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Elaine’s is the real deal
“Everything in moderation ... including moderation,” said a bunch of famous people. It’s a useful declaration to pull out and polish off when you need permission to self-indulge, and it applies well to Elaine’s, the stunning new fine dining bistro in Nob Hill.
Because you are going to drop $150 minimum on dinner for two. That’s not easy for some of us who grew up in parsimonious households. But even we learned there are times when you break open the coffers and kill the fatted calf. (We learned this in Sunday school.)
I personally don’t know how to kill a fatted calf, let alone how to serve it raw à la tartare, under a slow-poached egg and a smattering of water cress. Nor can I fashion ash ravioli and fill them with pear and parsnip puree, nor cook scallops to golden luscious perfection, place them on a sea of crème fraîche and splash them with red currant syrup.
But Elaine’s can. And they’ll do it with an aplomb that is rare, if not unparalleled, in Albuquerque.
So first off, you might want to dress up a little so you don’t feel like a total boob in the intimate, hip/luxe dining room. The lustrous assortment of light fixtures—hanging jar lamps, drum lamps and a glittery chandelier—casts a sort of champagne glass effect over the entire room that extends to mod touches like the chalkboard wall and massive metal block letters spelling “Elaine’s.”
On the table, the silverware’s sheen is so high that it looks wet. Combine with the pectin-tongue of Frank Sinatra over the speakers and you’ll turn to jelly before your first aperitif. This is all part of the price tag. Go with the intention of lingering so you can fully soak it in.
The menu, like the dining room, is also intimate, listing only five or six options under each course. Less is more in this case.
The truly spectacular dishes are all on the top half of the menu. I mean “spectacular” in the classic sense of the word—theatrical, exciting—concocted with the visual whimsy of art deco and fantasia set dressings. Take the Parisian gnocchi ($13): Parisian in method (using pâte à choux dough), but more evocative of the long-gone oak Forest of Rouvray surrounding the city. The gnocchi (creamy, savory, golden brown morsels) are decked with olive oil, tissue-papery dried tomato skins, fairy-like enoki mushroom shoots and unnervingly flavorful Brussels sprouts. It’s rich and fresh and fanciful all at once.
Nor can I fashion ash ravioli and fill them with pear and parsnip puree, nor cook scallops to golden luscious perfection, place them on a sea of crème fraîche and splash them with red currant syrup.
But Elaine’s can.
The yellow fin tuna crudo ($14), a pink, spiky little dish of velvety raw tuna and paper-thin prosciutto, aligned on a savory focaccia crouton, is so pretty that it looks like something you want to break apart and pin in your hair (not recommended). It tastes pretty, too, perfectly punctuated by pickled lemon, spring green micro-cilantro and a delicate smear of green chile aioli.
The Pat LaFrieda tartare ($13) is your chance to try raw sushi-grade beef from Pat LaFrieda, a foodie-adored, high-end meat wholesaler based in New Jersey. The melting, pleasingly flavorful encounter with raw red meat is pure animal thrill. (Don’t try this at home either.)
Holy Moses, you’ll probably say to yourself sometime after the second course. What is happening back there in the kitchen?
Chef Andrew Gorski is happening back there. Gorski, a nationally recognized chef who studied under Alain Ducasse and Thomas Keller, relocated from Tremont Taphouse in Cleveland to take the helm at Elaine’s.
And who is this Elaine?!, you will demand to know. That would be Elaine Blanco, the former manager of Scalo (directly opposite Central). Elaine’s is a collaborative brainchild of Steve Paternoster (owner of Scalo), Elaine Blanco and Garrick Mendoza (executive chef at Scalo). On any given night, Blanco, clad in a business suit and heels, presides over the dining room with a sure, epicurean presence, personally welcoming guests with a complimentary amuse-bouche (bite-size sopapillas on a plate of house-made honey butter dusted with minced, super-fine pancetta) and chatting up the denizens of the bar.
Now that you know who is responsible for blowing off your proverbial socks, continue with your dinner.
The entrées are all meat and fish based, from the spotted pig ($26)—fat-ringed pork belly in a miso broth, pared Brussels sprouts floating like lotus flowers, topped with a single ash ravioli (um, yes, it’s flavored with vegetable ash from charred vegetable skins) and a clutch of gremolata—to the almost unbearably buttery scallops. All are nearly flawless, if not as titillating as the appetizer and vegetable dishes.
We tried two of the four desserts—the pound cake, custard and macerated strawberry trifle ($10) and a dense, dark chocolate bruiser of a confection called Elaine’s candy bar ($10, smartly coupled with a side of coconut sorbet.) Again, flawless but lacking the derring-do of the earlier courses.
But maybe it’s okay to wind down at the end, so as not to be too jellified for the drive home.
And now a word of warning: Elaine’s is bound to be stormed with well-to-do, eyes-
My advice? Ignore them. Multiple fatted calves have been killed for you (some of which were salmon, lambs and ducks). For the love of God, just enjoy your meal.
3503 Central NE
Hours: Dinner only, 5pm-10:30pm, Tuesday-Saturday
Price: Four-course meal, $53 minimum per person, not including wine, tax or tip
Vibe: Lipstick and cufflinks
Vegetarian options: Not as main course
The Weekly Alibi recommends: Yellow fin tuna crudo, Pat LaFrieda tartare, Parisian gnocchi, composition of beets, diver scallops