Night and day

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Bill Kohlhaase

The Burro Al­ley Café seems to have ev­ery­thing

go­ing for it: lo­ca­tion, a won­der­ful pa­tio, a cer­tain Franco-New Mex­ico feel that our other fine patis­series don’t quite man­age. But it can be a frus­trat­ing place. The dif­fer­ence be­tween de­cent and dis­ap­point­ing here is the dif­fer­ence be­tween night and day. You can have a pleas­ant late lunch on the large pa­tio — quiche or crepes with red pota­toes and a small salad, fin­ish­ing off with some ex­quis­ite almond cook­ies. Then you show up on a Fri­day evening with friends and savor some ex­cep­tional and ex­pen­sive cock­tails fol­lowed by a hit-and-miss, ex­pen­sive din­ner that starts with ex­tra-chewy es­car­got. Since the place ex­panded next door and added a lounge, it’s be­come a puz­zle whose pieces don’t come to­gether. A space along Burro Al­ley was once home to the Paris Bak­ery, and what fills Burro’s pas­try case, we’re told, comes from the Paris’ orig­i­nal recipes.

The Burro’s French lean­ings are ev­i­dent be­yond the pas­try case. Break­fasts are avail­able through the lunch hours. Omelets, quiches, and crepes — sweet crepes for break­fast and sa­vory crepes with creamed chicken for lunch — are served along­side en­chi­ladas and a break­fast bur­rito. A slice of quiche Lor­raine with its chopped ham set in a rich cus­tard wasn’t big enough to sat­isfy me. Crepes rolled around fine rata­touille — the vegeta­bles not over­cooked or soggy — were suf­fi­ciently eggy but a bit over­done. These dishes came with firm, cubed, rose­mary-laced red pota­toes and a sim­ple salad sport­ing radic­chio leaves and a dark bal­samic dress­ing. There’s a green-chile cheeseburger and also a good but over­priced croque mon­sieur — thinly bat­tered and done per­fectly, the melted cheese and ham in­side ac­cent­ing its warm, moist tex­ture. The best morn­ing se­lec­tions come from the pas­try case. The crois­sants are but­tery and puffy in the Amer­i­can way. The tarts are per­fectly formed, their crusts in need of just a touch more but­ter for tex­ture and give. The rasp­berry fill­ing in ours was gen­tly sweet­ened, the fruit’s fla­vor dom­i­nant. An apri­cot pas­try was a marvel of flak­i­ness and taste. But pos­si­bly the best things from the case are the cook­ies. If you can get the Mex­i­can wed­ding cook­ies and flat almond cook­ies on the day they come from the oven, you’ll have a treat worth lin­ger­ing over. Too bad the cof­fee isn’t stel­lar to match.

The bar in the ad­join­ing lounge hosts a strange and beau­ti­ful tin-framed mir­ror that gives guz­zlers a view back over their shoul­der. DJs come in af­ter 9 p.m. on some nights, and the place has been known to host a hookah night out on the pa­tio. An evening of drinks — a strange mar­garita with cu­cum­ber chile, ba­con, smoked chipo­tle, and a sea-salt rim; a de­li­cious, not-too-sweet rum drink called Eye of the Storm; and a vari­a­tion on a Moscow mule called (what else?) the Burro, which boasted an over­sized sprig of mint — was com­pro­mised by the food that fol­lowed. Steamed mus­sels, served in a luke­warm broth, hadn’t been cleaned of their beards. (We won­dered what this said about the kitchen.) Es­car­got, served in a crispy pas­try shell, were of poor qual­ity. Yet the rack of lamb was a treat, done medium rare as re­quested, and fra­grant with rose­mary. The filet mignon was also per­fectly done, the meat slightly chewy, the beefy fla­vor over­shad­owed by a mus­tard-and-brandy demi-glace that oc­ca­sion­ally of­fered up a hot bite from a whole pep­per­corn. Chicken cor­don bleu seemed tired and for­mu­laic, some­thing from 1950s French cook­ing. All the en­trees were served with the same things: pommes gratin —lay­ered, pan-back slices of potato pre­pared with lit­tle cheese — ac­com­pa­nied by big thick tough chunks of car­rot and a broc­coli flo­ret. At the price, one might ex­pect more re­fine­ment in the side dishes. The woman who made our drinks and runs the bar also came to our ta­ble to take our order (she had help bring­ing the plates). She even cleared our dishes while a cou­ple of servers sat at a ta­ble in the the ad­join­ing room. Some­thing seemed amiss in this divi­sion of la­bor. As good as our drinks were that evening, there’s no guar­an­tee that yours will be as good. The in­dus­tri­ous bar­tender has since left and re­place­ments don’t seem to have the same flair for mix­ing cock­tails. Maybe its best just to stick to break­fast and lunch or get a box of cook­ies to go.

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