Alibi V.24 No.14 • April 2-8, 2015 

Restaurant Review

High Times

A three-hour tour at High Finance

Tram
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Because of its magnificent location at the top of the Sandia Peak Tram, one could be excused for assuming that the food at the High Finance Restaurant would suck, for the simple reason that it can. That windy mountaintop, accessible only by the tram or hiking, ensures a reliably captive audience. People are going to buy the food when they get there, no matter price nor quality.

But a recent visit to High Finance drove home two points. One: The food does not suck, and the prices are not grotesquely swollen. Two: “Captive audience” doesn’t begin to describe the scenario on an unusually windy night, when operation of the tram, in an ironic turn of phrase, is suspended. And when one is stranded on a dark, windy mountaintop, the availability of steak, crab and pork loin wrapped in bacon, not to mention a full bar, takes on a special importance.

During our meal we had no inkling of the drawn-out opportunity to digest our food that awaited us.

During our meal we had no inkling of the drawn-out opportunity to digest our food that awaited us. All we knew was that we were seated at the intersection of two windows of the octagonal shaped-chalet, with views to the southwest and northwest, sipping from the margarita menu. A pair of snowboarders lurked at the bar on the level above us, nursing curiously tall beers.

Since most of High Finance’s views are directed through the ring of windows to the outside, it’s easy to miss the portraits that line the wall above the bar. The faces of notable high financiers like J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie are positioned to enjoy those same views, albeit from a few feet higher.

Most carnivorous menu options can be upgraded to “Oscar Style” for an additional seven dollars. I’m not sure if Oscar is pictured, but whoever he was, Oscar apparently enjoyed him some juicy chunks of lump crab and spears of asparagus, all drizzled in hollandaise sauce, because that’s what you get when you upgrade your entrée to “Oscar style” for an extra $7.

The steaks were cooked as ordered. Judging how perfectly rare the medium was, I would be wary of rare, unless you’re a total vampire. The center cut New York steak was thicker and more tender, as well as bigger and cheaper, than the rib eye. So if bovine is your preference, that’s your slab. My New York strip came with a side of sweet potato purée that was seasoned with smoky chipotle, delivering a daring level of heat, and was a refreshing departure from standard potato fare. The red wine reduction, one of three steak sauce options, was rich and sweet with a hint of berries.

Minutes ticked by. Then hours. I passed the time by staring at the various gauges in the tram station control room. The wind was regularly gusting above 50 mph, which didn’t seem like fun conditions in which to be suspended above a dark, rocky abyss.

The steak went down well with a smooth Italian pino called Cavit which disappeared too quickly. If I had known what was in store, I would have ordered a whole bottle.

The other animal proteins we tried were excellent as well. The duck breast left no room for complaint either. It was juicy and savory with a nice layer of fat. But if pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon sounds up your alley, then you should order the High Finance version of this pig-fest with no hesitation. This juicy, salty, succulent porcine paradise came with a pineapple and shallot sauce that practically sprinted down my gullet, Oscar Style, trappings and all.

The Greek salad was our favorite pile of leaves on the menu. The light dressing, which had some mildly stinky (in a good way) feta, drenched the pile of spinach scattered with olives, cucumber, onion and tomato. The Caesar, on the other hand, was little more than lightly dressed romaine hearts topped with shaved parmesan. It was disappointing, even when watching the sun set from 11,000 feet.

Greek sald
Greek sald
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
The green chile stew had enough heat to make my lips tingle but not hurt. Members of the New Mexico anti-cumin chile coalition should be warned that your arch-nemesis can be tasted in the thin broth, lurking among the chunks of coarse ground pork.

We savored our grand perch as long as we could, watching the sunset colors flare to the southwest. The poor fools at my table who ordered decaf were not pleased with their cups, and when I tasted their coffee, I understood why. I, however, enjoyed full caffeine and full flavor in my cup, and it was excellent. I used it to wash down a berry lemon cake that was bright, creamy and sharp.

As we emerged from the restaurant to begin the short, zigzagging walk back to the tram station, I noticed a tram was docked. “Let’s hurry,” I suggested, “Maybe we can catch it.”

But upon reaching the tram station, we learned that service was suspended until the wind died down.

We sat around in the station, waiting for the wind to calm. Every time the door opened, the room was invaded by a shrill hiss, a vacuum leak turned up to 11.

Minutes ticked by. Then hours. I passed the time by staring at the various gauges in the tram station control room. The wind was regularly gusting above 50 mph, which didn’t seem like fun conditions in which to be suspended above a dark, rocky abyss. But the gauge that the crew was watching most closely measured the cable deflection, essentially the angle at which the cables the tram rides along are blowing sideways. This is the reading that predicts the likelihood that the tram car will smash into Tower #2 as it glides by. The deflection had to stay below 8 for 15 minutes for the tram to restart. In 20 minutes of staring at the gauge, I didn’t see it drop below 9 for even a second.

Bacon wrapped pork tenderloin
Bacon wrapped pork tenderloin
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
After about two hours, a tram operator announced to the packed room that we might be “in it for the long haul,” and they would be distributing blankets.

I expected more bitching and moaning among the 150-odd people stranded at the summit station. We all wanted to go home, of course, but few of us seemed in any hurry to be suspended in a box more than 1,000 feet above the ground in that merciless wind.

Many made the sensible decision to make the short walk to the bar. Others settled in, wrapping themselves in their blankets and playing the board games provided. A couple that had traveled to the mountaintop with a photographer to celebrate their engagement took the opportunity to do another photo shoot.

While I appreciated not running the tram in windy conditions, the lack of a “Plan B” concerned me. There is an access road from the summit to the ski area base down the backside of the mountain, but only a single van was available with which to make the four-hour round-trip down the road to the tram base. There was one child seat and about 10 kids up there. And it wasn’t clear that the access road had even been plowed.

As I contemplated these issues, the deflection gauge I’d been staring at began drifting steadily lower.

The crew and I watched the meter, excitedly. The guy at the bottom, who would ultimately make the call—the ground control to our Major Tom—would be seeing the same readings, and our escape appeared imminent. Sure enough, the crew’s phone rang with instructions to prepare to fill a tram car and send it down.

An announcement to that effect was made in the restaurant, which caused a stampede to the tramway. As people jostled for position to get on the first tram down, the phone rang again. This time it was the bartender, reporting that some of the tram riders had bolted without paying their tabs.

Nobody in the tram station offered to go make things right. I would have happily waited a few minutes longer to enjoy the spectacle of the bartender identifying the perps. But the tram operators didn’t have the heart at this stage of the game to delay loading the tram.

Despite the drama, I would go back to High Finance, especially if I’m not paying. And were that the case I would definitely go with a full bottle of Cavit. And whatever I got, it would be Oscar Style.


Address: Top of Sandia Peak Tram
243-9742

Hours: 11am to 3pm lunch Wednesday to Sunday
Closed for lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays
Dinner 4:30pm to 8pm Wednesday to Monday
5:30pm to 8pm Tuesday
Bar and lounge open 10am to closing every day
Appetizers served all day

Vibe: High on the contact
Range: Appetizers start at $8; steaks top out at $36
Bonus: Discount on tram tickets with dinner reservations

The Alibi recommends: Bacon wrapped pork tenderloin, NY strip, Greek salad, margarita, a sleeping bag (alternatively: a weather forecast)