Restaurant Review Mu­seum Hill Café

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Alex Heard

The web­site menu for the Mu­seum Hill Café doesn’t quite match what you see when you’re there, which turns out to be a good thing. This restaurant serves de­li­cious food, and in fact, there’s even more of it to choose from than its on­line pres­ence would lead you to be­lieve.

On the web­site, for in­stance, there’s no men­tion of the ex­ten­sive brunch menu we were shown dur­ing a re­cent week­end visit. It listed four ap­peal­ing cock­tails (all made with hard-liquor sub­sti­tutes like sake and wine), four ap­pe­tiz­ers — among them, one of the best starters I’ve had in years — and eight en­trées, in­clud­ing crispy polenta with egg, a frit­tata, and steak and eggs. These of­fer­ings, along with lengthy menu sec­tions de­voted to soups, ap­pe­tiz­ers, sand­wiches, sal­ads, “Mu­seum Hill spe­cial­ties” (a mix of apps and en­trées), a long wine list, and desserts, make for one of the most en­tic­ing menus in the city. It’s also af­ford­able, with prices for most dishes rang­ing between $11.95 and $13.95. No sin­gle food style dom­i­nates, but many dishes are up­dated vari­a­tions of Mex­i­can and North­ern New Mex­ico clas­sics, such as en­chi­ladas Suizas, bur­ri­tos, chicken mole, tostadas, tacos, and flau­tas.

The café sits on the Mu­seum Hill up­per deck, po­si­tioned mid­way between the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art and the Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture. Look east be­fore go­ing in and you’ll see Ata­laya. In­side, look west through big pic­ture win­dows and you’ll get a good view of the Je­mez Moun­tains. The in­te­rior is spa­cious and only mod­er­ately loud, even when the place is filled to ca­pac­ity. The mod­ern decor, sturdy wood tables, com­fort­able padded chairs, track light­ing, and wall art make for a sooth­ing over­all ex­pe­ri­ence.

Dur­ing a brunch trip with a group of four, we or­dered cof­fee, tea ( hot and iced), and an un­usual Bloody Mary, made with sake in­stead of vodka. The tomato mix was very good — re­fresh­ing and spicy, with just enough horse­rad­ish. Opin­ions were di­vided on whether sake worked as a liquor sub­sti­tute, but I thought it was a sub­tle and ef­fec­tive choice.

Ev­ery­one de­voured the ap­pe­tizer, a ter­rific corn cus­tard cov­ered with mildly hot poblano sauce. The cus­tard (which else­where might be called corn pud­ding) was a sa­vory, unusu­ally creamy rect­an­gle slathered with a light green sauce and topped with slices of av­o­cado. We also tried the At­lantic smoked salmon ap­pe­tizer, which fea­tured bagel pieces, crème fraîche, thin slices of smoked salmon, red onion, tomato, and ca­pers. It was good stuff all around, ex­cept for the toma­toes, which were the generic kind you usu­ally get in cold-weather months.

I tried the frit­tata, which was a lit­tle dull. This no-crust baked egg dish con­tained chopped pieces of as­para­gus and tomato with crispy slices of ba­con on top. It ar­rived warm rather than hot, and the tex­ture through­out seemed a lit­tle tough. Every­thing else we or­dered got high marks. The duck flau­tas — a blend of shred­ded smoked duck and melted cheese in­side fried, rolled tor­tillas — car­ried the rich taste of fresh sage. The crisp polenta with egg had a nice un­der­cur­rent of red chile. I didn’t sam­ple the chicken mole, but the din­ing com­pan­ion who or­dered it — a mole buff — gave it an A. For dessert, we shared a slice of pis­ta­chio-and-car­damom cream pie. It was ex­cep­tional: A nice crust was topped by a sweet, fluffy, creamy mix blended with car­damom and toasted pis­ta­chios.

Dur­ing a sec­ond trip, we tried an­other mem­o­rable ap­pe­tizer: mush­room taquitos. These were larger than stan­dard restaurant taquitos — an ar­ray of rolled, crispy corn tor­tillas filled with a drip­ping, gooey blend of sautéed mush­rooms, melted cheese, and onion. They were ac­com­pa­nied by an ex­cel­lent red chile dip­ping sauce. I had a green chile cheese­burger, served on a soft rec­tan­gu­lar bun. The green chile sauce was a first-rate blend that was hot­ter than I ex­pected. We also tried a tuna melt and were not so keen on it. The gray­ish tuna salad was served on dense pieces of bread that had been toasted on a grill too long and were thus par­tially scorched.

Don’t take that gripe to mean much. What I liked about this place is that ev­ery dish uses good in­gre­di­ents, and the kitchen is try­ing hard to cre­ate some­thing special that won’t empty your wal­let. That’s a win­ning com­bi­na­tion.

These of­fer­ings, along with lengthy menu sec­tions de­voted to soups, ap­pe­tiz­ers, sand­wiches, sal­ads, “Mu­seum Hill spe­cial­ties” (a mix of apps and en­trées), a long wine list, and desserts, make for one of the most en­tic­ing menus in the city.

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