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Sushiya Asian Fusion Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sushiya Asian Fusion Cuisine on Juan Tabo in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights

Sushiya Asian Fusion Cuisine on Juan Tabo in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

I don’t eat anything that a dog won’t eat. Like sushi.
Ever see a dog eat sushi? He just sniffs it and says, “I don’t think so.”
And this is an animal that licks between its legs and sniffs fire hydrants.”.

- Billiam Coronel

Sushi has come a long way in America.  There was a time–and not very long ago–that many Americans would have agreed with comedian Billiam Coronel’s assessment of sushi.  Fellow funny-man George Carlin certainly did: “I never eat sushi. I have trouble eating things that are merely unconscious.”

The attitudinal shift that has made sushi an explosive American phenomenon was at its peak in the ten-year period beginning in 1998.  Ten years later, there were five times as many sushi bars in the fruited plain and there appears to be no surcease to the popularity of what so many people poo-pooed as just “raw fish” just a few years ago.  Sushi has become so popular, so trendy that Food and Wine wrote in 1995 that “America is becoming a nation of sushi connoisseurs.”

The stylish interior of Sushiya

The stylish interior of Sushiya

There are over 330 sushi restaurants in greater Los Angeles, about 335 in New York City and nearly 300 in Dallas.  There are at least thirty restaurants in Albuquerque which serve sushi.  It’s served in Thai, Vietnamese and Asian fusion restaurants and it’s served in just about every part of the city.  The burgeoning popularity of sushi in the Duke City almost seems correlative to the explosive growth the city has experienced in the last decade or so.

In Albuquerque as in other cities throughout America, avant-garde chefs are bending tradition daily, taking liberties with time-honored techniques and especially in the use of creative ingredients.  Traditionalists might call it heretical, but Americans call it pretty darned good.  You probably won’t find a sushi restaurant in New Mexico that doesn’t offer its own succulent variation on a green chile sushi roll.

Hot and sour soup on the left and egg drop soup on the right

Hot and sour soup on the left and egg drop soup on the right

As in every city, the distinction of being the best sushi restaurant in the Duke City is in dispute with ardent supporters for several local purveyors weighing in.  Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, a faithful reader of this blog long before we became friends and who has pointed me in the direction of several great restaurants, has eaten sushi “everywhere in town” and contends that Sushiya is not only “the best” sushi restaurant, but the “best new restaurant in Albuquerque in 2009.”  That’s the kind of endorsement and passion that motivated me to bump other restaurants on my list.

Sushiya is located in a Far Northeast Heights strip mall with Albertson’s as its anchor tenant.  It’s ensconced in the strip mall’s southeast corner and has prominent red signage on two walls so you won’t miss it.  Previous tenants at this location include Porky’s Pride BBQ.  Within months after its opening, both the Alibi and Local IQ had reviewed Sushiya, raving about the sushi.  More than 90 percent of respondents to Urbanspoon indicate they like it, placing it among the most popular restaurants in the Duke City area.

Monkey balls on a bed of lettuce

Monkey balls on a bed of lettuce

The restaurant’s signage is subtitled “Asian Fusion Cuisine” which denotes the inventive combination of diverse, sometimes disparate culinary traditions, elements and ingredients to form an entirely new genre.  True fusion cuisine transcends both historical and geographical boundaries to create unique hybrids.  Restaurants featuring the melding of French and Chinese cuisine are especially popular.

Sushiya’s menu is replete with items that don’t appear to fit the traditional definition of fusion cuisine.  The menu features Japanese items and Chinese items, but not in combination with one another (or at least no hybrids I could discern).  In this sense, you could consider The Range Cafe a fusion restaurant because it serves American food and New Mexican food—not necessarily in hybrid combinations, but both occupying space on the menu.

Japanese deep-fried dumplings stuffed with chicken

Japanese deep-fried dumplings stuffed with chicken

Semantics not withstanding, Sushiya does have an intriguing menu, one that will draw aficionados of both Japanese and Chinese cuisine.  The proprietors are from Taiwan, an island nation occupied by Japanese during World War II.  A notable Japanese influence exists in Taiwan’s cuisine because Taiwan was under Japanese rule for several years, so good sushi is definitely not out of the question.

The lunch menu features several bento box meals, a traditional Japanese packed meal served in sometimes elaborate boxes with internal dividers in which different foods are esthetically presented.  Japanese and Chinese appetizers include edamame (steamed and lightly salted soybeans) which are commonplace in sushi restaurants and other items which are not.  In addition to the seemingly de rigueur miso soup also commonplace in sushi restaurants, Sushiya also offers hot and sour soup and egg drop soup.

Sushiya09

Top to bottom: Energy Roll, Crunchy Roll, Geisha Roll, Green Chile Roll, Eel Avocado Roll

The rice and noodles section of the menu features fried rice as well as yaki soba and yaki udon, both stir-fried Japanese soba noodle dishes that provide a nice alternative to rice (especially if you prefer all your rice on sushi rolls).  Main entrees are categorized as “from the land” and “from the sea.”  A nice selection of veggies and sides features three different tofu items as well as other interesting options, some of which you probably won’t see in other Japanese or Chinese restaurants.

The sushi menu lists several salads, most incorporating seafood elements.  Sushi and sashimi are definitely showcased, both in signature items (all priced higher than ten dollars) and in even more expensive chef’s entrees.  Sushi is available in conventional maki and tempura rolls as well as nigiri (a piece of raw fish (or other topping) on top of a small oblong brick of sticky white rice).

Energy Roll (Spicy Tuna), Crunchy Roll, Green Chili Tempura Roll

Energy Roll (Spicy Tuna), Crunchy Roll, Green Chili Tempura Roll

Having an option other than miso soup is a surprisingly welcome departure from the more traditional sushi experience that seems inextricable tied to the smooth, but unexciting miso soup.  Sushiya’s hot and sour soup is as exciting as miso soup leans toward being humdrum.  It’s spicy (pepper hot, but not piquant) and sour (like a diluted vinegar), but not excessively so and it’s absolutely delicious, among the very best of its ilk in the Duke City.  The “hot” could also apply to the soup’s temperature which, thankfully, is not served lukewarm as too many Chinese restaurants tend to serve it.  The egg drop soup, as with most of its kind, needs a generous spraying of pepper to prevent it from being too bland.

An appetizer special called monkey balls (which has nothing to do with simian’s reproductive organs) is always intriguing and though we’ve never been besotted by this appetizer, we continue to order it (perhaps in hope that it will be as delicious as its name is interesting).  Sushiya’s rendition is about as good as we’ve had it at other restaurants which is to say good, but not great.  Interestingly, the monkey balls have been different at every restaurant in which we’ve ordered them.

Sakura Roll: Soy Paper, Shrimp, Tempura, Crab, Salmon, Hamachi and Tobiko

Sakura Roll: Soy Paper, Shrimp, Tempura, Crab, Salmon, Hamachi and Tobiko

At Sushiya, Monkey balls are mushroom caps stuffed with spicy tuna and drizzled with a spicy Japanese mayonnaise.  Bite into them and you’ll luxuriate in the moist, woodsy flavor of mushrooms complemented by a rich, spicy tuna.  Six monkey balls per order means you can share these treats with someone you love.  What could have made these better, despite the spicy tuna, is more piquancy.  The spicy tuna had the bite of a toothless dog. 

The appetizer menu also includes a de rigueur Japanese dumplings (Gyoza) which you can request be prepared pan-fried, steamed or deep-fried.  The dumplings are stuffed with chicken and served with a sauce whose flavor profile was entirely dominated by soy sauce, rendering it entirely too salty.  Because of the saltiness, the dumplings are better by themselves.  Oh, and you’ll want to request the low-salt soy sauce for your sushi rolls because the house soy sauce could use serious desalinization.

Unagi (Eel)

Unagi (Eel)

The sushi menu is replete with cleverly named, inviting delicacies with a nice selection of both raw and cooked sushi.  On the signature items section of the menu, you’ll find such intriguing sushi sobriquets as Buddha Belly, Yankee, Fantasy and Crunchy.  The Crunchy lives up to its name.  It’s shrimp, crab and avocado coated in a tempura batter and deep-fried.  The exterior is crispy thanks to a tempura that is lacy and delicate.  The interior is moist and delicious.  It’s a balanced maki roll any aficionado of tempura and sushi should enjoy.

Because we didn’t see a spicy tuna hand roll on the menu, the next best thing we found was an energy roll, a tempura based roll featuring spicy tuna.  Unfortunately the spicy tuna was hardly incendiary and would barely have registered on the Scoville Scale.  That served to showcase the native flavors of tuna, my favorite fish after having lived off it for two years in Massachusetts.  The wasabi was fairly anemic, too, so it did little to spice up the spicy tuna.

Goo Loo, made from a thousand year recipe

Goo Loo, made from a thousand year recipe

Our inaugural visit was a true tempura triumvirate experience.  The green chili tempura roll showcases the roasted flavor of New Mexico green chile, but lacks the piquancy this native enjoys.  As with green chile rolls at many sushi restaurants, I did marvel at how the roasted flavor shines.  Perhaps those secrets can be shared with some New Mexican restaurants who haven’t mastered that skill.

For me, it wouldn’t be a visit to a sushi restaurant without sampling unagi, a nigiri roll.  Unagi is said to have stamina-giving properties.  Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, unagi is believed to heighten men’s sexual drive.  Japanese wives would prepare unagi for dinner to suggest to their husbands that they want an intimate night.  It’s all about the flavor for me.  Unagi is delicate and slightly sweet, not like barbecue but with the same properties. 

One of the more frou-frou sushi rolls we’ve found in Albuquerque is Sushiya’s Sakura roll.  Solely from an ingredient perspective, the Sakura is a serious roll with soy paper, shrimp tempura, crab, salmon, hamachi and tobiko.  It’s also seriously tasty.  The ornamentation and presentation is what makes it so frou-frou.  The roll is sliced into seven pieces which surround a plastic ice cube atop of which julienne carrots and daikon are strewn.  The plastic ice cube lights up and changes color.  It’s mildly entertaining.

If there’s anything that can pry me away from sushi, it’s something I’ve never had and the menu purported to offer that.  Described as “an authentic thousand-year old recipe sauteed in a sweet-savory sauce plated with tempura vegetables” is an entree called Goo Loo on the “From the Land” section of the menu.  Goo loo can be prepared with chicken, pork and beef.  Alas, it’s very much like the candied, sweet meats about which I rail often on this blog.  Put a few sesame seeds on it and you could have called it sesame chicken or sesame beef, depending on how you ordered it.  It was so cloying we had to temper it with a little soy sauce, not what a “thousand year old recipe should need.”

Sushiya is a welcome addition to the Duke City’s Japanese restaurant scene and one of the best indications in the city that sushi is here to stay.

Sushiya Asian Fusion Cuisine
2906 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-4477
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 July 2013
1st VISIT: 16 January 2010
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 19
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Monkey Balls, Unami, Crunchy Roll, Green Chili Roll, Sakura Roll, Geisha Roll, Energy Roll, Eel Avocado Roll


View Sushiya Japanese Restaurant on LetsDineLocal.com »

Sushiya on Urbanspoon

Jinja Bar & Bistro – Santa Fe & Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Albuquerque rendition of Jinja

As of 2009, Albuquerque has two Jinja Restaurants. This one is in the Northeast Heights off Paseo Del Norte

Fusion cuisine.  The term often makes the most stodgy of purists cringe.  Even those among us with the most liberal of palates have been known to cower at its mention.  All too often, fusion cuisine is a loosely defined excuse for restaurateurs to unleash any number of unnatural flavor combinations upon the chaste, unsuspecting taste buds of diners seeking a memorable meal.  Like a shotgun culinary marriage, felonious acts have been perpetrated in the name of fusion, with disparate exotic ingredients forced together by the imagination of sadistic chefs. 

It would be impossible, however, to dismiss fusion cuisine entirely.  In one respect or another, much of the food we eat is a product of fusion.  There is no one national cuisine entirely self-contained and isolated.  Food is a work in progress–always adapting, always assimilating, always evolving.  Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the melting pot that is America where the influence of immigrant cuisine from throughout the world has resulted in a true fusion of culinary cultures, where the sum of the whole is more delicious than the cuisine of each culture individually.

Yin Yang Shrimp: Twelve crispy black tiger shrimp dusted in salt and pepper, garnished with green onions and served with a yin and yang of sweet, plum ginger sauce and spicy Vietnamese sauce

Over the centuries–through brutal conquests, peaceful immigrations and mutually beneficial trade–Southeast Asian nations in close geographic proximity to one another have shared culinary techniques, recipes, ingredients and implements to the extent that the dishes of one nation were adopted by other neighbor nations.  Korea, Japan and Thailand (among others), for example, can thank Chinese traders for such everyday stapes as black vinegar, noodles and cured pork.  This culinary evolution over time is not what purists decry.  That would be reserved for the chefs who, like the proverbial mad scientist with bubbling beakers, toss into a pot ingredients which have no business together.

When Jinja  (think about how a citizen of the great state of Massachusetts  might pronounce “ginger”) Bar & Bistro launched in 2002, I wondered just how much, if any, disparate ingredient and culinary technique mixing there would be and whether or not Jinja would even pretend to honor the culinary traditions of the Southeast Asian nations its menu purports to showcase: Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.  The restaurant’s Web site indicates “we use fresh, authentic ingredients, inviting our chefs to add distinctive twists to popular favorites such as pot stickers, noodle bowls, tempura, and beef and fish dishes.”  That sounds innocuous…and interesting enough.

Malay Coconut Soup:An exotic best-seller, combining the spice of housemade Tom Yum with the sweetness of coconut milk, includes shrimp, udon noodles, carrots, green onions and bean sprouts

More importantly, I wondered if it really mattered whether or not Jinja honored the culinary traditions of Southeast Asia–not by copying them to the letter, but by not making them unrecognizable parodies of the originals–if the cuisine is delicious and the diners enjoy their experience.  Resigned to letting my taste buds, not my over-analytical mind decide for me, I found myself enjoying my inaugural dining experience at Jinja very much.  Jinja  just  seemed to resonate a contemporary, fun attitude and boundless energy.  Looking around me, it was evident other diners genuinely seem to enjoy themselves and the dishes they ate.  In the grand scheme of the dining experience, isn’t that what really matters?

With an intimate neighborhood restaurant setting and and a unique menu, Santa Fe’s Jinja became an immediate success because it filled an untapped niche in the “City Different” dining scene. Remarkably, it did so despite being situated on the northwest fringes of the plaza (the city’s tourist Mecca) and within easy walking distance of the struggling DeVargas mall. Jinja may be the most attractive and welcoming Asian restaurant in north-central New Mexico although if you wear transition lens glasses, you might not be able to tell until your eyes adjust.

Singapore Noodles: Not for the faint-hearted, this delicious yellow curry has some kick. We add Char Sui BBQ pork tenderloin to thin rice noodles, green onions, chopped bell peppers, bean sprouts and egg, garnished with chopped peanuts and fried shallots…also available with marinated tofu

Jinja’s walls are adorned with slightly risqué, vintage travel and advertising posters and black and white photos of southeast Asia. Mood lighting, high-backed oversized booths with comfortable throw cushions, plenty of dark wood accents, curvilinear banquettes and appealing pottery add to the restaurant’s unique and inviting ambiance. The look and feel is upscale Polynesian nightclub, circa the 1930s or 1940s. A drink menu highlights exotic Polynesian libations and the bar setting (pictured above left) appears to resonate fun as it dispenses Singapore Slings, Mojitos, Sazeracs and lots of those cutesy drinks with tiny umbrellas.

The chef’s staff employs only authentic, traditional and exotic ingredients, among them galangal root, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf in crafting nearly thirty different sauces. The meats and seafood are of the highest quality.  The not-so-secret ingredient in everything from stock for soups to cocktail mixes is Jinja, er…make that ginger, a versatile spice that enhances both sweet and savory items while providing healthful benefits.

Teriyaki Lacquered Beef Skewer:
A skewer of grilled beef tenderloin, marinated in  teriyaki sauce, accompanied by a skewer of red and green bell pepper, red onion, pineapple and served with Tsuru Mai brown rice

The “classic starters” (appetizers) menu offers eleven items, some large enough for two to share while others are sizable enough to make a small entree.  Perhaps the most popular starter are the Imperial Lettuce Wraps, four crisp lettuce cups filled with a mixture of chicken, smoked ham, shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and fresh green onions garnished with fried bean thread noodles and served with a sweet Thai chili sauce.  Lettuce wraps have become a de rigueur offering among Asian fusion restaurants, most notably the popular chain P.F. Chang’s.  Jinja’s version is better.  It’s a messy hand-held dish, but one that’s enjoyable to eat.

Another popular starter are the Yin Yang Shrimp, twelve crispy black tiger shrimp served butterfly style and dusted in salt and pepper, garnished with green onions and served with a yin and yang of sweet, plum ginger sauce and spicy Vietnamese sauce.    In the wild, black tiger shrimp can grow rather large, but because they have a higher moisture content, they tend to shrink significantly when prepared.  They have a very mild flavor some compare to lobster and because of that mild flavor, are excellent vessels for flavorful sauces.  The plum ginger sauce and spicy Vietnamese sauce are both rather on the sweet side, but are greatly improved if you throw in some of the green onions on the plate.

Key Lime Cheesecake with a pomegranate-cherry topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream

Anne Hillerman, the terrific restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal North, has a very high regard for Jinja’s Malay Coconut Soup.  It’s a Jinja best-seller, the most popular of the three soups on the menu.  The Malay Coconut Soup combines the spice of housemade Tom Yum (a very popular Thai soup) with the sweetness of coconut milk,  mellow flavor of shrimp,  thickness of chewy udon noodles, crispness of carrots, sharpness of green onions and delicate sweetness of bean sprouts.  The Tom Yum components provide distinct hot and sour flavors, with fragrant herbs judiciously used in the broth.  There’s a lot going on in this bowl of deliciousness.

Among the entrees, the Singapore Noodles (an American Chinese restaurant invention and not native to Singapore) have so totally blown me away that in three visits, I’ve violated a personal convention by ordering it every visit to the exclusion of other potentially delicious entrees.  Jinja’s Singapore Noodles are simply among the best yellow curry dishes I’ve had in the Southwest with a tangle of curry imbued vermicelli noodles which are a delight to eat.  The yellow curry has a kick, but most New Mexicans won’t have a problem with its piquancy.  Ingredients include a generous amount of Char Sui BBQ pork tenderloin (or marinated tofu if you prefer), painfully thin rice noodles, green onions, chopped bell peppers, bean sprouts and egg garnished with chopped peanuts and fried shallots.  The Char Sui barbecued pork is perfectly done with a pleasantly subtle sweet sauce.

Because of my addiction to those fabulous Singapore noodles, it’s been up to my Kim to order other items on the menu and let me try them.  One of her favorites has been the Teriyaki Lacquered Beef Skewer, a skewer of grilled beef tenderloin marinated in Jinja’s signature teriyaki sauce accompanied by a skewer of red and green peppers, red onion and pineapple (you can choose to omit any of those) and served with your choice of Thai Jasmine white rice or Tsuru Mai brown rice.  One of the things that sets the Teriyaki sauce apart is that it’s not overly sweet and has a complex flavor profile that includes savory and tangy notes.  The beef is prepared at medium-rare unless you specify otherwise.  Each bite-size chunk of meat is tender and delicious, not a hint of sinew or fat anywhere. 

Perhaps even more fabulous than the excellent entrees is dessert, especially the dark, molten chocolate silk cake served with Vietnamese coffee ice cream and toffee sauce. It’s one of the best desserts we’ve had in New Mexico and equal to a similar flourless cake served at Roy’s in Las Vegas.  Another post-prandial sweet treat at which Jinja excels is cheesecake.  A rotating repertoire of wondrous cheesecakes will test your willpower.  One of the most tempting is a key lime cheesecake topped with a pomegranate-cherry sauce on a Graham cracker-coconut pie crust.  It’s sweet, it’s tangy, it’s a bit sour, but it’s mostly decadent and delicious.

Jinja Bar & Bistro is a restaurant which gives the term “fusion cuisine” a good name.  Moreover, it’s a restaurant which prepares Asian cuisine in interesting and delicious ways.  Since the 2002 launch of the original Santa Fe restaurant, two Albuquerque locations have also opened to critical acclaim.

Jinja Bar & Bistro
510 North Guadalupe
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-4321
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 5 August 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Chocolate Silk Cake, Singapore Noodles, Shaking Beef, Imperial Lettuce Wraps, Teriyaki Lacquered Beef Skewers, Key Lime Cheesecake

Jinja Bar & Bisto on Urbanspoon

Jinja Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

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: Wok fried dumplings filled with minced chicken, Napa cabbage, shallots and scallions served with ginger garlic soy

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: Grilled beef, scallions, cucumbers, daikon, carrots, and cilantro served with corn tortillas with Sriracha mayo (Tacos are served with mango salsa and sweet potatoes fries)

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. 

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: Vermicelli noodles, egg rolls, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, bean sprouts, carrots, mint, cilantro, scallions and crushed peanuts served with a chili lime vinaigrette

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.

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: Mango, pineapple, bell pepper, bamboo shoot, onion, cashews, basil and red curry coconut sauce

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.

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
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Vietnamese Taco, Vietnamese Vermicelli, Thai Mango Curry, Potstickers

Plum Cafe Asian Grill on Urbanspoon