Pop quiz! How many Il Vicino restaurants are there? Give up? Eight. We have two in Albuquerque, and there are now locations in Santa Fe, Colorado Springs, Denver, St. Louis and Wichita. Yes, Wichita. Question number two: Did you know that Pranzo, the Italian restaurant in Santa Fe, was owned by the same guys who own Il Vicino and Scalo? Oh, ya didn't didja? Well, surely you read in this paper that those guys (Tom White, Rick Post and Greg Atkin) just sold Scalo to Steve Paternoster. Oh! Question number three: Who is the president of the New Mexico Restaurant Association? That's right, Steve Paternoster. Back to the story. Pranzo was just sold to Michael O'Reilly, and judging from a recent meal I had at O'Reilly's other restaurant, The O'Keeffe Café, Pranzo will be in good hands. The café, next to the Georgia O'Keeffe museum, is shockingly underrated. The food is excellent, with a strong focus on local, organic ingredients; the wine list and service are superb. O'Reilly also bought all of Pranzo's recipes and intends to keep the restaurant mostly the same.
The St. James Tearoom (901 Rio Grande NW, 242-3752) is hiking the price of afternoon tea (basically a full lunch with tea) from $20 to $25 as of April 5. The Tearoom's most recent newsletter explains that proprietress Mary Alice Higbie wants to “infuse even more excellence into the experience that you enjoy.” And people do seem to be enjoying it, as they continue to pack the place regularly. There is also a new chef in the kitchen over there. Toby Prescott is a veteran of the Ritz Carlton hotel in Tyson's Corner, Va., and has worked with some semi-famous chefs whose names you wouldn't recognize. (I recently showed a picture of a kitchen that I liked to a cabinetmaker, and when I told him that it was Mario Battali's kitchen, he said, “Who?” Apparently Aaron the Jewish Carpenter doesn't watch the Food Network.) Anyway, go get your tea now while it's cheap.
People still ask me about Salsa Fresca, that burrito/wrap shop that had a short run over on the Harvard Mall. Well, it's dead and gone folks, sorry. Pepperjack Monterey's has taken its place at 120 Harvard SE. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. You know, breakfast burritos, wraps and burgers, plus enchiladas, pastas and salads. Check it out.
I keep forgetting to mention that some restaurant folks have set up a scholarship fund for the children of the late Matt Brewer of Café Bodega. The account is at First State Bank, and it's called the Matthew Besse-Brewer Memorial Fund. Early contributors include Steve Paternoster, Linda and Claus Hjortkjaer and the Albuquerque Originals. Donate if you can.