Update: We tried this place for a second time on June 18, 2002. See below for notes on that visit.
Terra is a new bistro, located on the north side of Alameda Boulevard just one mile west of 4th Street. I'd heard a lot of good things about it from food-oriented friends, and on Saturday, March 30, 2002, got to try it out.
We started with an herb-crusted baked brie with dried apricot compote and raspberry syrup. I'm not sure where the syrup was supposed to be, possibly with the compote. The brie had no rind and was wrapped in just a few layers of phyllo dough, not the thicker wrapper usual at other places. It was exquisite. The brie was a bit sharper than most, which played well with the fruit flavors.
Our second appetizer was Jamaican jerk seasoned calamari with two sauces: a smoked tomato and onion puree, and a remoulade sauce. Both the sauces were just outstanding. The tomato puree was plenty smoky with the onion adding a nice bite to it. It was very smooth. The remoulade sauce was subtle and well-balanced. I'm very picky about squid---99 out of 100 restaurants vulcanize it---but the meat was quite tender. I couldn't detect any heat in the light crunchy batter (granted, I'm a moderate chile-head and it takes more than a few dozen Scoville units to reach my threshold of perception), but I did taste some subtle spicing that must have come from the jerk. I still think Seasons has the best calamari in the world (their meat is just a bit more tender, the pieces a bit larger, the coating lighter and crunchier, and the sauces more interesting), but Terra's offering was not far off the pace.
My date had grilled fillet of salmon on a saffron and vegetable risotto, sauced with charred red pepper cream emulsion. I would have been quite happy to go through a whole plate of this myself! The fish was perfectly cooked, juicy but just a bit crunchy on the outside. The risotto was very tasty, and they weren't stingy with the saffron. The sauce was nicely balanced and it worked well with the risotto and fish.
I had Indian braised lamb shank with dried apricots and tiny black Mission figs, basmati rice pilaf, and vindaloo sauce. I couldn't really taste the characteristic mustard oil flavor of vindaloo, but the lamb was beautifully done, with a fascinating sauce. It was completely tender---one quick stab with a fork and all the meat fell off the bone. About the only thing I could complain about in the entire evening was that the rice was just a bit on the dry side.
We finished with the vanilla creme bruleé, which was excellent. The custard was perfectly smooth and rich, with the tiny black spots characteristic of real vanilla.
Nice room, good service. All in all, one of the best restaurants in town.
Terra American Bistro
1119 Alameda Blvd NW
Albuquerque, NM 87114-1936
We had the same two appetizers this time. The raspberry syrup on the baked brie was drizzled on the plate this time. It was magnificent once again. The calamari was just as good. We added the crab cakes with sweet corn, baby vegetables, and some kind of sauce fairly similar to the remoulade on the calamari. Quite nice.
All three of us had the wild spicy green salad with imported goat cheese, candied walnuts, and balsamic vinaigrette. An excellent salad, with greens as good as I've had anywhere.
Our friend Allan joined us because crème brûlée is his favorite dessert, and we had been raving about the one at our first visit. He had the lamb shank I had last time and agreed it was terrific.
My date had the braised beef shortribs with spiced red cabbage, assorted roasted vegetables, and cinnamon glaze. She was happy with the flavor, tenderness and saucing of the beef, and the quantity was generous.
I had pan-seared sea bass with carrots, green beans, and garlic mashers. It was perfect, the searing just giving it a little texture on the outside, finished in the oven so the meat was warmed and just cooked through. There was some kind of clear lemon sauce with it that worked quite well with the veg, starch and fish.
All three of us were in heaven for the dessert course. Allan's comment was that he must immediately fly back to Dallas and try the crème brûlée at The Firehouse, his old reference standard, and decide which was the better version.
My date had the white chocolate and lemon mousse with triple-layered lemon bars. I didn't try the cookies, and she found them a bit strong. The lemon flavor in the mousse, on the other hand, was quite subtle: the dominant flavor and texture was the beautifully rich white chocolate.
My choice for dessert was the warm chocolate Appaloosa cake with caramel-cinnamon sauce. It was exactly what I was looking for, a dense chocolate flavor with a semiliquid chocolate center. I think the name comes from the brown and white color scheme; it is served with a good dollop of creme Anglaise. Excellent choice for chocoholics.