Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 875 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 7000 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Namaste Restaurant – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Naste Restaurant in Rio Rancho

Namaste: Cuisine of India and Nepal

Several years ago while leading my organization’s e-business marketing and communication effort at Intel, I had the great fortune of hiring a phenomenal Web developer recently arrived from India. In the process of filling out one of our complicated employment forms he transposed his name, writing his last name then his middle initial and first name instead of the way hinted at on the complicated form.

As a result, during the entire time he worked for us we all called him Kolli, his last name. He was too polite to tell us his first name is actually Srini.  Over time Srini became more acculturated, maybe even a bit “Americanized” (he’s now a huge Dallas Cowboys fan), but he’s never lost his personal warmth, good humor and impeccable manners.

Namaste's interior

Namaste’s interior

Politeness and great manners seem to be a hallmark of Indian people…or at least those in the service industries. When colleagues ask for a romantic dinner recommendation, I frequently suggest one of the area’s Indian restaurants where impeccably attentive service and consistently excellent food impart the effect of making diners feel like welcome royalty. 

Most Indian restaurants, like my friend Srini, embody the spirit of a traditional Indian salutation, “Namaste” which is said while holding one’s hands pressed together near the heart with head gently bowed. Namaste is translated as “I bow to the divine in you,” a sign not only of respect but of deference in that the greeter recognizes not just good, but the fact that there is divinity in other people. It is something from which we oft unpolished and uncouth Americans can learn.

The lunch buffet at Namaste

Namaste’s lunch buffet

Rio Rancho  has a restaurant named for that most reverential of greetings. It opened in late July, 2008 in the small, age-worn strip mall which previously housed Tawan Thai cuisine and before that a number of other restaurants. It’s a seemingly cursed location in which restaurants seem destined to fail. If outstanding service and cuisine are portend success, Namaste has reversed the trend of failure and become a very popular dining destination in the City of Vision.  Along with the incomparable Joe’s Pasta House and the superb Cafe Bella, Namaste belongs on the pantheon of the very best restaurants in the metropolitan area.

Namaste is owned by Shree Prasad Gurung who was a mainstay at the India Palace for several years before striking out on his own. His wife Sandhya and brother-in-law Hem are the ownership triumvirate responsible for preparing not only the cuisine of India, but several Nepalese dishes as well. The charming Sandhya still has family in Nepal which was affected by the devastating earthquakes of 2015.

Some of the buffet’s bounty at Namaste

It’s with increased rarity (at least in Albuquerque) that you find any restaurant which greets you before the door with irresistible aromas. In that respect, Namaste is indeed an anachronism because it does capture you before the door with wafting emanations that bid you welcome and which just may have a Pavlovian effect on your taste buds.  Along with Siam Thai, it may be the most aromatically arousing restaurant in the Albuquerque area.

Similar to most Indian restaurants in the Duke City area, Namaste offers a very inexpensive for the quality lunch buffet. It’s not quite as Bacchanalian as the buffet at the now defunct India Palace, but it provides an excellent introduction to its diverse and delicious offerings. As much as you’ll enjoy the buffet, your dining experience is Namaste is incomplete if you don’t take it to the next level. That would be returning for dinner when the quality is an order of magnitude better. During dinner, the ambiance speaks of refinement and only part of that is attributable to the absence of diners who visit the buffet three or four times in one seating. The lights are subdued and tones are hushed in the evening.

Garlic Naan, the very best in Albuquerque (as good as my mom’s tortillas)

Among the appetizer selections on the buffet, you might find vegetable samosa, crisp patties stuffed with spiced potatoes and green peas. Samosas have reportedly been an Indian specialty since before the tenth century. They are delicious as is or dipped into one of the various chutneys. Namaste offers several excellent chutneys–onion, mint, tamarind and more–none of which are subtle in their impact on your taste buds. Flame imbibing New Mexicans will love the jalapeño chutney, a neon green amalgam of the fiery pepper, vinegar and other spices. The vinegar balances the heat of the jalapeño while the jalapeño cuts the tartness of the vinegar. It’s as good, if not better, than many salsas we’ve had.

Of course one of the best ways to enjoy the chutneys is with naan, the incomparable Indian flat bread which is a staple accompaniment to most hot meals in India. Naan bears some resemblance to pita bread and, like pita bread, is usually leavened with yeast. It is cooked in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven fired by charcoal where the temperature at the bottom is maintained at 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The tandoor oven is from which tandoori cooking derives its name.

Paneer Pakora

The menu features several variations on the freshly baked white flour bread. Those include garlic naan in which the naan is garnished with minced garlic. There’s also cheese naan in which the white flour bread is, you guessed it, stuffed with cheese. Another intriguing naan is the kashmiri, freshly baked white flour bread stuffed with cashews, pistachios, raisins and cherries. At first glance you might think thin-sliced pizza or even lavosh, the flat, thin Armenian flat bread. After a bite or two, you might notice a semblance in flavor to the ubiquitous Christmas fruit cake. That’s because of the cherry and raisin influence which not only adds sweetness, but color to the naan. That sweetness isn’t overwhelmingly cloying like fruit cake; it provides a nice contrast and balance of flavors. 

21 June 2015: Turophiles, those of us who love cheese in all its fetid and aromatic forms, know all about paneer, the soft, crumbly farmer’s cheese native to India.  Who among us hasn’t enjoyed saag paneer (cooked spinach studded with cubed of fried paneer cheese) and mutter paneer (peas and farmer’s cheese in a tomato based sauce, spiced with garam masala)?  Because it’s not offered on the buffet, fewer have enjoyed paneer pakora, slices of homemade cheese stuffed with mint and spices, wrapped in garbanzo bean batter and deep-fried.  At four to an order, these golden-sheened beauties are absolutely delicious.  Paneer isn’t nearly as “melty,” gooey and oozy as say, goat cheese and it’s not as sharp as even the mildest Cheddar, but it’s got a very pleasant and mild personality that couples well with the mint chutney.

Tandoori chicken

Tandoori Fried Chicken and Meatballs

When you mention tandoori cooking, you’ve got to include tandoori chicken in the discussion. Namaste marinates its chicken in a fabulous array of exotic spices then broils it over mesquite in the tandoor oven. The mesquite imparts a smoky redolence to the chicken that renders it impossible to stop eating. Namaste’s tandoori chicken may just be the best we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The dinner menu offers several tandoori specialties, all prepared in the cylindrical clay tandoori oven and fired by charcoal to a constant temperature at the bottom of 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Several lamb dishes are prepared on the tandoori oven.  Among them are lamb tikka kabob which is lamb marinated in herbs and spices and lamb seekh kabob, spicy ground lamb molded on skewers and broiled in the tandoor oven. The lamb on the tikka kabob is cut into slightly larger than bite-sized cubes. The lamb seekh kabob might is cylindrical in shape, like a short, fat cigar, and in texture might remind you of rolled up gyros meat. The plate on which the lamb dishes are presented arrives at your table with a sizzling flair. It is lined with grilled onions and peppers which lend to the flavor explosions. Both lamb dishes will convert even the most staunch non-lamb eaters. In part, that’s because none of the characteristic “gaminess” of lamb is evident, but also because both dishes are very well flavored and enjoyable to eat.

Chicken Tikka Masala: Boneless chicken baked in the tandoor with creamy tomato sauce and exotic herbs and spices

24 January 2011: The tandoori chicken is similarly delicious and also served two ways. The first is chicken tikka kabob, or delicately spiced boneless chicken breast cut into large pieces. This chicken is tender and perfectly seasoned. The second presentation is of tandoori chicken, a leg and thigh combination marinated and broiled over mesquite.  Still the very best chicken dish on the menu is the chicken tikka masala, boneles chicken  with creamy tomato sauce and exotic herbs and spices.  Preparation of chicken tikka masala is a two-step process.  First the chicken is baked in a tandoor then cooked in a thick, creamy “gravy” of tomato sauce, cream and spices.  The charcoal tandoor oven imparts an unmistakably distinctive smoky flavor to the chicken while the creamy tomato sauce imparts a sweet piquancy to an absolutely marvelous dish.

24 January 2011: My very favorite vegetarian entree at any restaurant is mattar paneer, green peas with Indian farmer cheese (paneer) in a creamy gravy.  Paneer is a fresh, unaged, non-melting cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice or some other food acid.  It’s not necessarily the type of cheese you’d want to snack on as you might a slice or two of Kraft singles, but it’s the perfect cheese for the creamy gravy seasoned to perfection.  Mattar paneer is rich and utterly delicious, prepared to your level of piquancy.  No one in New Mexico does it better than Namaste.

Mattar Paneer: Green peas and homemade cheese in gravy and touch of cream

You might also opt to make dinner an adventurous event by trying one of the menu’s six Nepali dishes. Santa Fe has had a Himalayan restaurant for years, but Nepali dishes in Albuquerque were scarce until Namaste. The Nepalese diet consists heavily of lentil and rice dishes along with vegetable curries and a side dish called anchar, which are pickled vegetables and fruits (tomato, mango, cucumber, etc.), much like a chutney. There are many similarities to Indian food in Nepalese cooking.

26 October 2008: It may surprise you to discover similarities to Chinese food as well.  That’s especially true in Kathmandu where  the most popular lunch and snack item served are steamed or fried vegetable and meat dumplings known as “Momo.”  Namaste features both chicken and lamb momo.  The lamb momo plate consists of ten dumplings stuffed with ground and spiced lamb served with a piquant and delicious tomato achar.  It’s easy to see why this would be the most popular dish in Nepal.  The only downer for me is that the achar is served cold and the momo just warm.  Submerge the momo into the achar and it cools off quickly.  Still, this is a minor inconvenience and should not deter you from trying a delicious entree.

Lamb Momo

21 June 2015: When the Gurungs moved to New Mexico, they soon fell in love with green chile and have been roasting two sacks per year of the best Hatch has to offer.  it stands to reason that they’d eventually incorporate green chile into their menu.  Over the years, the green chili (SIC) chicken curry has become one of the most popular dishes offered at Namaste.  One of the reasons New Mexicans have adopted this dish as one of their own is that the green chile has plenty of heat, even more than the restaurant’s incendiary chicken vindaloo.  The curry incorporates a variety of aromatic spices that waft toward your nostrils like a fragrant breeze, possessing a flavor profile that’s sweet, savory, piquant and addictive.  It’s akin to a thick gravy punctuated with larger than bite-sized pieces of chicken.

21 June 2015: Meals at Namaste are extraordinary and you’ll savor each and every bite as you experience flavor combinations and taste explosions that will enrapt all ten-thousand of your taste buds.  As challenging as it is to stop eating, make sure to save room for a dessert specialty that this restaurant prepares better than any other Indian restaurant of my acquaintance.  It’s Gajar Ka Halwa, a sweet and dense confection made with carrots, butter and milk.  Though the julienne carrots are served warm, they’re not mushy in the least, but retain a discernible crunchiness.  Namaste adds shaved almonds for an even crunchier contrast.  This is a rich dessert as good, if not better, than any carrot cake.

Green Chili Chicken Curry

You might notice that my rating for Namaste is the highest I’ve accorded to any Indian restaurant in New Mexico.  Namaste may not be as big or ostentatious as its competition, but in my estimation, it’s much better.  My friend and colleague Tushar Desai, a Bombay native and globetrotter who’s traveled extensively across the fruited plain as a project manager for Microsoft confirms this, saying Namaste is in the top three to five Indian restaurants at which he’s dined in North America.  That’s exceedingly high praise from a true connoisseur whose opinion I value.

Gajar ka Halwa: Indian-style carrot cake with cashew

The only thing that could have improved our visits to Namaste would have been sharing our meal with Srini, who in his infinite politeness, tells me I can still call him Kolli as long as I call him friend.

Namaste Restaurant
1520 Deborah Road, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-3126
Web Site
1st VISIT: 8 August 2008
LATEST VISIT: 21 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 24
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Naan, Kasmiri Naan, Lamb Momo, Mix Grill Tandoori, Gajar ka Halwa, Green Chili Chicken Curry, Mutter Paneer, Chicken Tikka Masala

Namaste on Urbanspoon

Jhett’s Restaurant – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

The Rio Rancho Country Club, home to Jhett’s Restaurant

In its halcyon days, the Chamisa Hills golf course and country club in Rio Rancho was considered one of the city’s crown jewels.  Its undulating 18-hole championship course with strategically placed deciduous trees and challenging water hazards once hosted the Charley Pride Golf Fiesta, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the state.  Built in 1970, the 212-acre development was flanked by upscale gated communities and boasted of magnificent panoramic views showcasing the reddish hues of the Sandias at sunset and the twinkling city lights of Albuquerque at night. 

Alas, over time reclaimed water rates made operating the course economically onerous.  Soon denuded fairways and eroded bunkers replaced the once verdant grounds.  In 2013, the Chamisa Hills golf course and country club was auctioned off to be purchased nearly a year later by visionary entrepreneurs Bob Gallagher and Jhett Browne who immediately began putting into action their plans for restoring the operation to prominence and profitability.  The two negotiated significant water rate reduction rates and plan for reduced turf areas to conserve water.  At fruition, they hope to revivify the facility into one of the area’s best event centers, not just golf clubs.

View to the East from the dining room patio

Rebranded as Club Rio Rancho, the sprawling complex includes two nine-hole golf courses, six resurfaced and lighted tennis courts, a remodeled swimming pool, a members-only restaurant and lounge with an outdoor cigar bar, a three-level bar and grill with televisions and outdoor patio seating and a remodeled indoor restaurant with a patio facing the Sandias.  While some of the facilities and amenities remain available only to club members, the priceless “billion-dollar views” are available to the general public as is what promises to be an exciting fine-dining venture.

From its sprawling patio, the eponymous Jhett’s Restaurant may just have the very best views of any restaurant in the metropolitan area with the possible exception of Sandiago’s Mexican Grill.  There’s a view for all seasons and times of day from the east-facing large picture windows, too.  Jhett’s offers live music and dancing every Friday and Saturday starting at 8PM and a bountiful Sunday brunch, the type of which have seemingly become an anachronism.

The dining room in which Sunday brunch is served from 11AM to 2PM

The dinner menu bespeaks fine-dining belied by a price-point that’s surprisingly competitive with fine-dining establishments in far less ostentatious digs.  Whether your choice emanates from the land (such as the Bleu Cheese Crusted Angus Filet, Ribeye Steak or Lamb T-Bone) or sea (Stuffed Filet of Sole, Honey Ginger Shrimp or Lobster tail), you’ll find it on the menu.  Soups and salads as well as “nothing but noodles” entrees (such as Baked Lasagna Bolonaise and Spinach Ravioli) are also available. 

The all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch is quickly becoming a Rio Rancho Sunday tradition.  Available from 11AM through 2PM, the buffet-style brunch is the antithesis of the grab, gobble and go fare one associates with the terms “all-you-can-eat” and “buffet.”  A fusillade of well-laid out tables with silver heating trays offer dish after dish of beautifully edible creations arranged esthetically.  An omelet station with eight different fillings is at the ready as is a carving station where a deft server cleaves generous slices from a large roast beef prepared at medium rare.  Desserts aplenty and a beverage table round out the cavalcade of deliciousness.

Some of the magnificent brunch offerings

Rightfully so, the hand-carved roast beef is the primary draw.  The roast beef has a deep brown, crisp, crackly, unctuous crust around the edges.  The medium-rare interior is moist and tender, signs of optimum temperature control and cooking time.  You can have your roast beef with au jus or with a creamy horseradish that’ll water your eyes.  There are a number of other proteins on the buffet trays: bacon, sausage, fish and more.  The macaroni and cheese is some of the best we’ve had in a while while the Eggs Benedict dish is delightfully creative.  Instead of an English muffin, the poached egg and Hollandaise sauce rest inside a hollowed-out tomato. 

The dessert table doesn’t have tremendous variety, but what it lacks in quantity, it made up for in deliciousness.  Alternatively you can sate your sweet tooth with the various fruits.  The cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple have an in-season freshness and flavor.  Throughout our meal we were well taken care of by an attentive server staff who replenished our beverages and made savvy recommendations.  All this and million dollar views of the Sandias.

Desserts

Jhett’s Restaurant is a welcome addition to the Rio Rancho fine-dining scene. An excellent brunch is just the prelude to future fine-dining ventures in what is once again becoming one of Rio Rancho’s crown jewels.

Jhett’s Restaurant
500 Country Club Drive, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-5000
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 4 January 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sunday Brunch

Jhett's on Urbanspoon

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.

AhhSushi04

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.

AhSushi06

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.

AhhSushi09

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

Ahh's Sushi Rio! on Urbanspoon