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 V.17 No.15 | April 10 - 16, 2008 

Restaurant Review

Chef Jim White’s Café

Location, location, location

White’s famous fish taco makes a splash for only $7.
Tina Larkin
White’s famous fish taco makes a splash for only $7.

There was once a time in Albuquerque when you couldn’t turn on the TV, open a paper or go out to eat without coming face-to-face with Chef Jim White. This guy was everywhere. When you flipped on the news he was offering helpful kitchen tips, and if you tuned in to Animal Planet, he was dishing it out for the dogs. He even teamed up with Gordon Elliot to rescue a few desperate housewives from their meatloaf woes.

He made his first and lasting impression on Burqueños with his restaurant Humphrey’s and then later with Casa Vieja. Both venues were successful, and combined with his media-driven ventures, White was making quite a name for himself. Then, after a short stint at Bien Shur, he disappeared.

Just as quietly as he exited the food scene, he reappeared. Tucked into the Alameda Design Center, White is right back where he belongs.

The café comes with a loaded jukebox at no extra charge.
Tina Larkin
The café comes with a loaded jukebox at no extra charge.

Wait a minute. The Alameda Design Center? Isn’t that where you go to remodel your home? Sure, and since October it’s also where you go to fill up on some of White’s most-loved dishes. White explains that “it’s a unique location. There’s not a whole lot of quality, homemade food in the area.”

But if you need contemporary lighting and high-gloss marble countertops,you’re right where you need to be, as a made abundantly clear by a large, silent, flat-panel television that loops ads for the stores surrounding the café. Those stores are conveniently accessible by open doors leading from the dining room. Dining at Chef Jim White’s has a sort of trade show feel, with signs on the walls crediting the showrooms that provided various elements of the décor.

Just as quietly as he exited the food scene, he reappeared. Tucked into the Alameda Design Center, White is right back where he belongs.

White describes it as “bright and cheery,” referring specifically to the numerous parasols hanging from the ceiling. It certainly is. The space is clean and airy with eye-catching lighting and soaring ceilings, but it still has a slight awkwardness to it. It’s just not the ideal real estate for such cozy, comforting fare.

Chef Jim White is all smiles.
Tina Larkin
Chef Jim White is all smiles.

Once your food arrives, the environment fades into the background. White brings to the table what he calls “eclectic casual, a hybrid of the other two restaurants.”

If I was told that I only had six months to live, I would spend every last morning I had stuffing White’s Taylor pork roll breakfast sandwich down my gullet with my bare hands. With slices of grilled, smoky pork on a toasted roll crowned with the most perfect over easy egg I’ve ever seen (gooey in all the right places) and smothered in a lively green chile sauce, this baby had to be eaten with a fork. It was so good I nearly forgot the cinnamon bun I had ordered. Resting in a shallow pool of butter and cinnamon sauce, the bun was picture-perfect. Refreshingly, it lacked cloying sugar glaze and instead delivered simple and tender yeasty bliss.

Lunch is equally satisfying. The five-cheese macaroni (Cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, Parmesan and bleu), under a light breadcrumb crust, was so smooth and rich I considered leaving my husband for the man who had cooked it just for me. But seeing how Chef White's wife was behind the register, I refocused my attention on the menu.

The steak and mushroom hero was a stumbling point. The culprit? Canned mushrooms. Those flavorless slices of rubber only detracted from the meaty, hand-shaved beef. White defends his choice by explaining, “That’s what you’ll find in a traditional Philly recipe.” I admire his striving for authenticity, but canned mushrooms should be left in the can.

If you order the black and bleu burger, grab some extra napkins. Within two bites bleu cheese will have run down your arm and into your lap. Messy foods taste the best, in my not-so-humble opinion, and this burger drives that point home.

White’s odd location is forgiven by a comfort-driven menu and staff comprised of his family that make every meal seem a little more sincere. But a more familiar location may be in the works.

“It’s a prototype for three to four more units, with one, hopefully, in our old Central and Carlisle building,” says White, referring to the place just vacated by Buster's 66 Coffee Shop. I think that’s an excellent idea.

The Alibi Recommends:

• Taylor pork roll breakfast sandwich

• Cinnamon bun

• Ultimate mac and cheese

• Black and bleu burger

Chef Jim White’s Café, 4501 Alameda NE, 821-0300. Breakfast and lunch hours: Mon-Fri 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-2 p.m. No dinner, closed Sunday. Price range: moderate. Credit cards accepted, catering.

 

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