Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When I Look at a Restaurant Menu…

I consider myself lucky if there are two—and on very rare occasions—three items that sound intriguing. Just the opposite is true at Vinaigrette-A Salad Bistro in Santa Fe. There the problem is a surplus of choices. Way too many decisions.

First, one needs to decide whether to order soup. Depending on the answer to that question, do you or do you not add additional protein to your salad. Once you have decided on your salad choice, of course.
Then you have to ask yourself whether or not you might want dessert and how that decision affects any earlier decisions. As I said, way too many decisions. And, of course, all of this needs to be coordinated with Chuck’s decisions. We don’t—other than on rare occasions—want to duplicate each other’s order. As I said some time ago, this is like choreographing a ballet. It’s not easy.

Just prior to our departure from Santa Fe, we needed one more meal at Vinaigrette. This time, we arrived early (eleven-thirty or so) and found an almost empty restaurant.
But by the time noon rolled around, the space was nearly full.

Again, I ordered a glass of Vinaigrette’s wonderful hibiscus ice tea. I am not normally a fan of flavored teas, but the tart cranberry-like flavor of hibiscus is refreshing—especially on a warm day.

Time for Decision Number One—soup. The day’s offerings were Green Chile Beef Stew and Watermelon Gazpacho. We decided that I would go for the stew and Chuck the gazpacho. The gazpacho was a fairly smooth puree of watermelon, tomato, and cucumber and had an undertone of chile. Sitting on top was a small portion of the smoothest and least salty feta with dill cheese I have eaten.
When we asked our server the name of the producer, all he knew was that the cheese came from Tucumcari, NM. I suspect that the cheese maker is the Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory which is known for their award winning feta cheeses.

My stew was a hearty mix of potatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, green chiles, and beef cubes (instead of the more traditional pork) in a spicy beef-based broth. This was a very hardy soup full of the above listed ingredients with enough green chile bite to warm your mouth without searing the taste buds.

When Chuck finds something on a menu he likes, he tends to go back to that item again and again. I know that he really wanted to order the Asian Beef Salad from our previous visit, but for blogging variety chose the Apple-Cheddar Chop. Slices of glazed and grilled pork tenderloin were served with baby arugula, julienned green apples, pickled fennel, and sharp cheddar chopped and tossed in a ruby port vinaigrette.
Like all of Vinaigrette’s salads, this was an object of visual beauty. You can’t decide whether to just sit and admire or to immediately begin eating. All of the components were in balance such that no one item dominated the others. And like our previous salads, this wasn’t drowning in dressing.

I love to watch what other diners are eating. Two tables down, a woman was served The Beet Goes On with baby greens and arugula tossed with goat cheese, chopped pistachios, balsamic roasted beets, and honey-balsamic vinaigrette. The young man at the table next to us was making fast work of demolishing the Salacho—a colorful taco salad with chopped red cabbage, romaine, tomato, corn, green and red onion, seasoned beef and chorizo, cheddar and jack cheese with a honey cumin-lime vinaigrette.

Both of these were tempting, but I decided to order the French Frisee, because it reminded me of my mother. When I was young, she would make a salad using curly (bitter) endive. For the dressing, she would crisp fry some bacon and, after removing the crisp bacon from the pan, add vinegar, sugar, and a little water to the bacon drippings. The warm dressing would be poured over the endive and wilt it slightly. The reserved bacon would then be sprinkled on top.

Vinaigrette’s version used frisee (“a type of chicory that has exploded onto gourmet plates. The exotic plant resembles a lettuce gone horribly awry, with a pale green explosion of frizzy leaves that adds a frisky note to green salads” [wisegeek.com]) for the endive; used lardons (“small matchstick-cut pieces of bacon or larding fat cut from the belly of pork” [cookthink.com]) for the bacon bits; and used a warm shallot vinaigrette for my mother’s warm dressing.
What my mother didn’t do was top this with a poached egg which, when the yolk was pierced, added warm egg yolk to the dressing.

When we arrived, I fully intended to reorder the “Rockstar” carrot cake from our previous visit. But a last minute change of plans occurred, and we decided to share a slice of their lemon cheesecake. This version was not as heavy as New York-style cheesecake and was refreshingly tart. The best way I can describe the flavor is that a bomb of lemon explodes in your mouth. A wonderful end to the meal.

I just read that a second Vinaigrette is slated to open near Old Town on Central Avenue in Albuquerque. I hope that it will be located in an adobe-style building that once housed a restaurant and has been vacant for at least three years.

Nothing at this meal contravenes our earlier rating. This remains a 5.0 Addie restaurant.

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