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The roll call of local restaurants lost to the pandemic grows month by month.
Conspicuous among the closures are many longtime operations, such as the Cooperage, Le Peep and Garcia’s original location.
It’s become clear that the transition to a takeout model has been a bridge too far for many places that relied on dine-in business. If ambiance is your draw, if you roll out fine china and tablecloths and lengthy wine lists, how do you survive when your interactions with patrons boil down to handing over a few bags at the front entrance? And will people cough up $30 for a steak or piece of fish that has to be reheated in the microwave when they get home?
The staff at Seasons in Old Town, one of the oldest restaurants of the city’s fine-dining scene, seemed sanguine about the predicament when I visited on a Saturday night for takeout. The host told me business has been good. It’s the kind of attitude that has helped the restaurant thrive since opening in 1995 as the inaugural venture of twins Keith and Kevin Roessler, who have gone on to launch Zinc and Savoy in Albuquerque and the Gorge Bar & Grill in Taos.
Seasons is a place for special occasions. A meal there at Christmastime serves as an ideal prelude for a walk to the Plaza. My most recent visit was for my son’s high school graduation party, when the wine and conversation flowed and it felt like a drumroll should have accompanied the opening of the check.
Nowadays, the dining room stretched out along the sidewalk is dark and empty, and most of the action is centered on the rooftop patio. From the street, you can see servers delivering colorful martinis to tables, careful not to spill a drop. Dinner is served five nights a week, but lunch service has been shut down temporarily.
Seasons’ tasteful décor belies a varied menu. Alongside the $34 tenderloin and $29 plate of scallops are a gyro, a burger and a turkey wrap.
A shareable item such as crispy shrimp ($9) typifies the unpretentious spirit of the menu. Served in a box, the 20-plus breaded, fried shrimp taste like they came from a New England clam shack. The traditional cocktail sauce is eschewed in favor of a wonderfully hot and sweet orange chile dipping sauce.
Even in takeout form, the peach and blackberry salad ($11) is lovely to look at, the fruit and creamy lumps of local goat cheese set against the pile of baby spinach and arugula. A terrific basil vinaigrette dressing, like a sweet pesto, helps all the greens go down. Unfortunately, the peach had been swapped out for a nectarine that wasn’t very sweet, and the green chile cornbread croutons were on the soft side.
A half a rotisserie chicken ($23), Seasons’ signature dish, did not disappoint. The skin was nicely browned and crisp from the fire, the meat moist, tender and infused with flavor from the spice rub. The creamy apple lime dressing on the kale slaw mitigated the bitter flavor of the greens. Finely julienned carrots, apples and red peppers added crunch and sweetness. Green chile corn spoonbread was stellar, a better version of cornbread.
The green chile cheeseburger ($14.75) suffered the most from the transit time and reheating, as the microwave cooked all the pink out of it. Otherwise, it was a pretty immaculate presentation, the toasted brioche bun a good match for the half-pound block of beef and the melted slab of cheddar cheese serving to encase a pile of noticeably hot green chile. It comes with lemon aioli, spicy ketchup and thick, pale fries tossed with rosemary.
The food was ready shortly after I arrived, 20 minutes after calling. It was packed well for the trip home.
Seasons has defied the odds, surviving in its Old Town location while neighbors like the Melting Pot have come and gone. That survival owes much to the ambiance of its dining room and the still-open top-floor patio. Here’s hoping that the dining room is back online soon.
LOCATION: 2031 Mountain NW, 766-5100, seasonsabq.com
HOURS: 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
On the side
PAD THAI CAFÉ
LOCATION: 110 Louisiana SE, 266-0567, padthaicafeabq.com
Chile peppers arrived in Thailand in the 16th century from the Americas via Portuguese traders. To say the Thai people took to them is an understatement.
The central role of chile peppers in Thai cuisine is on full display at Pad Thai Café in the International District. Chile fires the curries and stir-fries; it insinuates itself into the chopped-meat salad called laab.
The heat smolders on the tongue long after the meal is done.
The menu offers all the familiar Thai dishes at prices that are on the low end of the range for similar restaurants in the city.
An appetizer of chicken satay ($6.95) offers six skewers of flattened white meat chicken burnished golden brown with curry powder. The accompanying peanut sauce is a wonder, the nuts, coconut milk and fish sauce conspiring to create something at once briny, pungent and sweet. A refreshing cucumber salad sits coolly at the other end of the spectrum.
Thai cuisine bears the influence of its neighbors, as in laab ($9.95), a salad of minced pork flavored with lime juice, fish sauce and chili powder that is the unofficial national dish of Laos. Rice, toasted and then ground into a powder, gives the dish an appealing grit and nutty fragrance. Pad Thai Café’s version is outstanding, the heat level noticeable but not intolerable, with cooling notes from the cilantro and mint.
— Richard S. Dargan