Alibi V.15 No.36 • Sept 7-13, 2006 

The Dish

All the News That's Fit to Eat

Jennifer James Walks Away from Graze!—Hours before the Alibi went to press, it was announced that Chef Jennifer James is leaving her Nob Hill restaurant for good. She and business partner Michael Chesley have decided to end their six-year-long collaboration, which included two acclaimed restaurants--Restaurant Jennifer James and Albuquerque’s popular small-plates restaurant, Graze. Graze won’t close in James’ absence—it will continue to operate under the eye of remaining partner Michael Chesley.

Jennifer's star began to rise in the Albuquerque restaurant community when she held down Chef de Cuisine duties at Le Café Miche for two years. In 2001, she left to start a project of her own at Gordon Schutte's Café Spoleto spot, a pink adobe casita on San Mateo. Her first entrée into restaurant ownership became Restaurant Jennifer James. Former Alibi food reviewer (and present-day food critic at Westword, Denver's premiere alternative newsweekly) Jason Sheehan called her effort “A Rare and Beautiful Thing.” She opened Graze shortly thereafter, in October of 2002, and eventually closed Restaurant Jennifer James. James won the superlative honor of “Best Chef” in the Alibi's Readers' Choice Restaurant Poll twice, in 2003 and in our most recent poll. According to a press release sent out by James' sister and Graze chef, Kelly Burton, James plans to “return to the culinary scene in Albuquerque sometime in early 2007,” and thanks the staff and patrons that supported her at both restaurants.

Dinner at Sophia's—Sophia's Place is the kind of tiny, ingredient-oriented café that chefs flock to for a groggy post-drinking night clean up. For the past five years, it's been an unassuming haven in the North Valley, where red chile-soaked carnitas come with farmers' market greens and artisan bread grilled in bacon drippings. Real food done right. You won't understand until you go.

Which, until recently, hasn't been an easy task. Major road construction on Fourth Street has made accessing Sophia's difficult in anything less than an ATV. Once you actually get there, there's only room enough for about 30 people on the inside (although the patio nearly doubles that when the weather's fine). And they're only open for breakfast and lunch, which significantly limits the amount of people who can get to the restaurant.

Unfortunately, the construction is still raging. But, as of Sept. 1, Sophia's Place opened for dinner. Chef and owner Dennis Apodaca has introduced an eclectic new dinner menu that includes yummies like duck tacos and crispy fried calamari. Try Sophia's dinner on for size Tuesday-Saturday until 9 p.m., and don't miss Chef Apodaca's white double-layer cake, pumpkin brownies and homemade ice cream for dessert--or a bedtime snack.