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Ambrozia Cafe, Albuquerque, NM

I wouldn't normally go to a restaurant in Albuquerque's Old Town on a bet. Because it is so tourist-oriented, you can get a lot of mediocre food at high prices.

Ambrozia, however, is a refreshing exception. Like all the other Old Town places, it's in a pleasant historic building. But this place made my Best of Albuquerque list on the strength of a single visit. The food is as good as any high-end bistro in town. We wouldn't even have gone there except that one of our favorite waiters, Casper (formerly of Scalo), went to work there and we wanted to visit him.

I'm getting pretty hard to impress with a salad, but our salads had it all: scrupulously fresh baby greens, texture, color, and flavor. My salad was mixed greens with gorgonzola, honey roasted pecans, frizzled onions (basically very thin breaded onion rings in a wonderfully light batter), roasted pears and apples with a honey mustard vinaigrette. Truthfully, I didn't really notice the parts, because it made such a wonderful whole: complex and nuanced and balanced flavor and texture; just very tasty food.

The appetizer was ``lobster corn dogs,'' thumb-sized pieces of lobster tail done in a light crunchy Jalapeño corn batter and served with three sauces: chipotle ketchup, avocado remoulade, and mustard cream. Very nice all around: the lobster was tender and the sauces harmonious.

My companion had a huge New York strip steak with foie gras butter, green chile, fresh asparagus, cheddar grits, frizzled onions, and their house steak sauce. She was very happy with the steak. I had a taste of the foie gras butter, which was as light as whipped cream.

My entree was a bit light on the meat, maybe four ounces of tilapia in a sesame crust. The fish was perfect and the crust did a nice job of providing crunchy texture and a nutty toasted sesame flavor without hiding the delicate taste of the fish. It was served on a bed of pureed sweet potato and served with a coconut and lemongrass sauce. I resisted the temptation to lick the plate, but only just. My only complaint was the portion size; tilapia is a relatively inexpensive farmed fish and I don't understand why they have to skimp on it.

Dessert was a smallish mound of flourless chocolate ``cake,'' really more the texture of an English pudding, moist and crumbly, with a scoop of housemade toasted coconut ice cream and sauced with a mixture of vanilla creme Anglaise and chocolate fudge sauce. There was something subtle and wonderful going on in the fudge sauce that I couldn't nail down, but it was all terrific.

Prices were not unreasonable for bistro food in Albuquerque. Most of the entrees were in the mid-$20 range. I will definitely go there again!

Ambrozia faces Rio Grande Boulevard on the southwest corner of Rio Grande and Central. From that corner, go north on Rio Grande, turn right into Old Town, and take the first right again to reach the free public parking lot just south of the restaurant.

Postscript: Visited again August 30, 2003. The entree was: braised pork saltimbocca; three cheese and chorizo sweet pepper relleno (an unbreaded whole red pepper); two red chile chicharrones; green chile spaetzle, small and not strongly flavored; and pancetta-wrapped, almond-stuffed dates. Wow. Everything was terrific.

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John W. Shipman,
Last updated: 2003/08/31 21:53:10