(Willamina and Higgins have been on an unintentional hiatus– not from our normal epicurean experiences, but from expressing our experiences with you, our fine fans. We’re off galavanting around the country and our change of scenery seems to have reinvigorated us. Then again, it just might be the good company and good food we’ve experienced that is inspiring us to put fingers to keyboard once again.)
Short Take: A upper scale restaurant with a relaxed, classic atmosphere and exceptionally well-prepared food of decent portions. Absolutely wonderful. Every dish was a winner.
Long Take: This evening, Willamina and Higgins went with our dear friends, Miriam and Cornelius, to dinner at the Artichoke Cafe in Albuquerque, NM. We had reservations for 6:00 pm on a Saturday night. We found parking in the lot across the side street and were greeted by the parking lot attendant. We were greeted as we walked in by the hostess and seated immediately at the white-linen draped table. The waiter was there within seconds to offer us glasses of water. (He didn’t even bat an eye when Higgins asked for a new glass of water minus the ever-present-these-days slice of lemon.)
A basket containing three types of bread (an onion white, and two different fruit infused breads we couldn’t identify) and a small container of herbed butter (we guessed thyme) was quickly placed on the table. Though the dinner menu was smaller than most restaurants offer, it was more than sufficient with multiple offerings that appealed to every member of our party. (The menu included several vegetarian offerings.)
We tried to order two appetizers: the assorted cheese plate and the pork, shrimp, and shitake mushroom potstickers. We were disappointed when the waiter informed us they had sold out of the potstickers the night before. We decided to stick with the cheese plate and skip the 2nd appetizer; instead, saving room for desert.
One of the many reasons Willamina and Higgins enjoy being with Miriam and Cornelius is their willingness to share. Since each of us found multiple dishes we might like to try, we quickly decided to each order a different dish to share. We ordered the pan seared duck breast, the fresh sea scallops, the beef tenderloin, and the salmon du jour.
The Assorted Cheese Plate came with three artisan cheeses, some slices of italian bread, two types of crackers, a medium sprig of purple grapes, and a small dollop of quince preserve. (The jam and the nuts described in the on-line menu did not make an appearance. We didn’t miss them.) The three cheeses were ? (a soft, but solid, ricotta-like cheese with a very mild taste), compte (an aged, hard cow’s milk with a very strong taste), and ? (an aged, smokey monterey jack with a slight nutty flavor that we all liked best.) The quince preserve was quite tasty, but there could have been more of it. A fine way to start the meal.
The Salmon du Jour was grilled with a with a citrus glaze. It came with garlic infused mashed potatoes and asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto and grilled. The salmon was meaty and tender and moist. Flavorful and well cooked (Miriam very much enjoyed the golden crust of the salmon.) The prosciutto added just the right hint of salty flavor to asparagus spears.
The Pan Seared Duck Breast was cooked perfectly. The spices were less intense than we expected, and that was, we agreed, a good thing. The pomegranate sherry glaze was very light and left only a touch of fruity undertones to the duck breast. Higgins, who is not particularly fond of duck, found it to be a delightful, appealing dish. The golden raisin relish appeared to have been mixed in with the root vegetable and brown and wild rice pilaf. Miriam and Cornelius found it to be an excellent complement to the duck’s flavors.
The Fresh Sea Scallops were larger than expected. Even though there were only two of them, they were more than enough for a meal. The prosciutto wrapped around the scallops was grilled perfectly, the fat rendered off without leaving the dried ham tough or charred. (A difficult culinary feat to accomplish, indeed.) The scallops were covered with a very salty white wine and butter broth containing small pieces of prosciutto. The broth lent its salty flavor to the roasted potatoes and green and yellow beans in the bottom of the dish. The scallops were cooked perfectly and were still sweet enough to stand up to the sauce. This dish tied with the duck for favorite amongst our party.
The Beef Tenderloin was delivered as ordered, medium rare, wrapped in smoked applewood bacon. The meat was flavorful, juicy, and well seasoned. Unlike the menu listed on-line, the tenderloin was served with a gorgonzola stuffed portobello mushroom. While the steak was very good by itself, everyone agreed the flavor was greatly enhanced when eaten with even a small portion of the mushroom. (Miriam expected this dish to be best, but was pleasantly surprised by her duck and by the scallops ordered by Higgins.)
The portions were large enough to allow all four diners to share generously with everyone around the table. Everyone was satisfied with what they ordered and enjoyed the other dishes as well. We had just enough room to order two deserts-again to be shared: the Peanut Butter Chocolate Mouse Torte with Caramel Sauce and the Blackberry Balsamic Panna Cotta.
The Peanut Butter Torte was beautiful with its creamy peanut butter layer, its chocolate mouse layer, and the hard semi-sweet chocolate covering. While it was difficult to share in a neat and orderly fashion, our four epicurean heroes managed it.
The Blackberry Balsamic Panna Cotta came in a sloped glass filled with a magenta custard and topped with three plump blackberries. The balsamic undertone was quite pleasant with the sweet, tart custard. Higgins suggested the two deserts together made for a high-end peanut butter and jelly experience. (Higgins is fanciful when he has enjoyed a fine meal with good company. Willamina and Miriam contend that Higgins is fanciful most of the time.)
It is a very rare thing for everyone to not only enjoy what they ordered, but for everyone to enjoy what everyone else ordered as well. The service was impeccable, with our water glasses being refilled promptly and with subtlety. Each dish was surprisingly good and plentiful. The restaurant was fine dining without being “snooty.” (Cornelius said it was only “hoity.”) Each of our party would be thrilled to return to this wonderful establishment.
(The prices are listed on the menu, but if you are curious, our meal consisting of one appetizer, four entrees, two desserts, and one soft drink came to $170.00 including the standard tip.)