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Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio

Just when you think you’ve seen it all and you think nothing else can possibly been done to exploit the versatility in pizza, something comes along which surprises you.  One such example is the “make your own pie” proposal by the entrepreneurial Kramerica Industries, a proposal which prompted extensive water cooler discussions.

Flamboyant CEO Cosmo Kramer envisioned a pizzeria in which “we give you the dough, you smash it, you pound it, you fling it in the air; and then you get to put your sauce and you get to sprinkle it over your cheese, and they–you slide it into the oven.”  His attempts at securing funding falter over a dispute as to whether cucumbers can be pizza toppings.

The classy interior of Nicky V’s

The aforementioned scenario transpired in an episode of Seinfeld, the “show about nothing.”  While the “make your own pie” concept has some fundamental flaws (people shoving their arms into a 600-degree oven), it does illustrate one of the few things that haven’t actually been done with pizza in the United States. Nicole “Nicky” Villareal didn’t have any uncommon business model in mind when she and her husband set out to launch Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio.

She wanted a true neighborhood pizzeria, the type of which she enjoyed so much during her travels throughout Europe where dining is regarded as a social event.  In Europe, friends and family often linger for hours, enjoying dining and discourse in welcoming cafes and sidewalk patios. That’s the spirit she wanted to convey with her pizzeria.  That’s the spirit that readers of Albuquerque The Magazine discerned in Nicky V’s when they named it Albuquerque’s very best new restaurant for 2010.  Nicky has the experience to pull  off her dreams, having served on the operational management side of several restaurants though Nicky V’s is her first venture in a sole ownership role.

Raviolo Fritti (Fried Ravioli and warm marinara sauce)

Nicky V’s is is about a mile away from restaurant row on Coors Bypass where a phalanx of mediocre chain restaurants blights the landscape. It is situated in the same corner space which once housed two other pizza restaurants–a middling quality Florida-based chain named New York Pizza Department (NYPD) and a local, non-related favorite named JC’s New York Pizza Department.  The 3,300 square-foot restaurant includes an east-facing patio featuring spectacular views of the cottonwoods surrounding the Rio Grande as well as the breathtaking Sandias.

Nicky V’s may have an old-fashioned customer-centric attitude, but the ambiance bespeaks of contemporary modernity.  You won’t find any of the stereotypical trappings–such as red and white checkered tablecloths–of neighborhood pizzerias of old, but you will find an old-fashioned attitude in which good service and friendliness abounds.  Nicky makes the rounds frequently to ensure her patrons are enjoying the dining experience while the wait staff is on-the-spot with a recommendation or a refill.

Il Manchango – Fuji apples, dates, Arugula, radicchio, toasted pecans, endives and Manchango cheese with a citrus vinaigrette

The walls are adorned with framed photographs of Venice, Rome and Orvietto taken by Nicky’s husband when they traveled throughout Europe during their one-year anniversary-slash-honeymoon.  Traveling throughout Europe via Eurorail left an indelible impression on Nicky.  It helped establish her vision for the type of restaurant she would eventually open.

The menu includes an array of familiar and innovative offerings.  Appetizers include throwbacks such as fritto misto (breaded calamari, onion rings, fried zucchini) as well as the seemingly de rigueur anti-pasto platter (cured meats, roasted peppers, olives, fresh mozzarella) and pita points and hummus (cucumber relish, Kalamata olives, hummus and warm pita).  Raviolio Fritti, fried ravioli with warm marinara, each of five the size of an iPhone, are a popular favorite.

Antipasto: prosciutto, salami, roasted peppers, olives, mozzarella cheese

7 August 2010: The Ravioli Fritti are lightly breaded then fried to a golden sheen and served in a conical wrought iron basket.  Each ravioli is sprinkled with shaved Parmesan and oregano and is stuffed with a rich cheese blend.  The consistency of each ravioli is just slightly crispy, but not crunchy.  The marinara is quite good, the type of which would go very well on a pasta dish. 

12 September 2011: Another excellent starter, one of the very best of its genre in the city, is the Antipasto platter, a plate brimming with crostini, prosciutto, salami, roasted peppers, olives and mozzarella.  By themselves, each individual item on the platter is quite good.  In combinations with one another, they’re all even better.  Top a crostini with a slice of prosciutto, spread on some of the near butter soft mozzarella then crown it all with the roasted pepper and olives and you’ve got an improvised sandwich of the first order.  You can also each component immensely by itself as the high quality shines with each and every bite. 

Pita Points and Hummus

20 July 2014: Appetizers at Nicky V’s tend to be not only beautifully plated, but very generously portioned.  Save for the Raviolo Fritti, the appetizers are pretty much intended to be shared.  That’s certainly the case with the Pita Points and Hummus, a manhole cover sized plate artistically plated with warm pita wedges, cucumber relish (cucumbers, kalamata olives, onions, Roma tomatoes), feta cheese and hummus on a bed of mixed greens.  The cucumber relish is delicious and would make a great salad by itself, but goes especially well with the Feta cheese because of how significantly its flavor profile clashes with the fetid fromage.  The hummus is very garlicky but with a discernible tang from a squeeze or two of lemon. 

Pasta dishes are adorned with a variety of sauces: white wine pasta cream sauce, mascarpone and lemon butter sauce, roasted pepper Parmesan cream sauce, fresh herb Veloute sauce and a cracked pepper pesto cream sauce.  None of the pasta entrees are made with a traditional “red” sauce (marinara or meat sauce).  Even the lasagna is made with a Bolognese meat sauce.

The Umbria - Truffle oil, smoked Cheddar, goat cheese, prosciutto, caramelized onions, garlic crunch and pine nuts

The Umbria – Truffle oil, smoked Cheddar, goat cheese, prosciutto, caramelized onions, garlic crunch and pine nuts

The pizza menu is segmented into a “Smart” category and a “Savvy” category, perhaps an indication that you can’t go wrong regardless of from which pizza you order.  The pizza dough is scratch-made in-house using a sourdough starter that is allowed to ferment for a day before being rolled into dough.  The dough is made from “the finest flours milled.”  Toppings are of “only the best quality, using local and organic whenever possible.” 

Only one size pizza is offered, a twelve-inch pie that’s perhaps a bit too big to be called a personal pizza, but may be too small to be shared.  Eat half at the restaurant and take the other half home; this pizza is just as good out of the fridge as it is out of the oven.  Pies range from the traditional (Margherita with red sauce, mozzarella slices and fresh basil) to the locally inspired (the New Mexican, made with red sauce, cheese blend, pepperoni, Autumn green chili and garlic crunch) to the innovative.

Tre – red sauce, Italian sausage, cheese blend, roasted red peppers, oregano

In the latter category are pizzas topped with non-traditional ingredients, the likes of which few pizzerias in Albuquerque offer.  These toppings range from the rich and sublime (the Novara includes gorgonzola, pears, ricotta cheese, toasted walnuts and olive oil) to the truly unique (the Siena is crafted from red sauce, Yukon potatoes, roasted red peppers, pancetta and fresh basil). It’s not every pizza for which wine pairings might even be a consideration, but Nicky can tell you exactly which wine and pizza combinations complement one another best. 

The restaurant’s phone number, by the way, is 890-WINE (9463), but don’t expect to find the cheap Chinati bottles which seem to adorn the red and white checkerboard tablecloths at the stereotypical mom-and-pop Italian joints. In fact, Nicky V’s earned Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence in 2012 in recognition of the restaurant’s more than 125 offerings covering all the reaches of the globe.   With our practice of never drinking adult beverages if we’re driving, we could only imagine what red vintage might have gone best with the Umbria, a pizza crafted with truffle oil, smoked Cheddar, goat cheese, Prosciutto, caramelized onions, garlic crunch and pine nuts.

Limited Time Special Served on St. Patrick’s Day: Gravy, ground beef, peas, mashed potato and Cheddar cheese (Photo courtesy of Bruce “Senor Plata” Silver)

5 June 2010: What my mind’s eye is still reliving is the wonderful texture of the pie.  Nicky V’s pizzas are thin-crusted, but not waifishly thin.  What sets them apart are their crunchiness which is wholly unlike the cracker-crust variety of pizzas.  It’s a crunchiness that doesn’t offset the pizza’s chewiness if that’s possible.  The Umbria is a terrific pizza with flavor explosions in every bite as excellent ingredients compete with each other for the rapt attention of your taste buds. 

5 June 2010: Another revelation in flavor appreciation is the Chieti, a masterpiece of a pie topped with garlic cream, a cheese blend, roasted butternut squash, Gorgonzola and baby arugula.  The top topper is butternut squash, a creamy, fine-textured, orange-fleshed squash with a taste vaguely resembling sweet potato.  The arugula and its characteristic light bitter flavor seems to bring out the pungency of the Gorgonzola, a blue cheese with a surprisingly sweet aftertaste.  The creator of this pie is an inspired genius!  Alas, it is no longer on the menu, but it’s much missed (at least by me).

The New Mexican: red sauce, cheese blend, pepperoni, green chile, garlic crunch

12 September 2011: Most pizza restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment pander to New Mexican tastes for green chile by offering it as either an optional topping or using it as the centerpiece of a specialty pizza.  Unfortunately, the green chile often has no more bite than parsley.  Nicky V’s offers two pizzas with names near and dear to the heart of many Duke City diners: the New Mexican (red sauce, cheese blend, pepperoni, green chile, garlic crunch) and the Lobo (red sauce, Italian sausage, green chile, red onions, cheese blend, fresh roasted red peppers).  The New Mexican will bring pride to any state citizen who loves chile.  It will also bring sweat to your brow and maybe even singe your tongue.  Not only does the green chile have heat, the red sauce may include red chile powder and even the pepperoni has a kick to it.  Piquancy aside, this is a very good pizza that will impress itself upon your taste buds and your memories. 

7 August 2010: The Tre, an Italian word that means three, is made up of more than three ingredients: red sauce, Italian sausage, cheese blend, roasted red peppers and oregano. Those ingredients are of superb quality. The red sauce and Italian sausage are as good as any on any pizza in the Duke City. The red sauce has a slight piquant bite with just a bit of sweetness and very little acidity despite the obvious fresh tomato base. The sausage has a nice fennel-rich flavor. The roasted red peppers are nonpareil, perfection itself. As my friend Larry McGoldrick has observed, Nicky V’s pizzas are as good as any thin-crust pizza you’ll find in Chicago…and yes, the Windy City has outstanding thin crust pizza!

Orvietto – smoked bacon, Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh basil, Crimini mushrooms, peas and pine nuts tossed with cavatappi with a white wine pasta cream sauce

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day 2011, Nicky V’s introduced–for a limited time only–a pizza special  citizens of the British Isles would have scarfed-up though Nicky admitted she had a hard time talking  customers into trying it.  One intrepid diner who did try the Shepherd’s Pie Pizza was my adventurous friend Señor Plata.  He ranted about this pizza, a thin-crust canvass with gravy slathered on instead of tomato sauce and topped with mashed potatoes, ground beef  and Cheddar cheese.  Larry McGoldrick had  recommended Nicky offer a corned beef and cabbage pizza which might also have received a cool reception from diners who wouldn’t try it.  Some year, I’ll be there to sample whatever Nicky contrives for St. Patrick’s Day. 

7 August 2010: As outstanding as the pizza is, Nicky invites her diners to try the pasta, recommending most highly the Orvietto, an amazing pasta crafted from smoked bacon (pancetta) crimini mushrooms, peas and cavatappi noodles in a white wine pasta cream sauce. The cavatappi, a double-elbow, corkscrew or spiral macaroni formed into a spiral tube shape with groves on their outside surface, is perfectly prepared, just beyond al dente. The white wine reduction melds with the crimini mushrooms and the beautifully smoked Italian bacon to form flavor combinations that dance on your taste buds. The sauce is just perfect, neither too rich or too subtle. This is one of the best pasta dishes we’ve had in New Mexico.

Il Adelaide: Garlic, yellow onions, marinated prawns, roasted corn, bell peppers and andouille sausage in a Creole pasta cream sauce

As fans of Garfield, once the world’s most widely syndicated comic, know, the rotund cat loves lasagna.  Once confronted by his owner Jon about having eaten four boxes of lasagna, Garfield’s hiccuped retort was, “It’s not my fault.  They started it.”  Garfield would want at least four boxes of Nicky V’s lasagna, a simple blend of lasagna noodles and ricotta cheese topped with mozzarella cheese made complex with a Bolognese meat sauce that the chef tends to for six to eight hours.  This is no ordinary meat sauce.  The Bolognese is true to time-honored traditions.  It’s also quite good. 

Another complex entree prepared exceptionally well is Nicky V’s Chicken Veloute, an entree made with one of the true classic sauces of French cuisine.   The sauce finds its genesis in the word velvety, an apt term for the sauce which is made from a light chicken stock thickened with a blond roux.  Nicky V’s rendition is also made with an onion confit (onions reduced to an intensified flavor), roasted garlic, Crimini mushrooms, chicken and spinach fettuccine.  My friend Señor Plata was surprised to find a dish of such complexity and depth of flavor in an Italian restaurant.  I was surprised at how good it was.

Gnocci: roasted chicken, artichokes, grilled leeks and spinach served with gnocchi in a roasted pepper parmesan sauce drizzled with truffle oil

14 December 2010: Save for the fabulous Orvietto which is in stratified company as one of the very best pasta dishes in Albuquerque, my favorite of Nicky V’s outstanding pasta dishes is the gnocchi, one of the most complex renditions of this dish I’ve ever had with roasted chicken, artichokes, grilled leeks, red onions and spinach served with gnocchi in a roasted pepper Parmesan sauce drizzled with truffle oil.  The gnocchi are rich dumplings with a texture so light they practically melt in your mouth.  The sauce is lick-the-plate good with flavor accents that impress themselves on your taste buds. 

20 July 2014: Chicken Parmesan is an old school entree some Italian restaurants (especially the haughty Northern Italian restaurants) are “too uppity” to serve.  Though it may seem to be a simple dish, it can be very challenging to make well.  Nicky V’s rendition is made with a very thick chicken breast.  Too long in the oven and the breading chars.  Not long enough in the oven and the inside of the chicken borders on raw.  We experienced both extremes, but in the process wound up falling in love with the side spaghetti.  More specifically, we fell in love with the spaghetti sauce which is made from tomatoes grown in Moriarty, New Mexico.  The sauce has a perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess without the oft-characteristic acidity of some tomatoes.  It’s an excellent sauce. 

Note:  Even though our experience with the Chicken Parmesan wasn’t up to the exceedingly high Nicky V standards, the staff was very accommodating, professional and kind when we sent the dish back.

Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti

28 March 2011: Conspicuous by virtue of its name is Il Adelaide which frankly sounds more Australian than it does Italian.  Rather than name it for an Italian landmark, the chef who conceptualized the dish named it for Nicky’s spicy little daughter Adelaide.  Il Adelaide is indeed spicy, courtesy of a pasta cream sauce redolent with Cayenne peppers.  Other ingredients include garlic, yellow onions, marinated prawns, roasted corn, bell peppers and andouille sausage.  It’s a complex dish which pays tribute to the lively flavors of Louisiana.  With the 2011 demise of the Cajun Kitchen, Il Adelaide is a comforting thought that you can still get a semblance of Cajun-Creole cooking in the Duke City.

Six salads are also available. These aren’t the types of salads that remind you that the word “diet” is simply the word “die” with the letter “t” added at the end. These are the type of salads of which you can make a thoroughly enjoyable meal. Three of the salads–a house salad, a Caesar salad and “the Wedge”–are pretty standard, though what will set them apart at Nicky V’s is the quality of ingredients and their freshness. The other three salads are crafted with ingenuity and flair. All are available in half- or full-sizes.

Joe Diaz’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Meatballs, Marinara, Parmesan and Provolone all stacked tall and sent into Nicky V’s brick oven until bubbly hot!

5 June 2010: The Il Manchango is festooned with Fuji apples, dates, Arugula, radicchio, toasted pecans, endives and manchango cheese with a citrus vinaigrette. This is an ingredient-fest combining several different taste and texture sensations–the sweet tartness of the Fuji apples; the sugary sweetness of fresh dates; the tangy zestiness of arugula; the crunchy saltiness of the toasted pecans; the unique buttery-bitter spiciness of endives and the pungent saltiness of the manchango drizzled with the citrusy sweetness of a vinaigrette.

This is an outstanding salad especially if you like adventurous taste discernment, flavor combinations and a variety of textures in one plate. It’s also a fun salad to eat. You can use the endive leaves to form a sort of lettuce taco in which you can pile on other ingredients.

Tiramisu (Espresso and rum-soaked lady fingers, mascarpone and cocoa powder

9 October 2012: For lunch only (11AM to 4PM), Nicky v’s offers four paninis, all built on French (not Italian) lightly toasted hoagie rolls served with a bag of Miss Vickie’s Salt and Vinegar chips (or a side salad for two dollars more) and a pepperoncini.  One of the most popular of the four is the Joe Diaz’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, named for KOAT-TV’s popular meteorologist who frequents the restaurant.  This panini is constructed from meatballs, marinara, parmesan and provolone stacked tall and sent to the oven until bubbly hot.  

5 June 2010: Nicky V’s desserts, many made in-house (sounds like a repeating theme) are par excellence, a quadrumvirate of fine-dining quality sweets.  The tiramisu, espresso and rum-soaked lady fingers, mascarpone and cocoa powder–is an exemplary rendition of this popular Italian cake.  It is neither too sweet nor too moist, but sufficient in both qualities to make it one of the best tiramisu in Albuquerque.

Profiterole – puffed pastry dough filled with a vanilla pastry cream dipped in chocolate

7 August 2010: A recent addition to the superb Nicky V’s menu is gelato, which is much more than Italian ice cream, having a lower butterfat and sugar content than ice cream. Texturally, it is much denser than ice cream with a much more intense and concentrated flavor than American ice cream.  High-quality artisan gelato retains its texture (from delicate ice crystals) for only a few days which is why great gelato is usually made on the premises or at least locally, not shipped from afar. Nicky V’s acquires its gelato from Van Rixel Brothers Gelato, the best local source possible.  It’s outstanding!  In fact, the sea salt and caramel gelato may be the very best gelato we’ve had in Albuquerque.  It’s Nicky’s favorite and mine, too.  Flavors will be rotated weekly.

5 June 2010: The profiteroles, puffed pastry dough filled with a vanilla pastry cream dipped in chocolate, are also quite wonderful. Even the whipped cream is made in-house (as if that needs to be said) and it’s some of the best we’ve had. The profiteroles are rich and delicious.

Sea salt and caramel gelatto

In business for just a few years years, Nicky V’s Pizzeria has earned accolades and honors restaurants in business for much longer can only aspire to. In July, 2011, Nicky was presented the award for “Best Small Business 2011″ by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. Her terrific restaurant was later selected to compete in the “Chef Knockout” competition, an Iron Chef style head-to-head cooking competition pitting some of the city’s very best restaurants. The sky is the limit for Nicky V’s, already one of Albuquerque’s very best restaurants of any genre!

Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio
9780 Coors Blvd, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-9463
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 October 2012
1st VISIT: 5 June 2010
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 23
BEST BET: Chieti, Umbria, Il Manchango, Profiterole, Tiramisu, Sea salt and caramel gelatto, Orvietto, Tre, Lasagna, Chicken Veloute, Gnocchi, Il Adelaide, Spaghetti

Nicky V's Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio on Urbanspoon

Bouche – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bouche, an extraordinarily elegant restaurant with breathtaking food

Career paths do not always unfold as stereotypes might dictate.  Heavily recruited out of Mission, Texas, a high school football hotbed, Frans Dinklemann, a 6’6″ 241-pound defensive end, signed with the University of New Mexico where his Lobo teammates included perennial National Football League (NFL) All-Pro Brian Urlacher.  By his senior year, Frans had grown to 6’7″ and 270 pounds and moved to the offensive line where he set the team weight room record for offensive linemen with a 33-inch vertical leap. 

The stereotype of the offensive lineman is of a brutish behemoth heavy on brawn and light on brain, a misanthrope with very little personality or charisma.  In his inimitable manner, Hall of Fame NFL coach and longtime television analyst John Madden stereotypes the offensive lineman as a “big ol’ mean and nasty guy who tries to knock the snot out of the guy across from him.”  With these stereotypes, you might surmise that after his Lobo career ended, Frans Dinklemann would become a nightclub bouncer or pursue some other similar profession requiring muscle and mass.

Bread with garlic butter

Coach Madden, however, also pointed out that offensive linemen tend to be neat and precise, to be polite and have well-ordered lockers.  This fits with their job of carrying out precise assignments in connection with each play the quarterback directs the team to execute.  Those traits–neatness, precision, politeness and orderliness–seem to defy stereotypes and are actually more often associated with a chef than with an offensive lineman.  As Frans Dinklemann, offensive lineman turned chef, proves every day, if you’ve got the passion and determination, you can follow your dreams no matter what they might be. 

Frans Dinklemann is realizing his dreams.  While toiling at another Duke City restaurant, he and the restaurant’s manager Dolores Welk-Jack frequently fantasized about striking out on their own.  For years they shared ideas and planned for an eventuality that took years to culminate.  Chef Dinklemann and Dolores launched Bouche on October 26, 2013 in a Lilliputian space nestled within the La Bella Spa Salon complex on Coors just south of Alameda.

Cheese Plate

To see the beautiful plating coming out of the kitchen is to experience esthetically pleasing, appetite arousing, edible art.  Chef Dinkleman obviously recognizes that great cuisine may be eaten with the mouth but it’s with the eyes that the first impression and sense of appreciation are formed.  Everything is where it should be for optimum harmony, balance and appearance, a sort of plate syzygy. The balance of color, texture and appearance makes diners give pause to reflect on how great everything looks before their taste buds confirm what their eyes already know.  If you still believe in stereotypes, you might ask yourself “an offensive lineman did that?”.

If Chef Dinklemann is the proverbial ex-jock with hidden talents, Dolores is the gracious lady hostess, the heart and soul of the operation.  Dolores runs the “front of the house” which means she’s the restaurant’s public face, the person with whom guests will interact.    The hospitality and personal, attentive service guests receive from Dolores ensures they’ll be back.  In fact, as of this writing, Bouche has a 100% “like it” rating on Urbanspoon whose readers can be very persnickety and obstinate.  Urbanspoon readers rave as much about the service at Bouche as they do the amazing cuisine.

Melon Salad

It’s pretty obvious Dolores prefers the restaurant’s intimacy.  Because Bouche has only thirteen seats, she’s able to provide that personal touch so endearing to her guests.  Dolores is an effusive and warm person, the type of whom makes a great best friend.  Aside from her people skills, she’s the mastermind behind the restaurant’s fabulous desserts, bakery-quality deliciousness with which to finish a perfect meal. Oh, and she may not be a certified sommelier, but her wine-pairing recommendations are savant.

If you like the predictability of menus you can practically recite, Bouche will throw you a real curve ball.  There is no formal menu, the only predictability being the knowledge that everything you order will be fabulous.  The  selections of the day–typically two or three entrees, appetizers, a soup, a salad, and dessert–are scrawled on a chalkboard.  Don’t get used to today’s selection because tomorrow they may not be there.  Everything is prepared based on what quality local organic produce can be found on the market. Despite the appellation “Bouche,” which translates from French to “mouth,” featured fare is “new American” prepared with French techniques.

Potato and Bacon Soup

It’s only fitting that my inaugural visit to Bouche was with my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate.   For months Larry had raved about Bouche and to me, he’s like E.F. Hutton in that when Larry speaks, Gil listens.  We were accompanied by my much better half Kim and the dazzling Deanell Collins.   In a stormy night replete with surprises, perhaps the biggest surprise is that Bouche didn’t have an overflow crowd.  Dolores explained that reservations have become absolutely necessary for Friday and Saturday night seating and that lunch crowds abound, but some evenings are surprisingly light. That meant more single-focused attention from the delightful Dolores for us. 

Even though it’s not complimentary, make sure to order the bread.  It’s a terrific French bread and on the night of our inaugural visit, it was served with a superb herb-garlic butter resplendent with clove halves.  The bread is fresh and delicious with a crusty exterior and soft interior.  The herb-garlic butter is a more than welcome respite from the ad infinitum parade of olive oil amalgams too many restaurants serve.

Bone-In Pork Chop

For decades, photographers who want their subjects to smile have instructed them to “say cheese.”  Saying “cheese” causes the mouth to form into a semblance of a smile-like shape.  Savvy diners will do well to order the cheese plate when it’s on the menu.  It’ll make you smile for sure.  Now, the concept of the cheese plate sometimes seems foreign in New Mexico and if you do find one it’s typically rather austere and unimaginative.  At Bouche, the cheese plate is both an objec d’art and a misnomer.  The “plate” is an artistic array of toasted Brazil and hazel nuts; fresh blackberries, strawberries and raspberries; crackers; slices of Jarlsberg cheese; and in the center of a cutting board, a herbaceous goat cheese ball made from the Old Windmill Dairy‘s finest.  The handle of the cutting board is drizzled with honey and bee pollen.  Sitting on a heated stone are slices of Brie which continue their molten transformation until you extricate them from the hot stone.  It’s the very best cheese plate we’ve found in New Mexico.  No other is even close.

Offensive linemen are more often associated with all-you-can-eat buffets than with salads, especially “pretty” salads.  Bouche’s melon salad is the antithesis of the boring, haphazardly strewn-together salad you might find at a football team’s training table.  It’s esculent esthetics, a melange of summery colors and ingredients which look like a painting and taste even better than they look.  The melon triumvirate for which the salad is named includes honeydew melon, cantaloupe and watermelon.  Aside from the fresh, crisp greens, other ingredients from which this salad is constructed include shaved almonds and mozzarella drizzled with a strawberry vinaigrette. If you love the bounty and freshness of summer, you’ll love this salad.

Ribeye

Wheel of Fortune star Vanna White once quipped “When I was having that alphabet soup, I never thought that it would pay off.”  Having served several times as judges for the Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souperbowl has paid off for Larry and me as we’ve garnered expertise in soup we might not otherwise have.  Bouche’s potato and bacon soup is absolutely souperb with much more flavor complexity than its name might imply.  It’s also rather uniquely plated.  A lightly fried corn tortilla shell with three cut-out circular “windows” reveals three of the ingredients used to construct the soup.  One window showcases finely chopped bacon, another scallions and the third gives you a voyeur’s view of unctuous melted butter.  This is one of the most inventive and delicious soups you’ll find in the Duke City.  If the melon salad invokes a summery feel, the soup is perfect for rainy and cold nights. 

On most restaurant menus bone-in pork chop is as descriptive as you’re going to see on the plate.  At Bouche, bone-in pork chop fails miserably to describe its presentation.  A two-inch thick bone-in pork chop arrives under a tight-fitting, fogged up plastic dome.  When Dolores removes the dome, smoky vapors waft upward revealing a fragrant bouquet of hard woods melded with porcine deliciousness.  The tender pork practically melts in your mouth imparting the flavors of sweet, savory, and smoke on your tongue and taste buds.  The pork chop is served with fresh, buttery corn and French-style snap peas, both prepared as well as vegetables can be prepared.  These are carnivore converting quality vegetables.

Vanilla Spice Cake

Similar to the bone-in-pork chop, the two-inch thick ribeye (which resembles a small roast) arrives under its own foggy dome.  You’ve got to experience the wood smoke fragrance as it escapes the dome.  The smoke pervades the entire dining room, prompting prying eyes and very aroused nostrils to seek its origin and let the smoke envelop them, too.  At medium, the ribeye has a nice band of light pink through the middle.  Sides are rich brown in color.  The steak is firm to the touch with just a bit of play in the middle.  It’s absolutely delicious, as good as any steak we’ve had in New Mexico.  Garnished with micro-greens and served with sweet snap peas, it’s steak the way it should be prepared and served.

You might think that with all we enjoyed, we’d be too full for dessert and while that may have been the case, sugary lust superseded satiety. Desserts, Larry assured us, are as fantastic as everything else at Bouche.  Our first dessert was a vanilla spice cake, far surpassing the simplicity of its name.  This wonderful cake featured three separate slabs drizzled with a raspberry topping and laying on a decorative pool of goat cheese cream.  The other dessert was a berry cobbler topped with an addictive sweet goat cheese cream and lots of loose berries on the plate.  Both desserts included pulled sugar twill.

Berry Cobbler with Goat Cheese Cream

Among savvy diners in the know, Bouche is already regarded as one of the Duke City’s very best dining establishments, a diminutive and non-traditional gem with a brilliant chef who coaxes optimal flavors from each and every ingredient and an ambassadorial manager who’ll win you over with her charm and wit.

Bouche
10126 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-8101
Bouche Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Ribeye, Bone-In Pork Chop, Potato and Bacon Soup, Melon Salad, Vanilla Spice Cake, Cheese Plate, Berry Cobbler

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The Spot Cafe – Corrales, New Mexico

The Spot Cafe in Corrales, New Mexico

Big Bang Theory wunderkind Sheldon Cooper has a spot he describes as the “singular location in space around which revolves my entire universe.”  That spot is the left side of his couch, a location he has placed “in a state of eternal dibs.”  In scientific terms, Sheldon relates his spot as “a single point of consistency in an ever-changing world.”  His attachment to that one spot borders on obsession, but he’s not the only television character that possessive of his spot.

In television comedies, characters have always had their favorite spots and show little tolerance for anybody who tries to sit in them.  Cheers barflies Norm Peterson and Cliff Claivin had their favorite bar stools.  Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer always sat at their favorite table at Monk’s Diner.  Heaven help anyone who sat on Archie Bunker’s favorite chair, the most famous and only one of the aforementioned spots on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Interior of the Spot Cafe

Television personalities are often based on and mimic real life characters.  As such, it will be interesting to see what Corrales resident will develop an attachment to a favorite spot at its newest eatery (as of May, 2014), fittingly named The Spot.  That’s an appropriate appellation for a cafe which promises to be a very popular gathering spot in the heart of the village.  The Spot opened its doors in May, 2014 and is open for breakfast and lunch every day but Tuesday from 7AM until 3PM. 

The Spot occupies the spot previously held by the Oasis Cafe within the Village Plaza, an 11,000 square-foot complex just north of the Corrales fire station.  At the help are Aaron and Deb Worrell, veteran restaurateurs with more than two decades in the industry.  In addition to The Spot, the couple own and operate two Aaron’s Sandwich Time restaurants in the Duke City.  It goes without saying, therefore, that sandwiches are part and parcel of the cafe’s menu.

Milk Shakes made from Blue Bell Ice Cream

Interestingly, the cafe’s ambiance bespeaks fine dining with linen tablecloths, cloth napkins and table service but the menu is more akin to an over-the-counter operation with an emphasis on contemporary comfort food at great prices. It’s an inviting menu both during breakfast and lunch.  Start the morning off with build-your-own omelets, panini-stuffed French toast, breakfast sandwiches and a nice line-up of breakfast burritos.  Sandwiches and burgers highlight the lunch menu, but no ordinary burgers are these.  A one-half pound Angus beef burger is available with your choice of toppings and is prepared to your exacting specifications.

Reason enough to visit The Spot are the housemade milk shakes made from Blue Bell ice cream, arguably the best ice cream in America.  When we moved from Mississippi to Albuquerque, Blue Bell ice cream was what we missed most–even more than blackened redfish and oysters.  The Spot’s milk shakes remind us why.  The Dutch Chocolate milk shake is rich and creamy with an adult dark chocolate flavor and a decadent fudge swirl.  The Spot offers a number of different Blue Bell flavors, all on display in a freezer.  You’ll want to try them all.

Green Chile Steak Melt with Sweet Potato Fries

10 May 2014: Over the years, my friends and I have, like Indiana Jones in pursuit of historical treasure, trekked throughout the city in pursuit of the best green chile Philly.  Only a handful (the very best being from Itsa Italian Ice) meet our exceedingly high standards.  The Spot’s green chile steak melt ranks right up there with them.  It’s a sandwich Philadelphia would be proud to call its own.   This gem of a sandwich is constructed from very high quality ingredients: tri-tip steak, a full-flavored, low fat content cut of steak; red, green and yellow peppers; caramelized onions and plenty of New Mexico green chile on your choice of bun (including one impregnated with green chile).

10 May 2014: Half-pound Angus burgers, with your choice of toppings, are sure to please the most discerning of burgerphiles.  The list of toppings options truly allows you to have it your way.  My way was with green chile, bacon and cheese along with the standard toppings of lettuce and tomato.  Not surprisingly, the Angus beef patty is very flavorful courtesy of nicely marbled beef prepared at a juicy medium.  Served on a green chile bun, this burger warrants further exploration with different toppings.  It’s a good one.

“Kobe” Burger with Baked Beans

10 May 2014: Sandwiches and burgers are available with a number of sides including sweet potato fries and baked beans.  The baked beans are terrific, so good I wiped them out before even trying the burger.  Unlike far too many baked beans, these are not candy cloying, but have a depth of flavors that’s very enjoyable and which might transport you to memories of barbecues.  The sweet potato fries are also quite good.

13 July 2014: When my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared The Spot’s biscuits and gravy “the best I have ever had.  Anyplace.  Perfection,” it created a dilemma for me.  Biscuits and gravy border on traumatizing, the result of having been subjected in Air Force cafeterias to absolutely horrible renditions of this popular Southern breakfast staple.   On the other hand, when Larry is as passionate about a dish as he is The Spot’s biscuits and gravy, you’re well advised to try it…and soon.

Biscuits and Gravy–quite possibly the best in New Mexico (if not the universe)

13 July 2014: Biscuits and gravy combine various textures and flavors into each bite, making it a deliciously diverse, palate pleasing breakfast entree. Crumbled sausage links enliven the flavor of a tasty milk, flour and butter-based gravy served over three split biscuits topped with two eggs made the way you want them. The fluffy, steamy interior of the split biscuits coupled with the sturdy biscuit exterior are a perfect repository for the smooth, delicious body of the sausage gravy.  The eggs (Larry likes them over-easy) blanket the biscuits and provide runny yoke deliciousness.  This dish is served on a “too hot to handle” skillet.

13 July 2014: While the standard breakfast menu includes waffles, there’s just something special about the combination of chicken and waffles.  It’s a combination which has become increasingly popular in the Food Network age.  Several Duke City restaurants serve fairly standard versions.  The Spot stands out for its unique take on this Belgian culinary specialty.  To truly appreciate this entree, available with or without bones, ask for the honey-BBQ glaze instead of the standard waffle syrup.  The honey-BBQ glaze is reminiscent of sauces used on Asian dishes–not the sweet and sour type of sauce, but the sauces which impart proportionate measures of sweet, savory and tart flavors.  It’s probably not everybody’s cup of sauce, but adventurous types will enjoy it. The chicken itself is perfectly fried with a golden crust.

Chicken and Waffles

In time, The Spot Cafe promises an even more inviting menu, one replete with comfort food favorites diners will appreciate. This is a restaurant which just might become your spot.

The Spot Cafe
4940 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 899-7768
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT:  13 July 2014
1st VISIT: 10 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Wagyu Burger, Baked Beans, Chile Melt, Sweet Potato Fries, Milk Shakes, Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy

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