Date May 31, 2006 at 10:00 PM
The Rancher's Club has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and its classic style has changed very little since 1985. The low lighting, mahogany and brass give it the hushed, comfortable décor of an elegant hunting lodge. General Manager Ralph Garcia, who's been with the Rancher's Club for over eight years, tells me a lot of his clients who travel compare them to other nationally renowned steak houses such as Delmonico's or Ruth's Chris however, "They prefer our more personable style." A place like the Rancher's Club is a rather unique phenomenon in the restaurant industry. The industry, in general, has moved in the direction of what Garcia refers to as "casual fine dining," which he applauds for its accessibility, but "we do Old World fine dining." The menu, however, reflects that even an Old World restaurant best keep up with contemporary tastes. Within the last three years, the menu has been divided into two sections-the "Rancher's Classics," which include king crab legs, lobster, and a selection of meats and wild game, along with accompanying sauces, that you would expect to find in a top steak house. Now, however, there is a selection of "Chef's Seasonal Entrees," for the guests inclined toward a more creative menu.
Years ago, Garcia worked in an upscale Philadelphia restaurant and was taught the alchemy of customer service. His mentor told him, "You can charge whatever you want, however, the food has to be good, the service must be impeccable and you must know the guest is satisfied." It is clearly a system that works as guests return time and again, many of them the "who's who" of Albuquerque, that appreciate the consistency and confidentiality the Rancher's Club offers. Dr. Frey, UNM Hospital's chief surgeon, as well as Mayor Martin Chavez and myriad of other lawyers and business people are continuously impressed with the congeniality of the staff and often bring their out of town guests to dine at the Rancher's Club. Ralph Garcia is a clear beacon for the high level of service. He's what I would call a server's server. He sees his job as a respected profession and expects equal commitment from his staff, who are taught that their food and wine knowledge is tantamount to a successful business. "I genuinely love to serve guests," he tells me. "I never find it boring-every day is a new challenge because I have different customers."
The Rancher's Club is one of the only restaurants in Albuquerque to service the dining room in a team system. Each team has a captain, front and back server, and assistant server; essentially each table then has four servers at their beck and call. Additionally, about seven years ago, Garcia decided to bring back the lost art of flambés. They are the only restaurant in town to provide such tableside presentations. Don't talk to Garcia about the number of covers they do in a night-his mantra is quality over quantity. "I understand that the Rancher's Club is an expensive restaurant," he admits, "and we have guests who come here once a year for an anniversary or birthday and that's it. But it's an honor for me that those people would choose us for their special events."
They do also get their fair share of celebrity guests-JLo has been in, Hall and Oates celebrated a birthday there, actress Marcia Gay Harden was staying at the hotel and came in a half a dozen times, Aretha Franklin and her entourage-and if you take a quick look, Garcia himself could be mistaken for a celeb. "At least once every shift, someone will ask me if anyone has ever told me I look like the Governor," he laughs. "I tell them I have heard that, except, don't you think I'm more handsome?"
The Rancher's Club is situated in the Hilton of Albuquerque located at 1901 University NE in Albuquerque. Lunch is served Monday through Friday from 11:30am to 1:30pm. Dinner is served nightly: Monday through Thursday from 5:30pm to 10pm, until 10:30pm on Friday and Saturday, and until 9pm on Sunday. 505.889-8071.