Alibi V.28 No.32 • Aug 8-14, 2019 

Restaurant Review

The Art of Not Choking

Artichoke Cafe maintains excellence for 30 years

steak
Thick steak, thick butter, thin fries.
Eric Williams Photography
Hello, readers. Your words have been heard loud and clear, enough with the hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken and more. You want me to do my job and dig in on the high-end places of the city. Your cultured tastes cannot fathom some of these lower-end places. Fine. I give in. We have a policy of not reviewing the same place twice, and my predecessors have taken all the cool places before I arrived, so I was left digging for somewhere we hadn’t been before. Much to my surprise, Artichoke Café was one of those places.

A review in two parts, we’re going to look at what will work best for you. With a weekday lunch option, and dinner seven nights a week, you have the opportunity to try either, depending on the schedule you keep. Located in EDo and taken over by new owners the year I was born, 1989, Artichoke Café helped create a neighborhood that has grown and fostered a sense of local community spaces that helps make it one of the most unique locations in Albuquerque. With name recognition as one of the truly great restaurants focused on fine dining in the city, the question at hand is whether they’ve held that standard up for the past 30 years.

The lunch offerings are not only in line with the fine dining style they’ve set, but also affordable. With most options landing around the $10 to $14 range, you’ll be able to pull off a nice lunch without destroying your wallet. For example, the Caesar salad ($10), which features romaine, radicchio, thyme crouton, pecorino and white anchovy, is a gentle reinvention of the iconic salad. Another hot take on an old favorite is their ravioli ($14) which features wild mushroom and asparagus, toasted pine nuts, baby tomato, baby basil and pecorino. It’s pretty damn hard to reimagine how ravioli should be made while adhering to the core concepts of the food, yet this hits that sweet spot. The toasted pine nut complements the basil with earthy notes, while the wild mushroom and asparagus combination gives it the heft it needs to make each bite feel noteworthy. Add on the pecorino, with its buttery flavor, as well as just a hint of nut that ties back in with those pine nuts, and you get a ravioli dish that is equal parts familiar and bold, new and exciting.

ravioli
Ravioli, ravioli, give me the formuoli.
Eric Williams Photography

Conversely, the dinner options are just as creative, with that touch of familiarity that makes it accessible for those who have specific taste profiles they prefer to engage with. For example, the fritto misto apetizer ($16) which is composed of scallops, shrimp, calamari, tomato coulis and a lemon-caper aioli is an absolute delight to eat. Lightly fried with just enough crunch, this seafood compilation is the perfect fit for a table to share. In terms of drinks, there’s an extensive wine list, a full bar, a sizeable selection of beers both bottled and on draft, as well as both classic and signature cocktails. My whiskey loving heart went for the Kentucky ninja ($12), a drink featuring bourbon, Japanese whisky, lavender, honey and lemon. It wasn’t too sweet, it didn’t have a bite and it was just a smooth experience from start to finish. Imagine if you will a chilled hot toddy, with none of the tea that adds a bitter layer to the profile.

For dinner, I went with an old favorite no matter where I go, the steak frites ($26). This angus New York strip comes served with house-cut fries, a tarragon red wine compound butter and a rosemary demi. The steak itself was a thick slab with a hefty crusting. There was just enough marbling inside to offer tenderness, and the flavor from the tarragon red wine compound butter melted over the top kept everything robust without overwhelming the senses or drowning the steak in too many flavors. At its best, an angus New York strip should be able to stand on its own without over-seasoning, which this steak managed to pull off flawlessly.

I finished the meal with the crème brûlée ($8). Featuring a line of fresh blueberries atop its glazed surface, my only complaint was more of a preference, which is that it was a darker burn on the crust than I typically enjoy, though some prefer it burnt black (heathens). The crème itself was absolutely perfect. Firm, sweet, soft and delicious.

Has the past 30 years helped Artichoke Café maintain the status of their recognition as one of Albuquerque’s top fine dining spots? I feel safe in saying yes. The pricing isn’t so exorbitant that you couldn’t manage to pull off a nice date night there once in a while, and the lunch pricing alone is very fair, in terms of comparability with other spaces around town versus quality. Maybe it’s been a while since you thought about Artichoke Café. It had been for me, too. Maybe if someone has been around for 30 years, you should check out what they’re doing right.

Caesar salad
Not featured: 23 knives in the salad.
Eric Williams Photography

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424 Central Ave. SE
(505) 243-0200
http://www.artichokecafe.com

Hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri: 11am-2:30pm Dinner: Sun-Thu: 5pm-9pm Fri-Sat: 5pm-10pm Happy Hour: Mon-Fri: 3pm-6pm Closed Sunday
Vibe: High-end dining in a clean, classy locale
Alibi Recommends: Any of their signature drinks will pair wonderfully with the menu. The raviolis are especially wonderful.