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Vinaigrette serves up inventively dressed greens

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — magine building a restaurant on the basis of a side dish or an appetizer. Indeed, there are wildly successful places that specialize in buffalo wings, and at least one franchise joint exists for the sole reason to serve baked potatoes. Since 2008, Erin Wade has served up salad – that’s right, salad – to a Santa Fe crowd that adores local farms as well as expert use of fresh veggies. Less than two months ago she opened her second location of Vinaigrette right here in Albuquerque’s Old Town.

At Vinaigrette, you will not find a more inventive selection of dressed greenery anywhere in the state. For the Santa Fe location, Wade used her own garden near Nambé to supply most of the raw ingredients. I worried a second kitchen would be too much of a draw on the plot’s harvest, but she’s adding Albuquerque farms to the source list for the Old Town location.

Those franchise “side dish” restaurants use inexpensive ingredients to keep their costs down, while Vinaigrette takes a different tack: expertly prepare the highest-quality dishes and charge an appropriate price. This means you’ll find salads that appear pricey at first glance but are worth every penny. Classics such as Cobb ($9.95) or Frisée ($9.95) are a great place to start, with bold flavors and restrained dressings.

LOCATION: 1828 W. Central, 842-5507,
HOURS: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily

The menu suggests adding duck confit ($7) to the Frisée, which serves to embellish the richness of the fried egg and bacon cubes with shreds of decadent duck. One could call it unctuous or over-the-top, but honestly, some days a bit of gilding the lily is just what the doctor ordered.

Despite the impressive salad lineup, Wade knows that sometimes you just really want a good sandwich, so the menu includes a handful of classics from Tuna Melt to Reuben. In Albuquerque several of the sandwiches (though not the Cuban) can be halved and paired with soup or a small classic salad.

One of my favorites is a Cuban Torta ($10.45) paired with the Omega salad, studded with pine nuts and avocado, or the Cherry Tart’s arugula, feta and dried cherries.

Make haste to visit and you can experience the seasonal I Yam What I Yam salad of mixed greens, pork tenderloin and shreds of vibrant sweet potato.

Wash down any meal with a sweet-limey Pepino or hibiscus tea or try any of the handpicked wines – if it’s a tippling kind of occasion. Even with rich ingredients, getting uncomfortably stuffed is unlikely. Here is where Wade is genius yet again: Her desserts are gossip-worthy from a flaky slice of pie ($7) to a mocha-hued flourless chocolate cake ($6.25).

At Vinaigrette, salad doubters revel in bite after bite until the plate is clean and their palate blissful. There is a market for expertly crafted piles of veggies with great dressings and local organic protein. Let’s hope Albuquerque is ready for a perfect $17 salad, because it has arrived.