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Morning star: Lily and Liam Bistro excels at sweet, savory breakfast, lunch treats

Almond cream quinoa is one of Lily and Liam Bistro’s lighter, healthier breakfast options. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

Eat at enough greasy spoons and breakfast becomes a meal of modest expectations. You start to believe that every diner has the same menu, the same burned coffee and rubbery eggs.

And then a place like Lily and Liam Bistro in Rio Rancho comes along to confound those expectations. The restaurant, in a former Subway across from Intel, is bright and clean, the menu creative. Settling in, you begin to understand why the place has generated considerable buzz since married couple James and Megan Garrigan opened it last November. Although it’s the Garrigans’ first foray into the restaurant business, James brings years of cooking experience, including a stint at Joe’s Pasta House, the highly regarded Italian restaurant on Southern in Rio Rancho.

The bistro, named for the Garrigans’ children, is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. The menu bears a French influence, with entrees such as brie in puff pastry, croque monsieur and seared tuna niçoise salad.

The breakfast menu is split into the sweet and the savory. Almond cream quinoa ($6), one of the highlights of the sweet side, looks like a stock photo from a brochure on healthy eating. Berries and grapes gather on a pile of pale-brown quinoa, a gluten-free grain that has the mouth feel of rice with a nuttier flavor. High in protein, fiber and vitamins, it’s the superfood of the grain world. Lest this all sound too ascetic, there’s a pile of almond cream alongside to bind everything together. It looks great on the plate, and everything works well together, with a smattering of toasted almonds on top to add some crunch.

Despite the name, the panna cotta parfait ($7) doesn’t come layered in a tall glass. Instead, it’s served in deconstructed fashion, the dome-shaped scoop of vanilla-flavored sweet cream and gelatin on a bed of granola with berries around the edges. Like the quinoa, it’s a lovely presentation that succeeds when you can corral everything into one bite.

The Dutch eggs dish at Lily and Liam Bistro features two eggs cooked in pancake batter and served over hash browns. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The restaurant has a few variations on Dutch babies, a thick pancake that’s baked in an oven rather than fried on a griddle. The pancake’s center deflates when it’s removed from the heat, leaving behind a cavity that’s ideal for holding fillings. At Lily and Liam’s, you can get them with fruit or as part of the Dutch eggs entrée ($8). For the latter, the eggs are cooked inside the bacon-wrapped pancakes and served over a hash of diced baked potatoes, onions and red and yellow peppers. The preparation could have used a little more finesse, as the bacon unraveled and one of the eggs leaked out of its pancake. What it lacked in aesthetic value it made up for in taste, and the popover-like pancakes proved ideal for soaking up the runny egg yolks.

Other savories on the menu include cauliflower steak and eggs ($7) and a version of the Swiss peasant dish rosti ($8), with ham, egg and cheese on shredded potato cake. Madame Hatch ($11), a special that day, is a New Mexico spin on the French ham and cheese sandwich known as the croque madame. In the bistro’s version, the sandwich is topped with a couple of eggs basted in the pan without flipping to cook the white and firm the yolk just a bit. The whole thing is drowned in Mornay sauce, a white sauce that wields some sharpness from its blend of cheeses. The winning touch, though, was the layer of smoldering green chile inside the sandwich. This is what eggs Benedict should aspire to be.

Service was excellent, thanks in no small part to the active presence of the manager in the small dining room. My friend and I were able to chat with him as he refilled our cups with Lily and Liam’s easy-drinking coffee ($2) made with beans from West Side-based Whispering Bean Coffee Roasters. Then the lunch crowd starting filing in. By the time we left, the place was full and people were waiting on the sidewalk for their names to be called.

It looks like the word is out: Lily and Liam Bistro is a vital new addition to the Rio Rancho dining scene that serves up some of the finest cuisine in the area.

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