Go to hill

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Rob DeWalt

There are nu­mer­ous artis­tic and his­tor­i­cal trea­sures to dis­cover on Mu­seum Hill, from the Hui­chol yarn paint­ings at the Mu­seum of In­dian Arts & Cul­ture to mul­ti­ple ex­hibits at the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art. It’s easy to spend an en­tire day get­ting lost in the beauty of the ob­jects on view, and you may work up an ap­petite while do­ing so. Sure, you could pack a lunch. You could even cram your pock­ets full of nutrition bars, juice boxes, and gummy bears — al­though I have a feel­ing mu­seum se­cu­rity may frown upon you eat­ing them within close prox­im­ity to a rare and pre­cious em­broi­dered Gu­atemalan huipil gar­ment.

If you want lunch on Mu­seum Hill there is a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive to be­ing ban­ished for slather­ing peanut but­ter all over the del­i­cate untouchables. Sand­wiched be­tween all of this art, his­tory, and cul­ture is a lesser­known ex­hibit that de­serves your im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion: The 21st-Cen­tury North­ern New Mex­ico Burger, Corned Beef, and Pas­trami Col­lec­tion. Re­opened last sum­mer af­ter it had briefly closed, Mu­seum Hill Café is now run by Wel­don Ful­ton, pro­pri­etor of the Sta­tion Café in the Rai­l­yard.

A ca­sual, col­or­ful, airy at­mos­phere and bay win­dows that pro­vide at­trac­tive views en­cour­age lin­ger­ing over cof­fee and the café’s house-made cakes or pas­tries. But the real rea­son to make the trip to this café is the kitchen’s ex­per­tise in sandwich craft.

A clas­sic Reuben on toasted rye was stacked high with hot, juicy corned beef topped with melted Swiss cheese, warm sauer­kraut, and thou­sand-is­land dress­ing. A small side of mixed or­ganic greens lightly dressed with cit­rus-y vinai­grette min­i­mized meat-laden guilt, al­though some of the more del­i­cate let­tuces were brown and wilted.

My Bo­nanza Creek Ranch beef burger (yes, the place where Sil­ver­ado was shot is also a work­ing ranch where Longhorn cat­tle are raised for slaugh­ter) was or­dered medium-rare but served medium. It was still in­cred­i­bly juicy, well sea­soned, and fla­vor­ful. A pil­lowy burger bun was toasted and warm. I opted for fries in­stead of a side salad, which was a mis­take. The fries were un­der­cooked and greasy — we hardly touched them. Dur­ing the week­day lunch rush, with only two servers man­ning the near-ca­pac­ity din­ing room and pa­tio, hav­ing the fries re­done in a timely man­ner seemed un­likely.

The friendly servers try hard to be at­ten­tive, but they’re spread a lit­tle thin. Burger condi­ments seem to be avail­able only upon request, a ser­vice style I pre­fer be­cause it re­duces food waste and the pos­si­bil­ity of sticky ta­bles. How­ever, con­stant dashes back to the kitchen by wait and bus staffers for ketchup and mus­tard con­trib­ute to the ne­glect of cus­tomers’ needs. It’s a dilemma that man­age­ment should ad­dress.

Car­ni­vores, try the Tommy’s Reu­bi­con sandwich, a gen­er­ous pile of grilled pas­trami on rye with Swiss cheese, ba­con, and whole-grain mus­tard. When I or­dered it the first time, a clas­sic Reuben ar­rived, but the mis­take was quickly reme­died. I took the sandwich with a side of greens, which were once again a bit wilted. I or­dered a glass of Mur­phy-Goode pinot noir, but my server sug­gested an­other choice that wasn’t listed on the menu: a 2009 Chime Cal­i­for­nia pinot noir — a mar­velous sub­sti­tu­tion that paired well with the salty ba­con, sea­soned pas­trami, earthy rye bread, and slightly vine­gary mus­tard.

I tried a spe­cial on an­other solo lunch visit: steak tacos with avo­cado slices, a spicy, chunky jalapeño-avo­cado purée, and greens. I sa­vored ev­ery bite of the four soft-corn tor­tillas filled with juicy, medium-well beef cubes and shred­ded ched­dar cheese. When I asked what cut of steak was used, the server asked the kitchen. The re­ply: “shoul­der.” I wish the server had been a lit­tle more spe­cific. And that puréed chile sauce? The stuff of taco saint­hood. Sadly, my greens were wilted again. A glass of Chime pinot noir was on the wine list this time, for 25 cents less than on my first visit.

Desserts are a gam­ble. A swipe of sweet berry jam tucked be­tween two flour­less peanut-but­ter cook­ies proved a de­lec­ta­ble gluten-free treat to go, but a sit­down bread pud­ding with warm caramel sauce came to the ta­ble dry, cus­tard­less, tepid, and with­out the caramel sauce. Some whipped cream helped make it pass­ably ed­i­ble. Grab ’n’ go good­ies at the quick-ser­vice cof­fee counter may be a bet­ter bang for your buck.

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