“Getting high” on cannabis is known for increasing appetite. According to High Times, a New York based magazine which advocates the legalization of marijuana, scientists now know why. Those scientists have uncovered the part of the brain which makes cannabis users get the munchies for chocolate, pizza, peanuts and more. It’s hoped that this discovery will help in developing pharmaceuticals to prevent anorexia and obesity.
In New Mexico, the term “getting high” sometimes has different connotations–without the psychoactive effects but with the unfailing effect of getting the munchies. That’s because getting high often means high altitude dining–at least that’s what it means to savvy diners who recognize that food seems to taste better at high altitude.
Here’s some anecdotal evidence. At the top of Pikes Peak, the Summit House lodge serves donuts that some people consider a highlight of their visit to Colorado’s most famous mountain. At 14,115, high altitude recipe adjustments have to be made in order to achieve the crispy edges and sweet, soft innards of these fluffy, well-risen, ring-shaped, doughy gems. If you bring them down to the lower elevation (7,200 feet) of Colorado Springs, they’re no longer fluffy or nearly as tasty.
For getting high to dine, you can’t beat a team of British mountain climbers who conducted a formal dinner party at 19,685 feet atop Lhapka Ri in Tibet. You can only imagine the munchies the intrepid team must have had after the strenuous trek. With a vantage point that included unobstructed views of Mount Everest, the group of six white-tie clad diners feasted on caviar, duck, chocolate pudding, a cheese board and birthday cake.
Dining atop New Mexico’s Sandia Peak, a mere 10,378 feet in elevation won’t get you quite as high as dining on the Himalayas, but it’s a much more leisurely and infinitely safer trek. Most diners take the 2.7 mile trip on the world’s longest aerial tramway to the High Finance Restaurant, a ride which takes them through several climatic zones on their way to the restaurant. The tram ride provides breath-taking views of colossal canyons, dense forests and spectacular topography that unfolds dramatically before them.
Through the awe-inspired gasps and sighs of amazement among tourists riding the tramway for the first time, New Mexico residents experience a rejuvenated pride and confirmation of just blessed we are to live in the Land of Enchantment. Locals are treated as tour guides, our opinions solicited as to what to do and where to go to maximize their trip to New Mexico. Invariably, savvy visitors who don’t trust the guidebooks will ask where to dine. That’s when my ambassadorial nature takes over.
Many of those visitors have dinner reservations at High Finance and look forward to dining two miles high, but before they traverse the wooden plank walkway to the restaurant, most linger almost reverently as they enjoy the seemingly preternatural array of colors in gradations that occur only in the southwest. They marvel at sunset views of the city below as the twinkling of lights increases to ward off the ebony night as cerulean skies retire. From the Sandia Crest, they enjoy panoramic views of over 11,000 square miles on a clear day. This is my type of getting high!
No other restaurant in New Mexico offers such views and no restaurant provides such a unique mode of conveyance to get to a dining destination. Despite that, perhaps no other restaurant is subjected to such derision. Visitors seem to enjoy the “peak of fine dining” at High Finance more than locals, many of whom have been heard to disparage the food. To be sure, there are restaurants in the Albuquerque area which serve far better food, but for a unique and romantic dining experience, even detractors have to admit you can’t beat this restaurant.
The multi-level restaurant is festooned in fine woodwork–blond and light woods instead of the more masculine dark woods that seem to typify some bistros. The premium seating is windowside where incomparable views are to be cherished. White tablecloths and pristinely folded napkins along with meticulously arranged place settings adorn every table. The ceilings are uniquely draped in billowing fabric. The topmost level features a beautiful bar with stained glass windows.
Within minutes of being seated, the wait staff will deliver a basket of sourdough bread to your table. The bread isn’t baked on the premises; it’s brought up by tramway as are all the restaurant’s foodstuff. It’s a good bread, soft and chewy on the inside with a crusty, chewy exterior. Butter spreads on nicely and it’s soft butter, not the hard stuff that tears the bread as you try to spread it. The bread was a highlight.
The dinner menu includes an impressive array of appetizers, soups and salads. Among the former is a bruschetta apportioned for two. Garlic-rubbed toasted crostini is drizzled with olive oil then topped with buffalo mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and fresh basil. When done well, this is a delicious combination with unfailing freshness. High Finance didn’t execute to expectations during our most recent visit. Buffalo mozzarella should have a sweet, delicate flavor and a moist, soft texture. We did not have fresh buffalo mozzarella at High Finance. It was almost crusty on the outside and uncharacteristically dry. The basil was hardly fresh and the tomato was very much on the green side.
An intriguing menu option not always found on upscale menus is one of the very best entrees I’ve had at the High Finance which could account for its limited availability. It’s chicken curry, a baked half chicken with a citrus cherry glaze served with Boursin cheese mashed potatoes (or basmati rice if you prefer). The basmati rice absorbs the sweet, tangy flavor of the curry very well which would be fine if the rice was thoroughly and evenly prepared. During our last visit it wasn’t. The chicken, however, was moist, tender and delicious, a fine fowl.
If you prefer porcine on your plate, the Pork La Poire might fit the bill. This is a generous platter, hardly like the smallish pork medallions that typify such an entree. This entree includes three pork chop sized loins topped with a red wine pear sauce and served with candied sweet potatoes and collard greens. The pork loins are grilled, have a nice char and are about half an inch thick. They’re plated beautifully and from all appearances look quite good. As is often said, appearances can be deceiving. The pork loins were good, but not of the quality a restaurant of this caliber and reputation should serve. Their biggest failing was a pronounced toughness and relative dryness.
The three meals we’ve had at the High Finance Restaurant bring to mind such terms as prefab food, cafeteria quality and food prepared en masse. Still, those billion dollar views at one of New Mexico’s best locations for getting high somehow have a way of making a meal at High Finance thoroughly enjoyable (at least until you get the bill).
High Finance Restaurant
40 Tramway Rd NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 7 July 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Chicken Curry, Pork La Poire, Grilled Salmon