Eat Your Greens
Vinaigrette knows how to dress a salad
By Jana Lee Aspin
When I spotted the swinging red kitchen doors with portholes at the newest Vinaigrette location (the original being in Santa Fe), my first thought was “Krusty Krab,” the fictional restaurant frequented by Spongebob Squarepants. Then I scanned the place and saw the high ceilings, the tall windows facing Central and the giant paintings of deep-red radishes, plump tomatoes, and curly bib lettuce that pay homage to the healthy menu. Happily, this place is a hip, modern bistro—not a greasy diner under the sea.
My dinner companion and I were excited to try Vinaigrette’s entrée salads, which are made with ingredients from a 10-acre farm in Nambe. Fortunately, getting a table on a Monday evening was not a problem.
The wine list includes 14 different options by the glass and four special wines by the bottle only. The only bad decision I made during the first visit was ordering pinot noir ($9), not because I didn’t like it, but because the mild red wine couldn’t hold a candle to the feisty food items. My friend opted for a wheat beer ($4.50), one of four varieties from local favorite Marble Brewing Company. It went well with his dishes.
For an appetizer, I had the stuffed cabbage ($7.50) and my companion had a cup of chicken egg drop lemon soup ($5). The cabbage dish was bathed in a red sauce. My first bite was a chunk of ground beef with a little bit of rice wrapped in a thin layer of cabbage with a mild nutty flavor from cumin. It was punctuated by the sauce’s sweet tomato flavor and ended perfectly in a sour cream tartness. The only thing that could have improved the dish was a little more cabbage wrapping.
The soup wasn’t your typical egg-drop with noticeable bits of egg floating in it. Instead, the broth was slightly gelatinous from the eggs and packed full of small, tender cubes of white-meat chicken and slices of carrots. The broth was a good balance of salt and lemon, with neither flavor triumphing over the other.
My main dish was the arugula duck salad ($14.45). It was piled high with baby arugula and eating it was akin to a treasure hunt. Under all of the greens were generous portions of a rich, slightly gamey duck confit that blended nicely with creamy goat cheese, and the light sweetness of pears soaked in balsamic vinegar with just a suggestion of cinnamon. The hibiscus vinaigrette dressing was naturally sour from the hibiscus and pulled together the other flavors.
My friend went the Reuben sandwich route ($10.45) but asked for sour dough instead of toasted rye. He was pleased with how perfectly grilled the bread was, which had just enough crunch when he sank his teeth in. The pink corned beef and sauerkraut with Swiss cheese were comparable to that from a fine deli. The Russian dressing packed a little heat that surprised, but delighted us.
Vinaigrette is a refreshing change from the mix of mostly New Mexican, Asian, and pizza places that dot Downtown and Old Town Albuquerque.
For dessert we ordered apple pie ($5.95) and a scoop of homemade lemon ice cream ($5.50) with coffee ($2.50). The pie had a presentation more like cobbler. The crust was thin, baked to a light brown, and tasted buttery. It offered a satisfying crunch to go with the sticky-sweetness of the soft, warm apples. I was concerned that the lemon ice cream would be too lemony, like a sherbet. But it was more like a thick vanilla with just a hint of lemon.
After our quiet evening, we decided to try a Saturday night to test the food and service. Again, we came right in and were seated after only a minute. Our timing was impeccable, though, because soon after the place was teeming with hungry diners waiting for tables.
Not to be fooled again on my wine choice, I ordered a sauvignon blanc ($7.25) instead and it held up well to my food choices. The soup du jour, pureed artichoke with mushrooms ($5), sounded too good to pass up, so I tried a cup. The distinct buttery flavor of artichoke met up with a slight tang of vinegar. And when I got to a sliced mushroom it was almost like biting into a fresh lemon. The mushroom had its own juicy identity apart from the creamy base.
My main entrée was “I Yam What I Yam,” a seasonal salad ($12.95). There’s nothing like a salad in which yam shoestrings, pancetta and pomegranate seeds are just as prolific as the baby greens. The burnt-orange shoestring haystack perched beautifully atop the salad and the baby greens had a sheen of sweet, delicate mustard vinaigrette. The crunch of the shoestrings reminded me of the shoestring potatoes I ate as a child. The taste was soft, maple-sweet and contrasted well with the bursting juice of the pomegranate and the pancetta’s saltiness.
The gumbo ($7) had some of the largest pinwheels of okra I had ever seen. They were blended with a hearty mix of white rice and slices of pink sausage in a thick, greenish broth. The presentation had an artistic, abstract appeal. The broth was mild, but we liked that it was spiced just enough that there was no need to add salt or pepper. The sausage had a bit of a bologna taste.
Even as busy as the place was on our Saturday visit, drinks and dishes arrived in quick succession.
Vinaigrette is a refreshing change from the mix of mostly New Mexican, Asian, and pizza places that dot Downtown and Old Town Albuquerque. After two visits, I’m looking forward to going yet again. I still have fond memories of stuffed cabbage and crunchy yam shoestrings dancing in my head.
1828 Central SW
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day
Price Range: $8.50-$17.95 for entrees
Vibe: Relaxing modern
Vegetarian and vegan options: A Nambe farm full of them.
Extras: Lunch Couples special (half sandwich and salad or soup)
The Alibi recommends: Arugula duck salad, reuben, apple pie
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