(Excuse the iffy quality of the photographs. Camera acting up!) Remember The Jeffersons and their theme song, “Movin’ on Up.” That’s what Charles Place is doing for our corner of this particular Albuquerque ‘hood. Charles Place is one of Albuquerque’s newest dinner spots. I’m not referring to this upscale neighborhood eatery as a restaurant because Charles (Benzaquen) is not interested in operating such an establishment with all that implies—serving more and more patrons, appealing to a broad range of tastes, advertising regularly and thinking more about business than the quality of the food.
Charles Place, on the corner of 13th and Tijeras NW. First Atmosphere. You walk in the front door of a pleasant house surrounded by carefully groomed flower-filled greenery. The building now a warm welcoming art & color-filled setting where you will enjoy dinner in a home exactly like yours if only you had a better decorator, your own personal chef and your favorite foodies to serve you.
And Then the Food. Which is what you came for after all—you were just distracted for a brief time by how lovely it all is, the table so elegantly set, the candles casting that perfectly subdued glow, the soft quiet broken only by the clink of silverware and happy conversation. Yes. I said it. A place where you can eat personally prepared food while having an actual conversation. A rare experience indeed.
I forgot to bring Saturday’s night’s menu home so I will be less than specific. But the highlights included the filet mignon on a bed of grilled sweet tomatoes which is possibly the most tender flavorful rich gorgeous piece of meat I’ve ever eaten and swordfish (the only fish as good as walleye) soup with green chilies and red and green peppers. Of course to begin there were fresh light and very pretty appetizers, nice bread, a greens shrimp avocado caramelized-pecans salad and for dessert a diverse crunchy sugary fudgy fruity platter of decadence. Nice.
The wine and coffee were just right. A tour of the spotless cozy kitchen (you could imagine yourself making chocolate chip cookies there on a cold autumn morning) and pleasant chats with Charles and his partner and staff brought the evening to a close. Then the long 37 step walk to my front door. It’s almost a shame not to drink too much when home is that close, however that would spoil the pleasure of everything else.
This is a very special place. I recommend skipping a few mediocre meals, in which the town abounds, and treating yourselves to Charles Place once in awhile.
Travel. Block by Block.
Some of my favorite books are travel stories that cross regions, countries or territories of any size, meandering along by various transportation modes, noticing the landscape and people and noting the social, political and economic history when it seems pertinent. The author I’m thinking of right now is Ian Frazier and his books, Travels in Siberia and Great Plains.
For August I will be the Ian Frazier of a particular stretch of Albuquerque walkways. I’m talking about the routes I take three times a week, starting from my house at dawn, wending my way to the Rio Grande and then back an hour or so later. To be a great travel writer one must build their descriptive skills, mile by mile or, in my case, block by block.
TB #1 Eclectic: I have lived on this block for almost 14 years so I’m admittedly biased but it is surely one of the more interesting locations in the city. Just west of downtown, off Central Avenue, on the edge of Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) territory, there is this little street of modest homes (one converted to three rental units—extremely homey, attractive and well-cared for by the landlord who lives next door) and a couple of bonus attractions.
On the northwest corner of my pleasant street is the “storied” neighborhood eyesore—a virtually abandoned house, slowly fading, chipping, sagging. Its fifteen minutes of fame was as the location for an episode of Breaking Bad where some generic meth addict’s head is crushed by a falling ATM. Filming was quite a production. First of all they shabbied up the house even further by hanging old sheets in the windows, and junking up the front porch with a few wretched pieces of furniture. Giant trailers parked up and down the street, giant lights focused on the house, giant techie types ambled about and it’s safe to assume at some point a star or two showed up. It is unlikely most people on the block had ever seen the show so they expressed their disinterest by being all tucked in by nine or ten when the night shoot really got going. And all had vanished by morning except, unfortunately, the house, which stands forlorn only visited occasionally by—what do you call Breaking Bad super fans—Breakies? They come solo or in scraggly pairs, sometimes leaving sad little bunches of flowers on the front porch in honor of the crushed dude.
Other end of the block, a two-story house has been freshly painted for a family of lawyers. Every downtown neighborhood needs a few.
Right smack next door to me. I’m thrilled.
And across the street, the newest restaurant—that doesn’t want to be called a restaurant—in town. Bright-brown adobe home with glossy tile inserts and flowers in abundance converted to a place where the few can elegantly dine on Friday and Saturday nights. Charles Place is owner Charles’ retirement dream. The home’s original rooms have been magically transformed into mini-dining rooms, altogether seating about 20. The interior is scrumptious with the glowing colors of Mexico in tile, paint and artworks, all very handsome, friendly, and comfy. There is a set menu of the freshest of produce and meats that Charles has purchased for that weekend only. Tables are booked for the night so the talking and eating and sipping can last six hours should that be your desire. Dining at Charles Place is pricey by Albuquerque standards but given the unique ambiance and the potential for perfectly fresh, perfectly prepared food, it is likely well worth it. I’ll report back in a couple of weeks after my San Diego son, the connoisseur (he thinks!), and I try it out.