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Bouche – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bouche, an extraordinarily elegant restaurant with breathtaking food

Career paths do not always unfold as stereotypes might dictate.  Heavily recruited out of Mission, Texas, a high school football hotbed, Frans Dinklemann, a 6’6″ 241-pound defensive end, signed with the University of New Mexico where his Lobo teammates included perennial National Football League (NFL) All-Pro Brian Urlacher.  By his senior year, Frans had grown to 6’7″ and 270 pounds and moved to the offensive line where he set the team weight room record for offensive linemen with a 33-inch vertical leap. 

The stereotype of the offensive lineman is of a brutish behemoth heavy on brawn and light on brain, a misanthrope with very little personality or charisma.  In his inimitable manner, Hall of Fame NFL coach and longtime television analyst John Madden stereotypes the offensive lineman as a “big ol’ mean and nasty guy who tries to knock the snot out of the guy across from him.”  With these stereotypes, you might surmise that after his Lobo career ended, Frans Dinklemann would become a nightclub bouncer or pursue some other similar profession requiring muscle and mass.

Bread with garlic butter

Coach Madden, however, also pointed out that offensive linemen tend to be neat and precise, to be polite and have well-ordered lockers.  This fits with their job of carrying out precise assignments in connection with each play the quarterback directs the team to execute.  Those traits–neatness, precision, politeness and orderliness–seem to defy stereotypes and are actually more often associated with a chef than with an offensive lineman.  As Frans Dinklemann, offensive lineman turned chef, proves every day, if you’ve got the passion and determination, you can follow your dreams no matter what they might be. 

Frans Dinklemann is realizing his dreams.  While toiling at another Duke City restaurant, he and the restaurant’s manager Dolores Welk-Jack frequently fantasized about striking out on their own.  For years they shared ideas and planned for an eventuality that took years to culminate.  Chef Dinklemann and Dolores launched Bouche on October 26, 2013 in a Lilliputian space nestled within the La Bella Spa Salon complex on Coors just south of Alameda.

Cheese Plate

To see the beautiful plating coming out of the kitchen is to experience esthetically pleasing, appetite arousing, edible art.  Chef Dinkleman obviously recognizes that great cuisine may be eaten with the mouth but it’s with the eyes that the first impression and sense of appreciation are formed.  Everything is where it should be for optimum harmony, balance and appearance, a sort of plate syzygy. The balance of color, texture and appearance makes diners give pause to reflect on how great everything looks before their taste buds confirm what their eyes already know.  If you still believe in stereotypes, you might ask yourself “an offensive lineman did that?”.

If Chef Dinklemann is the proverbial ex-jock with hidden talents, Dolores is the gracious lady hostess, the heart and soul of the operation.  Dolores runs the “front of the house” which means she’s the restaurant’s public face, the person with whom guests will interact.    The hospitality and personal, attentive service guests receive from Dolores ensures they’ll be back.  In fact, as of this writing, Bouche has a 100% “like it” rating on Urbanspoon whose readers can be very persnickety and obstinate.  Urbanspoon readers rave as much about the service at Bouche as they do the amazing cuisine.

Melon Salad

It’s pretty obvious Dolores prefers the restaurant’s intimacy.  Because Bouche has only thirteen seats, she’s able to provide that personal touch so endearing to her guests.  Dolores is an effusive and warm person, the type of whom makes a great best friend.  Aside from her people skills, she’s the mastermind behind the restaurant’s fabulous desserts, bakery-quality deliciousness with which to finish a perfect meal. Oh, and she may not be a certified sommelier, but her wine-pairing recommendations are savant.

If you like the predictability of menus you can practically recite, Bouche will throw you a real curve ball.  There is no formal menu, the only predictability being the knowledge that everything you order will be fabulous.  The  selections of the day–typically two or three entrees, appetizers, a soup, a salad, and dessert–are scrawled on a chalkboard.  Don’t get used to today’s selection because tomorrow they may not be there.  Everything is prepared based on what quality local organic produce can be found on the market. Despite the appellation “Bouche,” which translates from French to “mouth,” featured fare is “new American” prepared with French techniques.

Potato and Bacon Soup

It’s only fitting that my inaugural visit to Bouche was with my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate.   For months Larry had raved about Bouche and to me, he’s like E.F. Hutton in that when Larry speaks, Gil listens.  We were accompanied by my much better half Kim and the dazzling Deanell Collins.   In a stormy night replete with surprises, perhaps the biggest surprise is that Bouche didn’t have an overflow crowd.  Dolores explained that reservations have become absolutely necessary for Friday and Saturday night seating and that lunch crowds abound, but some evenings are surprisingly light. That meant more single-focused attention from the delightful Dolores for us. 

Even though it’s not complimentary, make sure to order the bread.  It’s a terrific French bread and on the night of our inaugural visit, it was served with a superb herb-garlic butter resplendent with clove halves.  The bread is fresh and delicious with a crusty exterior and soft interior.  The herb-garlic butter is a more than welcome respite from the ad infinitum parade of olive oil amalgams too many restaurants serve.

Bone-In Pork Chop

For decades, photographers who want their subjects to smile have instructed them to “say cheese.”  Saying “cheese” causes the mouth to form into a semblance of a smile-like shape.  Savvy diners will do well to order the cheese plate when it’s on the menu.  It’ll make you smile for sure.  Now, the concept of the cheese plate sometimes seems foreign in New Mexico and if you do find one it’s typically rather austere and unimaginative.  At Bouche, the cheese plate is both an objec d’art and a misnomer.  The “plate” is an artistic array of toasted Brazil and hazel nuts; fresh blackberries, strawberries and raspberries; crackers; slices of Jarlsberg cheese; and in the center of a cutting board, a herbaceous goat cheese ball made from the Old Windmill Dairy‘s finest.  The handle of the cutting board is drizzled with honey and bee pollen.  Sitting on a heated stone are slices of Brie which continue their molten transformation until you extricate them from the hot stone.  It’s the very best cheese plate we’ve found in New Mexico.  No other is even close.

Offensive linemen are more often associated with all-you-can-eat buffets than with salads, especially “pretty” salads.  Bouche’s melon salad is the antithesis of the boring, haphazardly strewn-together salad you might find at a football team’s training table.  It’s esculent esthetics, a melange of summery colors and ingredients which look like a painting and taste even better than they look.  The melon triumvirate for which the salad is named includes honeydew melon, cantaloupe and watermelon.  Aside from the fresh, crisp greens, other ingredients from which this salad is constructed include shaved almonds and mozzarella drizzled with a strawberry vinaigrette. If you love the bounty and freshness of summer, you’ll love this salad.

Ribeye

Wheel of Fortune star Vanna White once quipped “When I was having that alphabet soup, I never thought that it would pay off.”  Having served several times as judges for the Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souperbowl has paid off for Larry and me as we’ve garnered expertise in soup we might not otherwise have.  Bouche’s potato and bacon soup is absolutely souperb with much more flavor complexity than its name might imply.  It’s also rather uniquely plated.  A lightly fried corn tortilla shell with three cut-out circular “windows” reveals three of the ingredients used to construct the soup.  One window showcases finely chopped bacon, another scallions and the third gives you a voyeur’s view of unctuous melted butter.  This is one of the most inventive and delicious soups you’ll find in the Duke City.  If the melon salad invokes a summery feel, the soup is perfect for rainy and cold nights. 

On most restaurant menus bone-in pork chop is as descriptive as you’re going to see on the plate.  At Bouche, bone-in pork chop fails miserably to describe its presentation.  A two-inch thick bone-in pork chop arrives under a tight-fitting, fogged up plastic dome.  When Dolores removes the dome, smoky vapors waft upward revealing a fragrant bouquet of hard woods melded with porcine deliciousness.  The tender pork practically melts in your mouth imparting the flavors of sweet, savory, and smoke on your tongue and taste buds.  The pork chop is served with fresh, buttery corn and French-style snap peas, both prepared as well as vegetables can be prepared.  These are carnivore converting quality vegetables.

Vanilla Spice Cake

Similar to the bone-in-pork chop, the two-inch thick ribeye (which resembles a small roast) arrives under its own foggy dome.  You’ve got to experience the wood smoke fragrance as it escapes the dome.  The smoke pervades the entire dining room, prompting prying eyes and very aroused nostrils to seek its origin and let the smoke envelop them, too.  At medium, the ribeye has a nice band of light pink through the middle.  Sides are rich brown in color.  The steak is firm to the touch with just a bit of play in the middle.  It’s absolutely delicious, as good as any steak we’ve had in New Mexico.  Garnished with micro-greens and served with sweet snap peas, it’s steak the way it should be prepared and served.

You might think that with all we enjoyed, we’d be too full for dessert and while that may have been the case, sugary lust superseded satiety. Desserts, Larry assured us, are as fantastic as everything else at Bouche.  Our first dessert was a vanilla spice cake, far surpassing the simplicity of its name.  This wonderful cake featured three separate slabs drizzled with a raspberry topping and laying on a decorative pool of goat cheese cream.  The other dessert was a berry cobbler topped with an addictive sweet goat cheese cream and lots of loose berries on the plate.  Both desserts included pulled sugar twill.

Berry Cobbler with Goat Cheese Cream

Among savvy diners in the know, Bouche is already regarded as one of the Duke City’s very best dining establishments, a diminutive and non-traditional gem with a brilliant chef who coaxes optimal flavors from each and every ingredient and an ambassadorial manager who’ll win you over with her charm and wit.

Bouche
10126 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-8101
Bouche Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Ribeye, Bone-In Pork Chop, Potato and Bacon Soup, Melon Salad, Vanilla Spice Cake, Cheese Plate, Berry Cobbler

Bouche on Urbanspoon

The Spot Cafe – Corrales, New Mexico

The Spot Cafe in Corrales, New Mexico

Big Bang Theory wunderkind Sheldon Cooper has a spot he describes as the “singular location in space around which revolves my entire universe.”  That spot is the left side of his couch, a location he has placed “in a state of eternal dibs.”  In scientific terms, Sheldon relates his spot as “a single point of consistency in an ever-changing world.”  His attachment to that one spot borders on obsession, but he’s not the only television character that possessive of his spot.

In television comedies, characters have always had their favorite spots and show little tolerance for anybody who tries to sit in them.  Cheers barflies Norm Peterson and Cliff Claivin had their favorite bar stools.  Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer always sat at their favorite table at Monk’s Diner.  Heaven help anyone who sat on Archie Bunker’s favorite chair, the most famous and only one of the aforementioned spots on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Interior of the Spot Cafe

Television personalities are often based on and mimic real life characters.  As such, it will be interesting to see what Corrales resident will develop an attachment to a favorite spot at its newest eatery (as of May, 2014), fittingly named The Spot.  That’s an appropriate appellation for a cafe which promises to be a very popular gathering spot in the heart of the village.  The Spot opened its doors in May, 2014 and is open for breakfast and lunch every day but Tuesday from 7AM until 3PM. 

The Spot occupies the spot previously held by the Oasis Cafe within the Village Plaza, an 11,000 square-foot complex just north of the Corrales fire station.  At the help are Aaron and Deb Worrell, veteran restaurateurs with more than two decades in the industry.  In addition to The Spot, the couple own and operate two Aaron’s Sandwich Time restaurants in the Duke City.  It goes without saying, therefore, that sandwiches are part and parcel of the cafe’s menu.

Milk Shakes made from Blue Bell Ice Cream

Interestingly, the cafe’s ambiance bespeaks fine dining with linen tablecloths, cloth napkins and table service but the menu is more akin to an over-the-counter operation with an emphasis on contemporary comfort food at great prices. It’s an inviting menu both during breakfast and lunch.  Start the morning off with build-your-own omelets, panini-stuffed French toast, breakfast sandwiches and a nice line-up of breakfast burritos.  Sandwiches and burgers highlight the lunch menu, but no ordinary burgers are these.  A one-half pound Angus beef burger is available with your choice of toppings and is prepared to your exacting specifications.

Reason enough to visit The Spot are the housemade milk shakes made from Blue Bell ice cream, arguably the best ice cream in America.  When we moved from Mississippi to Albuquerque, Blue Bell ice cream was what we missed most–even more than blackened redfish and oysters.  The Spot’s milk shakes remind us why.  The Dutch Chocolate milk shake is rich and creamy with an adult dark chocolate flavor and a decadent fudge swirl.  The Spot offers a number of different Blue Bell flavors, all on display in a freezer.  You’ll want to try them all.

Green Chile Steak Melt with Sweet Potato Fries

10 May 2014: Over the years, my friends and I have, like Indiana Jones in pursuit of historical treasure, trekked throughout the city in pursuit of the best green chile Philly.  Only a handful (the very best being from Itsa Italian Ice) meet our exceedingly high standards.  The Spot’s green chile steak melt ranks right up there with them.  It’s a sandwich Philadelphia would be proud to call its own.   This gem of a sandwich is constructed from very high quality ingredients: tri-tip steak, a full-flavored, low fat content cut of steak; red, green and yellow peppers; caramelized onions and plenty of New Mexico green chile on your choice of bun (including one impregnated with green chile).

10 May 2014: Half-pound Angus burgers, with your choice of toppings, are sure to please the most discerning of burgerphiles.  The list of toppings options truly allows you to have it your way.  My way was with green chile, bacon and cheese along with the standard toppings of lettuce and tomato.  Not surprisingly, the Angus beef patty is very flavorful courtesy of nicely marbled beef prepared at a juicy medium.  Served on a green chile bun, this burger warrants further exploration with different toppings.  It’s a good one.

“Kobe” Burger with Baked Beans

10 May 2014: Sandwiches and burgers are available with a number of sides including sweet potato fries and baked beans.  The baked beans are terrific, so good I wiped them out before even trying the burger.  Unlike far too many baked beans, these are not candy cloying, but have a depth of flavors that’s very enjoyable and which might transport you to memories of barbecues.  The sweet potato fries are also quite good.

13 July 2014: When my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared The Spot’s biscuits and gravy “the best I have ever had.  Anyplace.  Perfection,” it created a dilemma for me.  Biscuits and gravy border on traumatizing, the result of having been subjected in Air Force cafeterias to absolutely horrible renditions of this popular Southern breakfast staple.   On the other hand, when Larry is as passionate about a dish as he is The Spot’s biscuits and gravy, you’re well advised to try it…and soon.

Biscuits and Gravy–quite possibly the best in New Mexico (if not the universe)

13 July 2014: Biscuits and gravy combine various textures and flavors into each bite, making it a deliciously diverse, palate pleasing breakfast entree. Crumbled sausage links enliven the flavor of a tasty milk, flour and butter-based gravy served over three split biscuits topped with two eggs made the way you want them. The fluffy, steamy interior of the split biscuits coupled with the sturdy biscuit exterior are a perfect repository for the smooth, delicious body of the sausage gravy.  The eggs (Larry likes them over-easy) blanket the biscuits and provide runny yoke deliciousness.  This dish is served on a “too hot to handle” skillet.

13 July 2014: While the standard breakfast menu includes waffles, there’s just something special about the combination of chicken and waffles.  It’s a combination which has become increasingly popular in the Food Network age.  Several Duke City restaurants serve fairly standard versions.  The Spot stands out for its unique take on this Belgian culinary specialty.  To truly appreciate this entree, available with or without bones, ask for the honey-BBQ glaze instead of the standard waffle syrup.  The honey-BBQ glaze is reminiscent of sauces used on Asian dishes–not the sweet and sour type of sauce, but the sauces which impart proportionate measures of sweet, savory and tart flavors.  It’s probably not everybody’s cup of sauce, but adventurous types will enjoy it. The chicken itself is perfectly fried with a golden crust.

Chicken and Waffles

In time, The Spot Cafe promises an even more inviting menu, one replete with comfort food favorites diners will appreciate. This is a restaurant which just might become your spot.

The Spot Cafe
4940 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 899-7768
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT:  13 July 2014
1st VISIT: 10 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Wagyu Burger, Baked Beans, Chile Melt, Sweet Potato Fries, Milk Shakes, Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy

The Spot Cafe on Urbanspoon

Magdalena Cafe – Magdalena, New Mexico

The Magdalena Cafe and Steakhouse

In 1863 during the height of the Civil War, soldiers on leave from Fort Craig staked claims to silver strikes in the Magdalena Mountains.  Within a few years, the boom towns of Kelly and Magdalena had sprung up, eventually achieving a population surpassing even Socorro, the county seat.  The first veins of metal ore given up by the rocky promontories were lead and zinc, but ultimately silver became the principal source of wealth. 

With the arrival of the railroad in 1884, Magdalena became a rowdy frontier mining town and one of the Southwest’s largest cattle shipping centers with its stockyards processing thousands of cattle and sheep.  Magdalena became known as the “Trails End” because the spur line which originated in Socorro had its terminus in the town named for the likeness of Mary Magdalene on a nearby slope.  The railroad transported cattle, sheep, wool, timber and wool.  It also transported carloads of ore to a smelter outside of Socorro.

Dining Room at the Magdalena Cafe and Steakhouse

No vestiges of the railroad remain, but it’s easy to imagine how spectacular the 20 meandering miles from Socorro to Magdalena must have been by train.  That’s because Highway 60 approximates the route of the railroad line nicknamed “the elevator” because it climbed two-thousand feet in roughly sixteen miles.  Highway 60 snakes its way past dramatic gorges, impressive boulders and large cattle ranches to emerge on the plains outside Magdalena.  It’s a magnificent drive. 

Today, instead of metalliferous lodes, Magdalena’s principal source of richness just may be its deep appreciation of its history and traditions.  Several historic buildings–including the railroad depot which has been repurposed as the town’s city hall and library–have survived, some serving as homes to active businesses or private homes.  Every year on the second weekend of July, Magdalena hosts its “Old Timers Reunion,” a three-day event celebrating the “good ole days” with such events as a rodeo, parade, street dance, arts and crafts and barbecue.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Situated roughly at the geographical center of Socorro County, Magdalena can also boast of a presence on the prestigious New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a distinction the Magdalena Cafe shares with two other Socorro county purveyors of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct sandwich.  Magdalena is little more than half an hour away from San Antonio, New Mexico, the home of the world-famous Owl Cafe and the nearly-as-famous Buckhorn Tavern. but its green chile cheeseburger has yet to achieve the fame of its burger brethren.  Attribute that to the perception that Magdalena an “out-of-the-way” and “off-the-beaten path” destination. 

Adventurous diners who do trek to Magdalena will be rewarded with a spectacular drive to a beautiful frontier town which embraces its history and embodies hospitality.  They’ll also discover a green chile cheeseburger which some say rivals its Socorro county counterparts for sheer deliciousness.  The Magdalena Cafe sits on Main Street, not quite a block south of Highway 60.  Though it didn’t launch until 1986, the building housing the Cafe dates from the turn of the twentieth century.

Ground Beef Tacos

While its full appellation is Magdalena Cafe & Steakhouse, the Cafe has somewhat abbreviated serving hours with very distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.  Dinner is when steak makes it onto the menu, but dinner is served only on Thursday and Friday nights from 5PM to 7PM.  Breakfast and lunch are served Monday through Saturday from 7AM to 1:30PM.   The menus offer a hearty repast befitting all hungry and weary road-warriors. It includes burgers, hot sandwiches, milk shakes, steaks, homemade pies and so much more. 

The green chile cheeseburger is nearly the size of one of the Very Large Array’s (only 24 miles away) antennas and unlike some burgers, you won’t need a radio astronomy observatory to find the beef.  The hand-formed ground beef patty extends beyond the six-inch buns and probably weighs in at eight or nine ounces.  At medium-well, it’s still got plenty of juices and flavor.  The green chile is sourced from Sichler Farms during chile harvesting season. It’s a very nicely roasted chile with a discernible, but not overpowering, bite. Standard toppings include lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions.   This five-napkin burger takes a backseat to no other burger, not even its neighbors to the east.  It’s a top tier green chile cheeseburger in its own right…and as if a behemoth burger isn’t enough, an order of French fries is nearly the size of a cord of wood.

Banana Split Pie

After Bob of the Village People commented about a taco shell “with a 1/2 inch flat bottom so Mamacitas could easily sit it on the food prep board to easily fill it,” it dawned on me that I’d never had such a hard-shelled travesty (largely because my preference is for soft-shelled tacos and hard-shelled tacos were invented by Taco Bell).  By sheer coincidence, an a la carte order of two tacos at the Magdalena Cafe was constructed from the flat-bottom shells Bob mentioned.  The flat-bottom not only makes filling these tacos easier, it allows for more filling.  In this case, a generous amount of seasoned ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes and shredded cheese.   As hard-shelled tacos go, these were quite good, especially when salsa is applied.

Not only is the Magdalena Cafe within easy driving distance of New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger Mecca, it’s less than an hour from the Land of Enchantment’s fabled Pie Town.  If the New Mexico Tourism Department ever decides to create a “Pie Trail,” the Magdalena Cafe belongs among the pantheon of peerless pies.  An apple pie is featured fare daily, but the menu also includes a mouthwatering selection of fruit and non-fruit fresh-baked goodness.  My request for my server to “surprise me” actualized with a slice of banana split pie.  That’s banana split, not banana cream.  Whatever image you might be contriving as to what this pie  might be will fall shortAtop a perfectly crumbly crust is a layer of sliced bananas topped with a luscious chocolate filling and whipped cream. It’ll make a convert out of you.

The Magdalena Cafe is the quintessential small town cafe in a small town every New Mexican should visit at least once (though a return trip is ensured after one visit and one meal).

Magdalena Cafe
109 Main Street
Magdalena, New Mexico
(575) 854-2696
LATEST VISIT: 9 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Ground Beef Tacos, Banana Split Pie, Lemonade

Magdalena Cafe on Urbanspoon