Night and day
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.