While the Ranchers Club of New Mexico may evoke images of J. R. Ewing holding court with fellow oil barons and business magnates in Dallas, this magnificent milieu is, at its core and essence, unabashedly New Mexican in its attitude and spirit. Don’t let its ostentatious trappings–a sophisticated big city opulence meets a decidedly westernized look and feel–fool you. Sophisticated doesn’t mean haughty and ostentatious doesn’t mean exclusive. The Land of Mañana’s well-renowned inclusiveness means more than just the one-percenters will feel at home. It’s been that way since the Ranchers Club opened in 1985.
More than half the dinner reservations made at the Ranchers Club are made by locals, not by tourists and visitors staying at the steak palace’s home, Albuquerque’s Crowne Plaza Hotel on the northeast corner of the Big I interchange. Not every diner will “put on the dogs” when they visit. In fact, blue jeans are almost as common as business casual. The dress code calls for men to wear collared shirts and prohibits beach sandals, shorts, tee-shirts and work-out clothes. How much more New Mexico can you get for a fine-dining, high-end restaurant?
Inspired by the rustic elegance of ranch house comfort, the Ranchers Club is a celebration of one of New Mexico’s oft forgotten cultural aspects, the family ranch. The artwork, saddles, stirrups, lassoes and other western artifacts on the walls, many of them historical in nature, were, in fact, donated by the ranching community of New Mexico. The stirring black-and-white photographs on the walls were taken by prolific photographer Harvey Caplin. Artwork shares wall space with taxidermy animals. Jutting out from a spoke-shaped multi-layered chandelier in the main dining room are cow’s horns of varying sizes.
At the Ranchers Club, diners are seated in the lap of luxury befitting the special occasion of dining in New Mexico’s most recognized steakhouse. Each table is adorned with silver place settings, fine china, real glassware, linen tablecloths, but what makes a dining experience at the Ranchers Club special is the impeccable service. Table service is provided by a tandem–front server, back server, assistant server–of nattily attired servers under the direction of the captain of your service team. They will take care of all your dining needs and can certainly be trusted to provide savvy recommendations.
The Ranchers Club boasts of imported wood-fired French grills which fire up aromatic wood embers such as mesquite and hickory. Your meal will be prepared on a gridiron, a grilling method which imparts a unique and unusual flavor to the generous portions of meat, seafood and game. It’s a style of grilling reminiscent of the open range cooking of yesteryear. Painstaking attention to detail is obvious in the preparation of each course. The restaurants makes every effort to source verify all their meats, procuring only from the highest quality ranches committed to sustainability. Many of the menu items are obtained within fifty miles of the Ranchers Club, an inspiring commitment to buying local.
Contrary to popular belief, a meal at the Ranchers Club will not break the bank though you certainly can’t call it “cheap eats” either. There are several entrees south of the thirty dollar mark with the most expensive entree being a Wagyu domestic Kobe filet for under eighty dollars. The Ranchers Club remains for many New Mexicans, a special occasion restaurant, a dining establishment which actually recognizes and lives up to its billing, both as a palate pleasing eatery and as a hospitality provider. It’s no wonder the restaurant has earned the AAA Four-Diamond Award for nine years, the DiRoNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) since 1994 and the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 2001.
Not surprisingly, the Ranchers Club menu is teeming with entrees of the carnivorous persuasion, not only steaks of several cuts and sizes, but wild boar ossu buco, antelope chops, venison, Kurobuta pork and free-range chicken. Fare from the sea is also plentiful: cold water lobster tail, Alaskan king crab legs, Atlantic sea scallops, citrus glazed salmon and a daily fresh fish selection. There’s good variety in the appetizers menu where you’ll find green chile stew, the only item on the entire menu utilizing New Mexico’s official state vegetable. There are four salads on the menu, the most popular being the Caesar salad prepared tableside.
Not only is there an art and a science to preparing a Caesar salad perfectly, the Ranchers Club adds flair and style, having the salad prepared by an expertly trained server who tosses a salad of Romaine lettuce and croutons and dresses it with an amalgam of raw eggs (cracked and whisked vigorously), lemon juice, fresh anchovies, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and black pepper. It’s as good a Caesar salad as you’ll find in New Mexico, especially if you enjoy the potent triumvirate of anchovies, pepper and garlic. The croutons are crisp, plentiful and delicious.
Those croutons are likely made from the restaurant’s King Arthur baked bread. The bread, a thick slice of which is deposited on a plate, is terrific. It’s a dense, moist bread with a crusty exterior and soft interior. Best of all, it’s served with soft butter, a more than welcome respite from the ad infinitum parade of olive oil amalgams too many restaurants serve. Your server will faithfully replenish the bread though any more than two slices and you risk filling up.
Among the more surprising appetizers on the menu are the spicy tempura tuna rolls, six pieces of sushi crafted from seared tuna and sheathed in a tempura batter. If you like seared or raw tuna, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this starter though fire-eaters who enjoy incendiary sushi rolls might miss the wasabi and soy sauce mix. We didn’t miss the sushi rice. The spicy tempura tuna rolls are served with a salad of tatoi and mizuna greens, wasabi peas, sesame sticks and just a light drizzle of wasabi pepper sauce.
The entrees section of the Ranchers Club menu is segmented into “Artfully Crafted Specialties” and “Ranchers Club Classics,” the latter of which showcases the restaurant’s pride and joy. That’s the beef-heavy array of meaty magnificence: filet mignon, Wagyu (domestic Kobe) filet, bacon-wrapped bison tenderloin, cowboy-cut bone-in rib eye, slow-roasted prime rib, prime baseball cut sirloin and a veal porterhouse chop. If, like my Midwest born and bred Kim, you’ve got carnivorous inclinations, you’ll find a sumptuous cut of beef just right for you.
Entrees on the Ranchers Club Classics menu are served with your choice of accompaniment–artisan two cheese macaroni, potatoes au gratin, steak fries, twice-baked potato, baked Parmesan polenta, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. Classic entrees are also paired with your choice of sauce: wild mushroom demi-glace, chimichurri, Bearnaise, brandy peppercorn, red chile demi-glace, Ranchers steak sauce and raspberry chipotle. Rely on your captain to match the right sauce with the entree of your choice.
For my Kim, our affable captain Thomas, recommended the Cowboy Cut Bone-In Rib Eye, an eighteen-ounce slab of nicely marbled and full-flavored beef procured from a ranch in Nebraska. Perfectly prepared at medium, the rib eye is not for those of feeble appetite. It’s a formidable hunk of beef grilled beautifully, a moist and juicy steak which needs no amelioration. Since she asked for it, however, Thomas provided my Kim with a garlic sauce redolent with dill and lemon. He also had the kitchen prepare a baked potato even though baked potatoes aren’t among the listed accompaniments. Now that’s service! The steak also came with a vegetable medley, including sweet, al dente carrots.
Not being as fond of beef as is my Kim, my choice was the Kurobuta Pork Rack which was carved tableside by the captain. Twenty-two ounces of pulchritudinous pork was surgically sliced to right-sized portions including two bones on which you’ll gnaw with alacrity. Most Kurobuta pork Ive had accentuates the delicate flavor of the Iowa raised pork, seasoning it lightly and pairing it with sweet flavors. The Ranchers Club seasons Kurobuta more assertively and pairs it with a Bourbon molasses barbecue sauce which is even more aggressive. You’ll enjoy the Kurobuta much more without the barbecue sauce, so you’ll want to ask for it on the side.
The dessert menu is more than interesting though we’ve never made it past the Ranchers Club nightly flambe dessert. On two occasions, that’s meant Bananas Foster prepared tableside. All eyes in the dining room will be trained on your table when your server pours banana liqueur into the frying pan and flames rise skyward. Bananas Foster is a very rich, very decadent dessert which originated in New Orleans. Having lived ninety miles from the Crescent City for eight years, we had our share of Bananas Foster in their city of origin. The Bananas Foster at the Ranchers Club are just as good.
The Ranchers Club will probably always be a restaurant for special occasions, but it’s always fun to imagine being wealthy enough to dine there more often.
Rancher’s Club of New Mexico
1901 University, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 September 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Bananas Foster, Porterhouse Steak, Caesar Salad, Two Bone Kurobuta Pork Rack, Cowboy Cut Bone-In Rib Eye, Spicy Tempura Tuna Rolls