply the demi glace is the goat cheese risotto which should not be tampered with. If you love goat cheese, you’ll understand why. The quails, on the other hand, marry well with the demi glace which imparts sweet and tangy notes. Quail are not a very meaty bird, all the more reason to appreciate the savory stuffing.

There’s an Olive Garden a couple of miles away from Tratta, but given their druthers, savvy diners will opt for Tratta every time. We’ll leave the Olive Garden for the good folks from Las Vegas and maybe a certain New York Giants quarterback.

Tratta Bistro
10126 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 227-8780
LATEST VISIT: 24 May 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Quails Wrapped in Prosciutto, Fried Artichokes, Arancini, Bruschetta

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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11 Comments on “Tratta Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)”

      1. You will be disappointed in my foolproof methods.

        Most commonly I drive down Juan Tabo & notice an empty shop where a restaurant used to be.
        The second most common is that, being one of the last two people on earth who has an actual subscription to the Albuquerque Journal, I read about the closing in the weekly business section. Since however the cost has skyrocketed and the paper has shrunk to about 4-pages this probably won’t be for long. A shame since I have been reading a paper daily since I was 6 or seven. The first story I specifically remember is “Truman fires MacArthur” in the Minneapolis Star.

        I even subscribed to the disgusting tabloid Fort Worth Press when it was the only one which would deliver to my dorm in Stephenville. It had only two variations for a full front page story. First was “Gangland Killing” which would be illustrated by a photo of bodies in a car trunk or “N word rapes white woman.” They sometimes had to hunt all over the world for one of these stories. “Russians bomb New York City” would get a small paragraph on page 6.

        Tratta was a follow up on an accidental most of the others are. When we went to a Corrales restaurant/bar to see JeeZ LaweeZ I approached one of the singers and mentioned that we had seen them at Tratta. She said they took full blame for its’ closing right after that but I checked & Tratta still had a Facebook page. A couple of days ago I thought that there was no way such a place could still be open so I checked Yelp.

        1. Yo Jim,
          So you can keep up on restaurant openings/closings as well as read “reviews” in the Venue, consider “negotiating” when your renewal rate is solicited, if the new rate is a problem for you. I had second thoughts this month when offered about an 18% rate increase. They countered with a dollar less than my current $91/6 mo which I rationalize per savings ala coupons, e.g. yesterday had a 3 dollar coupon for a 6 pack of ENSURE which I am thinking you might buy in a few years from now. While one can also read movie reviews, I don’t as otherwise I might have missed an outstanding movie as The Darkest Hour which has implications for today’s world events.
          – Indeed, the shrinking paper IS depressing as even a slight zephyr can blow mine across the yard nowadays. In addition, I feel guilty about my skimpy contribution to the recycling bin. Does anyone remember tying up newspapers with string (does anyone even remember string?) to bring bundles of papers to grammar school for the Paper Drives?
          Hasta….

  1. Thank you Gary,
    My Grandmothers, Mother and kids would probably agree with you about my being a major a-h. I appreciate you defending my sensitive hurt feelings about my criticizing my own proof reading abilities in my own honest review.

  2. We went by last night for dinner. A word of warning-my opinion might be tainted by 3-weeks of being tortured by a sciatic nerve with the resultant 0-3 hours sleep per night combined with the cold howling wind across our table. Neither of these things are the fault of Tratta Bistro but the Deity of your choice getting even with me.
    Our reserved table had our name on it and we were directly in front of the evenings performers JeeZ LaweeZ who will never perform at Carnegie Hall but are absolutely entertaining. Go out of your way to see them at least once. We sat several minutes and a waitress brought our menus and disappeared. After several minutes she came back to take our drink orders and ask “Are you ready to order yet?” and thus began a night of 10-15 minute waits as she:
    A. went off to find the evening specials that another waiter told us to ask for.
    B. Went off to find the price of the special. Another waiter and the hostess both came by because it was obvious that we were just waiting.This should have taken up to 20-seconds.
    C. As she went off to find a plate we requested to split an appetizer. At this long wait the hostess again came by to ask why we weren’t eating yet and set off to get a plate just as out waitress returned. This should have been 20-seconds.
    D. As she disappeared after delivering our check. We finally delivered our payment to another waiter.

    All of the people spotting a problem and helping were far busier than our waitress.

    I hate reading this kind of review. All I can think of is that the writer somehow created the problem. Everybody else was working hard and trying to advise our waitress but they were not in charge. Two of them we knew well from M’Tucci’s.

    As for the food, the menu sounded fascinating. We ordered Quails Wrapped in Prosciutto, Chicken Breast with stuffing and split an Arancini. Everything was bland desperately in need of some spicing (even salt and pepper would have been great). I am certain that all would have been wonderful with only slight modification and I actually hope that they do well.

    Most of the staff is excellent but nobody seems to be running the operation. Somebody needs to be given the authority to actually manage the operation. I fear though that if I suggest returning my “demure” “serene” Child Bride will throw all those compliments out the window and you don’t want to be around her when she does that.

      1. Jim Millington, you are a major a-h! That being said it is an honest review, his subject review of a RESTAURANT, and not a fricking high school or college journalism class. Give me a break!

  3. I was unfamiliar with arancini. Evidently, they are said to have originated in Sicily in the 10th century during Arab rule.

    In Palermo and Trapani, Sicily, arancini are a traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia, 13 December, when bread and pasta are not eaten. This commemorates arrival of a grain supply ship on Santa Lucia’s day in 1646, relieving a severe famine.

    Nowadays, with the increasing popularity of this snack food in modern Italian food culture, arancini are found all year round at most Sicilian food outlets, particularly in Palermo. Will have to get over to Tratta and give ’em a try.

  4. I’m still awaiting the reincarnation of Bouche, formerly my favorite restaurant in all of Albuquerque. Wish they’d come up to Santa Fe.

  5. Arancini=small oranges. The best were at Manzo’s in Chicago but they were different on our last. S/b a tiny core of shredded meant surrounded by rice and then a lightly breaded exterior. Sauce is spooned on to taste.

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