528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine Includes Albuquerque’s First-Ever Burmese Cuisine

No lady likes to snuggle and dine accompanied by a porcupine.”
He lit a match to check gas tank.  They call him skinless Frank.”
A man, a miss, a car, a curve.  He kissed the miss and missed the curve.”
Within this vale of toil and sin, your head goes bald but not your chin.”
Henry the Eighth sure had trouble.  Short-term wives, long-term stubble.”

Some of the more seasoned among us might remember that one of the best ways to break up the drudgery of traveling long distances on monotonous two-lane highways was to look for Burma Shave billboards.  Humorous five-line poems adorned red signs one line at a time, each line in white capitalized blocked letters about 100-feet apart.  The last line of each poem was the much anticipated punchline followed by a sign bearing the obligatory name of the then-popular shaving cream.   New Mexico was one of a handful of states not to benefit from this highly visible and very successful advertising medium.  Apparently our highways and byways were deemed to have insufficient road traffic to warrant the billboards.

As a precocious child yet to revel in hours-long explorations of the family encyclopedias, my limited knowledge of “Burma” came from my dad, the smartest man I’ve ever been blessed to know.  Even he couldn’t tell me if the shaving cream he himself used was actually developed in Burma.  In fact, he knew very little about the Southeast Asian country bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand.  No one in my then limited circle knew much about Burma either (remember this was long before the internet was a glimmer in Al Gore’s eyes, back when the only “Google” was spelled “googol” and represented the number one followed by a hundred zeroes.

Lilliputian in Size, Huge in Flavors

Over the years, of course, my knowledge of Burma (much like my waistline) has increased.  Burma was on the world stage in 1989 when a ruling and violent military regime changed its name from Burma to Myanmar and its capital city from Rangoon to Yangon.  Though the United Nations officially recognized the name change, the United States and the United Kingdom still have not (although during his 2012 visit President Obama did refer to the country as Myanmar on at least one occasion).  While the despotic military junta was dissolved and a nominally civilian government was formed in 2010, a large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign triggered a massive human rights and humanitarian crisis in 2017.

My culinary knowledge of Burmese cuisine, however, has long been lacking.  I’ve always assumed that Burmese cuisine is similar to the cuisine of its bordering nations, perhaps with some country-specific nuances thrown in.  Immediately obvious from the time my culinary explanations began in earnest (circa 1977 Massachusetts), was that Crab Rangoon (despite its name) was not created in the Burmese capital.  So, despite having consumed a fair share of Crab Rangoon over the years, until my inaugural visit to 528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine on 4th Street (thank you Beth Porter), my taste buds were strangers to the diverse and flavorful foods of the storied nation.

Myanmar Style Pork and Pickled Mango Curry

528 Sushi & Asian Food is (to my knowledge) the first Duke City restaurant to offer even a modicum of Burmese food.  Some of that can be attributed to the country’s long seclusion from the world community (film maker Robert Liebermanhe once described Burma as the “second most isolated country in the world after North Korea.)”  As its name declares, the restaurant serves both sushi and Asian food.  The latter is a rather broad umbrella, but it’s readily apparent from scanning the menu over the counter that the umbrella includes Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and of course, Japanese sushi. My eyes targeted dishes prefaced with “Myanmar style.”

You’ve probably surmised that the name “528”  has nothing to do with Highway 528 which runs through Rio Rancho.  The significance of the number 528 is borne from Buddha’s teachings of “metta” or loving-kindness.  “528” is used to symbolize the love within a family while the number “ 1500”  symbolizes love between partners.   That’s the way a very friendly, very shy young lady behind the counter explained it to me.  She also did her best to explain the Burmese dishes on the menu, going so far as warning me that not everyone likes the strong Indian curry used in the first dish that caught my fancy.

Spicy Vegetables Stuffed Fish Cake

13 April 2018: That would be the Myanmar style pork and pickled mango curry.  Perhaps the last dish to surprise me as much because of its sheer uniqueness was the Tortillas Florales with Indian Butter from Eloisa in Santa Fe.  Talk about a pleasant surprise!  After recently being subjected to a cavalcade of cloying curry dishes, I’d expected pretty much the same.  Instead, this was the most unique curry dish I’ve had in years, a melding of culinary cultures and techniques: pungent Indian curry, piquant Asian red chili, aromatic cilantro, potatoes reminiscent of those on Mussaman curry and of course, the sweet and mostly sour mango, all served with rice.  Every element was complementary, every bite delicious.

13 April 2018: Just as unique is the Myanmar style spicy vegetables stuffed fish cake appetizer, another theretofore new to me surprise.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Surprises abounded, starting from the piquant-citrus fragrance wafting from the dish, a bouquet very reminiscent of my favorite papaya salad from An Hy Quan.  The fish cakes were the color of scallops and were split in half butterfly style.  They weren’t so much stuffed as “vegetables” (mostly julienne carrots, cabbage and cilantro)  inserted into the butterflied center of each fish cake and tossed with a piquant citrus sauce.  Texturally, the fish cakes somewhere between marshmallow soft and chewy.  Altogether, this is a terrific dish, one which must be experienced to be appreciated.

Samosas

18 April 2018:  It’s always thrilling to run into culinary kindred spirits at restaurants you recommend.  John and Zelma Baldwin, globetrotters and gastronomes who have actually set food in Burma, not only visited 528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine because they read about it on Gil’s Thrilling…, they actually ordered what I recommended.   It made me very happy to see them enjoy dishes new to them and even moreso watching them study the menu as they planned what to order their next visit or five.  528 is the type of restaurant which inspires return visits.  One visit is certainly not enough when the menu is as diverse and delicious as this one.

18 April 2018: My introduction to the many of the foods of the exotic Indian subcontinent actually took place in England where our discoveries included chicken tiki masala (a dish actually invented in Scotland) and samosas.  Samosas are so beloved in England that one of the wealthiest women in the country got her start making and selling samosas from her home.  We contributed greatly to her wealth.  Samosas, triangular pastries stuffed with sundry items, are wonderful hand-held appetizers offered at many an Indian and East African restaurant.  528’s rendition is stuffed with potatoes, onions and cilantro served with a sweet-piquant chili sauce.  At five to an order, you’ll delight in biting through the crisp pastry to get to the soft potatoes-onions.

Myanmar Style Coconut Soup with Noodles

18 April 2018: After recently experiencing a cloying Thai curry dish redolent with coconut milk made even sweeter thanks to the probable addition of a spoonful or ten of sugar, 528’s Myanmar-style coconut soup with noodles (chicken, fish cake, egg, onion, coconut cream, noodles, crunchy noodles) redeemed my faith in savory coconut dishes.  Even without the curry of my cravings, this is a fabulous soup, reminiscent in some respect of ramen soups (courtesy of the hard-boiled eggs and slurp-worthy noodles).  While coconut milk is the basis for Thai curries, this Myanmar-style paragon of deliciousness is made with coconut curry which is much thicker and richer.  Sweet notes did emanate from the soup, but not dessert-sweet as some Thai curries tend to be.

20 April 2018:  Beth Porter describes the egg drop soup with noodle as “one of the best dishes in a long time. Ultimate Comfort food with great flavor.”  After prompting my first, second and third visits, Beth could recommend a brackish bowl of muddy water and I’d try it.  Thankfully the spicy and sour egg drop soup is much better than muddy water.  It’s better, in fact, than every variation of hot and soup soup in New Mexico save for perhaps the one served at the Pop-Up Dumpling House.  Served piping hot and redolent with sour notes, it’s a superb soup.  It’s also a rarity in that it combines  delicate, subtle egg drop with assertive, in-your-face spicy-and-sour and it works well.  528 offers everything from egg drop soup to Tom Yum Soup, all priced well south of a ten-spot.

Spicy and Sour Egg Drop Soup

20 April 2018:  Perhaps the only lamentable aspect of my visits to 528 has been seeing all the menu items crossed off the menu because they’re just weren’t moving.  The ten item appetizer section of the menu includes several items bearing Malcom’s last name (X).  One of the remaining items is pork balls (not pictured), eight pork meatballs served with a piquant sauce.  Each about the size of a small jawbreaker candy, they’re tinged with five spice, perhaps the most harmonious quitumvirate of spices available with notes of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and Szechwan peppercorns.

20 April 2018:  Save for the Chinese sausage fried rice at  Ming Dynasty, I long ago gave up on finding great fried rice in the Duke City area. Fortunately my friend Bill Resnik doesn’t give up as easily. With Marco Polo-like passion, he persists in his search for a fabulous fried rice. He found two at 528: the Indian-style fried rice and the spicy fried rice.  The latter is in rarefied air, right up there with Ming Dynasty’s transformative Chinese sausage fried rice.  It’s got most of the same components (rice, egg, onion, garlic, tomato, bok-choy, carrot, green peas, pepper) of other fried rice dishes we’ve had, but unlike others, it’s not clumpy, gummy and starchy.  Every grain is impregnated with stir-fried deliciousness, every ingredient in perfect proportion to the others.  You’ll want to eat a mountain of this stuff!

Spicy Fried Rice

20 April 2018: 528’s inventory of Myanmar-style dishes is fairly limited and not all of them are prefaced with the term “Myanmar-style” so it pays to ask.  The quaintly named Ka-Chin Style Spicy Chicken may trigger recollections of the sound of a mechanical cash register when an amount is rung up popularized in Wayne’s World, but Ka-Chin is actually the northernmost state of Myanmar, a region inhabited by a confederation of ethnic groups.  If all their cuisine is as delicious as 528’s Ka Chin-style spicy chicken, I may just have to move there.  My friend Bill described this dish best–“intensely flavored.”  In this case “spicy” doesn’t mean “piquant” though there’s a bit of heat in this dish.  There are also savory, tart, pungent and sweet notes with the tart-pungent combination taking it to the nth degree.  This beauteous dish is made with tender, thin slices of chicken breast, red pepper, jalapeño, Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander and tamarind and it’s served with rice which takes some of the oomph out of its flavor bombardment qualities.

Ka-Chin Style Spicy Chicken

20 April 2018: If you want a dish that’s not nearly as intensive and every bit as delicious as the Ka-Chin style spicy chicken, 528’s spicy chicken basil (chicken, onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, green beans, baby corn, Thai basil) is your hook-up.  Thai basil (horapa) adds a subtle anise-licorice flavor and perfume to every dish in which it’s used.  Those qualities are exemplified on this absolutely mouth-watering dish.  You’ll appreciate the crisp, fresh vegetables as much as you will the thin ribbons of breast meat chicken.  You’ll want to bathe every morsel of rice in the sweet-savory sauce.  Heck, you might want to dab a little of it on the back of your neck to hold onto it a bit longer.

Spicy Chicken Basil

20 April 2018: The affable owner (and shame on me for not knowing his name after three visits) learned how to make sushi in Pennsylvania and honed his skills in Oregon.  He’s been living in Albuquerque for twelve years now and believes he’ll stay.  He actually rented the space which currently houses his restaurant so he’d have the kitchen space to prepare sushi for his clients.  For year’s he had the sushi concession at Kirtland AFB’s commissary and now prepares sushi for the cafes at UNM’s north campus.  He operates 528 with his wife and father-in-law, allowing him to keep his prices ridiculously (and I do mean ridiculously) low.  Sushi at 528 will cost you about half what you’d pay at other sushi restaurants in the city–and it’s good stuff! 

At his recommendation, my first uramaki roll at 528 was the New Mexico roll (green chile, cucumber, avocado).  As often seems to be the case, Bill and I wondered how sushi restaurants manage to prepare green chile better than so many New Mexican restaurants do.  528’s green chile has the alluring roasted flavor aficionados love and enough piquancy so that you won’t need wasabi.  The vinegared rice wrap lends a sweet contrast to the piquancy of the green chile.  At ten individual pieces of sushi for under six dollars, this value-priced sushi is better than sushi twice its price.

New Mexico Roll

Sadly, my inquiry as to which of the listed desserts to try was met with the disappointing news that all were discontinued because they weren’t being ordered by guests. If they were as surprisingly delicious as the entree and appetizer, they would have been glorious.  528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine is set in a Lilliputian storefront with seating for no more than four people.  This little gem is too good to remain a hidden secret!

528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine
5312 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-2104
LATEST VISIT: 20 April 2018
1st VISIT: 13 April 2018
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Vegetables Stuffed Fish Cake, Myanmar Style Pork and Pickled Mango Curry, Samosas, Myanmar Style Coconut Soup with Noodles
REVIEW #1037

528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1007

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

Aya’s New Asian Japanese Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED: 2018)

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
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

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