Plum Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Plum Cafe

The branches of the aspen plum
To and fro they sway
How can I not think of her? 
But home is far away,”
Confucius

According to Urban Farm Online, “plums were domesticated in China more than 2,000 years ago and have figured in written documents since 479 B.C. These fruits were the plums Confucius praised in his writings and the ancestors of today’s Asian plums.” In China, plums symbolize good fortune while the blossom of the plum tree is considered a symbol of winter and harbinger of spring.  The Taiwanese consider the plum blossom a symbol for resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity during the harsh winter.  In both Korea and Japan, the plum blossom also symbolize spring while in Vietnam, the plum tree and its flowering blossoms symbolize feminine pulchritude.  

Despite its longevity, plums are not as significant on Asian dishes as one might expect, especially considering its versatility and complementary flavor potential.  In excellent Chinese (Ming Dynasty) and Thai (Siam Cafe) restaurants throughout Albuquerque, plum sauce (sometimes called duck sauce) is a staple, a sweet sauce as thick as a jam with a slightly tart  flavor which compliments egg rolls, spareribs and other appetizers and entrees.  It’s better, by far, than the candied, unnaturally red sweet and sour sauce some restaurants offer.

Potstickers

Perhaps as a portend of great fortune, brothers-owners Wyn Chao and Brian Triem named their newest restaurant venture–which they launched on November 17, 2012–the Plum Cafe Asian Grill.  The brothers are veteran restaurateurs and no strangers to the Duke City area, having started Rio Rancho’s Banana Leaf restaurant in 2005.  The Plum Cafe Asian Grill is located in the former home of the Asado Brazilian Grill and the Charcoal Mediterranean Grill in the  Jefferson Commons area commonly referred to as the Pan American Freeway restaurant row.  It’s within easy walking distance of the Century Rio multiplex theater. 

Its operating model–ordering at a counter–isn’t exactly unique, but more than at some restaurants, you might long for tableside service.  Almost as soon as you arrive at the counter, expect the perplexing question “are you ready to order.”  It’s especially perplexing if you’re a first-time visitor who likes to peruse the menu carefully before ordering.  The Plum Cafe’s menu is one you want to spend time studying.  It’s a fusion of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai dishes with several intriguing surprises.  After you place your order, you’ll settle the bill of fare which includes adding a tip without knowing what the quality of service will be.  Then you’ll find your own table, retrieve your own beverages, napkins, condiments and plates.  At least the wait staff will deliver your order to your table.

Vietnamese Taco

The menu lists five starters, all but the Vietnamese spring rolls being Chinese.  Hot and sour soup and wonton soup constitute the entire soup section of the menu which surprisingly has no Vietnamese pho.  Three beautifully plated salads are available for the health-conscious.   Items on the fried rice and noodles section of the menu can be made with your choice of vegetables and tofu, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or a combination of any.  Eight items on the “Signature” section of the menu provide perhaps the greatest intrigue; some, like the Vietnamese taco, are quite interesting.  There are also eight items on the “Entrees” section.  The menu is very descriptive and enticing. 

25 February 2012: Pot stickers have become so commonplace as to become practically passe.  Very few–the sublime pot stickers at Hua Chang come to mind–actually stand out.  The Plum Cafe’s rendition are good, if not memorable.  Six per order pot stickers filled with minced chicken, Napa cabbage, shallots and scallions are served with a ginger garlic soy dipping sauce that would be better with a little heat.  These wok fried dumplings are steaming when brought to your table and may burn your mouth if you’re not careful.

Vietnamese Vermicelli

 25 February 2012: In a surprising “Vietnam meets Mexico” twist reminiscent of the creativity found in China Poblano, the Signature section of the menu includes the Vietnamese Taco, an anomalous appetizer-sized entree melding the culture and cuisine of two diverse and distinct nations.  Picture if you will, two corn tortillas engorged with your choice of grilled beef or chicken (you can’t have both), scallions, cucumbers, daikon, carrots and cilantro with Sriracha mayo.  It’s unlike any taco you’ll find in Mexico.  The corn tortillas are soft and oil free, bursting with contents.  The tacos are served with a sweet-piquant mango salsa and sweet potato fries.

25 February 2012: The Vietnamese Vermicelli entree—vermicelli noodles, egg rolls, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, bean sprouts, carrots, mint, cilantro, scallions and crushed peanuts served with a chili lime vinaigrette–arrives in a swimming pool-sized bowl.  The chili lime vinaigrette, served in a small ramekin, is reminiscent of Vietnamese fish sauce in that it is redolent with sweet, piquant and tangy elements.  It’s a very good sauce which penetrates deeply into the fresh ingredients.  This entree, from the Fried Rice/Noodle section of the menu, is served with your choice of vegetables and tofu, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or combinations thereof.  The chicken, mostly thigh meat, is moist and delicious, but is cut in long strips that are more than bite-sized.  It’s the only downside to an otherwise good, fresh, healthful entree.

Thai Mango Curry

 25 February 2012: My favorite entree is the Thai mango curry made with both mangoes and pineapples as well as bell peppers, bamboo shoots, onion, cashews, basil and a red curry coconut sauce.  The curry has a nice balance of flavors–piquancy, sweetness, savoriness and tanginess and is served steaming hot.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared– fresh and crisp.  As with other entrees, it’s available with your choice of meat or shrimp.  Alas, as with the Vietnamese vermicelli, the chicken is cut into long strips that are somewhat larger than bite-sized.  The mango curry is available with your choice of rice and comes with steamed vegetables on the side.

15 May 2017: Value-priced lunch specials are a good deal and the Plum Cafe doesn’t scrimp on portion size.  One such special is the Thai yellow curry which can be prepared to your exacting level of piquancy and with your choice of white rice, brown rice or noodles as well as your favorite protein.  While the portion size certainly isn’t parsimonious, the amount of curry certainly is.  That may be entirely by design so diners can appreciate the grilled vegetables and boiled potatoes, but for those of us who prefer our curry to engulf everything else on the plate, there isn’t enough curry to go around.  Consequently the dish is a bit on the dry side, especially when the potatoes are involved.

Yellow Curry Over Noodles

The Plum Cafe’s Web site bespeaks of promise and potential: “We want to introduce Asian Fusion cooking that incorporates all types of Asian cuisine. Our fusion cooking techniques adapts modern and traditional ideas from various cultures while combining herbs and spices from these cultures to enhance each dish for volumes of flavor. Another integral part of this concept is to serve healthy, fresh, and made to order meals at a comfortable price. Plum receives fresh meat and produce each week which are all utilized in the daily preparation of our dishes. Nothing is cooked till it’s ordered. This ensures each dish comes out hot and fresh.”

It’s in the execution of its operating model that the Plum Cafe may be off-putting to some.  When done with our meal, we contemplated dessert, but didn’t want to repeat the ordering process at the counter.  Consider us spoiled in that way.  We would have preferred tableside service to match what was mostly pretty good food.

Plum Cafe Asian Grill
4959 Pan American Freeway, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 433-3448
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 May 2017
1st VISIT: 25 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Vietnamese Taco, Vietnamese Vermicelli, Thai Mango Curry, Potstickers

Plum Cafe Asian Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mogu Mogu – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mogu Mogu, a Unique Japanese Create Your Own Concept

In the 1970s, comedian Norm Crosby based his schtick on the use of malapropisms (the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect). The “master of the malaprop” would mispronounce keywords in familiar idioms and clichés, in the process giving new meaning to what he was trying to convey. Here are some examples: As a famous stand-up comic, he appreciated standing “ovulations” when he performed. When his dad explained the facts of life to him, his dad drew a big “diaphragm.” When he went to a tailor, it’s because his pants needed an “altercation.” When people couldn’t read or write, Crosby attributed the problem to “illegitimacy.”

In real life, however, most people don’t realize their own fox paws. My Kim, for example, would give Norm Crosby a run for his money though her malapropisms are wholly innocent and not designed to elicit a laugh. On a sweltering summer day in Arlington Heights, Illinois, for example, she once ordered “soba” tea from the Mitsuwa Marketplace. Initially the young lady at the counter was confused, but once she figured out that Kim actually wanted “boba” tea, she couldn’t help but giggle. Recently at a Whole Foods Market, she asked an employee where she could find “Maricopa” almonds when what she really wanted was marcona almonds. Then there was the time she ordered a “Chimi-chingona” from a Mexican restaurant when she wanted a chimichanga. “Chingona,” if you’re not versed in Spanish slang is a term meaning “badass.”  Where she learned that word is beyond me.

The Prep Station From Where You Can Select All Your Favorite Ingredients

Lest you think my Kim is a bit scatter-brained, when I told her of my visit to Mogu Mogu, she immediately reminded me that Mogu Mogu must be a Japanese onomatopoeia (the formation of a word—such as cuckoo or boom–from a sound associated with what it is named). Mogu Mogu, it turns out is an onomatopoeia in English, too, translating from Japanese to “munch munch.” Moreover, it is one of the most exciting new dining concepts to launch in the Duke City in recent months. My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, explains that “Mogu Mogu serves some of the freshest and tastiest food in ABQ with a Japanese flair.”

Alas, you won’t find Mogu Mogu in some bustling, centrally-located shopping center. Situated in the Journal Center area on Masthead just west of Jefferson, it’s pretty much off-the-well-beaten-and-eaten path for most of us who don’t work in the immediate area. Further, it’s operating hours—Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2:30PM—mean its hours also aren’t convenient for many of us. Perhaps cognizant of these limitations, Mogu Mogu is located in an 800-square-foot space on the ground level of the 10,000 square-foot office building that houses Kinesio, the therapeutic tape company whose product graces the sore limbs and torsos of many an Olympic, professional and amateur athlete.

Rice Bowl With Curry and Just About Everything Else

Owner Tomoko Kase actually served as a vice president at the Kinesio company before being called away by the lure of owning and operating her own restaurant. Her business acumen served her well in that she understood how underserved the burgeoning Journal Center is by fast-casual restaurants. Mogu Mogu is essentially a “create your own” concept designed to give guests simple, fresh and fast meals. It’s a concept similar to that of Poki Poki and Hello Poke, two restaurants specializing in Hawaiian poke bowls. It’s an experience coupling personalization and experimentation with Japanese ingredients and culinary techniques. As so eloquently stated on the Web site, Mogu Mogu offers “the convenience and value of fast food, all without the greasy regret and stained shirts at the office.”

Guests have the opportunity to create their own bowl, sushi burrito or sandwich from an assortment of proteins, veggies, toppings and sauces. Your first of several tough decisions is to choose a base for your meal from among several rice, noodle or lettuce options. The “middle” section of your meal comes next with your choice of one protein and two veggies. Then you can go wild on the toppings (including some premium toppings for an additional pittance) and sauces. Larry, the percipient professor (who can recite Pi to about 8,000 digits) quickly figured out you can make a minimum of 15,840 possible combinations using one choice from each of the four steps: base, middle (proteins and veggies), toppings and sauces. As he astutely pointed out “ if you create a boring bowl, you have only yourself to blame.”

Fried Rice, Roasted Salmon and Almost Everything Else

23 March 2017: While my bowl was hardly boring, I have only myself to blame for not having built a bowl as exciting as the one my friend Bill Resnik constructed. Picking a base of rice bowl with curry really limited my options. Essentially, half of the bowl was dedicated to Japanese curry (which I dearly love) and the other half to brown rice. It didn’t make sense to top the curry though the mad scientist in me would otherwise have piled on as many ingredients as the bowl would hold. I did top the rice with overnight ginger pork (a nice complement to the curry) and every topping on the menu (green onion, cilantro, cabbage, edamame mix, pickle with bonito, kimchi, jalapeno, crispy noodles and pickled veggies), but my sauce was essentially the curry. As far as Japanese curry goes, Mogu Mogu’s version is terrific, as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Duke City. The curry and the rice should have been my focus, not the hodgepodge I created (and no, it wasn’t bad at all). It just wasn’t as good as Bill’s (seething jealousy here).

23 March 2017: Bill’s bowl started with an fried rice for which he selected roasted salmon as his protein and both veggie tempura and curry roasted veggies as his veggie choices. His topping selections were virtually everything but Mogu Mogu’s kitchen sink and his sauce choices were Wasabi mayo and Asian dressing. Throughout our meal I eyed Bill’s bowl with both envy and lust and probably a few other cardinal sins. Bill has become a master of the “create it yourself” poke bowl and now the Mogu Mogu bowl. I hate him!

Another Creative Concoction

17 April 2017:  Dining at Mogu Mogu is akin to having a delicious new adventure every time you visit.  It’s the type of adventure that offers many forks in the road, each potentially more delicious than the other.  The forks of which I speak, of course, are the 15,840 possible combinations using one choice from each of the four steps: base, middle (proteins and veggies), toppings and sauces.  It’s not inconceivable to fill out the paper menu then change your mind several times as you pass the prep station where gleaming silver trays with sundry ingredients are on display.  During my second visit, fried rice was the base I originally selected but one gander at the Asian salad and a change of mind was inevitable.  The Asian salad is a beauteous bounty of mixed greens and such surprises as blackberries.  It was too good to pass up.  Neither was the roasted salmon or the standard and premium toppings (yes, every single one of them) with soy wasabi and mango Habanero.  The veggie tempura (green chile and eggplant) are exceptional.  So was the entire creative concoction.

23 March 2017: In addition to the bowl, sushi burrito or sandwich of your own making, Mogu Mogu offers two sides—potstickers (five per order) and spring rolls (two per order). The spring rolls may be the one item on the menu that belies Mogu Mogu’s “without the greasy regret” or at least that was our experience.  Don’t get me wrong.  They weren’t sopping with oil, but there was enough of it to warrant a napkin or two.  The spring rolls, about six-inches long and rather thick, are engorged mostly with cabbage and served with a rather cloying sauce.  They would have been much tastier with say a wasabi mayo.

Spring Rolls

There are some ten-thousand workers in the Journal Center area.  On the day of our inaugural visit it seemed about a third of those workers were queued up to have Mogu Mogu build a delicious meal for them based on their preferences.  It’s an option which should be available to more Duke City diners.

Mogu Mogu
4001 Masthead Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 200-9141
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 April 2017
1st VISIT: 23 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Create Your Own Bowl, Spring Rolls

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

Latitude 33 – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Latitude 33, a Surprisingly Great Asian Fusion Restaurant

“Of all places in the country where you could have opened a restaurant, why Truth or Consequences, New Mexico?”  You can bet Joseph Schmitt has been asked that question many times, especially when people find out his previous address was in Palm Springs, California where he was an accomplished travel writer with a special affinity for cooking and dining.  Schmitt’s introduction to T or C started off as business but wound up as pleasure.   Assigned to write about New Mexico’s salubrious spas, he enjoyed the T or C area so much that he hawked the story idea to several publications, the impetus for several return trips.  With each return trip he found more to love about the area until ultimately relocating in April, 2013.

In all fairness, one of the reasons guests to Schmitt’s Latitude 33 Asian fusion restaurant ask “why T or C” is because they don’t expect to find a restaurant offering such sophisticated fare.  That’s especially true if they haven’t visited America’s most affordable spa town in a while.  In recent years, the influx of free-thinking quirkiness, eclectic artsiness  and a bohemian spirit have touched all aspects of life in this small city, including its restaurants.  If you visit T or C expecting only the solid, but unspectacular comfort food of yore, you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised to find unconventional and excellent eateries offering cosmopolitan cuisine with a local flair.

Main dining room at Latitude 33

No longer are K-Bob’s, Denny’s and Subway among the highest rated Truth or Consequences restaurants on Yelp, Urbanspoon and Trip Advisor. Those paragons of chain mediocrity have been supplanted by fresh, innovative independent restaurants which, quite frankly, would be competitive in larger, more cosmopolitan cities.  These interlopers sport such names as the Passion Pie Cafe, Cafe Bella Luca and Latitude 33, the latter being the most recent addition to a burgeoning dining scene. 

Latitude 33 is so named because it’s on the latitude (33.12889 to be more precise) in which the restaurant and T or C sit.  Portions of Japan and China, two of the pan-Asian countries honored on the restaurant’s fusion menu, also lie on that latitude.  Situated near the heart of the historic bathhouse and spa district, Latitude 33 fits right in with the district’s bright color palette.  Distressed brick and corrugated window treatments give the exterior a rustic look and feel while the artsy interior is a melange of Southwestern art with Asian accoutrements on wasabi green walls.  Three picnic tables are available for al fresco dining with your four-legged children.

Shishito Peppers with Green Chili Ponzu Sauce

The menu is fresh and innovative, a much-welcome respite from the copycat fare many other so-called “fusion” restaurants tend to offer.  It’s a menu reminiscent not of Albuquerque or Santa Fe Asian fusion restaurants, but of the wildly eclectic and creative fusion restaurants in such cosmopolitan cities as Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas.  The price point is surprisingly reasonable considering the quality, diversity and in-house preparation of all soups, sauces, dressings and stocks. 

While you peruse the menu, make it a point to enjoy a sparkling strawberry-ginger lemonade, a homemade puree with soda water.  It’s a wonderfully refreshing blend of sweet-tangy strawberries, tart lemonade and lively ginger with just a hint of fizz.  The coconut-lime elixir (rich coconut milk with lime juice and a touch of mint) blends smooth mellow coconut milk with what is probably its polar opposite, tangy, refreshing lime juice.  The combination just works well.

Fried Green Beans with a Chinese Remoulade Sauce

Starters include the house Thai-style chicken noodle soup with coconut milk and rice noodles; a small Asian salad (cabbage mix, peanut dressing, veggies, sesame seeds); and a triumvirate of appetizers.  At a bare minimum, you should order at least two because if you order only one, you’ll certainly regret you didn’t sample the others.  If there’s an appetizer you haven’t previously found in New Mexico, that’s one you should consider.  The other should be a favorite appetizer so you can compare your previous favorite with Latitude 33’s made-from-scratch version. 

29 September 2014: Among the former, green chile aficionados should order the shishito peppers, a mild Japanese pepper not entirely unlike our own New Mexico green chiles.  Shishito peppers are three to four inches long and inherit the olfactory-arousing aroma of green chile when flash-fried until their skin is lightly blistered.  Unlike green chile, you don’t peel them after they’re  flash-fried.  Latitude 33  serves them with a green chile ponzu (a watery citrus-based sauce) sauce that complements the shishito peppers wonderfully.  You will absolutely fall in love with shishito peppers.  Note: The only place we’ve been able to find the addictive shishito peppers has been the Santa Fe Grower’s Market.  Shame on Asian restaurants in the Duke City and Santa Fe for not showcasing this green chile “mini me.”

Crispy Pork Wings

29 September 2014: In recent years, fried green beans have become a rather trendy finger food appetizer health-conscious parents are actually able to get their children to enjoy–even if their persnickety children otherwise hate green beans.  Whether ordered in lieu of fattier French fries or for healthful considerations, fried green beans are quite delicious when prepared correctly.  At Latitude 33, the green beans are lightly breaded and fried to a golden hue then served with a Chinese remoulade sauce.  Each about the length of your index finger, they’re crispy just beyond al dente.  The remoulade is a savory-tangy-slightly piquant dip which may remind you of the dip you dredge up with your favorite snack. 

7 April 2017: So what if nature didn’t imbue pigs with wings, it didn’t stop Latitude 33 from serving crispy pork wings, six meaty (porky?) mini pork shanks topped with sesame seeds in a sweet chili sauce topped with scallions. The “wings” might be the bone “handles” with which each shank is equipped. The handles allow you to pick up each pork shank and extricate the delicate meat with your teeth instead of with a fork. It’s a bit of a messy endeavor, but seriously would you eat these porcine beauties with a fork the way some people (at least in a Seinfeld episode) eat candy bars? While the pork is tender and delicious, the thick, syrupy sauce is a bit cloying and would have benefited from some piquancy.

Spicy Peanut Noodles with Flank Steak

29 September 2014: One of the most popular entrees on the menu are spicy peanut noodles, an entree for which the name falls well short of describing its deliciousness. Normally offered with tofu or chicken, the accommodating staff will substitute flank steak for a pittance more. The flank steak is seasoned magnificently and is as tender as the song of a summer wind. It’s a worthy protein for the elongated strands of wild rice noodles in a house-made spicy peanut sauce served with edamame (immature soybeans in the pod) and red peppers garnered with green onion, a wedge of lime and cucumber. The spicy peanut sauce is only mildly piquant, but imbues the noodles with a delightful flavor that marries especially well with the other ingredients. Be very judicious with the lime wedge because too much citrus will change the flavor profile significantly (and not necessarily for the better).

29 September 2014: In years of eating at Thai and Asian restaurants, few entrees have surprised me nearly as much as Latitude 33’s coconut green curry chicken. New Mexico’s Thai restaurants tend to prepare green curry dishes with bamboo shoots in a sweet-spicy coconut milk-enhanced curry. Latitude 33’s housemade version is made with Jasmine rice and no noodles. The curry is imbued with a touch of Hatch green chile, fresh broccoli, onion, red pepper, chicken and toasted coconut. The toasted coconut was heretofore not something my pedantic lips had ever experienced with green curry. Texturally and from a flavor perspective, it’s a nice touch. Latitude 33’s green curry isn’t overwhelmed by coconut milk as so many Thai curries in America tend to be. Instead, it treated us to a wide variety of thoroughly enjoyable flavor and texture combinations. 

Coconut Green Curry Chicken

20 December 2015:  In addition to five daily lunch specials (available until 2PM), the menu lists four “day or night delights” sure to delight discerning diners.  One entree rarely seen in restaurants across the Land of Enchantment is Mochiko Chicken with Mango Salsa.  If you’ve ever heard of or had Mochiko Chicken, it was likely in the Hawaiian Islands where this poultry dish is served as a sort of island style chicken nugget.  Originating in Japan, these nuggets are coated in Mochiko flour, a cornstarch and rice flour which makes a light batter with a golden hue.

Latitude 33’s version of Mochiko Chicken is somewhat more sophisticated than the chicken nuggets so beloved among Hawaiian children.  Instead of nugget-sized poultry pieces, this entree includes several generously sized thighs lightly coated in the flour and topped with a sweet-tangy mango salsa.  The salsa is punctuated with sliced jalapeños from which it inherits a fresh piquancy. My preference would have been for the even more incendiary Thai bird peppers, but when chopped small enough they’re hard to see and may surprise you with their potency.  For just a bit of savory acidity, the entry also includes small cherry tomatoes.

Turquoise Curry with Grilled Shrimp

20 December 2015:  The “Day or Night Delights” menu includes yet another entree heretofore unseen in the Land of Enchantment.  The pan-seared pork tenderloin entree is a beautifully plated dish showcasing six medallions of marinated pork tenderloin in a housemade strawberry barbecue sauce.  If you’ve never had a strawberry-based sauce on an Asian-style entree, you’re in for a treat.  Strawberry-based sauces are somewhat underutilized in American Asian restaurants, but Latitude 33’s version will make you wonder why.  The lively and pungent ginger-fried rice is a wonderful foil for the sweet sauce.  Punctuated with a vegetable medley (carrots, broccoli, corn), the rice is among the best we’ve had in New Mexico.

7 March 2017: As seen on the state flag, New Mexico’s official state colors are the red and yellow of Old Spain. Perhaps because turquoise has already been designated the official state gem, our state legislature hasn’t lobbied to add it to our state color palette. Turquoise is very important to the Land of Enchantment and to Latitude 33’s menu. We did a double-take when we espied the dish “Turquoise curry with grilled shrimp.” How, we wondered, could a curry be made the color of turquoise. It turns out, the color this very unique curry dish is more akin to freshly mowed summer grass than it is to turquoise. The base for this curry is the restaurant’s green curry with Hatch green chile, jalapeno and cilantro with a dose of vibrant Chlorophyll, the pigment which gives plants their green color. The curry is simmered with fresh broccoli, red bell pepper and onions and is served over jasmine rice with large grilled shrimp. As unique as the dish may be, the curry itself didn’t have the herbaceous notes and piquancy of the Indian subcontinent or the coconut milk sweetness of curry in Thailand.

Asian Fusion Steak Frites

7 March 2017: Perhaps the dish best demonstrating fusion cuisine is the New Mexico meets Asia meets France offering of Asian Style Steak Frites, a choice grade, eight-ounce New Mexican grass-fed flank steak in a house marinade topped with wasabi butter served with sweet potato fries tossed in salted red chili powder. For my beef-loving babe, this dish alone made the drive to Truth or Consequences worth it. Flank steak, derived from the abdominal muscles or buttocks of a cow, are more common in England where we lived for eight years. Sliced against the grain, it’s a tender and lean cut with a strong beefy flavor. Flank steaks absorb marinades, sauces and spicy rubs very well. The wasabi butter was proof of that.

29 September 2014: During our inaugural visit, desserts were limited to green tea ice cream and coconut black rice pudding with whipped cream. Made with sticky whole grain black rice, just a modicum of coconut milk and a generous sprinkling of toasted coconut, this rice pudding is creamy, mildly sweet, a little savory, and very coconutty. Unlike most of the black rice puddings you’ll find, this one is served cold. It took one bite to get used to the cold sensation and focus on just how good this dessert can be. 

Coconut Black Rice Pudding

20 December 2015:  Latitude 33’s key lime pie had us wondering if a Key West resident would be able to tell the difference between this key lime pie and its counterpart at the Florida keys.  Unlike far too many so-called key lime pies, this one isn’t overly sweet with a Graham cracker crust providing much of its sweetness.  Instead, the flavors emphasized were a delightful tangy tartness bordering on the lip-pursing variety.  This is key lime pie with a great balance of flavors and an emphasis where those flavors are needed.

Ginger Key Lime Pie

Latitude 33 is just one more reason we’ve grown to love Truth or Consequences, a city which surprises us more and more every time we visit.  This is one restaurant with which you’ll fall in love, too. 

Latitude 33
304 South Pershing Street
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 740-7804
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 April 2017
1st VISIT: 29 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Peanut Noodles, Shishito Peppers with Green Chili Ponzu Sauce, Coconut Green Curry Chicken, Fried Green Beans with a Chinese Remoulade Sauce Coconut Black Rice Pudding, Mochiko Chicken with Mango Salsa, Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin, Key Lime Pie

Latitude 33 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Huong Thao – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Huong Thao Vietnamese Restaurant on Juan Tabo

In the year 2000 (ancient history by restaurant standards) when the Duke City had only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants, only one was listed on Zagat Survey’s Millennium Edition of the top restaurants in the Southwest. That restaurant was Huong Thao which was widely regarded at the time as perhaps the city’s very best Vietnamese dining establishment. Zagat Survey accorded Huong Thao a rating of “24” which categorized it as “very good to excellent.” The restaurant was praised for its “delicious traditional foods” and was singled out for its “no-puff” policies back when smoking was still allowed in Albuquerque dining establishments.  

In 2002, Huong Thao eked out a win over other highly-regarded Vietnamese restaurants in La Cocinita magazine’s (defunct) 2002 second annual critic’s choice awards. Garnering praise from an august body of panelists were the “herb-filled spring rolls” and “oh-so-crispy grilled pork.” Today, Huong Thao is a venerable presence, an elder statesperson among a phalanx of very good to outstanding Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City. It remains a formidable favorite to this day because it’s not only retained loyal patrons, it’s cultivated new aficionados.

Huong Thao’s Dining Room

From the very beginning, Huong Thao has held a reputation as a Vegan-friendly restaurant, earning accolades throughout the 1990s and beyond from the Vegetarian Society of New Mexico for its “great food” and “many vegetarian options.” Although the word “Huong” translates from Vietnamese to “scent of the flower” and “Thao” translates to “herbal,” the restaurant was actually named for its founder. Though she long ago sold her eponymous restaurant, the fragrant bouquets which always wafted from Huong Thao’s kitchen remain part and parcel of the restaurant experience. Huong Thao (the restaurant’s founder, not the restaurant) continues to perform fragrant feats of culinary magic, albeit at her son Bill’s restaurant An Hy Quan. Not surprisingly, An Hy Quan is not only the city’s very best Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants, but one of its best restaurants of any genre.

Over the years, our visits to Huong Thao have been infrequent, in part because this Northeast Heights restaurant is the furthest east from our home of any Vietnamese restaurant in Albuquerque. My return visit in March, 2017, after an eleven year absence sure makes me wish I’d listened to my friend and fellow epicurean Jim Millington who long ago urged me to return. My flimsy excuse had been that Huong Thao had begun offering sushi (which no Vietnamese restaurant should ever do), but Jim also assured me the restaurant’s sole focus had also long ago returned to its Vietnamese cuisine. If there is one excuse that only partially absolves my transgression of not having visited sooner, it’s that Huong Thao does not have a street (Juan Tabo) facing presence and is set back in a nondescript shopping center.

New Mexico Spring Roll

Unlike several other Vietnamese restaurants in the city, Huong Thao’s menu isn’t a veritable compendium of all possible Vietnamese deliciousness. With fewer than sixty appetizers and entrees, its menu is roughly half the size of the menu at some restaurants. Study the menu and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of your favorites absent. In fact, the menu offers several items not widely seen in the Duke City. The appetizer menu, for example, includes an asparagus and crab meat soup. Among unique entrée offerings are stir-fried curry, shaken beef and mung bean crepes. The menu is a delight to peruse, offering something for everyone who loves Vietnamese cuisine.

22 March 2017: When you do visit Huong Thao, there’s really no excuse for not having the restaurant’s amazing spring rolls. After all these years, these zeppelin-sized spring rolls are still the biggest (and among the very best) in the city–two rice paper rolls per order engorged with pork (and or shrimp and tofu), noodles and fresh vegetables. New Mexicans, of course, will order the New Mexico Spring Roll (green chile and avocado with chicken, tofu or shrimp). This is an idea whose time has come, further confirmation that green chile improves the flavor of everything it touches. The green chile isn’t especially piquant, but it has a nice roasted flavor. Fresh avocado and cilantro lend the essence of freshness. The accompanying fish sauce is a bit on the sweet side, but that’s easily remedied with a liberal application of the chili sauce on your table.

Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings

24 March 2017: Despite pretty obvious limitations—they’re messy, they don’t give you a lot of meat and they’re so small it takes a lot of them to put a dent on your appetite—chicken wings have become a veritable culinary institution in America. In many cases, however, the only difference between the chicken wing at one eatery and another is the sauce with which they’re served. There’s not much originality in the concept. Some Vietnamese and Thai restaurants have an answer to the homogeneity of the ubiquitous chicken wing—stuff it.

Huong Thao’s boneless stuffed chicken wings are terrific, the complete antithesis of the limitations listed above. Somehow, the chef has managed to debone a chicken wing; stuff it with ground pork, clear noodles and mushrooms; and deep-fry it. Frankly, it resembles a small fried game hen, pumped up like a football (no Tom Brady jokes here) and fried to a crispy, golden brown. The stuffing is addictive with pungent, earthy notes that complement the crispy chicken skin. The accompanying fish sauce is wholly unnecessary.

Spicy Beef Soup (Bun Ho Hue)

22 March 2017: My very favorite entrée is the Hue-style spicy beef soup (bun bo Hue), the spicier, heartier, livelier, more flavorful cousin to pho. It’s the best (and only) reason to eschew pho. Huong Thao’s rendition is, by far, the “beefiest,” most beef-concentrated version of Hue-style soup I’ve ever had. Some of that is courtesy of the beef, meatloaf, tendon and pork hock swimming around in the aromatic beef stock, but look closer and you’ll see lots of the fatty globules which characterize soup that starts with beef and pork bones. Some diners may consider the pork hock and tendon a bit off-putting, but they lend so much personality to a soup already brimming with soul-warming and assertive flavors. Its spiciness comes from lots of lemongrass, shrimp paste and a tangle of aromatic herbs.

24 March 2017: While it seems the Land of Enchantment competes with Mississippi for last place in virtually every quality of life factor, there is one area in which the Magnolia State reigns supreme. That would be in the preparation of catfish. I’ve often lamented (probably ad-nauseum) the lack of great catfish dishes in New Mexico, but should qualify that doesn’t apply to the way Vietnamese restaurants prepare catfish. Café Dalat and before that May Hong have quelled our yen for catfish many times. In Huong Thao’s deep-fried catfish in ginger sauce, we found another superb catfish dish. The ginger sauce is applied lightly as opposed to the lacquered on sauce at Café Dalat, but it is no less potent. That sauce enlivens the flaky fish. Perhaps in deference to queasy diners, Huong Thao serves its catfish sans head which is a shame because there’s plenty of flavorful flesh in fish cheeks.

Deep-Fried Catfish in Ginger Sauce

Huong Thao remains one of the city’s best and most popular Vietnamese restaurants. Don’t just take my word for it (considering the eleven year gap between visits). Ask anyone who knows and loves Vietnamese cuisine and they’ll tell you.

Huong Thao
1016B Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-8222
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: New Mexico Spring Rolls, Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings, Rice Noodle Bowl Grilled With Lemongrass and Sliced Pork, Stir Fried Egg Noodles With Pork, Deep-Fried Catfish in Ginger Sauce, Spicy Beef Soup,

Huong Thao Vietnamese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tao Chinese Bistro – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Tao Chinese Bistro in Rio Rancho

It’s highly unlikely ancient Chinese philosophers ever intended the concept of Tao to be used as an approach for the serial seduction of women, but that was the premise of the 2000 movie The Tao of Steve.  Filmed in the Santa Fe area, this campy romantic comedy centered around a corpulent, underachieving former philosophy student who christened his approach after the somewhat stolid “cool” epitomized by three Steves: Steve McQueen, Steve McGarrett from Hawaii Five-O and Steve Austin from The Six Million Dollar Man.

The Tao of Steve–which proves a very successful approach for sexual conquests–is comprised of three rules:  ((1) Be desire-less. If your body language indicates a lack of interest, a woman’s attraction to you will increase. (2) Be excellent.  Grasp the opportunity to showcase your talents, thereby proving your sexual “worthiness.” (3)  Be gone.  Leave women wanting more by not overstaying your welcome.

Tao Chinese Bistro Dining Room

For years, the concept of Tao has been and is being demonstrated in ever more creative and unique ways.  There was the Tao of Pooh, an introduction to Taoism using the beloved fictional character of Winnie the Pooh.  The Tao of Bow Wow taught pet owners how to better communicate with and relate to their dogs using these same principles.  The Tao of Physics provided an exploration of the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism.  There’s even The Tao of Tweeting intended to help maximize the enrichment and insightfulness of 140 words or less.

Tao (pronounced dao) is loosely defined as “doctrine” or “principle” but the word itself translates to the “way,” “path” or “route.”  Taoism, therefore, is not so much about a destination, but about experiencing life within the journey itself.  It’s a system of faith, attitude and practices designed to help its practitioners be true to and live their nature, to flow with life in a peaceful manner in balance with all things.

Peking Dumplings

Throughout this path, one will encounter opposing, but equal forces or poles of existence that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance.  Known as yin and yang, these forces are opposite but complementary, opposing but not in opposition to one another.  They are instead two aspects of a single reality–light blending into dark, for example.  This is clearly depicted in the yin and yang symbol, one of the best-known symbols in the world.  The yin and yang symbol depicts the light, white yang moving up blending into the dark, black yin moving up–dependent, opposing forces seeking balance.

For New Mexicans familiar with the culture of the Diné, or Navajo, of America’s Four Corners Region, the Taoist desire for flowing through life in a peaceful manner in balance with all things sounds very familiar.   The Diné call it “hózhó,” a word embodying the striving for balance and harmony along with beauty and order.  Every aspect of Diné life–whether spiritual or secular–is connected to hózhó, maintaining balance between the individual and the universe and living in harmony with nature and the Creator.

Tao’s Marinated Chicken Wings

Very prominent on the north-facing wall at the Tao Chinese Bistro in Rio Rancho is a six-foot tall Chinese ideogram depicting the Tao symbol.  There is nothing else near the symbol, making it the most pronounced point of focus when you walk into the restaurant.  Shades of green, gray and gold with soft wood colors give the milieu a relaxing feel.  The ceilings are a grayish-black with subdued lighting which imbues the restaurant with a sense of intimacy.  Additional soft lighting is available behind the blond wood trim along the east and west walls.   A serpentine half wall bisects the front of the restaurant from the spacious dining area which seats 70.

From the outside, the Tao Chinese Bistro isn’t much to look at.  In fact, unless you look closely at the signage, you might mistake the storefront space for a martial arts studio.  It’s sandwiched between the now empty space that once housed the Black Olive Wine Bar & Bistro on the east and Fratellis Pizzeria on the west in the Country Club Shopping Center, one of several nondescript shopping centers off heavily-trafficked Southern Boulevard.  One of the shopping center’s long-time anchor tenants is the fabulous Joe’s Pasta House, but it’s Albertson’s (now closed) which once dominated the complex.

Hot and Sour Soup

The Tao Chinese Bistro’s February, 2010 opening has been a welcome one at the City of Vision which has several Chinese restaurants, but none of which are transcendent.  Still, Tao is easily the very best Chinese restaurant in Rio Rancho and one of the very best west of the Rio Grande.  Though the ambiance bespeaks upscale and classy, the price points are reasonable, particularly for lunch.  The specialty is gourmet quality wok-fried Szechwan cuisine and dishes from China’s remote Southeast provinces.

Chef Johnny Lee, formerly of the Fortune Cookie Chinese restaurant on Central Avenue near the University of New Mexico, is at the helm.  Chef Lee is passionate about fresh ingredients and balanced flavors.  He doesn’t take short-cuts, using no monosodium glutamate on his cooking.  The restaurant serves lunch and dinner six days a week (closed on Mondays) and offers both take-out service and catering for parties and special events.

Wonton Soup

The lunch menu served Tuesday through Saturday from 11AM through 2:30PM provides excellent value with a phalanx of familiar favorites averaging around seven dollars each.  Lunch entrees are served with steamed or brown rice and your choice of egg drop, wonton or hot and sour soup.  You can upgrade to fried rice for two dollars more.

The dinner menu is segmented into several categories: Soups, Rice, Noodles, Entrees, Vegetarian, Egg Foo Young, Tao’s Classic Dishes, Kid’s Menu, Desserts and Drinks.  The menu is a familiar one with few surprises save for on the Classic Dishes portion of the menu where you’ll find Coffee Chicken (chicken rubbed with ground French coffee, stir-fried in a sweet spicy sauce), Fisherman’s Feast (large prawns, scallops and lobster meat quickly cooked to perfection) and Walnut Shrimp (Lightly fried shrimp with roasted walnuts in a creamy sauce).  The menu offers more seafood entrees than most Albuquerque area Chinese restaurants.

Coconut Curry with prawns

Coconut Curry with prawns

Even though the restaurant specializes in Szechuan cuisine, there are but a handful of entrees asterisked (*) to denote a greater degree of spiciness.  Szechuan cuisine, which originated in the Sichuan Province of southwestern China, is renown for its bold flavors, emphasizing the qualities of spiciness and pungency.  Szechuan cuisine’s liberal use of chili peppers and garlic make it a favorite of discerning diners who want their meals to grab their attention. 

19 March 2010: It was thus surprising that the hot and sour soup is somewhat subdued, lacking the intensely piquant and lip-pursing, vinegary tartness which defines the way some people measure how good this soup is. It is a flavorful soup served steaming hot and delivered promptly within minutes after you place your order. It’s just not as intensely, boldly flavored as one might expect from a restaurant specializing in Szechuan cuisine.

Orange Peel Beef

Orange Peel Beef

24 February 2017: In Cantonese, the literal translation of wonton is “eating clouds.”  Indeed, a well-made  bowl of wonton soup should reflect this definition with cooked wontons resembling soft and fluffy pillows floating in clear broth.   At Tao, the wonton soup is made well.  Wontons made from a thin sheet of dough are stuffed with pork and served in a clear chicken broth.  While the broth and the wonton skins are light and delicate in taste, the pork filling is seasoned nicely.  Unlike other versions of wonton soup we’ve had, Tao’s version is relatively lightly salted and generous in the number of dumplings, making it one of our favorites.

15 August 2014: Pork dumplings are served at most Chinese restaurants in the metropolitan area and are generally among the most consistently good dishes you’ll find at those restaurants.  Tao’s Peking dumplings–six hand-wrapped, crescent-shaped dumplings stuffed with ground pork and green scallions served with a homemade sauce–are among the very best in the area.   The sauce, which has sweet, savory, tart and piquant properties makes them even better.  In fact, the sauce would make a good beverage to accompany your meal.

Chicken with Black Bean Sauce: slices of chicken, stir-fried in a fermented black bean sauce

15 August 2014: Chicken wings are another appetizer staple in Duke City area Chinese restaurants, but unlike dumplings, most aren’t very good. Tao’s marinated chicken wings, six wings sauteed in black pepper and salt, are terrific. The black pepper imbues the wings with an assertive flavor profile, but doesn’t overwhelm the moist, tender chicken. Only larger chicken wings could improve this starter. Our server informed us that with enough notice we could have an entire chicken prepared in this style.

19 March 2010: If the hot and sour soup is insipid, how then does an asterisked entree called Szechuan Beef fare?  Szechuan beef is one of the most popular wok-fried entrees in Chinese restaurants throughout America.  Tao’s rendition is a melange of thinly sliced beef, garlic, ginger, green and red peppers, snow peas, garlic and strategically positioned throughout the plate, several incendiary dried peppers that you dare not bite into unless your mouth is lined with asbestos.  This entree is served steaming hot (a consistent quality among the restaurant’s entrees) so that the flavors wafted upwards to excite your nostrils.  The beef is of high quality, not the cheap, sinewy beef this dish might use if in a Chinese buffet restaurant.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared and very fresh.

Tao’s Spicy Chicken

19 March 2010: One of the surprising lunch menu entrees is a Thai inspired coconut curry with prawns (or beef or chicken) which emphasizes the pungent piquancy of curry and not the cloying qualities of coconut milk. This generously plated entree is redolent with the melding of flavors which go together very well, including fresh, crisp vegetables: onions, red peppers, black mushrooms and baby snap peas. The prawns are large, wholly antithetical to the concept of shrimpy shrimp. The number of prawns on the plate is surprising, too.

19 March 2010: Orange peel beef is an entree seemingly done by most Chinese restaurants, but most don’t do it well.  Tao Chinese Bistro does.  The beef is wok-fried to the point of being caramelized on the outside while retaining a perfect tenderness on the inside with an orange peel sauce that is most definitely citric, but not syrupy or cloying.

Double Pan-Fried Noodles

12 April 2011: Half of the entrees from the “Tao’s Classic Dishes”section of the menu feature chicken, a meat which tends to shine when stir-fried or wok-fried. Dark meat, which tends to be more juicy and flavorful, is used on all but one of them. The chicken with black bean sauce features slices of dark meat chicken, red and green peppers, pea pods, onions, water chestnuts and broccoli stir-fried in a fermented black bean sauce. The black bean sauce has a garlicky profile and isn’t overly thickened with corn starch so the flavor is predominantly of fermented black beans. The vegetables are perfectly stir-fried so that they’re crispy and fresh. Tao’s rendition of this dish is a good one.

21 March 2012: Even better is Tao’s Spicy Chicken, chicken breast rubbed with cayenne chili cut into bite-sized pieces then wok-tossed with garlic, ginger, green onions and Sichuan dry chili (with a hint of five-spice powder that’s not listed on the menu).  The flavor profile is intense as in this is a very garlicky, nicely piquant dish.  It’s made with white chicken for discerning diners who care about such matters.  In three visits, this is the best entree I’ve sampled. 

Coffee Chicken

15 August 2014: My Kim’s favorite Chinese dish is a nest of double pan-fried noodles which reconstitute in a light brown sauce. She typically orders it with onions, omitting such vegetables as green peppers and with pork. The pork has a characteristic reddish ring around the pinkish-white meat. It’s got a smoky, wok-fried flavor and light sweetness that comes from a marinade. Until you mix in the light brown gravy, the double pan-fried noodles have a texture similar to Shredded Wheat before milk is poured on. One reconstituted, the noodles are delightful, both to eat and to enjoy the transformation process.

15 August 2014: Conceptually, the notion of Coffee Chicken sounds like a winner, but it’s in its execution that it seems to fall consistently short.  Tao’s menu describes its coffee chicken as “tender chicken rubbed with ground French coffee, stir-fried in a sweet spicy sauce.”  The description borders on fallacious.  First, the chicken is hardly tender.  It’s rather heavily breaded and stir-fried to the point of being caramelized, rendering it crispy.  Secondly, the sweet spicy sauce has virtually no spiciness.  It’s got a surfeit of sweetness, so much so that an entire bowl of fried rice doesn’t temper its cloying qualities.  Desserts envy this dish for its sweetness.

A lunch portion of Szechwan Beef

A lunch portion of Szechwan Beef

24 February 2017:  Tao’s menu lists six vegetarian items.  If the mushrooms with snow peas dish is indicative of the high quality and deliciousness of the vegetarian menu, we’ll be ordering from the vegetarian menu more often.  What’s not to love about fresh Shiitake mushrooms and crispy snow peas in a sauteed brown sauce–especially if mushrooms and snow peas are among your favorite vegetables in non-vegetarian dishes?  Event better, this terrific dish includes thinly sliced ginger and red peppers.  Typically made from molasses, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and other flavorings, the brown sauce is has sweet and savory flavor notes in near equal proportions.  The mushrooms are large and fleshy with the earthy flavor characteristic of fetid fungi while the snow peas are sweet, crispy and delightful to eat.

Mushrooms with Snow Peas, an Excellent Vegetarian Dish

24 February 2017: If ever there was an aptly named noodle dish, it would be Chow Fun, a Cantonese dish showcasing long, thin noodles (as opposed to chow mein which uses thin egg noodles; your choice of vegetables and your choice of chicken, pork, beef or shrimp.  My Kim would rather not spend much time and effort on vegetables when noodles and meat are around so the only vegetables gracing her Chow Fun were green and white onions.  The wok-grilling imparts a discernible smoky flavor that lingers long after you finish your dinner.  The pork is delicate and delicious with a sweet barbecue flavor.  Much as we enjoy Chow Fun, we don’t delude ourselves into thinking it’s a healthy dish.  It’s a calorie-laden, often oily dish that’s far from healthful.

Chow Fun Noodles

After five visits, it might be audacious to proclaim the Tao Chinese Bistro the best Chinese restaurant on the west side.  Five visits in four years is more than most Chinese restaurants in Albuquerque are accorded so it must be good.

Tao Chinese Bistro
3301 Southern Blvd., Suite 500
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 962-0168
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 February 2017
1st VISIT:  19 March 2010
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Orange Peel Beef, Coconut Curry with Prawns, Szechwan Beef, Hot and Sour Soup, Tao’s Spicy Chicken, Chicken with Black Bean Sauce, Mushrooms with Snow Peas, Chow Fun Noodles, Wonton Soup

Tao Chinese Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nanami Noodle House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nanami Noodle House and Sister Restaurant, Plum Cafe

If Chinese superstitions have any credence, some of us may not be long for this world.  Chinese superstitions posit that long noodles symbolize a long life.  Ostensibly, if you cut your noodles, you’re cutting your life short.  Instead of cutting your noodles, the Chinese advocate slurping up long noodles without breaking them.  When it comes to noodles, the Chinese should know.  After all, they’ve been preparing noodles longer than any culture in the world.  In 2005, archaeologists uncovered a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles in Northeast China, the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.  Buried under ten feet of sediment, an overturned sealed bowl contained beautifully preserved, long, thin yellow noodles made from two kinds of millet. Archaeochemist Patrick McGovern indicated that “even today, deft skills are required to make long, thin noodles like those found” at the Chinese site, adding that  “this shows a fairly high level of food processing and culinary sophistication.” 

If you’ve never seen the art-and-science process of hand-making noodles, it should be on your bucket list–and because the process is quickly becoming a lost art, you should place it near the top of that list.  Fortunately you don’t have to go far to witness veritable feats of noodular prestidigitation.  The art of hand-pulled noodles is on daily display at Beijing Noodle No. 9 within Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas where the open kitchen doubles as an exhibition hall for chefs who’ve been intensely trained on how to hand stretch noodles.  Through a process of stretching and twisting flour, noodle-masters can hand pull hundreds of beautiful long thin noodles for a variety of dishes.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch, but even more spectacular is sampling the results.

Nanami Dining Room

When we heard a new Duke City restaurant named Nanami Noodle House would be launching in January, 2017, we dared hope hand-pulled noodles would be featured fare.  Alas, such was not meant to be.  Nanami showcases noodles made elsewhere and flown in for use on a variety of broth-based, vegetarian and non-broth noodle dishes (if it’s any consolation, very few cities across the fruited plain can boast of restaurants in which noodles are made in the traditional hand-pulled manner).  Captivating aromas emanating from the kitchen gave us very little opportunity to bemoan our ill-fortune.  The source of those fragrant bouquets were in dire need of exploration as was a menu as diverse and delightful as we’ve seen in quite some time.

Befitting the restaurant’s name, which translates to “seven seas,” that menu includes dishes originating in Vietnam, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan and Korea with a nod to New Mexico here and there.   The Land of Enchantment meets Asia in the very first appetizer listed on the menu.  That would be the green chile Rangoon.  It’s one of nine appetizers, most of which are pretty standard fare.  You can eschew appetizers altogether and enjoy one of the four available salads.  Some diners will gravitate immediately to the noodle soups section of the menu, a listing of fifteen slurp-worthy soups.  If you prefer noodles sans broth, the menu lists four inviting options including grilled vermicelli.  Vegetarian options are also available.

Green Chile Rangoon

Lest I forget, the menu lists a nice array of hot and cold beverages including sixteen-ounce shakes, some in flavors you might not expect (green tea, Vietnamese coffee and Thai tea, for example).  Caffeine fiends should try the Vietnamese Coffee Frappe, an eye-opening meld of strong coffee and sweetened condensed milk.  Hot tea by the pot flavors include oolong, jasmine, green tea and a decaffeinated green tea.  Ice tea flavors include unsweetened green tea, mango, lychee and peach.  Coke products are also available, but other options just seem so much more appropriate.  Oh, and you’ll definitely want to peruse the dessert menu, too.

Nanami Noodle House is located at the former site of Cafe Jean-Pierre off the Pan American Highway.  It faces and is within easy walking distance of the Century 24 theater.  Nanami is the brainchild of first-time restaurant owners Brian and Nga Trieu, both of whom have extensive restaurant experience.  Brian cut his teeth working in restaurants owned and operated by his siblings in Roswell, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.  Among family owned restaurants with which you might be familiar are Banana Leaf (which a sibling sold years ago) and the Plum Cafe next door.  There are some similarities between the three.

Chicken Dumplings

Sure to become the restaurant’s signature appetizer is the Green Chile Rangoon (crispy Rangoon filled with green chile, jalapeño, onion, cream cheese and Cheddar).  If you’ve ever lamented the cloying flavor of most Crab Rangoon, you’ll appreciate that this six-piece starter bites back–not too much, but enough to be discernible.  The Green chile Rangoon is served with a plum sauce, a term which usually engenders yawning and ennui.  This plum sauce actually has personality courtesy of a nice infusion of ginger and chili.  It only looks sweet and innocuous.

Nanami pays attention to the sauces which accompany its appetizers.  That’s a difference-maker discerning diners will notice.  The chicken dumplings (crispy pot stickers filled with chicken, Napa cabbage, shallot and green onion), for example, are accompanied by a chili oil sweet soy sauce that emphasizes both its piquant and sweet elements.  The chicken dumplings are flash-fried to a golden hue and are generously filled.  It’s telling that the dumplings are delicious with or without sauce though the sauce does bring out more flavors.

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

Whether you noodle over the choices carefully or you espy a noodle dish that quickly wins you over, you’re in for a real treat.  My Kim beat me to the spicy beef noodle soup (rice noodle, medium flank steak, beef broth, tomato, cucumber and bean sprouts in a sate pork-shrimp broth topped with crushed peanuts, green onions, fried shallots and basil), my ad-libitum choice when trying a new Vietnamese restaurant.  While the flavor profile of most spicy beef noodle soups in the Duke City gravitates toward anise-kissed pho made piquant with the addition of chili, this one is wholly different.  It derives its heat from sate, a piquant Vietnamese sauce typically made with garlic, lemongrass, chili, fish sauce and other ingredients.  You may have noticed from the ingredients listed above that the broth is a sate pork-shrimp broth, not a beef broth.  There are many surprises in this soup, the least of which is the addition of fresh tomatoes and cucumber slices.  This deeply satisfying, rich elixir may have you rethink what you believe spicy beef noodle soup should be.

If you can’t get enough ramen in your life, you’ll appreciate Nanami offering one ramen option heretofore unavailable in the Duke City.  That would be the Kim Chi Ramen (wheat noodle, chasu, tofu, soft-boiled egg, mushrooms, bean sprouts and kimchi in a pork dashi broth topped with sesame seed, green onion and nori).  This is a ramen dish rich in umami, one of the five basic tastes (along with salt, sweet, sour and bitter) with a profile described as “meaty” and “brothy.”  The rich stock (dashi), soy sauce, earthy mushrooms and even the fermented kimchi are especially imbued with umami.   There is a lot going on in this dish, a melding of ingredients which go very well together, but if the term “kimchi” inspires visions of fiery, fermented cabbage, you might be disappointed.  The focus of this ramen is in developing a multitude of flavors, not one overwhelming flavor.  This is a memorable dish!

Kim Chi Ramen

The Nanami Noodle House may not hand-pull its noodles, but the chef certainly knows how to use noodles to craft deeply satisfying, soulful and delicious dishes you’ll want to enjoy again and again.

Nanami Noodle House
4959 Pan American, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-1125
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 February 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Rangoon, Chicken Pot Stickers, Kim Chi Ramen, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

Nanami Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho Linh Vietnamese Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pho Linh at its new location as of 2016

You always remember your first time…and if it’s good, it may set the standard by which you’ll forever measure every other time. I was a lanky lad of nineteen, away from home for the first time when “it” happened.  As a precocious yet naive child growing up in bucolic Peñasco, New Mexico, I had been sheltered from the wiles and ways of the world and felt silly and embarrassed about being so inexperienced. All my new friends in Massachusetts seemed so sophisticated in comparison.

Luckily I had a very patient and understanding teacher who taught me all its nuances and variations–how to appreciate its fragrant bouquet, taste the subtleties of its unique flavors and use my fingers as if lightly caressing its delicate features.  To this day, I still compare all other Vietnamese meals against my first that balmy summer day in Massachusetts. I treasure the memories of my first fresh spring rolls; marinated, grilled beef served atop a bed of rice vermicelli and the fragrance of leafy basil wafting from my first steaming bowl of pho.

Pho Linh’s colorful interior

The intoxicating aromas of Vietnamese cuisine remain a potent medium for conjuring up memories of my first time. A flood of memories greeted me when we first walked into Pho Linh, a 2005 addition to a fabulous array of Vietnamese restaurants in the Duke City. Pho Linh was originally situated on the Central Avenue location just west of San Mateo which had long been the home of a Golden City Chinese restaurant. It was adjacent to the historical Desert Sands Motel, a survivor of the 1960s which made a bloody cameo appearance in the 2007 movie No Country For Old Men.

On 24 May 2016, an arsonist set fire to the Desert Sands Motel, in the process displacing about five dozen people and causing $1.5 million in damages.  Among the conflagration’s casualties was the beloved Pho Lin Vietnamese Grill.  Although the fire didn’t reach Pho Linh, everything in the restaurant was lost due to fire, water, and power failure.  Because the fire did not reach the restaurant, no reimbursement from the insurance company was forthcoming.   Friends of Pho Linh established a GoFundMe account to help the restaurant owners get back on their feet and start a new restaurant in a different location as quickly as possible.

The lovely Toa Kim prepares seven courses of beef tableside

The lovely Toa Kim prepares seven courses of beef tableside (circa 2007)

The second instantiation of Pho Linh celebrated its grand opening on September 15th, 2016, not quite four months after fire consumed the original restaurant.  Its new location, 9100 Central Avenue, N.E., just east of Wyoming and about four miles east of the original, occupies the location which previously housed Lee’s Chinese Fast Food, a long-time tenant.  We hadn’t been seated for long when Toa Kim (who goes by Kim), who owns the restaurant along with her husband, came to our table, indicating she remembered us from our previous visit ten years ago–my Kim because she’s so nice and me because I “took the best pictures of her she’d ever seen.” 

As the three photos on this review–the first two taken in 2007 and the third taken in January, 2017–of Toa Kim attest, she’s aged gracefully and remains as lovely and youthful as when we first met her.  Back then she was a shy young lady who struggled with English.  Today she has a good command of English…and obviously a good memory.  To her delight, Pho Linh’s new location has already eclipsed its predecessor in terms of popularity.  Not only have many loyal guests followed their favorite Vietnamese restaurant east, Pho Linh has started to win over new loyalists courtesy of Kirtland Air Force Base, the Sandia National Labs and others like us who just feel safer in the new location.

Toa grills beef at our table

Toa Kim grills beef at our table (circa 2007)

We reminisced with Toa Kim about her having prepared seven courses of beef for us a decade ago.  Seven courses of beef were a Pho Linh specialty during its time at the Desert Inn, an entree so popular that in 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine accorded its highly-coveted Hot Plate award to the carnivores’ delight.  The award signifies the selection of seven courses of beef as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections across the city, to be singled out is quite an honor.    Sadly, seven courses of beef are no longer on the menu as an entree though each individual item comprising the seven is still available.

Pho Linh is one of the most colorful Vietnamese restaurants in the Duke City with a brightness matched only by Toa Kim’s sparkling personality.  On a wall behind a bamboo counter are five painted plates, each representing some of Vietnam’s most populous and culinarily influential cities: Saigon and Nha Trang in the South, Da Nang and Hue in Central Vietnam and Ha Noi in the North.  An “I Love Me” wall on which hang the aforementioned Hot Plate Award and several published restaurant reviews, is on your immediate left as you walk in.  The words “Mom Cooking Ware” are displayed beneath the accolades and reviews, a tribute Toa Kim explained, to her adopted American mother, a frequent guest of Pho Linh with whom she became so close that the two formed a mother-daughter relationship.

Ten years later (2017), Toa Kim remains as lovely as ever

While some may find the color scheme a bit loud, there’s no denying the appeal of Pho Linh’s appetizers. Options include fresh spring rolls with steamed pork and shrimp served with a sweet peanut sauce barely emboldened by chilies but redolent in minty fragrance.  For daring diners, an order of golden crispy squid with butter sauce might be in order. The squid is somewhat reminiscent of fried calamari in taste and texture while butter sauce is an acquired taste disdained by many Westerners. Also quite good are the Vietnamese egg rolls, four cigar shaped rolls fried to a golden hue and tightly wrapped to hold in anise blessed beef. The accompanying fish sauce is served without julienne carrots and daikon and is somewhat salty.

Grilled Mussels

14 January 2017: Remembering how much we enjoyed the aforementioned appetizers ten years previously, we decided to try appetizers heretofore new to us–preferably appetizers not available at other Vietnamese restaurants. We lucked upon two of them. The first, grilled mussels with scallions sprinkled with peanuts served with homemade sweet and sour ginger fish sauce provided an excellent re-introduction to Pho Linh.  Unlike the fried mussels with tamarind from Saigon Restaurant, there is no attempt to alter or obfuscate the native, “fishy” flavors of the mussels though you can immerse them in the sweet and sour ginger sauce if you’d like a more fruity flavor profile.  We enjoyed the mussels immensely with only the crushed peanuts to temper their natural flavors.

Grilled slices beef rolled with pickled leek

14 January 2017: Another appetizer we’d not previously seen at a Vietnamese restaurant was grilled beef slices rolled with pickled leeks though we did enjoy this remarkable starter while indulging in the seven courses of beef entree.  It’s an appetizer very similar to the grilled onion beef pictured in my review of Saigon 2 Restaurant in Rio Rancho though instead of onions, it’s leeks that are rolled tightly in beef.  While leeks may be more closely associated with the cuisine of several European nations, pickled leeks are quite common in Vietnamese cuisine.  They’re not pickled to the extent that they’ll purse your lips as a sour lemon might, but they serve as a nice foil for the anise-blessed beef.  This dish also includes a tangle of noodles along with shredded carrots, daikon and cucumber slices.

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

14 January 2017: When it comes to comfort, you can’t beat swimming pool sized bowls of steaming, fragrant, absolutely delicious pho. During a recent discussion about Albuquerque’s best pho, my friend and colleague Tuan Bui convinced me that a return visit to Pho Linh is long overdue. He raved about the Beef Noodle Soup Combination (rare steak, well done flank, beef brisket, beef tendon, beef tripe and beef meat ball). These same meats are also available on the spicy beef noodle soup, my very favorite of all Vietnamese soups. The aforementioned meats swim in a house special spicy lemongrass sauce with sundry aromatic seasonings, onions, scallions, sliced tomatoes and tangles of noodles. A plate of bean sprouts, sweet basil, jalapeno and lemon wedges accompanies each gargantuan bowl. The basil is the freshest we’ve had at any Vietnamese restaurant. Only at Cafe Dalat and the May Cafe have we had a comparable spicy beef noodle soup, meaning it’s in rarefied air–among the very best in the city.

Singapore Noodles

14 January 2017: Only at May Cafe have we experienced Singapore Noodles as addictively delicious as those pictured below. While the origin of Singapore Noodles is Cantonese, several Vietnamese restaurants have one-upped their Chinese restaurant counterparts in preparing outstanding versions of this terrific noodle dish. As with all versions of Singapore noodles, Pho Linh’s rendition is seasoned with curry powder and its vermicelli-thin rice noodles are stir-fried along with pork and a mix of vegetables. What makes this version so much better than so many others is the moistness of the dish, every morsel permeated with sweet, savory, pungent flavors. 

Top: Banh Mi with Pork; Bottom: Banh Mi with Beef

14 January 2017: To say Americans love sandwiches is as much an understatement as declaring ducks love water.  There have probably been more new and more inventive sandwich options introduced in the past ten years as in the remainder of the history of the fruited plains.  To think banh mi, the popular Vietnamese sandwich, were not widely available even a quarter-century ago is almost inconceivable.  Banh mi have become as ubiquitous, even in Albuquerque, as Hawaiian pizza–and you don’t have to visit one of the city’s Vietnamese bakeries to enjoy them.  Menus at restaurants such as Pho Linh offer very good banh mi.  Two options–banh mi engorged with pork and banh mi stuffed with beef–are available here.  These may be the most “Americanized” of all banh mi in the city in that they’re overstuffed–absolutely filled with beef or pork along with carrots, daikon, cilantro and fish sauce.  Alas, they’re somewhat smaller, maybe seven inches, than banh mi at other purveyors, but then again, there’s all the stuff inside.  It’s all good stuff.

Seven Courses of Beef

24 November 2007Though, as previously noted, seven courses of beef are no longer on the menu as an entree, it is still possible to enjoy each of the seven items or you can pick-and-choose from among the seven for an abbreviated experience.  As such, indulge me while I explain this extraordinary offering which we hope will some day soon be reinstated onto the menu. Traditionally served at Vietnamese weddings, seven courses of beef is a meal to be shared with someone you love.  The seven courses of beef provide a uniquely interactive dining experience in which you’ll have ample opportunity to use your hands so make sure they’re well washed before you begin. For most diners, this means you’ll have the opportunity to create your own spring rolls–wrapping various courses of beef and sundry ingredients into a tissue-thin, translucent rice paper.
24 November 2007: I’ve been able to feign (without much effort) an all thumbs clumsiness that prompts lovely attendants such as Toa Kim to feel sorry for me and craft spring rolls that are more uniform than I could make in a lifetime.  A table for two won’t do if you order the seven courses of beef. Just for starters, the courses require two different cooking appliances–a grill and a fondue pot.  You’ll also have to make room for a bowl of hot water (in which to dip the rice paper) as well as a bevy of vegetation that includes green leaf lettuce, bean sprouts, pickled carrots, daikon, green apples, cucumbers, mint and the house’s special dipping sauce.  This sauce, called mam nem is brackish brown in color and is more pungent in flavor than nuoc mam, the traditional fish sauce served in many Vietnamese restaurants throughout Albuquerque.  Unlike the nuoc mam, the mam nem is made from fermented fish, but it is not strained and retains bits of fish that fermented in a barrel for about a year. It’s thicker and more chunky than nuoc mam and is more sweet than tangy.

Lemon Beef

24 November 2007:The first courses of beef are grilled loaf leaf beef (say that ten times as fast as you can) and grilled beef rolls in pickled leek. Both are reminiscent of link sausage in texture, size and appearance, but with the unmistakable fragrance of anise blessed grilling. Next comes the fun part–a beef fondue prepared at your table on a brazier with a bubbling hot pot of vinegar fondue. A plate of tissue-thin slices of raw beef is swirled on the fondue and flash-cooked to your specifications.  Swirling the beef on the fondue is easy compared to dipping the rice paper in a warm water bath to soften it then lining the rice paper with sundry ingredients and wrapping your creation into a sort of do-it-yourself spring roll. This is where not being dexterous and having a face like a pouty hound dog pays off if you can get one of the lovely waitresses to do this for you.
In Vietnam, wrapping rice paper is an Olympic sport and it’s done to an art form. Most Americans will want to super-size their spring rolls and rice paper isn’t meant to hold a steak and a half head of lettuce. That’s another reason to have your waitress play with your food instead of you doing it.  Alas, there isn’t enough fondue beef to finish off all the accompanying vegetables, so your next course of beef is a lemongrass beef with five spices. The beef is Calista Flockhart thin and is grilled on a tabletop hibachi. The wrapping adventure ensues.

Grilled Loaf and Grilled Beef Rolls in Pickled Leek

24 November 2007:The next course is lemon beef (as thin as Nicole Ritchie) topped with mint, herbs and peanuts. At an Italian restaurant it would be called carpaccio and it probably wouldn’t taste as good. You can opt to have this dish grilled, but there are few things as tasty as raw beef marinated in lemon.  A quartered lemongrass beef ball served with rice crackers follows suit. The beef is steamed into a succulent mass topped with crushed peanuts and spices. It is meant to be eaten with the crackers.  Rice crackers are an adventure in eating. They look like and have the consistency of packing material you might use to mail something fragile. They don’t taste much better than what you might imagine that packing material would taste like, but top one of these crackers with a bit of beef ball and it’s not bad.

24 November 2007:The final course is a beef congee, a rice and beef soup similar to Chinese juke (rice porridge). The rice is cooked until very soft then served in a ginger-infused broth with minced beef and scallions. It is served warmer than all the other courses and has the effect of finishing your seven courses with the most comforting of all. 

Our return visit to Pho Linh was akin to a homecoming. It was indeed as if we were coming back home–home to outstanding Vietnamese cuisine and to an effusive, energetic owner with a pho-nomenal memory and sparkling personality. There’s no way we’ll allow ten years to elapse before returning again and again.

Pho Linh
9100 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-3368
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spring Rolls, Squid With Butter Sauce, Spicy Lemongrass Beef Noodle Soup, Seven Courses of Beef, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup, Singapore Noodles, Grilled Beef Slices with Pickled Leek, Grilled Mussels

Pho Linh Vietnamese Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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