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Delish – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Sassy Apron and Delish, sisters in deliciousness in Albuquerque

Rachael Ray may be the most reviled celebrity cook or chef on network and cable television.  While adoring fans admire her perkiness and down-to-earth approachability, it’s those traits grumpy detractors (including other celebrity chefs and food writers) seem to find most offensive.  Well, that and the way she punctuates sentences with one of her many trademark catchphrases.  Entire blogs are dedicated to disparaging her use of “Rachael Rayisms”  with heated discussions revolving around the most annoying of her cutesy (or not so very much, depending on your perspective) catchphrases. 

It’s a true testament to her popularity that one of those catchphrases was selected for inclusion on the 2007 edition of the Oxford American College Dictionary.  Thanks largely to the effervescent phenom, EVOO (short for extra-virgin olive oil) is now officially part of the American lexicon.   In a list of the seven most annoying Rachael Rayisms compiled by the Huffington Post, EVOO ranked only seventh for “annoyingness.”    At the top of the list as the most cringe-worthy catchphrase was “yummo” (which has been used on this blog three times and no, I’m not a Rachael Ray clone).

The colorful interior at Delish

When Mary Ann Spencer, a long-time friend of this blog, told me about a new restaurant named Delish on Albuquerque’s burgeoning northwest quadrant, my first thought was “hey, wasn’t “delish” one of the seven most annoying of Rachael Ray’s catchphrases?”  Sure enough, “delish” was number six on the list, just above EVOO.  The Huffington Post writer declared “Okay, Rachael Ray may have not been the first person to coin ‘delish.’ But she is definitely the person that has made people everywhere think it’s an acceptable thing to say. It’s not.”

Whether or not “delish” is “an acceptable thing to say,” it’s been part of the English lexicon since the 1920s.  Delish is obviously a colloquial diminutive for the word “delicious” and has been trademarked several times.  While most dictionaries still recognize it as a diminutive of “delicious,” the term “delish” is often used in a declarative or exclamatory manner.  It’s as a diminutive of the adjective “delicious” for which the Duke City’s Delish is named.

Candied Walnut Salad

Before there was a Delish, however, there was The Sassy Apron, a pre-prepared dinner and catering business operating out of a small space within the Cottonwood Corners Shopping Center.  The Sassy Apron’s success convinced owners Rachael and Ian Broglie that they could expand their business to include a full-service restaurant.   When a previous tenant vacated the space next door to The Sassy Apron, Delish was born.

Today Delish occupies a 3,200-square-foot space which seats 60 guests, including as many as 18 on a single community table in the middle of the dining room.  From a physical, historical and proximal standpoint Delish remains connected to The Sassy Apron.  Not only will they share a kitchen, they will serve some of the same dishes.  Not being restricted to freezable meals, Delish is able to expand the kitchen’s repertoire, offering a very enticing array of creative American dishes.

Fried Avocado Burger with housemade Potato Chips

Delish is currently open Monday through Thursday from 11AM to 6PM and on Friday and Saturday from 11AM to 10PM.  The only commonalities between the lunch and dinner (Friday and Saturday after 5PM) menu are in the salads and dessert sections of the menu.  Otherwise, lunch and dinner menus are distinctive, offering a different experience altogether.   For lunch you can order from among several specialty sandwiches, grilled sandwiches and burgers, vegetarian sandwiches and salads.  The dinner menu offers appetizers (not available for lunch), salads and entrees which range from chicken pot pie to sirloin tender steak.  The motto at Delish is “dare to indulge” which will certainly heighten your expectations.  Delish delivers!

Before you peruse the menu, take a gander at the unique milieu in which you’ll be dining.  It’s safe to say there is no restaurant quite like Delish.  Where any other restaurant would have a back wall, Delish has an array of multi-hued doors reminiscent of the doors on the animated hit Monsters, Inc. (having slept through the movie,  my Kim apprised me of this fact).   The repurposed doors are of varying sizes and styles, but what will really catch your eye is how they’re positioned.  Seating is attractive, but more functional than it is comfortable.

Crisp Cheese Filled Eggplant Panini served with a mini Caprese salad

Because the lunch menu doesn’t offer appetizers gives you a good excuse (not that one is needed) to have a salad.  You might think that with only three salads on the lunch menu, it would be easy to make a quick selection.  Alas, all three are so beautifully described, it’s impossible to make a quick decision.  The Candied Walnut Salad  (mixed greens, blue cheese, dried cranberries, candied walnuts served with raspberry vinaigrette) is an outstanding choice.  There’s something especially delicious about the contrasting flavors of sharp, feted blue cheese and tangy raspberry vinaigrette melding with the complementary flavors of sweet-savory candied walnuts and dried sweet cranberries.  The mixed greens are fresh and crispy on a beautifully plated curvilinear bowl.  Chicken can be added to any of them for a pittance more.

The menu offers two burgers–a green chile cheeseburger and a fried avocado burger. It’s not often, I’ll eschew a green chile cheeseburger, but the concept of fried avocado proved too much to resist.  With a mouth-watering ingredient profile (six-ounce ground chuck patty topped with provolone cheese, fried tempura avocado, tomato, bib lettuce, red onion served with a smoky chipotle sauce on a toasted pretzel bun served with house made potato chips) sure to appeal to all burgerphiles, who can resist?  Alas, because there are so many assertive ingredients, the relatively mild creaminess of avocado sheathed in a tempura batter isn’t easily discerned, but the ingredient combinations do come together in a most delicious way.  In fact, the only way this burger could be made any better is with green chile (yeah, I’m incorrigible) .

A unique take on Smores

One of the more interesting sandwiches on the menu comes from the vegetarian sandwiches menu.  It’s a Crisp Cheese Filled Eggplant Panini (panko breaded fried eggplant topped with a basil goat cheese and provolone spread on a flatbread and drizzled with pomegranate molasses and balsamic reduction)  served with a mini Caprese salad (mozzarella, basil, tomatoes).  Eggplant is one of those “either you love it or hate it” vegetables and lovers and haters are rarely converted.  This panini probably won’t convert any haters, but eggplant lovers will enjoy it very much.  The notion of a flatbread panini is reason enough to try this, but it’s the eggplant that’ll ultimately win or lose your affections.  The eggplant, sheathed in panko, is excellent, complemented by the lively pomegranate molasses and balsamic reduction.  The goat cheese, alas, was lost among the other flavors.

There are six desserts on the menu. A couple of them are so uniquely named you’ll have to ask just what they are.  Have you, for example, ever heard of Xango?  Contrary to images the name may conjure, it’s not an exotic African fruit of any sort.  Xango is a layered pastry stuffed with cheesecake filling and deep fried like a chimichanga then drizzled with brown sugar.  It’s a lively dessert with interesting textural and flavor contrasts.  Another unique sweet offering is Delish’s take on Smores, the traditional night time campfire treat made with roasted marshmallows and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between Graham crackers.  Instead of Graham crackers, the roasted marshmallow sits atop a Graham cracker cookie and is topped by sliced strawberries and a trail of chocolate sauce.  It’s an adult Smores children of all ages will love.

Xango

Delish may be a diminutive version of the word “delicious,” but there’s no shortchanging exciting flavors and options at a West side restaurant sure to draw in diners from throughout the city.

Delish
3705 Ellison Road, N.W., #A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 225-9293
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 28 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Candied Walnut Salad, Crisp Cheese Filled Eggplant Panini, Fried Avocado Burger, Xango, Smores

Delish on Urbanspoon

St Clair Winery & Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

St Clair Winery & Bistro

While conducting research to write this review, I uncovered varying accounts as to the genesis of wine-making in New Mexico.  The New Mexico Wine Country Web site indicates the first Spanish explorers and settlers brought their European wines grapes with them as they made the Rio Grande valley their new home in the early 1500s. The original grape stocks supposedly remain the source of many of New Mexico’s vinters to this day.

Another source relates that in 1629, Franciscan friars planted the first vineyard (for sacramental wine) in New Mexico in defiance to Spanish law prohibiting the growing of grapes for wine in the new world. Those first wines were planted  on the east bank of the Rio Grande slightly north of the village of present day San Antonio by Fray Gracia de Zuniga, a Franciscan monk. Despite conflicting accounts, one fact appears incontrovertible–New Mexico is the oldest wine-making region in the country.

A loaf of bread with an herbed (parsley, thyme, garlic) butter

Today the fruit of the vine is cultivated in more than 5,000 acres throughout the Rio Grande valley. St. Clair Winery, situated in the fecund Mimbres Valley is the state’s largest winery. Thanks to day and night time temperature variances that can range by as much as 30 degrees and a growing elevation of 4,500 feet, the winery is reputed to grow some of the best grapes in New Mexico.  Forty different types of grapes produce several award-winning wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah.

The Deming-based winery sits on several hundred acres and has a 500,000 gallon capacity distributed among seventy different wines under eight labels.  It is among the 100 largest wineries in the United States with an annual production of 80,000 cases of wines.  Its grapes are trucked from its 200-acre vineyards fifty miles away just outside Lordsburg.  At the winery, the grapes are filtered and pressed.  Some are barrel-aged for as long as 18 months.  In the January, 2010 edition of New Mexico Magazine, my friend Lesley King profiled the wine-making process at the St. Clair Winery for her monthly King of the Road feature.

Nosh

In 2005, St. Clair Winery launched a wine-tasting room and bistro on the outskirts of historic Old Town Plaza and on the site of the now defunct Rio Grande Cantina. Bacchus would be proud.  An extensive wine list showcases St. Clair wines which may be enjoyed in the bistro or the stylishly appointed wine bar. The wine shop also features some of our favorite gourmet offerings as well as wine accessories. St. Clair Bistros can also be found in Las Cruces and Farmington in addition to the tasting room in Deming.

The bistro’s menu is a vehicle for the diversity of St. Clair wines which are used to accentuate the sauces and gravies on most menu items as well as salad dressings and even the bistro’s signature soup d jour.  The menus describe the best wine pairings for the bistro’s delicious French country dishes.  An old-world style dining room and spacious outdoor patio provide an enjoyable venue for generally very good dining.  

Green Chile Mac and Cheese

27 July 2014: One of the best precursors to a meal at the bistro is the cheese nosh  which over the years has undergone multiple transformations.  When first offered, guests were allowed to select three from among ten different cheeses to enjoy with Kalamata olives (thankfully pitted), grapes, chunks of chocolate, mango chutney and homemade crostini.   The platter was generously portioned and easily sated two diners.  Today turophilies (someone who is obsessed with cheese) can still order the cheese nosh and enjoy a wide-variety of surprisingly high quality cheeses.  The nosh plate is artisinal in its presentation and delightful in its variety, albeit no longer as prodigious as it once was.  Intended to be a “light snack,” the cheese nosh is beautifully plated and colorful. 

During a visit in July, 2014, the cheese nosh plate showcased five cheeses with unique personalities in terms of taste and sharpness, texture and appearance. Those cheeses were: Maytag Blue Cheese, a hand-made, cave-aged often considered one of America’s finest blue cheeses; Sage Derby, a mild, semi-hard cheese with a sage flavor and green veins characteristic of sage being added to the curds; Port Derby, a smooth and creamy cheese with an elegant Burgundy veining; Brie, the best known French cheese with a complex flavor and soft texture; and pimento, a softly spreadable cheese featuring chopped cherry peppers.  The cheeses are quite good  especially when judiciously paired with palate cleansing raspberries and dark chocolate nibs.  A variety of crisp crackers is also provided.

Pomegranate Chipotle Pork Salad

26 February 2011: Other sumptuous appetizers are also available.  The Bistro’s Green Chile Mac & Cheese, homemade mac and cheese pairing Hatch green chile with a penne pasta topped with a creamy Provolone and Cheddar cheese blend is sinfully rich, a decadent bowlful of richness.  This is an entree-sized appetizer  easily big enough for two to share.  It’s an adult mac and cheese with heady cheeses, perfectly prepared (al dente) penne and Hatch green chile for a piquant personality.

Though it may appear at first glance that the lunch menu is dominated by sandwiches and salads, upon further study, you’ll find that there are a multitude of entrees with only a handful (such as the prime rib) not available for lunch. The dinner menu showcases slow-roasted selections which take a bit longer to prepare.  During dinner servings, which begin at 4PM, the sandwiches and lunch pastas come off the menu.  All in all, the menu selections are extensive in both quantity and variety.

Flat iron steak topped with Cabarnet infused bleu cheese crumbles and potatoes au gratin

Many lunch and dinner entrees are served with the house bread, a wonderful loaf accompanied by an herbed (parsley, thyme, garlic) butter.  It’s a delicious, crusty bread enlivened by a terrific butter.  That bread is the perfect canvas for the bistro’s panini sandwiches.  Other sandwich options include the Southwest Tuna Melt, Pot Roast Sandwich, Bistro Dip and a Meatball Po’ Boy.  There are three burgers on the menu including a flame-roasted green chile cheeseburger made with Hatch green chile.  Burgers are constructed from premium certified Angus ground beef (ten-ounces) made to your exacting specifications.

27 July 2014: If you’re a salad lover, the Bistro will make you very happy, especially if your choice is the Pomegranate Chipotle Pork Salad, a beautifully plated masterpiece showcasing pomegranate and mango roasted pork loin, spring mix, cucumbers, jicama, shaved Asiago cheese, shaved almonds, and fresh beets tossed with the Bistro’s Pomegranate Wine Vinaigrette.   It’s as tasty as it sounds with all ingredients melding in delicate harmony with each other to compose a flavor profile that is savory, sweet, tangy, sharp and absolutely delicious.  The roasted pork loin is tender, moist and delicious, a perfect vehicle for the pomegranate wine vinaigrette (which is bottled and available for purchase).

Sebastien’s Wine Steak

The slow-roasted dinner entrees, including the “king of roasts” prime rib are slow-roasted and therefore not available until after 4PM.  These are served with homemade  mashed potatoes and a fresh vegetable medley.  Perhaps more than any other menu items, the slow-roasted dinner entrees truly accentuate the wines with which they are prepared.   

My Midwestern born and bred wife certifies the Merlot braised country pot roast as among the best she’s had outside of her native Chicago. Tender enough to be eaten with a fork, the pot roast is well-seasoned and delicious.  It is seared and slow-roasted in its own delicious juices.  This is pot roast the type of which you might find directly above a picture of comfort food.  It’s a meaty elixir for whatever ails you, a true carnivore’s delight.

Pasta del Faro: Fresh garlic and olive oil with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, Greek olives, red peppers and capers sauteed in Chardonnay and topped with feta cheese.

26 February 2011: Available for both lunch and dinner is an eight-ounce flat iron steak topped with Cabernet-infused bleu cheese crumbles and accompanied by potatoes au gratin.  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.  The bleu cheese sauce and crumbles accentuate that beefy flavor with the pungent sharpness of one of my favorite cheeses, making me wish there were more than eight-ounces to enjoy.  The potatoes au gratin are perfectly prepared with just enough more than a hint of cheese, but not so much that it dominates the sweet flavor profile of the potatoes. 

27 July 2014: For sheer tenderness, it’s hard to imagine any steak comparable to Sebastien’s Wine Steak, a char-grilled steak prepared to your exacting specifications topped with a wine and mushroom sauce and served with garlic redskin (a term not offensive when describing potatoes) mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables.  With nary a hint of fat and sinew, at medium the steak is not quite cut with a fork tender, but it’s close.  It’s a moist, juicy steak and not solely because of the terrific wine and mushroom sauce.  Alas, a special steak is served with pedestrian garlic mashed potatoes, a once popular trend which has had its day.

Jackson Square Bread Pudding

26 February 2011: The Pasta del Faro is another adventure in pure pasta pleasure and flavor discernment.  This creative entree–fresh garlic and olive oil with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, Greek olives, red peppers and capers–is sauteed in Chardonnay and topped with feta cheese.  There is a lot going on in this dish–a lot of flavor contrasts pitting very strong tastes against one another that go surprisingly well together.  It’s a bountiful dish big enough for two to share or for a nice meal the next day when the flavors have penetrated even further.

27 July 2014: The bistro has the audacity to call one of its desserts Jackson Square bread pudding. Having sampled almost every bread pudding offered within blocks of Jackson Square, we savored the opportunity to debunk or validate whether this dessert warranted its name.  This wonderful bread pudding passed muster! A New Orleans French toast thick slice of bread is topped with golden raisins, white and dark chocolate, egg custard and topped with homemade butter rum sauce. This bread pudding ranks as one of the five best in New Mexico on both mine and excelsior Larry McGoldrick‘s rankings.  The only thing which would make this an even better bread pudding is even more dark chocolate.

Don’t ever and I mean never let the sweet-talking wait staff talk you into trying another dessert, least of all another bread pudding.  In 2011, the Bistro introduced a second bread pudding, this one showcasing the flavor of pralines and pecans, two staples of the deep south.  Topped with a homemade butter whiskey sauce, this bread pudding suffers from the same fate which befalls other bread puddings.  It is absolutely cloying, not tempered at all by just a dash of salt.  It’s definitely not in the same league as the fabulous Jackson Square bread pudding.

Whether you’re an oenophile (someone who appreciates and knows wine) or a gastronome around town, you’ll find both creative and delicious wines and very good food at the St. Clair Winery & Bistro, a French country treasure in Old Town Albuquerque.

St Clair Winery & Bistro
901 Rio Grande
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 243-9916
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 26 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Nosh Platter; Jackson Square Bread Pudding, Pasta del Faro, Sebastien’s Wine Steak, Flat Iron Steak, Pomegranate Chipotle Pork Salad, Green Chile Mac and Cheese,

St. Clair Winery & Bistro on Urbanspoon

El Comal Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Comal, serving great New Mexican food in Santa Fe for more than thirty years

From a social connectedness perspective, 1995 was the dark ages. The internet as we know and love it today was in its relative infancy.  There was no Urbanspoon, no Yelp, no Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog…no trusted online resource to enlighten and entice diners.  My only knowledge of Santa Fe’s restaurant scene came from fading memories and a 1994 article on Fortune magazine naming the City Different as one of the fruited plain’s ten best dining destinations.  The article listed such stalwarts as the Coyote Cafe, Santacafe and the Tecolote Cafe as among the city’s best.

After nearly two decades of wanderlust and travel courtesy of the United States Air Force, I had finally returned home to New Mexico and looked forward to introducing my bride of ten years to one of Fortune magazine’s anointed restaurants.  It was our first excursion together to Santa Fe and my first opportunity to impress my Kim with sophisticated Santa Fe cuisine.  My mom who’s infinitely more intelligent than I am had other ideas, steering us away from Fortune magazine’s popular tourist destinations and introducing us to one of Santa Fe’s quintessential off-the-beaten-path, mom-and-pop restaurants, a gem named El Comal.

Some of the very best chips and salsa in Santa Fe

By 1995, El Comal had already been serving New Mexican cuisine for over a decade.  Tucked away in a small, nondescript strip mall that already had an anachronistic, timeworn look and feel to it, El Comal was the antithesis of Fortune magazine’s anointed restaurants, devoid of the trappings and superficiality that so often defines what unenlightened diners often consider signs of good restaurants.  El Comal is named for the heavy cast iron griddle used to cook tortillas.  It appeared to be a magnet for blue collar workers and Hispanic families, preparing New Mexican food as they would prepare it at home.

Just as El Comal itself is receded from the well-trafficked Cerrillos Road, over the years memories of the restaurant receded to the back of my mind.  Frankly, it wasn’t until the well-traveled Lobo Lair owner Mark Chavez mentioned it on a tweet that I fondly remembered a very good meal there so many years ago.  Chavez captioned a photo of his lunch “real recognize real.” Real is an apt description for El Comal, one of the least pretentious and most authentic New Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  Not much had changed in the nineteen years since my last visit, but it did secure a commitment not to let so much time pass before my next visit.

Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style

If you have a number of restaurants on your “rotation” of frequent favorites, one visit to El Comal will probably  convince you to add it to that rotation. It’s that good!  It’s that real!  A comprehensive breakfast and lunch-dinner menu is replete with all your favorite New Mexican dishes while a chalkboard lists a handful of daily specials which the wait staff dutifully pushes. Cumin is not used on either the red or green chile.

Chips and salsa have become so de rigueur that we often take for granted that they’ll be good and that they’ll be the most piquant items on the menu.  More than often the chips and salsa live up to those expectations.  At El Comal, they exceed all expectations.  Quite simply these might be the best chips and salsa served at any New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe.  The salsa, made with red chile, is incendiary, offering a piquancy that is heightened by the restaurant’s scalding hot coffee.  The chips are crisp, lightly salted and perfect for dredging large scoops of the superb salsa.

Carne Adovada Taco

My server pushed the breakfast enchiladas with such alacrity that not ordering them was not an option.  Thank goodness I’m such an easy mark.  These are among the very best breakfast enchiladas I’ve had: two rolled corn tortillas engorged with scrambled eggs and chorizo topped with shredded cheese and red and green chile.  Chorizo is the Rodney Dangerfield of the breakfast meats, usually mentioned after bacon, sausage and ham, but when it’s made well, there is no meat quite as rousing in the morning. El Comal’s chorizo is rich and flavorful with a pleasant spiciness and just a bit of char.  The corn tortillas are redolent with the enticing aromas of corn just off the comal. 

The highlight of the breakfast enchilada entree is most assuredly the red and green chile, both of which are absolutely magnificent.  The red chile, in particular, has a depth of flavor very few red chiles achieve. The green chile also has a real personality, one that reminds you chile is technically a fruit.  The breakfast enchiladas are served with pinto beans and hash browns.  The hash browns are of the “take it or leave it” variety, but dip them in the chile and they’re addictive.  In fact, the chile is so good you’ll finish off the oft-annoying garnish with it.  The beans are top shelf, as good as they can be made. 

El Comal offers a la carte tacos filled with ground beef, shredded beef, chicken and get this, carne adovada. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a carne adovada taco. It’s a life altering experience, one that should entice you to order the carne adovada plate on your next visit.  The carne adovada is porcine perfection, tender tendrils of pork marinated in a wondrous red chile.  It pairs wonderfully with the corn tortilla.   

El Comal may not be on any national publications touting the best in Santa Fe restaurants, but locals have a high regard for this small mom-and-pop. It’s a great restaurant warranting a greater frequency of visits.

El Comal Cafe
3571 Cerrillos
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-3224
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Coffee, Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style, Chips and Salsa, Carne Adovada Taco

El Comal Restaurant on Urbanspoon