Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cactus Café

Cactus Café
2912 Juan Tabo Blvd. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87112

The Cactus Café is a relatively new restaurant here in Albuquerque.  It sits facing Juan Tabo Blvd. which is very busy, so location is excellent.   Every window is painted with Saguaro cacti, which don’t grow in New Mexico, but perhaps the idea of the cactus was in keeping with our desert surroundings – at least we think that was the idea.  But here’s the thing – though the name suggests it would be a Southwest restaurant specializing in New Mexican cuisine, it’s not!  The waiter informed us that the restaurant specializes in Greek cuisine.  Saguaro cacti in Greece?  Confusing.

The interior of the restaurant is pleasant.  The lighting is low and relaxing, there was soft Greek music playing and the booths were new and attractive dark velour and patterned vinyl.  There were four TVs on around the perimeter of the room near the bar area, but thankfully the sound was turned down.  The TVs took away from the charming ambience, but were easy enough to tune out.

The Cactus Café seems to be unsure of what market demographic it wants to target.  The menu features Greek dishes such as Moussaka (spelled incorrectly on the menu), and Pastitso, and the waiter said the owner was Greek.  But there were also Italian pasta dishes and New Mexican plates including enchiladas and tacos.  Additionally, there were several steak entrees and the special the night we went was a 14 ounce steak.  The appetizers were classic bar fare – wings, stuffed potato skins, etc.  So, the dishes were all over the place and we asked the waiter what the specialty of the house was.  He said either the Moussaka or the Enchiladas.  And for good measure he also said the steak.  So by now you must be wondering what we were wondering…is it Greek?  Is it Italian?  Is it New Mexican?  Is it a steak house?  We had no idea and we guessed they didn’t either.

We ordered side salads to start while we reviewed the menu.  The waiter told us they were $1.99 each, however, when our bill came, they were actually $2.50 each.  He told us the Greek dressing was homemade every day and we asked for that.   The salads came quickly and were very fresh.  We had to send one back because there were raw onions on the salad and one of us cannot eat them.  We had asked what the salads consisted of before ordering and unfortunately the waiter was not aware that onions were included.  The homemade Greek dressing was not the classic Greek dressing what we had hoped for.  Of the three containers we were served, two had only oil in them.  The third one had vinegar in the bottom of it with some herbs and it was very good.  Apparently the dressing is made up in a larger quantity and the server fills the small containers as needed.  Also apparently, the server neglected to stir the dressing to ensure we actually got dressing and not just oil.  So, the tiny bit of combined dressing we got was good – the rest, being only oil, was disappointing and flavorless.

Side salad with house roll

The salads came with one large dinner roll to share and a tub of whipped butter.  The roll was warm and good – a bit dense, but tasty.  The croutons in the salad had a slightly sweet flavor and were very good.  The waiter told us they were made from the same dinner rolls.

For entrees, we ordered the Cowboy Pasta which was penne pasta and sautéed chicken medallions in a green chili cream sauce.  The presentation was delightful with fried spaghetti tentacles accenting the plate.  The pasta was served in an enormous bowl and was easily enough to fill two or even three hungry people.  The chicken was moist and tender and the texture of the pasta was perfect.  The cream sauce was an extremely basic white sauce augmented by the green chili, which was spicy and delicious, but needed salt.  Overall this was a good dish, not exceptionally flavorful, but the green chili was good and it was served piping hot.  Most of this entrée was taken home to be consumed at a later time and as we suspected, the flavors had time to settle a little bit overnight and the leftovers were extraordinarily good.

Cowboy Pasta

We also ordered the Moussaka which came with rice and sautéed vegetables.  Again, the presentation was lovely and we were impressed with the design of the plate.  The rice was a yellow color and had some sort of spice in it, but it was so salty we couldn’t detect any other flavor.  It was too salty to eat and after one taste we didn’t try any more.  The Moussaka was a huge portion nearly four inches square.  It had layers of béchamel sauce, ground beef, tomatoes, grilled potatoes, and grilled eggplant.  The layer of béchamel was very thick on top.  The menu said there was red wine in the preparation, but we could not taste it.  The ground beef was plain and very basic, and the potatoes were completely overcooked.  The eggplant was good and somewhat seasoned.  Overall there wasn’t much flavor and it was homey, but lackluster.  After a few bites we didn’t care for any more.  Moussaka can be delicious if it is seasoned well and the layers are cooked perfectly.  Unfortunately this version missed the mark – disappointing given the fact we were expecting excellent Greek food prepared under the advisement of the Greek owner.  The sautéed vegetables consisted mostly of zucchini and one small broccoli floret.   The squash was delicious and perfectly cooked and was the best thing on the plate. 


We also ordered the fish tacos which were Tilapia, shredded cabbage, and tomatoes in fresh corn tortillas.  These were delicious!  The corn tortillas were excellent and freshly fried.  The fish was tender and tasty.  They came with Spanish rice and pinto beans.  Again, the rice was extremely salty and we couldn’t eat it.  The pinto beans were plain and unseasoned, so nothing special.  The tacos were good, but we feel that two small fish tacos are not enough for an entrée and recommend they add a third one.

Fish Tacos

For dessert, the offerings were chocolate cake they admittedly buy prepackaged, homemade bread pudding, Crème Brule, and Baklava.  We chose the bread pudding and the Crème Brule.

The waiter told us the bread pudding came with nuts and was covered with a chocolate caramel sauce.  However, there were no nuts in the dish and it was drizzled with caramel sauce – no chocolate.  It was very heavy and dense, sweet, but not too sweet and swirled with cinnamon.  There were soft, warm raisins and it was served with sliced fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  It was good, but not so good that we wanted to eat a lot of it.  Basically it just lacked flavor.  The best thing on the plate was the strawberries and cream.

Bread Pudding

The Crème Brule was a complete disappointment.  The best part of ordering this dish is the fun of cracking the heavy caramelized sugar layer on top and digging into the soft, creamy custard.  At the Cactus Café it is served in a long, flat, rectangular dish so it was very thin.  The sugar layer on top was so thin and sparse there was nothing to crack, and to make matters worse, the preparation went beyond caramelizing the sugar to flat out burning it.  The flavor of burnt sugar was unappetizing and although the custard layer was good, we were so disappointed by the poor presentation we didn’t eat much of it. 

Creme Brulee

There is a lot of confusion in this restaurant.  When we arrived there was soft, charming Greek music being piped into the dining room.  About half way through our meal, we were suddenly transported to Cuban salsa music which was turned up quite loud!  The menu is all over the place – they can’t seem to pick a country to represent.  The restaurant is said to be Greek, but the name and the Saguaro cactus theme is completely out of context.  There are TVs on all around the room for reasons we can’t understand and overall it seems like the Cactus Café is looking for an identity.  Additionally, there were several typos in the menu and misspellings that are unforgivable.  I mean, if you can’t even spell the dish, you shouldn’t put it on the menu.  However, the wait staff was pleasant and attentive and overall it was a relaxing venue – even with all the confusion.  The last insult was before we left, we noticed a roach crawling on the window sill by our table.  These things happen, we understand that, but it was quite offensive.  Would we go again?  Maybe for the fish tacos or maybe for the Cowboy Pasta, but only if we weren’t planning on eating it until the next day.

Cactus Cafe on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. i worked here for a total of two weeks. I stopped working because they have a cockroach problem in which they have no intention on fixing. it is quite disgusting and i did not feel proud working there. when the restaurant has no pride in what they are serving, how can anyone working there? the food is mediocre and their kitchen is below far below par, stinky, grimy, just plain out dirty. they really need a red sticker or just to go out of business. thanks for an honest review, but unfortunately, the majority of customers are elderly, and i doubt that they read reviews before eating there.