Just a few miles north of Albuquerque, Placitas is an eclectic and beautiful village with a storied past. The one-time land grant area is now a bedroom community, the bar where the Dead once played is closed and the hippies have given way to artists. But through the years, the one thing that has eluded this funky town is a good restaurant.
Blades Bistro opened in March, taking over a space previously inhabited by a pub that, by all accounts, was dingy and dark. If the stories are true, Blades’ makeover is extreme. Amber lamps hang down over oiled hardwood tables, creating personal dining spaces that are intimate but not isolated. The walls are hung with abstract paintings in various mediums. The mood is jovial and boisterous, in keeping with the neighborhood bistro feeling to which Blades aspires. A stainless steel counter at one end offers a view into the open kitchen, while across the dining area is a beautifully crafted hardwood bar.
Shorty and I surveyed the one-page menu, which features an eclectic mix of appetizers, European-style entrées, and several soup and salad options. Shorty ordered an assortment of appetizers and salads: crab cakes, roast beets with balsamic vinegar and toasted goat cheese, spinach salad, and the Blades salad. I picked French onion soup and a pork chop.
Her beets ($7.95) were a highlight. The balsamic vinegar was thick and syrupy, probably aged, and it all came together beautifully—earthy, sweet and rich. The plating, as with virtually all of the dishes at Blades, was gorgeous.
Her crab cakes with creole mustard sauce ($8.95) were good but unexceptional, while the salads appeared to be trying too hard to appeal to people who don’t like salad. The leaves were piled high with fat and protein—poached egg, nuts and bacon on the spinach salad ($8.95), and salmon, shrimp and pancetta on the Blades salad ($9.95). But I looked around the room and saw many diners happily picking the goodies off their salads and barely touching the greens. If that’s what the customers want, who am I to argue?
The plating, as with virtually all of the dishes at Blades, was gorgeous.
After a fully satisfying French onion soup ($6.50) that was rich with a sweet, dense, onion flavor, my porterhouse pork chop ($16.95) arrived. Unfortunately, it was completely raw inside. Not rare, raw—with a thin veneer of cooked flesh around the outside, like a piece of seared ahi tuna. I sent it back. Our server, who was awesome, brought me a second chop, this one cooked but too salty.
For dessert we couldn't resist the offer of chocolate pudding with red Chimayo chile. It was mind-expanding, with an aftertaste that kept giving as the chocolate sweetness gave way to the Chimayo's heady spice.
On my next visit I sat at the bar. The bartender, whose frizzy, coiled locks were worth the price of admission, did a great job at keeping conversations going with everyone at the bar. She let me taste several wines before I settled on a glass of Sicilian Planeta La Segreta Bianco ($8) to accompany a fried calamari appetizer and seared halibut entrée, both chosen off of the specials list. The calamari ($7.95) was tender and tasty, with a spicy batter and blue cheese dipping sauce. The halibut ($16.95) was so salty I couldn’t even taste the fish; I’d prefer to add my own salt. But the glass of smooth white wine washed it down nicely.
The upbeat vibe, fun and attentive service, and artful decor and presentation at Blades Bistro are all topnotch. But the food sometimes loses its way, piling on fat and salt while searching for "upscale" status—which, like my raw pork chop, is only skin-deep. Blades could be the answer to a Placitas prayer for a nice neighborhood restaurant, especially if it made more of an effort to search closer to home for some of its ingredients. The Chimayo chile chocolate pudding hints at the creative possibilities of Blades—if it could be of the neighborhood as much as it’s for the neighborhood.
The Alibi Recommends
• Roasted fresh beets with toasted goat cheese and balsamic glaze drizzle
• Chocolate pudding with Chimayo chile, if it’s on special
• Quality time at the bar
Blades Bistro, 221 Hwy. 165, Placitas, (505) 771-0695, www.bladesbistro.com. Hours: Mon-Thu 5-9:30 p.m., Fri-Sat 5-10 p.m. Closed Sundays. Price range: $8-$10 starters; $17-$23 entrées. Ambience: Casual upscale. Booze: flowing. Credit cards accepted, patio seating.