Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar in Rio Rancho

From our home in northeast Rio Rancho, it’s about thirteen miles to the Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar on Southern Boulevard.  It would have been safer to run with the bulls at Pampalona than it was driving the half hour it took me to get to Nori.  In those thirty minutes, an impatient tailgater blasted her horn at me for having the audacity to come to a complete stop at a stop sign in our subdivision.  As she roared passed me on a 25 miles-per-hour street, she contemptuously extended her middle finger out the window (in the same way drivers espying the Dallas Cowboys plate on my car acknowledge the Cowboys are number one).  Once on Highway 528, I witnessed drivers running red lights, exceeding the speed limit by at least warp five, turning from the wrong lane and not using turn signals (even though the season of lights is approaching).  “Phew,” I thought “at least we don’t live in any of the other 48 states whose drivers are more impolite.”

Yep, you read that correctly.  A June, 2017 survey conducted by Kars4Kids ranked New Mexico as the second-most polite state in which to drive.  At this point you’re probably laughing uproariously or wondering how New Mexico’s notorious election officials managed to stuff the ballots for the Land of Enchantment and abscond with ballots from other states.  “More likely,” you’re thinking “the survey’s respondents included such paragons of impartiality as Governor Martinez, the New Mexico Tourism Department and former Albuquerque Mayor Berry’s effusive spinmeister.”  For those of us with lengthy daily commutes into the heart of the Duke City, there’s more credibility in little green men landing their extraterrestrial craft in Roswell than there is in a survey indicating New Mexico’s drivers are the apotheosis of politeness.

The interior of Nori

Chanting Frank Costanza’s “serenity now” mantra as you navigate the metropolitan area’s mean streets is hardly a match for crazed, oblivious and wholly impolite drivers…and not even Calgon can take you away when driving in New Mexico leaves you frazzled and harried.  Fortunately there are three havens of civility in Rio Rancho where you can find solace and regain your composure. One is Joe’s Pasta House where possibly the very best wait staff in the Land of Enchantment is as welcoming as your most comfortable slippers.  Another is Namaste where respect and graciousness are practiced daily.  The third and most recent addition is the Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar which opened its doors in October, 2017.

Until 2010 when it shuttered its doors, Noda’s Japanese Cuisine may have been the Land of Enchantment’s very best purveyor of sushi as well as a nonpareil paragon of politeness.  Other sushi restaurants such as Ahh! Sushi and Sushi King have tried to fill the void, but all have fallen short in comparison to the sublime greatness of Noda’s, a once in a generation restaurant which many of us miss direly.  Nori won’t make anyone forget Noda’s, but Rio Rancho diners who appreciate good Japanese food and professional service will like it very much…especially if your commute was as harrowing as mine.

Tonkotsu Ramen

It seems the template for Japanese restaurants emphasizes professionalism.  In the Land of the Rising Sun, good service is associated with professionalism, not friendliness.  Wait staff are trained to maintain a professional, polite distance.  Instead of the chatty, often insincere wait shtick practiced by servers at many American restaurants (particularly the cookie cutter chains), servers in Japan don’t engage in small talk (especially of a personal nature) or try to establish personal rapport with their guests.  It’s the way some of us like to be treated.  By the way, if you appreciate the impeccable timing of servers who don’t hover over you and ask how your meal is just as you’ve taken a hefty bite, you’ll like Nori.

Nori, the Japanese name for edible seaweed, is appropriately named as nori is indeed an ingredient in several sushi rolls and dishes.  Neither the Japanese menu nor the sushi menu feature any real surprises, but offer familiar standards prepared well.  Appetizers include such recognizable favorites as edamame, gyoza, egg rolls and tempura.  Ramen and donburi dishes make up the entrees portion of the menu.  The sushi menu includes all familiar favorites: nigiri (a slice of raw fish over pressed vinegared rice), sashimi (slices of very fresh fish served raw) and maki (roll-style sushi in which ingredients are often wrapped in roasted seaweed sheets (nori) and seasoned rice). 

Top: Buddy Crunch Bottom: Unagi

Over the decades, ramen has evolved from a staple of the Japanese working class to a mainstay of impoverished American college students to most recently, a trendy Japanese restaurant favorite.  The latter is ramen all grown up, the antithesis of the budget dorm food favorite.  There are many different types of Japanese noodle soups, but tonkotsu ramen may be the most revered. Two main components define tonkotsu: tangles or nests of thin, starchy noodles in a rich salty pork broth. Traditionally made by boiling pork bones for twelve hours or more, the broth is incomparable.  Nori’s version also includes two marinated hard-boiled eggs, scallions, niblets of corn and fatty pork cutlets.  It’s a satisfying soup, filling and tasty, but much better versions can be found in Albuquerque at O Ramen and Naruto (both of which would require matador-like maneuvering among polite Duke City drivers).

Rather than one of the appetizers on the menu, my starter choice was unagi, grilled freshwater eel served nigiri style. Unagi is much sweeter and more tender than its saltwater cousins and is said to have stamina-giving properties. Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, it’s believed to heighten men’s sexual drive. Japanese wives would prepare unagi for dinner to suggest to their husbands that they wanted an intimate night.  While some may find the thought of eel repellent, “eel sauce” is a popular topping for various sushi rolls.  A thick sweetened sauce made from soy sauce, mirin or sweet rice wine and sugar, it’s akin to fish candy.

Several of Nori’s maki rolls are topped with a crunchy tempura flakes instead of wrapped in nori sheets.  Among them is the buddy crunch (shrimp tempura, salmon tempura, avocado, spicy mayo inside tempura flakes and the aforementioned eel sauce).  During my novitiate days of enjoying sushi, my Kim questioned whether it was really the incendiary wasabi I really enjoyed.  Back then I drowned maki rolls in combustible mix of soy sauce and wasabi.  With more refined and developed tastes, it’s the ingredients within the vinegared rice that now enthrall me most.  My buddy roll barely touched the soy-wasabi mix, allowing me to enjoy balanced flavors from fresh ingredients.

Nori Ramen’s wait staff can show the fruited plain’s second most polite drivers a thing or two about politeness.  Moreover, they can show you a menu of familiar Japanese favorites prepared well.

Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar
2003 Southern Blvd., S.E., Suite 116
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 796-5065
LATEST VISIT: 25 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tonkotsu Ramen, Buddy Crunch, Unagi

Nori Ramen & Sushi Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Aya’s New Asian on Menaul

There’s an unspoken reciprocal arrangement between restaurant guests and the restaurant personnel with whom we interact. As guests, we show our appreciation for a dining experience well executed by tipping generously and maybe complimenting the kitchen and wait staff during and after the meal. Representatives of the restaurant– whether they be chefs, maître ds, servers or owners—typically thank their guests and invite them to return. All too often these interactions seem trite, maybe even rehearsed or expected. It’s what we all do because it’s what we’ve always done and it’s what’s expected to be done. Only during and after exceptional (or exceptionally bad) dining experiences do interactions between guests and restaurant personnel become more effusive…or so we thought.

During our inaugural visit to Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine on Menaul, we experienced gratitude and friendliness so sincere and authentic that we couldn’t help but be touched.  Even if the Japanese cuisine hadn’t won us over, the humility and friendliness of Aya herself would have.  Let me step back at this point and explain that the restaurant is actually operated by two women named Aya (short for Ayako).  One Aya runs the front of the house and serves as sushi chef while the other runs the kitchen.  We only met the Aya who’s the public face of the restaurant and we were impressed.

Aya’s Dining Room

The two Ayas have been in Albuquerque for just over half a year, having made the move from Seattle which they found too rainy and dreary.  In contrast, they love the Duke City, especially its incomparable skies and weather.  The Ayas plan on making their lives in the United States, having liquidated their assets in Japan to move here.  Both classically trained in Japanese culinary techniques, they hope to introduce Duke City diners to the food of their homeland…and indeed, the menu offers a few “just a little different” items heretofore not found in the area’s Japanese restaurants.

Aya (the restaurant, not the owners) is ensconced in a timeworn shopping center on Menaul.  To its immediate west is a Flying Star and just east is Relish.  Wasabi and cranberry colored walls are festooned with serene paintings of lotus blossoms on one side and magnificent glass art showcasing Michael Miro‘s kabuki series on the other.  Aya was delighted in my knowledge and appreciation of the kabuki practices depicted so colorfully.  With an amazing command of English–considering she’s only been in America for about a year–she told us about her life in Okinawa.  Her self-effacing modesty in accepting compliments on her English was but one thing we immediately liked about her.

Vege Tempura

We also liked the Web site’s URL. It’s not just aya.com. It’s ayako-san.com. In Japanese, appending a name with the suffix “san” is a title of respect which can be used with both female and male names and with either given names or surnames. It can also be attached to the name of occupations and titles. In Japan, restaurant owners are often called mama-san or papa-san by both customers and employees. This signifies a level of affection as well as respect. It’s easy to see that Aya deserves such a title of endearment. We also liked that menu items are spelled phonetically—how they sound. Some menu items aren’t necessarily spelled the way Americans or even other Japanese restaurants would spell them. For example, the American spelling for Japanese dumplings is “gyoza” but the Aya menu spells it “gyouza.”

There’s much to like about Aya’s menu. There are seven starters on the menu, including three recently added (such as the green chile Ohitashi and poke salad). Four ala carte tempura options and miso soup can also be ordered as starters. The next section of the menu is dedicated to curry—five types, each served with a small salad. Six noodle dishes, including miso ramen, will sate all of us who love to nosh on noodles. Nine rice dishes, several of the donburi variety, follow suit. Next on the menu are three platters which are served with steamed rice, small salad, soup and small dish of the day. Sushi, available only during dinner time, follows suit then it’s a vegetarian tofu teriyaki dish. Last, but certainly not least is a three item dessert menu.

Gyouza

31 December 2016: Let tempura tease your taste buds. The vege tempura is an excellent starter option, rewarding you with a generous plating of deep-fried assorted seasonal vegetables sheathed in a crispy tempura batter. Having been born and raised in the Windy City area, my Kim generally eschews vegetables unless they’re covered in meat and potatoes, but she loves tempura vegetables. Unlike fried foods in Chicago, these are virtually grease-less. Aya served us lightly battered green beans, zucchini, squash and carrots. Underneath the tempura sheath, each vegetable retains a nice crispness that is indicative of fresh vegetables. Tempura dishes are served with a light soy-based sauce.

31 December 2016: Another excellent starter is the aforementioned gyouza, five lightly stir-fried, house-made Japanese pork dumplings served with ponzu (thin, tart citrus-based) sauce. While Japan is steeped in ancient culinary traditions, gyouza isn’t one of them. Japanese didn’t start making gyouza until after World War II when Japanese soldiers were exposed to Chinese dumplings while serving in Manchuria. Gyouza are usually thinner, smaller (two to three bites), more delicate and fillings tend to have a finer texture than their Chinese counterparts. Made well, gyouza is as good as any Chinese dumplings you’ll ever have. Aya makes them well.

Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate

31 December 2016: You can emphasize the word “special” when a special of the day is posted on the slate board or Facebook page. As someone who tends to order specials more often than from the regular menu, I’m ever attuned for something new and different such as the Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate (cubes of tuna, boiled shrimp, egg, zencom, cucumber and avocado over sushi rice). While we’ve certainly had chirashi before, it’s always been served donburi-style (in a bowl).  At Aya, the chirashi is served in a rectangular plate. The dish is pleasing to the eye and the palate with a nice balance of ingredients in good proportion to one another. Unlike chirashi we’ve had in other Japanese restaurants, we weren’t provided wasabi-sushi which really changes the flavor profile. Instead, we were left to enjoy sweet, delicate flavors that practically had us swooning.

31 December 2016: The Chirashi Sushi Plate is served with a salad, miso soup and pickled vegetables somewhat reminiscent of Korean namul (assorted unfermented salads). A simple salad (iceberg lettuce, shaved carrots) is transformed into a paragon of deliciousness with a cool, refreshing ginger dressing so good you’ll be tempted to lick the plate. The miso soup is much better than most we’ve had in Albuquerque where bouillon cube quality miso is maybe not the norm, but it’s shamefully all too common. It’s served hot as opposed to warm which gives it good miso creds with us and the tofu appears to have been made in-house.

Yakisoba

31 December 2016: Another popular Japanese dish of Chinese origin is Yakisoba, a fried noodle dish similar to chow mein. Aya elevates this relatively simple dish of fried noodles and vegetables with the addition of bacon. Yes, bacon! In Japan, thinly sliced pork is most commonly used on Yakisoba. Japan needs to have a bacon epiphany! A generous amount of bite-sized pieces of smoky, delicious bacon coalesces with the thick, sweet sauce to make this potentially the best Yakisoba dish we’ve ever had (we can’t remember having one better). 

6 November 2017: On the first Monday following the long overdue return to standard time, it seemed nothing could get me going despite having supposedly gained an hour of sleep.  What’s the cure for Monday malaise you ask.  The prescription for whatever ails you on Monday or any day is green chile–even in a Japanese restaurant.  Aya’s green chile tempura is as good as you’ll find at many New Mexican restaurants.  Not only does the chile have a pleasant piquancy, it’s served with something other than the de rigueur ranch dressing.  A soy-rice wine dressing imparts sweet notes that contrast nicely with the heat of the green chile strips.  The tempura batter is lightly applied and lends a delightfully crispy texture.

Green Chile Tempura

6 November 2017: Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto describes ramen as “a dish that’s very high in calories and sodium.  “One way to make it healthier,” he advises is to “leave the soup and just eat the noodles.”  Do that at Aya’s and you’ll miss out on a very satisfying, soul-warming soup that’s surely the epitome of Japanese comfort food.  Picture tangles of ramen noodles in a miso flavored soup topped with corn, sprouts, minced meat and butter.  While other Japanese restaurants across the Duke City favor a pork broth for their miso ramen minced meat makes for a surprisingly flavorful protein.  My sole complaint about this ramen–and it’s a nit–is the very thin sliver of butter.  My preference would be for a healthy half pound of butter.  The ramen noodles are a joy to eat though the Iron Chef’s contention that eating solely the noodles would be healthier has got to be wrong.  These noodles are much too tasty not to be calorie-laden.

31 December 2016: Great desserts and Japanese restaurant are two terms not commonly associated with one another. If a Japanese restaurant in New Mexico even deigns to serve dessert, it’s usually plum sorbet or green tea ice cream. Aya offers several desserts heretofore unknown to us. The most intriguing may be the green tea parfait which is served on a goblet similar to what Dairy Queen might use to serve a sundae. Layers of flavor, color and texture define this dessert. Imagine corn flakes (yes, the Kellogs type), green tea ice cream, whipped cream, green tea jelly, chocolate and seasonal fruits. Where do you start? We discovered early on that this dessert is best experienced if you can combine flavors and textures in each spoonful. The combination of corn flakes, chocolate sauce and green tea ice cream is especially satisfying.

Miso Ramen

31 December 2016: We first experienced green tea tempura cheesecake at Naruto, one of the Duke City’s premier ramen houses.  It’s since been an obsession.  Comparisons with Naruto’s version were inevitable.  At Naruto, the cheesecake is drizzled with cocoa powder served atop a swirl of chocolate.  Not so at Aya where a thin tempura batter sheathes a beautiful wedge of green tea cheesecake.  A dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top is served on the side.  It’s a very good cheesecake.

My introduction of this review posited the existence of an unspoken reciprocal arrangement between guests at a restaurant and the restaurant personnel who serve them.  I explained that our experience with Aya was unlike the usual polite interaction between the two parties.  As we settled our bill of fare and prepared to leave, Aya didn’t extend the perfunctory “come back soon.”  She embraced us as one might an old friend or family member and told us how much she appreciated our visit and interest in her food.  She meant it!

Green Tea Parfait

Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine offers many of the comfort food favorites Americans have come to love as well as some new and different options which just might become new favorites.  There’s also a strong chance Aya herself will quickly become one of your favorite restaurateurs.

Green Tea Tempura Cheesecake

Aya’s New Asian
8019 Menaul, N.E., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 323-5441
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 November 2017
1st VISIT: 31 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bara Chirashi Sushi Plate, Yakisoba, Vege Tempura, Gyoza, Green Tea Tempura Cheesecake, Green Tea Ice Cream Parfait, Miso Ramen, Green Chile Tempura

Ayas New Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thai Vegan – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Vegan on Osuna

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare

Contrary to the Bard of Avon’s most famous sonnet, what something is named does matter.  It matters at least as much as what it is.   Some would say, in fact, that a name is everything.  If a steak restaurant was named Rotted Meat, it’s unlikely it would entice enough diners (much less pedantic critics) to ever discover it serves four-star gourmet quality cuisine.  Diners would stay away in droves and those intrepid enough to visit would likely find the suggestive nature of its name  greatly diminishes the deliciousness of the food.

A restaurant’s name is its identity.  The right name imprints a good and lasting impression on a restaurant’s customers.  It’s an effective way to draw first-time visitors to a restaurant, if only to satisfy their curiosity.  Choose the wrong name and your restaurant could be subjected to pejoratives and ridicule. Zagat’s, one of the most prolific print and online sources of user-generated restaurant reviews rounded up what they consider the worst restaurant names they could find — “silly, sexually suggestive, potty referencing and all.”

Thai Vegan’s exotic dining room

The list was comprised of Asselina, an Italian restaurant in New York; Beaver’s Choice, an Arizona Scandinavian eatery; Big Wong, a New York City Chinese institution; Crabby Dick’s, a Mid-Atlantic seafood chain; Crapitto’s, a Houston Italian diner; Fu King, a Chinese restaurant in Florida; Goat Lips, a Florida deli; 9021Pho, a Beverly Hills Vietnamese restaurant; Phat Phuc, a Vietnamese noodle Bar; and Pink Taco, a Las Vegas taco restaurant.  It’s possible the double-entendre and scatology will appeal to the sophomoric among us–at least the first time we visit.  After that, return visits are unlikely if the food isn’t up to par. 

Rather than risk scaring potential customers away or worst, bringing in an “undesirable” crowd, most restaurant owners play it safe and give their restaurants fairly generic, but descriptive names that leave no doubt as to what type of food is proffered.  Albuquerque’s Thai Vegan restaurant, for example, will never be mistaken for a restaurant which serves steak and chops.  The name is clearly indicative of the type of food this restaurant serves.  What the name doesn’t come close to describing is just how good Thai vegan food can be under capable hands. 

Steam Dumplings (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

At Vegan Thai, the capable hands belong to chef-owner Pat Phomnoi and they’re on display for all diners to admire in two Albuquerque locations–the original on Osuna and one in Nob Hill–and one in Santa Fe. It’s obvious from Thai Vegan’s “I love me” wall that the original restaurant’s success spawned the need for expansion. One section of the wall just as you walk in is plastered with all the “best of” accolades the restaurant has earned over the years from such publications as Albuquerque The Magazine, the Albuquerque Journal, The Daily Lobo and more. Not only has it earned honors as the city’s best vegan restaurants, but in recent years has also been recognized as the city’s best Thai restaurant.

That last honor–best Thai restaurant–places the emphasis on “Thai” cuisine, not “vegan” cuisine.  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate rates Thai Vegan as the third best Thai restaurant in the Duke City, right behind the Pad Thai Cafe and Thai Tip.  When it comes to purity of flavors, Thai Vegan, he emphasizes, is spot on.  After his inaugural visit, he returned to Thai Vegan four times in a two week span.  I joined Larry and Dazzling Deanell on Larry’s fourth visit.  He was excited to see if maybe a more recent visit to Thai Vegan might persuade me to up my rating from “20” to “22,” the rating he would accord the restaurant on my scale.

Papaya Salad (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

Chef Phomnoi launched Vegan Thai in 2010 at the former site of Lotus Cafe, quickly winning over the hearts of many of its predecessor’s devotees and bringing in the niche demographic of vegans wanting high-quality Thai cuisine.  No matter your preference, Vegan Thai will win you over when you step into the restaurant and are immediately enveloped in the olfactory arousing aromas of spices and sauces.  If you had any doubts before walking in, the fabulous fragrances will dispel them as they waft toward you like a sensuous siren’s call.

Thai Vegan will appeal to your visual sense as well.  The attractive dining room is adorned in gold trim with a gold symbol resembling a seahorse particularly prominent.  An aquarium teeming with goldfish seems strangely out of place though it does add to an already tranquil ambiance.  Service is friendly, attentive and employs tandem concepts.  The waitress who takes your order may not be the one to deliver it.  Whichever waitress is closest to you at any given time will be the one to refill your drink order or check up on you.

Red Curry (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

The menu is very similar to that of many Thai restaurants with a few surprises thrown in.  For example, the appetizers include not only edamame (soybean pods more commonly served in Japanese restaurants), but French fries, too.  Perhaps because of the commonality of the pairing, the menu also lists eight burgers–tofu burgers, legume veggie burgers, soy burgers, wheat meat burgers and wheat and soy burgers, all of which you can have with fries.  Many entrees are available with your choice of soy chicken, soy pepper steak or soy fish.

2 November 2017: Dumpling appetizers come six to an order or you can request an assortment of each of three types of dumplings: veggie, steam curry or red chili.  The dumplings are decoratively plated on a bed of lettuce, julienned carrots and purple cabbage.  The steam curry dumplings stand out largely because of the green curry sauce drizzled on top.  The red chili dumplings   have a crispy texture as if deep-fried.  The red chili is more cloying than it is piquant.  One of this appetizer’s best qualities is that when you’re done with the dumplings, you still have a salad well sauced with green curry and red chili.

Praram’s Plate with two spring rolls and a salad

2 November 2017: The menu offers eight different salad options including larb (the national dish of Laos) and papaya salad.  The papaya salad is as beautiful to behold as it is a joy to eat.  A bed of lettuce is crowned with julienned papaya and carrots, minced peanuts, cilantro and purple cabbage flanked by tomatoes.  Ordered at medium piquancy, there is barely a discernible hint of heat (at least to fire-eaters like Larry and me) on an otherwise very tasty, very fresh papaya salad.  Papaya salad is one of the most fresh and vibrant dishes on a Thai menu.  Even if newcomers don’t like anything else about Thai food, they’ll probably enjoy papaya salad.

30 July 2011:My server looked at me as if I had a death wish when I requested green curry at a “Thai hot” level, prompting me to question my own sanity.  I shouldn’t have.  The heat level was innocuous–maybe a third as piquant as the incendiary heat generated at Thai Cuisine.  That’s too bad because a little heat would have elevated the flavor profile of a pretty good green curry.  Even my Chicago born-and-bred better half thought the heat level to have been strictly “gringo.”  Stricken by a desire to experiment, I asked for the curry to be prepared with the soy pepper steak which will never be mistaken for the real thing, but shouldn’t be discounted either. 

Mangoes with sticky sweet rice

5 May 2015: Thai Vegan’s daily lunch and dinner combinations are a bargain at under ten dollars. Both are served with steamed brown rice, a spring roll and salad with your choice of tofu, soy chicken, pepper steak or soy fish. For a pittance more, you can also have soy shrimp or soy chicken nuggets. If the curiously named Praram’s Plate (marinated soy chicken pan-fried with peanut sauce on a bed of steamed spinach) is any indication, these combination plates are special. The pan-fried soy chicken may not perfectly mimic the taste and texture of real white meat chicken, but it’s close enough to the real thing that not everyone will notice. The tofu chicken is drenched with a peanut sauce very much reminiscent of the peanut sauce often served with satay. For those of us who love peanut sauce, the profligate portion of sauce is very much welcome. The spinach also goes well with the peanut sauce. As Thai spring rolls tend to be, the spring roll is excellent.

30 July 2011: Our mangoes with sticky rice dessert was a bit of a let-down. Though the mangoes were in-season, fresh and juicy and the sticky rice was perfectly prepared, this simple but elegant dessert favorite lacked coconut milk, the ingredient which coalesces all flavors in this dish.

So, what’s in a name?  In the name Thai Vegan, there’s the promise of very good and very healthy Thai food prepared before your eyes in a very attractive milieu.

Thai Vegan
5505 Osuna, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-4610
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 2 November 2017
1st VISIT: 30 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papaya Salad, Green Curry, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Dumpling Assortment, Praram’s Plate, Spring Rolls, Spicy Eggplant

Thai Vegan on Urbanspoon

Pho Lao – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pho Lao, Albuquerque’s Only Lao Noodle Restaurant

One definition of audacity is “the state of being bold or daring—particularly with disregard for danger, rudeness or pressure.” Audacity is nine-year-old fourth grader Akilan Sankaran (son of my friend Sridevi)  unflinchingly spelling such words as “rejoneador” and “mnemonic” to win the New Mexico Spelling bee over eighth graders who’d participated in the annual event as many as six times.  Audacity is a miniature dachshund protecting its family from the menacing mailman who dares trespass daily into the family’s territory. Audacity is Homer Simpson eating fugu, a blowfish which can be toxic if not properly sliced.

It may not be as bold or daring as the aforementioned examples, but your humble blogger recently demonstrated great audacity. When my friend and colleague Tuan Bui asked me to pick a restaurant where we could enjoy pho-nomenal pho, I didn’t take him to one of the Duke City’s tried and proven Vietnamese restaurants, but to a Lao restaurant which itself demonstrates audacity by calling itself “Pho Lao.” Having grown up in Vietnam and still partaking frequently of his mom’s very authentic Vietnamese food preparations, Tuan certainly knows more about pho than I ever will. My restaurant choice would either expose me as a phony (or pho-ny) or would validate my reputation as a virtuoso of Vietnamese victuals.

Pho Lao’s Dining Room

30 March 2017: What made my choice especially daring is that during my inaugural visit a few months earlier, I literally couldn’t immediately discern the nuances of the Lao Noodle Soup. That’s because my appetizer precedent was the most incendiary papaya salad I’ve ever had. It made me cough and sputter and drew a gusher of tears from my eyes, but it was so darned delicious it was impossible to stop eating it. My vaunted taste buds and tongue would recover I hoped. As with all Lao-style papaya salad, a large mortar and pestle is used to pound garlic and chilies together along with a very pungent fermented Lao fish sauce. With the addition of shredded green papaya, juicy tomato slices and lime juice, the papaya salad is replete with intense flavors: pungent, piquant, sour, sweet, salty and especially umami (from the fish sauce). Sharing the bowl with the papaya salad is a mound of shredded cabbage, not so much a palate cleanser but a balm for the burn.

Papaya salad, by the way, may be more closely associated with Thai cuisine, but its origin is Lao. The same thing goes for sticky rice and larb, two foods which have become ubiquitous in Thai restaurants. Bordered on the east by Vietnam and on the west by Thailand, Laos is a landlocked nation for which the Mekong River forms its border with Thailand. Unlike Thai cuisine, Lao food tends to be much lighter—no sweet and heavy curries or stews. Strong flavors—bitter, sour, spicy, salty and umami–are a hallmark of Lao cuisine with the blandness of sticky rice balancing out those strong flavors. Contrary to Thai cuisine, in Laos very little sugar is used in cooking with more dishes tending toward a bitter flavor profile.

Papaya Salad

So, why doesn’t Pho Lao showcase the foods of Laos? That was attempted before when the restaurant first launched and was known as the Mekong Noodle House. Albuquerque, it seems, didn’t give the Noodle House and its Lao-centric menu the type of reception it gives the phalanx of pho-bulous Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City. Ergo, the name and concept change to Lao Pho. Ensconced in a timeworn strip mall just north of Chuck E. Cheese, Lao Pho has resembled a ghost town during my first two visits.  It almost pained me to realize that so many Duke City diners were eating at entirely pho-getable restaurants when this paragon of deliciousness was virtually empty–despite a very favorable review from the Albuquerque Journal.

Pho, by the way, may have had its origin in Vietnam, but you’ll also find pho on menus throughout Laos, albeit pronounced “fer” and made with different spices and herbs flavoring the broth.  As with its Vietnamese counterpart, Lao pho is served with sprouts, Thai basil, jalapeño, romaine, and fresh lime.  In a heading entitled “Noodle Soups,” Pho Lao’s menu lists five phos, a Lao noodle soup, tom yum soup, tom kha soup and wonton ramen soup.  The menu also lists six rice dishes, two of which showcase Lao beef jerky and Lao pork sausage (both of which you’ve got to try).  Stir-fry dishes on the menu include the ever popular Pad Thai as well as chow mein and fried rice.  Only three appetizers grace the menu–spring rolls, egg rolls and the aforementioned papaya salad.

Lao Noodle Soup

30 March 2017: With my mouth still on fire from the combustible papaya salad, it took a while before my taste buds would be able to discern all the flavors of the Lao noodle soup, the one soup for which the noodles are made by hand.  Fortunately this enchanting elixir arrives at your table scalding hot so it’s advisable to wait for it to cool.  There are so many elements to this Lao variation of a chicken noodle soup you’ll absolutely love.  The hand-made noodles about as thick as Italian bucatini and have a rich, almost buttery flavor.  Texturally, the noodles are an absolute delight to slurp up.  They have a very nice mouth feel.  The chicken, a combination of white and dark eat, is in larger pieces than you’ll find in most chicken noodle soup and it’s plentiful.  Most enjoyable is the broth with its intense poultry flavor punctuated by green onions and cilantro.  This is one soup that may almost make having a cold something for which to look forward.

5 September 2017: At the recommendation of the amiable Pany, our hostess and chef, both Tuan and I ordered the Pho Lao Combo (rice noodles, sliced fresh beef, tripe, beef meatballs, well-done beef in beef broth topped with green onion, cilantro and fried garlic).  If you’re of the carnivorous persuasion this is the soup to order.  From both a flavor and textural perspective, it offers the most variety.  As with Vietnamese pho, the broth announces itself on the way to your table with a fragrance so enticing your mouth may water in anticipation.  That’s courtesy of a bone broth simmered slowly and enhanced with the spice combination of sugar, cinnamon, star anise, clove and cardamom–not as prevalent as with Vietnamese pho, but still there and oh, so delicious.

Pho Lao Combo

So, did my audacity pay off?  Well, my friend Tuan was certainly blown away by Pho Lao though neither of us could finish our swimming pool-sized bowls of pho.  He admitted Lao pho is as good as (if not better than) the pho served at all but a couple Duke City Vietnamese restaurants he’s tried.  Being far less foolhardy than I, he finished less than half the insanely piquant papaya salad, saving the remainder for later.  That meant he could taste his pho from the start not when the burn quelled. 

Denizens of the Duke City should show some audacity of their own by visiting this excellent restaurant and enjoying some of the most sumptuous soups in town.  Pho Lao is in the same rarefied air as the best Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in Albuquerque!

Pho Lao
3115 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-2326
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 September 2017
1st VISIT: 30 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papaya Salad, Lao Noodle Soup, Pho Lao Combo
REVIEW #998

Pho Lao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Soo Bak Foods – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Soo Bak Foods, an Outstanding Mobile Kitchen

When I told my friend Jim “Bubba” Chester about having discovered a terrific mobile food kitchen named Soo Bak, he became very animated. Surely, he thought Soo Bak just had to serve the Arkansas-style barbecue he craved. When I asked how he arrived at that conclusion, he explained rather matter-of-factly that the trademarked chant at his beloved alma-mater (the University of Arkansas), is ”Woooo! Pig Sooie!” and of course, the team mascot is the Razorbacks. Hence anyone should be able to see that “Soo Bak” is Arkansas-style barbecue. It nearly broke his heart to learn that instead of Arkansas-style barbecue, Soo Bak serves Korean barbecue (among other paragons of deliciousness). “How in tarnation could someone that far from the Ozarks know anything about barbecue?” he cried. Quite a bit, my friend. Quite a bit.

Korean barbecue, called “gogi gui,” more closely resembles grilling than it does the traditional low-and-slow preparation of meats throughout the fruited plain. This grilling method is distinguished by the use of a charcoal or gas grill, often build right into the dining room table itself. There diners prepare their favorite thinly sliced pork, beef, chicken or seafood. Korean barbecue is actually an overarching term encompassing a variety of marinated and non-marinated meat and seafood dishes. The two Korean barbecue dishes with which Americans are most familiar are bulgogi (thinly sliced rib eye glazed with a sweet and savory marinade) and kalbi (sliced, butterflied and marinated beef short ribs prepared over a wood fire).

The Soo Bak Menu

Contrary to Jim’s rationale, the name Soo Bak actually translates from Korean to “Watermelon,” a fitting appellation considering the mobile kitchen conveyance plies its craft under the shadows of the Sandias. Soo Bak is the brainchild of owner-chef John Katrinak who has reinterpreted his grandmother’s and mother’s recipes so that they meld the complementary flavors of Korea and New Mexico. Those flavors work very well together! During his travels throughout the globe, the impressions he gleaned from the generosity and love many people put into their food resonated deeply with him. It’s his personal mission statement to share his foods in the spirit of that generosity and love. Mission accomplished!

You can’t help but love a mobile kitchen sporting the tag line “Korean Seoul Food,” wordplay honoring the capital of South Korea. Operating across the city since January, 2013, Soo Bak is a ubiquitous presence at the Talin Market where it sets up alongside several other mobile kitchens every Wednesday. Unlike many of its brethren, Soo Bak posts its weekly schedule on its Facebook page and can be counted on reliably to be where it’s supposed to be. Its Facebook page also lists its menu of “everyday items,” though frequently changing specials aren’t listed. Befitting a motorized conveyance with limited operating room, the menu is rather limited, but it’s the flavors and aromas that are far-reaching. As you queue up to place your order, you may want to pull a George Costanza and yank the people in front of you out of your way.  That’s how ravenous the aromas will make you.

BBQ Beef Tacos with Cucumber Kimchi

9 August 2017: Among Soo Bak’s most popular fusion of New Mexico meets Korea are Korean tacos. Available in quantities of two or three and generously engorged with your choice of Korean BBQ beef (with lettuce, cheese, crema and Sriracha), Spicy Pork (with lettuce, cheese, crema, and a side of jalapeño salsa) or sautéed mushrooms (with lettuce, cheese, crema and Sriracha). The Korean BBQ Beef taco is in rarefied company as one of the most surprising tacos I’ve had in years. Many other tacos have surprised me in their use of ingredients which don’t always work well together. Soo Bak surprised me in just how harmoniously well those ingredients coalesce into a delicious whole. The beef is impregnated with a superb smokiness, a grilled flavor with a perfect amount of char that still lets you appreciate the crispiness and freshness of the lettuce and the complementary sauces.

9 August 2017: Air Force friends and colleagues who served in Korea like to use the term “deep kimchi” when someone is in a rather sticky situation. They shared horror stories of kimchi so pungent and piquant that they couldn’t eat it. Because I could, it instantly made me one of the gang. Soo Bak offers three types of kimchi available in small and large portions: Napa cabbage, radish and cucumber. The cucumber kimchi is the complete antithesis of the sometimes cloying cucumber salad oft served with satay at many Thai restaurants. Where Thai cucumber salad is sweet and vinegary, Soo Bak’s cucumber kimchi is pungent, salty and pleasantly piquant with a nice crunchy texture that bespeaks of its freshness. It isn’t nearly as incendiary as other kimchi I’ve enjoyed, but it is a delightful accompaniment to any meal.

Korean BBQ Beef Bibimbap

 9 August 2017: Koreans have mastered the art of “leftovers disguised as a gourmet dish” in a popular dish known as Bibimbap, which translates from Korean to “mixed rice.” As with other Soo Bak dishes, there are three types of bibimbap available: Korean BBQ beef, spicy pork and sautéed mushrooms. The dish is described on the menu as “on a dish of steamed rice with lettuce and chilled daikon, sprouts and zucchini; topped with a fried egg and topped with red pepper sauce or sesame ginger vinaigrette.” My words won’t do justice to this dish which plays with and delights every one of your ten-thousand taste buds. Puncture the yolk and let it run across the other ingredients to maximize the intensity of your enjoyment.  My choices were the spicy pork and the sesame-ginger vinaigrette, both of which interplay so well. As with the aforementioned BBQ beef, the spicy pork is grilled to the point that its exterior is nearly caramelized, the flavor of nicely-seasoned charcoal prominent.  Call it “gourmet leftovers” if you will, but this is an addicting dish. 

16 August 2017:  There’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t eat more than one starch in any one meal.  This isn’t as much so that you avoid bad combinations (such as potatoes and pasta) as it is so that you don’t overeat starches.  Somehow Soo Bak can get away with violating this culinary faux pas.  At least they do with the Sesame Noodles (chilled sweet potato noodles with spinach, carrots, onion, and sesame seeds in a sesame soy sauce)  served with steamed rice.  While both the sesame noodles and the steamed rice are exemplars of how each dish should be prepared, eating that much starch in one meal will rankle the ire of your cardiologist.  One way to cut the starch is to add the Korean BBQ beef with the dish.  Yes, the dish will still have two starches, but at least the flavor profile isn’t one-note.  This is an excellent dish.

Korean Sesame Noodles with Korean BBQ Beef

16 August 2017:  Kimchi is as Korean as apple pie is American.  It’s a quintessential food, one offering spicy, salty, sour, crunchy and healthy notes.  With more than one hundred varieties of kimchi, there’s bound to be one to appease ever palate–and contrary to stereotype, not all are made with cabbage.  That said, Soo Bak’s Napa cabbage kimchi is terrific, an exemplar of the kimchi with which most Americans are familiar.  Its pungency and piquancy is courtesy of the combination of red pepper powder and several other seasoning spices.  Its deliciousness is courtesy of Soo Bak’s traditional preparation.  My friend Bill Resnik calls Soo Bak’s radish kimchi the very best he’s ever had.  Made with ponytail radishes, it’s got a pleasant punch and delightfully crunchy texture.

Soo Bak prepares everything to order so waits are in order. If you find them at Talin, there’s a good chance you’ll run into Air Force personnel in uniform. Make sure to thank them for their service and maybe compliment them for their good taste in mobile food kitchens. Soo Bak is among the very best!

Soo Bak Foods
Location Varies
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 221-9910
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2017
1st VISIT: 9 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Korean BBQ Beef Bibimbap, Cucumber Kimchi, Spicy Pork Tacos

Soo Bak Foods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ming Dynasty – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ming Dynasty, one of the very best restaurants in Albuquerque

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was renowned as one of the greatest periods of governmental and societal stability in the history of mankind. At its peak, the Ming dynasty made China a global superpower, influencing the known world in trade, culture and might.  During this dynasty, agriculture developed significantly, dishes became more sophisticated, cookbooks were widely proliferated and noontime banquets became popular. Dishes such as sweet potatoes, corn, potatoes and sorghum were imported into China during this period while such local foods as the infamous “thousand-year egg” were introduced.

Before long, history just might recognize the Ming Dynasty restaurant as one of, if not the, greatest Chinese restaurants in Albuquerque. Launched at 11AM on Sunday, April 27th, 2003, it returned our friend, proprietor Minh Tang and his loyal staff to the Duke City dining scene after the dissolution of an unsuccessful partnership that precipitated the closure of the great Beijing Palace. In Ming Dynasty, there’s a lot of addition by subtraction. Minh no longer has a partner to hold him back and he no longer offers a buffet that drew in patrons who didn’t necessarily know or appreciate real Chinese cuisine.  Beijing Palace’s buffet was living proof that you shouldn’t judge a Chinese restaurant by a buffet.  It wasn’t bad, but ordering off the menu is several orders of magnitude better.

Happy customers are typical at Ming Dynasty.

Happy customers are typical at Ming Dynasty.

Though his parents are southern Chinese, the youthful and exuberant Minh was born nearly five decades ago in Vietnam. The story of his family’s migration to America is one of fortitude, courage and determination. Should you get to know him well, he might recount it to you in his usual self-effacing and humble manner.  Similar to the large-bellied Buddha near the restaurant’s cash register, Minh sports a perpetual smile no matter how hectic and harried the day may be going.

About the only time the good-natured Minh lets his hair down is when Ming Dynasty hosts the annual dragon dance during Chinese New Year. He beats on the drums with the fervor of a real rock and roller.  He often greets some of his long-time customers and friends with “Buenos dias, como estas?”  It’s about the only Spanish he knows, but that’s as much as many lifelong New Mexicans can speak.  His pronunciation of those few Spanish words is better than so many of the television news anchors and reporters Albuquerque’s stations tend to hire.

Shredded Duck, the epitome of deliciousness

Prior to the Chinese New Year in February, 2008, Minh was invited to prepare hot and spicy pork chops on the CBS affiliate Channel 13’s morning show. At the unholy hour of 6:30AM, synchronized stomach growling among Albuquerque viewers could be heard all the way to China (or maybe that was just mine).  Minh is also the hardest worker of any restaurant owner I’ve ever met. Seven day work weeks without respite are typical. None of his wait staff can keep up with his multi-tasking routine of clearing tables, serving customers and keeping the kitchen running.  During a visit in August, 2017, he confided that his last vacation–a mere ten days–took place in 2004.  That’s thirteen years with only ten days off!  That’s commitment to his craft. 

Ming Dynasty’s decor is very traditional though unacculturated patrons might consider it a bit stereotypical. From the moon gate entrance surrounded by a ferocious dragon and a resplendent phoenix to the restaurant’s wasabi-colored walls, Minh can tell you the significance of every artifact, each having a purpose in his restaurant’s design.  When you walk into the restaurant, you’ll run into an oversized Buddha, but it won’t take long before Minh greets you and escorts you to your seat.

Salt & Pepper Fried Squid

Ming Dynasty is more upscale and classy than when it was the Beijing Palace and like its predecessor, will draw more Chinese and Asian patrons than any other restaurant in town (don’t believe me, visit on any Saturday or Sunday). Over the years it’s garnered significant acclaim for its dim sum menu nonpareil, but Ming Dynasty is far more than a dim sum restaurant.  With a compendium-like menu of Chinese favorites, it’s in rarefied company as one of the very best Asian restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  The menu is a veritable compendium of Szechwan and Cantonese cuisine, with more than 100 examples of authentic Chinese treasures prepared exceptionally well. A well-stocked tank with live lobster and crab is the source of some of the menu’s popular seafood entrees. 

Ordering off the menu is an adventure in decision-making. The 120-item plus menu includes many traditional Chinese favorites prepared with an authenticity you rarely find in New Mexico. In every respect, Ming Dynasty is a formidable, world-class Chinese restaurant with the operative word being “Chinese.”  Although he serves the sweet and sour standards, Minh’s offerings aren’t “Americanized.” The sauces he employs (lemon, plum, orange, etc) are subtle ameliorants, not candied and overwhelming such as served at other Chinese restaurants. Fellow gourmand and friend Bill Resnik often refers to the culinary offerings at other Chinese restaurants as “chicken in syrup sauce, twice chewed pork and pork tasting like fish.” 

Chinese Sausage Fried Rice–none better in New Mexico

4 August 2017:  As has oft been recounted on this blog, my very first experience with Chinese food transpired in Lexington, Massachusetts when I was a mere lad of nineteen.  In the decades since my introduction to Chinese cuisine, I’ve experienced a few transformative dishes–dishes so good they’re forever imprinted on my memories and taste buds.  One of the very best (top three at least) is Ming Dynasty’s shredded duck, a tangle of fresh, crisp vegetables; noodles of intermediate size and rich, unctuous duck in a brown duck sauce with sweet, savory and piquant (courtesy of incendiary Thai peppers) notes.  Texturally it offers delightful contrasts and from a flavor perspective, it’s so well balanced and delicious that it can make grown adults swoon.

4 August 2017: Who needs sweet-and-sour anything when you can have Ming Dynasty’s salt and pepper dishes, among them the phenomenal salt and pepper fried chicken wings who don’t need sauce to be among the best chicken wings in town.   If you love salt and pepper chicken wings (and it will be love at first bite), you’ll likely love salt and pepper pork chops, fried shrimp, lobster and of course, salt and pepper squid.  With a texture not unlike that of calamari, this squid is lightly breaded and tossed with scallions, garlic, onion and jalapeño then stir-fry over high heat until fragrant. 

Roast Pork with Wonton and Egg Noodle Soup

4 August 2017: Want fried rice? Minh makes the best fried rice in town (and probably the state), flavored with a unique Chinese sausage which has a savory and sweet taste similar to longoniza, the wonderful Filipino sausage. Chinese sausage, made from pork, has a distinctively reddish tint and sweet-savory notes.  The rice is fluffy, not clumpy with green onions, eggs, green peas and a hint of soy sauce and sesame oil.  It’s rich, moist and has a plenitude of that beguiling Chinese sausage.  On the occasions in which I dine at Ming Dynasty without my Kim, it’s a given that a take-out order of Chinese sausage fried rice is coming home with me or I’d better not come home myself.  It’s that good.

18 November 2014:  Unbeknownst to much of the dining public, there is so much more to Chinese soups than the egg drop, wonton or hot and sour soups often served in combination meals in cheap eats Chinese restaurants.  In fact, soups are a deep-rooted and endeared Chinese food tradition enjoyed for generations both for their flavorful qualities as for their healthful properties.  In America, Chinese soups have taken a proverbial back-seat to Vietnamese phos, perhaps the most beloved of any nation’s soups.  Ming Dynasty has two soup menus. One menu lists the hot and sour, wonton and egg drop soups with which most Americans are familiar. It also lists soups that will entice more adventurous diners–soups such as the crab meat with shark fin. The other soup menu lists seven noodle soups, one of the best being the roast pork with wonton and egg noodle soup.  It’s an outstanding soup, the type of which will warm the cockles of your heart and leave you deeply satisfied.  It may also remind you of a high-quality Vietnamese pho.  The roast pork has the traditional reddish hue and temptingly tasty flavor of Chinese barbecue.  The noodles are delightfully delicious while the broth will leave you very happy.  If you enjoy more “personality” with your soup, add some of Ming Dynasty’s chili sauce to taste.

Dim Sum

New Mexico’s Very Best Dim Sum Served at Ming Dynasty

Ming Dynasty offers a wonderful Saturday and Sunday dim sum lunch (and you can ask for a dim sum menu every other meal). Dim sum, a Cantonese word meaning “a little bit of heart” has captured my heart and seemingly the heart of every Asian in Albuquerque.  Get there right at 11AM on Sunday morning and watch the restaurant fill up quickly.  There are seemingly three “shifts” of diners–those who get there as the restaurant opens, a second shift an hour later and a smaller phalanx of diners at about four o’clock.  Regardless of when you get there, freshness is a hallmark.

At Ming Dynasty, you might swear you’re in San Francisco, the domicile of American dim-sum dining (and four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Jamison even compared Ming Dynasty’s dim sum to similar fare in Hong Kong). A fusillade of stainless steel carts make their way to each table, each cart wielding several different treasures. Most dim sum dishes come in multiples of two, three or four so it will behoove you to dine with someone you love.

Minh escorts two dim sum carts through the restaurant (Photo courtesy of Bill "Roastmaster" Resnik)

Minh escorts two dim sum carts through the restaurant (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

Ming Dynasty’s 43-item dim sum menu includes a boatload of steamed seafood treasures such as seafood salad rolls, stuffed crab claws and shrimp-stuffed bell peppers. There are also steamed, baked and fried items of all shapes and sizes, including chicken feet (which are actually pretty tasty but a pain to eat because chicken feet tend to have a lot of cartilage),  fish maw, Mixal ox stew and shark’s fin gow.  Minh’s professional catering team can craft party trays with all your favorites for parties of all sizes.  On many a Saturday during the spring and summer, Ming Dynasty is actually closed because it is hosting a wedding.

Dim sum protocol dictates that you dispense with soy sauce which tends to mask the subtle flavors of some items. Instead, use Minh’s chili sauce, made on the premises, in moderation to enhance inherent flavors.  This is a chili sauce which packs a pretty piquant punch, but it’s also quite flavorful.  It’s better than the salsa served at many a New Mexican restaurant.  I’ve also seen some patrons mix plum sauce and Chinese hot mustard to create a gunpowder hot and fruity sweet mix they swear enlivens the flavor of the dim sum even further.

More Dim Sum Treasures

4 August 2017: Over the years, we’ve probably sampled every item on the dim sum menu, some more often than others.  My Kim isn’t quite as adventurous and her taste buds not quite as diverse as mine, so when she’s not with me I tend to order dishes she would not enjoy–dishes such as ginger beef tripe.  Because of its appearance and texture, tripe is a polarizing dim sum dish. Those of us who love it consider tripe a dim sum staple and would like to order it at every meal. Nay-sayers, on the other hand, will make faces and hide their eyes as you enjoy it merrily.  Beef tripe is prepared by steaming cow intestines in chopped garlic and ginger. The troika of ginger, garlic and Minh’s amazing chili enlivens these springy tendrils, elevating them to pure deliciousness.

4 August 2017:  Sticky rice is one of life’s pleasures for those of us who’ve discovered its versatility in Asian desserts and savory dishes.  Contrary to what you might think, sticky rice isn’t just white rice prepared differently.  In fact, it’s more true name is glutinous rice.  Sticky rice is a a short grain variety of rice with a sole component of starch.  Ming Dynasty’s sausage and chicken sticky rice is an example of the versatility of sticky rice.  Unwrapping them from the lotus leaves in which they’re sheathed is akin to unwrapping a bundle of pure deliciousness.  The flavor of the sweet-savory sticky rice is punctuated with the savory flavors of chicken and sausage.  Add a little chili sauce and

Dim Sum Deliciousness: Sausage and Chicken Sticky Rice and Ginger Beef Tripe

4 August 2017:  Several years ago my Kim and I raved about the boba flavored beverages from the Boba Tea Company.  My cousin who think she knows more about virtually everything than anyone else does decided the best tasting boba tea would be the taro-flavored boba tea.  I joked that she must like potatoes.  We watched laughingly as she choked down the sweet, starchy beverage with a yechy mouth feel, but she wouldn’t admit to disliking it.  My friend Bill Resnik isn’t nearly as stubborn.  He knew that in order to finish the taro root dumplings, he would need lots of chili sauce and soy sauce.  Good call!  In the long list of dumpling types, taro root dumplings are at the very bottom for me.  To top it off, taro is heavily calorie-laden so not only does it not taste good, it makes you fat.

4 August 2017:  Infinitely better than taro root dumplings is pork shumai.  At its very essence, pork shumai is a crinkly yellow wonton wrapper made from flour and water then filled with finely ground pork, onion, and ginger. The shumai dumpling is then folded into a purse shape (which allows the filling to peak through the top) and steamed until cooked through.  Now, this is what a dumpling should taste like!  Ming Dynasty’s pork shumai offering gives you four of these dim sum treasures.

Taro Root Dumplings from the Dim Sum Menu

4 August 2017: A half-dozen seafood items grace Ming Dynasty’s dim sum menu, the most popular perhaps being the Crystal Shrimp Har Gow, another dumpling.  At dim sum houses, it’s said that the server who pushes the cart with crystal shrimp har gow is always the most popular person on the floor…and certainly the busiest.   Plump and juicy, with nearly intact shrimp barely visible through translucent stretchy yet delicate wrapper, har gow are especially good with Minh’s chili sauce.  Bite through the translucent wrappers and you’ll encounter shrimp with a snap, a sign of freshness.

In the fall of 2005, Minh launched a satellite restaurant in the Chinese food starved east side of the Sandias. Ming’s Chinese Cuisine (12128 Highway 14 North, Cedar Crest) met with critical success from day one, but closed in 2008.   The restaurant was smaller (only twelve tables) and had a somewhat limited menu, but it brought great Chinese food to our neighbors in the east.

From the Dim Sum Menu: Crystal Shrimp Har Gow and Pork Shu Mai

If you think, I’ve got exclusivity of opinion as to how terrific Ming Dynasty is, buy a copy of Scott Sharot’s outstanding book New Mexico Chow in which he lists among his favorite restaurants in New Mexico, only two Chinese restaurants. One is Ming Dynasty and ABC Chinese is the other.  Sally Moore, one of New Mexico’s most prolific travel writers, also waxed poetic about Ming Dynasty in her terrific tome Culinary New Mexico

In her March 11, 2011 post on her Tasting NM Blog, my friend Cheryl Alters Jamison, the scintillating James Beard award-winning author listed “5 New Mexico Hot Spots for Chinese Food.”  Of Ming Dynasty she said, “This east-side establishment reminds me of the epic dim sum houses of Hong Kong, the capacious ones where families gather, carts roll continually, and you pick what you’d like when they come by. Carts piled with dim sum roll here too on weekends, but ordering off the menu at times that aren’t so busy keeps the little dishes fresher. There’s a full menu of Sichuan and other Cantonese too. The attentive owner will guide you.”

Quail marinated in five spice powder

Over the years, my friend and Intel colleague Bill Resnik and I took business partners from throughout Asia to Ming Dynasty and they offered the highest praise possible, “it’s as good as home.”  They don’t say that about P.F. Chang’s.

Ming Dynasty
1551 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 296-0298
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 August 2017
# OF VISITS
: 29
RATING
: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Shredded Duck, Roast Duck, Pork Chops with Peking Sauce, Dim Sum, Roast Pork with Wonton & Egg Noodle Soup

Ming Dynasty Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thai Boran – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Boran at Village @ La Orilla on Albuquerque’s West Side

Many of us with a puerile sense of humor can probably recall giggling like silly school kids the first time we visited a Thai restaurant and perused a menu.  We went straight into the gutter the first time we came across such foods as phat prik and fuktong curry.  Even after learning that “phat prik” is actually a stir-fried chili dish and “fuktong curry” is a pumpkin curry, the sophomoric among us couldn’t order these dishes with a straight face.  It gets even worse when we actually learned how to pronounce the names of Thai dishes.  Not even Bob Newhart could order “cow pod guy” (chicken fried rice) or “cow pod moo” (pork fried rice) with his usual deadpan delivery.  That’s probably why so many of us will place our order by number instead of endeavoring to pronounce words we find a bit salacious or humorous. 

Let’s face it, denizens of the fruited plain tend to find the names of some Thai dishes humorous because the way they’re spelled or pronounced is similar to English sexual references or swear words.  Perhaps that’s why Thai restaurateurs tend to use clever word play, typically puns,  to name their eateries.  Instead of christening an eatery for an honored grandmother or treasured daughter whose name is “Porn,” it’s less offensive (or funny) to name a restaurant something like “Thai Tanic,” “Thairanosaurus” or “Thai and Stop Me.”  Instead of naming a restaurant for a beloved son named Poo, wouldn’t it be more inviting to name a restaurant something like “Eye of the Thai-ger” or “Beau Thai?”

Interior of Thai Boran. Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick, the Professor With the Perspicacious Palate

Indulge me for one more paragraph of pithy covfefes.  Song titles and lyrics in particular seem to lend themselves to clever wordplay using Thai names.  From the Beatles, you’ve got “All You Need is Larb” and “Can’t Buy Me Larb.”   Who can every forget Andy Williams’ immortal “Thai to Remember?”  Or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing “Big Girls Don’t Thai?”  Then there’s Hank Williams “I’m So Lonesome I could Thai.”  How about The Temptations “Curry Tomorrow?”  Okay, by now you’re probably thinking “that (Thai word for chili) is probably going to hell for his politically incorrectness.”  What’s the point anyway?

My point is Thai restaurant in the Duke City tend to have rather boring and straight-forward names: Thai Curry, Thai Heritage, Thai, Orchid Thai, Pad Thai, Thai Kitchen, Thai Tip.   Zzz!  The most cleverly named Thai restaurant in town is probably “Hot Pink Thai” and even that’s pretty parochial.  Give me a “Thai Me Up,” “Been There, Thai’d That” or “Tongue Thai’d” anytime.  My friend Schuyler is no doubt paraphrasing a Winston cigarette commercial of the 1970s, “what do you want good punnery or good taste?”  My retort is why can’t we have both?

Thai Toast

Upon learning of a new Thai restaurant launching at Village @ La Orilla, we dared hope a clever pun would grace its marquee.  Alas, the name “Thai Boran” may as well be “Thai Boring” to the punsters among us.  At least I had to look up “Boran” to learn it translates from Thai to “old, ancient or historic.”  Thai Boran is owned by restaurant impresario Kathy Punya, a native of Thailand who’s amassed quite a portfolio of restaurants, among them five Sushi Kings, Crazy Fish, Noodle King and Asian Street Food.   It’s located next door to Albuquerque’s first cinema eatery, the not-so-cleverly-named Flix.

Thai Boran is somewhat on the small side and contrary to any notion of “Thai Boring” I may have had, it’s got a very exciting menu featuring some items heretofore unavailable in the Duke City.  Among the eight uncommon to Albuquerque appetizers are Mee Krob, Sheldon Cooper’s favorite Thai dish and Thai toast.  There are six salads on the menu along with five soups.  Five one-of-a-kind specialty dishes adorn the Chef’s Collection section of the menu.  These include a Thai Boran Beef Steak, grilled and sliced marinated beef steak served with a spicy tomato sauce. Other sections of the menu are dedicated to curry, rice, pan-fried noodles, noodle soups and entrees.  All total there are 53 items on the menu.

Duck Curry

Sometime around 2010, toast become the latest artisanal food craze.  Yes, toast, the most popular of which is probably avocado toast (available at Cafe Bella in Rio Rancho).   The Washington Post believes in fact that “avocado toast has come to define what makes food trends this decade: It’s healthy and yet ever-so-slightly indulgent.”  Thai Toast may be Thailand’s answer to avocado toast, all indications being it’s a relatively new dish.  It’s certainly not a dish you find in other Thai restaurants across the Duke City.  Four small slices sans crust of egg-dipped white bread topped with ground pork, green onions, then deep fried are served with a cucumber salad.  At the very least, it’s a very interesting dish–not as good as other Thai appetizers, but good enough to try more than once. 

The curry section of the menu includes three curry dishes not all that common in Albuquerque: eggplant curry, pineapple curry and duck curry.  Duck curry (red curry, cherry tomato, grapes, bell pepper, basil, and coconut milk) has been among my very favorite curry dishes since first enjoying it at the transformative Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Thai Boran’s version is quite good showcasing tender slices of slow-cooked duck breast with enough fat for rich, unctuous flavor.  The combination of acidic cherry tomatoes and sweet grapes is especially intriguing, but what brings it all together is a rich red curry prepared at Thai hot (not for the faint of heart).  This dish is served with your choice of steamed Jasmine rice or brown rice. 

There aren’t many Thai restaurants in Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side.  Thai Boran is within a mile or so of Thai Cuisine, a long-time favorite.  Boring names not withstanding, both are among the city’s very best restaurants for Thai cuisine.

Thai Boran
3236 La Orilla Road, N.W., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2244
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING:  N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Duck Curry, Thai Toast

Thai Boran Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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