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Unpretentious Vinaigrette excels at salads and beyond for lunch, dinner

Vinaigrette’s lemon cheesecake is rich but soft and light, with superb lemon flavor. (Jane Chandler/For the Albuquerque Journal)

Vinaigrette’s lemon cheesecake is rich but soft and light, with superb lemon flavor. (Jane Chandler/For the Albuquerque Journal)

Vinaigrette opened more than half a dozen years ago, offering, if recollection serves, almost exclusively salads. We revisited recently, and were astonished to find soups, sandwiches and a wide variety of meats and more substantial add-ons to make a salad a real meal. Better yet, there was dessert!

We started with an unlikely sounding serving of kale fritters ($6). These arrived at the table piping hot, served on a little bed of arugula with a pool of sriracha-laced aioli dipping sauce.

When they cooled enough to eat, we bit right in. They were absolutely crisp outside, but almost creamy inside and flecked with green. The sriracha dip was a welcome and tasty grace note to the otherwise bland fritters, however perfectly cooked.

My guest chose a big bowl of New Orleans gumbo ($7) as a main course. It was pleasantly spicy, and stuffed with sausage and shrimp in a satisfyingly rich and vegetable-laden stock. Struggling to finish it all, my guest said she should have ordered a smaller portion.

Vinaigrette calls itself a salad bistro, so I went for a favorite, the Cobb ($10.50). It certainly had all the requisite ingredients: greens and tomatoes, of course, plus bits of roasted chicken, and plenty of blue cheese and crumbled bacon, all tossed with a light and not-too-acid vinaigrette. Avocado slices graced the top. It was excellent and, like my guest, I found myself hard-pressed to clean the plate.

Vinaigrette’s list of salads is also imaginative, ranging from classics like the Cobb and two versions of Caesar to frisee with poached egg, a melange of roast pork, apples and nuts, and a seasonal toss of peaches, baby greens and burrata. It’s worth noting, too, that many of these fixings come from owner Erin Wade’s farm in Nambé.

The add-ons are no afterthought, but range from grilled steak and chicken to duck confit or grilled tuna, shrimp and scallops. Vegetarians can choose from roasted vegetables or grilled artichokes to panko-crusted goat cheese or grilled tofu. Sandwiches include hot turkey, a Reuben and a ham-and-cheese Cuban variation.

The dessert list includes flourless chocolate and carrot cakes, a fruit pie du jour and homemade ice cream. Topping the list is a lemon cheesecake ($6.50), which turned out to be quite the best cheesecake we’d sampled in a long time.

A single cut flower reflects the freshness of the ingredients in meals served at Vinaigrette. (Jane Chandler/For the Albuquerque Journal)

A single cut flower reflects the freshness of the ingredients in meals served at Vinaigrette. (Jane Chandler/For the Albuquerque Journal)

First, the serving was certainly big enough for two to share. It was deliciously lemon-y, too, a wonderful flavor at the zenith of summer. The “cheese” layer was rich, but soft and light. An even lighter layer of what we took to be cream topped that and crowning the whole was a thin layer of clear lemon gelatin. We ate every bite!

The service at Vinaigrette is very good and nicely paced, from the freshly prepared fritters through dessert. Tucked away behind a Cerrillos Road dry cleaners on the edge of an old acequia less than a mile from downtown, this is a sunnily unpretentious place, with a beautiful and thoroughly shady patio. It was nearly full of the late-lunch crowd by the time we left, but conversation remained comfortably possible.

I think of Vinaigrette as a lunch venue but, in fact, it serves dinner also, with much the same menu. Vinaigrette also has opened a restaurant in Albuquerque, at 1828 Central, not far from Old Town, with the same menu, and also open for lunch and dinner. Just this year, a third Vinaigrette opened in Austin, Texas, and it, too, is supplied from a nearby organic farm.

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