Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 871 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 7000 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Jhett’s Restaurant – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

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

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

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

View to the East from the dining room patio

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the magnificent brunch offerings

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

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

Desserts

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

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

Jhett's on Urbanspoon

Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro on Central Avenue in the Nob Hill District

Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district largely owes its emergence as the city’s first “suburb” to Route 66, the great Mother Road which carried Americans westward.  Because of Route 66, the Nob Hill area has been, since before World War II, a thriving residential community replete with restaurants, motels, a modern movie theater, pharmacies and restaurants.  Today it remains the city’s cultural heart and, thanks to the preservation of Route 66 era architecture, retains much of the charm that captivated west bound sojourners.

New tenants such as Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro which launched in 2003 hold court in well preserved brick buildings and seem completely at home.  Antique mirrors, distressed wood floors, stained glass and warm colors coalesce with intoxicating aromas to make this classy bistro one of the city’s best launches (and lunches) of the new millennium.  The French rotisserie, visible from the main floor and the open mezzanine above, turns out some of the best meals in the city.

There’s just a bit of whimsy in the decor at Zinc

While considered a premium fine dining destination, Zinc’s generous portions are comparatively value priced–your bill may approach three figures, but you’ll feel you got your money’s worth.  Meals are well paced with appetizers and entrees brought to your table at seemingly prescribed intervals that allow you to savor and reflect on the quality of the former without pining for the latter. Portion sizes are reasonable–generous, but not profuse.

There are nearly as many floor levels at Zinc as there are layers of flavor in some of its terrific food. There’s a downstairs bar with a lighter menu, a street-level dining room and a mezzanine floor that provides perhaps the best vantage point of any floor. Comfortable spacing between tables is available at all three levels.

Duck Confit Egg Rolls–Absolutely Wonderful!

Zinc is the brainchild of twin brothers Kevin and Keith Roessler, two veteran restaurateurs who also own Season’s Rotisserie & Grill on the northern outskirts of Old Town. They also own Savoy, a Swanky fine-dining restaurant launched in 2007 in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights.  The menu at Zinc seems to be a fusion of eclectic American comfort food with departures into New Mexican and French cuisine. The menu is inventive and inspired with something for everyone, including a nice selection of vegetarian entrees.

The clientele is nearly as eclectic as the menu. At any given meal, you’ll see young ladder-climbing urban professionals and more seasoned and affluent diners who have already ascended to or near the top of the ladder. Most will order wine with their dinner and will linger in conversation long after their meal is over.

Steak Au Poivre

Steak Au Poivre

The wait staff is attentive without hovering and informative without being pedantic. They are well-versed in their craft and capable of clearly describing the nuances of the restaurant’s menu. Their recommendations don’t necessarily lean toward the most expensive items on the menu.

4 August 2014 (Brunch): One item everyone at Zinc recommends are the crispy duck confit eggrolls served with peanut curry and chile-lime dipping sauces. The duck is amazingly tender, the result of slow-cooking. It is wrapped in a won-ton type wrapper and is sliced diagonally (giving it the appearance of four egg rolls).  Other components of this delicious appetizer are ginger, mushrooms, sesame oil, scallions, chopped peanuts. soy sauce, spinach and carrots though it is the duck itself that will win you over.  These are easily among the best egg rolls in the city and are outstanding even without the dipping sauces. The peanut curry sauce stands out. It’s entirely unlike and better than the peanut sauce served with satay at most Thai restaurants. Unlike the Thai peanut sauce, it’s not cloying. It’s a savory sauce with a piquant punch to it.

Grilled Lamb Loin Mignon: Accompanied by chorizo-sweet potato tart with goat cheese bechamel, winter vegetable melange and pomegranate demi glace.

16 March 2008 (Dinner): Another excellent value appetizer are the steamed black mussels for only twelve dollars. Bathed in a basil-chardonnay broth and crowned with colorful julienne vegetables, these mussels are top tier. You’ll want to sop up the broth with the restaurant’s wonderful hard-crusted yet yeasty bread.  For years these mussels were one of the city’s very best bargains at ten dollars, but a dreary economy necessitated change.  They’re still a bargain considering the quality and deliciousness.

4 August 2014 (Brunch): Lest I forget, the complementary basket of bread is among the city’s best. I believe the bread is made by Albuquerque’s Fano Bakery, one of the very best bread-making companies in the state and a purveyor of artisan style rustic and specialty breads.  It’s  the type of bread you could eat by the loaf–with or without butter.  The butter served at Zinc is soft and smooth for easy spreading.  During Saturday and Sunday brunch, the bread plate may include croissants and scones.  The wait staff will replenish them happily.

Breads for Brunch

26 December 2010 (Bruch): Lamb is certainly a specialty at Zinc and is accented with seasonal touches.  The grilled lamb loin Mignon, for example, is accompanied by a chorizo-sweet potato tart topped with a goat cheese bechamel, contrasting elements which bring out each others best qualities.  A cleanly simple winter vegetable melange–baby asparagus, carrots, roasted onions–is perfectly prepared, so good even finicky children would love it.  The lamb loin, prepared at medium rare, sits on a puddle of pomegranate demi glace, an ever-so-slightly tangy sauce with a lightly lacquered texture which couples so well with the lamb that they rhapsodize on your taste buds with a subtle medley of flavors you’ll remember long after your meal.  The lamb has none of the gaminess for which lamb is often disdained.

16 March 2008 (Dinner): If you want something more lively, the seared flank steak Au Poivre will invigorate your taste buds with a pronounced black peppercorn taste. A nine-ounce steak seared in a cast iron pan, it is served with buttermilk mashed potatoes, fried mushrooms and onions, all of which are wonderful.  Steak Au Poivre is a staple at French brasseries throughout the country (both France and the United States), but is sometimes prepared with an excess of pepper, making it a bit acerbic.  At Zinc, it is perfectly prepared so that the peppercorn taste complements, not dominates, the flavor profile.  It is served with an espagnole sauce, a veal stock roux reduction sometimes called one of the “mother sauces” of classic French cooking.

Chicken and Waffles

Sunday brunch is an event worth getting up for at Zinc. The menu is only somewhat abbreviated, including more dining options than just about any brunch menu in town. The dulcet tones of soothing guitar music playing soft and low may just make the rest of the world seem so far away and small.  An eye-opening roasted chicken and cashew salad is a great way to start. This superstar salad features sugar snap peas, sweet n’ sour red onions and baby carrots mixed with field greens and a sharp Maytag blue dressing that emboldens the salad. It’s one of several inventive and delicious salad options available for brunch.

26 December 2010 (Brunch): Zinc’s pecan-crusted chicken and chorizo relleno, a unique rendition of the traditional New Mexican stuffed chile pepper, is also one of the state’s very best.  A baked poblano is engorged with cream cheese, Asadero cheese, chicken breast and crumbled sausage then topped with a fried egg sunny and covered with a wonderfully smoky and piquant Ancho chile sauce. Ancho chiles are essentially dried poblanos which may surprise some considering poblanos have a very mild flavor, barely registering on the Scoville scale.  Ancho chiles, on the other hand, can have significant heat and a pungent, smoky, wonderful flavor.  More restaurants should employ this very diverse and very delicious chile.

Pecan-crusted chicken & chorizo relleno: Baked poblano stuffed with cream cheese, asadero, chicken breast and crumbled sausage. Topped with sunny side up egg and ancho chile sauce. Hash brown pie on the side

Also worth getting up for is Zinc’s house-made pork sausage patty (a carnivore’s dream), which along with the sausage served at the San Marcos Cafe, may be the best sausage in New Mexico. It’s got the perfect balance of piquant bite and savory flavor sausage lovers appreciate. The sausage is available on several brunch entrees, including an amazing array of surprisingly good New Mexican dishes that for some reason aren’t available on the lunch or dinner menu.  That’s a shame because if Zinc focused exclusively on New Mexican food, it would be in rarefied company with the very best New Mexican restaurants in the state.

4 August 2014 (Brunch): As with fashion and music, the culinary world isn’t exempt from the whimsy of the trend.  While some foods are forever in vogue, for better or worse others come and go.  The Duke City may have been a bit late in following the waffles and chicken trend, but now it seems every restaurant in town is offering a variation of this popular soul food favorite.  Worse, some local restaurants have taken a rather homey combination and made it uppity with gourmet syrups and highfalutin alterations which make the chicken unrecognizable.   While Zinc jumped on the trendy bandwagon, at least the chicken and waffles haven’t been upscaled.  Better still, they’re actually pretty good.  The chicken, three pieces–a leg, a thigh and a breast– though prepared on a deep fryer, actually has a pan-fried taste.  The waffles are light, fluffy and served with maple syrup.

Grilled Breakfast Pork Chops and Chile Relleno

4 August 2014 (Brunch): Another breakfast standard which never seems to fall out of fashion is grilled pork chops, a solid and unspectacular (translation: boring) offering.  It’s usually up to whatever accompanies those “supporting cast” pork chops to enliven breakfast.  The yang to the grilled breakfast port chop’s yin is a blue corn-crusted Poblano stuffed with Mexican cheeses, fresh corn and peppers topped with a sunny side-up egg and a chipotle fruit glaze.  Frankly, the blue corn crust and egg dominate the flavor profile so much we had to taste the chipotle fruit glaze and fresh corn separately to make sure they were there.  It’s rare that breakfast pork chops are the highlight of a breakfast, but that was the case here.  The pork chops may have been solid and unspectacular, but they met expectations.

16 March 2008 (Brunch): Our waitress told us that some visiting tourists can’t handle the heat of New Mexican dishes and send them back. What a shame they don’t have the heat tolerance of New Mexicans. What a shame that they miss out on enchiladas engorged with absolutely delicious chorizo sausage and baked chicken.  Perhaps more to their heat tolerance level are Zinc’s rendition of stuffed sopaipillas which aren’t served with chile. Instead, two puffy sopaipillas are filled with lemon-blueberry custard then finished with Bosque Farms BeeSweet honey drizzle.

Stuffed Sopaipillas Zinc style

If you love lip-puckering lemon with real blueberries, this is the dessert for you. If you love real honey, you’ll love BeeSweet and you’ll lament the fact that far too many New Mexican restaurants fill their squeeze bottles with “sopaipilla syrup,” the honey flavored syrup that pales in comparison to real honey.

26 December 2010 (Brunch): Another fabulous dessert is the chevre cheesecake tart made with a honey granola crust branded with the letter “Z” (and probably not for Zorro).  Rivulets of ruby port gastrique and fig preserves provide terrific contrasts to the sweet, creamy cheesecake.  On the side of this dish is honeycomb, the pure essence of honey sweetness that’s better than any candy.

Chevre Cheesecake Tart – honey granola crust, ruby port gastrique, honeycomb and fig preserves

Zinc upholds the Nob Hill tradition and has itself become a destination worthy of the Mother Road. It’s a Santa Fe quality restaurant in the Duke City.

Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro
3009 Central, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505)-254-9462
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 03 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Crispy Duck Confit Eggrolls; Seared Flank Steak Au Poivre; Baked Chicken & Chorizo Sausage Enchiladas; Stuffed Sopaipilla; Chevre Cheesecake Tart; Pecan-crusted chicken & chorizo relleno; Grilled Lamb Loin Mignon

Zinc on Urbanspoon

66 Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The 66 Diner on Route 66 (Central Avenue)

Route 66, America’s highway, meandered across 2,448 miles of the fruited plain, crossing three time zones and eight states, from Chicago to Los Angeles. Although Route 66 has all but disappeared, been renamed (as in Albuquerque’s Central Avenue) or left for nature to reclaim, the spirit of the roadside diner continues to thrive in neon spangled restaurants such as the 66 Diner.

One of the best of Albuquerque’s nostalgia restaurants, this Historic Route 66 classic features a 50s theme replete with pony-tailed waitresses in blue skirts and bobby socks. The 50s music blaring from the jukebox  brings to mind American Graffiti, the 1973 coming of age movie which reintroduced America to the era.  Nostalgia abounds at the Route 66 where with a little imagination, you’ll be transported to a more innocent time in America’s past.

Nostalgia abounds in and out of the 66 Diner

The era of the Mother Road is celebrated in the authenticity of the 66 Diner’s 50s trappings, ranging from black and white tiled floors and iridescent neon signage to the fluorescent turquoise and hot pink decor. Seinfeld devotees will appreciate the hundreds of pez dispensers which line the ledges directly above the steely countertops in the front dining room. Indeed, the 66 Diner is committed to preserving the spirit of the roadside diner along the fabled route.

There is much to like about the Route 66 the diner even if Route 66 the two-lane blacktop is solely something you’ve read about. You’ve got to admire the gumption of a restaurant willing to replace a recipe if a better one is brought in by a guest. That’s right! If you believe you have a tastier recipe for something, the 66 Diner will try it out and if they like it more, it will go on the menu. Not only that, they’ll treat you and three friends to dinner. Frankly, I have a feeling they haven’t had to comp many dinners.

Nostalgia and fun abound at the 66 Diner

That’s because the 66 Diner’s recipes are tried and tested over time. The diner originally launched in 1987 in a converted World War II era Phillips 66 gas station named Sam’s. It was an instant hit among locals and tourists alike. In May, 1995, the 66 Diner went up in flames, only a portion of the original structure remaining. Albuquerque was in mourning for nearly seven months as the diner was rebuilt. It relaunched in February, 1996 and like the Phoenix of legend, has arisen from the ashes to reclaim its previous glory.

Like many 1950s diners, the 66 Diner features a daily “blue plate special.” Ironically the term “blue plate special” originated not in the 1950s, but in the 1890s courtesy of the Fred Harvey restaurants along the railroad lines of the frontier west. I’ve written extensively in other reviews of Fred Harvey’s culinary contributions to the West. Like his other contributions, the genesis of the blue plate special is very interesting. Apparently Harvey bought cheap, disposable plates colored blue similar to Wedgwood dishes and used them to serve inexpensive meals, hence the term.

Albuquerque’s best shakes according to many are at the 66 Diner

At the 66 Diner, the blue plate specials range from spaghetti and meatballs on Monday to chicken pot pie on Tuesday, chicken and dumplings on Wednesday, a taco platter on Thursday, fried catfish on Friday, a hot turkey sandwich on Saturday and “mom’s choice” (whatever mom comes up with) on Sunday. For the most part, the blue plate specials are comfort food favorites prepared very well and served in generous portions.

No 50s era diner would be complete without thick, rich milk shakes, floats and malts (egg creams are available, too). No one in Albuquerque does it any better. That’s the consensus of respondents to various annual polls of city diners who have voted the 66 Diner’s shakes “best in the city” consistently year after year–with such frequency that the “best shake” category should be defaulted to the 66 Diner.

One of the very best green chile cheeseburgers not to make the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

Many people eschew the old stand-bys–chocolate, vanilla and strawberry–in favor of flavors that weren’t available in the 1950s. In fact, some of those revolutionary flavors might have been considered heretical in the more conservative era of the 50s. Those flavors include the Elvis Presley (banana and peanut butter), the Pink Cadillac (strawberry ice cream and crushed Oreos), Oreo, Dreamsicle, Mocha, Coffee and several others. Pumpkin pie and Egg Nog shakes are featured as “shakes of the month” during winter holiday season. Despite all the inventiveness, the most popular shake remains chocolate.

Unique flavors not withstanding, the 66 Diner’s milkshakes are made with real hand-dipped ice cream and whole milk and are mixed in a tin on a Hamilton Beach blender, the way they were made in the 50s. They’re then served in a shake glass with the tin on the side, much like getting a shake and a half. The 66 Diner is also one of the few places in town to offer red cream soda, my favorite before I gave up sodas altogether.

Sloppy Joe and onion rings

25 June 2011: Nothing goes better with a shake, float or malt than a burger. In New Mexico, naturally this means a green chile cheeseburger. The 66 Diner makes one of the very best (top ten) green chile cheeseburgers in town–even though it didn’t made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in either 2009 or 2011. When you request a burger a certain way, it’s delivered to your exacting specifications. Moreover you get a two-fisted burger in which the beef is prepared to your exacting specifications, the ingredients are unfailingly fresh and the chile (spelled correctly on the menu) actually bites back. It’s a very good chopped green chile with piquancy and flavor. Burgers are accompanied by your choice of sides–French fries, potato chips, coleslaw or potato salad. 

28 June 2014: There are probably only a handful of Duke City restaurants deigning to serve a Sloppy Joe sandwich today.  While the Sloppy Joe wasn’t “invented” during the Route 66 era, its peak in popularity occurred during that time.  The Food Timeline Web site explains how the name Sloppy Joe came about: “There is probably no Joe after whom it is named–but its rather messy appearance and tendency to drip off plate or roll makes “sloppy” an adequate description, and “Joe” is an American name of proletarian character and unassailable genuineness.”   At its most basic, the Sloppy Joe is a simple sandwich constructed with ground beef and a tomato sauce to which salt, pepper and spices are added.  At its elevated form, it’s  sandwich deliciousness you will crave.  Route 66’s Sloppy Joe will inspire craving.

Patty Melt with Potato Chips

28 June 2014: Another sandwich which may have seen its halcyon days during the Route 66 era is the patty melt.  Cynics who decry the patty melt as “a cheeseburger on toast” probably haven’t had a good one.  The 66 Diner’s version borders on greatness, largely because it follows the traditional recipe: a ground beef patty topped with molten cheese and grilled onions on rye bread, pan-fried in butter.  The ground beef patty is perfectly prepared at just past medium, rendering it juicy and absolutely delicious.  The grilled onions and melted cheese practically coalesce as one with the patty to give you a sweet-savory one-two punch you’ll enjoy.

The 66 Diner isn’t as well known for breakfast as perhaps it should be. Its limited breakfast menu might be the reason. Frankly, many New Mexicans are of the opinion that if you have breakfast burritos on the menu, you don’t need much else. The diner’s breakfast burrito is one of the biggest in the city, a large tortilla engorged with home fries, scrambled eggs and chopped green chile topped with melted Cheddar cheese and your choice of red and (or) green chile.

The Breakfast Burrito

12 October 2008: Make yours “Christmas style,” a burrito covered with both red and green chile. Both are surprisingly good and more piquant than at many New Mexican food restaurants. In fact, the green chile is downright special, a fruity sweet and gunpowder incendiary chile that elicits the type of endorphin rush which makes people fall in love with chile in the first place. The burrito is served with pinto beans.

12 October 2008: On our way to the 66 Diner for breakfast one Sunday, we passed a restaurant on Central Avenue offering “all you can eat pancakes for seven dollars.” A better bet would be ordering a “short stack” at the 66 Diner. Short obviously isn’t synonymous with small as we found out when our waitress delivered two pancakes which covered all but a tiny bit of the plate. These enormous pancakes would fill a small, developing nation (or as Jay Leno might quip, one fat American). We barely put a dent on them and even contemplated the notion of left-over pancakes, but perhaps only if you’re stoned would pancake left-overs be palatable…and they might cure the munchies. Otherwise, they’re almost inedible.

A “short stack” of pancakes

Friendly, attentive service is also a constant. There are many who say nothing could be finer than a meal at the 66 Diner.  They’re right!

66 Diner
1405 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-1421
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 28 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 15
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Pancakes, Red Cream Soda, Shakes, Malts, the “Dagwood”, Sloppy Joe, Patty Melt

66 Diner on Urbanspoon