By David A. Fryxell
If you still think of Red Mountain Cafe as a coffeehouse, you've got a pleasant surprise in store. The espresso's still hot and dark if that's what you're after, but this unprepossessing-looking corner of Las Cruces' northeast side, across Telshor from Sam's Club, has suddenly turned into a gourmet hot spot. Next door, Jaan has introduced a vast variety of Indian cuisine (see story in this month's issue). And new owners Johnnie Giovengo and Joe Garcia have transformed Red Mountain Cafe into a sort of "Iron Chef New Mexico"—a spectacular demonstration of culinary inventiveness and artistic food presentation.
You don't get to watch, alas, but the attractive red-and-black accented interior or the outdoor patio both make pleasant, jazz-imbued places to wait for the creations coming out of the kitchen. Not that you'll wait long—service is crisply efficient, yet friendly.
Start with what the lengthy menu calls "plates for sharing" (though after your first bite you'll jealously want the whole appetizer for yourself), priced at $4-$8. These include various seafood appetizers and a number of imaginative bruschetta concoctions, often with a touch of New Mexico ingredients such as pinon or green chile. We split a bruschetta of greens and cheese, drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction and sprinkled with pine nuts, and managed to deal diplomatically with the fact that there were five slices and two of us.
Next, Red Mountain Cafe offers an array of specialty salads, enough for a light meal on their own or a $1 additional substitute for the dinner salad (or soup) served with entrees. Springing for the extra buck was the easy part; the hard decision was between such choices as European Smoked Salmon Salad, Greek Orzo Pasta Salad, Classic Caesar Salad and Pecan Chicken Salad. We went for the Mount Hood Salad (greens, gorgonzola cheese, caramelized pecans, raspberry vinaigrette) and a delectably light crab salad, and neither of us was sorry.
Main dishes are divided into "land" or "sea," and so were we. Though tempted by a spiced and seared duck breast and a five-spice rib-eye, we settled on Chicken Green Chile Fettuccine Alfredo (reminiscent of our favorite choice at Diane's in Silver City, but spicier) and a filet of wild salmon served with mango salsa. The latter description doesn't begin to do justice to the artistic creation that arrived at our table, however: The salmon was served atop a small mound of spinach, with a spray of thinly sliced carrots plus the salsa, all atop a stone slab that had been squeeze-bottled in decorative patterns with two different sauces. Entrees are eminently reasonably priced at about $7-$13, and there's no extra charge for the "show" on your plate.
The only minor glitch in Red Mountain Cafe's presentation parade came with dessert, when the ice cream served beside the scrumptious pecan pie began to melt all over the marble slab it was lovingly arranged upon. This, we realized, is why plates have edges. The turtle cheesecake across the table proved much neater eating.
Red Mountain Cafe offers a smallish but well-selected list of wines—by the glass or by the bottle—to wash down its culinary creations. Most are $15-$22, with the list topping out at $36 a bottle. Microbrewed beers are another option.
Besides dinner, Red Mountain Cafe also serves breakfast and lunch. Oh, and of course there are those espresso drinks.
Looking for some culinary adventure in a pleasant but unstuffy setting, where two people can order "the works" and still wobble away, palates thrilled and tummies stuffed, for about $60 before tip? Try climbing the "high cuisine" at Red Mountain Cafe.
Just keep your paws off our appetizer.
David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure and has written about food for publications including Travel & Leisure and AAA World.