Is Lucia DID?
First visit: May 1, 2010
Latest visit: January 8, 2011
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a condition in which a person displays multiple distinct identities or personalities (known as alter egos or, simply, alters), each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment. In this review, I will use a journalistic trick of anthropomorphizing Lucia and its kitchen in an attempt to try to understand some strange, and somewhat bizarre, experiences that I along with my dining companions found on our two visits to Lucia.
The occasion of my first visit was to celebrate with my wife our 33rd wedding anniversary last May. I had heard and read glowing accounts of Lucia from many trusted gastronomes, including my friend Gil Garduño. They didn’t lie: Our experience that night was perfect – -a term that I use with great care.
King Crab Legs first course with a hint of red chile were superb. Not the usual treatment afforded these sweet morsels (often served waterlogged and served with insipid drawn butter). A plate of grilled oysters with smoked chile-chive-oil mojo has been best described by Ari LeVaux in his charming Alibi review, and I concur with every word. The Seared Sea Scallops & Sugared Shrimp have been expertly described by my friend Forked Tongue writing in the Urbanspoon pages. I can’t add anything new, nor can I say it better. The very best seafood entrée I have had in New Mexico. Even the chocolate cake was incredible — something very special.
Service was perfect. The rehab of the Hotel Andaluz is stunning. After our meal, we spent some time in the hotel lobby listening to a young (and very good) salsa band, to which many of the guests were dancing. Go there. Revel in the experience.
I wanted to share this experience with dear friends Sally and Andy from Taos, both seasoned gastronomes, so Jane and I took them to Lucia for brunch on July fourth. We had raved to them about our perfect anniversary dinner, and were quite surprised to find the perfect Lucia replaced by an alter, who appeared to be a trickster. Our food was inconsistent. My Lemon-Ricotta pancakes were close to being perfect. Texture and taste were exemplary. Andy’s coffee drink, a shot in the dark (which he instructed our server how to make), was perfect — the best he had ever had. Then things started to slide downhill. Three poached egg dishes were poorly prepared (yolks were hard. Like hard boiled eggs.). Our server (David, a charming, effervescent, and efficient UNM Computer Engineering student) had the kitchen redo Jane’s eggs, which came out correctly the second time. The accompanying rosemary potatos were a disappointment. Ho Hum. We ordered a basket of pastries and scones. They were delivered to the table ice cold and late. The server remedied this, and, once warmed slightly, they were fabulous. And so it went.
So, the trickster alter got us on this visit. Not that the meal was bad — it still, despite the kitchen gaffes, was quite good. Lucia has aspersions to greatness. In order to climb to that pinnacle, perhaps they need a psychologist to reconcile the alters. I will be happy to recommend one. I live with her.
Remember that I said that our first meal there was perfect. I fully expect that consistency and attention to detail will lead to greatness. The trickster has to go. I surely will return. I hope I don’t find a third alter.
Return to Lucia. Is She Still DID? Probably Not…
We first went to Lucia for special anniversary dinner (our 33rd) on April 30 that turned out to be perfect in every way. Our last visit was on January 15, and we decided to make a weekend of it, staying overnight in the Hotel Andaluz. A wise choice.
Our experience in Lucia was nearly perfect this time. We feasted on
Black Mission Fig Salad
Baby arugula, honey vinaigrette, prosciutto, Vare goat cheese, figs.
This is a delightful and light appetizer or salad course. The greens are fresh and beautifully coated with the vinaigrette, which does nor overpower the other ingredients. This is the second time we have had this salad, and it is consistently excellent.
Sardines with Chipotle Aioli (spectacular!)
Bet you thought that sardines came from scored tins that you opened with a key, and if you didn’t cut yourself, got put between slices of rye bread with a thick slab of sweet onion and some mustard. My mom did this to me quite often as I was growing up. If that’s as far as you got with these creatures, then you have a treat in store for yourself.
Sardines, or pilchards, are several types of small, oily fish related to herrings, family Clupeidae. Sardines were named after the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where they once lived in abundance.The terms sardine and pilchard are not precise, and the usual meanings vary by region. Britain’s Sea Fish Industry Authority, for example, classifies sardines as young pilchards. One criterion suggests that fish shorter in length than 6 inches are sardines, and larger ones pilchards. Whatever. Lucia’s version is longer than 6 inches, but to me they are sardines.
This dish, a non-menu special, was recommended by Elizabeth, our delightfully capable and knowledgeable server. It consisted of two lightly crisped eight-inch corn-meal-encrusted sardines served atop some wilted microgreens and chipotle aioli, and accompanied by crispy sweet potato chips. The fish are plated whole, and must be boned.
This is an oily fish with its associated strong taste, and if you don’t like sardines, stay away. If you are a fan of these critters, than you will be rewarded with one of the finest fish preparations that you are likely to get in Albuquerque. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Fantastic preparation; fantastic taste.
Hats off to Israel Ortiz for bringing me this treat.
Seared Sea Scallops & Sugared Shrimp
Forage mushrooms, grape reduction, pancetta.
I had this dish on my first visit. Jane had it this time. It is still perfect. The grape reduction, while sounding simple, is quite complex tasting. It adds a subtle sweetness to the shrimp and scallops without masking their seaside flavor. This is surely one of the finest seafood dishes that you are likely to find in the New Mexico high desert. Many gastronomes agree.
Crisped Chilean Sea Bass
Cauliflower carpaccio, purple Peruvian potato purée, saffron glace, crisp artichokes.
This dish is one of several that Israel Ortiz carried over to his menu from that of his predecessor, Albert Bolitto. Good that he did. It is superb.
First the fish: I have often seen this fish cut into thinner and more manageable servings. Ortiz’ version is about an inch-and-a-half thick which can be challenging to cook correctly and uniformly. In this chef’s capable hands, the Sea Bass was succulent, moist, tasty, and whatever glowing descriptive adjectives I might want to string. I have never had better, and don’t expect that I ever will. No tricks, just expert preparation.
The accompaniments were fabulous: a puree of lilac-tinged purple Peruvian potatos with cauliflower and artichoke. What? You don’t like cauliflower? Get over it. This is a supreme addition to this entrée, which has assumed its rightful place on my short list of seafood favorites.
- Three Berry Cobbler for a finish.
Blackberries, raspberries and blueberries, baked crumble topping, Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream. Beautifully prepared and tasty, this dessert is an excellent choice from the limited dessert menu for this visit. The ice cream is among the best around.
The menu lists some retro selections: Root Beer Float, Banana Split, Apple Pie ala Mode, Hot Fudge Sundae, and a few others. This retro collection is not really up to the standards set by Lucia for the rest of our dining experience. There is an excellent pastry chef — we had expected a more imaginative and carefully crafted selection. The chef needs to invent a fantastic bread pudding and offer it every day. I know several gastronomes who will break down the doors for this. Me first.
In short, everything was superb again. I cannot think of any way that each dish could be improved.
Why did I say that this visit was nearly perfect? Even though the Three Berry Cobbler was excellent, the dessert menu lists some retro selections: Root Beer Float, Banana Split, Apple Pie ala Mode, Hot Fudge Sundae, and a few others. This retro collection is not really up to the standards set by Lucia for the rest of our dining experience. There is an excellent pastry chef—we had expected a more imaginative and carefully crafted selection.
The chef needs to invent a fantastic bread pudding (even though it’s retro) and offer it every day. I know several gastronomes who will break down the doors for this. Me first.
Back to the DID diagnosis. I have noticed that some of the reviews published on Urbanspoon since my first visit are somewhat negative. The original chef, Albert Bilotti, left Lucia in early May 2010 shortly after our first visit, and was replaced by his capable assistant, Israel Ortiz, a fine chef in his own right. Ortiz kept some of the original dishes on the menu and added many that displayed his special expertise (like those fantastic sardines). He is excellent. Perhaps the gaffes that we experienced during our second visit may have been due to this changing of the guard. And it is possible that this change may be partially responsible for some of the more recent negative reviews.
Perhaps the DID diagnosis was an aberration—we shall see.
The ambiance and service is befitting a fine restaurant. Our server, the lovely and charming Elizabeth, is knowledgeable and helpful. Talkative, too. She has been there since day one, and knows where the bodies are buried.
A weekend at Andaluz is a special treat. The rehab has made this place perhaps the finest hotel in the Duke City. Good music and dancing, and delightful lounges (both indoor and outside on the rooftop patio). Pamper yourself. And be sure to try the expansive breakfast buffet in the morning.
I still feel that Lucia is one of the finest restaurants in town, and is destined for greatness. I expect to be back for our 35th anniversary. And I will ask for Elizabeth (she reads these reviews) to be our server again.
Note added November 6, 2011:
Israel Ortiz is no longer chef at Lucia. Chef Michael Von Blomberg (formerly of Seasons) now tempts the palates of Lucia diners with innovative combinations of the freshest local ingredients.