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Tratta Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Al Fresco Dining at Tratta

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, a Louisiana native who attended Ole Miss, has no problem poking fun at himself…and at stereotypes. During his opening monologue on a 2012 episode of Saturday Night Live, the two-time Super Bowl most valuable player, told the audience he finally feels like a “real New Yorker.” Then as if to demonstrate his urban sophistication, he entertained questions from out-of-towners in the audience. When asked where to get good Italian food in New York, Manning responded “Well, there’s a great place called The Olive Garden. You’ve got to go to New Jersey, but it’s worth it. Hey, I play for the New York Giants, but all my games are played in New Jersey.” 

It’s been a long time since the Olive Garden has garnered “Best Italian Restaurant” honors in any of the Duke City’s “best of” polls.  In that respect, Albuquerque is one-up on Las Vegas, Nevada where “what happens there, doesn’t always stay there.”  Despite Italian restaurants sporting such Food Network celebrity cognomens as Batali, Giada and Bastianich, Sin City diners have consistently voted The Olive Garden as the very best the city has to offer.  Does this mean denizens of the Duke City are more sophisticated than those of the gambling capital of the world?  Could it possibly mean Albuquerque’s Italian restaurants are superior to those of Las Vegas?

Bruschetta of the Day

You don’t have to be smarter than a fifth grader (or even a politician) to know the answer, respectively, to these questions is “probably” and “not yet.”  The latter response is based on extrapolating from the quantum improvements in Albuquerque’s Italian restaurant scene over the past ten years. If the Duke City’s Italian restaurant scene improves as much over the next ten years as it has over the past decade, it’ll be a force with which to be reckoned. 

It’s much too early to know if Tratta Bistro will be mentioned in the rarefied company of  Torinos @ Home and M’Tucci’s Kitchina for ushering in a new era of greatness among twenty-first century Italian restaurants.  Tratta, which opened its doors in April, 2015, offers the winning combination of an active and engaged owner, talented and creative chef and a limited, but inventive menu sure to entice return visits.  Tratta occupies the space previously held by the transcendent Bouche.  It’s an intimate space which, season permitting, extends to the outdoors, with an expansive courtyard for al fresco dining.

Arancini

Tratta’s unique menu is the antithesis of what you’ll find at any of the area’s “red sauce” Italian restaurants.  An apt descriptor might be Northern Italian meets fine-dining with distinctive offerings during lunch and dinner servings.  The lunch menu lists five salads, four entrees and something heretofore unseen in any restaurant of any genre in Albuquerque: a dozen sliders served three per order.  These aren’t your typical burger-based sliders either.  Imagine if you will, a terrific trio of sliders constructed from seared ahi tuna, salmon and pancetta, Mediterranean crab cake and baby greens. 

The dinner menu showcases five salads and four antipasto dishes, including a bruschetta of the day.  Then there are the entrees—a phalanx of steaks, chops and seafood entrees interspersed with other entrees you won’t see elsewhere.  It’s obvious someone put a lot of thought into creating a sui generis menu.  You just might find yourself selecting dinner based as much for the way the named entree is sauced and with what it is accompanied as you will for that item itself.  For example, don’t “Porter House Chops” read better on the menu when they preface cherry cacao sauce and crispy rainbow fingerling potatoes.

Fried Artichokes over Hand-Cut Pasta

Bruschetta is akin to an unpainted Sistine Chapel, a veritable blank canvas waiting to be painted by a culinary artiste.  That canvas is essentially just toasted bread, boring by itself but with unlimited creative potential.  Tratta’s bruschetta of the day aims to do exciting things to that boring toasted bread.  Good fortune smiled upon us when the topping for the toasted bread was a tapenade (tomato, olives, bell peppers) served in a hollowed-out lettuce cup.  This relish-like puree of fresh ingredients blended together when still raw is a great way to start your Tratta experience. 

Arancini might sound like something involving spiders–and in fact, this deep-fried Sicilian specialty is indeed named for the “spider,” but not the kind that crawls up the wall.  They’re named instead for a utensil called a spider, a wide shallow wire-mesh basket with a long handle that’s used to extricate the arancini from the fryer.  Three breadcrumb-covered risotto balls stuffed with sausage and mozzarella are served on a shallow pool of marinara.  Pierce each gilded orb with your fork and you’re immediately reminded that the chief ingredient in arancini is risotto, a rich, creamy, delicious foundation for a great dish.  The marinara is sweeter than it is savory and is seasoned very well.  It would make an excellent sauce for any pasta dish.

Quails Wrapped in Prosciutto

That is, unless the pasta dish is Tratta’s fried artichokes over hand-cut pasta tossed in a blood orange-grappa cream sauce with pancetta, seasonal veggies and toasted pignolias (pine nuts).  Despite having perused this menu item thoroughly, we were somewhat surprised (very pleasantly) at the agrodolce (sweet and sour) nature of the sauce and how it played on the other ingredients.  While artichokes are a naturally complementary vehicle for the agrodolce flavor profile, it’s not everyday you have Italian pasta and pancetta tinged with sweet and sour notes.  Perhaps we should experience it more often.  This is a surprisingly good dish with plenty of pancetta to contrast the agrodolce. 

Complements and contrasts also exemplify the quails wrapped in prosciutto engorged with a savory stuffing over a blackberry port demi glace served with a goat cheese risotto.  The only element on this entree to which we didn’t apply the demi glace is the goat cheese risotto which should not be tampered with.  If you love goat cheese, you’ll understand why.  The quails, on the other hand, marry well with the demi glace which imparts sweet and tangy notes.  Quail are not a very meaty bird, all the more reason to appreciate the savory stuffing. 

There’s an Olive Garden a couple of miles away from Tratta, but given their druthers, savvy diners will opt for Tratta every time.  We’ll leave the Olive Garden for the good folks from Las Vegas and maybe a certain New York Giants quarterback.

Tratta Bistro
10126 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 227-8780
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 May 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Quails Wrapped in Prosciutto, Fried Artichokes, Arancini, Bruschetta

Tratta Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Shop Breakfast & Lunch – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Shop Breakfast and Lunch on Monte Vista

In the 60s and early 70s, movies and television programs would have you believe all spies were hard-drinking, fast-driving, woman-chasing playboys as good with their fists as they were with a gun. They were worldly, sophisticated and charming, but could just as easily use guile and deception to get the job done. Bob Ayers, who worked in intelligence for 30 years in the U.S. Army and Defense Intelligence Agency counters those stereotypes: “All of that stuff about James Bond, that’s Hollywood. You don’t want anyone standing out in the intelligence business. You want someone nondescript. The ideal spy is 5-foot-6 and kind of dumpy.”

That ideal—nondescript and dumpy—just wouldn’t work in the restaurant business…or would it? Restaurants, especially those which are generously bankrolled by corporate megaliths, tend to have a lot of cash, flash and panache to create the illusion of glamor and allure which brings in customers (and most of us are easily entertained). In addition to all the pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance money can buy, these restaurants tend to have catchy, memorable names which help in the establishment and proliferation of brand identity. They’re capacious, swanky, memorable and largely successful.

Interior of The Shop Breakfast and Lunch

Anyone who thinks this formulaic approach is the recipe for success would be at a loss to explain a restaurant like The Shop Breakfast and Lunch. It has none of the aforementioned characteristics of superficiality that seem to draw in the crowds. Even its name is so ambiguous that unless you know The Shop is a restaurant (the Breakfast and Lunch part is subtitled), you might dismiss it as yet another kitschy university area vintage clothing shop. While not “dumpy,” its ambiance is far from ostentatious. Maybe, that’s part of its charm. Perhaps that’s why The Shop has a faithful following that eschews the artifice and ambiance of the “shiny” restaurants to eat there instead.

Like The Shop itself, its patrons aren’t pretentious. Many of them are students at the University of New Mexico (UNM) which sprawls just across Buena Vista from the restaurant. They appreciate being able to fuel up on great food that isn’t going to break a student’s ramen-in-a-Styrofoam-box budget. You can bet the UNM voting demographic stuffed the Alibi’s ballots in 2014 when The Shop was named the Duke City’s “best new restaurant.”

Kentucky Hot Brown

Those of us who have only been students of life for a while also appreciate the great food…and to be honest, most of us don’t imbibe the “ambiance.” After all, a swanky milieu doesn’t improve the flavor of any food. The Shop’s furnishings are more utilitarian than they are comfortable, but you won’t be thinking about how much more comfortable you’d be in a plush, cozy chair as you’re indulging on an even cozier Kentucky Hot Brown.

Your eyes didn’t just deceive you. You did read “Kentucky Hot Brown,” perhaps the only thing more popular in the Bluegrass State than the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. The Kentucky Hot Brown is to Kentucky what the green chile cheeseburger is to New Mexico. It’s a sacrosanct sandwich beloved throughout the state. Even if you haven’t been to Kentucky, you may have heard about it on the Food Network, Travel Channel, PBS or any number of nationally syndicated stations. At The Shop, it’s far from the only sandwich surprise on the menu.

QBano

Surprises start with the most important meal of the day.  The breakfast menu, served all day long (from 8AM through 3PM) offers hearty options, some of which you can’t find anywhere else in Albuquerque.  The duck hash, biscuits and chorizo gravy, shrimp and grits and of course, the Kentucky Hot Brown are just a few of them.  Lunch offerings are categorized into sandwiches (with your choice of house made chips or side salad), mac and cheese (three scrumptious options) and three creative salads (Kale Caesar anyone?) .

15 April 2015: During the Roaring 20s, the executive chef at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky invented a sandwich to help revelers to wind down and sober up.  Today that sandwich, the Kentucky Hot Brown may be more popular (at least in the Louisville area) than the Kentucky Derby.  To say it should be served with an angioplasty may be an understatement.  This is a caloric overachiever constructed from egg-battered pain de mie (a soft-crusted butter- and milk-rich loaf), thick cut ham, white Cheddar mornay sauce (a type of Bechamel), two eggs and bacon.  Because it’s so very rich and creamy, it’s not for everyone, but everyone should try it at least once or twenty times.

Breakfast Sandwich

15 April 2015: Several years ago, former Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez attempted a commercially-driven re-branding of the city.  Despite his efforts, the sobriquet “The Q” didn’t exactly catch on, not that anyone would believe The Shop’s QBano  is named for the mayor’s folly.   Obviously, the QBano is a Cuban sandwich, one of the very best in “The Q,”…er, the Duke City.  The canvas for this magnificent sandwich is a toasted bolillo roll stuffed and pressed with citrus-brined roasted local pork shoulder, sliced ham, yellow mustard, roasted garlic aioli, Gruyere cheese and housemade pickles.  Just perusing the ingredients will cue you in that there are many elements which make this sandwich so special.  My friend Bill raved about the garlic aioli while the pork shoulder won me over.  This is a sandwich that’s more delicious than the sum of its ingredients! 

15 April 2015: In some cultures (Vietnamese, for example), sandwiches are a breakfast mainstay.  For some reason, however, Americans seem to dismiss the notion of much more than eggs and ham on their breakfast sandwich (Cafe Bella being an exception).  Perhaps acquiescing to American tastes, The Rush’s ubiquitously named Breakfast Sandwich does indeed include eggs and a type of ham (prosciutto) then it gets creative with  tomato, arugula, and basil aioli.  There isn’t enough prosciutto to suit the ham lover in most of us and veggie haters might not like the thick tomatoes or peppery arugula, but most will enjoy the sandwich in its entirety. 

Fried Chicken Sandwich

23 April 2015:The answer-slash-punchline to the trite joke that begins “why did the chicken cross the road?” could well be “to avoid becoming a chicken sandwich.” What chicken in its right mind would want a fate so boring? Despite being so commonplace (operative word, common), the chicken sandwich at one restaurant is more of the same banality as you’ll find at almost every other restaurant. You’d think someone (besides the Stone Face Tavern) could come up with something original to do with chicken. The Shop has! Its fried chicken sandwich is constructed with a buttermilk fried chicken breast, shaved cabbage slaw, a creamy caraway dressing, housemade pickles and just enough hot sauce to create an absolutely delicious interplay with the caraway dressing. The chicken itself is moist and sheathed with a light breading which glistens from the creaminess of the caraway and fiery red of the sauce. The pickles provide a tart, but not lip-pursing foil while the shaved cabbage slaw offers a textural contrast. It’s a chicken sandwich any self-respecting chicken would gladly sacrifice its feathers to be a part of.

23 April 2015: For years I didn’t understand coffee snobs and their haughty, expensive designer mochas, lattes, espressos and cappuccinos. The lure of these trendy and upscale aromatic elixirs escaped me until my first sip of the red chili (SIC) mocha at Café Bella in Rio Rancho. To say it was love at first sip was an understatement, one that opened my eyes to the realization that maybe the coffee snobs were right. Because my daytime proximity to Café Bella has shifted by nearly twenty miles, I’ve searched high and low for a closer proximity version of the soothing, sating, invigorating siren’s call that is red chile mocha. While none have equaled the one at my beloved Café Bella, the Mexican Mocha at The Shop has lessened my pain a bit. It’s an earthy, palate-pleasing beverage which more than hints at piquancy and chocolate, two of the world’s finest taste sensations.

Housemade Granola & Yogurt (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

19 May 2015: In the early ’70s, a television commercial for Post Grape-Nuts cereal featured outdoorsman Eull Gibbons asking viewers “Ever eat a pine tree?  Many parts are edible.”  This quote fueled the public’s imagination and made him a celebrity.  Much like Grape Nuts, granola signified the back-to-nature, whole-grain tenor which grew from the American counterculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s.  In fact, to the mainstream, granola was practically synonymous with a hippie lifestyle. 

Like many of the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s, granola has become mainstream.  Inventive restaurateurs have sown their wild oats with granola and have transformed what was once considered a sensible and healthy food concept into a popular and delicious dish.  The Shop’s rendition ranks right up there with the Flying Star‘s magnificent “Morning Sundae” as perhaps the city’s best granola dish.  This hearty housemade bowl of oats, nuts and dried fruits pairs oh so well with a tangy-sour yogurt punctuated with lemon and agave nectar and topped with fresh berries and local honey.

Duck Confit Sandwich (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

19 May 2015: In its annual food and wine issue for 2012,  Albuquerque The Magazine named Torinos @ Homeduck confit sandwich one of the yummiest sandwiches in the city.  The Shop’s own duck confit sandwich is in rarefied air with Torinos sacrosanct sandwich as the city’s very best.  A toasted bolillo roll is the canvas for this masterpiece–a moist, delicious creation of confit duck, caramelized onions, lemon aioli, Fontina cheese, arugula and Balsamic vinaigrette.  The tangy tartness of the vinaigrette and lemon aioli complement the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the fatty richness of the duck.  It’s a sandwich that will remain on your mind long after you’ve finished it.

19 May 2015:  As we grow older, most of us no longer crave the indulgences of our childhood: Lucky Charms cereal, Franco-American’s SpaghettiOs (now with a Campbell’s Soup brand) and Smarties Candy, but we never lose our taste for Macaroni and Cheese.  Not only is it a fun food for children of all ages, it’s the epitome of comfort food favorites, each morsel imparting warmth and deliciousness.  Most of us, however, graduate well beyond the gooey, neon-bright Kraft mac and cheese out-of-a-box.  We won’t settle for less than an adult mac and cheese.

Steakhouse Mac (Photo Courtesy of Hannah Walraven)

Fortunately The Shop has us covered and not just with one adult macaroni and cheese offering.  The daily menu showcases three different mac and cheese meals: chorizo mac, bacon mac and steakhouse mac.  The latter is a beauteous bowl brimming with shaved ribeye, caramelized onions, mushrooms and a white Cheddar mornay sauce topped with Parmesan and bread crumbs.  Every forkful is an adventure in great flavors blending together.  It’s possible we may not have appreciated the steakhouse mac as children, but it’s a dish all adults will love.

While The Shop Breakfast and Lunch may be an ugly duckling compared to some of Albuquerque’s “shiny,” flashy restaurants, it’s a beautiful, graceful swan in the kitchen where some of the most creative and delicious dishes in the Nob Hill district are created.

The Shop Breakfast And Lunch
2933 Monte Vista Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 433-2795
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 May 2015
1st VISIT: 15 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Qbano, Breakfast Sandwich, Kentucky Hot Brown, Housemade Potato Chips, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Duck Confit Sandwich, Steakhouse Mac, Granola & Yogurt

The Shop Breakfast and Lunch on Urbanspoon

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nick & Jimmy's Bar & Grill on Pan American Frontage Road

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill on Pan American Frontage Road

Legendary American chef, author and television personality Julia Child was often exasperated with what she perceived as American’s propensity for culinary laziness, once commenting that “the trend in the U.S.A. was toward speed and the elimination of work.”   “Americans,” she noted, equated as “gourmet” such “horrible glop” as “TV dinners, frozen vegetables, canned mushrooms, fish sticks, Jell-O salads, marshmallows and spray-can whipped cream.

Julia Child obviously didn’t know Dave Hurayt, a good friend and fellow gastronome who’s shared some wonderful recipes with me.  While Dave may not have spent two years and nearly 300 pounds of flour attempting to bake the perfect loaf of French bread as Julia Child once did, he experiments painstakingly with the recipes he creates, laboring assiduously until those recipes achieve his high standards of perfection.  Perfection can sometimes be painful as he found out while experimenting with a recipe utilizing burnt bourbon.  Much like a mad scientist adding a catalytic chemical to a burning beaker, the results were dramatic.  He blew the glass right out of his new KitchenAid oven.

Basket of bread and Spanakopita

When a true kitchen warrior and gourmet such as Dave eschews his culinary domain and eats at one restaurant for seven out of nine consecutive weeks, that restaurant has got to be special.  A restaurant capable of besotting his sophisticated palate has got to offer extraordinary quality and quality.  Like me, Dave is not a monogamous gastronome when it comes to restaurants.  When he does go out to eat, he typically will visit a variety of restaurants, not a select few like the truly culinarily lazy Americans to which Julia Child referred.

The restaurant which captured Dave’s heart and taste buds is Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill on restaurant row off the Pan American Highway on the west side of I-25.  Nick & Jimmy’s has been wowing dining patrons since it launched in September, 2009.   One of the high wow factors is the restaurant’s redesign which might more appropriately be called a metamorphosis because Nick & Jimmy’s occupies what was once Johnny Carino’s, a middling quality Italian chain.

Preparing our flaming Kaseri cheese appetizer

Preparing our flaming Kaseri cheese appetizer

The estimate as to what the transmogrification cost ranges from one-million to two-million dollars, either amount impressive.  The restaurant is an oasis of elegance in a restaurant row landscape dominated by chains.  The walls are festooned in muted earth tone colors that seem to beckon hungry diners.  Overhead, large wooden beams painted brown seem to signify strength and solidity.  As you walk in, you have the option of dining in a sprawling dining room in which tables are in fairly close proximity to one another or in a more casual room in which a well-provisioned bar holds prominence.  The two rooms are separated by smoked glass accented half walls.

A semi-exhibition kitchen is partially obfuscated from diners by the smoked glass accents.  It’s a nice touch that gives you a hint of the bustling activity at a busy kitchen without being too distracting.  As luxurious as the setting is, not all the improvements are readily apparent.  One thing diners can’t see, but which is most definitely a hallmark of the restaurant is the 1400-degree broiler reputed to sear in all the juices and flavor.

Dolmades Avgolomono

The menu is inventive and eclectic, offering a smattering of steak and seafood entrees as well as Greek, Italian and American inspired cuisine.  You’ll also see more than just a perfunctory tribute to the Land of Enchantment’s red and green chile, starting with posole which is often the “soup” of the day.  Almost all the entrees on the lunch menu are also available for dinner.  It’s a very diverse menu which includes steak, chops and chicken entrees the likes of which every great steakhouse offers, but few prepare exceptionally well. 

Most entrees are served with your choice of soup or salad, seasonal vegetables and one of the following: oven-roasted potatoes, rice pilaf, old-fashioned mashed potatoes or au gratin potatoes.  Unlike some of their peers in the upscale casual market, Nick & Jimmy’s have a price point to which more patrons will relate and no a la carte offerings.  Portions are generous so you shouldn’t walk out hungry.

Pan Seared Scallops

As you peruse the menu, a basket of bread will be brought to your table and your attendant will prepare a dish of olive oil and seasonings in which to immerse the bread (which just happens to be some of the very best bread in town).  The bread is courtesy of Fano’s Bakery, a local institution.  It encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread.  Also served in the bread basket are small wedges of the restaurant’s pizza bread which are infiltrated with Parmesan cheese and chili flakes.

More than half of Nick & Jimmy’s appetizer options are succulent selections from the sea: shrimp cocktail, crab cake, Parmesan prawns, baked crab and artichoke heart dip, sesame seared Ahi tuna, fried calamari, shrimp scampi and pan-seared scallops (raved about by Dave).  The sole landlubbers are hummus served with toasted pita wedges, jumbo steamed artichoke, chicken quesadilla, dolmades avgolemono and Saganaki, flaming Kasseri cheese, also served with toasted pita wedges.

Seafood Soup

14 November 2009: The Saganaki is almost as much fun to see prepared tableside as it is to eat it.  Alit courtesy of a common lighter, the flames ascend toward the heavens, leaving blue and orange plume trails in their aromatic wake.  Your well-trained attendant turns the cheese over with but a steak knife, manipulating the flames so they lick the cheese, imparting high heat through and through and with an evenness that ensures every bit of the cheese is flame-kissed.

In Greece, Kasseri cheese is made from sheep’s milk while its American counterpart is made with cow’s milk.  Nick & Jimmy’s Kasseri is made from an amalgam of goat milk and cow’s milk.  Its flavor is of medium sharpness with a salty prominence.  It’s not meant to be spread on the pita wedges so much as it’s intended to be placed atop the pita, akin to a crown of cheesy deliciousness.

Beef and barley soup at Nick & Jimmy's

Beef and barley soup at Nick & Jimmy’s

30 October 2010: Dolmades (grape leaves rolled around rice, ground beef and herbs) Avgolomono (an egg and lemon sauce) is another great Greek starter.  If you’ve ever lamented the fact that most dolmades in the Duke City come from a can, you’ll appreciate these housemade gems which, also unlike at most other Albuquerque restaurants, are served warm.  The herbaceous aroma and flavor of the ground beef and rice combination coupled with the tangy richness of the Avgolomono sauce make these (five to an order) stubby cigar-shaped beauties some of the very best in the city. 

16 May 2015: Finding scallops on an appetizer menu is as rare as a “good hair day” for Donald Trump.  In fact, Nick and Jimmy’s might be the only restaurant in the metropolitan area to do so.  Best of all, an order of pan-seared scallops won’t break the bank…and we’re not talking the smallish bay scallops here.  This appetizer features three large scallops served over a single grilled tomato and topped with bay shrimp in a lemon-caper butter sauce.  Usually “fruity” sauces, especially tart-tangy sauces detract from the natural sweet brininess of scallops, but not so at Nick and Jimmy’s where the lemon-caper butter sauce is so rich, so delicious and so complementary of the scallops that you’ll sop up any remaining sauce with bread.

Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley

Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley

The soup of the day rotates frequently and as noted previously, is served complementary with many of the restaurant’s entrees.  Separately, soup is available for five dollars a bowl.  Alternatively, the menu offers five salads: Caprese Salad, Iceberg Wedge, Dinner Salad, Greek Salad and a Caesar Salad with your choice of dressing: Bleu cheese, Ranch, Greek, Caesar, Thousand Island or Raspberry Vinaigrette.

Legendary French chef and restauranteur Auguste Escoffier once said “Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”  Not all soups warrant such lavish praise, but some soups seem to have been the inspiration for Escoffier’s sage words.  Nick & Jimmy’s Beef Barley Soup is one of these.

Gyros with potatoes au gratin

Gyro Sandwich with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce, served with pita bread

14 November 2009: The beef and barley soup is rich, hearty and tasty, replete with a thick, savory beef stock ameliorated by a generous amount of tender beef.  It is served piping hot with steam wafting upwards to tease and tantalize your olfactory senses.  This soup exemplifies all that people equate with the comforting and nurturance of a truly good soup.  It is a soup Nick & Jimmy’s should consider for the daily menu–or at least as a seasonal offering available in cold weather.

30 October 2010: Another soul-warming soup, one which might make you long for a cold day, is the seafood soup, showcasing calamari, squid, crab, fish and shrimp in a heavily-seasoned broth with potatoes.  Heavily seasoned in this case doesn’t mean the seafood flavor is obfuscated in any way.  Especially delightful are the calamari ringlets which are chewy and delicious.  This is wholly unlike most chowder-like seafood soups which are thick and seem to beckon for oyster crackers.  The only things this soup cries out for are a large spoon and a second helping. 

Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Rice Pilaf and a Vegetable Medley

Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Rice Pilaf and a Vegetable Medley

16 May 2015: Menus at New Mexican restaurants don’t usually offer soups unless they involve green or red chile and more often than not, they’re more along the lines of a stew than they are a soup.  At Nick and Jimmy’s, the soup-of-the-day might also include posole, a Land of Enchantment standard.  Though this rendition is more akin to hominy than to true posole, it does include a generous amount of cubed pork and a chile sauce that livens things up quite a bit. 

The lunch and dinner menus both include eight Italian inspired pasta dishes as well as four wood-oven fired pizzas.  For lunch you can also order a hamburger with green chile, a traditional gyro sandwich or a chicken gyro sandwich, all served with French fries and a house salad served with your choice of dressing. The lunch menu lists five items on the steaks, chops and chicken section, a number which doubles on the dinner menu.  You might be surprised to find such upscale meat entrees as oven braised lamb shank and spiced, braised short ribs on the lunch menu.  Don’t hesitate to order either.

Beef Tenderloin Tip Rigatoni in cayenne cream sauce with wild mushrooms and red peppers

14 November 2009: The spiced, braised short ribs come six to an order.  Braised slowly and marinated for hours, they are fall-off-the-bone tender and taste like very good, very expensive Irish pot roast seasoned very well though the “spiced” adjective doesn’t appear to equate to piquant.  Coupled with roasted potatoes, this entree reminded me very much of the wonderful comfort meals we’ve had in Irish restaurants. 

16 May 2015:  New Mexicans have been known to incorporate red and green chile into virtually every savory entree.  Intrepid cooks will even add a smidgeon or more to various dessert dishes.  It makes good sense then that green chile be part and parcel of an American comfort food standard.  Nick and Jimmy’s green chile meatloaf is an amalgam of two great tasting items that taste even better together.  A thick slab of dense, moist meatloaf punctuated with a discernibly piquant green chile and slathered with a peppery red gravy goes very well with mashed potatoes in which a well has been dug out for even more gravy.  These are real mashed potatoes, not out-of-a-box.  During our inaugural visit to Nick and Jimmy’s in 2009, my sole complaint was about the uninspired vegetable medley.  How things have changed!  The vegetable medley is reminiscent of the French preparation style for vegetables.  Carrots, pea pods, zucchini and red peppers all are redolent with sweet freshness.  All vegetables should taste this good!

Green Chile Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetable Medley

14 November 2009: Another entree at which Nick & Jimmy’s excels is the roasted spring chicken which is slow-roasted with fresh herbs, prominent among which are garlic and oregano.  The chicken is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all moist and thoroughly delicious.  Easily large enough to share, you probably will want this chicken all to yourself.  An excellent complement to the chicken is the buttery and rich rice pilaf, each grain of which is imbued with flavor. 

16 May 2015: A half dozen pizzas fired on the restaurant’s wood oven are a popular draw.  if the Athenian Pizza (spinach, roasted garlic and feta) is any indication, Nick and Jimmy’s could compete with the city’s pizzerias.  This thin-crusted beauty is generously endowed with ingredients: enough roasted garlic cloves to ward off a werewolf or two, enough feta to wreck your breath for a day and a nice blanket of spinach over a crusty canvas lightly slathered with tomato sauce.  It’s not always the case that a pizza will taste even better cold than it does warm, but this one does.  Thankfully we took half the pizza home and enjoyed it for breakfast the following day.

Athenian Pizza

30 October 2010: If Greek entrees are what appeal most to you from the menu, but you also want a sandwich, Nick & Jimmy’s offers a gyro sandwich with tomatoes, onion, tzatziki sauce and an amalgam of beef and lamb nestled in a thick, warm pita.  Though a good sandwich, this one isn’t overstuffed with beef and lamb the way I enjoy my gyros. Thankfully it is very moist and very well-seasoned, a perfect foil for the thicker than usual tzatziki sauce.

30 October 2010: Dave Hurayt often extols the excellence of Nick & Jimmy’s pasta dishes.  No longer exclusively the domain of Italian restaurants, pasta dishes are often better prepared in fine-dining  eclectic establishments than they are in their more well-practiced Italian brethren.  That’s certainly the case with the Beef Tenderloin Tip Rigatoni, a swimming pool-sized bowl brimming with rigatoni in a cayenne cream sauce with wild mushrooms and red peppers studded with beef tenderloin.  The cayenne cream sauce is redolent with a peppery piquancy that New Mexicans will love.  The pasta is perfectly prepared at a shade beyond al dente while the beef tenderloin, at medium-rare, is tender and succulent, a real treat.

Pineapple Upsidedown Cake at Nick & Jimmy's

Pineapple Upsidedown Cake at Nick & Jimmy’s

14 November 2009: The dessert menu includes such seemingly de rigueur standards as creme brulee and bread pudding.  It also showcases a pineapple upsidedown cake, not a very common dessert offering in New Mexico restaurants.  This is wholly unlike other pineapple upsidedown cakes I’ve ever seen as it’s not sliced from a large sheet cake.  These are individually portioned cakes sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and surrounded by rich whipped cream and fresh berries.  The cake is moist and thoroughly delicious, not too sweet as some of its ilk are apt to be.

30 October 2010: Another Greek-inspired dessert favorite is the Baklava Sundae, a sundae glass in which two mounds of Blue Bunny’s vanilla ice cream are topped with a triangle of moist and rich baklava replete with sweet honey.  The baklava sweetens the ice cream all the more, forming a decadent marriage sure to appease the most discerning of dessert aficionados.

Coconut Cream Pie

16 May 2015:  Not even Gilligan’s crew enjoyed coconut cream pie as good as prepared at Nick and Jimmy’s.  From its frothy whipped cream top sprinkled with shreds of toasted coconut to its flaky Graham cracker crust, this thick pie served cold is an absolute delight.  Texturally, it’s thicker than most puddings though not quite as thick as a cheesecake.  It’s the type of dessert for which you’d risk your svelte figure.

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill is owned by Albuquerque’s dynamic partnership duo of Nick Kapnison and Jimmy Daskalos, restaurant impresarios with a small empire of restaurants throughout the Duke City.  A hallmark of their restaurants is great service.  You can’t do better than Michelle, one of the best servers in town.  Ask for her.

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill
5021 S Pan American Freeway,  N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 344-9169
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 May 2015
1st VISIT: 14 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET:   Pineapple Upsidedown Cake, Spicy Beef Short Ribs, Greek Style Roasted Chicken, Saganaki, Gyros Sandwich, Baklava Sundae, Dolmades Avgolomono, Beef Tenderloin Tip Ravioli, Seafood Soup, Coconut Cream Pie, Athenian Pizza, Green Chile Meatloaf.

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