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Anasazi Restaurant – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Anasazi Restaurant & Bar at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

As you gaze in awe and wonder at the luxurious trappings surrounding you everywhere you turn at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, you can’t help but contemplate the irony.  Inn of the Anasazi?  Throughout their existence the Anasazi never knew luxury or leisure, focusing solely and at all times on survival.  Shelter, food and water were of paramount concern in the Four Corners area of the Southwest, a desolate environment which was often brutal and unforgiving.  Amidst the ravages of climatic extremes, the Anasazi scratched out an existence and an lasting legacy.

While the subsistence living of the Anasazi civilization and the opulence of the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi are at polar extremes, even stodgy historians might appreciate that this intimate world-class retreat “celebrates the enduring creative spirit and traditions of the regions early Native American.”  This boutique gem also embraces Santa Fe’s rich cultural heritage and ongoing legacy as an artist colony.  An extensive art collection is a vivid blend of Native, Hispanic and Anglo influences.

The stylish Anasazi Dining Room

In the Anasazi Restaurant and Bar luxury travelers have a restaurant worthy of the stunning three-story Inn.  Richly appointed with the tricultural art of New Mexico, the restaurant is decidedly rich, tasteful and masculine in its furnishings.  Meals are as artistic as the ambiance with a healthful salute to the rich bounty of New Mexico’s farms from where fresh produce is sourced at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market.  Through a Santa Fe purveyor, the Anasazi procures elk from the Rocky Mountains and lamb from northern New Mexico.  The quality is very much in evidence.

In Matthew 4:4, Jesus declared “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone.” For the most part, this man wouldn’t want to, but some breads are so good, it might be tempting to try. The bread at the Anasazi is among the best offered at any restaurant in Santa Fe.  Fresh, yeasty baguettes and a red chile impregnated lavosh offer textural and flavor contrasts.  Both are so good you’ll be tempted to order a second bread basket though you’d risk filling up on bread alone.

Bread Basket

Contrary to what some restaurants might have you believe, bottled Caesar salad dressing does not a true Caesar salad make.  There’s a richness of embarrassment propagated against the dining public when this “faux” Caesar is offered.  The Anasazi prepares, albeit not table-side, a true Caesar salad then it takes a few liberties with the ingredients and calls it a “South of the Border Caesar Salad.”  There’s just a bit of irony there because the salad’s “inventor” Caesar Cardini actually created the very first Caesar salad in Tijuana, Mexico on July 4th 1924. 

The South of the Border Caesar Salad is everything there is to like about the Caesar salad and more.  It’s constructed with Romaine lettuce, tapioca green chile croutons, crispy Serrano ham and a lemon-anchovy dressing with a white anchovy thrown in for good measure.  Every ingredient on this salad is first rate.  The crispy Serrano ham is as thin as carpaccio and as crispy as a potato chip with the unmistakably wonderful flavor of cured, salted pork.  The tapioca green chile crouton has an almost doughy texture and appearance, but inside it you’ll discern the irresistible flavor of roasted chile. The lemon-anchovy dressing is as good as we’ve ever had.

South of the Border Caesar Salad

Even though the quality of seafood–some shipped daily to New Mexico’s restaurants–has improved greatly over the years, all too often we’re reminded that one of the few enchantments with which we’re not blessed is proximity to the ocean.  That’s often the case even at high-end fine-dining establishments such as the Anasazi.  A lobster quesadilla would not have cut it in Maine; it shouldn’t cut it in New Mexico either. 

Even though our quesadillas were brimming with prized knuckle and claw meat (as well as Asadero cheese, chipotle mayonnaise and mango dressing), the lobster was chewy (typically a sign it’s been overcooked).  Served with the quesadilla were the usual quesadilla suspects: sour cream, pico de gallo and guacamole, none of which would probably be served with lobster in Maine.  While we liked the notion of a lobster quesadilla, we found the execution of the concept lacking.  To paraphrase Marlon Brando from On The Waterfront, “it could have been a contender.”

Anasazi Lobster Quesadilla

Argentina is widely regarded as the beef capital of the world, the domicile of succulent cuts of mouth-watering, premium steaks.  One of the favorite preparation styles is Bife Asado, literally grilled beef.  At the Anasazi Restaurant, Bife Asado is a flat iron steak grilled to your exacting specifications (medium-rare is just about perfect), sliced into half-inch slices and served with fingerling potatoes, calabacitas and usually a Serrano chile Chimichurri sauce which my Kim rebuked  because one of its ingredients is cumin in favor of a mango salsa. 

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 Anasazi Restaurant exploits these qualities to their utmost, grilling a fork-tender steak that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy.  The fingerling potatoes, which include purple Peruvian potatoes, are worthy accompaniment while the mango salsa, though no Chimichurri, is so good you might eat it right out of the ramekin and not use it on the beef.

Bife Asado

The Anasazi Restaurant menu claims to “celebrate American cuisine, in particular New Mexico cuisine.”  What passes today for “New Mexican cuisine” at the Anasazi would probably be unrecognizable to abuelitas of yesteryear.  It would be interesting to study Anasazi’s avant-garde approach to  interpreting New Mexican cuisine with my own grandmother, but frankly there are very few dishes on the dinner menu which would pass for anything approaching traditional New Mexican cuisine as she knew it.  The duck enchilada mole is hardly traditional. 

Fortunately, the menu does offer New Mexico lamb chops, long a staple in Northern New Mexico.  My abuelita never prepared lamb chops as tender, meaty and delicious as those found at the Anasazi.  My own memories of Northern New Mexican lamb is of a tough, sinewy and gamey meat, albeit one with a delicious grass-fed flavor.  We certainly didn’t adorn our lamb chops with anything as rich and deeply-flavorful as the mint demi-glace which flows copiously on the plate.  Nor did we ever enjoy broccolini and smashed fingerling potatoes with our lamb.  Though my grandmother would probably have found the Anasazi’s preparation heretically inauthentic, she would probably have enjoyed them.  We sure did.

New Mexico Lamb Chops

Desserts share space on the menu with postprandial digestifs (alcoholic beverage served after a meal, in theory to aid digestion) such as cognac, brandy, grappa and sherry.  The Anasazi Restaurant, by the way, boasts a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list and in 2013, was named by Wine Enthusiast as one of America’s 100 best wine restaurants in recognition of its 300 bottles of Old and New World wines.  Those wines form the backdrop for private candlelight dinners at the restaurant’s intimate wine cellar which accommodates up to twelve guests.

A housemade daily selection of sorbets or ice creams may seem somewhat pedestrian compared with the other sophisticated desserts offerings on the menu, but when made well you can’t beat a good ice cream. At Anasazi, you’ll get three scoops per order, a tantalizing triumvirate of cold deliciousness served atop fruit (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe) pieces.  By happenstance, the flavors of the day during one unseasonably warm October day were vanilla, dulce de leche and chocolate.  The dulce de leche, which translates literally from the Spanish as “sweet of milk,” has a wonderful caramel-like flavor while the chocolate is intensely chocolate, boasting the adult chocolate flavor aficionados love.

Ice Cream Trio: Chocolate, Dulce De Leche, Vanilla

In a city replete with posh, elegant and refined lodging and dining opportunities, the spectacular Anasazi Restaurant at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is among the most highly regarded.

Anasazi Restaurant
113 Washington Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 988-3236
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: New Mexico Lamb Chops, Lobster Quesadilla, Bife Asado, Bread

Anasazi Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Geoffrey’s Malibu – Malibu, California

Geoffrey’s Malibu, one of the most spectacular restaurants in California

The walls at Geoffrey’s Malibu are festooned with copies of whimsical framed “doodles” created by Hollywood celebrities and movie stars who have dined at the posh seaside restaurant. Most are tongue-in-cheek self-portraits which probably speak volumes about the glitterati themselves–and not just whether they lack or are blessed with an artistic talent beyond their particular medium. Thematically, all the portraits include a heart.  That’s because Harvey Baskin, the restaurant’s previous owner asked the artists to donate originals for publication and sale in support of a charity for children with heart disease. 

Jane Russell’s heart forms her shapely derriere at the terminus of legs which would otherwise go on forever.  George Burns’ bespectacled heart puffs on one of his beloved cigars.  Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but at Geoffrey’s Malibu it reputedly spans the Brooklyn Bridge.  Geoffrey’s neighbor Johnny Carson, obviously knowing his limitations, drew a simple heart and signed his name beneath it.  Woody Allen was clearly in his trademark dispirited disposition when he drew a broken heart

The view from the patio at Geoffrey’s Malibu

The fact that guests can dine at Geoffrey’s Malibu and not even notice the celebrity caricatures is a testament to the spectacular beauty surrounding the cliff-side restaurant which overlooks the churning Pacific.  In essence, Geoffrey’s is a curvilinear patio carved out of a Malibu hillside.  There’s an actual restaurant beyond the patio, but most diners want to imbibe the breathtaking scenery while enveloped in idyllic marine weather.  Virtually every table on the premises has unobstructed views of the ocean (unless it’s obfuscated by fog).  

There’s much credence to the argument that the drive to Malibu is even more jaw-dropping than the destination, especially if your route takes you through the Santa Monica Mountains on Kanan Dume Road. Even while the precipitous, winding road demands caution, you’ll ogle rocky promontories, verdant vineyards on steep angular hillsides and palatial estates rivaling French palaces.  You’ll drive through a series of double tunnels cut into the very rock itself.  You’ll marvel at every turn.

Caricatures of some of the many celebrities who have dined at Geoffrey’s Malibu

While the trek to Geoffrey’s Malibu may call to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote “life is a journey, not a destination,” the destination itself is absolutely magnificent.  Geoffrey’s is located mere feet from the Pacific Coast Highway which traverses the city affectionately nicknamed “the Bu” by locals.  It may as well be miles away from the rest of civilization.  Geoffrey’s has the preternatural ability to transport you away from your cares and toward a better self.  It’s al fresco dining at its very finest, a venue to be shared with loved ones. While our oft-recalcitrant dachshund child Tim dined with us, our good friend Sandy couldn’t make it.   

To ensure you’re not winded by a potentially long walk, you’ll definitely want to avail yourself of the valet parking services.  Geoffrey’s parking lot belies its daily guest list; it’s not nearly big enough to accommodate the fleet of BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, Silver Phantoms and the like driven by guests.  If you don’t want to witness the Jenga-like skill of the valets being played out on your vehicle, you can park instead on the shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway.  Some diners even park where signs indicate “No Parking.”

Rosemary bread and butter

Seating is in personal space proximity and the crashing waves a hundred feet away don’t muffle conversations very well. It’s easy to distinguish locals from tourists. Tourists gawk at their surroundings with an awestruck reverence while locals schmooze with the wait staff, an amazingly attentive phalanx of servers at your beck and call. Geoffrey’s is known to be a magnet for the well-heeled: celebrities, politicians, executives and the like, some of whom brandish a copy of the day’s Wall Street Journal and deliberate the financial section.

Shortly after you’re seated and menus are gently placed in your anxious hands, a server uses silver tongs to extricate a single bread roll from its warm repository.  Just out of the oven, it’s a rosemary foccacia from which wisps of steam escape when you cut into it.  The steam is redolent of rosemary, just enough to be discernible.  The foccacia is golden brown on the outside with just enough crust to hold in soft, tender and delicious innards.    It’s served with butter that’s easy to spread.

Sauteed Maine Mussels: Nueske’s Bacon, Whole Grain Mustard and Ale Butter Sauce, Grilled Bread

While no menu could possibly match the venue with its million dollar per square foot views, Geoffrey’s menu will elicit a few oohs and aahs–and not just because of the price point.  It’s an extravagant fine-dining menu even during lunchtime.  Segmented like most menus–Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Salad Entrees and Lunch Entrees–it’s rather seafood centric, fitting considering the milieu.   Just as many elements combine to create a classic restaurant, multifarious ingredients hallmarked by freshness, are needed to form an interesting and inviting menu.  Geoffrey’s has done this.

Save for an artisan cheese plate and baked brie in puff pastry, every item on the eight item appetizer menu showcases fresh seafood.  Sauteed Maine mussels are an outstanding option.  The broth is amazing, an ambrosia of Nueske’s bacon, tomatoes, whole grain mustard and ale butter.  If you’ve never had Nueske’s bacon, you’re in for a treat.  Nueske’s bacon is applewood smoked perfection which might just spoil all other bacon for you.  The salty smokiness permeates the broth and impregnates the briny mussels.  Two slices of grilled bread are available for dredging the broth, but a spoon works just as well.

Maine Lobster Cobb Salad

Nueske’s bacon finds its way into another entree, this one from the Salad Entrees section of the menu.  The Maine Lobster Cobb Salad demonstrates the versatility of lobster which is equally delicious steamed and served with melted butter or served cold as in this Geoffrey’s masterpiece.  A full pound (pre-cooked weight) lobster replete with knuckle and claw meat sits atop an otherwise standard Cobb salad with tomatoes, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, blue cheese crumbles and a lettuce mix drizzled with a honey Dijon vinaigrette.  It’s a beautifully composed salad with elegant twists sure to please the most discerning diners. 

Predictably, my entree featured two of my very favorite items-Maine lobster risotto and day boat scallops.  The term “day boat” indicates boats harvesting the scallops return to shore to at the end of each day, rather than spending days at sea.   It translates to much fresher, more delicious scallops.  Three large sizes scallops are perfectly seasoned and prepared, seared on the outside and medium-rare on the inside.  Characteristically sweet and thoroughly delicious, they exemplify freshness.

Sauteed Day Boat Sea Scallops: Maine Lobster Risotto, Pomegranate Reduction

The lobster risotto is perfectly prepared. A basic risotto requires a round, short grain, high starch rice.  From there, it’s a blank canvas for a wide variety of flavors, among them Maine lobster.  To be honest, there wasn’t much lobster in the risotto, nor was there enough risotto for that matter, but then there never is for me.  Geoffrey’s risotto is superb, but it was encircled in a pomegranate reduction that was perhaps too much of a flavor foil.  The pomegranate reduction’s tangy-sweet profile didn’t complement the risotto very well; a savory or cheesy reduction would have worked better. 

The dessert menu lists seven items including the same artisan cheese plate found on the appetizer menu.  In a rare feat of willpower, I eschewed the warm brioche bread pudding with a bourbon sauce and opted instead for chocolate hazelnut crunch bars with creme Anglaise and strawberry coulis.  It’s a very rich dessert showcasing a creamy wafer-like crust topped with a layer of even richer hazelnut (basically Nutella).  The strawberry coulis provides a tangy-sweet contrast to the nutty, crunchy and cloying crunch bars.

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars With Crème Anglaise and Strawberry Coulis

Dining at Geoffrey’s Malibu is feasting with your eyes in every sense of the term.  It’s one of the most amazing restaurants in California, a true pot of gold at the end of a truly spectacular rainbow.

Geoffrey’s Malibu
27400 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, California
(310) 457-1519
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 24
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Maine Lobster Cobb Salad, Sauteed Day Boat Sea Scallops, Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars, Sauteed Maine Mussels

Geoffrey's Malibu on Urbanspoon

JENNIFER JAMES 101 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Jennifer James 101 on Menaul

The number 101 has some very interesting connotations.  If you grew up in the 60s, you might remember the Benson & Hedges cigarette jingle, “One, oh, one, one, oh, one, a silly little millimeter longer one, oh, one, a silly millimeter longer.”  Talk about ear wax.  That jingle was like It’s A Small World and the Gilligan’s Island theme.  Once you got it into your head, you couldn’t get rid of it.

My brainiac mathematician friend Bill Resnik appreciates that 101 is the 26th prime number.  He points out that it’s also a palindromic number (a sequence that reads the same forward and backwards) or rather a palindromic prime.  Geekier friends like Craig Stegman and Kenny Sanchez, developers extraordinaire, know 101 as a dreaded “fatal error” status code. In academics, 101 connotes a beginning or basic-level course number taught in universities in many English speaking countries.  English 101, for example, is typically a remedial English course (not that I’d personally know anything about that).  It’s where students brush up on the basics to prepare themselves for upper level courses.

So why would Jennifer James, arguably Albuquerque’s very best chef, choose the number 101 to share her name on her restaurant’s appellation?   It’s all about going back to basics–not in the remedial sense of the word, but in the sense that basics connotes simple, clean food.  Of course, under her deft hands, simple food is prepared with the freshest, seasonal local ingredients available and  is executed so exceptionally well  that those ingredients literally speak for themselves.  101 also implies the chef’s willingness to learning constantly while imparting the fruits of her lessons to her customers–lessons such as the spirit of sustainability and the use of local ingredients.

At Jennifer James 101 (JJ101), you won’t find the fusion of disparate ingredients competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds.  Instead, you’ll find surprisingly simple flavor combinations which work well together harmoniously.  Dinner at JJ101 is your taste buds’ equivalent of a sweet symphony performed flawlessly in your mouth–the type of symphony for which your taste buds will desire encores.  As with a moving symphony,  blissful satisfaction will have your mind recalling every subtle nuance and concordant flavor profile of a truly captivating meal prepared by a consummate virtuoso.

A slice of bread with flavored butter

Jennifer James didn’t so much burst upon the fledgling Duke City dining scene as she did  win it  over quietly, but decisively.  While savvy diners  and a smitten media  certainly heralded the talented chef as a  formidable  force to watch,  their acclaim –though reverential in tone–seemed somewhat subdued, as if awaiting something even bigger and better than her first  eponymous venture,  the  diminutive but fabulous Jennifer James Contemporary Cuisine (on San Mateo).  That something “bigger and better” became manifest in 2002 when she launched Graze, a tapas restaurant which cemented her reputation as perhaps the city’s very best chef.

Graze was undeniably one of Albuquerque’s most popular and innovative restaurants, the cynosure of the burgeoning Nob Hill area dining scene.  After nearly four years at the helm of arguably the city’s most progressive restaurant, Jennifer left Graze, resultant from the dissolution of a business partnership in which a common vision and direction was no longer shared among parties.  She took a brief (albeit interminable for her followers going through  JJ withdrawal) sabbatical during which she traveled, cooked and planned her next venture.

Fortunately she chose to remain in Albuquerque which she sees as being on the cusp of emerging as a formidable dining destination.  JJ101 opened on April 29th, 2008, oddly well-distanced from the Nob Hill district which seems to preternaturally draw much of the city’s culinary innovation.  The restaurant is instead ensconced in an area not especially regarded for its restaurants, a denizen of a strip mall on Menaul, just a few blocks west of the Coronado Mall.  Interestingly, the “anchor tenant” of that restaurant for more than a year was a hot dog joint that has since left the area.

In 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 (five consecutive years) Jennifer James was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as best chef in the southwest, a validation of her place among the nation’s elite chefs.  A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world and is widely regarded as its equivalent of an Academy Award.  It’s quite likely the other nominees weren’t self-taught as Jennifer was.  Spending her childhood on a farm in Illinois had a profound influence that permeates her philosophies on fresh, farm to table ingredients.

Large family dinners also engendered an appreciation for community, the sharing of food.  In her fabulous tome, An Alphabet for Gourmets, M. F. K. Fisher wrote “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” Jennifer’s restaurants have cultivated that spirit.  At Graze, diners would order several different appetizer-sized small plates and share them among the table, a practice encouraged and facilitated.

The restaurant’s color palate is an interesting blend dominated by ocre-rouge walls punctuated by long, thin mirrors positioned both vertically and horizontally.  The ceilings have the contemporary touch of exposed dark grey ductwork.  Tables are adorned with white linen cloth contrasted by the black-backed chairs which are more functional than comfortable.  The solid, blond hardwood floors and suspended lampshade-style lighting provide plenty of illumination.

Menus are seasonal and even at that, are subject to change based on the availability of ingredients.  The menus are also small, a limited number of first course appetizers and a second main course menu plus the day’s specials.  Freshness of ingredients is absolutely guaranteed–in part because of the chef’s commitment, but also because the restaurant is too small to accommodate much storage.  As much as possible, ingredients are procured locally from area farmers with whom relationships have been established.  Fish is flown in overnight from the Pacific Northwest with wild river salmon a favorite.

Shortly after you’re seating, the amuse bouche of the day is brought to your table. Fortune smiles upon you if it’s the pickled cucumbers and onions.  Served in a small ramekin reminiscent of those used in Korean restaurants for the variety of pickled vegetable dishes known collectively as namul, this is a fabulous introduction to the creative simplicity of a brilliant chef.  The cucumbers are sliced razor-thin, almost to the point of being transparent.  Wholly unlike sour dill pickles, this cucumber-onion amalgam is sweet without being cloying, tangy without pursing your lips and crunchy with a snap of freshness.

The staff of life featured at JJ101 is a crusty slice of bread; it comes courtesy of Santa Fe’s Sage Bakehouse, an artisan baker non-pareil.  It’s a delicious masterpiece studded by another unique Jennifer James twist–butter accentuated by complementary ingredients you might not believe can improve butter as much as they do.  Think butter tinged with a subtle hint of curry or lemon, neither in such quantity that they dominate your taste buds, but both in perfect proportion to tease and tantalize them when spread on a yeasty canvas.

Appetizers

21 June 2008: Years of dining at Jennifer James restaurants should have taught me not to be surprised at just how wonderfully executed simple foods are under her talented hands, but every visit brings with it new surprises.  One of my favorite first-course surprises is the freshness and deliciousness of flash-fried oysters.  As good…make that better…than any I’ve had in New Orleans, these pearlescent beauties are sheathed in a thin, golden batter that crunches slightly as you bite into them, releasing the briny sweetness characteristic of fresh oysters.

Arugula Salad

22 May 2010: Another first course executed extremely well is an arugula salad with dried apricots and a hazelnut vinaigrette.  As with many Jennifer James creations, it’s not overdone with a plethora of ingredients; it’s a mound of fresh arugula leaves with just enough dried apricots for contrast.  It’s an interesting contrast at that.  Arugula is an aromatic salad green with a slightly peppery flavor while dried apricots have a burst of sweetness tinged with just a hint of tanginess.  The hazelnut vinaigrette is lightly applied and provides an interestingly crunchy texture to the greenery.

Ahi Tuna Sashimi, Tatsoi, Wasabi-Soy Vinaigrette, Ginger

3 August 2012: For diners who appreciate a greater greenery variety than the small garden salad usually served with sushi, many Japanese restaurants have a section on the menu dedicated to salads. Typically Japanese salads are crunchy, sprightly and made with fresh ingredients including sashimi, but too many are given misleading names such as “Viagra” and are then dressed with an overly sweet-tangy dressing which deflates the salad’s heat-generating properties. Leave it to Jennifer James to create a Japanese inspired salad with a better balance of flavors than we’ve experienced at any Japanese restaurant. Instead of conventional greens, the salad is made with tatsoi (sometimes called spinach mustard) which has lush green, spoon-shaped leaves and a sharp, strong, slightly spicy flavor. The salad is stacked with gloriously red, wonderfully fresh ahi tuna then drizzled with a wasabi-soy vinaigrette tinged with ginger which accentuates the wasabi without watering your eyes or overpowering other ingredients. Featured in the summer 2012 menu, it’s easily one of the best Japanese inspired salads I’ve ever had.

Caramelized onion and garlic galette with Gruyere

3 August 2012: Almost at the opposite extreme of the ahi tuna salad and its complex flavor profile is a caramelized onion and garlic galette which is magnificent because of its simplicity and delicateness. The term galette has been used to describe a fairly wide variety of flaky pastries which can be filled with either savory or sweet ingredients, but the best description I’ve read comes from Noelle Carter of the Los Angeles Times who calls the galette “pie’s free-form cousin.” In filling the galette with caramelized onions, JJ101 managed a harmonious interplay of both sweet and savory. The onions are browned slowly so the onion’s natural sugars caramelize, emphasizing its natural sweetness. A sheen of Gruyere, a slightly sweet, slightly musty cheese tops the galette. It’s a wonderful marriage. The galette itself is light and flaky with rich, buttery undertones.

Lobster tail salad

Chilled Lobster  salad

10 March 2014: During an intimate evening with Merry Edwards, the Doyenne of California winemakers, JJ101 showcased the pairing of wine and food.  Holding fast to my stance that I won’t drink (not even a drop) adult beverages when driving, I can’t offer a first-hand perspective on the quality of the wines, but every diner at our table raved about them.  A Sauvignon Blanc was paired with a chilled lobster salad as luxurious and fresh as any you’ll find in Maine.  The lobster had a remarkable for New Mexico “just caught” freshness with chilled, not frozen flavor.  The bite-sized chunks of lobster meat from the tail and claws were delicate and sweet, steamed to perfection.  Unctuous avocados, tangy grapefruits and sliced red peppers provided complementary and contrasting elements to the light salad drizzled sparsely with a light dressing.  It was a perfect way to begin a terrific evening.

Entrees

Oyster Po’ Boy with bacon-salted housemade chips

3 August 2012: With her first bite of the fried oyster Po’ Boy, our friend Kimber Scott enthusiastically proclaimed the oysters “the best I’ve ever had.” That’s quite an endorsement considering Kimber hailed from Houston, Texas where the Gulf Coast’s silky, pearlescent beauties are extracted from cool waters every day. We lived 90 miles east of New Orleans where we also had boatloads of oyster Po’ Boys and none were nearly as good as JJ’s version. Interestingly, the best fried oysters I’ve ever had come from Albuquerque restaurants—JJ101 and Cafe Jean Pierre. These oysters are fried in a light batter which yields with a satisfying crunch to the warm, moist, and succulent oyster within. Their flavor is deeply earthy and satisfying, and the experience might lead one to prayer of gratitude. The Po’ Boy is served with housemade chips flavored with a bacon salt.

Grilled buffalo New York strip steak with Crispy Shallots

3 August 2012: Steaks are a frequent offering on the seasonal repertory, and not always beef steaks. The Summer, 2012 menu included a grilled buffalo New York strip steak which has far fewer calories and saturated fat than steaks made from beef. Buffalo also has a “sweeter” and livelier flavor than beef without gaminess. Jennifer James manages a seared-in charred crust that belies a medium-rare degree of doneness, not an easy feat. The steak is tender with a flavor reminiscent of high quality, high grade beef. Similar to premium steak and chop houses throughout the Midwest, the steak is topped with a melting butter (olive oil butter in this case) which adds a moist glaze and penetrates the meat with a subtle buttery flavor. The steak is then topped with crispy shallots, luscious tangles of sweet onions and certainly not a gourmet twist on French’s fried onions. 

Wagyu Beef with Tallow Frites

Wagyu Beef with Tallow Frites

10 March 2014:  In recent years, wagyu beef has become so de rigueur in fine dining restaurants that the novelty is all but worn out and the thrill is all but gone.  Given the option of a wagyu beef steak or a USDA Prime Beef (dry-aged, of course), many diners will opt for the latter.  Wagyu beef at JJ101 should never elicit a ho-hum reaction.  Not only is the beef characteristically rich and unctuous with a perfect marbling of fat to meat ratio, it is as carne adovada tender.  During a wine-tasting dinner honoring winemaker extraordinaire Merry Edwards, JJ101 infused wagyu beef with a huckleberry and molasses sauce which imparted a slightly sweet-tart flavor.  Wonderful as the wagyu beef was, the conversation at our table centered around the herb-tallow frites which all agreed were among the very best we’ve ever had.  Tallow (rendered fat), by the way, is what made McDonald’s fries so good.  JJ101’s herb-tallow fries would put McDonald’s fries to shame.  They’re crisp on the outside, fluffy and light on the inside and nicely salted.

Almond Crusted Halibut

22 May 2010: Back to basics with seafood means letting its inherent flavors shine on their own with very little embellishment to complement (and certainly not mask) those flavors.  In too many restaurants seafood is desecrated with ingredients seemingly trying to render the seafood fruity or cloying.  It’s an abomination!  Those purveyors of fishy perversion should take a lesson from Jennifer James and let the seafood speak for itself.They could start by trying to mimic Jennifer’s almond-crusted halibut.  The nutty crunch of a lightly-applied almond crust is a nice surprise, but the better surprise is just how moist and tender the halibut is and how delicate and flaky its white flesh is.  Halibut is a mild-tasting fish especially popular among those who don’t like “fishy-tasting” seafood.  It is served with a basmati rice so light and delicate as to have ethereal qualities, especially when sitting on a shallow pool of a  superb curry vinaigrette.  Sliced carrots prepared in accordance with French tradition are sweet and delicious with a snap of freshness.

Fried catfish, bacon hushpuppies, chow chow and black pepper aioli

22 May 2010: Having spent eight years in Mississippi and in close proximity to America’s most prolific aquaculture industry, I’ve long lamented the absence of great catfish in New Mexico.  Restaurateurs in the Land of Enchantment seem determined to coat catfish in sawdust and serve it as desiccated as beef jerky.  Jennifer James’ version of  fried catfish is several orders of magnitude better than any catfish I’ve had in New Mexico and on par with the very best experienced in the Magnolia State.  Two filets of lightly-coated catfish about a half-inch thick are moist and fresh, an exemplar of flavor.

The catfish are served with hushpuppies impregnated with bacon.  Hushpuppies are deep-fried cornmeal dumplings that traditionally accompany catfish throughout the South.  Bacon is a whimsical Jennifer James improvisation that works exceptionally well.  So does the chow chow, an American pickled relish served throughout the South.  Chow chow is made with a variety of ingredients which generally have a balanced flavor profile that includes just enough piquancy to grab your attention as well as sweet and tangy pronouncements.  Jennifer James’ version is the very best I’ve ever had–even better than the chow chow in a New Orleans French market off Jackson Square.

Risotto: roasted squash, tuscan kale, parmesan, pumpkin seeds

17 November 2010: I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that in my entire half century on this planet, I’ve had outstanding risotto only a handful of times.  By outstanding, I mean the type of risotto that elicited the type of reaction one of George Costanza’s girlfriends had when partaking of an especially wonderful risotto. In a memorable Seinfeld episode, the post-coital ritual of lighting up a cigarette was lampooned–only in this case George Costanza’s girlfriend lit up contentedly after a satisfying meal of risotto. The noisy ardor with which she consumed the risotto was something the ego-fragile George couldn’t elicit from her in the bedroom.

Jennifer James’ version of risotto is in the upper tier of the best risotto I’ve ever had and unlike others in that elite class, it isn’t studded with lobster, seafood or honey-roasted duck as were other memorable entrees of risotto I’ve had.  In fact, unlike the risotto that now exists solely in fond memories, the 101 version doesn’t include seafood or poultry.  The JJ version is a celebration of fall’s bounty, showcasing roasted squash, Tuscan kale, Parmesan and pumpkin seeds.  A risotto this absolutely perfect, so stunningly delicious undoubtedly requires very close tending to as risotto is a complex, multi-step to prepare entree.  The fruits of that monitoring is a rich, smooth, creamy…and comforting consistency coupled with a rare deliciousness rarely found in any rice entree. 

Risotto with Pork Belly

Risotto with Pork Belly

10 March 2014:  Aside from the company of Franzi, Albuquerque’s most beauteous barrister, the highlight of my evening during the Merry Edwards wine-tasting dinner was an incredibly rich, swoon-inspiring risotto punctuated with crispy pork jowl “chicharrones”, thinly sliced radishes and micro-herbs and served with a pork belly hunk.  The risotto joins the pantheon of rarefied risotto I’ve had–a risotto so good, it made a convert out of a nay-sayer at our table who believes the origin of risotto to have been an accident wrought by overcooking.  The pork belly was no accident.  It was porcine perfection, the answer to the critics who decry bacon to be “so over.”

Corn Smut – Fresh Corn Tamale, Chipotle Cream, Roasted Corn Salsa

3 August 2012: Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations have been reportedly making tamales at least since 5000BC. Although New Mexicans (we’re so spoiled) tend to associate tamales with corn husks filled with steamed corn masa and chile marinated pork, the versatility of tamales is virtually endless. The options, both sweet and savory, are limited solely by the imagination. JJ puts her own unique spin in creating some of the very best non- traditionally New Mexican tamales I’ve had and showcasing them in the Summer, 2012 menu. Sweet corn masa is punctuated by the unique flavor of huitlacoche (corn smut on the menu), a gnarly, slimy, sometimes gooey, ink-black corn fungus long savored in Mexico. Corn smut is imbued with an earthy, musky flavor some compare to truffles. The tamales are topped with a roasted corn salsa made from corn niblets scraped from the cob and a chipotle cream which packs a delightful punch.

Yogurt-marinated grilled chicken breast, Tabbouleh, Tomatoes

3 August 2012: It’s long been my concerted opinion that the one protein which is most vastly underutilized below its potential is chicken. Still, so many restaurants serve a perfunctory chicken breast entrée, most so boring they can render diners narcoleptic. Many are predictably bland and the restaurant’s efforts to provide something dietetic. JJ101 brings chicken to life! Her yogurt-marinated grilled chicken breast renders chicken more than interesting; it makes it delicious. The grilling process imprints the chicken breast with a deliciously charred crust. The chicken itself is moist and flavorful with briny notes. Accompaniments include a timbale-shaped “summery” fresh tabbouleh topped with sliced tomatoes.

Grilled mahi mahi, roasted parsnips, garlic confit, lemon, butter, parsley

17 November 2010: Deliciousness is imparted on every morsel of JJ’s grilled mahi mahi served with roasted parsnips, roasted garlic and parsley.  The subtlety of the butter, lemon and garlic confit with which the mahi mahi is grilled is like a sweet whisper across the pillow from a lover.  That subtlety means the flavor of the mahi mahi comes across wonderfully.  Interestingly mahi mahi translates from Hawaiian to “strong, strong” not because its flavor is especially strong, but because of its strength and fighting ability.  Thankfully that strength doesn’t translate to its flavor which can be exceptional.  It’s not “fishy” tasting and has a firm white flesh with a slightly sweet flavor needing little help to shine.  JJ obviously realizes this.  The accompaniment–roasted parsnips, roasted garlic and parsley are terrific in their own right.

Dessert

Hot milk cake with fresh strawberries and cream

22 May 2010: The dessert menu lists only a handful of post-prandial treats and as with other menus, offerings showcase seasonally available ingredients.  Early summer might mean a hot milk cake with fresh strawberries and cream, Jennifer James’ version of strawberry shortcake but legions better.  Hot milk cake is not unlike tres leches cake in that it’s moist and buttery though not nearly as spongy as its Mexican relative.  It’s also a cake so difficult to prepare correctly that only the most confident and well-practiced chefs should endeavor to do so.  The strawberries and cream transported me to the banks of the Windrush River in Bourton on the Water where I last had strawberries as succulent, fresh and delicious and cream so delightfully graceful and light.

Top: New Mexico Honey Panna Cotta with Plums
Bottom: Chocolate Cream Pie

3 August 2012: The Summer, 2012 menu featured seasonal desserts showcasing cool, fresh ingredients and fruits in season. The New Mexico Honey Panna Cotta with Plums answers the question “what would silk taste like.” The panna cotta, an Italian cooked cream dessert has an ethereal, slightly wobbly texture and a flavor that hints of star anise. It’s topped with wondrous New Mexico honey, the best in the world (but I’m not biased about my home state). The plums are fresh and juicy with a sweet tanginess that complements the more neutral sweetness of the panna cotta. The Chocolate Cream Pie is dense and dreamy, a chocolate lover’s little piece of heaven. The chocolate is, much like French gateaus, not overly sweet or bitter, but deeply chocolaty. It’s also deeply addictive.

Plum Cake with Black Pepper Ice Cream

Plum Cake with Black Pepper Ice Cream

10 March 2014:  There may be no challenge as formidable as declaring one dessert (appetizer or entree, too, for that matter) at JJ101 your very favorite.  Just when you thought you’ve experienced perfection, you partake of something that exceeds perfection.  My current favorite dessert at JJ101 (at least until my next visit) is a brown sugar cake stuffed with tangy red plums topped with a dollop of black pepper ice cream.  Every element of this dessert stands out.  Every element comes together.  The sweet-tangy, richly flavored amber fleshed plums marry oh so memorably with black pepper (who’d have thought) ice cream.  By itself, the brown sugar cake would have earned my adulation.  The coalescence–the whole–earned my devotion.

Chocolate Pudding Cake

17 November 2010: Another exceptional desert is the chocolate pudding cake made with an adult chocolate (semi-sweet).  It is a rich and moist, its center not quite of molten liquidity as pudding-influenced cakes sometimes tend to be.  Instead, the moistness is distributed evenly throughout the cake.  Every forkful is blessed with a sexy sweetness that imparts itself on your taste buds for a while. 

In its annual food and wine issue for 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Jennifer James’ fried kale a “Hot Plate Award” as the “Hot Garnish” Albuquerque can’t live without. Frankly, “can’t live without” could describe almost everything on the menu.  The reasons for which she was nominated for a James Beard award are in evidence in every meal at Jennifer James 101.  It’s a transformative experience for cynics who decry what can be done with simplicity and freshness of ingredients.  It’s back to basics in the very best sense of the term–and it’s much more than a silly millimeter better than most restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.

JENNIFER JAMES 101
4615 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-3860
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2014
1st VISIT: 21 June 2008
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 26
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Fried Oysters, Foie Gras, Arugula Salad, Almond-Crusted Halibut, Fried Catfish, Milk Cake, New York Strip, Chocolate Pudding Cake, Risotto, Mahi Mahi, Oyster Po’ Boy, Yogurt-marinated grilled chicken breast, Grilled buffalo New York strip steak, Caramelized onion and garlic galette, Ahi Tuna Sashimi, Corn Smut – Fresh Corn Tamale, Lobster Salad, Wagyu Beef, Red Plum Cake

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