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Ahh! Sushi – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Ahh Sushi in Rio Rancho

Ahh Sushi in Rio Rancho

The year was 1997. Recently thawed from a thirty year cryogenic state, Dr. Evil addressed the United Nations about his diabolical scheme to hold the world ransom: “ In a little while you’ll notice that the Kreplachistani warhead has gone missing. If you want it back, you’re going to have to pay me…one million dollars.” After the United Nations officials erupted in laughter, Dr. Evil quickly corrected himself “sorry…one hundred billion dollars.”

The interior of Ahh Sushi

The interior of Ahh Sushi

When our mere pittance of a bill arrived after my friends Paul, Bill, Fred and I had polished off a boatload of all-you-can-eat sushi at Ahh! Sushi, the 1997 movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, quickly came to mind. Considering all we had eaten, we half expected an evil sushi chef to come out from behind the curtain and say “sorry…one thousand dollars.” We didn’t add up what the sushi would have cost had we not availed ourselves of the all-you-can-eat offering, but suffice to say, we ate our money’s worth and then some.

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Miso Soup

The only sticker shock visitors to Ahh Sushi in Rio Rancho receive is shock (and maybe a little bit of awe, too) at how inexpensive all you can eat can be. I won’t list the cost for fear the owner will read this review and figure out he’s not charging enough. Now, the natural inclination of skeptics reading this is to assume the quality of Ahh Sushi’s sushi is comparable to the inedible sushi you find in grocery stores or all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. At Ahh Sushi, there is no correlation between cost and quality—for just a little more than you’d pay for a couple Happy Meals, you’ll partake of surprisingly high quality and absolutely delicious sushi.

Salad with ginger-teriyaki dressing

Salad with ginger-teriyaki dressing

With your meal, you’ll also receive your choice of miso soup or salad, and as Ronco’s famous pitchman Ron Popeil would say, “and that’s not all.” With your ginsu knives….er, sushi, you’ll also get your choice of an appetizer.  If you’re with a group and if not overwhelmed with dine-in traffic, the accommodating kitchen might even prepare a Sampler Platter: egg rolls, tempura shrimp and vegetables, dumplings and onion rings.  The tempura shrimp and vegetables are excellent, comparable in quality and flavor to the tempura at Mr. Tokyo, a Duke City standard-bearer for tempura.  Served with a sweet-savory dipping sauce, the crispy, fresh vegetables are lightly sheathed in a crispy tempura batter that allows the vegetables and shrimp to shine.

    Sampler Platter: Egg Rolls, Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables, Dumplings, Onion Rings

Sampler Platter: Egg Rolls, Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables, Dumplings, Onion Rings

The all-you-can-eat sushi is served daily for lunch only from 11:30AM to 3:00PM.  You can eschew the all-you-can eat offering and select from among some fifty specialty rolls, not all of which are available on the sushi buffet.  Contrary to some sushi buffets in which offerings are limited to modified California rolls, Ahh Sushi’s buffet includes some terrific and addictive offerings: Crunchy Roll, Fried Philadelphia Roll, Green Chile Roll, Green Salmon Roll, Santa Fe Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Spider Roll and more.  Nigiri sushi (sliced raw fish with a molded ball of rice underneath) is not part of the all-you-can-eat menu.

Tuna roll, Santa Fe roll with wasabi and ginger

Tuna roll, Santa Fe roll with wasabi and ginger

There are some definite winners in the line-up.  The Santa Fe Roll (crab, cucumber, cream cheese, shrimp tempura and green chili (sic) tempura topped with all tuna and sauced with spicy mayo, Sriracha chili and teriyaki) is terrific, a synthesis of flavors that go very well together.  A commonality among the spicy rolls is spiciness (go figure).  The spicy tuna roll brings the heat with it at no sacrifice to taste.  The green chile on its eponymous roll is incendiary enough to make New Mexicans proud.  Ahh Sushi doesn’t scrimp on seafood and overindulge on rice.  The green salmon roll (salmon, seaweed salad mix an crab stick all wrapped with cucumber wrap) includes a generous amount of salmon.

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Boatloads of sushi at our table

Rio Rancho’s Ahh Sushi opened in September, 2013, two years after its elder sibling opened at the Riverside Plaza just north of Montaño on Coors.  As with its scion, the Rio Rancho instantiation is sports friendly with flat screen televisions positioned for ESPN viewing.  Framed shirts signed by Dallas Cowboys’ hall-of-fame players Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith hang on separate walls, but the restaurant will serve everyone–even New York Giants fans.  Overall, Ahh! Sushi isn’t  much on ambiance, but the focus of the highly regarded restaurants at the small, age-worn strip mall (which includes the legendary Namaste and Rub-N-Wood Barbecue) in which it resides is on great food, not ambiance.

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Spicy Tuna Roll, Green Chile Roll, New Mexico Roll

My friends, especially Bill who visits Ahh Sushi so often his mail is being delivered there, find all the ambiance they need in the feminine pulchritude serving their meals, especially when the vivacious Monique Candelaria is on call (Mondays).  If the WWE’s Bella Twins need a triplet for their act, they should call on the alluring brunette…not that the stunning Monique hasn’t had several casting calls.  She’s been in a number of movies as well as on Breaking Bad.  Monique has got an Academy Award-winning smile and is as gregarious as can be. There’s no one in Albuquerque who delivers sushi better than she does.

The vivacious Monique Candelaria.  Someday we'll say we knew her back when...

The vivacious Monique Candelaria. Someday we’ll say we knew her back when…

The interjection “Ahh” is used to convey understanding or realization as in “ahh, this is great sushi.”  It’s an interjection heard often at All! All Out Sushi.

Ahh! Sushi
1520 Deborah Road, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 994-8550
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 January 2014
1st VISIT: 14 October 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: All-You-Can Eat Sushi, Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables, Miso Soup


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La Fonda Del Bosque – Albuquerque, New Mexico

La Fonda Del Bosque within the sprawling National Hispanic Cultural Center

In the millennium year, after years of planning and lobbying, the dream was finally realized of a haven  dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and advancement of Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities. In 2000, the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), launched along the Camino Real in the Albuquerque’s historic Barela’s neighborhood.  The Center is an architectural anomaly in a largely adobe-hued area, its unique structures including a renovated hacienda-style school, a stylized Mayan pyramid with interior elements modeled on Romanesque architecture and a torreon (tower) housing a 4,000 square foot concave fresco depicting over 3,000 years of Hispanic history.

Ironically the complex chartered to preserve, protect and promote Hispanic culture had to displace several families, thereby disenfranchising some of the very families who embody the Hispanic culture in Albuquerque.  One resident–the late Adela Martinez–stared down bureaucrats and made them blink, refusing to move.  The forty-million dollar Cultural Center had to be redesigned to accommodate her family in the home she moved into in the 1920s.  Today, her family’s two small houses stand out, not like a sore thumb, but as a testament to the courage of one 80-year old Hispanic woman whose treasured memories were worth much more than the monetary treasures government offered.

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The home of Adela Martinez, a New Mexico treasure

Since November, 2000, the converted Barelas Elementary School on the sprawling NHCC complex has served as the home of La Fonda Del Bosque, a stylish 280-seat restaurant.    La Fonda, which translates from Spanish to “The Inn” almost immediately garnered recognition.  Within three years of its launch,  Hispanic magazine named it one of the 50 best Hispanic restaurants in the United States for two consecutive years (2003 and 2004).  It was also named one of Gourmet Magazine’s “Best Kept Secrets.” A higher compliment is that many locals love it, too, especially during the Sunday brunch when they can sample a greater bounty of Hispanic favorites.

Over the years, a number of catering and restaurant management companies have tried their hand at running La Fonda Del Bosque.  The most recent to take the helm is A KayTahRing Company which began operating the restaurant in June, 2012.  After several years of serving New Mexican food, the new operators are taking the restaurant in a new direction, showcasing “flavors, cooking styles and ingredients from the 27 countries comprising Central and South America and the Latino Caribbean islands” according to the restaurant’s Web site.

Dining Room at La Fonda Del Bosque

La Fonda is open for breakfast and lunch as well as for brunch on Sundays. Dinner is served only for special events when the upscale milieu really shines.   While the menu offerings may have a Latin fusion flair, the ambiance at La Fonda Del Bosque is most decidedly Southwestern with a pronounced New Mexican influence.  The centerpiece of the dining room is a wood-burning fireplace that may make you wish it was winter so you could imbibe the aromas of piñon wood.  On bright New Mexican summer days, the  tinwork light fixtures aren’t much needed because the large windows let in so much natural light.  Service is impeccable. 

The restaurant’s Web site describes the menu as “one bold statement after another.”   At the very least, it’s an ambitious menu that crosses over several borders and culinary cultures.  That’s especially true of the prix fixe menu for brunch which couples a buffet and a number of items from the menu.  Stainless steel vessels hold such buffet items as smoked salmon lox, Argentine prawn and chili quiche, seasonal fruit, Cuban Torrejas, Peruvian Ceviche Limon and twin crepes.  Don’t fill your plate too much because you’ll also have the opportunity to order an entree from the “kitchen” menu.  This menu ranges from the simple (huevos rancheros) to the complex (Seafood Valencia Paella).

Sunday Brunch Offerings Include Seafood Valencia (Paella made with chicken, chorizo, prawns, mussels and peas); smoked salmon lox; Argentine Prawn and Chili Quiche

The attentive wait staff does their best to ensure the buffet items are replenished so diners will always have fresh and warm food.  Their efforts are more successful when a passel of diners empties the serving vessels almost as quickly as the servers fill them.  Such was the case during our inaugural visit which transpired on the same day the Japanese Fall Festival was being held on the grounds of the Center.  Apparently a number of diners preferred Latin inspired cuisine to Japanese fare because La Fonda was quite crowded when we arrived.

Among the buffet items which would have stood out was the smoked salmon lox with cream cheese, capers, red onions and eggs.  Alas, the toasted bagels intended to be the canvas upon which to heap the other ingredients were stale and dry.  Still, who can resist salmon, capers and cream cheese, a triumvirate of taste. Also good were Cuban Torrejas, essentially pain perdu (French toast) stuffed with strawberry and mamey glaze, and topped with whipped Cream.   The Peruvian Ceviche Limon, fresh raw fish, calamari, octopus and shrimp served with yam and Peruvian corn was rather uninspired, a far cry from Peruvian ceviche we’ve had elsewhere. It lacked the freshness and the citrus-tinged zip of a great ceviche.

Carne Asada con Huevos al Gusto (Native to Northern Mexico): Half-pound charbroiled sirloin with 2 eggs any style, served with breakfast potatoes, adobo sauce

My choice from the menu was paella, but not just any paella. According to the menu, it was Seafood Valencia,  named for the city in Spain in which paella originated.  Valencia isn’t just where paella was first made, it’s where it’s best made.  Paella is a great source of local pride for Valencianos where it’s made so well that, much like some Italian food, its flavors improve into the next day.  Similar to the paella made in Valencia, La Fonda’s rendition has a slightly crunchy edge.  It’s replete with bite-sized pieces of chicken, seasoned pork sausage, prawns, mussels and green peas embedded in a mound of saffron-infused rice.   The portion size is more than generous, but the experience would have been even more authentic and fun had it been served in a paellera, the flat steel pan in which paella is traditionally prepared.  Exercise caution not to ladle out the paella on the buffet table (unless you really like paella) because it will count as your entree. 

Another palate pleasing entree is the carne asada con huevos al gusto, a plate native to Northern Mexico.  The carne asada is a half-pound charbroiled sirloin steak prepared to your exacting level of doneness.  In some Mexican restaurants–both in Mexico and in New Mexico–a half-pound sometimes means two portions of thinly cut, usually tough as leather steak so it’s a surprise to find a thick, juicy steak that’s almost fork tender.  Literally the term “huevos al gusto” translates to “eggs to your pleasure,” but really means “eggs made the way you want them.”  The breakfast potatoes are excellent, but the adobo sauce lacked any real punch.

Tiramisu and white chocolate truffle

The brunch menu also includes a dessert bar featuring such sweet-tooth favorites as tiramisu, truffles, and fruit tarts.  The tiramisu would never be mistaken for the tiramisu made at Torinos @ Home, not by a long stretch, but it’s better than out-of-the-box.

La Fonda Del Bosque offers catering services for special events such as weddings and anniversaries. With a patio which can accommodate as many as 1,500 guests, it’s a perfect venue for a good time.

La Fonda Del Bosque
Hispanic Cultural Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-9480
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 30 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET:  

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India Palace – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The India Palace, one of Albuquerque’s most popular Indian restaurants

When many of us think of romantic destinations to visit or in which to honeymoon, our choices probably mirror closely those of US News & World Report which listed among their 22 best honeymoon destinations such exotic locations as Kauai, Maui, Florence, Crete, Santorini and even Las Vegas, Nevada.  The authors apparently didn’t think enchantment is synonymous with romance or wedded  bliss because no New Mexico locations made the list,  Surprisingly, neither did any destination in India. 

Not everyone equates India with romance, but its ancient legends, history and monuments are rich with tales of profound love.  One of the world’s most far-famed love offerings is the opulent and ethereal Taj Mahal, built by a grieving emperor in memory of his dearly beloved wife and queen.  India also gave the world the Kama Sutra, an ancient Hindu text widely recognized as a definitive guide to the nature of love and the pleasure-oriented aspects of human life.  Hindus understood the importance of fore foreplay, paying significant attention to light, music, touch, smell, drink and food before moving on to carnal pleasures.

Preprandial pleasure: tamarind, onion and mint chutneys.

Preprandial pleasure: tamarind, onion and mint chutneys.

Sensual, tactile, pleasurable–those adjectives are probably used more frequently to describe the practices of the Kama Sutra, it wouldn’t be a stretch to apply those adjectives to an outstanding meal of Indian cuisine, maybe to add even more superlatives.  Those adjectives certainly apply to a meal at the Indian Palace on the southeast intersection of Wyoming and Montgomery in Albuquerque. Sensual certainly applies because the intoxicating aromas of exotic spices infiltrate olfactory senses which some physiologists indicate are a key to arousal.

Tactile is appropriate because you’ll keep your hands busy tearing off hunks of naan (Indian flat bread made from wheat with a slightly flaky crust baked in a tandoor) to dip into one of the restaurant’s wonderful chutneys. India Palace offers a variety of naan including an absolutely delicious garlic naan which is garnished with parsley and slightly moistened with ghee, the rich clarified butter prominent in Indian cuisine. Perhaps even better is the onion naan with bits of crunchy green onion baked right in.

Garlic Naan, some of Albuquerque’s best

As heretical as it may sound, there are times in which I believe naan is even better than the ubiquitous New Mexican tortilla with which I grew up. The India Palace bakes some of the best naan we’ve  had in New Mexico–naan which it’s easy to envision being used to sop up chile.  If naan can be compared, even if loosely, to the tortilla then poori is akin to New Mexico’s beloved sopaipilla.  Poori is a deep-fried whole wheat bread which puffs up as golden pillows of delicious goodness which just might have you longing for honey.

Another tactile pleasure begins shortly after you’re seated when a complementary plate of papadum (pictured above) accompanied by three stainless steel vessels of Indian chutneys is brought to your table. Papadum are crispy crackers somewhat resembling flattened taco shells, but far more brittle. They’re made with lentil flour and have a brittle texture, breaking easily so they can be dipped into the accompanying chutneys.

Poori, Deep-fried whole wheat bread

Indian chutney is usually prepared to be eaten fresh and as a genre, might be compared to the familiar salsas served throughout New Mexico. Authentic chutneys usually contain a significant amount of olfactory-arousing, tongue-tingling spices (including piquant green chili peppers) and center around a wide variety of vegetables or fruits. Among the most popular chutneys are a red onion chutney, a mint chutney and a fruity, semi-sweet tamarind chutney (all three pictured above).

Few things in life are as pleasurable as a meal of well prepared, perfectly seasoned Indian food and the India Palace is Albuquerque’s premier practitioner of that art. Lunch time is when the restaurant is most crowded with white- and blue-collar workers partaking of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Mulligatawney, a melodic name for a savory soup.

Mulligatawney, a melodic name for a savory soup.

In the evening, everything is an order of magnitude (or more) better. That’s when you get the full India Palace treatment: subdued lighting, impeccably formal service, a nattily attired wait staff, perfectly aligned place settings, starched maroon napkins–and no buffet to tempt you away from the outstanding menu offerings.That dinner menu features several pages of traditional Indian favorites, about 70 choices in all. Whether your pleasure be appetizers, entrees or desserts, chances are you’ll enjoy whatever you order.

New Mexican   spice aficionados (not to mention fans of the Seinfeld “soup Nazi” episode) might want to start with the India Palace’s Mulligatawny (pictured above), a mildly spicy soup comprised of vegetables and nuts seasoned with curry powder and pepper then served with rice. It’s very flavorful though it can always be improved with even more pepper and a tad more salt.

Your best bet–dining with friends and sharing entrees

Among the entrees, the tandoori dishes, especially tandoori chicken, seem to be especially popular. Traditionally, tandoori cooking is done in a Tandoor, a clay oven which heats to temperatures in excess of 500 degrees and imprints meat with a smoky flavor. Meats are marinated in a mixture of spices, herbs and yogurt that permeate them with a distinctive red color.  At the Palace, the tandoori lamb, chicken and fish are all wonderful. A mixed tandoori grill entree includes a chicken breast, drumstick, sausage and prawn, all lavished with breathtaking spices. It’s the best way to sample a variety of palate pleasing meats.

Even if you think you don’t like Indian food and lamb in particular, the Sheek Kabob (pictured below) will win you over. It’s choice, minced lamb seasoned with mild spices (mint and ginger are easily discernable) and barbecued on skewers in a clay oven. It has the texture of sausage and little of the gaminess often associated with lamb dishes. It is simply one of the very best lamb dishes around.

Sheek Kabob with mattar paneer.

Sheek Kabob with mattar paneer.

Aficionados of piquant foods might also be drawn to the restaurant’s vindaloo offerings. This curry dish is prepared with tamarind paste, chile, pepper, vinegar and other seasonings to imbue it with a rich taste. The import of chili peppers in the 16th century by Portuguese traders led to the development of vindaloo dishes in Goa, a former Portuguese colony on the Indian coast. In the land of the Kama Sutra, the late-arriving chile pepper had a very significant impact on romance, earning repute as a powerful aphrodisiac (to be eaten, not rubbed on sensitive private parts).

The degree of heat at which vindaloo is served at Indian restaurants throughout the world ranges in restaurants from barely tepid by New Mexican chile standards to sheer delicious agony with enough heat to make grown adults weep. In fact, in some restaurants in London and even New York City, it’s almost a sport to see how piquant intrepid diners can stand their vindaloo.

Lamb vindaloo

Lamb vindaloo

Duke City diners need not worry about being overtaken by delicious fumes and overpowering heat. The vindaloo at the Indian Palace isn’t even as piquant as a bowl of chile at Sadie’s. You can ask for additional spices and chile to be added if you wish. Whatever your taste, the Palace serves a very good lamb vindaloo.  To quell a fiery tongue resultant from a particularly potent green chile, New Mexicans might turn to milk. Similarly, Indians will have a glass of room temperature lassi available as they consume the spiciest of vindaloo. Lassi is a creamy concoction made from milk and yogurt. Though it has soothing properties, it can also be quite filling.

Indian cuisine is very accommodating to vegetarian tastes with a variety of wonderful offerings all lavished with aromatic sauces: a tomato-based makhani sauce, a curry and green pea sauce called mattar (my favorite) and saag, made with gamy spinach. Many vegetarian dishes are prepared with paneer, an unaged cheese somewhat similar to pressed Ricotta. Mattar paneer and sag paneer as crafted at the India Palace might be good enough to convert carnivores to vegetarianism.

Gulab Jamun--you might swear you're tasting pancakes in syrup.

Gulab Jamun–you might swear you’re tasting pancakes in syrup.

For dessert, breakfast aficionados will appreciate gulab jamun (pictured at left) a dessert dish with a taste somewhat reminiscent of pancakes and hot syrup. Gulab Jamun is made of fried dough and covered in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds. If not for their donut hole appearance, these gems really might make you think you’re having pancakes in a thinned down syrup. They’re delicious. 

Another terrific dessert, particularly if you like paneer, is Rasmali, balls of paneer soaked in malai (clotted cream) flavored with cardamom and sprinkled with minced pistachios.  This dessert reminds me of the goat cheese we ate with syrup in Northern New Mexico.  It’s a wonderful combination of sweet and savory flavors bringing out the best in each other.  Unlike the gulab jamun, this isn’t an overly sweet dessert.

Rasmalai: Great dessert dish of paneer (farmer’s cheese) soaked in malai (clotted cream) flavored with cardamom.

While the India Palace can be a terrific precursor to a night of romance, it’s also a wonderful restaurant to share with friends and colleagues, especially if they’re from India.  My globe-trotting, gastronomically savvy friends Tushar Desai and Kannan Appuswamy give the India Palace a rousing endorsement.  They’re not impressed with Americanized Indian food and were surprised at the authenticity of most foods at the Palace.

India Palace
4410 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 October 2011
# OF VISITS: 13
CLOSED: May 2013
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET:Tandoori, Chutney, naan, mattar paneer, Sheek Kabab, Lamb Vindaloo, Mulligatawny, Gulab Jamun, Poori, Rasmalai,

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