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High Point Grill focuses on Cajun, New Mexican flavors

High Point Grill, Chef Mike White’s new restaurant, opened on the West Side in November to lofty expectations. It comes with the territory for the reigning winner of the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s Chef of the Year Award.

High Point occupies the same space on Coors north of Paseo del Norte that housed Nicky V’s pizzeria for more than five years. The location brings White’s cooking, previously on display at the Point Grill way out in the northwest corner of Rio Rancho, within reach of more people.

The restaurant’s design, with a brick-faced bar and Tuscan color scheme, bears evidence of its past life as a pizzeria. There are two dining rooms: a front room with lots of natural light and a dimly lit, quieter space in the back. A patio affords sweeping views of the Sandia Mountains to the east.

Chef White’s Southern roots and past in the food truck business are apparent in the unpretentious menu that highlights Cajun and New Mexican flavors. You can get a plate of shrimp and grits ($22) or Cajun wings ($14). Red chile serves as a crust for both the pork tenderloin ($26) and one of the burgers ($13).

Offerings on the Tapas/Munchies menu include Cajun crab hush puppies ($15), four golf-ball-sized servings of lump crab meat coated and fried in a panko-cornmeal crust. The hush puppies provide a perfect balance of crabmeat and crunch, and the salty-sweet blue crab picks up a welcome jolt of heat from the remoulade, a kind of spicy mayonnaise that’s a mainstay of Cajun cooking. It’s a superlative appetizer that you’ll be reluctant to share.

Garlic Romano fries ($12) are made Italian-style, tossed in herbs and served with Parmesan cheese and its sharper, saltier cousin, Romano. The thin fries are well-seasoned, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside and ideally suited for carrying the delicious blue cheese dip that accompanies the dish. Although the serving is generous, the price tag might be daunting for all but the most devoted connoisseurs of fries.

The High Point Mac is served with teres major, a tender cut of beef shoulder. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The High Point Mac is served with teres major, a tender cut of beef shoulder. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

High Point has a section of the menu devoted to macaroni and cheese, a reminder of how, in recent years, chefs have been elevating this quintessential American comfort food to a culinary centerpiece. Among the seven choices is the High Point Mac ($14), a cast iron pan of cheesy noodles mixed with green chile and served with a slab of teres major, a shoulder cut steak sometimes referred to as bistro filet. Underneath a crusty layer of baked cheese, the al dente macaroni in the creamy four-cheese sauce pairs beautifully with the moderately hot chile.

Teres major, also offered as a stand-alone entree at two sizes ($18/$21), is often described as a filet-quality steak at a fraction of the price. I wouldn’t go that far: Although it has more flavor than filet mignon or tenderloin, it’s not nearly as tender. The presentation is nice to look at but trying to cut the steak over the bed of macaroni proves challenging. Next time, I would opt for the bacon ($11) or meatball ($14) version.

The service at High Point is exemplary from the moment you walk in the door to the time you leave. It feels like the friendly, knowledgeable staff is truly invested in the success of the restaurant.

High Point has been open about two months and is still settling into its surroundings. During lunch, a hyperactive heater forced the manager to open the patio doors to lower the temperature inside. Beer taps are being installed and will be flowing in time for next month’s grand opening. About 40 varieties of wine will also be offered.

It should be a happy occasion. Mike White has established himself as a chef to watch, and High Point Grill appears poised to add to his reputation.

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