Restaurant Review Museum Hill Café
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.