Olé it again, sammy

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Rob DeWalt

When Cathy No­tar­ni­cola and Nancy Per­alta opened Café Olé in 2009 in the space for­merly oc­cu­pied by PD Bean, I was ex­cited for a few rea­sons. It was in my neigh­bor­hood, and I had been look­ing for a nearby café with a friendly and com­fort­able at­mos­phere, de­cent take­away, and lo­cally roasted cof­fee. I have to ad­mit, how­ever, that I rarely vis­ited the café be­fore mov­ing to the coun­try last spring.

Olé’s dé­cor is café/re­tail-eclec­tic, but not dizzy­ingly so. Books for sale line shelves on one wall, and there are pack­ages of spe­cialty cof­fees and teas on dis­play nearby. Cush­ioned chairs and oil­cloth-cov­ered ta­bles are easy to nav­i­gate, and cof­fee is self-serve. A bay-win­dow view of Cer­ril­los Road traf­fic isn’t my idea of a good time, so I lost my­self in the art­work adorn­ing the café. (On my visit, it in­cluded col­or­ful en­caus­tic paint­ings by Anna Aviemore and welded-steel sculp­tures by Gigi Gaulin.)

Step up to the counter to or­der from a large and di­verse chalk­board menu of sal­ads, sand­wiches, bur­ri­tos, and other fare. Olé par­tic­i­pates in the Santa Fe Farm to Restau­rant pro­ject, and uses lo­cally har­vested foods when­ever pos­si­ble. If you’re watch­ing calo­ries, beware: the house­made pas­tries peek­ing out at you from the shiny glass dis­play case may hyp­no­tize your taste buds into or­der­ing a cup­cake with that morn­ing cof­fee, which is pro­vided by Albuquerque’s Red Rock Roast­ers. The Red Rock Su­ma­tra — a smooth, for­est-y bean roast with hints of dark chocolate — is my fa­vorite at Olé, drunk pip­ing hot and naked or cooled with a lit­tle ice and some whole milk.

One of the own­ers rec­om­mended I try the “Santa Fe Tur­key,” as it’s called here, a re­gional deli/café sta­ple of sliced tur­key, av­o­cado, ba­con, may­on­naise, and roasted and diced green chiles piled onto toasted wheat bread. The ripe av­o­cado, crisp ba­con, ten­der tur­key breast, nutty wheat bread, and mayo were in per­fect pro­por­tion and bal­ance, but there was a short­age of the New Mex­i­cogrown chile in this sammy. I had a choice of chips or salad, and I chose potato chips. Af­ter grab­bing a salad with a dif­fer­ent dish a few days later, I re­gret­ted get­ting those mun­dane, generic-tast­ing chips.

I took that side salad — made with or­ganic greens, cu­cum­ber, cel­ery, bal­samic vinai­grette (it’s the only dress­ing choice here, but it’s a dandy one), and ripe cherry toma­toes — with one of the best meat­ball sand­wiches I’ve ever con­sumed. Two gen­er­ously por­tioned house-made beef/pork/veal meat­balls were ten­der and well sea­soned, draped with melted whole-milk moz­zarella and do­ing the back­stroke in a small pool of sub­tly sweet house-made mari­nara sauce poured into the re­cesses of a crusty bol­lio (Mex­i­can sand­wich roll). I grabbed the sand­wich to go, along with a ground beef and pinto-bean bur­rito with green chile sauce (New Mex­ico-grown chiles) for a friend.

I took one bite of the bur­rito and, dis­cov­er­ing how heav­enly it was, de­cided I needed to eat it all my­self. Ser­vice note: when I asked the coun­ter­per­son if the beans were re­fried, she said, “No, they’re whole; but I’d be happy to re­fry them for you.” I de­clined, my jaw fully dropped, feel­ing like I had just won the lot­tery. This is out­stand­ing ser­vice, folks. It takes a while, but al­most ev­ery­thing is pre­pared fresh to or­der. Be pa­tient, and you’ll be re­warded.

If you’re re­sist­ing carbs, grab a meat­ball salad. Yes, I said salad. Smaller ver­sions of the café’s meat­balls are loaded (along with a light sprin­kling of grated Ital­ian cheese) onto or­ganic greens with more of those ripe cherry toma­toes, cu­cum­ber, cel­ery, and bal­samic vinai­grette. The meat­balls were a lit­tle dry and tepid. In the café’s de­fense, I or­dered the dish at the drive-through and drove the 10 min­utes or so back to my of­fice. Next time, I’ll ask for the meat­balls in a sep­a­rate smaller con­tainer or foil to help keep them warmer and juicier.

Don’t pass up the pas­tries. A take­away cherry em­panada was slightly tart (how I like it) and the crust was su­perb, es­pe­cially heated up at home for break­fast. The peach em­panada was fla­vor­ful but a lit­tle soggy on the re­heat, which I chalk up to ex­cess fill­ing. On Valen­tine’s Day, I treated my­self to a red vel­vet cup­cake. The moist cake had a dis­tinct vanilla-and-but­ter­milk fla­vor, and it was a deep red hue. Olé has this red vel­vet thing down to a de­li­cious science, in­clud­ing the cream-cheese frost­ing — al­though I think the frost­ing is a bit heavy-handed.

The café’s chalk­board menu is crowded and, de­spite its mul­ti­color fab­u­lous­ness, may be dif­fi­cult for some pa­trons to read. There is also no food menu out­side for the drive-through win­dow, which may slow down ser­vice and ag­gra­vate pa­trons wor­ried about time con­straints dur­ing the lunch rush.

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