theophany: an encounter with a visible manifestation of a deity.
Greek mythology chronicles the adventures of the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus whose primary sustenance was ambrosia, a magical repast which bestowed immortality upon those who consumed it, including humans. The word ambrosia literally means “sweet smelling or delicious,” an appropriate description of the wonderful meals proffered at Ambrozia, an Old Town fine-dining establishment launched in 2003. While dining at Ambrozia probably won’t confer immortality, diners might feel they’ve partaken of divine gastronomy.
The gods certainly conferred many culinary talents on Ambrozia’s proprietor and chef savant Sam Ethridge, one of the most creative, talented and inspired restaurateurs in the Duke City. Etheridge has the rare ability to take any classic dish and transform it into a work of art. His cookbook “Indian Nation,” a celebration of traditional Native American dishes, earned a prestigious James Beard award.
Our inaugural experience at Ambrozia was on a Sunday when a prix-fixe ($20 per person) brunch was featured fare. The four course brunch adventure begins with a selection of breads, croissants, pastries and sweet rolls, all of which are preternaturally wonderful (particularly the chocolate infused beignets). Since Ambrozia’s menu is seasonal, the items we enjoyed may not be available during other visits.
A phenomenal second course choice is the crepe-braised duck with cranberries, pears and gorgonzola cream, a perfect melding of distinct yet complementary tastes.
Better still might be a third course of Ambrozia Benedict which features wild boar sausage, English muffins, poached eggs and green chile con queso. This would undoubtedly be a favorite of the gods.
For a fourth course, a must have is the house-made dulce de leche and brownie chunk ice cream served in a chocolate dipped wonton bowl–the perfect culmination of a near perfect meal.
Nearly perfect would also be a good description of the dinner menu which is replete with imaginative contemporary global cuisine options not available anywhere else in the Duke City–such as the lobster corn dogs, skewered lobster tails in a jalapeno corn batter served with chipotle ketchup, mustard cream and avocado remoulade. Rarely has a sweeter, more succulent and tender decapod graced a table in Albuquerque. Other outstanding antecedents make it difficult to settle on one.
Deciding what to order from the innovative menu can also be a conundrum as each menu item is conferred with heavenly descriptions that will have your mouth watering. Ultimately you have to tell yourself you can order any one of the “runners-up” on your next visit (hopefully they’ll still be on the menu).
The duck leg confit (slow-cooked in its own delicious fat) served with a cranberry spring roll, foie gras mash potatoes, asparagus and a cherry chili reduction is an outstanding choice, particularly if you love duck and want to savor various taste sensations.
“Burger and fries” might sound a bit pedestrian, but remember, chef Ethridge’s gift for transforming the ordinary into the sublime. His version of a burger is a grilled Duck Burger topped with house made duck bacon and melted foie gras. The fries are made of polenta corn and served with ketchup a l’orange. You won’t find anything like this under the Golden Arches. You might not find a better burger anywhere!
Only in San Francisco have I had Cioppino quite as wonderful and “just caught” fresh as Etheridge’s version. Cioppino, a fish stew originally concocted by Portuguese and Italian fishermen in San Francisco is comprised of fish and shellfish traditionally cooked with garlic, tomato and white wine. Etheridge gave his Cioppino a local touch by adding the uniquely New Mexican flavor of chile to the mix.
The dessert offerings also warrant deification and will challenge you to select only one.
The “coffee and donuts,” a light chocolate mocha mousse served with fresh beignets and raspberry wine jelly will leave you in a state of delicious delirium. The mousse isn’t cloying and frothy as you might find at lesser restaurants. It is ethereal in its delicacy. The beignets are of New Orleans quality. Need I say more.
Bakers often combine the complementary tastes of tangy apple pie with savory cheese, but none do it with the flair of Chef Etheridge’s “apple pie,” Granny Smith apple and white cheddar empanadas served with pecan butterscotch cinnamon ice cream. This is an indescribably wonderful dessert!
This Albuquerque Original is one of the very best restaurants in New Mexico, a restaurant in which you might spend $100 or more and wonder how you got away so cheaply! A visit to Ambrozia might not confer immortality, but you might feel you experienced theophany.
108 Rio Grande, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 13 September 2006
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Prix-Fixe Brunch, Lobster Corn Dog, Duck Leg Confit, Coffee and Donuts, Elk Carpaccio, Burger and Fries, Cioppino