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Santacafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santacafe, a Santa Fe Institution Since 1983

Is there anything as pure and simple as the innocence of a child, especially during the most magical time of the year? When my then six-year-old niece penned a heartfelt letter to Santa Claus, there was no doubt in her mind that her letter would be delivered and her wish would be granted. After all, she had been extra good all year long and what she wanted for Christmas was so reasonable. My niece’s fondest Christmas wish was that her family dine at Santacafe—not because of its reputation for inspired cuisine, but because she was sure she would meet jolly old Saint Nick at his restaurant “Santa Café.”

It’s entirely possible my niece may have been the only person ever to have suffered a crushing disappointment at Santacafe, an elegant edifice which has been fulfilling wishes of discerning diners ever since it launched in 1983. In its three decades plus of pleasing the refined and pedantic palates of Santa Fe’s residents and visitors, Santacafe has been consistently regarded as one of the City Different’s very best, an institution the New York Times called “a restaurant to love, offering perhaps the best combination of inspired food and attractive surroundings in the city.”

Georgia O’Keefe Inspired Dining Room Complete with Elk Antlers Over Fireplace

As you approach from Washington Avenue, those attractive surroundings won’t jump out at you nor will Santacafe’s rather austere signage. In fact, the restaurant’s frontage is rather homogeneous, albeit a lighter adobe hued than most. Step into the boulder-strewn courtyard with its canopies of towering shade-providing trees and you’ll be magically transported (at least for a little while) to another place, an even better Santa Fe. When the air cools, you can retreat to one of the four small dining rooms where kiva style fireplaces form the cynosure for otherwise minimalistic and immaculately white surroundings in which the color of the tablecloths matches the color of the walls. Close proximity seating has the advantage of being able to see the culinary classics being delivered to your neighbors’ tables.

Long before it was a restaurant, the adobe abode was the home of Jose Manuel Gallegos, an ordained Roman Catholic priest who eventually dedicated himself entirely to politics, even serving two stints on the United States Congress. In the novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, author Willa Cather depicted Padre Gallegos as a hedonistic glutton and gambler. These contentions were disputed and disproved by noted historian Fray Angelico Chavez who ultimately established that racist writers and historians had unjustly besmirched New Mexico and its Hispanic citizenry whom they painted as dissolute and indolent.

Bread

Over the years, Santacafe has attracted its share of the glitterati—both to the “front” and the “back of the house.” From 1997 through 1997, Ming Tsai served as executive chef, earning “best chef in Santa Fe” honors and garnering a “27” out of “30” in the 1996 Zagat Guide. Tsai’s “East meets Southwest Cuisine” concept drew the interest of the Food Network where a year after leaving Santacafe, he began hosting an Emmy award-winning show called “East Meets West.” Giada De Laurentiis, another Food Network luminary never worked Santacafe’s hallowed kitchen, but she did visit the restaurant in 1997 for her “Giada’s Weekend Getaway” show.

The influence of Ming Tsai is still very much in evidence on the menu (including the shiitake-and-cactus spring rolls with Southwestern ponzu dipping sauce), but Giada’s influence may be even more prevalent in the form of diners attempting to mimic her dining experience. Like the toothsome beauty, they ogle the covered 40-foot well by the bar which dates back to 1857. They pick up the crayons provided on each table and draw on the white paper atop the even whiter table cloths. They order what Giada ordered. That would be the swoon-inducing crispy calamari and the vegetarian chile relleno. Both are excellent choices!

Mexican Braised Beef & Chorizo Quesadilla

The menu is replete with excellent choices. It’s a frequently changing digest of deliciousness, with items in red denoting changes through the month as fresh, seasonal produce becomes available. It’s the type of menu about which you’re likely to ask your servers a few clarifying questions (is the lobster roll made with mayo, for example). It’s the type of menu you’ll peruse at length because there are so many options that sound equally appealing.

Fortunately while you’re perusing the menu, your servers will deliver a basket of yeasty, crusty bread and crispy flatbread impregnated with red chile. Whipped butter from a small ramekin spreads easily over the bread, but you won’t want anything touching the flatbread which has a discernible bite (the type of which traumatizes tourists, but delights locals). You’re likely to polish off the basket before appetizers arrive, but servers will happily oblige (and likely expect) requests for bread replenishment.

Grilled Angus Petite Filet

The aforementioned crispy calamari that so besotted Giada spearheads the triumvirate of appetizer “classics” which also include the aforesaid cactus spring rolls as well as shrimp and spinach dumplings with tahini sauce. Chimayo red chile onion rings with Judy’s catsup (more on this later) are another popular choice. You might also opt for the Mexican braised beef and chorizo quesadilla with Asadero cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo and crema fresca. The tortilla, with prominent striations from a grill, can’t hold in all the ingredients or their flavor.  It’s a winner and so are accompanying condiments, especially the dill-infused crema fresca.

One of the reasons I suggested earlier that you ask questions about menu items in which you’re interested is  because you want to ensure what you order is precisely what is delivered to your table and not necessarily an interpretation of an item you ordered.  In ordering the grilled Angus petite filet with pommes frites, we expected traditional French fried potatoes–not necessarily thickly cut but certainly not elongated, thinly-cut shoestring potatoes.  Ordinarily shoestring potatoes are fine, but they are absolutely wasted on some of the best restaurant ketchup we’ve had in years.  “Judy’s Catsup,” named for co-owner Judith. Ebbinghaus, is so good we picked up a bottle when we left.

Baby Arugula Salad

As for the grilled Angus petite filet, there’s accuracy and truth in the menu.  It’s most definitely petite, probably no more than five or six ounces.  It’s also swimming in a pool of thyme demiglace.  Thyme, with its light bouquet, probably gained more notoriety from Scarborough Fair, the Simon & Garfunkel song, than it has from any items with which it’s prepared.  Because thyme has a faintly lemony flavor and light bouquet, it’s not an overpowering culinary herb.  Had it been rendered from just about any other herb, the demiglace would have obfuscated the flavor of the filet entirely.

Salads, some of the most creative and delicious in town, are always a good bet at Santacafe.  The Baby Arugula Salad is our favorite, a large plate splayed with a mound of baby arugula crowned with a single Spanish goat cheese croquette, pears, Chimayo red chile candied pecans and pomegranate seeds drizzled with a pomegranate vinaigrette.  The distinctive peppery flavors of adult arugula are diminished somewhat on baby arugula, but you’ll likely be focusing on the harmony of the many complementary ingredients on this salad.

Award-Winning Chocolate Mousse

For some reason, the highlight of our visits to Santacafe tends to be the restaurant’s decadent and delightful desserts.  A half dozen tempting treats are available for your postprandial pleasure.  Make sure the one you order if you’re only having one is the award-winning chocolate mousse, an “adult” chocolate mold stuffed with a thick mousse on a plate decorated with a blood orange-caramelized pineapple glaze and Grand Marnier whipped cream topped with red chile candied pecans.  It’s one of my very favorite desserts in New Mexico, a dessert worth doing several hundred extra sit-ups for (and I hate sit-ups).

For my Kim, sweltering summer days are the best excuse for her favorite dessert of all–ice cream or any of its relatives.  In Santacafe’s sorbet trio, she may have found her very favorite.  That terrific trio showcases the fruity deliciousness of mango, lemon and raspberry, all made on the premises and each idealizing the native flavors of the fruits from which they are made.  She enjoys the sorbet trio so much, she gives me the three accompanying old-fashioned cookies so the cookies don’t interrupt her enjoyment of the sorbet.

Sorbet Trio

My niece long ago came to the realization that Santa Cafe isn’t Santa’s Cafe.  She’s also come to the realization that Santacafe is a gift that keeps on giving and has been doing so for more than three decades.

Santacafe
231 Washington Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 984-1788
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Chocolate Mousse, Sorbet Trio, Mexican Braised Beef & Chorizo Quesadilla, Grilled Angus Petite Filet, Baby Arugula Salad, Bread

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Elaine’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Elaine’s on Central Avenue in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District

“They were all impressed with your Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine’s”.
~Big Shot by Billy Joel

For nearly five decades–from 1963 through 2011–“the place to be” in Manhattan’s trendy Upper East Side was Elaine’s, perhaps the city’s most celebrated and revered A-lister’s hangout.  Everyone who was anyone frequented Elaine’s, an eponymous establishment in which luminaries came to see and be seen.  Celebrity habitues included glitterati from stage, screen, television, literature and politics such as Woody Allen, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Mick Jagger, Jacqueline Kennedy, Jack Nicholson, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Andy Warhol and Raquel Welch.  Elaine Kaufman was the peripatetic presence around whom the celebrities flocked, the geocentric personality whose gravitational pull drew them all in.

Every chic and cosmopolitan city has its own “place to be,” a vibrant cultural, retail and entertainment hub with its own distinctive sights, sounds and flavors. In Albuquerque, that cultural hub is Nob Hill, a fusion of trendy shops, eclectic galleries and swank dining options. The history of Nob Hill is interlaced with that of Route 66, the fabled “Mother Road” which once traversed the fruited plain from Chicago to Los Angeles. Remnants of Route 66 in its halcyon days festoon Nob Hill in the form of vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through Central Avenue where Route 66 once ran. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon is akin to a siren’s call, drawing visitors to the area like moths to a flame.

The interior of Elaine’s

In October, 2013, a new fine-dining restaurant patterned after chic Manhattan eateries launched in the Nob Hill district. Fittingly, the restaurant’s name is Elaine’s which translates from Greek to “ray of light,” a term which not only describes the resplendent nighttime glow of Route 66, but  the lovely lady for whom the restaurant was named. That would be Elaine Blanco, long-time general manager of Scalo, a Duke City dining institution situated directly across the street.

It remains to be seen whether Elaine’s of Albuquerque ever achieves–at least at a local level–the eminence and prominence of its fabled Manhattan namesake or even whether or not it becomes “the place to be” in the Duke City. In less than two years (as of this writing), however, Elaine’s has already been recognized by one source with a worldwide presence as one of “Albuquerque’s ten best restaurants.”  The Albuquerque Journal touted Elaine’s for bringing a “New York vibe to Nob Hill.”  In that respect, Elaine’s actualizes the vision conceptualized by founders Elaine Blanco and restaurant impresario Steve Paternoster.

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An amazing amuse bouche: sopaipillas with honey butter sprinkled with shaved prosciutto

Elaine’s is elegant yet unpretentious with an energetic vibe hinting at targeting a young professional demographic. Seating for 52 guests is in personal space proximity with banquettes hugging the walls and tables in the center adorned in white linen tablecloths and fine silverware. The cynosure of the dining room is a well appointed bar. Evocative art hangs on the walls while eclectic music plays in the background.

Initially serving only dinner, Elaine’s culinary philosophy is ambitious but simple: “We combine fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers and purveyors with the best products from around the world. We strive to bring a new approach to food and dining in Albuquerque with the latest cooking techniques and exciting flavor profiles.”  The menu features rotating seasonal dishes at price points that won’t break the bank. That is unless Elaine’s is offering Osetra caviar from Russia, (as they were during the night of our inaugural visit) one of the premium caviars in the world. We were tempted, but an ounce would have set us back a princely sum.

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Blue Crab & Cauliflower Soup

1 November 2013: More to the liking of my wallet is an amuse bouche of tiny sopaipillas served with a honey butter laced with shaved bits of prosciutto. The sopaipillas are served just out-of-the-fryer-hot, with wisps of fragrant steam escaping when you bite into them. They’re so addictive, we asked for another order.  Don’t spare the butter even if it means a couple hours longer on the treadmill.  The melding of salty prosciutto and luscious honey is sheer genius.

The “small plates” section of the menu features an array of tempting starters showcasing creatively prepared vegetables and salads as well as proteins from the land and sea.  Albuquerque the Magazine bestowed its highest culinary award, a “Hot Plate” to one of those small plates–the miso ramen.  The award signifies appetizers, dishes, desserts, drinks and restaurants “that we can’t live without.”   The starters menu is replete with sophisticated options that speak volumes about the chef’s creativity.  That chef would be Andrew Gorski, a highly credentialed sage who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America before studying under world-renowned chefs and working at some of the most celebrated restaurants in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Lamb Chops

The “large” menu is a descriptor for the more costly and sizable dinner entrees.  In numerical terms, it’s certainly not a large menu, listing only six entrees.  The spring, 2015 menu lists a burger (brioche, foie gras, aioli, kale, onion, cheese), half chicken, pork rib chop, halibut, filet mignon and Maine Lobster.  Don’t get too used to any of these entrees because the menu does rotate with the seasons.  On one hand, not seeing your favorites on the menu every time you visit can be heartbreaking, but on the other, you’re sure to find new favorites.

1 November 2013: Chilled to our bones from winds that buffeted our car mercilessly on the night of our inaugural visit, we opted for a blue crab and cauliflower soup redolent with the fragrance of black truffles and curry oil. The two-step presentation of this soup enhanced our enjoyment. First our server directed our attention to a concave bowl, the bottom of which was brimming with finely chopped blue crab strewn and shaved black truffles. Then he poured the contents of a decanter of cauliflower soup atop the contents.

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Potted Black Pig

Superb as the blue crab and black truffles were, it was the curry oil that elevated the soup beyond mere comfort food level to the rarefied air of greatness. The delicate blue crab was allowed to shine in a flavor profile of ingredients which could have easily taken over had they not been so well balanced. This soup was the perfect elixir for a blustery evening, imparting the type of warmth that caresses your joints without singeing your tongue.

1 November 2013: During our inaugural visit, the line-up of luscious proteins features two seafood dishes and three meat entrees. The lamb chops were almost picturesque in their presentation. Nestled in a pool of whipped Yukon mashed potatoes were a trio of lollipop lamb chops, so called because part of the bone is exposed, making them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine-dining restaurant). Each lamb chop is pert and petite, but packed with flavor and tenderness. The chops are rimmed with a slight layer of fat that adds to the flavor, melding well with a tamarind sauce.

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Warmed Carrot Cake

1 November 2013: Pork, the other white meat, was well represented with a spotted black pig entrée in a miso broth served with a single ash ravioli topped with brussel leaves. The spotted black pig was deliciously decadent with a flavorful balance of unctuous fat and rich, tender meat. This was porcine perfection, as delicate and flavorful as any pork dish we’ve had.  It’s easy to see why the miso broth would go on to earn a “Hot Plate” award from Albuquerque The Magazine.   The ash ravioli, engorged with sweet parsnips, was worthy accompaniment.  Parsnips, by the way, are a vastly underutilized root vegetable.

1 November 2013: Desserts are avant-garde in their interpretation of traditional favorites. The warmed carrot cake, for example, is hardly your mom’s carrot cake. It is, instead, a way to appreciate carrots in three ways: candied, confit and with a cream cheese spume. It’s not sliced into a traditional carrot cake slab, but plated in seeming disarray with cake on the rim of the plate as well as on the cream cheese spume. While it may not win awards for neatness and presentation, it will win over your heart and taste buds.

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Elaine’s Candy Bar

1 November 2013: Named for the peripatetic restaurateur, the Elaine’s Candy Bar is a chocoholic’s dream, a rectangular slab of rich dark chocolate served with a single scoop of coconut ice cream and toasted cashews. The effect of capturing both candy bar and coconut ice cream on each spoonful is akin to partaking of the very best Mounds bar you’ve ever had.

31 May 2015:  In New Mexico, there almost seems to be a template for brunch.  Some diners like the comfort of knowing what to expect–huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, omelets and the like.  Others, however, have been clamoring for something different, something new and exciting.  That’s what Elaine’s is striving to offer with the brunch offering it inaugurated on 31 May 2015.  It’s a brunch heretofore unseen in the Land of Enchantment.  It’s a brunch you’re more likely to see in…well, Manhattan.

Ceviche

31 May 2015: There are only nine items on the menu.  The first two are composed salads.  The remainder are seafood items.  Red and green chile don’t appear anywhere on the menu so if you’re of the ilk who has to enjoy chile with every meal, you’re out of luck.  Others who have lamented the absence of high quality seafood in the landlocked Land of Enchantment will find Elaine’s brunch a welcome difference. It’s the brunch for the seafood lover in you.

31 May 2015:  Many New Mexicans, especially those who frequent Mexican restaurants, have an intimate relationship with ceviche, raw seafood “cooked” in citrus juices.  Often served on a tostada shell, ceviche is a terrific way to start a meal.  The ceviche at Elaine’s is reminiscent of a cross between a campechana and ceviche.  The former is a Mexican seafood cocktail served  with Clamato and lime juices in a goblet and tinged with a hot sauce and diced vegetables.  Served in a bowl, the ceviche at Elaine’s is more liquefied (Clamato or tomato juice spiked with Tabasco sauce) than ceviche served in Duke City Mexican restaurants.  Swimming in that liquid pool are avocados, cucumbers, red onions, garlic and a generous complement of tiger shrimp.  It’s an excellent starter.

Lobster Roll

31 May 2015:  Throughout New England, there’s a contentious debate as to how to prepare a lobster roll.  While no one will debate the sheer deliciousness of luscious lobster nestled in a split top roll, some New Englanders consider it sacrilegious to desecrate a lobster roll with mayo.  Some purists will accept only warm clarified butter as the proper dressing for a lobster roll.  At Elaine’s, the lobster is generously endowed with mayo and it is perfectly fine with us.  Spilling over the sweet, tender split roll is at least half a pound of rich lobster meat, mostly from claws and knuckles.  Lobster love in Albuquerque is alive, well and delicious at Elaine’s.

31 May 2015:  Fittingly, the largest brunch item has been christened the “Grand Plateau,” a platter brimming with a netful of seafood: four king crab legs, six oysters on the half shell and eight tiger shrimp.  Served on an ice bed isn’t my Kim’s preference for crab legs, but she was well sated when our server ferried over a ramekin of hot, clarified butter.  The accompanying sauces–a combustible cocktail sauce and a remoulade–paired well with the other seafood items, but crab legs marry best with butter. The oysters and shrimp are excellent reminders that while chile is incomparable, seafood is sensational, too.

Grand Plateau

The wait staff is ambassadorial in its courtesy and nearly encyclopedic in its knowledge of the menu and wine list. Elaine’s is a relatively new addition to the Nob Hill dining scene, but it has all the memorable qualities needed to become a Duke City fixture like Route 66 and Nob Hill.

Elaine’s
3503 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 555-5555
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2015
1st VISIT: 1 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Blue Crab & Cauliflower Soup, Spotted Black Pig, Lamb Chops, Warmed Carrot Cake, Elaine’s Candy Bar, Ceviche, Grand Plateau, Lobster Roll

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Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nick & Jimmy's Bar & Grill on Pan American Frontage Road

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill on Pan American Frontage Road

Legendary American chef, author and television personality Julia Child was often exasperated with what she perceived as American’s propensity for culinary laziness, once commenting that “the trend in the U.S.A. was toward speed and the elimination of work.”   “Americans,” she noted, equated as “gourmet” such “horrible glop” as “TV dinners, frozen vegetables, canned mushrooms, fish sticks, Jell-O salads, marshmallows and spray-can whipped cream.

Julia Child obviously didn’t know Dave Hurayt, a good friend and fellow gastronome who’s shared some wonderful recipes with me.  While Dave may not have spent two years and nearly 300 pounds of flour attempting to bake the perfect loaf of French bread as Julia Child once did, he experiments painstakingly with the recipes he creates, laboring assiduously until those recipes achieve his high standards of perfection.  Perfection can sometimes be painful as he found out while experimenting with a recipe utilizing burnt bourbon.  Much like a mad scientist adding a catalytic chemical to a burning beaker, the results were dramatic.  He blew the glass right out of his new KitchenAid oven.

Basket of bread and Spanakopita

When a true kitchen warrior and gourmet such as Dave eschews his culinary domain and eats at one restaurant for seven out of nine consecutive weeks, that restaurant has got to be special.  A restaurant capable of besotting his sophisticated palate has got to offer extraordinary quality and quality.  Like me, Dave is not a monogamous gastronome when it comes to restaurants.  When he does go out to eat, he typically will visit a variety of restaurants, not a select few like the truly culinarily lazy Americans to which Julia Child referred.

The restaurant which captured Dave’s heart and taste buds is Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill on restaurant row off the Pan American Highway on the west side of I-25.  Nick & Jimmy’s has been wowing dining patrons since it launched in September, 2009.   One of the high wow factors is the restaurant’s redesign which might more appropriately be called a metamorphosis because Nick & Jimmy’s occupies what was once Johnny Carino’s, a middling quality Italian chain.

Preparing our flaming Kaseri cheese appetizer

Preparing our flaming Kaseri cheese appetizer

The estimate as to what the transmogrification cost ranges from one-million to two-million dollars, either amount impressive.  The restaurant is an oasis of elegance in a restaurant row landscape dominated by chains.  The walls are festooned in muted earth tone colors that seem to beckon hungry diners.  Overhead, large wooden beams painted brown seem to signify strength and solidity.  As you walk in, you have the option of dining in a sprawling dining room in which tables are in fairly close proximity to one another or in a more casual room in which a well-provisioned bar holds prominence.  The two rooms are separated by smoked glass accented half walls.

A semi-exhibition kitchen is partially obfuscated from diners by the smoked glass accents.  It’s a nice touch that gives you a hint of the bustling activity at a busy kitchen without being too distracting.  As luxurious as the setting is, not all the improvements are readily apparent.  One thing diners can’t see, but which is most definitely a hallmark of the restaurant is the 1400-degree broiler reputed to sear in all the juices and flavor.

Dolmades Avgolomono

The menu is inventive and eclectic, offering a smattering of steak and seafood entrees as well as Greek, Italian and American inspired cuisine.  You’ll also see more than just a perfunctory tribute to the Land of Enchantment’s red and green chile, starting with posole which is often the “soup” of the day.  Almost all the entrees on the lunch menu are also available for dinner.  It’s a very diverse menu which includes steak, chops and chicken entrees the likes of which every great steakhouse offers, but few prepare exceptionally well. 

Most entrees are served with your choice of soup or salad, seasonal vegetables and one of the following: oven-roasted potatoes, rice pilaf, old-fashioned mashed potatoes or au gratin potatoes.  Unlike some of their peers in the upscale casual market, Nick & Jimmy’s have a price point to which more patrons will relate and no a la carte offerings.  Portions are generous so you shouldn’t walk out hungry.

Pan Seared Scallops

As you peruse the menu, a basket of bread will be brought to your table and your attendant will prepare a dish of olive oil and seasonings in which to immerse the bread (which just happens to be some of the very best bread in town).  The bread is courtesy of Fano’s Bakery, a local institution.  It encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread.  Also served in the bread basket are small wedges of the restaurant’s pizza bread which are infiltrated with Parmesan cheese and chili flakes.

More than half of Nick & Jimmy’s appetizer options are succulent selections from the sea: shrimp cocktail, crab cake, Parmesan prawns, baked crab and artichoke heart dip, sesame seared Ahi tuna, fried calamari, shrimp scampi and pan-seared scallops (raved about by Dave).  The sole landlubbers are hummus served with toasted pita wedges, jumbo steamed artichoke, chicken quesadilla, dolmades avgolemono and Saganaki, flaming Kasseri cheese, also served with toasted pita wedges.

Seafood Soup

14 November 2009: The Saganaki is almost as much fun to see prepared tableside as it is to eat it.  Alit courtesy of a common lighter, the flames ascend toward the heavens, leaving blue and orange plume trails in their aromatic wake.  Your well-trained attendant turns the cheese over with but a steak knife, manipulating the flames so they lick the cheese, imparting high heat through and through and with an evenness that ensures every bit of the cheese is flame-kissed.

In Greece, Kasseri cheese is made from sheep’s milk while its American counterpart is made with cow’s milk.  Nick & Jimmy’s Kasseri is made from an amalgam of goat milk and cow’s milk.  Its flavor is of medium sharpness with a salty prominence.  It’s not meant to be spread on the pita wedges so much as it’s intended to be placed atop the pita, akin to a crown of cheesy deliciousness.

Beef and barley soup at Nick & Jimmy's

Beef and barley soup at Nick & Jimmy’s

30 October 2010: Dolmades (grape leaves rolled around rice, ground beef and herbs) Avgolomono (an egg and lemon sauce) is another great Greek starter.  If you’ve ever lamented the fact that most dolmades in the Duke City come from a can, you’ll appreciate these housemade gems which, also unlike at most other Albuquerque restaurants, are served warm.  The herbaceous aroma and flavor of the ground beef and rice combination coupled with the tangy richness of the Avgolomono sauce make these (five to an order) stubby cigar-shaped beauties some of the very best in the city. 

16 May 2015: Finding scallops on an appetizer menu is as rare as a “good hair day” for Donald Trump.  In fact, Nick and Jimmy’s might be the only restaurant in the metropolitan area to do so.  Best of all, an order of pan-seared scallops won’t break the bank…and we’re not talking the smallish bay scallops here.  This appetizer features three large scallops served over a single grilled tomato and topped with bay shrimp in a lemon-caper butter sauce.  Usually “fruity” sauces, especially tart-tangy sauces detract from the natural sweet brininess of scallops, but not so at Nick and Jimmy’s where the lemon-caper butter sauce is so rich, so delicious and so complementary of the scallops that you’ll sop up any remaining sauce with bread.

Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley

Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley

The soup of the day rotates frequently and as noted previously, is served complementary with many of the restaurant’s entrees.  Separately, soup is available for five dollars a bowl.  Alternatively, the menu offers five salads: Caprese Salad, Iceberg Wedge, Dinner Salad, Greek Salad and a Caesar Salad with your choice of dressing: Bleu cheese, Ranch, Greek, Caesar, Thousand Island or Raspberry Vinaigrette.

Legendary French chef and restauranteur Auguste Escoffier once said “Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”  Not all soups warrant such lavish praise, but some soups seem to have been the inspiration for Escoffier’s sage words.  Nick & Jimmy’s Beef Barley Soup is one of these.

Gyros with potatoes au gratin

Gyro Sandwich with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce, served with pita bread

14 November 2009: The beef and barley soup is rich, hearty and tasty, replete with a thick, savory beef stock ameliorated by a generous amount of tender beef.  It is served piping hot with steam wafting upwards to tease and tantalize your olfactory senses.  This soup exemplifies all that people equate with the comforting and nurturance of a truly good soup.  It is a soup Nick & Jimmy’s should consider for the daily menu–or at least as a seasonal offering available in cold weather.

30 October 2010: Another soul-warming soup, one which might make you long for a cold day, is the seafood soup, showcasing calamari, squid, crab, fish and shrimp in a heavily-seasoned broth with potatoes.  Heavily seasoned in this case doesn’t mean the seafood flavor is obfuscated in any way.  Especially delightful are the calamari ringlets which are chewy and delicious.  This is wholly unlike most chowder-like seafood soups which are thick and seem to beckon for oyster crackers.  The only things this soup cries out for are a large spoon and a second helping. 

Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Rice Pilaf and a Vegetable Medley

Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Rice Pilaf and a Vegetable Medley

16 May 2015: Menus at New Mexican restaurants don’t usually offer soups unless they involve green or red chile and more often than not, they’re more along the lines of a stew than they are a soup.  At Nick and Jimmy’s, the soup-of-the-day might also include posole, a Land of Enchantment standard.  Though this rendition is more akin to hominy than to true posole, it does include a generous amount of cubed pork and a chile sauce that livens things up quite a bit. 

The lunch and dinner menus both include eight Italian inspired pasta dishes as well as four wood-oven fired pizzas.  For lunch you can also order a hamburger with green chile, a traditional gyro sandwich or a chicken gyro sandwich, all served with French fries and a house salad served with your choice of dressing. The lunch menu lists five items on the steaks, chops and chicken section, a number which doubles on the dinner menu.  You might be surprised to find such upscale meat entrees as oven braised lamb shank and spiced, braised short ribs on the lunch menu.  Don’t hesitate to order either.

Beef Tenderloin Tip Rigatoni in cayenne cream sauce with wild mushrooms and red peppers

14 November 2009: The spiced, braised short ribs come six to an order.  Braised slowly and marinated for hours, they are fall-off-the-bone tender and taste like very good, very expensive Irish pot roast seasoned very well though the “spiced” adjective doesn’t appear to equate to piquant.  Coupled with roasted potatoes, this entree reminded me very much of the wonderful comfort meals we’ve had in Irish restaurants. 

16 May 2015:  New Mexicans have been known to incorporate red and green chile into virtually every savory entree.  Intrepid cooks will even add a smidgeon or more to various dessert dishes.  It makes good sense then that green chile be part and parcel of an American comfort food standard.  Nick and Jimmy’s green chile meatloaf is an amalgam of two great tasting items that taste even better together.  A thick slab of dense, moist meatloaf punctuated with a discernibly piquant green chile and slathered with a peppery red gravy goes very well with mashed potatoes in which a well has been dug out for even more gravy.  These are real mashed potatoes, not out-of-a-box.  During our inaugural visit to Nick and Jimmy’s in 2009, my sole complaint was about the uninspired vegetable medley.  How things have changed!  The vegetable medley is reminiscent of the French preparation style for vegetables.  Carrots, pea pods, zucchini and red peppers all are redolent with sweet freshness.  All vegetables should taste this good!

Green Chile Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetable Medley

14 November 2009: Another entree at which Nick & Jimmy’s excels is the roasted spring chicken which is slow-roasted with fresh herbs, prominent among which are garlic and oregano.  The chicken is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all moist and thoroughly delicious.  Easily large enough to share, you probably will want this chicken all to yourself.  An excellent complement to the chicken is the buttery and rich rice pilaf, each grain of which is imbued with flavor. 

16 May 2015: A half dozen pizzas fired on the restaurant’s wood oven are a popular draw.  if the Athenian Pizza (spinach, roasted garlic and feta) is any indication, Nick and Jimmy’s could compete with the city’s pizzerias.  This thin-crusted beauty is generously endowed with ingredients: enough roasted garlic cloves to ward off a werewolf or two, enough feta to wreck your breath for a day and a nice blanket of spinach over a crusty canvas lightly slathered with tomato sauce.  It’s not always the case that a pizza will taste even better cold than it does warm, but this one does.  Thankfully we took half the pizza home and enjoyed it for breakfast the following day.

Athenian Pizza

30 October 2010: If Greek entrees are what appeal most to you from the menu, but you also want a sandwich, Nick & Jimmy’s offers a gyro sandwich with tomatoes, onion, tzatziki sauce and an amalgam of beef and lamb nestled in a thick, warm pita.  Though a good sandwich, this one isn’t overstuffed with beef and lamb the way I enjoy my gyros. Thankfully it is very moist and very well-seasoned, a perfect foil for the thicker than usual tzatziki sauce.

30 October 2010: Dave Hurayt often extols the excellence of Nick & Jimmy’s pasta dishes.  No longer exclusively the domain of Italian restaurants, pasta dishes are often better prepared in fine-dining  eclectic establishments than they are in their more well-practiced Italian brethren.  That’s certainly the case with the Beef Tenderloin Tip Rigatoni, a swimming pool-sized bowl brimming with rigatoni in a cayenne cream sauce with wild mushrooms and red peppers studded with beef tenderloin.  The cayenne cream sauce is redolent with a peppery piquancy that New Mexicans will love.  The pasta is perfectly prepared at a shade beyond al dente while the beef tenderloin, at medium-rare, is tender and succulent, a real treat.

Pineapple Upsidedown Cake at Nick & Jimmy's

Pineapple Upsidedown Cake at Nick & Jimmy’s

14 November 2009: The dessert menu includes such seemingly de rigueur standards as creme brulee and bread pudding.  It also showcases a pineapple upsidedown cake, not a very common dessert offering in New Mexico restaurants.  This is wholly unlike other pineapple upsidedown cakes I’ve ever seen as it’s not sliced from a large sheet cake.  These are individually portioned cakes sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and surrounded by rich whipped cream and fresh berries.  The cake is moist and thoroughly delicious, not too sweet as some of its ilk are apt to be.

30 October 2010: Another Greek-inspired dessert favorite is the Baklava Sundae, a sundae glass in which two mounds of Blue Bunny’s vanilla ice cream are topped with a triangle of moist and rich baklava replete with sweet honey.  The baklava sweetens the ice cream all the more, forming a decadent marriage sure to appease the most discerning of dessert aficionados.

Coconut Cream Pie

16 May 2015:  Not even Gilligan’s crew enjoyed coconut cream pie as good as prepared at Nick and Jimmy’s.  From its frothy whipped cream top sprinkled with shreds of toasted coconut to its flaky Graham cracker crust, this thick pie served cold is an absolute delight.  Texturally, it’s thicker than most puddings though not quite as thick as a cheesecake.  It’s the type of dessert for which you’d risk your svelte figure.

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill is owned by Albuquerque’s dynamic partnership duo of Nick Kapnison and Jimmy Daskalos, restaurant impresarios with a small empire of restaurants throughout the Duke City.  A hallmark of their restaurants is great service.  You can’t do better than Michelle, one of the best servers in town.  Ask for her.

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill
5021 S Pan American Freeway,  N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 344-9169
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 May 2015
1st VISIT: 14 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET:   Pineapple Upsidedown Cake, Spicy Beef Short Ribs, Greek Style Roasted Chicken, Saganaki, Gyros Sandwich, Baklava Sundae, Dolmades Avgolomono, Beef Tenderloin Tip Ravioli, Seafood Soup, Coconut Cream Pie, Athenian Pizza, Green Chile Meatloaf.

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