Slapfish – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Slapfish, a Modern Seafood Shack

Every year, a jolly, bearded (some might also say fat) gentleman leaves the comforts of his home to celebrate an event that comes only once a year. Throughout the year he’s visited good little mom-and-pop restaurants across the Land of Enchantment and rewarded them with kind reviews wrapped in polysyllabic words and alliterative phrases. On this special day, my Kim’s birthday, the bearded gentleman isn’t quite as jolly for as faithful readers know, once a year I agree to take my cookie-baking bride to the Olive Garden. It’s a deal we have, albeit one that makes me feel like Faust in the Christopher Marlowe play. Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. In my case, the deal is a visit to Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year. I sure got the rotten end of that deal.

On 28 October 2017, my Kim decided to collect my soul, er….have me make good on my promise and take her to the Olive Garden (which she doesn’t like nearly as much as she likes the annoyance it brings me at the mere thought of visiting a chain restaurant). In the traditional deal with the devil motif of literature and cinema, when Satan comes to collect the witless pawn’s immortal soul, the pawn begs, bribes, cajoles and barters to no avail. Unlike the pawn, however, I had one barter up my sleeve. “Rather than the Olive Garden, wouldn’t you rather go to a better chain restaurant, one which purports to serve lobster rolls, ostensibly like the ones with which you fell in love in Maine?,” I pleaded. “If you’re talking about Slapfish, I’m game,” she replied. Phew, a reprieve for at least another year.

A cup of Clam Chowder

As with an increasing number of brick-and-mortar restaurants, Slapfish got its start as a mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck for you, Bob). In 2012, the founding owners hit the brakes on their mobile operation and launched their first sit-down restaurant in Huntington Beach, California. A scant five years later, Slapfish has restaurant locations across California, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and even South Korea and London with plans to open fifty locations in six states (as of 2016). If past performance is a predictor of future success, the sky’s the limit for Slapfish, a fast-casual seafood shack offering a seasonally-driven menu showcasing responsibly sourced, fresh and healthy seafood. Slapfish, by the way, is an onomatopoeia (words that imitate a sound) for the sound fresh fish make while slapping around the dock.

New Mexico’s sole Slapfish location, a 2,000-square-foot space with two dog friendly patios, is located at the Holly Center (also home to newcomer Blaze Pizza, Tamashi Sushi, Tropical Smoothie and Jersey Mike’s) in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. Slapfish celebrated its grand opening on October 7th and boasts of “fresh as coastal seafood” and a “sea-to-table concept.” A second Duke City location is in the planning stage. Though now ensconced in a brick-and-mortar edifice, there’s one hold-over element from Slapfish’s days as a food truck. You have to place your order at a counter, above which a fairly minimalist menu displays featured fare along with specials of the day.

Lobster Taquitos

“Must Have” (Slapfish’s term, not necessarily mine) selections headline the menu. These are the appetizers, some of which are rather intriguing. Among the more interesting offerings are the chowder fries (natural-cut fries smothered in creamy clam chowder and bacon) and lobster taquitos drizzled with “awesome sauce.” A “daily fish” is on the menu every day and it served in a salad, as a sandwich or as a bowl (with two sides). Main (and in some cases Maine) entrees are displayed on the “Signatures” menu. The lobster roll isn’t shown online, but it was available on the day of our inaugural visit, albeit at “market price.” Sides include housemade pickles (pickled or fried), some of the best we’ve had in Albuquerque. Fountain drinks are of the Maine Root handcrafted beverages brand.

In retrospect (and hindsight is always 20/20) we should have had the chowder fries. Instead, we ordered just one component of those chowder fries—the clam chowder—and did so only after verifying that it’s New England style clam chowder, not Manhattan style. There’s a huge difference. An overfilled cup of steaming hot chowder was replete with a generous amount of bacon bits, bite-sized red potatoes and well, not many (if any) clams (perhaps we should have asked Forrest Fenn to organize a treasure hunt to find them). As a bacon chowder, this cup was satisfying, but we didn’t order a bacon chowder. We ordered a clam chowder. Also conspicuous by their absence are the traditional New England style oyster crackers which typically accompany clam chowder throughout New England.

Lobster Ramen Burrito

Much more satisfying were the lobster taquitos drizzled in awesome sauce. Though the term “awesome sauce” has a fingernails on a chalkboard effect on some people, to others it’s become a catchphrase synonymous with “excellent” or “extremely good.” It could be argued that these taquitos (two per order) are more akin to a chimichanga because the tortilla is fried or even closer to an egg roll than a taquito, but what can’t be disputed is that they’re pretty darned good.  For under seven dollars, we didn’t expect an engorgement of lobster and our expectations were met.  What little lobster there was had a fresh and delicious.  The awesome sauce (an orange smoked chile sauce) is a nice touch.  It doesn’t have the type of heat a New Mexico chile-based sauce would have, but it’s got a pleasant personality.

Birthday or not, my Kim always orders first. Indicative of how little I understand women, I thought she’d surely order a lobster roll.   After all, she couldn’t get enough of them during our last visit to Maine. Instead, however, she ordered a shrimp ramen burrito. Yep, you read that correctly. A shrimp ramen burrito. She redeemed herself a little by asking for lobster instead of shrimp, a twelve-dollar upcharge.  So what exactly is a lobster ramen burrito?  Picture a flour tortilla engorged with ramen noodles, spinach and sizeable chunks of lobster meat from the tail and claws.  She used her fork to extricate the lobster which she dipped into warm butter and she slurped up the noodles, but basically left the tortilla shell alone.  After more than two decades in New Mexico, she still won’t eat “store-bought” tortillas and finds the term “hand-held” not applicable when it comes to burritos.

Lobstah Roll

Because my Kim didn’t order the lobster roll, it freed me up to be able to do so.  At first glance, it did bear a resemblance to the boatsful of lobster rolls I consumed in my years in Massachusetts.  Lobster meat from the tail and claws piled atop a split top roll.  Alas, there wasn’t much lobster inside the fluffy roll which was grilled and toasted to a lightly crispy exterior.  A light, sweet dressing (thankfully not gobs of mayo) and celery salt dress the lobster meat.  The lobster, while delicate and sweet, had a slightly stringy texture–discernible to us because we’ve devoured so much lobster.  Perhaps, Slapfish is still trying to figure out the nuances of high-altitude cooking.

In an interview with Forbes, founder Andrew Gruel admitted he “wanted to run the Chipotle of seafood.”  Despite some small foibles, it’s much better than Chipotle.  It’s inventive seafood the likes of which Albuquerque hasn’t seen before.

Slapfish Restaurant
6400 Holly Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-1645
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Clam Chowder, Lobster Roll, Lobster Taquitos
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1005

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

Crackin’ Crab Seafood Boil – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Crackin’ Crab Seafood Boil on Unser Boulevard in Albuquerque

There are certain notions people find too implausible or preposterous to believe. Case in point: during a recent lunch with my friend Bill Resnik, our waitress asked what we did for a living. Bill told her I was an actor, a premise our waitress found entirely credible—even to the point of recalling she may have seen me in an episode of Breaking Bad. When, however, I told her Bill was a porn star, she couldn’t contain her laughter. She practically fell over in hysteria at the image of my towering (6’5″) friend performing in a porno as if it was the most hilarious thing she’d ever heard. After she composed herself, she told me I was full of sh… er, excrement. My response: “full of sh..” was Bill’s porn name when he starred in diaper fetish movies. We thought we’d have to hose her down when even more raucous fits of laughter ensued.

Another notion New Mexicans find implausible is the idea that very good to excellent seafood can be found within the landlocked borders of the Land of Enchantment. Since the rapid fire succession closure in the early 2000s of Cafe Oceana, the Rio Grande Yacht Club and Seagull Street, many diners considered Pelican’s Restaurant the sole surviving seafood restaurant in the metropolitan area.  Just about the time the aforementioned trio were shuttering their doors, Mariscos Altamar began introducing Duke City diners to Mexican style seafood, a trend that caught on rapidly.  Then in 2013, Down N’ Dirty Seafood Boil filled a real niche by offering a product unique to the marketplace, something that can’t be found anywhere else in the area.  Its Cajun-style seafood boil concept was an immediate smash hit.

The Crackin’ Crab Dining Room

Just as as mighty forests start with one tiny fertile seed, niche markets tend to propagate as soon as entrepreneurs see an opportunity to get in on a good thing.  In 2015, just about the time Down N Dirty opened its second restaurant (Los Altos Plaza on Wyoming), an aptly named competitor–Crackin’ Crab Seafood Boil–opened its doors near the Century Rio 24 theater. It didn’t take Crackin’ Crab long to expand, launching its own second instantiation just as 2016 was dawning.  2015 also saw the launch of Crab N’ Draft in the International District.  In May, 2016, 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen in Nob Hill followed suit.

Detractors might say the market is already saturated, but those of us “glass half filled” types can’t get enough.  Landlocked Albuquerque has fallen in love with the seafood boil concept.  With existing and planned locations soon to blanket the metropolitan area, favorites are likely to be based as much on proximity as to quality of the product.  Living in Rio Rancho (almost as far north as you can go before you’re in the Santa Ana Pueblo), we longed for a seafood boil restaurant we didn’t have to drive thirty miles to reach.  With the opening of Crackin’ Crab at the McMahon Marketplace on Unser just north of the demarcation line between Rio Rancho and Albuquerque, our wish has been granted.

A family bag of seafood

The name Crackin’ Crab speaks volumes about the concept.  At its mechanical essence, a seafood boil is little more than seafood, water (or beer) and spices (exquisite, flavor-packed, seafood enlivening spices).  At its spiritual essence, it’s so much more than that.  A seafood boil is about fun and frolic.  It’s about sharing succulent seafood with friends and family.  It’s about getting your hands and face dirty and enjoying every minute of it.  Even though the nearest sand and surf (Tingley Beach doesn’t count) is more than 800 miles away, Duke City diners can still enjoy the spirit of the seafood boil.  That spirit is alive and well at the Crackin’ Crab.

With an ambiance almost equal parts nautical and nondescript, the Crackin’ Crab is a sole, elongated dining room with a seating capacity of about fifty guests.  Weather-permitting, another twenty-five diners can enjoy themselves on the patio.  Several strategically placed wall-mounted flat screen televisions might get your attention early, but only until your seafood bounty arrives at your table.  “Pounds of Crackin'” is set at market price by the pound: blue crab, Dungeness crab cluster, snow crab cluster, king crab legs, lobster, black mussels, green mussels, crawfish (in season), clams, scallops and shrimp (headless or with heads).   You can’t catch this stuff on the Rio Grande.  If you prefer your seafood fried, a netful of fried options are also available: calamari, shrimp, seafood, oysters and softshell crab.  Landlubbers can have fried chicken tenders.

Sampling of the Family Bag

Any order combination of three pounds will also yield one corn on the cob, one sausage and one potato, but you can also order additional portions of each in any quantity you desire for a relative pittance.  Two sauce options are available to enliven your seafood boil–an Old Bay Cajun sauce and a lemon pepper sauce, both available in mild, medium or hot.  My penchant for piquancy goes out the window with seafood.  Any spice level beyond medium obfuscates the natural sweet and briny flavors of seafood.  At Crackin’ Crab even the medium sauce is as incendiary as hot chile at some New Mexican food restaurants. 

11 September 2016: Your best bet whether you’re a value conscious diner or you want variety in your meal is the family bag, a veritable boatload of beauteous seafood.  Your yield is one pound of snow crab, a half pound of headless shrimp, a half pound of scallops and a half pound of black mussels along with one corn on the cob, one potato and one Andouille sausage.  That’s two-and-a-half pounds of succulent seafood for about forty dollars (as of this writing).  Being a lazy eater, my preference is for seafood requiring no peeling or cracking.  Extricating the sweet meat, no matter how delicious, is just too much work and I seem to lack the manual dexterity to use the cracking appliances provided.  My Kim would rather extract the crab meat for me than to see me wreak mass destruction on the claws.  

More Goodness from the Family Bag

11 September 2016: My favorite item in the family bag is the scallops (and not only because there’s no peeling or shelling involved).  Crackin’ Crab serves silver dollar sized scallops, each as sweet, rich and deliciously decadent as possible.  The shrimp are sizeable enough for the term “shrimp” to be an oxymoron while the black mussels probably benefit most from the Cajun sauce.  Because couples might not remain together if they had to split just one Andouille sausage, potato or corn-on-the-cob, you’re well advised to order at least two for each of you.  The spicy, smoked Andouille sausage is always a treat.

30 October 2016: My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, quotes the two things you need to know about Old Bay Seasoning: (1) It’s great on seafood; and (2) It’s great on everything else. Sprinkled lovingly on all the contents of the family bag (which you’ll remember, includes the corn-on-the-cob, Andouille sausage and potatoes), the seasoning penetrates deeply, imbuing the seafood with a blend of 18 herbs and spices. During our inaugural visit, we opted for the medium piquancy which proved more incendiary than much of the green chile served in some New Mexican restaurants. The source of that piquancy is nothing more than red pepper, black pepper and paprika. Lemon pepper, the seasoning of choice during our second visit, seemed to emphasize the flavor of coarse ground pepper more than the tanginess of lemon peel. At “mild,” it allowed the seafood to shine.

Crackin’ Crab has cracked the line-up of seafood boil restaurants par excellence in the metropolitan area. As if terrific seafood isn’t enough, when you’re done you can take your receipt two doors down to the outstanding chocolatier ChocoGlitz & Cream and you get a ten-percent discount on your order.

Cracking Crab Seafood Boil
10660 Unser Blvd, #B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-5790
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 October 2016
1st VISIT: 11 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
BEST BET: Family Platter (One Pound Snow Crab, Half Pound Headless Shrimp, Half Pound Scallops, Half Pound Black Mussels, Corn on the Cob, Potatoes, Andouille Sausage) Bread

Crackin' Crab Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Down N Dirty Seafood Boil – Albuquerque, New Mexico

DownDirty01

Down N Dirty Seafood Boil on Fourth Street in Albuquerque

Seafood boil in the Duke City!  If the notion conjures visions of heading to Tingley Beach and embarking on an unappetizing repast of catfish, trout and silvery minnows boiled together in a large pot of green chile seasoned water, you’re in for a treat.  As of September, 2013, it’s possible for expatriates from any of America’s coastal regions to indulge in authentic seafood boil…and it’s very good.  

If you hadn’t heard about Down N Dirty Seafood Boil, it’s because Albuquerque’s very first seafood boil restaurant launched to very little fanfare.  The event should have been celebrated with ceremonial splendor and rejoicing.  Think about it.  Among the dozens of  restaurant openings in the Duke City every year, very few actually serve an untapped market.  Even fewer fill a real niche and offer a product unique to the marketplace, something that can’t be found anywhere else in the area.

The homey interior of Down N’ Dirty Seafood Boil

Expats who’ve lived along coastal waters know of what I speak.  As they read this, they may even be experiencing involuntary salivation at their memories of seafood boils in their past and the prospect of recreating that experience within easy driving distance.   Others not fortunate enough to  have ever experienced an authentic seafood boil may be scratching their heads and wondering just what a seafood boil is and why the launch of the Down N Dirty (no double-entendre intended) Seafood Boil is such a milestone event.

A seafood boil is, first and foremost, a social event, a gathering of friends and family to celebrate and luxuriate in succulent shellfish.  In coastal areas, seafood boils are held on Memorial day to herald the start of summer and they’re held on Labor Day to wish summer a fond farewell.  Optimally, they’re held on the beach where the heady aroma of briny seawater mingles with the smoke from the fire surrounding a large cauldron or stockpot of boiling water (or beer) in which the bounty of the sea is prepared. 

DownDirty02

Lobsters and crabs in tanks

Regional variations not only dictate what shellfish is prepared, but the spices and nuances that give that region its culinary personality. The seafood of choices in New England are clams and oysters served with Portuguese sausage.  In Georgia and in the “Low Country” of South Carolina, it’s shrimp and smoked sausage while Louisiana seafood lovers prefer the triumvirate of crabs, crawfish and andouille sausage.  Blue crab, Chincoteague oysters and clams are all the rage along the estuaries of Chesapeake Bay.

There is no one standard “recipe” for a seafood boil.  Chefs and cooks have freelanced for generations, tweaking local variations with a pinch of this or a dash of that but never deviating too far from tradition.  At its basics, a seafood boil is little more than seafood, water (or beer) and spices.  The seafood is typically boiled whole and if you’re fortunate enough to experience it along the coast, extricated from the net or trap and tossed directly into a boiling pot.  There is nothing like the just-caught flavors and brininess of fresh seafood!

Scallops, Potatoes, Corn and Andouille Sausage

Obviously, the Duke City and landlocked New Mexico are at a disadvantage when it comes to just-caught, fresh-off-the-boat seafood, but modern transportation has made next day delivery of fresh seafood a reality.  The other elements–foamy waves crashing along the beach, pristine sands as fine as talcum, marine layers of soupy fog in the morning–we’ll just have to imagine.  Though it does sport a thematic seaside decor, stepping into the Down N Dirty Seafood Boil restaurant on Fourth Street won’t transport you back to the coast.  The seafood boil just might!

The menu invites you to “get dirty by the pound” offering at market price all the seafood it takes to sate expats from coast to coast.  Blue crab, clams, mussels, crawfish, scallops, shrimp, rock shrimp, Dungeness crab, snow crab legs, Alaskan king crab legs, crab claws and even lobster are available.  While you’re free to mix and match to your heart’s content, it’s got to be in full pound increments.  You can’t, for example, order a quarter pound of rock shrimp, a half pound of crab claws and three-quarter pounds of mussels.

Rock Shrimp, Potatoes, Corn on the Cob

Rock Shrimp, Potatoes, Corn on the Cob

After you’ve selected your seafood of choice, you’ll be asked to pick a spice flavor and degree of spiciness.  The spice accents include garlic butter, lemon pepper, Cajun and “Down N Dirty” if you want it all.  Spice levels range from none (garlic butter) to mild, medium and hot.  Your server will explain the process in as much detail as you need.  After your inaugural visit you’ll have the routine down pat. 

It wouldn’t be a seafood boil without the accompaniments which luxuriate in the fragrant stew of spices and herbs along with the seafood.  Popular favorites include potatoes, corn on the cob, sausage and Andouille sausage.  Down N Dirty will also fry up some of your favorites: chicken tenders, fish and chips, shrimp, catfish, calamari, soft shell crab and oysters, but let’s face it, you can get fried foods just about anywhere. 

Alaskan King Crab Legs, potatoes and corn

Alaskan King Crab Legs, potatoes and corn

There are a couple of cautionary statements you should heed when partaking in a seafood boil: (1) it can get pretty messy as in buttery liquids running down your chin onto your shirt; and (2) you’ll want to use the bib provided by your server to protect that shirt.  Better yet would be cutting a hole in a trash bag and putting your head through it.  That would be fitting because the seafood itself is served in a clear trash bag (which really should be called “treasure bags” considering what they hold).  Make that two trash bags (double-bagging).  The inner bag is tied at the top.  You’ll have to untie it then fashion it into a makeshift bowl before you can indulge in your seafood fantasy. 

2 November 2013: While the seafood options with a carapace (an exoskeleton) are tempting, if your hunger won’t wait or, like me, you lack the manual dexterity to safely extricate the tender seafood from its craggy shell, you’ll opt for seafood sans shell.  Scallops, the pearlescent beauties with a sweet flavor are a perfect choice.  Because scallops are so delicate in flavor, you won’t want to overwhelm them with an assertive spice.  The Down N Dirty spice, which can be made “mild” is perfect for scallops.  The reddish, stewy liquid in which the scallops are served is rich and buttery with minced garlic and spices swimming around. 

Two-pound lobster with potatoes and corn-on-the-cob

Two-pound lobster with potatoes and corn-on-the-cob

8 November 2013: Conventional thought is that most seafood boil seasoning mixtures come from a can, box, packet or decanter of some sort.  There’s absolutely no shame in using Old Bay, Tony Chachere’s or Paul Prudhomme’s seasonings, all of which are good.  It’s quite likely the good folks at Down N Dirty start with one of these pre-packaged mixes then “doctor” them to their liking, but they won’t reveal their “secret recipes’ to anyone.  Who needs to know what’s in the seasoning as long as they enhance the flavor of the seafood.  These seasonings do.  The Cajun seasonings on a pound of rock shrimp, for example, brought me back to seafood boils of yore on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. 

The accompaniment options are worthy of sharing trash bag space with the seafood. The thin-skinned new potatoes are boiled to perfection and soak up the buttery-garlicky mix.  The corn-on-the-cob is sweet and succulent, perhaps the messiest component of the boil because it’s hand-held.  At the opposite spectrum of the sweet, briny seafood is the Andouille sausage, a coarse, smoky and nicely spiced sausage.  The only thing missing is a baguette which would be perfect for sopping up any remaining liquid.  Alas, the owners don’t want diners to fill up on bread.  The menu also offers about a dozen and a half drinks by the can as well as bottled drinks.  If you’ve ever looked inside the tubing of a fountain drink machine, you’ll be grateful. 

Bread, a relatively new offering at Down N’ Dirty

11 November 2013: While the boiled seafood travels well, the fried clams do not.  Instead of the plump, sweet and miraculously delicious whole bellied clams I had fallen in love with during the two years I lived in Massachusetts, the fried clams at Down N Dirty are of Howard Johnson’s quality.  That is, they’re passable (barely) in New Mexico, but wouldn’t pass muster in New England.  Experience has taught me that not even in San Diego and Las Vegas are excellent fried clams to be found.

The Down N Dirty Seafood Boil is located at the former site of several failed restaurants.  There are enough expats from coastal regions and enough adventurous seafood lovers to make it a dining destination where they can make it a celebration of the seafood boil tradition as American as New Mexico’s red and green chile.

Down N Dirty Seafood Boil
6100 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-0595
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 February 2015
1st VISIT: 2 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Scallops, Alaskan King Crabs, Rock Shrimp, Potatoes, Corn on the Cob, Andouille Sausage, Lobster, Cherry Pepsi

Down N Dirty Seafood Boil Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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