Tucked into a tiny strip mall near Albuquerque's Old Town, Chef du Jour vaulted onto my top five list on the strength of a single visit. I re-visited on April 27, 2000, and moved it to #2; a description of that visit is below.
I went to this place on the recommendation of my friend and fellow restaurant hound Martha, owner of Martha's Black Dog in Socorro. When she likes a place, it is invariably a stunner.
I ordered a salmon quiche and it was the best quiche I've ever had, anywhere. There was a lot of fresh, perfectly-cooked salmon; it seemed like the dish was half salmon. The rest was a divinely inspired blend of filling and spices. As with so much of the truly great food, I couldn't really tell what all was in it, but I didn't care. It was a complex, perfectly balanced suite of flavors in a perfect crust. On the plate were three gemlike pieces of fruit: a huge grape, a slice of honeydew melon, and a slice of pineapple. The salad was absolutely perfect butter lettuce with an intriguing and subtle dressing.
Dessert was the chocolate burrito: a chocolate flour tortilla with vanilla ice cream and homemade caramel sauce. It was staggeringly wonderful.
Directions. Take I-40 west from its intersection with I-25 and exit south at Rio Grande Boulevard. Follow Rio Grande south to Central and turn left. In a short distance you will see a humongous antebellum-looking white mansion on your right, which is actually a law office. Turn right at the light at San Pasquale, just past this building. Immediately turn right again into the second driveway, which is a tiny strip mall located behind the law office.
Restricted hours! Chef du Jour is open only for lunch on weekdays, and for dinner Friday and Saturday night only. Best to call first: 247-8998.
I was worried about this place because the owner/chef of this business was hired away by a new place in Las Cruces called the Millennium Cafe. The owner trained the current chef and will continue supervising until she can sell the business.
Based on my visit today, four months after the owner moved away, there's no need to worry.
Started with spicy tomato soup with tortilla strips. Tastes much better than it sounds: chunks of fresh tomato pulp, light stock, fresh herbs. The tortilla strips were placed half in the soup and half out, in a pattern like a lattice-crust apple pie. This one had it all: flavor, appearance, textural interest, and nutritional value. Yum.
Southwestern chicken salad on housemade roll: rotisseried chicken, local pinyon nuts, tiny bits of jicama and scallion, dressed with some mysterious and wonderful dressing. The roll was very unobtrusive, almost as bland as a standard cafeteria `dinner roll', but that's fine---I think a more substantial bread would have overwhelmed the subtle ingredients of the salad. Certainly their exquisite side bread, a fresh and crusty quite flavorful sourdough French, would have. I remarked to the staff that the pinyon and other ingredients gave this mixture not only a wonderful flavor but a succession of two or three interesting aftertastes---something you expect from a good cabernet sauvignon, but hardly from a chicken salad sandwich!
Side salad of a few premium greens (red leaf, romaine, radicchio, frisee), one slice of Roma tomato, and three melon slices---one honeydew and two cantaloupe. All utterly perfect.
Dessert was `Old-fashioned pineapple upside down cake.' I told them I had a problem with that---it never tasted this good in the old days! The classic American recipe, but the white cake was intensely rich, the brown sugar coating sweet but balanced, not cloying, and the pineapple ring was garnished with a fresh pecan half.
Summary: Still to-die-for! Their produce is the freshest, best-tasting, and best looking in town, and what they do with it is wonderful beyond words.