Albuquerque--Ambrosia or Graze?
Hooboy. You should start by peeking at the menus, and then thinking about what you'd like to eat - I can give tips on each menu if you have specific questions.
Graze recently switched to a big/small plates format, from their previous small plates only thing. Ambrozia is putting out good food, but I think they are not nearly as "cool" and unusual for the Duke City as they were when they opened 4 years ago.
I wouldn't recommend one over the other, but I do have a couple of comments.
Jennifer James has left Graze (FYI, in case that influences your decision).
We were disappointed at Ambrozia. We found they had excellent sauces and beautiful presentations, but the food itself was pretty boring.
Thanks for everyone's input so far.
Per tenacity's advice, I took a look at both menus, and a few items in particular caught my eye:
Ambrosia--mini duck meatloaf, lobster corn dogs, foie gras BLT, winter vegetable harvest, pork chop with vanilla bean sweet potato cakes, grilled elk tenderloin, batter-fried PB&J.
Graze--deviled egg, house pate, chorizo penne, pork chop, spare ribs, chicken with chipotle cider glaze.
Any further comments would be greatly appreciated.
I've been a fan of Graze from when Jennifer James was in the kitchen. Had a solo dinner there last evening that was every bit as good as the past what with the recent changes. Service was impeccable.
Starter was a salad with goat cheese stuffed dates; dressing involved blood oranges. Salad was notable for NOT being over-dressed and requiring no additional salt nor pepper (unusual most places imo).
Entree was spectacular (a special); a piece of grilled ono served atop a nutty orzo. It was very sparingly sauced with an herb aioli and garnished with a few bits of diced, preserved lemon. Barely wilted pea shoots topped it all. The flavors came together beautifully with no one dominating. First flavor was the pea shoots and it left me immediately thinking about how I could use them at home. It was a great effort from whoever was in the kitchen.
Had several different white wines by the glass from their interesting list; an Argentinian pinot blanc which went well with the salad and a "huge" California chardonnay - Franciscan Cuvee Sauvage - which I had not had for years and wanted to revisit which was pleasant enough with the fish.
I like Ambrozia too but like Ms Tenacity it does not feel as cutting edge as it once did. Nothing wrong with the food though. Were I you and I could, I'd surely try both.
The ideal combination would be to have a blowout dinner at Graze: sampling whatever fresh fish they have, the deviled eggs which are to die for, the housemade pate, whatever soup is good that day, and whatever salad catches your eye, followed by any of the desserts.
THEN, have brunch on Sunday at Ambrozia. For $20, you get 4 courses of inventive and fun food, just the right amount of whimsy for a Sunday morning.
My other recommendation out of left field would be Slate Street Cafe. Far cheaper than Graze/Ambrozia, and food that is darn near as good.
I would choose Ambrozia over Graze every time. I have never found Graze to be terribly "cutting edge". Deviled egss??? Grilled fish with polenta, composed salads and many of the items on their menu are all things I eat at home (for a fraction of the cost), on a regular basis. Give me a trio of Gazpahos, wild boar suasage, duck meatloaf or a lobster corn dog any day!
I agree with the thought "I can make it as well for less at home" that you expressed. That said I felt the effort at Graze was well done and at $21 the fish entree not overpriced at all. This dish in Santa Fe would have been $27+ and in Los Angeles (where I was returning from) easily $33.
I don't dislike Ambrozia just think it a bit tired. I LOVE intersting "takes" on comfort food such as the duck meatloaf. Only item I'd quarrel with you about is that Lobster Corn Dog. While I HAD to try it I found it essentially tasteless. But then, why should I have expected flavor ? After all it IS a corn dog and I don't recall any New Mexico lobster; ever.
As much as I like to cook/experiment/eat at home, sometimes it's just nice to be eat out and read a book while someone else does the work.
It turns out that Ambrosia is only a few blocks away from my sister's house, so, figuring we'd all want to indulge in holiday cheer, we decided to walk there instead of driving in the ice and snow to Graze. I'm sure the residents of Old Town all hated us, since we had loud snowball fights to and from the restaurant.
The staff at Ambrosia was very friendly, gracious and accommodating, especially considering we called ahead only a short time in advance, and had a fairly large party with children.
The menu was slightly different from the one online, so by memory alone, the appetizers I recall that some of us had were the lobster corn dogs, foie gras on brioche, a salad with rasberry vinaigrette, and an onion soup. The foie gras was mine, and it was everything it should be--seared and warm, savory but a little more sweet. I sampled a lobster corn dog and enjoyed it, especially dipped in the mustard cream, and what seemed to be cucumber sauce. The lobster was tender, and the batter had a nice firm-yet-light texture and corn flavor.
Half of our party ordered the elk tenderloin with sweet potatoes and loved it. The meat was rich, juicy and perfectly cooked rare or medium-rare. One of us had a beautiful chipotle pork dish with a tamale, which was gone before I had a chance to get a bite. I am told it was wonderful.
I had the duck three-ways, which was the duck meatloaf (delicious), a mini-duck "pot pie" (an OK duck stew topped with a small disc of pie crust), and a tiny duck BLT (could have used more "B").
By this point, we had shared bottles of Gruet Rose, Milagro Red (amazingly good and cheap), a Penfolds Shiraz, and a Tempranillo (La Granja, I believe), so dessert is very fuzzy...I vaguely recall enjoying the Key lime creme brulee.
Everyone in our party had a great time and loved Ambrosia overall. My fiance and I were also surprised that it was not as expensive as one might think--maybe in part because the markup on the wine was not as bad as in PA, where we live.
I still want to try Graze, though. Maybe next time.
If it's any consolation, Gulp is still open next door to the former Graze. Rumors on the street are, that Gruet Steakhouse will move across the street into the old Graze corner. Also, there is a fine new authentic French place up the street on the Central called La Provence ( great confit and brulee). I'm not sure about weekend hours, they might be closed on Sunday.
Jennifer James 101 is open (since April) on Menaul near Washington.
Its back to the old style of Restaurant Jennifer James, with more experience and even more local products and twists. I've been just a few times, and hope to get there several more before they are completely overrun with popularity (my wish!).
Here are a few summaries, so far: