“Would you like to dine in or sit on the patio?”
The question from the host at Seared, the 3-year-old restaurant near Old Town, left us momentarily stumped.
The dining room’s coziness, an inviting quality in pre-COVID days, seemed forbidding with the recent precipitous rise in cases. The patio was clearly the safer choice, but it was cold and dark and the wind was picking up.
As if reading our minds, the host said, “we’ve got heaters out there.”
We chose the patio, unaware that, for the second time since the pandemic started, the curtain was about to come down on restaurant dining. Our decision was somewhat impulsive, coming after a visit to the Albuquerque Museum to check out ArtsThrive, an exhibition of local art and an important annual fundraiser that runs through Dec. 6. It was Saturday night and the prospect of ordering food, bringing it home and reheating it in the microwave was dispiriting.
What better place to have a last meal out for a while than Seared? Jan Barringer-Tenchipe and her husband, chef Alejandro Tenchipe Paez, opened the restaurant in 2017 as a fine-dining, dinner-only counterpart to their two Cheese and Coffee sandwich shops and bakeries. It shares space with one of the Cheese and Coffees in a small strip mall just southwest of where Central knifes into Lomas.
Seared’s patio is set on a wide stretch of sidewalk facing a residential street. Shade cloths and strings of lights hang above, and a dozen or so propane heaters stand sentinel among the tables. The eight-foot-tall heaters do the job, even if they require periodic adjustments from the servers.
The menu bears a French and Italian influence with some New Mexico flavor added to the mix. Like most of the high-end places in town, it has plenty of options for casual dining. There’s an $8 burger and a patio menu with bar food like sliders, potato skins and a quesadilla for under $10.
You can get cocktails like gin and tonics and margaritas made with wine.
We started our meal with the soup of the day, a butternut squash ($6) with pumpkin seeds and crème fraîche that was as thick as a puree. Sweet, hearty and creamy, it was just the thing for a cold night.
Appetizers run from $10-$15 include encrusted brie, salmon crudo and the most visually striking of the lot, stalks of battered, deep-fried asparagus that rise out of a wire basket like a giant’s arthritic fingers.
A special appetizer of octopus ($14) had the heft of an entrée. The octopus meat, marinated and sautéed, was moist and light and picked up a noticeable amount of heat and smoke from a paprika chile aioli spread underneath it.
Entrees start out at $18 and crest north of $40. Roasted chicken ($23) is served in two pieces in a lovely double-handled pot with a little creamer full of jus. The chicken was moist and flavorful, the skin crisp. A pile of calabacitas and green chile underneath it looked innocent enough but was so molten it left me unable to speak. Another great dish for the season.
A special of three seared, prosciutto-wrapped scallops ($29) was expertly prepared, the prosciutto forming a thin, crisp skin over the juicy mollusks. The scallops were served on a bed of risotto spiked with chaparral mushrooms and pomegranate. The dish had a little
of everything: smoke, salt, sweetness, earthiness, texture from the risotto and even a little bit of sand in the scallops. A glass of pinot grigio (Benvolio, $8), light and crisp, abetted the gentle flavor of the scallops without overwhelming it.
Service was delivered through a team approach, with different people bringing the dishes out and checking in on us at different times.
As the dining room filled up, the patio blues set in, that feeling of being exiled while the people inside soak up all the attention.
It made us consider skipping dessert, but the wait was redeemed with an excellent poached pear with vanilla ice cream ($8), the pear infused with cinnamon and red wine.
Seared offers a reminder of what a pleasure it is to dine out – another of life’s pleasure taken away, at least for the moment, by COVID-19.