M’Tucci’s Moderno – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

M’Tucci’s Moderno In Rio Rancho

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New
York.”
~Frank Sinatra

Jeff Spiegel, managing partner of the insanely popular M’Tucci’s family of restaurants has described flagship restaurant M’Tucci’s Italian Restaurant (previously M’Tucci’s Kitchina) as “as good as anything we did in New York City.”  That is really saying something considering  over the course of 23 years, Jeff and his life and business partner Katie Gardner owned and operated eleven restaurants in The Big Apple.  Those eclectic eleven were highly regarded dining establishments, earning praise and acclaim from the dining public and media alike.  One, The West End Bar & Grill, was a legendary Columbia University institution and veritable second home to students, faculty and staff.  Two chefs who once worked for Jeff and Katie have earned Best Chef recognition from the James Beard Society while one has garnered significant notoriety as a chef, author and television personality (some of you might recognize the name Anthony Bourdain).

When Jeff and Katie returned to Albuquerque (his hometown) in 2007, they initially pursued other ventures.  Eventually the lure of the restaurant world at which they had succeeded at the highest level pulled them back.  In July, 2013, they partnered with über executive chef John Haas in launching M’Tucci’s Kitchina, the progenitor of a restaurant family quickly becoming dynastic.  Some seventeen months later, the triumvirate opened M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Pizzeria 150 feet south of the mother ship in the Montaño shopping center.  In July, 2015, they introduced M’tucci’s Cocina Grill, a Nuevo Latino concept and catering operation, in Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center.  Shortly after the dawning of 2017  M’Tucci’s Moderno debuted in Rio Rancho.

One of M’Tucci Moderno’s Two Dining Rooms

One of the keys to expanding their Duke City area restaurant empire has been the recognition, cultivation and flourishing of a very talented and inventive staff, six of whom have become partners.  You get the feeling that Jeff and Katie don’t hold their young chefs back, that they allow them to be inventive and to stretch their creative bounds.  The result is modern, contemporary restaurants which offer playful takes on classic dishes as well as a hint of local flavor.  Chef Haas’s interpretation of traditional dishes often involves their deconstruction, refinement and reinvention. You’ll still recognize the traditional dishes you’ve enjoyed for years, but they might not be exactly as you remember them.  They’re better! 

Similarly Cory Gray and Shawn Cronin at M’tucci’s Italian Market & Deli have created a real niche by baking their own breads (sourdough, rye, rustic wheat, baguette, ciabatta, focaccia), making their own pastas and sausages, curing some of their own meats and making their own mozzarella and other cheeses.  They’re New York City deli quality!  M’Tucci’s is the only business in the Land of Enchantment authorized (by the state) to sell its own artisan salumi products.

Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

Habitues of the M’Tucci restaurant family will recognize the influence of Chefs Haas, Gray and Cronin on the menu at M’Tucci’s Moderno, a menu which mostly resembles that of the flagship albeit with more steaks and chops than its brethren.  In some ways, Moderno combines the best of its predecessors, offering for example, the charcuterie boards and market bread from the Market & Pizzeria as well as some familiar entrees heretofore available only at the mothership.  The menu is a delight to peruse.  Segmented into sections–antipasti, insalata & zuppa, pasta, secondi, artisan pizza/lavosh flatbread and contini–makes it easy to navigate though you might have a hard time deciding what to order.

M’Tucci’s Moderno is located at the Unser Pavilion, west of Rust Medical Center in the space which previously housed Prime and Vernon’s Open Door, both now defunct.  Swathed in a neo-industrial aesthetic complete with exposed ceiling ductwork, it has some of the familiar eye-catching aesthetic touches Katie introduced at the couple’s first Duke City venture (without the life-sized alligator).  The restaurant has three distinct main areas, all offering comfortable seating and just enough personal space proximity to neighbors.

Charcuterie Board C: Sopressata Salami, Morbier Cheese, House Rosemary Grain Mustard

Surprisingly considering Rio Rancho is often referred to as “Little New York,” there’s only one other Italian restaurant in town (though there are several pizzerias).  That would be the much celebrated Joe’s Pasta House about five miles away.  One hallmark of Joe’s has always been outstanding service, the best in the metropolitan area in my opinion and according to Albuquerque The Magazine‘s 2016 “Best of the City” poll.  M’Tucci’s is also no slouch when it comes to service with M’Tucci’s Italian Restaurant finishing in the top five of the Magazine’s “best service” category.  As has been our experience at the M’Tucci restaurant family, we found Moderno’s service convivial and professional.

We also found every nuanced morsel absolutely delicious.  On a blustery February day, the cream of wild mushroom soup especially hit the spot.  Constructed from wild mushrooms, Shiitake, Cremini, Portabella, heavy cream, brandy and olive oil, it’s got the comforting, soul-warming properties of all great soups.  It’s a soup that penetrates deep into your taste buds and thoroughly satisfies your palate and belly.  It’s the type of soup this multi-time judge would love to see at the Roadrunner Food Bank‘s annual Souper Bowl next January (hint, hint).

Shrimp Campanelle

Our hearts beat a little faster when we espied Charcuterie Boards on the menu–four of them, each offering sundry cheeses, meats and garnishes.  Charcuterie, the art of salting, smoking, brining, or otherwise curing meats, is a culinary art for which M’Tucci’s has absolutely no equal in the metropolitan area.  All four boards will merit your rapt consideration.  We opted for Charcuterie Board C, a bountiful melange of Sopressata salami, Morbier cheese, house Rosemary grain mustard served with olive oil, sea salt and  fresh M’tucci’s market bread.  Morbier has a rich, creamy flavour with a slightly bitter aftertaste and delightfully pungent aroma.  It pairs well with the whisper-thin Sopressata, a coarsely ground salami with a hint of piquancy.  The market bread, as always, is the perfect canvas for the house Rosemary grain mustard.

Previous visits to M’Tucci’s restaurants have taught us that any intentions we might have to save some of our entrees for later will go out the window as soon as we taste those entrees.  Such was the case with the Shrimp Campanelle (sauteed Gulf shrimp, house heritage pork chorizo, grape tomatoes, lobster cream sauce, basil and Campanelle pasta).  At first glance, the entree appeared too big to finish in one meal.  At first bite, we knew we wouldn’t be leaving any for later.  This is an outstanding dish–one with  je ne sais quoi, qualities not easily described.  We determined uniquely palate pleasing notes came from the house heritage chorizo and its cinnamony flavor pairing with the sweet brininess of the shrimp and decadent lobster cream sauce.  The grape tomatoes provided acidity and served as a nice foil for the richness of other elements.

Affumicato Artisinal Pizza

Whether you like your pizza on a thin, but pliable crust (artisinal pizza) or an even thinner, crispy crust (lavosh flatbread), Moderno has a pizza to satisfy every preference.  Ever since I introduced her to buffalo mozzarella several years ago, it’s been my Kim’s favorite cheese.  Smoked buffalo mozzarella is only one reason she ordered the Affumicato.  Other reasons included roasted grape tomatoes, San Marzano tomato sauce, preserved sweet peppers and caramelized onions.  For someone with as pronounced a carnivorous bent to have enjoyed this pizza as much as she did speaks volumes about how good it is…and how good buffalo mozzarella is.  One of few people who don’t believe char is a flavor, Kim asked for a light char and Moderno delivered. 

Desserts are a medley of familiar M’Tucci’s standards and some heretofore unavailable.  Among the former is the Twinkie L’Italia which four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison described as “zeppelin size fantasy of sponge cake with a cream-and-white-chocolate center under candied pecans and a caramel drizzle.”  Only the bread pudding (port wine cherries, Stracciatella gelato, dark chocolate ganache) could pull us away.  This is an excellent bread pudding elevated to rarefied air with the addition of the Stacciatella (vanilla gelato flecked with fine chocolate) drizzled with dark chocolate ganache veins.  The tart-sweet port wine cherries are a nice counterbalance to the sweetness of the bread pudding.  It has already vaulted to the top of Larry McGoldrick’s Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  The professor with the perspicacious palate is pretty selective when it comes to bread pudding.  Trust us.  This is a great one.

Bread Pudding (Port Wine Cherries, Stracciatella Gelato, Dark Chocolate Ganache

It could well be argued that Duke City diners are even more persnickety and demanding than their counterparts in New York City.  What can’t be disputed is that–just as they did in Metropolis–Jeff Spiegel and Katie Gardner have made it in Albuquerque.  As restaurant impresarios and developers of restaurant talent, they just might be peerless.  Their restaurants certainly are!

M’Tucci’s Moderno Italian Restaurant
1908 Wellspring Avenue, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 891-2432
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 12 February 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Bread Pudding, Shrimp Campanelle, Affumicato, Charcuterie Board C, Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

M'Tucci's Moderno Italian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nanami Noodle House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nanami Noodle House and Sister Restaurant, Plum Cafe

If Chinese superstitions have any credence, some of us may not be long for this world.  Chinese superstitions posit that long noodles symbolize a long life.  Ostensibly, if you cut your noodles, you’re cutting your life short.  Instead of cutting your noodles, the Chinese advocate slurping up long noodles without breaking them.  When it comes to noodles, the Chinese should know.  After all, they’ve been preparing noodles longer than any culture in the world.  In 2005, archaeologists uncovered a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles in Northeast China, the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.  Buried under ten feet of sediment, an overturned sealed bowl contained beautifully preserved, long, thin yellow noodles made from two kinds of millet. Archaeochemist Patrick McGovern indicated that “even today, deft skills are required to make long, thin noodles like those found” at the Chinese site, adding that  “this shows a fairly high level of food processing and culinary sophistication.” 

If you’ve never seen the art-and-science process of hand-making noodles, it should be on your bucket list–and because the process is quickly becoming a lost art, you should place it near the top of that list.  Fortunately you don’t have to go far to witness veritable feats of noodular prestidigitation.  The art of hand-pulled noodles is on daily display at Beijing Noodle No. 9 within Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas where the open kitchen doubles as an exhibition hall for chefs who’ve been intensely trained on how to hand stretch noodles.  Through a process of stretching and twisting flour, noodle-masters can hand pull hundreds of beautiful long thin noodles for a variety of dishes.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch, but even more spectacular is sampling the results.

Nanami Dining Room

When we heard a new Duke City restaurant named Nanami Noodle House would be launching in January, 2017, we dared hope hand-pulled noodles would be featured fare.  Alas, such was not meant to be.  Nanami showcases noodles made elsewhere and flown in for use on a variety of broth-based, vegetarian and non-broth noodle dishes (if it’s any consolation, very few cities across the fruited plain can boast of restaurants in which noodles are made in the traditional hand-pulled manner).  Captivating aromas emanating from the kitchen gave us very little opportunity to bemoan our ill-fortune.  The source of those fragrant bouquets were in dire need of exploration as was a menu as diverse and delightful as we’ve seen in quite some time.

Befitting the restaurant’s name, which translates to “seven seas,” that menu includes dishes originating in Vietnam, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan and Korea with a nod to New Mexico here and there.   The Land of Enchantment meets Asia in the very first appetizer listed on the menu.  That would be the green chile Rangoon.  It’s one of nine appetizers, most of which are pretty standard fare.  You can eschew appetizers altogether and enjoy one of the four available salads.  Some diners will gravitate immediately to the noodle soups section of the menu, a listing of fifteen slurp-worthy soups.  If you prefer noodles sans broth, the menu lists four inviting options including grilled vermicelli.  Vegetarian options are also available.

Green Chile Rangoon

Lest I forget, the menu lists a nice array of hot and cold beverages including sixteen-ounce shakes, some in flavors you might not expect (green tea, Vietnamese coffee and Thai tea, for example).  Caffeine fiends should try the Vietnamese Coffee Frappe, an eye-opening meld of strong coffee and sweetened condensed milk.  Hot tea by the pot flavors include oolong, jasmine, green tea and a decaffeinated green tea.  Ice tea flavors include unsweetened green tea, mango, lychee and peach.  Coke products are also available, but other options just seem so much more appropriate.  Oh, and you’ll definitely want to peruse the dessert menu, too.

Nanami Noodle House is located at the former site of Cafe Jean-Pierre off the Pan American Highway.  It faces and is within easy walking distance of the Century 24 theater.  Nanami is the brainchild of first-time restaurant owners Brian and Nga Trieu, both of whom have extensive restaurant experience.  Brian cut his teeth working in restaurants owned and operated by his siblings in Roswell, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.  Among family owned restaurants with which you might be familiar are Banana Leaf (which a sibling sold years ago) and the Plum Cafe next door.  There are some similarities between the three.

Chicken Dumplings

Sure to become the restaurant’s signature appetizer is the Green Chile Rangoon (crispy Rangoon filled with green chile, jalapeño, onion, cream cheese and Cheddar).  If you’ve ever lamented the cloying flavor of most Crab Rangoon, you’ll appreciate that this six-piece starter bites back–not too much, but enough to be discernible.  The Green chile Rangoon is served with a plum sauce, a term which usually engenders yawning and ennui.  This plum sauce actually has personality courtesy of a nice infusion of ginger and chili.  It only looks sweet and innocuous.

Nanami pays attention to the sauces which accompany its appetizers.  That’s a difference-maker discerning diners will notice.  The chicken dumplings (crispy pot stickers filled with chicken, Napa cabbage, shallot and green onion), for example, are accompanied by a chili oil sweet soy sauce that emphasizes both its piquant and sweet elements.  The chicken dumplings are flash-fried to a golden hue and are generously filled.  It’s telling that the dumplings are delicious with or without sauce though the sauce does bring out more flavors.

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

Whether you noodle over the choices carefully or you espy a noodle dish that quickly wins you over, you’re in for a real treat.  My Kim beat me to the spicy beef noodle soup (rice noodle, medium flank steak, beef broth, tomato, cucumber and bean sprouts in a sate pork-shrimp broth topped with crushed peanuts, green onions, fried shallots and basil), my ad-libitum choice when trying a new Vietnamese restaurant.  While the flavor profile of most spicy beef noodle soups in the Duke City gravitates toward anise-kissed pho made piquant with the addition of chili, this one is wholly different.  It derives its heat from sate, a piquant Vietnamese sauce typically made with garlic, lemongrass, chili, fish sauce and other ingredients.  You may have noticed from the ingredients listed above that the broth is a sate pork-shrimp broth, not a beef broth.  There are many surprises in this soup, the least of which is the addition of fresh tomatoes and cucumber slices.  This deeply satisfying, rich elixir may have you rethink what you believe spicy beef noodle soup should be.

If you can’t get enough ramen in your life, you’ll appreciate Nanami offering one ramen option heretofore unavailable in the Duke City.  That would be the Kim Chi Ramen (wheat noodle, chasu, tofu, soft-boiled egg, mushrooms, bean sprouts and kimchi in a pork dashi broth topped with sesame seed, green onion and nori).  This is a ramen dish rich in umami, one of the five basic tastes (along with salt, sweet, sour and bitter) with a profile described as “meaty” and “brothy.”  The rich stock (dashi), soy sauce, earthy mushrooms and even the fermented kimchi are especially imbued with umami.   There is a lot going on in this dish, a melding of ingredients which go very well together, but if the term “kimchi” inspires visions of fiery, fermented cabbage, you might be disappointed.  The focus of this ramen is in developing a multitude of flavors, not one overwhelming flavor.  This is a memorable dish!

Kim Chi Ramen

The Nanami Noodle House may not hand-pull its noodles, but the chef certainly knows how to use noodles to craft deeply satisfying, soulful and delicious dishes you’ll want to enjoy again and again.

Nanami Noodle House
4959 Pan American, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-1125
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 February 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Rangoon, Chicken Pot Stickers, Kim Chi Ramen, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

Nanami Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: January, 2017

Beef Tender Bistro with Waffle Fries from Grill 49 in Tularosa.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

As an essayist of the New Mexico culinary scene, it often baffles me to read national print and online publications attempting to speak for New Mexicans in naming our best this or best that.  It’s often as if the writers have never set foot in the Land of Enchantment and instead tossed a dart at a target listing sundry foods.  Take for example, Delish.com’s recent compilation of compilation of The 50 Most Wanted Game Day Food in Your State.  Using findings from DirecTV which ostensibly combed through Instagram to determine which snacks people were scarfing down before cheering on the home team, Delish.com named onion rings as the fried snack of choice here.  Onion rings!!!   In years of having attended Lobo football and basketball games, I don’t recall any tailgaters noshing on onion rings.  Perhps they devour onion rings at home before heading to the University Stadium or Wise Guys Arena.

According to an online survey from the National Coffee Association, 83-percent of adults crave their caffeine jolt.  A separate survey from Zagat revealed about half of respondents get their coffee fix at a nationally owned chain or local coffee shop.  When it comes to finding a great cup of coffee, not every city is created equal.  Yelp data was evaluated to determine America’s fifty caffeine capitals.  With a caffeine score of 86.27, Albuquerque ranks as America’s second most caffeinated city.  Coffee lovers convene for their favorite cup at one of the city’s 124 coffee shops which earned an average Yelp rating of 3.9 (on a scale of one to five) with 80 of them earning ratings of four to five on Yelp reviews.

Chicken and Waffles (with Bacon) from Salud! de Mesilla.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

“Love may be a many-splendored thing, but however you cut it, “splendor” is the operative word.  Cities that bring the beauty almost always crank up the heat, which is why there’s no mistaking a romantic city when you encounter it. Thrillist compiled a rundown of US cities where the scenery doubles as an aphrodisiac, for use as you and boo see fit.”   Not surprisingly, Santa Fe was named one of the most beautiful cities in the US for romantic getaways.  According to Thrillist, the City Different’s most romantic restaurant-bar is the Pink Adobe adding that “the neighborhood’s wonderful collection of bars and restaurants, from the Palace to Secreto Lounge to Tia Sophia’s, is integral to the area’s sultry charm.”

Santa Fe is also home to one of America’s 39 most historic restaurants as named by MSN.  The venerable El Farol on artsy-chic Canyon Road is the city’s oldest restaurant.  MSN wrote: “Serving Spanish tapas this delightful restaurant has been offering “warmth” and “light” (the English translation) since 1835, alongside sharing plates well before they became a trend and nightly entertainment.  El Farol is one of the forerunners of the tapas movement, the sharing of small portions of delectable foods served in groupings.  History meets entertainment at El Farol which features live entertainment seven days a week.

Cannoli from NYP Pizza House in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Just in time for the advent of 2017, Travel Squire,  a digital magazine and travel therapist in one combined, written and edited by destination specialists. organized its picks for the top 28 destinations for the upcoming year in travel.  The list includes every continent with something for every travel style.  “New on Your Radar” destinations providing a variety of cultural and culinary experiences include the Land of Enchantment.  New Mexico is the only state that is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and Carlsbad Caverns.  It’s also unmatched in terms of culinary experiences.  Travel Squire noted: “Enticing culinary trails like the Breakfast Burrito Byway and the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail will introduce you to New Mexico’s culinary staple—the spicy chile. There are also numerous opportunities to experience the Native American culture from a pueblo cooking class at Okhay Owingeh to sampling pueblo cuisine, exploring Gallup’s Native art and Native-influenced spa treatments.”

While many New Mexicans might have named our official state cookie–the sacrosanct biscochito–as our most delicious cookie, Good Housekeeping made a rather surprising choice.  In naming a dark chocolate chili cookie as New Mexico’s very best cookie in its list of the 50 most delicious cookies by state, Good Housekeeping actually found a cookie that really doesn’t have much New Mexico in it.  Study the recipe and you’ll quickly note its ingredients include a hint of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and chunks of dark chocolate chili chocolate.  Sure, we love cayenne pepper with Cajun food, but it doesn’t grace our recipes for New Mexican food.   As for the “chili” in this cookie, it actually comes from a  Lindt chili excellence bar.  It’s unlikely any New Mexican chile farmers would allow their product to be spelled “chili” so there’s no telling where it comes from.

Menudo from Bravas Cafe in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

During our three years in England, we spent many a lazy day on the banks of the serene River Windrush  luxuriating with a cup of tea coupled with a combination of scones, clotted cream, and jam.  It’s not something we can hope to duplicate on the banks of the murky Rio Grande, but scant miles away, we can experience the genteel pleasure of sipping tea at The St. James Tearroom.  The Huffington Post calls an experience at the St. James Tearoom “the lost art of connection,” indicating that the tearoom “offers its patrons an experience that creates connection and intimacy for those who choose to leave the rushed and stressful day to day duties of work to take time out and connect. It is a place to relax and be fully present to those around you and tea is the magical thread that weaves this experience together.” 

What one person considers delicious, another may deem entirely unpleasant.  Thrillist realizes that “each state has foods that might look unappetizing or downright disgusting to an outsider — but to homegrown kids, they’re a little slice of home.”  Most native New Mexicans will consider it heretical that in a Thrillist feature entitled “Every State’s Grossest Food (That People Actually Love),” declares that our beloved carne adovada “resembles a plate of wet dog food in marinara sauce.”  Hard to believe as New Mexicans will find it, carne adovada was deemed our “grossest food.”  Where do you find this paragon of loathsomeness?  Thrillist recommends Mary & Tito’s Cafe where “you get it paired with a plate of perfectly cooked sunny-side eggs and hash browns.”

Croissant from Belle Sucre in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

Ludwig van Beethoven once declared “only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”  Restaurants throughout Albuquerque and Santa Fe are obviously staffed with pure-hearted chefs and cooks who show off their formidable culinary skills every year at each city’s annual Souper Bowl, the most delicious fund-raising events in the state.  Santa Fe’s Souper Bowl benefits The Food Depot, “Northern New Mexico’s Food Bank.”  Approximately one-thousand soup lovers attended the twenty-third annual event where they sipped soup to their heart’s content.  Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen earned both  best overall soup and best savory soup with a Thai Cambodian Coconut Chicken soup.  Other category winners included Terra at the Four Seasons at Rancho Encantado in the best cream category; Kingston Residence of Santa Fe in the best seafood category; and The Palace in the best vegetarian category.

More than twelve-hundred guests enjoyed scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly forty area Albuquerque restaurants in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl 2017.  Awards were presented in two categories: Critic’s Choice and People’s Choice with attendees casting their ballots for their favorite soup and dessert.  Drum roll please…the 2017 Souper Bowl award winners were:

People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Bocadillos Café and Catering
2nd Place: Chumly’s Southwestern
3rd Place: Daily Grind

People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Co.
2nd Place: 99 Degrees Seafood
3rd Place: Corn Maiden at the Hyatt

People’s Choice – Dessert Winners
1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd Place: Theombroma Chocolatier
3rd Place: Vic’s Daily Cafe

Critic’s Choice Awards were chosen by a panel of six judges (including yours truly) who rated each soup based on appearance, aroma, texture, spice blend, flavor and overall impression.  

Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place: Chumly’s Southwestern
2nd Place: Sandia Golf Club
3rd Place: Zacateca Tacos + Tequila

Quiche Lorraine from The Shed in Las Cruces.  Image Courtesy of Melodie K.

What’s the hottest trending topic in the world of comfort cuisine.  According to The Travel Channel, it’s Mexican food.  With flavors so bold, brash and satisfying, it’s no surprise.  Leaving no tortilla unturned in its search for America’s eight best places to “enjoy maximum Mexican food enjoyment,” it’s also no surprise The Travel Channel would wind up in New Mexico where Albuquerque’s legendary El Pinto ranked number four in the list of Best Mex.  John and Jim Thomas, the famous “Salsa Twins” were featured along with the meaty splendor that is El Pinto’s red chile ribs.  The process of preparing the best ribs since Adam shared one with Eve was showcased along with calabasitas and a 24-ounce bone-in tomahawk steak.

The Travel Channel also counted down eight restaurants known for serving up the best version of a city’s signature dish.  In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Iconic Eats,” Santa Fe’s Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen was lauded for its blue corn enchiladas, a main player in its menu for more than fifty years.  Another dish on the epic list are Maria’s epic chile rellenos which are stuffed with a pepperjack cheese.  It’s too bad modern technology has not yet developed smell-o-vision or better still, taste-o-vision because both dishes truly represent New Mexico on a plate.  It’s Christmas every day at Maria’s.

Chumlys Southwestern – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chumly’s Southwestern in Albuquerque’s Green Jeans Farmery

The old Jewish proverb “worries go down better with soup than without” may just be the most understated aphorism about soup ever uttered.  When soup is discussed, it’s usually with a sense of warm nostalgia, perhaps even reverence.  We ascribe such adjectives as comforting, restorative, soothing, nourishing, hearty, warming and fulfilling to that nostalgic elixir in a bowl.  The number of adjectives would probably quadruple if we attempted to describe soup’s qualities of deliciousness in addition to its satisfying properties.  There’s no doubt that a luxurious bowl of steaming soup has life-affirming attributes.  Is it any wonder one of the most popular paperback series of all-time is named for soup–the Chicken Soup For the Soul series, an inspirational and uplifting anthology?

Soup is so much more than nostalgia in a bowl, more than a comfort food favorite.  Though good year-round, soup has its own season, one that doesn’t necessarily follow a calendar.  It just seems tailor-made for the chill and bluster of winter.    Indeed, there is much anecdotal and even some scientific evidence to support claims that soups can help restore us back to health when we’re under the weather and wrapped up tightly under blankets.  On days that make us shake, shiver and tremble, soup’s warmth gives us the impetus to brave the cold and attack the day with vigor.

Owner Jesse Zimmerman stands by the 1st Place Award Earned by Chumlys Southwestern at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl in 2017

It was on one of those gelid days that I first visited the SoupDog, an olfactory oasis ensconced in the Green Jeans Farmery (3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E.), the community-oriented commercial plaza constructed entirely with repurposed shipping containers as modular, architectural building blocks.  Four days previous during our inaugural foray to the Green Jeans Farmery for lunch at Amore Neopolitan Pizzeria, we had espied SoupDog and earmarked it for additional study (as in whether or not it was named for Snoop Dogg, the notorious reefer-loving rapper) and a potential visit.

For shizzle (I’ve always wanted to say that) SoupDog wasn’t named for the splendid stoner, but for two of the most comforting and iconic foods–soup and hot dogs.  It became readily apparent in time that a name change was warranted as Duke City diners tended to believe Soupdog served only soup.  Its new name, Chumlys Southwestern, has a friendly (as in chum, buddy, pal) connotation without implications of typecasting.  As with other restaurants in the Farmery complex, Chumly’s Southwestern plies its trade in what could pass for a large concession stand.  Menus scrawled in an array of colors describe the featured fare which you order from a counter.  Next, you’ll saunter over to your choice of several indoor and outdoor dining areas, none attached to a restaurant (although some seating areas are on the roof of the restaurants they serve).

New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo Earned a Second Place Finish in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl Event in 2016

While the soup menu is relatively limited (listing five or so soups), deciding which to order won’t be a simple process.  For the peely-wally, the perusal may stop at the creamy green chile chicken noodle soup, the so good and good for you elixir infused with equal parts nostalgia and magic.  Millions of mothers still swear by it.  Chumly’s version is an invitation to both salivation and sulubriousness.   If you prefer your chicken soup sans creaminess, a more traditional (at least in New Mexico) green chile chicken noodle soup is also available.  From among the five soups listed during my inaugural visit, chile was a chief ingredient in three.

3 December 2015:  That includes the soup which combines the flavors of my current home in the Land of Enchantment with the flavors of my previous home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo is as delicious as it sounds, a melding of diverse cultures and cuisines to form an even better concoction.  Picture Andouille sausage and chicken broth with veggies, homegrown herbs and Hatch red chile served over brown rice.  The red chile has just enough bite to be discernible without obfuscating the Cajun flavors which make gumbo one of America’s favorite soups.  If every other soup on the menu is as good, SoupDog will soon join Cafe Bella as my hook-ups when cold weather has me down.  I’m not the only one with a high opinion of this paragon of deliciousness.  During the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl for 2016, this great gumbo earned a second place award in the People’s Choice category.

Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder Earned First Place in the Critics’ Choice Category at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl in 2017

29 January 2017:  More than twelve-hundred guests enjoyed scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly forty area Albuquerque restaurants in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl 2017.  Awards were presented in two categories: Critic’s Choice and People’s Choice with attendees casting their ballots for their favorite soup and dessert.  Drum roll please…Chumlys Southwestern accomplished a rare feat in earning first place in the Critics’ Choice category and second place in Peoples’ Choice.  The award-winning soup was Chumly’s Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder, an outstanding elixir showcasing a netful of sweet, succulent, pink-fleshed crawfish swimming in a nicely seasoned broth with sweet niblets of corn.   This is a magnificent, multi-faceted soup with a pleasing personality.

3 December 2015:  Chumlys Southwestern also lists five gourmet hot dogs, three of which pack the piquancy New Mexicans crave regardless of weather.  Each dog is a right-sized (not too small, not “compensating”) Nathan’s dog.  Though only vaguely reminiscent of eating a Nathan’s hot dog at the original Coney Island stand, Chumlys hot dog offerings will create delicious new memories. My introduction came in the form of a Sonoran Hot Dog (bacon-wrapped Nathan’s Hot Dog in a freshly-baked bolillo roll topped with chili (SIC) beans, homemade roasted jalapeño salsa, mayo and homemade mustard. 

Sonoran Hot Dog

The Sonoran Hot Dog may just be the most delicious export from the Grand Canyon State to hit New Mexico where it’s made significant inroads.  In recent months we’ve uncovered Tucson-quality Sonoran hot dogs in Albuquerque (Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp and Pop Fizz) and Rio Rancho (the now defunct Ice Cream Palace And Hot Dog World) and we understand there are several purveyors of this paragon of delicious messiness operating from motorized conveyances.  Chumlys’ Sonoran is so good it may take several visits before another hot dog tempts me enough to try it.  The combination of garlicky hot dog, piquant salsa and tangy mustard nestled in a beauteous bolillo is a winner!

29 January 2017: Con queso, a diminutive of chile con queso, is an aptly named term because some con queso is so innocuous and tepid that you have to wonder if chile is even part of the mix.  Not so at Chumlys Southwestern where the con queso bites back.  So do the tater chips which are made on the premises.  The Tater Chips & 505 Queso are not to be missed though they may not pair as well with a delicate soup such as the Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder as they do with the New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo which also has notes of piquancy.  There’s some serious heat on this queso.

Tater Chips & 505 Queso

Chumlys is the brainchild of Jessie Zimmerman, a 30-year veteran in the restaurant business as a kitchen manager and production manager for 505 Southwestern Restaurant and Chile Products.  Those of us who remember 505 Southwestern when it was a restaurant are sure to notice some of its uniquely delicious touches.   Chumlys Southwestern is a sure cure for winter blues and an even better cure for hunger. For soup, hot dogs and so much more, it should be on your radar.

Chumly’s Southwestern
3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E., Suite #7
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
(505) 401-5827
LATEST VISIT: 29 January 2017
1st VISIT: 3 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sonoran Hot Dog, New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo, Creole Corn & Crawfish Chowder, Tater Chips & 505 Queso

SoupDog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Joe’s Pasta House – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho

Once a year, despite my protestations and whining, I agree to take my Kim to the Olive Garden.  It’s a deal we have, albeit one that makes me feel like  Faust in the Christopher Marlowe play.  Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a  scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.  In my case, the deal is  a visit to Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year.  I sure got the rotten end of that deal.

On a list of things I’d rather do, my annual visit to the Olive Garden for a meal of cheese glop or tomato torture ranks somewhere below visiting a proctologist or watching The View.  Kim likes the salad and bread sticks and I suspect derives a bit of sadistic satisfaction in hearing me mutter polysyllabic epithets about the “Evil Garden’s” food.   The cultural anthropologist in me finds it both amusing and tragic that teeming masses congregate for pathetic pasta, mediocre marinara and boring bread sticks.  It makes me long for a visit to Joe’s Pasta house in Rio Rancho.

Kassie and Joe Guzzardi, two of the most customer oriented restaurateurs in New Mexico

Kassie and Joe Guzzardi, two of the most customer oriented restaurateurs in New Mexico at the best table in the house in front of the fireplace

Joe’s Pasta House is the antithesis of the Olive Garden.  In the words of Bruce Schor, one of my astute readers  (and not solely because our tastes in food are fairly similar), “Joe’s represents real Italian food of the real comfort variety.”  The operative word here is “real.”  Joe’s is most often thought of as old-fashioned “red sauce” restaurant, the type of which have survived the onslaught of their supposedly more sophisticated brethren, the vaunted Northern Italian restaurants;  the type of which remain so popular throughout the East Coast.  Perhaps that’s why Joe’s is so beloved in Rio Rancho, the city so many call “little New York.” 

Exemplars of Outstanding Service: Randi and Victoria

To label Joe’s as strictly a “red sauce restaurant” is to do a disservice to one of the most comprehensive Italian restaurants in New Mexico, a restaurant which transcends labels in that it showcases the cuisines of Italy’s three distinct culinary regions: north, south and central.  Joe’s also prepares the familiar Italian American dishes developed by Italian immigrants, occasionally spicing things up with green chile, a tribute to the adopted home of proprietors Joe and Kassie Guzzardi.

Fine imported foods and confections line the shelves near the entrance to Joe's

Fine imported foods and confections line the shelves near the entrance to Joe’s

Joe Guzzardi is a peripatetic presence with a buoyant personality and charm to spare. He visits every table to make sure his customers are enjoying their dining experience. “Mi casa es su casa” seems to be his mantra–and he really means it.  I once overheard him tell a guest who didn’t like the entree he ordered, “this is my house.  We’ll make you happy.” before proceeding to recommend entrees with a different flavor profile than the dish the guest didn’t like.   Joe’s energy, enthusiasm and customer orientation are mirrored by an attentive, well-mannered and highly professional wait staff that is easily among the very best in the metropolitan area. 

While Joe manages the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, his pulchritudinous partner Kassie oversees the restaurants social media channels, search engine optimization, blog and Web site presence.   In a day and age in which it’s become fashionable for restaurateurs to tout their social consciousness, Kassie was a pioneer in forging relationships with local suppliers to ensure the highest quality, most socially responsible and healthy foods possible.  She’s understandably very proud that Joe’s won’t feed guests anything the Guzzardi family wouldn’t eat themselves.

If you’re not careful you can fill up on the complimentary bread and the best bruschetta in New Mexico

That means hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and to the greatest extent possible GMO (genetically modified organism) free pasta imported from Italy.  It means grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, humanely raised veal and sustainably-caught fish.  Pastas and sauces are prepared in stainless steel pots, healthier vessels by far than their aluminum counterparts.  Only non-hydrogenated oil is used and it’s changed out every day, the remnants given to owners of vegetable oil-powered vehicles.   Unfortunately Rio Rancho’s solid waste infrastructure is currently incapable of providing the recycling capabilities to fully comprehend all of Joe’s needs, but the restaurant recycles as much as possible.  

As for Joe’s famous red sauce (so good I’ve joked with Joe that he should serve it in a shot glass), the secret is in the tomatoes.  Joe’s uses only imported, vine-ripened, hand-picked Italian plum tomatoes which have a wonderful, natural sweetness.  Now, there are two schools of thought about preparing sauce.  Joe is a proponent of not simmering his sauces for hours on end as opposed to the school of chefs who employ marathon-long simmering sessions (which tend to render tomatoes very acidic).  That’s one of the reasons Joe’s red sauce is much lighter in color.   It’s much more delicious, too.

Hot Antipasti for two

It may be hard to believe that Joe’s Pasta House occupies the former digs of an International House of Pancakes (IHOP), but what’s not surprising is that the restaurant consistently earns flawless ratings on all its restaurant inspections.  It’s an immaculate and attractive restaurant.   Sophisticated stylings include an exhibition kitchen under the cover of a burnished copper awning. The restaurant’s walls are festooned by artwork provided by the Rio Rancho Art Association.

Faux Italian marble columns, a mural painted by a deceased beloved Rio Rancho city council member, real napkins and linen tablecloths let you know this is more than a casual dining restaurant even though the reasonable prices might belie that fact.  Until 2009, the great Bob Morris sang at the Pasta House, his elegant voice delivering beautiful Italian arias and romantic ballads on weekend evenings.  Bob now lives in Texas, but is much missed by frequent patrons and the staff at the Pasta House. 

Eggplant: Lightly breaded eggplant stuffed w/ ricotta cheese, prosciutto & sauteed spinach, topped w/ marinara sauce & mozzarella cheese

Stuffed Eggplant

In August, 2013, Joe’s began featuring delicious, fine, imported foods and confections for those evenings in which you’re craving Italian cuisine, but don’t want to leave home.  Almost immediately as you step into the restaurant, you’ll espy shelves replete with imported olive oils, pastas, olives, salts, risotto, nutella, pastas, mustard, cookies and so much more.  It’s not quite the next best thing to dining at Joe’s, but Kassie assures me this is excellent stuff. 

November, 2015: For some restaurants, having a presence in the community means little more than having a brick-and-mortar storefront with an address.  For restaurants which become beloved institutions within their communities, having a presence in the community means being part and parcel of the fabric of the community–being involved on a day-to-day basis in promoting all that is great about a community.  It means not only providing outstanding food and excellent service to guests, but getting to know them and treating them like family.  It means listening to their guests, taking their feedback–good and bad–and using it to continue improving.  It means being a neighbor and friend.

Fried Lasagna

That’s what   Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho has done.  Joe’s isn’t just one of the two or three best Italian restaurants in New Mexico, it’s an exemplar of what it means to be part of a community.  Because of her involvement with the community, Kassie Guzzardi, the effervescent co-owner of Joe’s Pasta House, was selected by Yelp as one of 100 owners of top-rated businesses from the U.S. and Canada.  With that well-deserved honor, she ws invited to Yelp’s “Coast-to-Coast: Coming Together Because We Mean Business,”  a networking opportunity in which Yelp professionals  shared marketing techniques with their brethren.  There’s no doubt Kassie also taught even Yelp’s marketing experts a thing or two about what it means to be part of the community.

Perhaps the only thing at the Pasta House as warm as the Guzzardi’s hospitality is the bread which arrives at your table shortly after you’re comfortably seated. There may be nothing as comforting as a basket of sliced bread and yeasty rolls baked in-house–unless, of course, it’s a dish of seasoned olive oil and various herbs and spices in which to dip that bread.  Joe’s Pasta House goes even further with a complementary plate of bruschetta crowned with a mixture of rich, red tomatoes, chopped onions, garlic and other savory ingredients. At most restaurants you would pay handsomely for such a treat.

Fried Breaded Butternut Squash and Ricotta Ravioli Served with a Piñon Cream Dipping Sauce

Fried Breaded Butternut Squash and Ricotta Ravioli

Appetizers

Extreme care must be taken to ensure you don’t fill up on bread, great as it is. You also have to be doubly cautious so as not to fill up on Pasta House appetizers, some of which arrive in profuse portions which might constitute an entire meal elsewhere. There’s absolutely no way you can leave the Pasta House hungry!  The menu features several tempting appetizers and while such options as fried mozzarella, fried zucchini and fried calamari are seemingly standard offerings at most Italian restaurants, live it up and try something unique to Joe’s Pasta House.  That something different might be the poppy seed shrimp, ten (yes, 10) jumbo shrimp sautéed with bell peppers, red onions and black olives in a tangy poppy seed sauce. It’s different and it’s delicious. 

15 January 2014: The menu offers six salads, most available in half and full sizes.  Our favorite is the Caesar salad which is classically interpreted then improved by Joe’s.  The traditional touches are large leaf Romain lettuce, shaved Parmesan cheese and croutons topped with Caesar dressing.   Joe’s touches include red peppers and a sole cherry pepper.  Caesar, after all, was Italian so these small additions are copacetic.  The Caesar dressing is applied lightly so you can enjoy the other salad ingredients.

Clams Casino

13 November 2012: Another unique appetizer is the hot antipasti for two, an entree-sized portion that features stuffed eggplant (with rich Polly-O Premium Ricotta Cheese from New Jersey), clams, calamari, shrimp and mussels baked and served with marinara sauce. The shrimp have that snap that signifies freshness and a sweet brininess that’s addictive. The marinara is among the best we’ve had in New Mexico–slightly sweet, barely acidic and wholly addictive, but it’s the eggplant that makes me want to sing like Bob Morris.  Prepared incorrectly eggplant can leave a “metallic” taste in your mouth that may last for days.  The Pasta House chefs know what they’re doing with eggplant!  By itself, it’s quite good, but the Pasta House tops it with melted mozzarella and bits of prosciutto. 

Joe’s Famous and Fabulous Stuffed Eggplant Atop Spaghetti

22 January 2017: Addictive is an apt description for a lightly breaded eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese, prosciutto and sauteed spinach, topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.  Eggplant is the bane of my kitchen, a dish I’ve never been able to prepare well (hence my aforementioned references to “metallic” taste), but Joe’s rendition comes highly recommended by a trusted fellow gastronome and friend Dave Hurayt who calls it “exquisite…more than a full meal.”  Dave knows what he’s talking about.  He’s a world-traveler who’s experienced the very best in Italian food throughout Boston, New York City and Italy.  Another friend, Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver calls this the very best dish on Joe’s formidable menu.  My Italian sister-in-law says it’s just like her sainted mama used to make. 

Baked Imported Brie (Melted Imported Brie, Served with Fresh Cranberry Compote, Blueberries and Crostini)

The eggplant is indeed exquisite.  It’s the type of dish which makes all your synapses fire as your taste buds try to discern the adventure of flavors going on in your mouth.  Texturally, the skin of the eggplant is soft, but not mushy.  The prosciutto is fairly mild and not nearly as salty as some prosciutto is prone to being.  The sauce is rich with tomatoes, basil, garlic and other spices.  This is an excellent appetizer, a wonderful way to start a meal. Regulars know the stuffed eggplant is standard fare on the daily buffet.  To offer his patrons more variety Joe removed the eggplant from his buffet and replaced it with another item.  That tactic lasted one day, a day he remembers for having made about 75 trips to the kitchen to prepare the beloved eggplant dish for his guests. 

23 October 2016:  Though Joe doesn’t spent as much time in the kitchen as he might like, he’s certainly honed his chef staff to prepare dishes to his high and exacting standards.  He’s got an excellent kitchen staff he can trust.  Chef Simon, for example, prepared a baked imported brie dish that is not only delightful in its deliciousness, but plated beautifully.  If it’s true that you also eat with your eyes, it was love at first sight when the brie arrived.  Served with a fresh cranberry compote, blueberries and crostini, it pairs the mold-ripened pungency of brie with tangy berries, a match made in kitchen heaven.  Brie’s somewhat thick rind belies the creamy softness that practically oozes when punctured.

Sweet and Spicy Shrimp

17 January 2016: When we lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, my Kim’s work-commute took her past pristine sandy beaches and spectacular blue waters. Alas, it also took her past several seafood processing plants, the malodorous emanations of which turned her off seafood for years. She won’t partake of seafood unless it is at the peak of freshness with absolutely no “fishy” smell.  She loves the seafood at Joe’s Pasta House.  It’s unfailingly fresh and delicious.  Her new favorite may be the clams casino. Created in a Rhode Island casino near the turn of the 20th century, clams casino (fresh little neck clams steamed in broth with garlic, red onions and bacon) are a magnificent mariner’s favorite.  The combination of crispy bacon and sweet clams is addictive.

10 August 2014: One of the menu items which best shows Joe’s versatility and creativity is the sweet and spicy shrimp dish, an appetizer which by name alone you might think would be a Chinese dish.  In actuality, Joe concocted this starter as a tribute to the predilection for piquancy among New Mexicans.  The piquancy is courtesy of a roasted pineapple Habanero sauce.  At about 350,000 Scoville units, the Habanero  pepper ranks as one of the most incendiary peppers on Earth.  Not always sufficiently appreciated is its citrus-like properties.  It’s those properties which complement the roasted pineapple so utterly well.  To temper the sweet notes of the pineapple, the sauce is also replete with garlic and red onions.  The eight large shrimp are superbly fresh and have a discernible snap when you bite into them.  They’re served over a bed of fresh spinach.

Mediterranean Style Calamari

29 August 2014: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read “fried lasagna?”  More than a few of you will probably cringe in terror at the thought of Paula Deene slathering up a perfectly good lasagna with butter then frying it.  History recounts that lasagna has actually been fried well before the popular pasta dish was even called lasagna.  In fact a First Century recipe describes “lagana” as thin sheets of wheat flour dough with crushed lettuce juice, flavored with spices, then fried.

Fried Breaded Meatballs

Fast forward some twenty centuries and innovative restaurants such as Joe’s Pasta House are preparing the most indulgent and delicious fried lasagna you can imagine.  As expected, your fork will penetrate past a blanket of molten cheese and sink down into layers of delicious strips of lasagna noodles and ground sausage resplendent in one of Joe’s famous red sauces.  Much less expected is the piquant bite, the genesis of which is actually the sausage.  It’s not New Mexico chile piquant, but it’s got a bite to it. 

12 July 2015:  In recent years the term “fusion” has been widely used to describe the blending of two or more cuisines to create innovative and sometimes quite delicious dishes.  Though Joe would probably dismiss the term fusion, he does marry Italian ingredients and culinary techniques with those of his adopted home state to create uniquely delicious dishes which bring great credit to both cultures.  Among them is the fried breaded meatballs, a special offered in July, 2015.

Ziti Alla Vodka

Ziti Alla Vodka

The name “fried breaded meatballs” in and of itself may not sound especially interesting or delicious, but at the hands of Joe’s kitchen staff, these meaty orbs are quite wonderful.  Take four traditional breaded and fried meatballs, top them with a New Mexico green chile spinach cream sauce and melted mozzarella and you’ve got a rich, indulgent, absolutely decadent adventure in deliciousness.  While dense and coarse, the meatballs are mostly meat, not some filler.  They’d be terrific by themselves, but the green chile spinach sauce elevates them to rarefied status…and that sauce.  Oh, that sauce.  Bill Gates isn’t that rich.

29 August 2014:  In recent years the seemingly de rigueur calamari appetizer has fallen out of fashion, largely because it’s almost always prepared exactly the same way–strips or ringlets of breaded calamari served with a side of marinara.  Joe’s dares to be different, offering a “Mediterranean style” calamari that brings personality and zest to an appetizer which too often earns the adjective “boring.”  At Joe’s, this is one exciting calamari dish redolent with tangy and invigorating flavors. The fried calamari is topped with warm feta cheese, capers, artichoke hearts, red onions and kalamata olives in a lemon-butter sauce. It’s even better than it sounds and thankfully Joe’s serves it in a characteristically large portion size because you and your dining companion will be vying for as much of it as you can get.

Manicotti Bolognese

16 November 2013:  Joe’s fried breaded butternut squash and ricotta ravioli is one of those seasonal appetizers which may have you wishing it was autumn all year round.   Four raviolis, each the size of an iPhone are served with a piñon cream sauce so rich and decadent, it should come with a warning.  As addictive as the ravioli are, they’re also so rich you couldn’t possibly eat more than two, but you’ll relish every single morsel.  The butternut squash and ricotta combination is a perfect blend of semi-sweet and savory, buttery and creamy.  The sauce features not only woodsy New Mexico piñon, but nutmeg and cinnamon to accentuate the squash.  This is one seriously good, ultra rich, ultra delicious appetizer.

Entrees

7 April 2007: The menu is broken into several sections: fresh salads, appetizers, local favorites, traditional favorites, house specialties, seafood favorites and grilled entrees. Within each section are various options, all sure to please the most discerning diners. From the “Local Favorites” section comes a Mediterranean Pasta entree as good as you might expect to find at an upscale Greek restaurant. This dish is crafted with artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, fresh tomatoes, garlic and feta cheese sautéed in a white wine butter sauce all served atop linguine pasta (or you can substitute penne). Available with chicken or shrimp, it is richly calorific and served in a deep dish. You’re sure to have some left over.

Traditional Gnocchi Potato gnocchi topped with tomato sauce topped with meatballs & Italian sausage

Traditional Gnocchi

9 January 2014: Another local favorite not commonly found in Albuquerque area Italian restaurants (but extremely popular in New York City and which we’ve also had in the deep South) is the beguiling Ziti alla Vodka, Ziti pasta with prosciutto and scallions in a vodka pink sauce.  The sauce appears to be  combination of the restaurant’s rich Alfredo sauce and its meatless marinara with a bit of vodka splashed in and the alcohol cooked out.  It’s inventive and unconventional, creamy and rich, sweet and savory…and absolutely delicious.  The pasta is slightly more than al dente and the scallions appear to have been added after the entree is put together, offering a nice contrast.  The prosciutto is sliced into tiny morsels and offers a startling taste and texture difference that you can’t help but take notice.  This is an excellent entree.

4 August 2007: One of the restaurant’s richest entrees is the Fettuccini Carbonara (pictured above) made with green peas, pancetta and a heavy cream sauce that will put weight on you just by looking at it.  There are two Albuquerque area restaurants whose carbonara I recommend highly–Paisano’s Italian Restaurant and Joe’s Pasta House.  The commonality is a subtle balance of rich flavors and perfectly prepared pasta crafted from complementary ingredients.

Baked Cannelloni

14 May 2016: Though it’s easy to characterize Joe’s Pasta House as a “red sauce” restaurant, in truth the restaurant excels at a variety of sauces, some complex and some simple, but all delicious.  During a visit in January, 2011, we happened upon the former, a special of the evening my Kim’s friend Rosalie Marella makes in Chicago.  The label “special” certainly fits.  It’s rigatoni pasta and pork ribs, (old-world-style tender pork ribs slow-cooked in Joe’s homemade tomato sauce with fresh basil, olive oil and Romano cheese served over imported rigatoni pasta), an Italian dish showcasing a simple, but magnificently executed tomato sauce.  Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this addictive dish is the interplay between the acidic tomato sauce and the rich, creamy, sharp flavor of the Romano cheese which Joe applies in perfect proportion to impart a discernibly magnificent contrast.

The pork ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and meaty (porky?) enough for Fred Flintstone.  It’s easy to extricate the pork off the bone, but your inclination will probably be to pick them up and gnaw off that pork with your hands.  It’s a messy proposition considering the tomato sauce, but then that’s what napkins are for.  The rigatoni pasta is prepared at just slightly past al dente,  but certainly not nearly to the level of the squishy, mushy overdone pasta served at the restaurant at which I’m forced to eat once a year.

Rigatoni Pasta and Pork Ribs

23 January 2011: As smooth as degustation (a sensory (taste, smell, tactile, experience) appreciation of a meal, especially with good company) tends to be at Joe’s, there are some meals  which are thoroughly enjoyable while you partake of them at the restaurant, but not so enjoyable if you’re prone to indigestion later.  One of these is the Lobster Ravioli and Shrimp special, a sinfully rich dish of lobster and ricotta engorged ravioli topped with sauteed shrimp, fresh peas and sun-dried tomatoes in a brandy cream sauce.  It’s the brandy cream sauce which will get you.  It’s ultra rich, but also ultra-delicious which means you’ll probably polish off the entire plate. Then there’s the lobster.  Each ravioli (tablet-sized) is engorged with fresh, delicious and rich lobster meat.

23 October 2016: If ravioli is what you crave, there are a variety of ways in which you can have it at Joe’s.  It’s available as a breaded and deep-fried appetizer served with a mushroom cream sauce.  It’s available as an entree where it’s stuffed with cheese and topped with marinara sauce.  It’s also available off-the-menu as an entree called the Giovanni Special.  Invented by John, one of Joe’s long-time waiters, this dish is the mother lode for ravioli lovers.  It features six round cheese stuffed raviolis, three meatballs and two sausages topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella.  This is one of those dishes only regular guests know about.  We’ve had to describe it to members of the wait staff who have never heard of it; fortunately Joe knows precisely what it is.

Giovanni Special: Six cheese stuffed ravioli, three meatballs, two sausages topped with homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella

13 November 2012: The Baked Cannelloni, homemade pasta stuffed with seasoned beef and topped with homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella is akin to having one large ravioli. The season beef is an excellent counterpoint to the rich, melted mozzarella and the tangy sauce. Roughly the size of a baked potato, it’s a red sauce dish with the richness of an Alfredo sauce. As with all entrees at Joe’s, it’s an archetypal example of how good this specific dish can be.

16 November 2013: Every once in a while Joe’s will feature a special which proves just how much the restaurant’s cuisine has also been influenced by the Land of Enchantment.  Now, green chile on Italian pasta dishes isn’t exactly a novel concept in New Mexico, but rarely is it done as well as the Green Chili (sic) Chicken Ravioli, ricotta-filled ravioli topped with sauteed chicken and green chili Alfredo sauce.  The piquancy (discernible, but not overwhelming) and roasted flavor of the green chile are a perfect foil for the richness of the Alfredo sauce…and it is rich.  It’s also delicious, a fine departure from the tried and true sauce. 

Green Chili Chicken Ravioli: Ricotta Filled Ravioli Topped with Sautéed Chicken and Green Chili Alfredo Sauce

Green Chili Chicken Ravioli

16 November 2013: In November, 2012, four time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison published an article entitled 5 Top New Mexico Spots for Divine Gnocchi on her wonderful Tasting New Mexico blog.  Cheryl lamented that for years she tended to avoid gnocchi in restaurants because “most I’d sampled in such settings were heavy with a gluey quality I associate with eating paste in kindergarten.”  She elaborated that “gnocchi should be hearty but have an ethereal lightness about them, too.”  The traditional gnocchi at Joe’s would make my top five.  Traditional means the gnocchi are made from potato, not semolina flour as prepared at some restaurants.  Potatoes is the way gnocchi are made in the Piedmont region of Italy and it’s the way gnocchi tastes best.  At Joe’s the gnocchi are topped with a superb tomato sauce and topped with meatballs and Italian sausage.

While the pasta dishes are infused with flavor, it’s apparent the chef’s culinary skills are as plentiful as are the portions.  Joe’s Pasta House is by no means a one-trick pasta.  In August, 2009, the menu was upscaled with the addition of an admirable cavalcade of chops: Porterhouse steak, French style pork chops, lamb chops and more.  These are chops the type of which you might expect to find in Chicago, the “City of Big Shoulders.”  If Joe has his way, perhaps Rio Rancho should be called “City of Big Chops.”  Lamb chops.  Pork chops.  Porterhouse steaks.

Colorado Lamb Chops with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes

Colorado Lamb Chops with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes

15 January 2014: The Colorado lamb chops are cloud-like luscious and redolent with grilled flavor.  At about an inch thick, they’re the antithesis of the tiny, emasculated chops so many restaurants serve and each order includes four prepared to your exacting specifications.  At medium rare as the chef recommends they be prepared, the flavorful juices flow as you cut into them.  As with much of the lamb served in restaurants, the inherent gaminess associated with lamb has been somewhat bred out which is why medium rare works so well.  These chops are tender and succulent with just the slightest hint of fat for additional flavor.   They’re also not served in the “Frenched” style with the bone “handle” for easy handling.   The lamb chops are served with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes and a ramekin of delicious gravy made from pan drippings.

Porcine perfection can be found in the form of juicy French cut grilled pork chops in a Chianti mushroom sauce.  Chianti is a full and rich red wine that couples well with the mushrooms to imbue the inch-thick chops with a complementary flavor that doesn’t detract from their native pork flavor in any way.  Two chops for under twenty dollars is an additional bonus. 

Twelve-Ounce Roast Prime Rib with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes

Twelve-Ounce Roast Prime Rib with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes

In February, 2013, Joe’s Pasta House began offering a “Fish Fry” as its Tuesday night weekday special.  If you’re from the Midwest, you know that fish fry is practically a religion.  Consider the dining room tables at Joe’s your altar as you enjoy two pieces of hand-breaded, cold-water, wild-caught flounder served with a garden salad, fried potatoes and a house made tartar sauce!  The fish is fried in 100% vegetable oil.  Meat lovers have their own special day, too.  On Wednesdays, the special is all-natural, slow-roasted, Black Angus Prime Rib served with garden salad and mashed potatoes!  Liquid smoke doesn’t exist within the same zip code as this slow-roasted slab of beefy deliciousness. 

15 January 2014: The prime rib is available in ten- and twelve-ounce sizes.  It’s become so popular that you’re well advised to get to Joe’s early (the prime rib special is available from 4PM to 9PM) because once it runs out, you’re out of luck.   Because of the demand, Joe’s roasts some four prime rib roasts.  It’s easy to see why the prime rib is so popular.  It’s very tender, cutting almost like butter and revealing a perfectly pink center (at medium) with rich juices flowing copiously onto your plate.  As with great prime rib, the “crust” is seared to perfection.  Seasoning is earthy and natural, accentuating the terrific grass-fed flavor of the beef.   The accompanying horseradish sauce has some bite, but not so much that it detracts from the starring attraction. 

Veal Parmigiana

15 January 2014: You can add a dinner or Caesar salad with your entree for a pittance or top your steak with sauteed sliced mushrooms, melted mozzarella cheese or sauteed sweet onions for just a bit more.  If you’re tastes are more inclined toward surf and turf, you can also top any of your steak or chop entrees with garlic scallops.  Because scallops are delicately flavored and sweet, you might think garlic would overwhelm those qualities, but that’s not the case.  The garlic kisses the scallops softly so as not to change their flavor profile.  This is a surprisingly nice dish.

4 April 2014: During my years in New England, I consumed boatloads of creamy, comforting, delicious seafood bisques and chowders from Maine to Connecticut.  Nothing in the world compares to a thick, sweet, creamy bisque served at a waterfront restaurant with the advantage of being able to use freshly caught, just off the boat seafood.  There’s also no equal for enjoying such a repast while the salty sea air and balmy ocean breeze lulls you into a state of blissful relaxation. 

Seafood Bisque

Seafood Bisque

Joe’s Pasta House has none of those advantages, but somehow manages to serve a seafood bisque which transports me back to so many wonderful afternoons on the wharf at Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The bisque isn’t always on the menu, but when it is, it quickly sells out.  That’s because Rio Rancho may be a landlocked city several hundred miles from the sea, but its citizenry knows great seafood.  A large soup cup is brimming with fresh crab, mussels and clams sharing a creamy home with carrots, scallions, celery and a single crostini.  The seafood is unbelievably fresh and surprisingly plentiful with sweet crab being especially cherished.  The bisque is creamy and thick and is served at the perfect height of steaminess.  See where it ranks among my favorite soups in New Mexico here

10 August 2014: Blessed with 5,000 miles of coastline, Italy is a nation which cherishes the frutti di mari (fruits of the sea).  Pairing pasta with luscious seafood is virtually a culinary sport for Italian chefs.  There are hundreds of potential variations for something which sounds as simple and basic as a seafood stew or zuppa di pesci.  Italian chefs have learned to exercise restraint to balance the briny seafood with the delicate pasta.  A great seafood stew isn’t about mixing a net full of seafood with a bowl of pasta.  It’s about complementary ingredients melding together well. 

Italian Seafood Stew- Zuppa di Pesci

Joe’s version of seafood stew is a wonderful balance of fresh seafood  with perfectly prepared pasta served in a large boat…er, bowl.  The seafood–shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, lump crab and Atlantic salmon–are so fresh you might forget you’re in a landlocked state and not dockside.  The seafood is served atop a linguini pasta in a tomato basil bullion which allows all ingredients to sing.  A sweeter sauce or one more acerbic would not have gone so well with the delicate, delicious, briny seafood, but the tomato basil brings out the seafood’s natural flavors.  Joe served this dish on the first Sunday in which his magnificent restaurant opened for lunch. 

29 August 2014: One of the most traditional “red sauce” entrees is the almost anachronistic veal parmigiana which the vaunted Northern Italian restaurants don’t even deign to put on their menus.  Veal parmigiana is a circa 1960s favorite of Italian restaurants throughout the East Coast where it’s referred to simply as “veal parm.”  Perhaps one of the reasons this wonderful dish has fallen out of favor is because it’s not always prepared well.   At Joe’s, the veal parmigiana is the stuff of which dreams are made.  The veal is lightly breaded and perfectly prepared.  It’s fork tender and delicious with a blanket of molten Parmesan and Mozzarella and rich, tangy red sauce providing a delicious cover 

Linguini Pasta with Fried Breaded Clams and Scallops

12 July 2015: While I was raving effusively about Joe’s red sauces, my Kim once retorted “if you love them so much, you should marry them.”  I tell her she was being ridiculous.  The state of New Mexico prohibits polygamy.  You know when I eschew a red sauce dish at Joe’s, what I order instead has got to be very special.  Special is a good way to describe the linguini pasta with fried breaded clams and strips, a weekend special during the second week of July, 2015.  A very delicate pasta is tossed with red and orange cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil and Romano cheese then topped with fried breaded clam strips and scallops.  Fried clams are extremely rare in the Land of Enchantment.  Leave it to Joe to prepare them in the manner and style of my favorite New England clam shacks.  Even if they weren’t the sublime clam bellies I prefer, the clams transported me back to Essex in Massachusetts.  Joe’s has a way of transporting diners to better places and states of satisfaction.

26 July 2015: With a veritable compendium of a menu, not to mention specials that live up to that distinction, you’re bound to find something you’ve never had before or haven’t had in quite a while.  For me, the entree fitting the latter is Veal Saltimboccaveal scallopini with red onions, garlic, mushrooms and prosciutto topped with melted mozzarella and served with a pesto cream sauce.   In Italian, the term saltimbocca means “to jump in the mouth,” supposedly a reference to the  dish being so good that it literally jumps into the diner’s mouth.  This isn’t just hyperbole; it literally is that good.  The tender, moist veal is pounded into thin medallions that would be excellent by themselves.  The herbaceous pesto renders them even more delicious.

French Cut Pork Chops

26 July 2015: It seems ironic that a proud Italian restaurant would serve French-cut pork chops…and no, “French cut,” in this case, has nothing to do with cutting women’s underwear so as to emphasize a woman’s thigh.   You don’t have to be a Francophile to understand that “French-cut” means to slice food lengthwise into long, thin strips.  Easily three-quarters of an inch thick, Joe’s pork chops are grilled and topped with a Chianti mushroom pan sauce you might be tempted to lap up when you’re done.  The chops are grilled to your exacting specification and at medium, have plenty of moistness while retaining a fork tenderness.  This is a white meat dish sure to appease all carnivores. 

17 January 2016:  Jonesing for a steak on a Sunday morning, we rattled off one steakhouse after the other before it dawned on me that the Joe’s weekend dinner special for January 15, 16 and 17 was a grilled New York Strip steak topped with sauteed mushrooms, sweet onions and melted Provolone cheese served with battered onion rings.  No steakhouse would have done it better.  Better than a one-inch cut and easily twelve-ounces, it is a moist and tender slab of beef prepared to your exacting specifications (for optimum juiciness go for no more than medium-rare).  The sauteed fleshy fungi are earthy and sweet, counterbalanced by the melted molten blanket of Provolone.  Then there are the onion rings, a stack of golden fried orbs and for great measure, wonderfully prepared asparagus spears.

Grilled New York Strip Steak

17 January 2016: All along the coast of Italy, frutti di mare which translates from Italian to “fruit of the sea” offers a beloved multi-seafood soiree.  The myriad of seafood flavors at Joe’s includes shrimp, clams, calamari, mussels and scallops over a best of linguine in your choice of spicy marinara sauce or garlic butter white wine sauce.  At Joe’s the “spicy” marinara sauce isn’t so spicy or piquant that it detracts from the freshness and sweetness of the seafood.  If anything, the marinara brings out those qualities.  There’s a netful of seafood in each swimming pool-sized bowl of the fruits of the sea.  The next time someone tells you there isn’t good seafood in the Duke City area, bring them to Joe’s and order this dish for them.

There is so much to love at Joe’s Pasta House, an Italian restaurant several orders of magnitude better than the heavily trafficked Olive Garden to which I’m subjected once a year. In 2013 that fact was acknowledged when Joe’s Pasta House was selected by readers of Albuquerque The Magazine as the “best Italian restaurant” in the metropolitan area.  That’s proof that Joe’s has become a dining destination drawing diners from throughout the Duke City area and beyond. In 2015, Albuquerque The Magazine readers voted Joe’s “Top Five” in four different categories: Best Italian, Best Wait Staff (the pulchritudinous Randi and vivacious Victoria are our favorites), Best Place to Overindulge and Best Buffet.  In 2016, Joe’s earned a coveted best of the city for its service staff.  There is none better!

24-Ounce Porterhouse Steak

While Joe’s Pasta House has earned popular acclaim from a faithful customer base, Joe’s culinary skills aren’t always as critically acclaimed.  Rarely will you hear his name mentioned in discussions about the best chefs in the metropolitan area.  Some of that is based on the misbegotten perception that red sauce dishes aren’t as sophisticated and challenging to prepare as the “high-brow” dishes served in “Northern Italian” restaurants.  Another reason is Joe’s self-effacing nature.  He’s not one to crow about his skills and is modest to a fault.  When we lavished praise on his phenomenal rigatoni pasta and pork ribs dish, he dismissed it as “just another dish we ate at home growing up in New York.”  If only every chef was as modest…and talented.  

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

22 January 2017:  Joe’s weekend dinner specials are so popular that they sometimes sell out early Saturday night.  On occasion, however, one or two specials might be left over for early birds who arrive on Sunday at precisely noon.  Such was the case when a 24-ounce Porterhouse steak was the weekend dinner special.  For my carnivorous Kim, ordering the very last Porterhouse steak is akin to winning the lottery.   Martha Stewart Living Magazine once declared “Only a few steaks can be classified as perfect.  The porterhouse is one of them.”  Indeed, Porterhouse is a peerless cut consisting of a supple, ample-sized filet and a robust strip joined by the T-bone.  It compromises nothing in taste or presentation.  Joe’s seasons it with salt and pepper and cooks it to your notion of perfection.  For Kim, only medium-well will do.  Though usually accompanied by a baked potato, during our Sunday visit she opted instead for a side of spaghetti with meat sauce which she admits is much better than what Olive Garden can prepare.

14 May 2016: We’re convinced there’s nothing Joe can’t do.  Want pizza?  The housemade Sicilian-style pizza, available on the daily lunch buffet, is terrific.  Two or seven slices of pizza and a serving or five of the eggplant parmigiana and you’ll be smiling for a week.  The lunch menu also includes a third-pound burger and a number of hero sandwich, the best of which may just be the Salami and Cheese Hero Sandwich, a beauteous behemoth as good as any sandwich in New Mexico.  Greatness is destined for any sandwich lucky enough to be made on the exceptional bread which comes fresh from Joe’s bread ovens every day.  Nestled between the pillow-soft bread are generous slices of delightfully seasoned salami and sharp, creamy cheese dressed your way.

Frutti Di Mare “

23 October 2016: Flat iron steaks are a value-priced cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak. Joe Pasta House exploits these qualities to their utmost, serving a fork-tender steak that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications (it’s outstanding at medium-rare) and served with a light, innocuous sauce that does nothing to detract from the flavor of the beef.  The flat iron steak is served with sauteed red peppers and onions, a surprisingly natural complement to what is increasingly a favored cut of steak.

Flat Iron Steak sliced with sauteed red peppers & onions

Desserts

Not surprisingly, the Pasta House also has a stellar dessert tray with palate-pleasing options galore: German chocolate cake, chocolate cake, lemon cake, chocolate cannoli, red velvet cheesecake and oh, so much more. It’s all tempting and likely all delicious. Only the tiramisu and cannoli are prepared in-house.  Other desserts are sourced from a high quality vendor.   Both the tiramisu and the cannoli are absolute must-have desserts.  In the inaugural Taste of Rio Rancho (held in 2014), the tiramisu was acclaimed the City of Vision’s very best dessert.  I was fortunate enough to have served as a judge along with my friend Larry McGoldrick.  When the tiramisu was brought to us, we knew there aren’t many desserts in New Mexico as good as Joe’s terrific tiramisu.

The Italian Dream Cake will inspire nocturnal smiles.  It’s rich, creamy and delicious.  The cannoli is among the best in the city, replete with rich ricotta brought in from New Jersey.  The lemon cake zings with a nice tanginess while the German chocolate cake is the perfect marriage of coconut, pecans and chocolate.  Desserts are decadent, delicious and dreamy.

Joe’s Magnificent Tiramisu, the best anywhere

Though they’re absolutely indefatigable ambassadors for their establishment, Joe and Kassie also rave about other restaurants in the City of Vision, an act of class so very typical of this dynamic couple who win the hearts and stomachs of their guests one delicious dining experience at a time. 

10 AUGUST 2014:  By popular demand, Joe’s Pasta House is now open on Sundays from 12PM to 7:30PM.  Treat yourself to the Albuquerque area’s favorite Italian restaurant where you’ll be well taken care of by the most professional staff in New Mexico.

JOE’S PASTA HOUSE
3201 Southern Blvd.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 892-3333
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 27
RATING: 25
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Pesto, Mediterranean Pasta, Hot Antipasti for Two, Lasagna, Cannelloni, Giovanni Special, Fetuccini Carbonara, Zita Alla Vodka, Gnocchi, Butternut Squash and Ricotta Stuffed Ravioli,  Tiramisu, Cannoli, Italian Cream Cake, Green Chili Chicken Ravioli, Colorado Lamb Chops, Prime Rib, Seafood Bisque, Veal Parmigiano, Fried Lasagna, Calamari Mediterranean Style, Sweet and Spicy Shrimp, French-Style Pork Chops, Veal Saltimbocca, Fruitti De Mare, Steamed Clams Casino, Grilled New York Strip Steak, Rigatoni Pasta and Pork Ribs, Salami and Cheese Hero Sandwich, Porterhouse Steak, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Joe's Pasta House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Cotorro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill

There’s a scene in the 2006 lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestling) comedy film Nacho Libre in which Nacho’s ectomorphic tag team partner Esqueleto (“the skeleton”) orders two grilled, buttered and chile-dusted elotes (corn-on-the-cob) from a street vendor. Esqueleto graciously attempts to hand one to Nacho who rebuffs the offer, knocks the elotes to the ground and bellows “get that corn out of my face!” That antagonistic act so enraged Esqueleto that he leaped on Nacho’s back and attempted to throw his corpulent partner to the ground. The sight of the two golden elotes tinged with red chile on the ground was funny at the time, however, after consuming the elotes at El Cotorro, we would consider knocking elotes to the ground an act of sacrilege and sheer madness.  It’s no wonder Esqueleto was so upset.

Sure we’ve had elotes elsewhere…plenty of elotes and a plethora of elsewheres, in fact, but only at El Cotorro have elotes made us swoon in appreciation. El Cotorro, which translates to “the parrot” in English is not what you might expect from a Mexican restaurant of that name. It’s not a restaurant named for the stereotypical squawking “Polly wants a cracker” parrot mascot some kitschy restaurant might employ. To understand the moniker El Cotorro, it helps to understand that the restaurant is actually named for Mexico’s lottery.

Vamos Echarnos Unos Tacos (Let’s Have Some Tacos)

Similar to Powerball and Mega Millions in the United States, the Mexican lottery (loteria) is a game of chance, but instead of plain numbers adorning ping pong balls, a number is assigned to 54 images on a deck of cards.   The game begins with the caller randomly selecting a card from the deck and announcing it to the players.  Players with a matching pictogram on their board mark it off just as they would a Bingo card.  The first player to complete a previously specified pattern or who fills their board  shouts ¡Lotería!” and is declared the winner.

Often, instead of calling out a number, the caller will use a riddle.  For the card sporting the number 24, for example, the caller would recite “Cotorro cotorro saca la pata, y empiézame a platicar” which translates from Spanish to “Parrot, parrot, stick our your claw and begin to chat with me.”  A large depiction of a parrot on the number 24 loteria deck sits on the roof just above the entrance to the Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro on Carlisle.  It’s indeed indicative that you’ve won the lottery in the form of some of the very best tacos, ice cream and elote north of the border.

Mango-Apricot Agua Fresca, Chips and Salsa

During the contentious 2016 Presidential run ending with Donald Trump’s election, Latinos for Trump leader Marco Guttierez warned “that without tighter immigration policies…you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not yet be parked on every corner across the fruited plain, there are now two corners in the Nob Hill district in which taqueria storefronts welcome teeming masses.  The first,  Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila opened its doors in January, 2012.  Some four-and-a-half years later (in July, 2016), restaurant impresario Daniel Boardman launched El Cotorro which is patterned after taquerias and heladerias in Southern Mexico. El Cotorro is located about a block south of Central on Carlisle at the former site of Rodeo Furniture which moved next door.

As with Boardman’s two other Duke City eateries, Tia Betty Blue’s and Tia B’s La Waffleria, (review pending), expect El Cotorro to garner significant acclaim.  We first learned of it from Kristin Saterlee’s glowing review on Unfussy Epicure, her wonderful blog.  Kristen effusively predicted El Cotorro is “quickly going to become a favorite Albuquerque stop for dinner, snacks, and dessert.”  Her prognostication gained even more traction when El Cotorro expanded its hours of operation.  Initially open only during dinner hours (5-9), on January 9th, 2017, El Cotorro is now open Monday through Saturday: 11:30AM to 8PM and Sunday, 5PM to 8PM.  

Elote

Okay, so Albuquerque has another taqueria.  If you’re not excited by that prospect, it could be you haven’t the experienced the revolutionary-evolutionary diversity of tacos.  Today’s tacos aren’t your mother’s tacos nor are they the tacos proffered to this day at many New Mexican restaurants.  You know the type–hard-shelled, greasy, fried corn tortillas stuffed with ground beef topped with sundry and predictable ingredients: grated cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes with salsa on the side.  One bite and these tacos fall apart, exploding onto your plate or shirtfront.  Of course we can derive pleasure from these messy, hand-held treasures, but there’s oh, so much more to the tacos of contemporary America.

It turns out the tacos with which Americans have become so enamored are, in many cases, the tacos proffered across Old Mexico for years. No longer are hoity-toity Americans turning up our noses at the “peasant” ingredients (huitlacoche, barbacoa, lengua, buche, tripas, etc.) which used to make all but the most culinarily intrepid among us cower in revulsion. Americans have arrived at the realization that there’s deliciousness to be found in these strange, exotic ingredients. Daniel Boardman, who fears no ingredient, fell in love with the variety of tacos and ice creams available in taquerias and heladerias (ice cream parlors) throughout Mexico and patterned El Cotorro’s menu after dishes he enjoyed from Mexico City to the Yucatan.  

Cobia Fish, Shrimp and Chard & Papitas Guisado (Veggie) Tacos

El Cotorro’s 1,650 square-foot edifice is divided in two–one section for the dining room, the other for the bustling, hustling kitchen, a maelstrom of activity. As you make your way through the queue, you’ll espy menus suspended from the ceiling above the beverage counter. Scrawled above the exhibition kitchen is the inviting suggestion “Vamos A Echarnos Unos Tacos” (let’s have some tacos). There are actually two queues—one for ordering ice cream and one for ordering your meal. In either case, you’ll walk by the freezer case in which a panoply of colorful ice cream flavors is displayed, each as tempting as Eve’s apple.

Much like taquerias across Mexico, the menu isn’t overly large or complicated. One menu board lists tacos and their respective meats: al pastor, pork carnitas, braised oxtail, carne asada, chicken tinga and smoked lamb’s leg barbacos. The next lists seafood tacos: shrimp and cobia fish, as well as vegetarian tacos: nopales and chard-and-papitas guisado. On the third menu board, you’ll find the glorious sides: elotes, frijoles churros, chips and salsa bar, chips and guacamole and ceviche. You’ll also find a kid’s menu and a section for drinks: iced tea, aguas frescas and Mexican hot chocolate. Look for daily specials by the counter where you place your order.

Al Pastor and Pork Carnitas Tacos

You’ll certainly want to order the chips and salsa bar with your choice of flour or corn chips made fresh to order. Six steel trays in the dining room display a variety of salsas along with recommendations as to which salsa goes well with each of the tacos. You’ll ladle your choices onto small steel vessels and ferry them to your table to await the made-to-order chips. These are no ordinary chips. The flour chips, for example, are made from flour tortillas cut into triangular shapes which are lightly dusted with red chile. There’s only one thing wrong with those chips—there’s not enough of them. Each of the three salsa vessels we filled were still half full when we ran out of chips. The salsas are terrific! They’re Mexican salsas with the fiery personality of Montezuma.

If you don’t order the elotes, El Esqueleto would be justified in jumping on your back. This is quite simply the very best corn-on-the-cob we’ve ever had…and I grew up on a farm where we raised and grilled our own sweet corn. Not only is the flame-grilled corn-on-the-cob sweet and moist, it’s seasoned with a lime aioli, chile powder and cotija cheese. While that makes for a very messy proposition, you’ll enjoy licking any delicious residue off your fingers. You’ll also need a couple napkins to wipe your mouth afterwards. The lime aioli, chile powder and cotija cheese are in such perfect proportion to one another that no one flavor dominates. Instead, this tasty triumvirate combines to give your taste buds a hearty, happy experience. 

Ginger and Caramel-Chocolate Gelatos

Landlubbers and sea-farers alike will enjoy the tacos. Interestingly, the meat-filled and vegetarian tacos are served on corn tortillas while the seafood are served on flour tortillas though you may substitute on request. Authenticity is readily apparent even as you’re placing your order. You’ll espy a vertical spit on which sliced, marinated pork is impaled onto a steel rod just as it’s done in Mexico. Above the glistening pork are slices of fresh pineapple whose flavor drips onto the pork, imbuing it with a tangy sweetness as both cook slowly. Order the al pastor taco and you’ll be rewarded with thinly-sliced pork served with white onions and cilantro sprouts. You won’t find a better al pastor taco anywhere. To my liking, pork carnitas tacos are about as boring as a taco can get, but not at El Cotorro where pork carnitas means slow-cooked pork shoulder, sweet corn pico de gallo, lime crema and cilantro sprouts. Harmonious flavors, thy name is pork carnitas! Wow!

The seafood lover in you will love what El Cotorro’s kitchen staff does with the bounty of the sea. Picture flame-kissed shrimp sautéed in garlic and joining pipian salsa, arugula, avocado and pumpkin seeds on a flour tortilla. A light squeeze of lime and flavors galore will explode in your mouth. The textural contrast of the shrimp and pumpkin seeds is especially notable. It used to be you couldn’t find a decent fish taco in the Duke City. El Cotorro joins a number of restaurants now serving exemplary fish tacos with a cobia fish taco (blackened Panamanian cobia on jicama-jalapeno slaw topped with diced mango) as great as you’ll find in San Diego. Unlike so many other fish tacos, the coleslaw isn’t overly creamy and has very nice notes of piquancy courtesy of the jalapeno. Counterbalancing the smoky brininess of the shrimp are diced, sweet mangoes. There’s a lot going on here. Similarly, there are a wealth of flavor notes on the chard and papitas guisado (veggie) taco constructed with a mix of sautéed onion, garlic, rainbow chard and purslane (depending on availability) de-glazed with salsa roja and topped with papitas and cilantro sprouts. Surprisingly, this one turned out to be our favorite.

Chocolate and Orange-Clove Gelatos

Since 2013, Frost Gelato in Albuquerque’s Uptown district has redefined, revitalized and refreshed the ice cream experience across the Duke City. Gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, is creamier, smoother and silkier than its American counterpart. It’s also denser yet more elastic than ice cream. Gelato is made with far less cream than conventional ice cream which means less butterfat and a lighter, less airy composition with a better “mouth feel.” Consider it heretical if you will, but after our inaugural experience at El Cotorro, we believe Mexican gelato to be far more bold and brash than its Italian counterpart–more intensely flavored and constructed of ingredients with lots of (and multiple) personality. 

The ice cream station features a daily rotation of vibrant flavors in kaleidoscopic colors. You’ll may do a double-take at the brassiness and alchemy of the flavor combinations—fruits with savory seasonings, ice creams flavored with adult libations and herbaceous ingredients, creativity blessed with audacity. Who wants vanilla when you can have tarragon grapefruit? The ginger gelato will help you relive the palate-cleansing experience of a sushi meal coupled with the refreshing coolness of ice cream on a summer day. Not surprisingly, the infusion of ginger’s punch also makes it an ideal finish to a piquant meal. The notion of chocolate and caramel gelato may seem as exciting as a Reese’s peanut butter cup commercial, but with the intensity of Mexican chocolate and bravado of Mexican caramel, this gelato has as much personality as some salsas. 

Because deciding what gelato flavors to order will certainly be a challenge, avail yourself of the opportunity to sample several flavors. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll discern with one spoonful. That’s all it took to convince me one of my two scoops would be orange-clove. Ben, the craftsman behind the gelatos, was concerned that this combination might be too strong, but it was just about perfect for this coveter of clove and inamorato of orange. My other flavor choice—chocolate—may not have the sheer bravado of other gelatos, but then Mexican chocolate is so much bolder and expressive than mere mortal chocolate. We loved every not-so-subtle nuance in the four flavors we ordered, but won’t allow ourselves to fall so much in love that we don’t order other flavors.

If you still think of tacos as a delivery system for ground beef, lettuce and cheese on a hard shell, you owe it to yourself to visit Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro and soon!  Similarly, if you’re bored with timid ice cream flavors, El Cotorro will rock your world with Mexican gelato that is bold and brash.  This is a taqueria for the 21st Century courtesy of traditional Mexican flavors.

Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro
111 Carlisle, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-6202
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Elotes, Carnitas Taco, Al Pastor Taco, Cobia Fish Taco, Shrimp Taco, Chard & Papitas Guisado Taco, Chips and Salsa, Chocolate Gelato, Orange-Clove Gelato, Ginger Gelato, Caramel-Chocolate Gelato,

El Cotorro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Seasons Rotisserie & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Seasons Rotisserie & Grill just north of Old Town

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Despite America’s woeful economic situation, new restaurants continue to sprout faster than New Mexico’s unofficial state flower (no, not the ubiquitous orange traffic cone; the almost as omnipresent tumbleweed).  Rarely does a week go by without some sparkly and shiny new restaurant opening up somewhere in the Duke City.  Though most start off with much promise and potential, many restaurants are destined to suffer a fate similar to the dreaded and accursed tumbleweed.  The average lifespan of most independent restaurant concepts is less than five years.

In 1995, Seasons Rotisserie & Grill was one of the shiny new restaurants with lots of promise and potential. Just over two decades later, it continues to thrive against the onslaught of rigorous competition from newer, shinier and prettier new restaurants, outlasting many restaurants anointed the “next best thing” by the cognoscenti.  Year after year, Seasons continues to be mentioned as one of the city’s very best restaurants and not in the condescendingly reverential tone reserved for the restaurants recognized for their greatness largely because they’re old.  Seasons is still recognized as a player!  In the April edition of New Mexico Magazine, Seasons was listed as one of the 50 reasons to love Albuquerque.  In actuality, there are more than fifty reasons alone to love Seasons.

The main floor dining room at Seasons

Launching on Mountain Road just north of Old Town was somewhat of a risk as the area was theretofore not considered a dining destination–at least not by locals.  Tourists have, perhaps as a captive market, always flocked to Old Town’s eateries, but save for area residents, locals tended to dine elsewhere.  Seasons changed that with a look and feel which defied the adobe-hued stereotype of area restaurants–that despite being comfortably ensconced in a modern Pueblo-style two-story stucco edifice. 

Step inside and a contemporary milieu transports you to the wine country of Sonoma County, California.  An elongated dining room adorned in muted terracotta and ocher tones seems somewhat smaller courtesy of a barrel-vaulted ceiling.  The wood floors have a glossy sheen and appear immaculate enough to eat off of.  A wine rack comprises one of the restaurant’s walls.  The restaurant’s cynosure is an open exhibition kitchen whose own centerpiece is a wood-burning grill and rotisserie. Tables are adorned with crisp white linens and oversized flatware.  A rooftop cantina transports you to yet another world where movers and shakers in the evening give way to beautiful people after sunset.

Fano Bakery Bread at Seasons

Seasons’ philosophy is to take the best ingredients and let them speak for themselves on simple dishes executed to perfection.  There are no pretensions to keeping up with trends; it’s all about flavors, the way it should be.  The menu changes seasonally (to everything there is a season) but several American classics such as rotisserie chicken, a 14-ounce boneless ribeye and sea scallops are available year round.  Seasons prides itself on wine pairings.  Even the dessert menu suggests which wines go best with each sweet treat.

The wine pairings come naturally because Seasons is the brainchild of Roger Roessler of Rosseler Cellars in Sonoma County.  Roessler’s nephews, identical twin brothers Keith and Kevin own and operate Zinc and Savoy, two of the Duke City’s gourmet cuisine gems.  At the triumvirate of Roessler owned restaurants, wines are selected to complement the bold flavors of the menus.  Seasons also seems to recognize there are diners who eschew adult beverages when we’re driving, serving an absolutely addictive organic Guatemalan coffee roasted by Aroma Coffee of Santa Fe.  The coffee is served hot, not lukewarm.  That’s a big plus for me.

Seasons’ Calamari, the very best in Albuquerque

The wait staff is as polished as the stemware and as accommodating as any in the Duke City area.  From the moment you’re seated, you’re in good hands (especially if you’re attended to by the lovely Hannah).  Ask a question about local sources, ingredients, menu items or just about anything to do with your dining experience and the wait staff will either know the answer or will get it for you.  Their timing in replenishing your beverages reflects an almost uncanny sense of timing.

Your dining experience begins with a half loaf of thickly sliced fresh bread and the best Balsamic vinegar, olive oil and spice combination in which to dip that bread. Those spices include black and red pepper which add a piquant boost.   The bread comes from Albuquerque’s Fano Bread, an artisan style bakery which does not use preservatives or additives.  Fano bread is characterized by freshness and flavor.   A hard crust frames a soft, yeasty bread that’s perfect for dredging up sauces.

Strawberries & Butter Lettuce

16 January 2017: The appetizer menu includes several intriguing options, but savvy diners typically owner Seasons’ deep-fried calamari.  While calamari is usually one of those de rigueur appetizers that rarely warrants any fanfare, Seasons elevates it to the very best in town.  No other calamari is even close.   It’s chewy but not to the rubber band texture of some calamari.  It’s breaded lightly and it’s always fresh. The calamari is drizzled with a lemon aioli and is served in a pool formed by a roasted tomato salsa with a flavor profile that delves into piquant, sweet, savory and tangy elements. When you’re done with the calamari, you just might spoon up the salsa (or dredge it up with the bread). 

9 April 2012: …a time to pluck up that which is planted.  Salads at Seasons are always a terrific appetizer or entree selection.  A split portion is big enough for the former.  The strawberries and butter lettuce salad is fresh, filling and fantastic and it’s not especially complicated or ingredient laden.  It’s simply a combination of butter lettuce and baby spinach topped with crumbled chevre (goat cheese) sourced locally, toasted sliced almonds and sliced strawberries drizzled with a black pepper-Balsamic vinaigrette.  The tanginess of the strawberries and the pungent creaminess of the chevre, in particular, go especially well together while the vinaigrette brings it all home.

Rotisserie Chicken Carbonara

One of the restaurant’s signature entrees is a rotisserie half chicken.  Other restaurants in Albuquerque do rotisserie chicken well (some such as Pollito Con Papas uniquely and exceptionally so), but few, if any, give you the thrill of an exhibition kitchen in which you can see it prepared.  If watching a skewered chicken rotate over an open flame is a thrill, wait until you taste it.  The rotisserie keeps the chicken moist, its skin just slightly crisp.  It’s seasoned very well.  The rotisserie chicken is served with roasted new potatoes, a herb jus and julienne spring vegetables. 

9 April 2012: Another way to enjoy rotisserie chicken is on an entree of rotisserie chicken carbonara, a linguine pasta made with pancetta, spring peas and Grana Padano.   Unlike some carbonara dishes, this one is not overly creamy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not moist.  The linguine is al dente and may have been prepared in butter.  The pancetta, a type of Italian bacon, is salt cured, but not overly salty, offering a nice contrast to the delicate rotisserie chicken.  The Grana Padano has a flavor profile similar to  Parmigiano Reggiano, but with more mild tones.  The spring peas taste like freshly shucked peas out of the pod.  This is a unique carbonara dish that doesn’t subscribe to what many might have in mind when they think carbonara, but it’s a good one.

Pan Seared Sea Scallops

9 April 2012: There’s a reason scallops are a standard offering at Seasons.  Perhaps no restaurant in Albuquerque prepares them quite as well or in so many different ways.  Take for example, jumbo scallops pan-seared in a tarragon butter sauce and served with bacon grits, wild mushrooms and spring peas.   The accompaniment is nearly as good as the entree and the scallops are fabulous.  By the way, if a restaurant fails to ask you how you want your scallops prepared, it’s a disservice to you as a guest.  My response, just as when ordering lamb, is  ask that they be prepared as the chef sees fit.  At Seasons, the scallops are best at medium rare, giving them a sweet and mild flavor.

16 January 2017: Seasons’ winter 2016 menu showcased another terrific way to enjoy pan-seared jumbo sea scallops by preparing them in a rich citrus beurre blanc, a French sauce made from an acidic (such as citrus) reduction whisked together with chunks of fresh butter). If this sounds incredibly rich, it is. The scallops are not lavishly garnished with the sauce which is a saving grace because the naturally sweet flavors of the scallops are allowed to shine though the influence of the unctuous sauce does come across, too. The scallops are served with butter and cream smashed sweet potatoes, as good as we’ve ever had them and sautéed onions and spinach. The sautéed onions and spinach were somewhat reminiscent of a wilted spinach salad which is made with bacon and bacon drippings. The sheer richness of this dish is exceeded only by its deliciousness.

Yet Another way to Prepare Pan-Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops

The jalapeño-bacon grits will change your mind if you’ve ever thought grits were a bumpkinly dish with a flavor and texture of soggy and gritty corn meal.  At Seasons, the grits are dense and cotton soft, but it’s the jalapeño and bacon combination which places these grits in rarefied company with the grits at The Hollar in Madrid and Blades’ Bistro in Placitas as likely the very best in New Mexico.  Bacon makes everything better, but it’s the incendiary qualities of the jalapeño that stand out most.  The wild mushrooms we had turned out to be oyster mushrooms, my favorite fleshy fungi.  Oyster mushrooms have a velvety texture and an amazing flavor vaguely reminiscent of oysters. 

16 January 2017: Also from Seasons’ winter 2016 is a grilled bistro steak medallions salad, an outstanding entrée emboldened and made rarefied with the duality of Black River blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing. The salad itself is constructed with baby spinach, red onions and cubes of winter squash while the bistro steak is as tender and perfectly prepared at medium as any steak we’ve had. With a slightly caramelized crust on the outside and a pulchritudinously pink inside, each medallion is rich and flavorful. What can you say about blue cheese? If you’re an aficionado, you can’t get enough of this fetid fromage. Black River blue, a Wisconsin cow’s milk blue cheese, is rich, earthy and full-flavored. It’s among the best! So is this salad!

Grilled Bistro Steak Medallions Salad

The dessert menu lists only a few items, but they’re all tempting.  After having had a few bad experiences with lemon curd based desserts at French restaurants, we teased fate during an April, 2012 visit and ordered a chilled lemon souffle with a basil whipped cream and candied lemon peel.  This dessert doesn’t emphasize the lip-pursing qualities of bitter lemons, but harnesses the qualities of freshness and citrus. 

To everything there is a season.  Albuquerque’s Seasons Rotisserie & Grill restaurant is a restaurant for all seasons in every conceivable way.

Seasons Rotisserie & Grill
2031 Mountain, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-766-5100
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 16 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 24
COST: $$$$
BEST BETS:: Calamari, Strawberries & Butter Lettuce, Chilled Lemon Souffle, Pan Seared Sea Scallops, Rotisserie Chicken Carbonara, Grilled Bistro Steak Medallions Salad

Seasons Rotisserie & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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