Seared – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Seared on San Pasqual in Albuquerque’s Old Town

While you might not be able to judge a book by its cover, sometimes a book title will resonate deeply and you know you’re going to enjoy reading it very much. That’s especially true when a book title warmly reminds you of nostalgic memories long buried in your past. Such was the case when I espied Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood by award-winning raconteur Regi Carpenter. That title aptly described daily life for the long suffering Peraltas, our childhood neighbors in Peñasco. Mama Peralta, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, was such a scatterbrained cook that she used the smoke alarm as a timer. She didn’t sear meat, she cremated it. Even the cockroaches at the Peralta home ate out. So did her children who had more meals at our kitchen table than they did at home.

“Wait,” you ask, “isn’t searing a technique practiced by great chefs?” In the hands of the right person, searing is indeed a culinary technique used to build deep savory flavors. Searing meats, chicken, fish and other proteins at high heat caramelizes their surfaces, imparting a deep-brown crust, especially on thick cuts. Searing crisps the skin on fish and imbues pork chops and other animal proteins a deep layer of flavor in a short amount of time. Alas, Mama Peralta’s idea of searing meat involved heat that was much too low (which allowed her to focus on the marathon phone call sessions in which she engaged at around meal prep time). As a result, the inside of the meat cooked at the same rate as the outside, resulting in very little browning, a zombie-gray pallor, ”carne seca” texture and a perpetually disappointed (and hungry) family.

The Dining Room at Seared

For entirely different reasons, a visit to Seared, a high-end American bistro on San Pasquale Avenue in Albuquerque’s Old Town, also reminded me of our deliciousness-deprived neighbors. At Seared we experienced the type of deliciousness our neighbors never enjoyed when Mama Peralta practiced her unique brand of meat mummification and her family prayed after they ate. Perhaps divine intervention would have occurred had the Peraltas lived on a street named for the patron saint of cooks and kitchens. Then again, Mama Peralto often used the San Pasqual retablo hanging on her kitchen wall as a place to drape dish towels (we could never understand why she needed dish towels when all meals she prepared were served on paper plates).

Seared is located on southwest side of the weirdly confusing, labryinthic Old Town intersection in which Lomas Boulevard meets Central Avenue and San Pasquale crosses both. Getting there is a challenge, but your patience will be rewarded—just as it was more than a decade ago when Jennifer James–then a relative newcomer to the Duke City–plied her craft at the then occupant, Chef DuJour. More recently, the “plain Jane” edifice has been the home of Cheese & Coffee, a popular purveyor of specialty sandwiches, made-from-scratch soups and crisp, fresh salads. Habitues of Cheese & Coffee can still get their favorite sandwiches at the tried, true and trusted San Pasquale location. They just won’t be able to get them after 3PM.

Fried Asparagus with Green Chile Ranch Dressing

Since late-August, 2017, at precisely 3PM, the 2,100-square-foot space begins its daily transformation from simple sandwich shop to Seared, an upscale American bistro “with a French and Italian twist.” The metamorphosis takes an hour during which white linen tablecloths are draped over dining room tables, silverware is laid out meticulously, moveable walls are rearranged and even the art is changed out. The art, by the way, includes colorful portraits of some of your favorite characters from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Signage is also changed out, a relatively easy feat considering there’s no flashy neon or LED involved.

Seared is the brainchild of Jan Barringer-Tenchipe and her husband and business partner Alejandro. Jan has owned the San Pasquale location of Cheese & Coffee for seven years, but with the notorious Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project having proven deleterious to business, she decided to offer Duke City diners another reason to visit the beleaguered Old Town area. Besides that, she and Alejandro had wanted to work together for a while. Seared aptly describes Alejandro’s cooking style, a style he honed in upscale and fine-dining restaurants throughout the city. During our inaugural visit, both Jan and Alejandro checked up on us several times. Their hospitality and commitment to great food and impeccable service is genuine and one of many reasons we’ll be back.

French-Cut Pork Chop

Another reason, of course, is the menu, a compelling bill-of-fare that defies ordering quickly. You’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to order. Everything listed is appealing. Should you visit on Sunday for brunch, you’ll have two equally enticing menus from which to choose–an intriguing brunch menu and the sumptuous daily menu.  We opted for the daily menu, reasoning that we now have an excuse to return on a lazy, brunchy Sunday afternoon.  Another excuse, not that one is needed, is a pleasant dog-friendly patio with plenty of shade behind the restaurant.  You’ll want to peruse the herb garden where such fresh ameliorants as rosemary, basil, parsley and more can be found.

What surprised us most about the menu is how relatively inexpensive each entree is considering the generous portion size and quality of preparation.  This is fine-dining at near cheap-eats prices.  The appetizer menu ranges from salmon crudo to encrusted brie and a cheese platter offering a diversity of local and imported fromage.  The soup and salad menu includes one of the best described chopped salads we’ve seen on any menu.  If it tastes as good as it reads, it’ll be a hit among Duke City diners.  Entrees showcase all your favorite proteins: pork, beef, chicken and fish.  There’s also a vegetarian entree which just might convert some of us carnivores.

House Cut Loin Steak

It took us nearly ten minutes to decide which appetizer to request. Our choice, the fried asparagus served with a green chile ranch is a winner.  Lightly coated in a tempura batter, the half-dozen asparagus spears are firm and crisp with none of the stringiness you find in poorly fried asparagus (Mama Peralta).  Though addictive on their own, the housemade green chile ranch dressing elevates the fried asparagus to the “must have” appetizer level.  The green chile ranch isn’t as piquant as the one now offered at Dion’s, but it, too, is so good it should be bottled and sold.  Seeing a generous portion of the green chile ranch remaining after we had polished off the asparagus made it easy to decide what dressing would be gracing the salad accompanying my entree.  The salad, an old-fashioned dinner salad with fresh, crisp greens, croutons, cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots is terrific.

Often when unable to choose from two equally evocative entrees, I ask our server to surprise me, always assuring him or her that either choice will make me happy.  The slow-braised French-cut pork chop made me very happy indeed.   As with proteins which are “Frenched,” the meat is cut away from the end of the chop so that part of the bone is exposed, essentially giving it a built-in “handle” which makes it easy to pick up and eat.  Another portion of the pork chop is roughly six-ounces of artfully prepared, absolutely delicious porcine perfection.  The chop is positioned atop a creamy, delectable grain mustard sauce that’s been tempered a bit so as not to obfuscate the delicate flavor of the pork.   The chop is served with a mound of rich potatoes au gratin and a fennel apple salad that rings with freshness. This chop competes with the bone-in pork chop at Mykonos Cafe for “best in town” honors.

German Chocolate Cake

My Kim’s house cut loin steak proved equally formidable, reminding us of the many times we enjoyed loin steak in England.  Though usually basted with chimichurri sauce, Kim asked that it be served on the side.  No sauce was needed.  Sliced thinly into medium-rare visions of pink pulchritude, the loin steak was fulsome and flavorful with a rich beefy flavor.  The herbaceous notes imparted by the chimichurri appealed to me, but my Kim is much more a purist than I when it comes to the flavor of beef.  Accompaniment for this terrific steak came in the form of roasted red potatoes and calabasitas (a substitute for broccolini).  Both are equal to the task of sharing space on a plate with that magnificent loin steak.

Jan is the baker in the family though Alejandro wishes she prepared her German Chocolate Cake more often at home.  It’s simply the best German chocolate cake I’ve ever had at any restaurant, equal to the version made by my not-at-all Teutonic mom.  One of the things we appreciated in this cake is that it is served at room temperature, not obviously thawed to order.  The coconut-pecan frosting is slathered on generously, but not so much that it overwhelms the delicate chocolate cake itself.  Another surprise we enjoyed is the sweet-tart raspberry jam spread atop the frosting.  It’s goodness on top of goodness.  The portion size is very lavish.  Call it a sizeable slab of sumptuousness.

Sorbet Trio: Mango, Lemon and Raspberry

For my Kim, the perusal of a dessert menu stops and ends when she espies sorbet.  Her excitement is in triplicate when a sorbet trio is available.  Seared’s sorbet trio features three of her favorites: mango, lemon and raspberry.  All three flavors are fresh, lively and delicious with the icy coolness you appreciate most when temperatures are unseasonably warm.

Seared is one of the very best reasons to make your way to the Downtown area.  Jan and Alejandro aim to please and their aim is certainly true. 

Seared
119 San Pasqual, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 999-8414
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Fried Asparagus, French-Cut Pork Chop, House Cut Loin Steak, German Chocolate Cake, Sorbet Trio
REVIEW #999

Seared Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sugar Nymphs Bistro – Peñasco, New Mexico

Sugar Nymphs Bistro in Penasco

Sugar Nymphs Bistro in Penasco

Peñasco has always been the beautiful stepsister ignored by the dutiful suitors who prefer the company of its more glamorous sibling Taos, the mystical art colony to which new age subscribers seem preternaturally drawn.  Sugar Nymphs Bistro is starting to lure some of those suitors away.  A 2002 entry into the Taos county restaurant scene, Sugar Nymphs offers a sophisticated menu that belies Peñasco’s rural simplicity while celebrating its agrarian traditions and serving its local home-grown organic produce.

In recognition of its bucolic setting and its outstanding cuisine, Sugar Nymphs Bistro was featured in the October, 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine, the internationally renown “magazine of good living.” It was one of eight featured rural restaurants where “the welcome is warm and the flavor regional.” Despite the restaurant’s acclaim, to some local residents, Sugar Nymphs remains “that place owned by los hippies.” Those “hippies” would be chef Kai Harper Leah and pastry chef Ki Holste, co-owners of the only kitchen in Peñasco nearly as wonderful as my mother’s.

Cozy, comfortable and delicious: Sugar Nymphs in Penasco. Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll.

Sugar Nymphs is warm and welcoming, cozy and comforting, a welcome respite from the mundane.  It has a sort of neighborly Santa Fe type place in which you can kick back in comfort, bask in the morning sunlight and imbibe the aromas of steaming coffee and delectable pastries.  The dining room is homey, its yellow walls festooned with art by the chef herself.  Kai Harper is nearly as adept with a brush as she is with the kitchen implements which do her bidding to create some of the best cuisine in northern New Mexico.

Kai plied her chef skills in some of San Francisco’s most innovative restaurants, including Greens which is considered almost universally as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the country. With a chef’s pedigree like that, you know you’re in for a unique dining experience. It’s a dining experience you should start with the restaurant’s signature salad, the Goat Cheese Salad. Available in two sizes, it’s playfully referred to as a “little goat” or a “big goat” and features organic lettuces tossed in sesame ginger vinaigrette with Sonoma goat cheese, dried sweet cranberries and toasted pecans. It’s one of the very best salads anywhere in New Mexico, a salad so fabulous a carnivore would give up meat for it.

The Goat Cheese Salad

The Goat Cheese Salad, one of New Mexico’s best salads

A “best” accolade could also be attributed to the Provencal Pistou made with locally grown pinto beans, sweet parsnips, caramelized onion and tomato.  It’s the perfect cure for a cold winter night.  Amazingly, it may not even be the best soup on the menu.  That honor might belong to a white and pinto bean butternut squash soup that may leave you swooning.  It’s everything Webster had in mind when defining soup as a quintessential comfort food.

The entree which captured Gourmet magazine’s attention is the Chipotle Pork Loin, sautéed pork loin served in medallions with a lively tomato chipotle cream that tantalizes your taste buds.  The magazine should have dedicated its entire issue to that porcine perfection. With a seasonal menu, the fabulous chipotle pork loin may not be available when you visit, but don’t fret. The menu always includes several wonderful entrees with which you’ll fall in love–entrees such as the individual meatloaf with roasted tomato sauce. While meatloaf may be the quintessential comfort food, the Sugar Nymph’s version sets the bar. The meatloaf is seasoned with cumin, Spanish paprika, onion, garlic, oregano, tomato and cheese. It is served with potato gratin and green beans. Unlike the crusty cardboard tasting meatloaf served at many diners, this one is tender and moist. The roasted tomato sauce is fabulous, so good you’ll use it as a gravy on your potatoes.

Meatloaf with roasted tomato sauce

The Sugar Nymphs fabulous meatloaf

Rather than lament the absence of the chipotle pork loin, you might want to celebrate the presence on the menu of the grilled chicken with lemon pepper Pappardelle pasta.  The grilled chicken is prepared the French way.  It is seasoned and placed on the grill under a brick, allowing it to cook rapidly and remain moist after serving.” The grilled chicken is served with a lemon pepper Pappardelle pasta with goat cheese, tomatoes and grilled asparagus. It is a fabulous entree emboldened by the scintillating moist and tender chicken breast.

In its June, 2010 edition, New Mexico Magazine celebrated New Mexico’s Best Eats, eight of the best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment. Two versions of each dish–a downhome version and uptown version were selected. The magazine accorded the honor as  state’s very best uptown green chile stew  to the green-chile bison stew at Sugar Nymphs.  It’s a well-deserved honor few would dispute.

Grilled chicken with lemon pepper Pappardelle pasta

Lemon pepper Pappardelle pasta

The grilled vegetable lasagna features layers of handmade pasta with Parmesan Béchamel sauce, grilled vegetables and mozzarella and ricotta cheeses.  The Béchamel sauce is positively beguiling, better than I’ve had at any Italian restaurant in New Mexico. Sugar Nymph’s innovative menu varies daily to accommodate local ingredients and keep things interesting for the growing customer base.

A daily standard, however, is the restaurant’s pizza, a rectangular slate oven baked masterpiece that’s as good as pizza anywhere in New Mexico.  That goes for pizza in which one solitary ingredient, say pepperoni, is featured or for one of the fabulous specialty pies.   One appropriately called the “West Coast” features a succulent amalgam of marinated artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, capers, caramelized onion and goat cheese.  It’s a memorable pie!

Meat Lovers Pizza

The restaurant does a booming take-out business with pizza being the most popular to-go item.  For several decades, the closest pizza restaurant to Peñasco has been Pizza Hut in Taos.  As such, that’s the pie against which all other pizzas have been measured for many residents.  It’s heart-warming to see the love of this village for Sugar Nymphs pies. Each pizza is hand-tossed, made with the restaurant’s own dough and sauce and there’s only one size–approximately 14 inches sliced into eight edible triangles.  The Peñasco pie starts with sauce and cheese then is topped with lots of pepperoni and freshly sautéed mushrooms.  It’s made the fabulous fungi very popular in the village.

Speaking of pie, the only pie in Taos county equal to or better than a sugar Nymphs pizza is the restaurant’s signature maple pecan pie topped with real whipped cream.  It’s one of the few items on the restaurant you can top.  A light and flaky crust establishes the foundation for this wonderful pie which is then topped with layer upon layer of rich, sweet maple and chocolate overlayed by pecans.  It is an absolutely fantastic pie, one of several fabulous desserts on the menu.

Maple pecan pie

Maple pecan pie

On Sunday mornings after church, the streets of Peñasco may seem abandoned until just before eleven when out-of-town Landrovers, BMWs and Mercedes Benz head to Sugar Nymphs where they share the gravel parking lot with mud-caked pick-up trucks.  The commonality among the owners of the assorted conveyances on the lot is the desire for perhaps the best Sunday brunch in Taos county.

Brunch is served from 11AM through 2:30PM.  As with lunch and dinner, the menu varies, but one Sunday standard is the presence of scones, perhaps the best we’ve had in New Mexico.  These scones are complementary and even though many patrons will ask to buy a dozen or so to take home, they’re not for sale (although you can order as many as you want with 24-hour notice).  Unlike some scones which are as desiccated as the desert, these are moist and tender yet flaky.  They are fruit filled and fabulous, worth getting up for by themselves.

Scones at Sugar Nymphs

Because man and woman cannot live on scones alone, Sugar Nymphs has a fabulous brunch menu.  It’s limited in the number of entrees, but very well varied.  The menu includes a hot special (which might be beef stew), sandwiches and salads and not so traditional breakfast entrees such as Pantalone French toast.

True New Mexicans can have green chile cheeseburgers for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Sugar Nymphs’ rendition is one of the very best in the state–six ounces of freshly ground choice beef with Cheddar cheese, bacon and green chile on a housemade focaccia bun.  The green chile isn’t especially piquant, but it’s smoky and flavorful.  Thinly sliced white onions and small plum tomatoes adorn the burger.  The focaccia is hard-crusted and delicious, a perfect canvas for the other ingredients.

Green chile cheeseburger with bacon

Sandwiches are offered with soup, salad or home fried potatoes.  The potatoes are papitas style–small cubes of potato perfection.  Though not exactly a traditional accompaniment for a green chile cheeseburger, savvy diners will opt for the soup of the day.  If it’s the white and pinto bean with butternut squash soup, you might never want French fries again.

A more traditional (for New Mexico) brunch offering is Sugar Nymphs’ green chile scramble, scrambled eggs with bacon, green chile, Cheddar cheese, sweet red peppers and onions served with home-fried potatoes and a buttermilk biscuit.  The red peppers are roasted to perfection, the Cheddar mildly sharp and the bacon crisp.  Strawberry jelly on each table seems made just for that flaky and tender buttermilk biscuit.  This is a great breakfast entree.

Green Chile Scramble

13 August 2017: You almost have to wonder if some restaurants, especially of the upscale genre in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, are trying to dissuade their guests from ordering dessert. “Madness,” you say. Consider this. You’re charged a king’s ransom for desserts that take you three or four bites to consume—even if you’re trying to savor each bite slowly. If you want a dessert that’s worth what you pay for it, visit small town New Mexico. Visit Sugar Nymphs in Penasco. There a slab of chocolate cake is a bounteous, beauteous behemoth. You can eat a hearty portion and still save a generous half for later. There’s no scrimping on portions. Nor is there diminishment of deliciousness. The triple layer chocolate cake is probably the best in New Mexico. So is the organic carrot cake, a rich, moist, creamy slab of swoon-inducing greatness. Reminiscent of the transformative Mexican wedding cake at Mary & Tito’s, it’s chockful of pineapple and flavor.

Sugar Nymphs is in the same building as the Peñasco Theater (formerly known as the El Puente) which was built in 1941 and served as the original movie house for the village.  Colorful murals of local imagery (such as a woman from nearby Picuris Pueblo making micaceous pottery) festoon the entire frontage. During my youth the movie theater specialized in the cinematic exploits of both Western cowboys and the Mexican charros while the area in which Sugar Nymphs is situated once hosted a small restaurant.

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake

Sugar Nymphs has become a popular and utterly delicious reason to visit Peñasco, but while you’re there make sure you take in the Jicarita Peak which governs Peñasco’s skies like a sovereign queen perched on her throne keeping a vigilant watch over her people.

Sugar Nymphs Bistro
15046 State Highway 75
Peñasco, New Mexico
575-587-0311
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 8 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Goat Cheese Salad, Provencal Pistou, Chipotle Pork Loin, Grilled Vegetable Lasagna, Pizza, Scones, Green Chile Scramble, Green Chile Cheese Burger with Bacon, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cake, Meat Lovers Pizza

Sugar Nymphs Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Scalo Northern Italian Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Scalo, one of the crown jewels of the Nob Hill area.

When we moved back to New Mexico on May 15, 1995, our first priority wasn’t where to live, but where to eat.  Having been away for the better part of 18 years, there were so many old favorites with which to reacquaint ourselves and so many exciting new prospects we just had to try.  By year’s end, we had visited 75 different restaurants (no chains).  One of our favorite sources on where to eat was Albuquerque Monthly, a very well written publication which celebrated the Duke City’s culinary scene with an Annual Restaurant Guide and a “Best of Albuquerque” edition. 

On its tenth anniversary, the magazine created a “Best Of” Hall of Fame, listing the ten establishments–restaurants, bars, card stores, clothing stores, computer stores, galleries and more–which had received more “best of” votes during the decade than anyone else.  The first establishment listed was Scalo Northern Italian Grill, which was also perennial selection on the magazine’s annual listing of the city’s top ten fine-dining restaurants (other mainstays still serving the city include the Artichoke Cafe, Prairie Star and the Rancher’s Club).

The main dining room at Scalo

Call it heretical if you will, but it took a while before Scalo earned my affections.  One song described perfectly my first three experiences at Scalo, long regarded by many as an Italian restaurant in a class of its own–the pinnacle of Italian dining in the Duke City.  That song, a 1960’s baby boomer tune by Polly J. Harvey asked the question, “Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball if that’s all there is.”  After every meal at Scalo, I asked myself the same question: Is that all there is?…but I didn’t come away dancing (although the pricey tab usually made me want to take up drinking.)

Bread with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Because it was one of Albuquerque’s most popular, highly acclaimed and revered restaurants, I expected Scalo to completely blow me away. Instead, my every dining experience was a humdrum event that left me perplexed as to what I was missing.  That changed on Saturday, May 5th, 2005 when like a sudden, powerful and almost spiritual realization hit me–an eating epiphany of sorts. That epiphany came with the second or third bite of the spinach salad (yes, a salad!) with blue cheese, honeyed walnuts and strawberries. Almost ethereal in its lightness, this salad married ingredients that just shouldn’t work that well together, but nonetheless coalesce to create a memorable taste sensation.  The sharpness of the blue cheese, the tartness of the just in season strawberries and the salty sweetness of the honeyed walnuts were like the signature masterpiece of a culinary artist, easily one of the best salads we’ve had in New Mexico.

Great Northern White Bean Soup

Great Northern White Bean Soup

Perhaps not coincidentally, just a few weeks before that transformative visit Scalo’s ownership changed hands with entrepreneur Steve Paternoster assuming the helm.  Paternoster is one of Albuquerque’s most successful restaurant impresarios, having had a hand on several successful start-ups including La Brasserie Provence and Ptit Louis Bistro.  He is also one of the city’s most active philanthropists, garnering the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s (NMRA) Cornerstone Humanitarian of the Year for New Mexico in 2010.  That same year Scalo and Brasserie La Provence shared the NMRA’s “Restaurant Neighbor Award” for their ongoing contributions to many civic organizations, schools and churches. 

Carpaccio

It would be presumptuous to believe one person, no matter how influential or dynamic, could be solely responsible for my sudden change of heart about a restaurant.  After all Scalo has been serving Albuquerque since December, 1986 and during its quarter-century of operation has always been regarded as one of the city’s premier destination restaurants. In 2007, it was bestowed a Wine Spectator award of excellence for its outstanding selection of premium wines.  In 1998, it was featured in Gourmet Magazine.  After nearly three decades, it continues to garner accolades.  During his much missed very entertaining and interesting weekly radio show, Steve Paternoster often gave all the credit to Scalo’s success to the restaurant’s staff, most of whom have been with the restaurant for years.  It’s a good staff, as accommodating and friendly as they come in the Duke City, but Paternoster’s leadership and commitment to keeping his restaurant at the top is inspiring.

The Scalo experience is much more than excellent wines and quality Northern Italian cuisine. Its allure also includes a bright, airy interior bustling with the cacophonous din of constant activity from an open kitchen and an enthusiastic wait staff flitting from patron to patron, seemingly never skipping a beat or screwing up an order.  Weather permitting, al fresco dining is available in a capacious, covered, temperature-controlled patio replete with white linen table cloths and fine silverware.  It’s a patio our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides) enjoys very much.

Baked cavatelli

Baked cavatelli

7 October 2007: Scalo’s menu is influenced by seasonal harvests and it prides itself on using locally grown organic produce. The quality shows in some of the most inventive salads and soups anywhere in town.  The Great Northern White Bean Soup is one such soup–a brimming bowl of great ingredients melded together creatively. Those ingredients include shaved Parmesan cheese, a spicy-sweet pancetta, an invigorating Italian pesto pasta and hard-crusted Ciabatta croutons. This is the perfect autumn soup a comforting elixir that will cure what ails you. 

29 July 2017: If you find the notion of raw beef a bit primitive, you probably would never consider eating steak tartare (top-quality raw beef chopped and served with onion, capers, parsley, mustard, and egg yolk).  Instead, you might want to try Carpaccio.  Named for an Italian painter famed for his use of red pigments resembling raw meat, Carpaccio is often sliced so thin that you can almost see right through it.   Scalo’s Carpaccio (shaved beef tenderloin, Parmesan, arugula, local greens, extra-virgin olive oil) isn’t transparent, but it’s sliced so thin you practically have to scrape it off the plate as spearing it with a fork won’t cut it.  The marriage of shaved Parmesan and that whisper-thin beef tenderloin is especially memorable and the light olive oil touch with a sprinkling of cracked pepper brings it all together.  If you love carpaccio, you also owe it to yourself to try the superb lime beef at Cafe Dalat.  It’s carpaccio made the Vietnamese way and it’s a winner.

Gnocchi Scalo style is an adventure in flavor.

Gnocchi Scalo style is an adventure in flavor.

A meal at Scalo includes complimentary bread baked by the Swiss Alps Bakery which has been serving the Duke City for more than a decade. It’s a hearty, hard-crusted, airy bread just perfect for sopping up Scalo’s savory sauces. The bread is served with an olive oil and Balsamic vinegar mix. Alternatively, you can request butter which is soft and easy to spread.

7 October 2007: The Baked Cavatelli starts with a corkscrew shaped pasta baked al dente then topped with a fennel-rich housemade pork sausage, mushrooms, roasted garlic, ricotta, Parmesan and a pine nut gremolata in a marinara cream sauce.  There are a lot of things going on with this entree, but it’s not one of those dishes in which all the ingredients seem to be competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds. Instead the ingredients work well together in a concordant, complementary fashion.  You may want to isolate the flavors to focus on specific tastes (for example, the richness of the ricotta or the tangy, piquant bite of the sausage), but this is an entree in which the flavors are truly best in combination with each other.

chocolate semi freddo

chocolate semi freddo

7 October 2007: The sautéed gnocchi employs even more flavor combinations–a Gorgonzola cream sauce, toasted walnuts, balsamic currants and chives. There’s the pungent richness and sharpness of the Gorgonzola, the fruity tanginess of the currants and the flagrant effervescence of the chives. This gnocchi is rich and delicious. Gnocchi, which is much more than just Italian potato or semolina dumplings, should be light in texture with almost a melt-in-your-mouth quality. That’s what Scalo’s rendition of this taken-for-granted entree is–ethereally light and wholly enjoyable.

The lunch menu includes several wood-fired gourmet pizzas, most crafted with fairly standard, albeit high-quality ingredients.  On occasion, the pizze (sic) menu also includes pizza crafted with ingredients you might not see elsewhere in New Mexico on a pizza. Creativity seems to be a hallmark of all Scalo entrees. One pizza we enjoyed immensely but which isn’t on the standard pizze menu showcased fig preserve, prosciutto, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and arugula. At first browse, these ingredients seem somewhat disparate, yet Scalo made them work in a taste bud pleasing fashion. Scalo’s pizza is a semi-round pie served slightly crispy and waifishly thin. It’s not likely you’ll have any leftovers save for the impressions left  on your olfactory memories and taste buds.

Budino Di Pane

5 February 2012: Dessert (the “dolce” menu) is a celebratory event at Scalo where seven sensational sweet treats will challenge you to select the right one to finish off your meal.  As with the antipasti, insalati, pizze, panini, carne e pesce and fresh pasta menus, desserts are not permanent fixtures as Scalo changes things up frequently to keep things interesting and delicious.  You can generally expect to find homemade gelato on the menu and usually a “sampler’ which introduces you to three desserts at one fixed price.  During our inaugural brunch visit, we rejoiced at finding a Budino Di Pane, an Italian bread pudding topped with warm caramel and served with vanilla gelato.  It’s a dessert which in 1995 could well have been another epiphanic dish.

7 October 2007: If you fancy chocolate–and not the dairy chocolate variety tailored for children–you’ll love Scalo’s chocolate semi freddo Genoise cake with a pistachio bark in a warm pool of dark chocolate sauce.  This is not a fork-tender chocolate confection. In fact, it’s darn hard to cut into the cake, but once it’s in your mouth, it practically melts there. This is a dark, rich chocolate that should come with an “R” rating for adults only.

Ostrichi al Forno

Brunch 

Scalo was a relative late-comer to the brunch bunch, serving the traditional Sunday repast from 11AM to 2:30PM with a Bloody Mary bar starting at noon.  The brunch menu includes five items on the antipasti y insalate menu, four pizzas and a ten-item Primi Y Secondi menu.  In Italy, the traditional meal progression begins with an antipasto followed by a primi (usually soup, pasta or risotto) then a secondi (main course) and finally dolce or formaggi (a cheese course).  Portions in Italy tend to be much smaller than in America so that progression makes sense.  Scalo’s portions are somewhat more substantial and you might not follow the traditional progression.

5 February 2012: You would not, however, want to pass on an antipasti as terrific as the ostrichi al forno, four oysters on the half-shell baked with artichoke, aioli, Reggiano and truffle oil.  It’s a wonderful variation on Oysters Rockefeller and much better, too.  The greenish hue of the artichoke-infused, Reggiano blessed oyster appetizer is intriguing, but it’s the flavor of the dish–the brininess of the oysters, the fresh “greeness” of the artichokes, the sharp nuttiness of the Reggiano–that will ensnare your affections. You’ll want a dozen of these beauties.

Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda

5 February 2012: The Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda, a pounded bone-in crispy pork chop with an onion, bacon, capers and grain mustard cream  is somewhat reminiscent of a German weinerschnitzel though much more lightly breaded.  The mustard cream is more akin to a French Hollandaise sauce than to a pungent, tangy German mustard.  This prodigious hunk of porcine heaven is as substantial in flavor as it is in portion-size.  The pork chop is nearly fork tender and is terrific with or without the mustard cream.

5 February 2012: A more “breakfasty” brunch offering is the Polenta y Salsiccia, creamy polenta, grilled sausage, poached eggs, roasted peppers and mushrooms.  Polenta (not necessarily synonymous with grits) serves as the base for this dish–literally.  Piled atop the polenta are two sausages, one spicy and one sweet and frothy poached eggs.  The objective of this dish is to spread the runny yokes throughout the dish, making it a melange of flavors.  It may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but the combination of ingredients works very well.

Polenta y Salsiccia

29 July 2017:  My Kim likes to joke that her weird husband doesn’t like spaghetti, but loves all of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western. She, on the other hand, dislikes the Clint Eastwood shoot-em-ups and loves spaghetti.  Not finding spaghetti on Scalo’s brunch menu, she opted for the next best thing, a Scalo’s only entree called Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti (sauteed shrimp, olive oil, chili, garlic, sun-dried tomato, peas, parsley, lemon and white wine butter).  It’s a dish that will address different areas of your taste buds with flavor profiles that are alternatively piquant, savory, tart, briny and even a bit sweet.  The shrimp is fresh and snaps when you bite into it.  My favorite elements were the fresh green peas and sun-dried tomatoes.

Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti

29 July 2017:  One of the highlights of visiting my mom in Peñasco is enjoying organic farm-fresh eggs for breakfast.  Online debates rage as to whether there’s a discernible difference between farm-fresh eggs and their store-bought counterparts.  Having been raised on the former, I’m a stickler for farm-fresh eggs.  That said, the three eggs on Scalo’s Pizza Colazione (sunny side up egg, speech ham, Fontina, Gorgonzola, fresh rosemary, aged balsamic) reminded me of the eggs we gathered every morning from my grandmother’s chicken coop.  This is a terrific pizza, my only nit being that the eggs shouldn’t have been congregated so closely so as to better distribute the unctuous yolk.  The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy with a pronounced flavor of oven-baked bread.  In combination, the Fontina and Gorgonzola provide a wondrous cheesy flavor that goes very well with the salty ham.  In my pantheon of New Mexico’s very best pizzas, this one certainly deserves a high spot.  It’s outstanding!

Pizza Colazione

For several years my friend Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos has been extolling the greatness of Scalo’s Filetto (grilled beef tender loin, mushroom risotto, grilled asparagus, cambozola cheese, red wine reduction), a dish which certainly sounds worthy of much praise.  Alas, our visits to Scalo seem to occur most often on weekends during brunch.  One of these days we’ll have to join Bob for dinner.  That’s likely the day my rating for this Duke City institution is likely to climb.

Scalo Northern Italian Grill
3500 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 255-8782
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Spinach Salad; Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce; Pizza; Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda; Ostrichi al forno; Baked Cavatelli; Chocolate semi freddo; Carpaccio, Pizza Colazione, Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti

Scalo Northern Italian Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nob Hill Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nob Hill Bar & Grill on Central Avenue

The Nob Hill Bar & Grill

There’s talk on the street,
it’s there to remind you,

it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on
You’re walking away and they’re talking behind you
They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along
New Kid In Town: The Eagles

As an independent observer of the New Mexico culinary experience, it’s always intrigued me just how fleeting and short-lived the popularity of new restaurants can be.   Perhaps indicative of our human need for constant new sources of stimulation and gratification, diners (and restaurant critics) flock to new restaurants like moths to a flame.   In our minds, new seems to translate to fresh and exciting.  We seem drawn to the spit, polish and promise of new restaurants in our constant quest for new and different.

The phenomenon of newness isn’t solely applicable to restaurants.  On the liner notes of “The Very Best of the Eagles,” Don Henley explained the meaning behind their number one song “New Kid in Town:” We’re basically saying, ‘Look, we know we’re red hot right now but we also know that somebody’s going to come along and replace us–both in music and in love.’  The fleeting, fickle nature of our fascination with newness is so strong that some restaurants actually peak in popularity within a few months after opening, particularly after their first glowing reviews.

The interior of the Nob Hill Bar & Grill

A decidedly masculine ambiance

In the National Football League (NFL), general managers and coaches recognize that the effectiveness of a draft (the signing of new players coming out of college) isn’t realized for three years.  New restaurants generally don’t have three years to prove themselves.  Many of them don’t make it past their first year.  Successful restaurants aren’t just another pretty face in the crowd.  They’re generally restaurants with substance, not just flash and panache–eateries which provide reasonable portions of good food in a pleasant ambiance served by an attentive staff.  Many of them are constantly reinventing themselves with new and exciting seasonal menu offerings.

In April, 2008, one of the pretty new faces gracing the Duke City dining scene was the Nob Hill Bar & Grill on Central Avenue.  The mere fact that it’s survived six years (as of this writing) is indicative that it’s doing things right.  The fact that there doesn’t appear to be any surcease in its popularity despite the onslaught of newer and arguably prettier competition says the Nob Hill Bar & Grill formula is working very well indeed.

Applewood Smoked Chicken Wings Tossed in Mango Habanero served with blue cheese

Perhaps one of the reasons the restaurant continues to thrive is the combination of staying true to its original vision while constantly introducing elements of newness the Albuquerque dining public craves.  The Nob Hill Bar & Grill’s  vision is to be a place in which everyone feels welcome to come as they are, but with the expectations that they’ll find top-notch food, service and interesting twists on the standards they might find at a neighborhood bar, pub or steakhouse. Think time-honored bar and comfort foods with an upscale gourmet interpretation.  Think gastropub done very well!

Situated in an east-facing adobe-hued stucco exterior and a beckoning red brick frontage facing Central Avenue, the Nob Hill Bar & Grill is a beacon for patrons in pursuit of delicious victuals and creative cocktails. The east-facing wall opens up to an exterior patio which nearly doubles the restaurant’s seating capacity.  The patio provides an excellent people-watching venue (and great place to bring your dog) even though the faux wicker chairs must have been designed by the Marquis de Sade.  The restaurant’s interior is decidedly contemporary and masculine with its exposed brick walls, high-backed booths with black leather seating, dark wood floors and an exposed ceiling.  An exhibition kitchen is the restaurant’s cynosure, a hectic, but not harried hub of activity. The menu, however, has more than enough variety to please both masculine and feminine palates.

St eamed Clams Little neck clams with roasted fennel, roma tomatoes and pork lardons in a white wine butter sauce topped with gremolata

Steamed Clams

The Nob Hill Bar & Grill’s innovative menu changes with the seasons.  To the greatest extent possible, the restaurant sources its beef and produce locally.  Hamburgers are crafted from premium-cut steak raised in Roswell (no UFO jokes, please).  This is no ordinary beef.  It’s a full carcass blend made from premium cuts–New York, tenderloin, ribeye– not scrap meat.   You’ll be able to taste the difference. 

Appetizers

19 August 2011: As down-to-earth as celebrity foodie Ryan Scott is, he is admittedly a barbecue snob. Years of trial and some error have made him a true smoke master and undoubtedly imbued him with the patience all barbecue purists must have.  Dine with him and you’re practically assured your meal will include smoked chicken wings if they’re on the menu.  The Nob Hill Bar & Grill’s wings are smoked in applewood, a “light” wood which imparts a fragrant smokiness without overwhelming the meats.  You can have the wings tossed in your choice of buffalo sauce or mango-habanero and served with your choice of blue cheese or ranch.  The mango-habanero is slightly tangy and only mildly piquant, allowing the applewood smoke to shine.  Shine it does.  These wings are so good Ryan eschewed dessert and opted for a second order of wings.

Jicama Duck Tacos: Shedded duck confit on fresh jicama t ortillas with an or ange cr anberry salsa and queso fresc

Jicama Duck Tacos

15 March 2014: In responding to my “Best of the Best for 2013” feature, my friends Hannah and Edward compiled their own list of the most memorable dishes they had in 2013.  Their list included a number of intriguing dishes I hadn’t tried.  Among the most compelling, a dish on which they both agreed, was the steamed clams at the Nob Hill Bar & Grill.  Since in my mind Hannah and Edward can do no wrong, the clams were the first item on which my eyes trained during a subsequent visit.   Be forewarned, that the steamed clams aren’t always on the menu.  Thankfully the menu does change seasonally and the restaurant even has a “suggestion box” in which you can request your favorite dishes be brought back onto the menu.

These steamed clams are indeed well worthy of adulation.  At seven to ten clams per pound, little neck clams are the smallest of American cold water quahogs, but they’re among the most delicious–especially when served in a white wine butter sauce topped with gremolata (chopped herb condiment usually made of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley),  roasted fennel, Roma tomatoes and pork lardons. It’s as good a sauce as we’ve found for clams, a sauce which would make an award-winning soup and for which you would want a half dozen slices of lightly toasted bread to dredge up every drop.  

Huevos Rancheros

15 March 2014: From its onset, the Nob Hill Bar & Grill has been one of the city’s very best eateries in showcasing the versatility and deliciousness of duck.  One of the more inventive ways in which it’s offered is in the form of Jicama Duck Tacos.  You’re probably thinking “what’s so inventive about julienne jicama on a taco” and you’d be right.  What makes this taco so innovative is that the fresh tortillas are made not from corn or flour, but from jicama, a versatile sweet root vegetable.  Four tacos per order are engorged with shredded duck confit with an orange-cranberry salsa and queso fresco.  These are some of the most moist and delicious tacos in town.  The shredded duck is rich, moist and infused with flavors complemented by a tangy-sweet salsa and a mild queso.  

In its annual Food and Wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff sampled “every dish of nachos in the city” and selected the Nob Hill Bar & Grill’s nachos as the sixth best in the city.  The magazine described these nachos as “Albuquerque meets Texas with this plate of nachos, which is filled with chili–you know, the Texas kind.”

Brunch

Sunday brunch is a special event at several Nob Hill restaurants. It’s the thing to do on lazy Sunday mornings and restaurants such as Zinc are the place to be. Look for the Nob Hill Bar & Grill to attract even more people to the cultural heart of the city.  When the Nob Hill Bar & Grill first opened, it offered a bountiful brunch buffet.  Bidding bonjour to that  brunch buffet is a blow softened by a memorable, weekly changing brunch menu.  Sure, you won’t engorge yourself with multiple trips to the buffet, but you’ll be treated to prepared to order entrees that don’t suffer the ignominious fate of sitting under a heat lamp (which will diminish the flavor of even the best entrees).

14 December 2008: Huevos Rancheros are just a little bit different, maybe just a bit better than huevos rancheros at most New Mexican restaurants.  Instead of piling ingredients atop a corn tortilla, these beauties start with two rolled duck meat enchiladas topped with both green chile stew and red chile sauce and a fried egg.  The green chile stew is fantastic–piquant and flavorful, albeit parsimoniously portioned.  The red chile has a beautiful purity with no discernible thickening agents.  It is earthy and delicious, but alas, there’s just not enough of it.  Not everybody wants a veritable lagoon of fluorescent red chile (a description shared with me by long-time friend of this blog Bruce Balto), but when it’s this good, you want more than to be teased.  The huevos are accompanied by old-fashioned refried beans which, honestly, would have benefited from some of that fabulous green chile stew.

Chips & Salsa Three Ways

Until a few years ago, you couldn’t find an imaginative pancake in all of Albuquerque. Sure you could find pancakes topped with every conceivable fruit you can find, but in terms of griddle greatness, buttermilk was about as good as it got. It took chefs like Dennis Apodaca at Sophia’s Place and the Nob Hill Bar & Grill’s Culinary Institute of America former owner-chef Matt Ludeman to elevate pancakes to a new level.  Matt and his brother Michael sold the Nob Hill Bar & Grill to Nicole Kapnison in 2014.

14 December 2008: The Nob Hill Bar & Grill’s contribution includes oatmeal Guinness pancakes topped with a Balsamic orange butter and whiskey syrup. Roughly the circumference of a coffee cup, these flavorful orbs are dense and thick instead of light and fluffy, but they’re good enough to eat sans syrup and butter, not that you’d ever want to considering the whiskey syrup is sensational. Accompanying the pancakes are two strips of candied pepper bacon and two eggs sunny-side-up. The candied pepper bacon will compete with the honey-chile glazed bacon at the Gold Street Caffe as the best bacon in town. It’s a flaccid bacon as opposed to the jerky textured bacon some restaurants serve. 

The Aptly Named Dirty Burger

14 December 2008: The “brunchies” portion of the menu includes several nice starters such as chips and salsa three ways.  Sweet, smoky and tart is one way in the form of smoked mango salsa composed of mangoes, tomatoes, cilantro and green peppers.  Another way is with creamy avocado sparsely dotted with corn niblets and replete with flavor.  It’s not a conventional guacamole per se, but if you like just the whisper of citrus influenced tartness with the buttery richness of avocado, you’ll love this one.  The third way is pico de gallo, a composite of tomato, green pepper, red onion and cilantro.  There’s not much pico in this rooster’s bite, but it’s delicious.  The red, white and blue corn tortillas are crisp and low in salt.

Lunch

19 August 2011: My friend Ryan Scott, the dynamic host of Albuquerque’s best YouTube channel program Break the Chain, (yeah, I’m a shill) and I shared a “Dirty Burger” which our waitress touted as one of the very best burgers in New Mexico. A better name might be “Messy Burger” in the best tradition of four napkin burgers whose ingredients run down your hands and face. The burger is constructed with your choice of Nob Hill’s ultimate blend steak or Snake River Kobe beef topped with chili (sic) con queso, frizzled onions, bacon fried egg and “beeronnaize” served with sea salt fries and chipotle ketchup. Because the chili con queso is made with the foul demon spice cumin, I deprived Scott of the experience of trying the Kobe crafted chili.

This Ain’t Yo Mama’s Meatloaf Local New Mexico all natural beef stuffed with applewood smoked bacon and smoked mozzarella cheese, served with garlic mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables and shallot gravy

This Ain’t Yo Mama’s Meatloaf

Sans chili, this is a terrific burger!  Lightly toasted brioche buns are hardly formidable enough to contain all the juiciness and flavor so you might have to eat this burger with a knife and fork.  The beef is most assuredly the star of this four-star burger.  It has the flavor of premium steak.  Cut into the over-easy fried egg and let its yoke cover the beef for a taste sensation savvy restaurants have caught onto.  The beeronnaize (not Bearnaise) has an interesting flavor–a somewhat salty, beer imbued mayo concoction applied generously.  Only the frizzled onions are truly extraneous, a wholly unnecessary additive. 

15 March 2014: It’s not every mama who serves meatloaf constructed from local New Mexico all-natural beef stuffed with applewood smoked bacon and smoked mozzarella cheese stacked atop a forest mushroom risotto then serves it with fresh vegetables (haricot vert and asparagus).  That makes this entree’s name–This Ain’t Yo Mama’s Meatloaf–so appropriate.  The pairing of applewood smoked bacon and smoked mozzarella makes smokiness the most prominent in a flavor profile.  It’s most definitely an adult meatloaf.  The forest mushroom risotto isn’t the usual accompaniment for the meatloaf, but a very accommodating server (Josh) aimed to please.  It’s a good risotto though its flavor was somewhat obfuscated by the shallot gravy intended for the meatloaf.

Fish and Chips Local Marble Brown Ale battered Cod, sea salt waffle fries, apple slaw and malt vinegar ar

Fish and Chips

15 March 2014: Not only is the meatloaf not constructed as your mama might make it, the fish and chips aren’t quite what we enjoyed by the netful in England.  Instead of flaccid fries which easily absorb the malt vinegar, the Nob Hill Bar & Grill serves sea salt waffle fries which seem to have a deflector shield preventing the absorption of malt vinegar.  The fish–two pieces of fresh cod–are delicious: flaky and delicate on the inside with a crispy Marble Brown Ale batter on the outside.  A small ramekin of apple slaw completes the entree.

30 April 2017:  Surf, turf and sky get equal billing on the menu with several menu item on each category.  Among the terrific dishes on the “sky” menu are the Mole Duck Enchiladas (shredded duck enchiladas with queso fresco, red chile mole, calabasitas and cilantro-lime Basmati rice).  There’s much to love about the dish though that love would be even more boundless if the enchiladas were more sizeable.  There are two stars on the enchiladas–the rich shredded duck and the sweet-savory-piquant mole with red chile notes blending well with the complex multi-ingredient mole.  Also a star are the calabasitas–al dente zucchini, corn niblets and green chile which are fresh and delicious with piquant notes from the green chile sneaking out with every bite.

Duck Mole Enchiladas

30 April 2017: Celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre calls steak frites the perfect date food, going so far as to crediting this popular French dish with helping win over his then girlfriend now wife.  Steak frites is a pretty good date food, too, even if you’re already married.  It’s one of my Kim’s favorite dishes and few do it as well as this restaurant.  The two components of this dish are, of course, steak and French fried potatoes.  At the Nob Hill Bar, that means a mountain of truffle fries so big we barely put a dent on the pile before giving up.  These fries have a twice-fried texture and a nice stiffness.  They’re served with two different ketchup types.  The steak is grilled and topped with a port wine compound butter that’s in the early melting sages.  You’ll want to spread the butter all over the steak.  A port wine demi sauce lends a deliciously rich finish.

Steak Frites

Desserts

Dessert options have included an Editor’s Pick in Albuquerque The Magazine’s 2008 Best of the City edition.  That would be the Cafe Con leche, a coffee lover’s lascivious dream.  It’s Thai coffee mousse with a white chocolate, coffee sponge cake and a crumbly trail of decaf coffee crumbles leading to sweetened condensed milk ice cream made in-house.  Wow!  It’s one of the most unique and intensely flavored desserts in town, a dessert you might not want to share no matter how much you might love your dining companion. 

Cafe con Leche

15 March 2014: Anthony Bourdain believes Guinness to be one of the best adult beverages in the world and as if to prove it downs several frothy pints with every meal of which he partakes in Ireland (that is when he’s not sipping on Irish whiskey).  It’s unlikely he’s had Irish libations in the manner they’re presented at the Nob Hill Bar & Grill in a dessert called the Guinness Fritter Bomb.   Three crispy fritters are served in a large bowl with Guinness ice cream, Bailey’s whipped cream and a Jameson’s caramel sauce.  Surprisingly the most memorable of the lot is the Bailey’s whipped cream.  The Jameson’s caramel sauce is actually sugar spun into twill patterns.

Guinness Fritter Bomb: Crispy Fritters, Guinness Ice Cream, Bailey's Whipped Cream topped with Jameson's Caramel Sauce

Guinness Fritter Bomb

In 2008, the Nob Hill Bar & Grill was selected by readers as Albuquerque’s best new restaurant in the Alibi’s annual “Best of Burque Restaurants” poll.  It earned the same accolade in Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” honors.   In subsequent years, this restaurant has continued to rack up honors and accolades, surely indicative that this is no flash-in-the pan.  The Nob Hill Bar & Grill is here to stay.

Nob Hill Bar & Grill
3128 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, NM

(505) 266-4455
Web Site

1ST VISIT
: 27 April 2008
LATEST VISIT: 
30 April 2017
# OF VISITS
: 5
RATING
: 21
COST
: $$
BEST BET
: Oatmeal Guinness Pancakes, Huevos Rancheros. Chips & Salsa Three Ways, Cafe con Leche, The Dirty Burger, Applewood Smoked Wings, This Ain’t Yo Mama’s Meatloaf, Fish and Chips, Steamed Clams, Jicama Duck Tacos

Nob Hill Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Point Grill – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

The Point Grill in Rio Rancho’s Mariposa Development

“Get to the point!”  Archie Bunker, the irascible curmudgeon on the 70’s sitcom All in the Family frequently chided his doting wife Edith with the epithet “Get to the Point, Edith!”  One of the series occasional and most memorable bits depicted Archie’s pantomime suicides,  carried out  while Edith rambled on and on in her nasal high-pitched voice, wholly oblivious to his dramatic gestures.  In one episode Archie did himself in by tying a noose and hanging himself as Edith prattled on incessantly.  Archie also play-acted suicide by Russian roulette, overdosing on pills and slashing his wrist.  His facial expressions at the moment of death were priceless, often portraying him with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

Some visitors to Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog have echoed Archie’s sentiment. “Get to the point, Gil” they’ve expressed. They tell me they don’t want to wade through details or read the clever (okay, that’s debatable) introductions that preface my restaurant reviews. Others, such as my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott actually look forward to my roundabout way of introducing a restaurant, my efforts at being a racounteur. For them as well as those who would rather I employ a more formulaic (translation: fishwrap-style) approach, I offer this advice (or retort): Get to The Point!

Point Grill dining room

That would be The Point Grill in Rio Rancho’s Mariposa master-planned community. If you’re thinking “that’s too far,” think of going there as a New Year’s resolution (we’re not that deep into 2016) to journey outside your neighborhood in pursuit of new culinary adventures.  Better still, think of it as a treat (you owe it to yourself) in that you’ll get to experience a meal that competes with Joe’s Pasta House and Namaste as the best in the city and among the best in the metropolitan area.  That’s what our friends Dave and Joe have done and they live almost as far east as you can go while still being in Placitas. Dave and Joe introduced us to The Point which has become one of their favorite restaurants, distance be damned.

The Point is actually only about four miles north of the Santa Ana Star Center which even much of Rio Rancho’s citizenry erroneously believes is as far northwest as you can go and still be in the City of Vision. From the intersection of Rio Rancho’s Unser and Southern Boulevards, The Point is almost equidistant to the Cottonwood Mall. There are far fewer traffic lights and you won’t encounter the typical urban traffic snarls. Beyond the Santa Ana Star you’ll encounter a vast expanse of sage and sand as far as the eyes can see on both sides of the two lane highway. “It’s where the bodies are buried,” my Kim remarked.

Mushroom Soup

The Point is about two miles west of the turn-off into Mariposa. It’s ensconced in a 1,200 square-foot corner space in the capacious two-story business center, a modern edifice with plenty of glass to take advantage of wondrous panoramic views. From the ground-level cafe, your views are of the Sandia, Sangre de Cristo, Manzano and Ortiz Mountains, views which seem even more spectacular from the patio. Your views will also include just a few of the state-of-the-art homes and community buildings entwined with the natural splendor of the hilly desert topography in which the 6,500-acre community is situated. The delicate balance of nature, architecture and community blend in harmoniously with each other.

The Point’s perceived distance will make it a true destination restaurant, an exclusive enclave far away from the bustling well-beaten and well-eaten path that defines the Rio Rancho’s dining scene. Two other highly regarded restaurants—The Outlook Café and The Timbuctu Bistro—gave it the “old college try” at this location, but neither was able to sustain a consistently reliable customer-base. What makes The Point different? The difference makers begin with owner and executive chef Michael White, a visionary who in his 18 years of professional experience has traversed the gamut of cooking—everything from  food trucks to high-end restaurants.  Originally from Virginia Beach (and reputed to prepare fabulous crab cakes), Chef White’s menu reflects his love of New Orleans’ dynamic culinary culture and its spices.

Chipotle Chicken Satay

Chef White’s menu offers everything from American comfort foods (six different macaroni and cheese dishes) to an innovative array of bounteous hand-crafted burgers and sandwiches, sumptuous salads, weekly soup specials, tapas and a variety of “chef’s favorites.” The dessert menu, while showcasing only four items, would tempt the most disciplined of dieters. Even the Sunday brunch menu, typically a boring after-thought for some restaurants, offers a number of dishes sure to be the best part of getting up. Best of all, the entire menu (save for brunch) is available at all hours in which the restaurant is open.

The Point opened its doors on September 15th and within two months had achieved 500 “likes” on Facebook. Guests certainly like the comfortable seating, accommodating 44 guests inside and 40 on the patio. They also appreciate all the special event menus such as a crawfish boil for Mardi Gras (already sold out) and a romantic dinner for Valentine’s Day. They’re grateful for the professional, attentive service and recommendations they can trust. Moreover, guests like the “get away from it all” feel of dining at a restaurant that may be a bit out of the way, but well worth the effort to get there.

Red Chile Grilled Corn and Garlic Sauteed Mushrooms

15 January 2016: On a cold winter day when the winds are biting and dark, somber clouds loom ominously, you can’t beat a soothing, soul-warming soup. If the soup-of-the-day is mushroom soup, don’t hesitate to order it. There are two qualities to appreciate most about The Point’s version. First, it’s not overly creamy, a quality often attained through the profusion of thickeners that obfuscate the flavor of the fetid fungi. Second, it’s served piping hot, a sure and instant offset to the cold. This mushroom soup is topped with croutons which soften when submerged under the soup as do the two pieces of ciabatta bread.

15 January 2016: The chipotle chicken satay offers another type of heat—the heat generated by the piquancy of peppers. This satay is the antithesis of the satay served in Thai restaurants which is punctuated by pungent curry and served with a cloying peanut sauce. Instead of curry, the chicken is marinated in a spicy chipotle blend then chargrilled and served over coconut rice, all topped with tzatziki, scallion and lemon wedges. The flavors are lively and offer a wonderfully immersive dining experience in which complementary flavors and textures compete for your rapt attention. The tzatziki and scallions offer cooling contrasts to the chargrilled chicken and help cool off your tongue, too.

Baked Ziti

15 January 2016: The menu’s market side selections, all priced at three dollars, are intended to complement your main entrees, but they can be treated as appetizers as well. After enjoying the charbroiled chicken so much, we thought the pairing of red chile grilled corn and garlic sautéed mushrooms would be a good follow-up. Great call! Golden nibblets of sweet corn are lightly dusted with a pleasantly piquant red chile then roasted nicely to preserve moistness while providing more than a hint of char. We were surprised at how well garlic and mushrooms married together. Neither of the two strong flavor profiles is dominant with both garlic and mushrooms blending their personalities well.

15 January 2016: Among the “Chef’s Favorites” in the winter menu is baked ziti (meatballs, Italian sausage, roasted peppers and onion baked with ziti marinara and Italian cheeses), a classic Italian-American hybrid showcasing a medium-sized tubular pasta baked with a “chunky” sauce and meats. Chef White’s rendition is very reminiscent of the baked ziti I enjoyed so much in the East Coast, save for the fact that The Point’s version is served in a pho-sized bowl instead of in a casserole dish. This version is replete with meatballs and sausage, both as flavorful as you’ll find at any Italian restaurant. The baked ziti is yet another dish that works best in winter, but which would be very enjoyable any time of year.

BRUNCH

Not everyone has a high opinion of brunch. In his terrific tome Kitchen Confidential, fellow sybarite Tony Bourdain blew the lid off brunch, explaining that “brunch menus are an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights” adding that “you can dress brunch up with all the focaccia, smoked salmon, and caviar in the world, but it’s still breakfast.” New York Times columnist and writer Mark Bittman calls brunch “a huge fat-bomb,” no doubt a recognition that Americans will eschew fresh fruit and veggie frittatas to swill a few Bloody Marys with their heavy on the Hollandaise eggs benedict. In his defense, Bittman’s recent foray into Michelle Obama inspired healthy food activism has probably starved his thought processes of the clarity made possible only with a diet replete with processed foods and animal products.

Cream of Garlic Soup

Some brunches offer sumptuous all-you-can-choke-down buffets with gleaming silver trays overfilled with fried, gloppy, saucy, sweet, savory and otherwise not-good-for-you options sure to be a big hit among caloric overachievers. This is the arena in which ordinary Americans do their best to emulate the behavior of gurgitators, the competitive eaters who can eat more in one seating than most of us can eat in a week. It’s where belts are loosened, fabric is stretched and civility (especially table manners) goes out the window. Albuquerque has its share of bounteous buffet brunches, the magnetically appealing, calorie-laden Vegas-style all-you-can-eat Bacchanalian feasts, but it also has the type of high-quality, off-the-menu brunch offerings that have lessened the frequency of my trips to Santa Fe on Sunday. Restaurants such as the Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro, the Gold Street Caffe, Sophia’s Place and a spate of others serve up brunch that’s worth climbing out from under the covers to indulge in.

Add The Point to the list of the metropolitan area’s very best spots for brunch.  Quite frankly, it’s one of the area’s best restaurants of any genre.  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and Albuquerque’s most prolific and trusted contributor to Zomato calls The Point the “best new restaurant of 2015” and “well worth the pleasant drive to the Mariposa boonies.”  If Larry vouches for it, you can take it to the bank that this is a restaurant you have to experience.

Caesar Salad

24 January 2016: During our inaugural brunch visit, we ran into our friends Joe and Dave who were enjoying their umpteenth visit to The Point. Practically ambassadors to this great restaurant, they extol the chef’s preternatural culinary skills to all their friends. Seeing Joe luxuriate in a bowl of cream of garlic soup inspired us to order it, too. If Ludwig van Beethoven’s aphorism “only the pure in heart can make a good soup” holds true, Chef White’s heart must be chaste because his soups are fabulous. How he managed to create a soup that renders garlic so thoroughly delicious despite its distinctly pungent and odoriferous qualities speaks volumes to his skills. Rather than warding off vampires, this garlic soup will bring them in like ants to a picnic.

24 January 2016: Dave rhapsodized about The Point’s Caesar salad (Parmesan, hard-boiled egg and croutons with Caesar dressing). The side salad portion is about a pitchfork sized amount of beauteous Romaine lettuce punctuated liberally with shaved Parmesan. If there are any anchovies on this Caesar, they may have been incorporated into the rich, creamy, garlicky dressing. It’s not a point we debated for too long as we were all too busy enjoying this intricate concoction. While many variations of Caesar salad exist and many high-end restaurants prepare it table-side, few versions are as delicious as The Point’s. There are three other salads on the menu.

Grits & Shrimp

24 January 2016: Having lived in the Deep South may explain my affinity for grits, a “Rodney Dangerfield” type of dish in that it gets no respect outside the South. At their essence, grits are small, broken grains of corn, but let’s face it, when you order them outside the South, you’re playing “Southern Roulette” in that you have a one-in-six chance of them being palatable. The best we’ve had in New Mexico come from The Hollar in Madrid and Blades Bistro in Placitas. Equal to those are the shrimp and grits (jalapeno, maple bacon and white Cheddar; topped with Cajun shrimp, sunny-up egg and scallions) at The Point. Its fragrant properties will get to you before anything else. You’ll swear you’re imbibing the aroma of waffles and bacon. That’s the suggestive power of the maple bacon at work. The Cajun shrimp (succulent and sweet with the snap of freshness), jalapeno and scallions provide a pleasant punch while the sunny-up egg is like a molten blanket of gooey goodness. These are grits that will make you forget all the nasty things you may have heard about grits.

Sausage and Peppers

24 January 2016: There are so many enticing options on the hand-crafted sandwiches and burgers section of the menu that you’ll be hard-pressed to make a decision as to which one you’ll enjoy first. For my Chicago born-and-bred Kim, it’s a no-brainer. She grew up with sausage and peppers sandwiches, but none in her Windy City neighborhood included goat cheese and basil. Perhaps they should. This is a superb sandwich, due in no small measure to some of the best sausage we’ve had at any restaurant in the area. It’s somewhere between spicy and assertive with lots of flavor. The tangy-pungent goat cheese is a perfect foil for the peppers while the basil lends freshness. 

Southwest Burger

15 January 2017: It should come as no surprise that burgers at The Point are more than a cut above.  In large part that’s because these burgers showcase great beef, not a plethora of ingredients that compete with the beef for your rapt attention.  Chef White constructs his burgers with seven-ounces of Akaushi premium beef, a Japanese red cattle Wagyu sourced from Harwood, Texas.  This prized beef if renowned for its marbling, taste and texture.  It’s great stuff!  There are five burger options on the menu, but New Mexicans will gravitate toward the Southwest burger which doubles up on our official state vegetable and favorite color combination–red and green chile.  The Akaushi patty is crusted with red chile and topped with roasted green chile and Cheddar.  The chile is more than a colorful adornment.  It’s got a nice bite, but not so much that it overwhelms the unctuous Akaushi beef.  This is a memorable burger, one of the best in Rio Rancho.

Flatiron Steak with Papitas

15 January 2017: The brunch special of the day during our inaugural visit in 2017 was a flatiron steak served with papitas and two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications.  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. Chef White exploits these qualities to their utmost, serving a fork-tender steak sliced into one and two-bite segments that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy.  The exterior of the steak has a nice crust, but inside it’s medium-rare with a nice shade of pink.  The accompanying papitas would be excellent on their own, but are made irresistible with the simple addition of sauteed onions and red and yellow peppers.

DESSERT

As talented as Chef White is in crafting incomparable appetizers and entrees, it’s in the dessert arena that he really shines. With much of his culinary career having been spent in the operational side of restaurant management, Chef White used his free time to conceptualize and create hundreds of dishes with two goals in mind. First, he dreamed of owning and operating his own restaurant where he could showcase the dozens of diverse menus he formulated. Second, he hopes to someday soon participate in the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen program. With the launch of The Point, he’s achieved his first goal. He persists in applying for Cutthroat Kitchen. 

Bacon-Toffee Sundae

15 January 2016: It took us even longer to decide upon a dessert than it did our shared entrée. The Point’s dessert menu is like a siren’s call, leading guests willingly into temptation. If there’s one dessert which is even better than it sounds, it has to be the bacon-toffee sundae (cinnamon and brown sugar ice cream topped with bacon, toffee, maple-caramel and fresh whipped cream). My “best of the best” for 2015 list is heavily laden with desserts and already the bacon-toffee sundae is primed for inclusion in my 2016 list—and not just because it’s got bacon. This dessert is a montage of deliciousness, a sweet succor for the dessert-starved, a masterpiece in every respect.

Country Apple Cobbler

24 January 2016: One of the dishes Chef White conceptualized is country apple cobbler. In and of itself that name doesn’t come close to doing justice to this dessert. Not even close! In fact, the name “country apple cobbler” may conjure images of the type of cobbler you’ll find at many barbecue joints, not that there’s anything remotely wrong with that type of cobbler. As is often the case with the barbecue joint type of cobbler, Chef White’s version is served a la mode. The greatest difference between his version and the usual suspect is in the candied apple-cranberry mix sans crust topped not with streusel, but with a crunchy granola and with ice cream drizzled with caramel. The ice cream is sixteen percent milkfat which means it’s richer and creamier than most ice cream. It’s also more delicious. You’ll want to make sure every spoonful of this inspired dessert rewards you with a little bit of every single component.

Pineapple Deliciousness

24 January 2016:  Though not on the menu, if your server or the chef recommends the grilled pineapple dessert, grab it before someone else does. This is not grilled pineapple prepared as you may have had it at a Brazilian churrascaria (prepared on a grilled and served on a skewer). It’s Chef White applying his creativity to elevate what would be a great dessert if grilled pineapple was all you found on your plate. Instead, this grilled pineapple is topped with caramel and designed to look like New Mexico’s Zia symbol. Atop the pineapple are two scoops of the aforementioned rich, creamy, delicious ice cream. The concoction is then sprinkled liberally with coconut flakes. The sweet, juicy, tangy pineapple marries so well with the sweetness of the caramel and ice cream that you may have to subdue a swoon or three.

By popular request, Chef White has figured out how to package his magnificent desserts for guests who want to enjoy them at home.  While it’s possible their aesthetic appeal may lose something by virtue of being jostled on the ride home, they’re bound to be just as delicious once you get there (at least during the winter when the cold prevents ice cream from melting).  These are desserts you’ll dream about.  Just ask my friends Larry McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell who’ve made the trek to the Point several times and are still raving about it.

LAISSEZ BON TEMPS ROULER: Mardi Gras 2017

Crab Hush Puppies

28 February 2017: In 2017, Mardi Gras took place on Tuesday, February 28th, marking the the day before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins.  In celebration of “Fat Tuesday,” The Point Grill featured a two-day crawfish boil.  From 12PM through 9PM Monday and Tuesday, diners were treated to a menu showcasing such New Orleans staples as crawfish, shrimp, sausage, jambalaya, gumbo, crab cake hush puppies and Cajun shrimp or roast beef po’ boys.  By popular demand, The Point rented a giant tent for the event which went on despite 55 mile-an-hour winds.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” and I visited The Point during lunch.  Had we not arrived early we wouldn’t have found a seat for this well-attended, very popular event. 

According to legend, hush puppies may have been named on account of Southern fishermen and Civil War making  the golden nuggets from scraps just to toss to barking and begging dogs with the command to “Hush, puppy.”  Today cooks throughout the Deep South prepare these crisp-fried fritters from cornmeal shaped into an orb and served alongside fried fish and tartar sauce.  Chef White’s version is made not from cornmeal, but from crab.  Available in quantities of six or ten, the crab cake hush puppies are much better than their cornmeal counterpart.  A couple squeezes of lemon are enough to provide a tangy contrast to the rich, sweet, succulent crab.

Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys a Roast Beef Po’ Boy

28 February 2017: Most people know New Orleans is a Mecca for seafood, but there are other dishes prepared incomparably well throughout the Crescent City.  The Roast Beef Po’ Boy is, along with oyster and shrimp po’ boys, one of the most popular sandwiches in The Big Easy.  What distinguishes roast beef po’ boys in New Orleans from roast beef sandwiches elsewhere is moistness.  In the birthplace of Jazz, roast beef sandwiches are judged by how many napkins used to keep your chin semi-dry.  Many of the very best roast beef po’ boys are replete with debris, all the tiny bits and pieces that fall of the roast and wallow in its juices as it cooks and is carved

The roast beef po’ boy at The Point isn’t nearly as moist and messy as some of its New Orleans counterparts (the one from Mother’s Restaurant, for example), but it’s far more moist than the desiccated roast beef sandwiches oft served in the high dessert of New Mexico.  Chef White adds a light smear of creamy horseradish to give the roast beef a little oomph.  Tender tendrils of thinly sliced roast beef engorge a lightly toasted sandwich roll.  My friend Sr. Plata enjoyed this sandwich very much.

Gumbo

28 February 2017: It wouldn’t be a true Mardi Gras celebration without gumbo, that hearty, spicy, soul-warming stew.  Chef White’s version included many of the usual suspects such as chicken and sausage along with green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and herbs.  While quite good, for my tastes it could have had a tad more heat (and I didn’t ask for hot sauce).  It’s immediately obvious Chef White spent quite a bit of time in Louisiana.

Get to The Point! It may be a bit of a drive for many of you, but the destination is worth the drive. The Point is destination dining at its best!

The Point Grill Gastropub
2500 Parkway Avenue, N.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7453
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 February 2017
1st VISIT: 15 January 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Bacon-Toffee Sundae, High Point Mac, Baked Ziti, Mushroom Soup, Chipotle Chicken Satay, Red Chile Grilled Corn, Garlic Sauteed Mushrooms, Grits & Shrimp, Caesar Salad, Cream of Garlic Soup, Southwest Burger, Flatiron Steak

The Point Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Dennis and the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant

Dennis and his daughter, the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant (Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)

Picture yourself as a first-year marketing student assigned by your professor to perform a marketing analysis of Eli’s Place and its enigmatic chef-owner Dennis Apodaca.  Essentially you’ve got to figure out the rhyme and reason behind the restaurant’s success.  “Easy assignment,” you think to yourself, “Eli’s Place is successful because it serves some of the best, most delicious food in Albuquerque.”  Your research quickly reveals, however, that Eli’s Place actually violates many of the time-honored, trusted and fundamental marketing tenets of growing and successful businesses.  From a marketing perspective, it just shouldn’t work as well as it does. 

Any Marketing 101 student can tell you, for example, the importance of brand identity.  A brand is one of the most valuable and important assets of a restaurant. It needs to be carefully cultivated to ensure it properly and authentically reflects the values, attributes and passions of a business.  Eli’s Place received an enormous boost to its brand identity in 2008 when the Food Network came calling.  Being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is generally worth a fortune to any restaurant.  So what does Dennis Apodaca do?  In 2015, he renamed his restaurant, eschewing the well-established and nationally known brand name Sophia’s Place in favor of Eli’s Place.

Eli’s Place may not be as visually appealing as other restaurants, but it serves beautiful food

Then there’s the restaurant itself.  From an esthetic perspective, it isn’t nearly as inviting and attractive as those modern venues with their pristine veneer or the effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the chains.  It’s virtually homely.  Heck, it doesn’t even have a sign telling you you’ve arrived at your destination.  The parking lot can get muddy during inclement weather which can sometimes render the outdoor patio useless.  Step inside the Lilliputian edifice and during peak hours, you’ll be challenged to find a seat.  It just doesn’t make sense that Eli’s Place works as well as it does.

The main reason for its success, of course, is gifted proprietor and chef Dennis Apodaca, an accomplished restaurateur despite (or maybe in spite of) not following a tried-and-true template. Sure, he may be an enigma to any marketing student, but to savvy diners he’s one of the very best chefs in New Mexico.  Dennis has a very impressive pedigree that includes stints at some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Fe, having worked for several world-famous, cutting-edge chefs in some of America’s most renown restaurants.  Those include Mark Miller, the high priest of modern Southwest cuisine and founder of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and the pioneering Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse, the original California cuisine (focusing exclusively on organic, locally produced foods in season) restaurant in Berkeley, California.

The interior of Eli’s Place. Note the poster signed by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri

Apprenticing under luminary chefs may make apparent the genesis of some of his culinary influences, but it’s also obvious that Dennis loves his craft and plies it with enthusiasm and style.  I heard him speak once of his annual pilgrimages to New York and of dining at such restaurants as Katz’s, a Manhattan deli I hold in reverential esteem. Like most great chefs, he is always in pursuit of new ideas and techniques.  Dennis launched the restaurant he named for his then eight-year-old daughter Sophia on December 3rd, 2002 (and which he renamed for Sophia’s own son in 2015).  It’s situated at the former site of the once very popular, but now defunct Fajitaville, a restaurant at which he served as chef before launching his own operation. As popular as it was, you don’t hear many former Fajitaville patrons lament the change. That’s because they’ve been completely won over by Apodaca’s inventive, eclectic and funky menu–a menu that includes a range of sophisticated salads and soups, extraordinary sandwiches and lots of pleasant surprises.

Dennis is also a stickler for using fine ingredients, many of which are flown in and delivered daily to his charming North Valley restaurant. He insists on the preparation of each meal to order; you won’t find anything sitting under a heating lamp here.  You also won’t find a freezer in the premises.  Dennis believes in ultra-fresh. His menu is replete with specials of the day which change frequently, usually crafted from fresh ingredients he procures from the farmer’s markets.  Eli’s also does not have an oven or burners, just two grills, but sheer magic is created on those grills.

Chips and salsa at Eli’s

On August 25th, 2008 the Food Network’s Guy Fieri taped a segment at Sophia’s for his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program.  On a signed poster which hangs on one of the restaurant’s walls, Fieri wrote “little place, huge flavors.”  That pretty much says it all, not that Fieri didn’t say quite a bit more about Sophia’s.  After that segment aired on Monday, November 24th, 2008 getting a seat at this fabulous restaurant became even more difficult.  Guy Fieri pegged it correctly when he called him “a hands-on chef who’s doing things his own way.”  That includes touches like making his own butter and crafting all his culinary creations by hand.

24 November 2012: One holdover from Dennis’s days at Fajitaville are some of the best salsas in town.  An order of salsa and chips rewards diners with two salsas–a roasted tomato salsa and a pico de gallo style salsa coupled with housemade chips served warm.  Neither of the salsas are especially piquant, but both are redolent with freshness and flavor.  The chips are lightly salted and oversized for Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Unfortunately you’ll run out of salsa before you run out of chips.

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Breakfast and lunch entrees are served all day which is a great thing because you never know when the urge will hit for a world-class sandwich. Sage Bakehouse bread, a New Mexico treasure, is the foundation upon which those sandwiches are built. Each sandwich is served with your choice of potato salad, green salad or homemade shoestring potatoes (a must-have).  Don’t desecrate those shoestring potatoes with ketchup. Ask instead for a small bowl of Eli’s red chile and dip your fries into that. Some of the best chile and some of the best fries in town–you can’t go wrong with that combination.

Eli’s grilled pastrami sandwich is a poor man’s version of the aforementioned Katz’s in which pastrami is piled on skyscraper high. Even though Eli’s doesn’t lay the pastrami on as thick as at Katz’s, it’s also not apportioned in waifishly thin shreds like the sandwiches the chains proffer. In Albuquerque only California Pastrami serves a better pastrami sandwich (although it dropped just a bit in my estimation when packets of mustard replaced the gourmet mustard once dolloped on the sandwich). Apodaca gets his pastrami flown in from Chicago where this brisket derivative is best made.

Chipotle Chile Bacon Cheeseburger

The green chile cheeseburger at Eli’s

30 August 2008: Also exceptional is the green chile bacon cheeseburger on hard-crusted Sage Bakehouse bread. As the hack comic Banya would tell Jerry Senifeld, “it’s the best, Jerry, the best.” In a city and state in which green chile cheeseburgers are a religion, Dennis Apodaca is a high priest, serving something just a bit different. This cheeseburger is a two-fisted edible piece of art with an explosively delicious taste.  The green chile is not so assertive that it prevents the salty sweetness of the bacon to sneak out. Instead they meld together wonderfully. The texture of the lightly toasted Ciabatta bread is a nice departure from the traditional soft burger buns. The bacon is crispy and thick. There’s no iceberg lettuce in this masterpiece; it’s salad quality mixed greens. The hamburger patty hasn’t seen  the inside of a freezer; it’s hand-formed and thick, prepared to your exacting specifications.

27 September 2016: Burger aficionados will also love Eli’s chipotle cheeseburger, a work of art and absolute beauty.  It’s got the piquancy (maybe even more) of a green chile cheeseburger with the inimitable flavor of chipotle.  If you’re not sure what a chipotle is, it’s merely a smoked, dried jalapeño.  It’s a versatile pepper, adding depth, complexity and a kick to meats, and a savory counterbalance to sweets.  At Eli’s, the chipotle doesn’t come out of a jar.  It’s the real thing, smoked at home and rehydrated to textural perfection.  This chipotle cheeseburger is simple, a thick hamburger patty, molten cheese and chipotle.  That’s it…and that’s enough.

Sophia's Breakfast Burrito

The breakfast burrito, Albuquerque’s very best

The simply named Breakfast Sandwich on (what else) toasted Sage Bakehouse bread is a concordant composition of fried eggs, bacon, cheese and fresh salsa that will help make your day start off on the right foot. It may well be the best breakfast sandwich in Albuquerque, not that there is a plethora of competition in the breakfast sandwich arena.

10 April 2008: Eli’s breakfast burrito has done something I had thought impossible. It supplanted Milton’s breakfast burrito as my favorite breakfast burrito in New Mexico. The primary reason is a wondrous red chile, a deep, earthy, sweet and utterly delicious chile of medium piquancy. This chile is in rarified company with Mary & Tito’s legendary red which I’ve long considered the best in the Duke City area. It’s the type of chile you might want to lick off your plate so as not to leave any of it behind. If Dennis were to offer New Mexican food exclusively, it would probably be the best in the city. Make sure you order your burrito “smothered” so you won’t be lamenting that there isn’t enough chile on your plate. In its September, 2011 edition, the staff of Albuquerque The Magazine undertook the enviable task of selecting the Duke City’s very best breakfast burrito. Eli’s was rated tenth best. To paraphrase the immortal words of former world boxing champion Max Schmeling’s manager Joe Jacobs, “they waz robbed!”

Huevos Mexicanos

There’s only one thing wrong with Eli’s red chile. It’s that the red is so good, many of us may never again order the breakfast burrito “Christmas style” (with both red and green chile). That would be sad because the green chile is outstanding in its own right. It’s a fruity chile with a comal roasted aroma and flavor. The breakfast burrito is crafted from organic eggs, potatoes, cheese and salsa. You can have it with your choice of bacon, pork carnitas, chicken, beef or vegetables.

23 November 2010: The daily specials on Eli’s menu truly earn the accolade “special.” Such is the case with a breakfast enchilada with turkey sausage, Cojita cheese and poblano chile. The melding of these ingredients make for an outstanding breakfast entree that I may have to bide my time to see returned to the menu. Fortunately, there’s always something else intriguing and invariably delicious to mollify my appetite.

Another special special, duck enchiladas with a green chile cream sauce

Duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce

30 August 2008: Another very special special are the duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce (pictured above). Somehow Dennis manages to segregate the least fatty parts of the duck while retaining all its characteristic flavor and he engorges corn tortillas with the delicious canard. A generous dollop of mildly piquant green chile sauce crowns the enchiladas with even more flavor. This special is served with black beans studded with Cojita cheese as well as a mixed greens and mango salad. This is just Dennis and his free spirited whimsy; he loves to play with ingredients and has a knack for making seemingly disparate ingredients meld together in perfect flavor synchronicity.

The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives taping took place on a day in which the special of the day was another version of duck enchiladas, this time with tomatillo sauce. Watching the step-by-step construction of this entree revealed the depth of Dennis’s talent, but even more so, just what a perfectionist he is. Every preparation step is meticulous and well practiced, obviously the result of extensive experimentation until everything is absolutely to the chef’s exacting standards.

Scallop Tacos with beans, rice and a salad

The duck, which is left in the bone and skin, is seasoned and rendered in duck fat for several hours then is de-boned by hand and seasoned again (lime, cilantro, Mexican red chile, sugar, salt and other ingredients) on the flat top.  Two legs per order of succulent duck meat are then placed on two soft corn tortillas with Asadero cheese then topped with the tomatillo sauce, toasted pumpkin seeds, scallions and queso fresco.  Fieri uttered “really good” three times punctuated with “an explosion of flavors” and “you’ve got it going on with this one.”

10 April 2015: A Washington Post writer recently proclaimed, “Ok so who in the hell doesn’t do a scallop taco?” He obviously hasn’t been around the restaurant scene in Albuquerque where scallop tacos are a novelty. In fact, Dennis is just one of a handful of chefs in the landlocked Land of Enchantment I know of daring to depart from the de rigueur fish taco (which is rarely done well in New Mexico). His version starts with gigantic sea scallops which he tucks into soft, pliable corn tacos then garnishes with a mild salsa, avocado slices and Crème fraîche. There are two scallops per taco, two tacos per order and they’re at least twice as good as the best fish taco I’ve ever had.

Sophia's shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s scallop tacos are inspired–an amalgam of flavor combinations which work very well together.  The pearlescent scallops are grilled so they have a nice char on top and at bottom while retaining an opaque clarity that means they’re absolutely perfect.  I’ve tried in vain several times to duplicate Dennis’s wizardry with scallops, but have concluded begrudgingly that my scallop skills are rudimentary compared to the chef. 

The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu features several items not available during weekdays. These weekend specials have made Eli’s an intensely popular dining destination. You might have to wait in line ten to fifteen minutes to place your order then another half hour for your order to reach your table. It’s worth the wait.

Chilaquiles

20 April 2008: One of the best reasons to get up on a weekend are Eli’s Special Pancakes, priced daily and served with fresh fruit and real maple syrup. Those special pancakes might be sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries. The tartness of the blueberries and lemon create a palate pleasing harmony with the maple syrup. The sour cream changes the texture of standard pancakes by adding moistness while retaining the fluffiness inherent in great pancakes. 

23 November 2008: Eli’s pancakes will cure the early morning blues (or anything else that ails you).  A large stack (four) of pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter topped with assorted berries may be the very best pancakes you’ll ever have.  They’re stick to your ribs pancakes, the panacea for cold mornings.  Cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice emphasize the flavor of pumpkin while the berries provide a tangy contrast.  The syrup brings together the complementary tastes of sweet, tangy and pumpkiny.  Share these with people you love.

Turkey Sausage Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

One of the things that makes Dennis’s pancakes a panacea is his homemade butter, a culinary rarity that blew even Guy Fieri away. Fieri who has probably seen just about everything on his road tours seemed amazed that Dennis would go to that extent. After sampling Eli’s homemade butter (made from separated heavy cream mixed with toasted pine nuts, dried cherries and honey), Fieri called it “outstanding.” 

4 November 2012: Other brunch favorites include Eli’s version of chilaquiles and a very unique interpretation of Huevos Rancheros called Huevos Mexicanos.  This dish is constructed from corn tortillas topped with two eggs prepared any way you want them then slathered with green chile stew.  The green chile stew is terrific, the type of which you’d appreciate at any time, but especially on a cold wintery day.  The chilaquiles are simplicity itself though its flavors are complex and delicious.  Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican dish with which Eli’s takes a few liberties, topping the eggs and tortilla chips with red chile instead of the more conventional salsa.

Lemon and sour cream pancakes with blueberries

Sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries

You’ve got to experience this gem for yourself to find out what so many diners know–Eli’s Place is one of Albuquerque’s very best restaurants of any genre. Overflow crowds and accolades don’t tell the whole story. That lies in each and every wonderful morsel of pure deliciousness fashioned by the inventive hands of the chef and owner.  Eli’s Place and its superbly talented owner-chef Dennis Apodaca may be an enigma to marketing students, but to those of us who love great food, he’s a luminous star, one of the very best.

Pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter

ELI’S PLACE
6313 4th, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 20
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Pastrami Sandwich, Breakfast Sandwich, Chipotle Bacon Cheeseburger, Simple Noodles, Breakfast Burrito, Special Pancakes, Scallop Tacos, Chilaquiles, Huevos Mexicanos, Grilled Sirloin Sandwich, Pork Carnitas Tacos,

Eli's Place (New Name for Sophia's Place) Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Freight House Kitchen & Tap – Bernalillo, New Mexico

The Freight House in Bernalillo

Many of us look at an unused and timeworn historical building and a wave of nostalgia sweeps over us as we imagine what life was like when that building teemed with activity. Some see such a building as a pig in need of lipstick, nothing a coat of paint and a few nails can’t fix up. Others see that same edifice as having served its purpose, a structure which should be razed to make room for a modern complex. Still others view a weathered building as a thing of beauty from which they draw inspiration. For restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory, driving by the Santa Fe Freight House nearly two decades ago planted the seed for an idea that took years to germinate.

The long-time owner of The Range Café and Standard Diner drew inspiration from the two story Mission-Revival façade, envisioning it as the potential site of a restaurant with the thematic look and feel of the railroad industry which once thrived in Albuquerque. Because of the historical nature of the building, DiGregory was unable to realize that particular dream at that particular location. In 2015, he did the next best thing, launching The Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room, a restaurant inspired by the grand Santa Freight House. The restaurant is located in the yawning complex which previously housed the Flying Star on Bernalillo’s heavily trafficked Camino Del Pueblo. Fittingly, the Freight House Kitchen is in close proximity to the town’s Railrunner stop.

Pickled Veggies

It’s easy to see why the Santa Fe Freight House was such an inspiration to DiGregory. Though constructed some seven decades ago and currently in disuse, the Santa Fe Freight House remains an impressive structure. Located on First Street practically beneath Lead Avenue, the building is emblazoned with red neon signage which reads “Santa Fe Freight House” flanked by the words “Rail” and “Truck.” Lintels, window sills, base and canals are made of concrete while the stucco is a greyish adobe. The Freight House was one of the last additions to the sprawling railyard made by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. It is on the National Historic Register.

The halcyon days of the railroad is revisited at DiGregory’s Freight House Kitchen, a bustling establishment with 176-seating spaces on two levels and two expansive patios. Even the restaurant’s logo is thematic, depicting a locomotive engine designated “FR8” barreling down the track. Framed vintage photographs of life around the railyards festoon the brick walls, but the true masterpiece is a painting of the restaurant’s historic namesake. Even the wait staff gets into the act, sporting shirts emblazoned with clever play-on-words slogans such as “The Chew Chew Crew” and “We Smoke The Good Stuff.”

Tempura Green Beans with Manchego

The Freight House Web site purports to “raise the bar on bar food,” showcasing gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food several orders of magnitude superior to the stereotypical pub grub of yore. During the railroad’s prosperous past, you could find food of this caliber near a railyard only at Fred Harvey establishments. The menu is very eclectic, offering both “chili” and “chile” (and you thought never the twain shall meet) as well as a number of sandwiches, burgers, plates and smoked items. Brunch is served on Sundays from 9AM to 3PM.

If appetizers are the preamble to a great meal, The Freight House’s “Snacks,” an inventive array of comfort food starters, will get you started on the right foot. The Snacks menu has so many intriguing options, in fact, that ordering two…or ten would constitute a very good meal. Our early favorite is the pickled veggies, a colorful mélange of pickled al dente vegetables (crisp carrots, cauliflower, green beans and celery) arranged artfully on a rectangular plate. Sometimes pickling vegetables brings out the worse in them, particularly when those vegetables are imbued with lip-pursing sour properties that take away their native freshness and flavor. Among the pickling spices used by the Freight House chef are cardamom and juniper berries, two aromatics with strong, distinctive flavors. They impart an invigorating quality to the vegetables that you’ll enjoy immensely even if you think you don’t like vegetables.

Smoked Bison Meatloaf

Another Freight House appetizer, the tempura green beans with Manchego, is almost a polar opposite to the pickled vegetables. Where the pickled vegetables are garden-fresh and crisp, this fried dish is crispy in other ways. Green beans are sheathed with a light tempura batter and fried to a crispy texture then sprinkled generously with shredded Manchego, a mild, nutty-flavored Spanish cheese. The green beans are served with a creamy green chile ranch dressing with a little kick and lots of flavor. Reflecting on the Freight House’s Snacks menu, you have to wonder if the chef isn’t consciously also trying to get children of all ages to eat their vegetables…and we would if they all tasted this good.

From the smoker, you’ll find such summer favorites as baby back ribs, beer canned chicken, smoked prime rib (Friday and Saturday nights) and a smoked bison meatloaf served with garlic mashed potatoes topped with a barbecue glaze and green beans. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes is a comfort food combination favorite that has made generations pine for a nap immediately after consuming a plateful or two. Being a very lean meat, bison offers a slightly different textural experience than beef, but its sweeter, more intense flavor more than makes up for any textural difference. A tangy barbecue sauce is slathered on generously to imbue the meatloaf with a summery, smoky feel. You’ll want to ask for the restaurant’s green chile gravy (maybe even an extra portion) to enliven the mashed potatoes. It’s an excellent green chile gravy.

BBQ Beer Can Chicken with Mac and Cheese and Garlic Green Beans

Beer can chicken—sometimes called chicken on a throne or dancing chicken—earns its name because of its preparation style. An entire chicken is placed over an opened, partially-filled can of beer. The chicken must be placed on a grill in an upright position in order for this dish to work. The heat of the grill warms the can, causing the beer inside to evaporate. Ostensibly, the beer, now in gaseous state, fills the inside of the chicken, imparting moistness and flavor to the chicken. While it may disappoint some diners that you don’t taste the beer at all, most of us are in it for the chicken, not the beer. The Freight House’s BBQ beer can chicken is indeed moist and tender with a mild smokiness. Few things go better with beer can chicken than mac n’ cheese, a rich, molten, cheesy version the restaurant does well.

The Freight House dessert menu is a winner, offering a number of innovative options that will make choosing a challenge. If it’s on the menu, one unique and delicious option is the olive oil rosemary ice cream cake topped with a peach compote. Ice cream is made on the premises in flavors that go well beyond vanilla and chocolate. Olive oil and rosemary is one such example. Too much rosemary and it could overwhelm the flavor profile. The olive oil also poses textural challenges. Kudos to the chef for optimizing the proportions of each ingredient to create a deliciously decadent (without being overly rich) ice cream . The peach compote serves as a very nice foil.

Olive Oil Rosemary Ice Cream Cake with Peach Compote

If a visit to the Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room doesn’t inspire you to travel the rails, it will inspire you to come back to see what the inventive kitchen staff is cooking up. It’s bound to be good.

Freight House Kitchen & Tap
200 South Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 588-2143
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pickled Veggies, Tempura Green Beans with Manchego, Bison Meatloaf, Olive Oil Rosemary Ice Cream Cake, BBQ Bear Can Chicken

Freight House Kitchen & Tap Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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