Hungry like the woof
If you are the weak-willed type like me, you may wish to avoid the Sleeping Dog Tavern. Who can resist potato chips and dip — especially when the potato chips are made in-house, perfectly crisp, and sprinkled with paprika, and the dip is fresh green chile ranch? And what about those fresh lime margaritas that come in a personal cocktail shaker, which the genial servers sometimes leave on the table so you can top up your already full glass? Seriously, it may be best to just walk on by those stairs on West San Francisco Street that lead you down to this drink den.
That is, unless you have a yen for a smokin’ good, juicy pulled pork and Cajun Tasso ham sandwich slathered with chipotle mayonnaise that leaves you grateful for the cooling crunch of the fresh cabbage and jicama slaw on the side. Unfortunately, not everything here achieves these same delicious heights.
Sleeping Dog is operated by Santa Fe Dining, a restaurant consortium with a number of local and Albuquerque establishments under its belt including Rio Chama, La Casa Sena, Blue Corn Café, Rooftop Pizzeria, Chama River Brewing Company, and Marble Brewery. Naturally, Marble and Chama River beers are on tap at Sleeping Dog in addition to wine and cocktails. And you may recognize former Rio Chama chef Rueben Reyes, who now heads the kitchen. Empires sometimes lack that loving feeling coming from the kitchen, though, and that might be the problem at Sleeping Dog Tavern.
The atmosphere within the bar area has a neighborhood pub feel with low, dark ceilings, high bar tables and stools, and television screens tuned to sports or a celebrity event. Christmas lights above the bar are an attempt at festiveness, which, in the half hour before an event at the Lensic, the bar achieves.
Perhaps some barfly instinct led me to pick some of the best offerings on the menu on my first visit to Sleeping Dog. The Caesar salad was crisp and fresh with a good dressing despite standard-issue, unremarkable croutons. Duck wraps made with mild house-smoked duck, crisp sweet jicama, and fresh lettuce leaves served with sesame oil and soy dipping sauces had that salty-bar-snack thing going while still tasting light and fresh. Then there were the chips and dip and that truly great pork sandwich.
Expect no magic from the “Chef’s Magic Mushroom Soup.” However, the generous cup is more like a bowl and would be fine for a quick lunch. One appetizer — a combination of goat cheese and tobiko caviar (flying fish roe) stuffed in pickled Peppadew brand South African peppers — had an unsavory, musty component, and an off-flavor vinaigrette on an organic greens salad did nothing to complement or heighten the quality of tasteless greens. Duck confit with sliced duck breast cooked to order was also nearly flavorless, an attribute that sadly plagued the chipotle pork ribs, as well. A gummy sauce didn’t add to the enjoyment of the duck either. The “haystack carrots” under the pork ribs were indistinguishable from mediocre shoestring fries, so that the side of roasted potatoes just seemed weird, while the duck was served with six rubbery green beans. A peanut-butter brownie ice-cream sandwich was vaguely disappointing, although better than the bread pudding.
The isolated public restrooms, reached by a long lonely hallway lined with closed shops, are plain spooky at night — enough to affect my decision to return. I’d have to really be craving chips and dip or that tongue-tingling pork sandwich. With all the other options in town, those attractions may not suffice.