Bayti Mediterranean Delicacies – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Is Anxious to Try Bayti Mediterranean Delicacies on Menaul

“Ashlan Wa Sahlan” (Welcome)
Sahteyn” (Twice Your Health, Bon Apetit)
t’faddalou” (Welcome to the Table, Dinner is Served)

How can you not love a culture in which there are numerous beautiful expressions associated with hospitality and with families welcoming guests to join them for a great meal?  When it comes to warmth and hospitality, few cultures embody it so richly and genuinely as the Lebanese.  Similarly, when it comes to utterly delicious food prepared with love and served in generous portions, the Lebanese culture may be unequaled.    One of the most treasured blessings of having grown up in the small mountain community of Peñasco was sharing many meals with first-, second- and third-generation expatriates from the beautiful country of Lebanon. 

The wonderful SBS Website, an exemplar of culturally-relevant Australian media content explains “Lebanese hosts will never believe you don’t have just a bit more room for something utterly delicious that’s been prepared with love. In a Lebanese household, food is life and sharing it is one of the great joys of being alive. Even for simple dinners at home, there are a variety of dishes on the table, the meal starting with small portions known as mezza, which centre around dips and salads. They may be as simple as simple as pickled or raw vegetables, and bread or an entire meal consisting also of meat kebabs, grilled, marinated seafood, salads and desserts.” Regardless of your own culinary culture, you’ve got to love that.

Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Studies Bayti’s Menu

Thanks to our Lebanese neighbor Jeanette Owen, I experienced and enjoyed such Lebanese delicacies as fattoush, tabbouleh and kibbeh as a young sprout — long before your once naive and callow blogger experienced Asian cuisine of any type.  To that point, the only non-New Mexican or Mexican dishes to have crossed my lips before the Air Force sent me to the Boston area were lasagna, spaghetti and pizza. Despite my own Spanish heritage, a tapa was solely a lid on the top of a jar. The foods of the exotic Indian subcontinent may as well have been extraterrestrial cuisine. From among the fifty best dishes in the world, I can tick off having experienced only ten (and who hasn’t had popcorn, potato chips, chocolate and donuts) before my nineteenth birthday. Heck, I didn’t partake of a McDonald’s burger until well into my teens. But I knew Lebanese cuisine.

If you’re wondering why Lebanese decided to settle rural, agrarian communities in the Sangre De Cristos, Pete Sahd, patriarch of one of the most wonderful families I have been blessed to know, often spoke of how much the mountain villages of Northern New Mexico resembled the cedar-rich mother country.  The progenitors of many of New Mexico’s Lebanese immigrants left Lebanon during the repressive Ottoman Empire, the main exodus occurring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Escaping persecution and poverty, some arrived with nothing but aspirations, dreams and hopes. The frontier territory of New Mexico was replete with opportunity (and the prospect of freedom) for them. 

Raquel Brings a Whole Roasted Chicken to our Table

Like their Phoenician forefathers had done, many of them began as door-to-door peddlers, many eventually launching trading posts or general stores in the small villages in which they settled. The “Arabes” as they are sometimes still called by Hispanics were (and still are) hard workers, shrewd businessmen, community-minded and family-oriented. They fit right in with the tight-knit Hispanic communities which shared similar values–so much so that Los Arabes of New Mexico, a wonderful book written by Monika Ghattas is subtitled Compadres From a Distant Land.

In the vernacular and tradition of Hispanic Northern New Mexico, few–if any–titles were held in such esteem and reverence by elder generations as “compadre” (male) and “comadre” (female). In his Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish, Ruben Cobos defines a compadre as a “ritual co-parent; a term by which godparents address the mother and father of their godchild and by which the child’s parents address the godmother and godfather.” That’s the esteem to which many of the Arabes were…and still are held today.  My mom’s best friend Patty Sahd was a third grandmother to the Garduño children.  We love and miss her very much.

Baba Ghannouj

When my friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and I stepped into Bayti Mediterranean, I wondered if we would experience the type of hospitality and warmth shown by Lebanese compadres and comadres in Peñasco.  We were greeted warmly by Raquel who immediately discerned our confusion.  Bayti is not a restaurant per se.  It’s akin to a deli in which food items are apportioned into containers, displayed under glass in a deli case and sold by the pound.  Though take-out accounts for much of its business, Bayti also has a handful of tables in which diners can enjoy their meal on the premises.  Raquel, our hostess, was a gracious,  knowledgeable and perpetually smiling presence who explained all the dishes as if she’d been raised on them (though she had never had any of them, having grown up in Mexico).  As in Peñasco, it was delightful to speak Spanish while enjoying Lebanese food.

About halfway through our meal, managing owner Feryal Zantout, a statuesque beauty walked in and introduced herself. She explained the concept behind Bayti is to serve fresh and healthy Mediterranean cuisine from Lebanon and that  Bayti is a Lebanese word for “my home.”  The dot atop the “i” in Bahti is actually a Lebanese cedar, a symbol on the Lebanese flag.  Hoping to remain true to Lebanese cuisine, at present New Mexico’s ubiquitous green chile is not to be found in any item on the menu though Feryal admitted several guests have suggested it.  True to everything you’ve ever heard about Lebanese hospitality, Feryal saw how crowded our table was, discerned we had  just a bit more room for something else and brought us a plate of Mujaddara, a traditional vegetarian Lebanese dish made with lentils and rice, and garnished with caramelized onions.  She’s very proud of all the culinary fare at Bayti–and with good reason.


One of the items on our crowded table was Baba Ghanouj, a roasted eggplant dish made with tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds) and garlic.  Baba Ghanouj is one of those terms people just love to say, but most don’t know the genesis of the term.  It’s actually an Arabic term translating to “pampered papa” or “coy daddy” and is said to refer to the supposed invention of this very popular Lebanese staple by a member of a royal harem.  Bayti’s version is outstanding, one of if not the best in Albuquerque.  It’s easily Sr Plata’s favorite from among the dozens we’ve shared in Duke City restaurants.  With a thick and creamy consistency and a smoky flavor, it practically beckons for pita, another item Bayti prepares very well.

The gods of Mount Olympus may not actually have blessed humanity with ambrosia, nectar and dolmas, but many Middle Eastern nations believe stuffed grape leaves had to have been divinely inspired. Unfortunately because rolling the grape leaves can be very tedious, some restaurants across the Duke City serve canned dolmas.  Don’t count Bayti among them.  Bayti’s dolmas are hand-rolled and far (by several orders of magnitude) superior to their canned counterparts.  Sr Plata noted the absence of overly acidic brine on these dolmas, rendering them much more pleasant than some which can be lip-pursing.  These dolmas are served cold, are stuffed with short grain rice, tomato, parsley, onion ,mint, olive oil and lemon and seasoned liberally.  In Lebanon, dolmas are called Warak Arish, but that term isn’t quite as familiar.

Zaatar Manoushe

While most of our meal consisted of tapas-like smaller dishes, our main entree was a whole roasted chicken.  Raquel explained that the chicken is seasoned with eight different spices.  Most discernible were cardamom, sumac, pepper, salt and cumin.  Raquel expertly cut the chicken into pieces for us and we hungrily extricated the moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat, leaving only a carcass of defleshed bones.  It was gratifying to find a whole roasted chicken as many restaurants tend to serve half portions (thigh, leg and breast).  Moreover, we were happy to find poultry this succulent and enjoyable.

Inexplicably, the notion of pizza for breakfast (and I’m not talking about frittata here) hasn’t caught on as much as some of us would like. Usually when you mention breakfast pizza, you’re usually talking about pizza left over from the night before and consumed in the morning for breakfast. In Lebanon, the notion of pizza for breakfast is a welcome one. In fact, the national breakfast dish of Lebanon is a pizza of sorts—and not one left over from the previous night. It’s called Zaatar Maoushe. There are two essential elements to this street food staple: Maoushe and Zaatar. Maoushe is the baked dough, typically having a crispy exterior and a warm, chewy interior. Zaatar is the key topping, or rather the combination of toppings, atop the dough. Zaatar is an herb that grows abundantly in the eastern Mediterranean, but on this pizza dish, it’s combined with other spices such as thyme, marjoram, sesame seeds and even sumac. The result is a delicious “pizza” sans tomato sauce, cheese and other ingredients popular across the fruited plain. If you’re tempted to try replicating this terrific find for breakfast at home, you’ll be happy to read that Bayti sells a pre-packaged mix.

Small Beef Pastries

Bayti offers a number of stuffed pastries, some (chicken rolls and beef rolls) resembling Mexican flautas or maybe even Chinese egg rolls and others (small beef pastry, small chicken pastry and small spinach pastry) resembling savory empanadas. The small beef pastries at Bayti are stuffed with ground beef, peas and carrots. More than any other item we enjoyed at Bayti, we found these pastries just a bit on the dry side. These pastries would benefit greatly from a dipping sauce of some sort. Regrettably Sr Plata and I had devoured most of the baba ghanouj, but the little we had left was a perfect foil for the soft, warm dough and its content. These are best served warm.

One of the glories of adulthood is being able to eat dessert first. Who needs to “save the best for last” when you can have the best first. That was my approach with Bayti’s rose pudding (Mahalabia), a sweet Arab dessert made of milk and sugar, thickened with cornstarch, laced with rose water and topped with ground pistachios and almonds. Rose water, flavored water made by steam-distilling crushed rose petals to obtain their essential oils, not only lends a floury bouquet, it imparts a sweet floral flavor to the pudding- (or flan) like dessert. Rose water has been used in desserts for centuries across the Middle East and was originally a by-product of rose perfume. A little goes a long way. Thankfully Bayti’s kitchen uses it judiciously—in perfect proportion to concoct this mysterious dessert.

Rose Pudding (Mohalabiya)

There’s another Arabic expression often uttered at the conclusion of a great meal.  It’s “Sallem Dayetkoom” which translates to “God bless your hands.”  It’s said to the cook as a compliment for an excellent meal. To Feryal and Raquel, here’s a hearty Sallem Dayetkoom” from Sr Plata and the nmgastronome.  We hope to enjoy your magnificent hospitality and wonderful food again and again.

Bayti Mediterranean Delicacies
5017 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 366 4609
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Rose Pudding, Whole Roasted Chicken, Zaatar Manoushe, Small Beef Pastries, Baba Ghannouj, Dolmas
Restaurant Review #1025

Bayti Mediterranean Delicacies Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Olympia Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Olympia Cafe on Central Avenue

For culinary diversity, it’s hard to beat the University of New Mexico (UNM) area in which restaurants with a broad socioeconomic appeal are congregated. Aside from academic enrichment, this area is nurturing a refreshing open-mindedness toward the cuisines of the world.  That seems to be a commonality in areas within easy walking distance of large urban universities.  Perhaps restaurateurs recognize that students–especially the oft-maligned millennials–are not only willing to open up their minds to new knowledge, but their wallets and their minds to new culinary experiences.

The UNM area inaugurated many of us from rural parts of the state to wonderful new taste sensations.  The heretofore enigmatic mysteries of the Orient unraveled themselves the first time we tasted the sweet and sour variations of Chinese food and braved cultural taboos to actually consume raw fish.  The first time we sampled real pizza ((my friend Captain Tuttle can attest to this), we cursed Chef Boyardee and Pizza Hut for deigning to call their tomato sauce slathered cardboard “pizza.”  We lost a bit of our naivete and innocence with each bite of each and every new culinary adventure we experienced.  Life for many of us would never be the same.

Place Your Order At The Front Counter

I dare say that for many UNM students, especially those from rural areas, their first tastes of Greek cuisine occurred at the Olympia Cafe on Central Avenue.  The Olympia Cafe is a venerable elder statesman among UNM area restaurants, launching in 1972.  That’s when Spiros and Marina Counelis began serving Greek cuisine directly across the street from New Mexico’s largest university.   In 2009, Spiros finally embarked on a well-deserved retirement–which lasted less than a year before he and his family launched Zorba’s Fine Greek Dining in the Heights Village shopping center at Montgomery and Juan Tabo. 

The Olympia Cafe was purchased by Charles Akkad who, for the most part, continued in the traditions established by his predecessor.  The greatest change Akkad made was in expanding operating hours.  Olympia is now open Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 10PM and on Sunday from 12PM to 8PM.  It’s a more accommodating schedule for those of us who neither live nor work in the UNM area.  Alas, in preparing this review, I came across a “Go Fund Me” page to save the Olympia Cafe which has apparently suffered severely from the erosion of business wrought by the ART project.

Front Dining Room

Even the thought of losing the Olympia Café sends shudders down the spines of the many loyalists this café has cultivated over the years. It seems imponderable that one could drive Route 66 and not be greeted by the unmistakable aromas of well-seasoned Greek cuisine wafting onto Central Avenue. Those aromas are not only a welcome respite from the choking haze of automobile emissions, they’re a prelude to deliciousness. Step into the restaurant and the first thing you see is a counter in which you place your orders. The specials of the day are scrawled on a slate board on a restaurant wall while the daily menu is situated just above the counter.

After the aromas, the next thing you’ll notice is the restaurant’s liveliness. During lunch hour rushes, the Olympia Cafe is bustling with activity. A salvo of orders is quickly filled by a well-practiced kitchen staff.  It doesn’t take very long.  Insofar as ambiance, picture lots of Mediterranean blue touches. In the front dining room a life-sized mural depicts a pulchritudinous athlete setting a torch alight. Seating is more functional than it is comfortable.


You won’t be seated long before your number is called and you can walk to the counter to pick up your order.  Portion sizes are prolific.  It may take two of you to carry back the serving trays and their bounteous loads.  That’s especially true if you order one of the restaurant’s terrific appetizers and a dessert, too.  The best way to maximize your experience and appreciation of Greek cuisine is by ordering one of the menu’s combination combos (there are three combo platters on the menu, including one vegetarian).  The most diverse of those combo platters is the Olympia Platter, a combination platter of Moussaka, Pastichio, Gyros meat with tzatziki sauce and dolmathes.  A small Greek salad replete with feta cheese is also part of this platter. 

Pastichio might be described as the Greek answer to lasagna.  It’s a baked macaroni casserole layered with ground beef and topped with cheese and a cream topping.  All too often this entree is surprisingly dry, sometimes the byproduct of over-heating. That’s not the case at Olympia where it is moist and delicious, even tasting made to order.   Another casserole dish on the Olympia combo is Moussaka, a baked eggplant and ground beef casserole also topped with a cream sauce.  Moussaka is a very common dish in the Mediterranean region, but it’s vastly different in every country in which it is served.  The Greek version is my favorite.  Made correctly, the filling has a smooth and rich consistency and the eggplant is baked to perfection (not an easy feat).  Undercooked eggplant may leave your mouth with a metallic taste sensation that can last for hours.  At Olympia, the sole sensation you’ll experience is the desire for a second portion.

Greek Salad

6 September 2017: Perhaps the most popular entree at the Olympia Cafe as at other Greek restaurants are gyros, slices of beef and lamb broiled on a vertical split then wrapped in a pita with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce. The beef and lamb amalgam is moist, tender and very well seasoned, but what enlivens it with flavor is the tzatziki which is made of finely chopped cucumber and dill and mixed with natural yoghurt. There’s a tinge of sweetness to the yoghurt along with the fresh, cool taste of the cucumber that goes very well with the meat.  If anything, we would have appreciated even more of the tzatziki.

In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the Olympia Cafe a hot plate award for its chicken souvlaki.  Hot plate awards are accorded annually to some of the city’s most delicious dishes as seen by the magazine’s editors and staff.  The magazine describe this dish as “fit for the gods.”

Galatoboureko, baked custard between crisp filo topped with a light syrup

If you have any room left over, dessert options abound.  My favorite Greek dessert even though I’m still not able to pronounce it is Galatoboureko, baked custard between crisp phyllo topped with a light honeyed syrup.  The custard is rich and delicious but not at all cloying.  Galatoboureko is a Cypriot delicacy and one of the best desserts anywhere.

If your own life broadening experiences have yet to include Greek cuisine, the Olympia Cafe is a great restaurant in which to experience one of the world’s first and most delicious cuisines.

Olympia Cafe
2210 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 166-5222
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2017
1st VISIT: 20 October 2008
COST: $$
BEST BET: Olympia Combo, Gyros, Galatoboureko

Olympia Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chello Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver Stands in Front of Chello Grill Mediterranean Cuisine on Cutler

Persian cuisine has been described as “poetry on a plate” and “a pretext to break into verse.”  Persian history is replete with a large repertoire of literary quotes about food and drink.  Even when the subject of a poem wasn’t about food, a poet’s appreciation for Persian cuisine often inspired the inclusion of culinary terms.  Take for example fifteenth-century Persian poet Bu-Isaq of Shiraz who described his beloved as: “lithe as a fish, eyes like almonds, lips like sugar, a chin like an orange, breasts like pomegranates, a mouth like a pistachio” and so forth.”

“Surely,” I thought, “contemporary poets can also be inspired to put to verse and song their sentiments about the loves of their lives using food in descriptive terms.  Diligent searches revealed that the twain apparently doesn’t cross.  I did, however, find an inspiring poem by Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes who pays tribute to his favorite food (and one of mine): “Mrs. Fried Chicken you was my addiction. Dripping with high cholest- Like Greeks with his falafel, Italian with his to-mato pasta. What roti is to a rasta. Trapping me; You and your friend mac’ and cheese. Candy yams, collard greens but you knocking me to my knees…”

Skewered Meats and Vegetables

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” and I were nearly inspired to break into verse and song ourselves the minute we walked into Chello Grill and espied a shaker of sumac, a rich red colored spice with a bright lemony flavor.  We’ve both been known to lament the relative meagerness of sumac on Persian and Middle Eastern foods we enjoy.  Even though it’s considered an essential ingredient in cooking throughout the region, all too often it’s used in moderation (at least by our standards).   We knew we’d like the Chello Grill the moment we discovered that shaker of sumac.  It gave us confidence that other Persian spices we love on Persian cuisine–cardamom, saffron, garlic, turmeric and yes, even cumin–would be used in the preparation of dishes we would soon be enjoying.

There’s much to like about the Chello Grill, the brainchild of the entrepreneurial duo of Hasan Aslami and Behrad Etemadi who are becoming quite the restaurant impresarios in the Duke City and beyond.  Several years ago they created Pizza 9, a burgeoning franchise  named by  Franchise Business Review  among its “best of the best,” one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016.  Hoping to duplicate the success they had with Pizza 9, they plan to franchise Chello Grill with the goal of expanding across the Southwest.  The Chello Grill is located in the Pavilions at San Mateo shopping center, occupying the storefront which once housed Boston Market.

Chello Doh: Chicken Kabob, Sheesh Kabob, Rice and Vegetables

The Chello Grill operates much like a cafeteria.  Instead of taking your seat at a vacant table, you’ll walk up to the counter where you’ll undoubtedly gaze longingly at the skewers and vegetables under glass before deciding whether to have Chello Yek (one kabob and one side), Chello Doh (two kabobs and two sides) or Chello Seh (three kabobs and two sides).  Chello, by the way, comes from the Farsi word for rice.  Rice is indeed a prominent part of every meal as is naan, a fresh-baked flat bread more closely associated with Indian cuisine. Available kabobs include koobideh, ground meat seasoned with minced onion, salt and pepper; chicken seasoned with turmeric, paprika, sumac, salt, garlic and several other spices; and shish kabob, skewered beef along with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and peppers.

27 June 2017: Both Bruce and I enjoyed the chicken kabob above all else.  The characteristic yellowish hue courtesy of turmeric is punctuated by the characteristic char of a grill.  The chicken straddles the fine line between being moist and juicy and being on the desiccated side.  A little more either way and it wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable.  All too often the shish kabob served in Persian and Middle Eastern restaurants tends to be on the dry side, courtesy of too much time spent on a grill that’s too hot.  Not so at the Chello Grill where the grilled beef is moist and delicious.  So are the grilled vegetables.  A large mound of rice, more than one person can eat, completes the plate.

Top: Naan; Bottom: Mast O Khiar (Cucumber & Yogurt Dip) and Hummus

27 June 2017: Our sides ranged from very good (the mirza ghasemi, a grilled eggplant and tomato dip with plenty of garlic) to good (mast o khiar, a cucumber and yogurt dip similar to Greek tzadziki) to unremarkable (a rather dry hummus).  The freshly baked naan is much larger than its Indian restaurant counterpart and quite a bit crispier.  Roughly the size of a medium pizza, it goes well with any of the sides, but is just too crispy to use “sandwich style” with the kabobs.

2 August 2017: Long before he became an outstanding IT manager I know, my friend Nader Khalil worked as a chef in Phoenix.  He truly understands the nuances of ingredients, seasoning, preparation and the multitudinous factors which play into a great meal.  Alas, he hasn’t exactly been won over by some of the Middle Eastern restaurants to which I’ve introduced him.  Their common flaw has been in preparing and serving overdone meats which obviously spent too much time over high heat.  As a consequence they were on the dry side.  By the time he finished his inaugural meal (sheesh kabob and mirza ghasemi), he had declared Chello the best Middle Eastern restaurant in Albuquerque.  The sheesh kabob, Koobideh and chicken kabob were prepared to the perfect level of doneness for him.  That’s high praise coming from someone who knows his stuff.

Shirazi Salad, Feta Sabzi and Freshly Baked Naan

2 August 2017: New to the Chello Grill menu is a daily stew served over saffron rice.  We stewed over the fact that we didn’t notice that  option until after having ordered our meal and sides.  Certainly we’ll try the daily stew soon. It’s my practice to work my way through a restaurant’s menu which meant two different sides.  Though my calendar showed three afternoon meetings, I ordered a side dish sure to wreck my breath.  Called Feta Sabzi, it featured fresh basil with red onions and feta cheese (ask for a side of onion vinaigrette).  This is a terrific trio.  The basil actually negates the sharpness of the fetid fromage and astringency of the red onion.  It’s an eye-opening troika in many ways.  The shirazi salad (cucumber, onion, tomato and mint) is a perfect summer salad–refreshing, delicious and oh, so fresh.

Service at Chello Grill is exceptional with a friendly and attentive staff at your beck and call.  As with Pizza 9, the Chello Grill recognizes the value of customer orientation and good value.  Don’t be surprised if this Persian treasure expands similar to its elder sibling and that someday an inspired poem will rhapsodize about that chicken kabob.

Chello Grill
5010 Cutler Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-2299
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 August 2017
1st VISIT: 27 June 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicken Kabob, Sheesh Kabob,  Mast O Khiar, Naan, Mirza Ghasemi, Shirazi Salad, Feta Sabzi, Koobideh

Chello Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mykonos Cafe And Taverna – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mykonos Cafe for Authentic Greek Cuisine in Albuquerque

Jose Villegas, my friend and colleague at Hanscom Air Force Base, earned the most ignominious nickname. Everyone called him “Jose Viernes” which fans of the 1960s television series Dragnet might recognize is the Spanish translation for “Joe Friday.” We didn’t call him Jose Viernes because he was a “just the facts” kind of guy. He earned that sobriquet because he lived for Fridays. Jose kept a perpetual calendar in his head, constantly reminding us that there are “only XXX days until Friday.” Quite naturally, his favorite expression was “TGIF” which he could be overheard exclaiming ad-infinitum when his favorite day of the week finally arrived. Conversely, for him (as it is for many Americans), Monday was the most dreaded way to spend one-seventh of his life, an accursed day that mercilessly ended his weekend.

Aside from the temporary reprieve Friday provides from the grind of an arduous workweek, Jose’s anticipation about Fridays had everything to do with fun, friends, food and females. Mostly food. Jose was one of the first gourmets I ever met, a man with an educated palate and nuanced tastes (though for some reason, he disliked the foods of his native Puerto Rico). On Fridays, his favorite Greek restaurant served a combination platter brimming with several of his favorite dishes. Jose raved about such delicacies as dolmas, spanakopita, galaktoboureko and other dishes he could spell and pronounce flawlessly and which he considered ambrosiatic. Jose rebuffed all offers of company when Greek was Friday’s featured fare, likely because he was as interested in a comely weekend waitress as he was the food.

Bread and Dipping Sauce

In the Hanscom area, some twenty miles northwest of Boston, several of the local Italian and pizza restaurants were owned and operated by Greek proprietors.  Some of them would occasionally offer such weirdness as “stuffed grape leaves,” a dish of which my callow mind could not fathom.  Save for a “Mediterranean Pizza” (kalamata olives, feta cheese, olive oil) I left Massachusetts without ever experiencing Greek food.  After my inauguration into the culinary delights (at Gyros Mediterranean in Albuquerque) of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, I cursed Jose Viernes for not having introduced me to such deliciousness.  What kind of friend was he to have kept such dishes as gyros, spanakopita, tarama and stuffed grape leaves (those paragons of weirdness) from me!

Jose Viernes still comes to mind whenever we visit a Greek restaurant.  If the fates have been kind to him, he’s probably found a job that allows him to work four ten-hour days a week so he can have his precious Fridays off.  Maybe he married that Greek waitress none of us ever met and opened his own Greek restaurant.  Perhaps someday through the magic of the internet, I hope we can reconnect and reminisce.   Better still, I hope we can break pita together and discuss the nuances of Greek cuisine.  With any luck, that reunion will take place at Mykonos Cafe on Juan Tabo.

Greek Appetizer Plate: Spanakopita, Feta cheese & Kalamata olives, Hummus, Dolmas & Toasted Pita

Though–as very well chronicled in the May, 2017 edition of Albuquerque The MagazineGreek restaurateurs have plied their talents across the Duke City for generations, they often did so in restaurants showcasing New Mexican and American  culinary fare in such venerable institutions as Western View Diner & Steakhouse, Mannie’s Family Restaurant, Lindy’s, Monte Carlo Steakhouse, Town House Dining Room, Milton’s and many others.  Menus at these restaurants included a smattering of Greek dishes, but it wasn’t until much later that true Greek restaurants began dotting the culinary landscape.

Restaurants such as the Olympia Cafe (1972),  Gyros Mediterranean (1978), Yanni’s Mediterranean (1995) are the elder statesmen among Albuquerque’s Greek restaurants with Mykonos Cafe (1997) the newcomer in the group.  Situated in the Mountain Run Shopping Center, Mykonos was founded by veteran restaurateur Maria Constantine.  In 2014, Mykonos changed hands when Nick Kapnison, Jimmy Daskalos and wife Nadine Martinez-Daskalos purchased the restaurant.  Kapnison and Daskalos are among the Duke City’s most accomplished restaurant impresarios, boasting of such local favorites as Nick & Jimmy’s and El Patron.  The talented triumvirate gave Mykonos a complete make-over, revamping virtually everything in the restaurant.


More than ever, the restaurant evokes images of Mykonos, the Greek island for which the restaurant is named.  Sea-blue paint, in particular, will transport you to the crystal clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean.  The cynosure of the restaurant is a “bubble wall,” an illuminated glass fixture which holds moving water and changes color depending on its setting.  Capacious and attractive as the dining area is, for parents of furry, four-legged children, the dog-friendly patio is a welcome milieu.  Our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) enjoys the attention he receives from the amiable wait staff.

The menu is very well organized into several categories: dips and spreads, Mezethakia (appetizers), soupa, salata, entrees, vegetarian, steaks, chops and lamb, seafood, sandwiches, pastas, sides and homemade desserts.  Though it’s not the menu’s goal  to make it difficult to decide what to order, it may very well have that effect on you…especially if your tastes are diverse.  Jose Viernes would enjoy perusing the many options.  While you ponder what to order, a single bread roll with a dipping sauce is ferried over to your table.  The base for the dipping sauce is olive oil to which chile flakes, cheese and seasonings are added.  It’s among the best you’ll find anywhere.

14-Ounce Bone-In Pork Chop

If you need additional time to study the menu, order the Greek Appetizer Plate (spanakopita, feta cheese & kalamata olives, hummus, dolmas and toasted pita).  It’ll keep you noshing contentedly as you decide what will follow and it’ll give you a nice introduction to the restaurant’s culinary delights.  Each offering on the plate is a high quality exemplar of the Greek Mezethakia (appetizer) tradition.  The spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese baked in filo pastry) is a light and flaky wedge of subtle flavor combinations while the feta and kalamata olives come at you full-bore with more straight-forward and assertive flavors.  The dolmas are vegetarian though a beef version (stuffed grape leaves with beef and rice served hot with avgolemono sauce) is available as an appetizer option.

Entrees are accompanied by your choice of soup or salad.  Jose Viernes would call the Avgolemono a “no-brainer.”   Avgolemono is a traditional Greek soup made with chicken broth, rice (or orzo) eggs, and lemon juice.  Wholly unlike the sweet and sour soup you might find at a Chinese restaurant, it’s only mildly tart and blends tart and savory tastes in seemingly equal proportions.  It has a rich citrus (but far from lip-pursing) flavor and an almost creamy texture from the eggs.  The base of Mykonos’ avgolemono soup is a high-quality chicken stock that keeps all other ingredients nicely balanced.

Kotopoulo (Slow-roasted Chicken with Mediterranean herbs and Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

The fourteen-ounce bone-in pork chop is quite simply the best, most tender and delicious pork chop we’ve had in Albuquerque–better even than the broasted pork chop masterpiece at Vick’s Vittles.  When our server asked how I wanted the chop prepared, I told her the chef could indulge himself.  It arrived at our table at about a medium degree of doneness with plenty of moistness and just a hint of pink.  Greek seasonings penetrated deeply into as tender a cut of pork as we’ve ever had, imbuing the chop with luscious flavors.  It was a paragon of porcine perfection.  The pork chop is served with tender asparagus spears and mashed potatoes (though you can opt for au gratin potatoes instead). 

My Kim’s choice, as it often is when we visit Nick & Jimmy’s, was the Kotopoulo (slow roasted chicken with Mediterranean herbs and extra virgin olive oil).  As with many entrees at Mykonos, the chicken is sizeable enough for two people to share.  It is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all slow-roasted and flavored with lemon and flecked with garlic and oregano.  The skin is crispy while the entirety of the chicken is moist and delicious.  Roasted Greek potatoes are an excellent pairing for the chicken. 

Going strong into its second decade, Mykonos Cafe and Taverna is the type of restaurant my friend Jose Viernes would enjoy every day of the week.  So will you.

Mykonos Cafe and Taverna
5900 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 291-1116
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 May 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Kotopoulo, 14-Ounce Bone-In Pork Chop, Greek Appetizer Plate, Avgolemono

Mykonos Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Middle Eastern Food & Kababs – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Middle Eastern Food in Albuquerque

What do you do when you’ve just finished saving the world? Because warding off a vicious onslaught of alien invaders is bound to make you hungry, you just might have shawarma. That’s what the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest superheroes did. Lying on his back amidst the rubble of a demolished building after helping vanquish a phalanx of evil extraterrestrials, Iron Man doesn’t revel in victory or proclaim “We’re number one!” He asks his superhero colleagues “You ever try shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I want to try it.” After an intense and lengthy fight scene, his seemingly innocuous statement breaks the tension and reminds viewers that after working hard, even superheroes deserve a well-earned meal.

After credits have rolled, the entire Avengers team is shown assembled at the shawarma joint, most still attired in full superhero regalia. The battle weary Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) eat (and ostensibly enjoy) their shawarma while the restaurateurs go about the business of sweeping the floor and cleaning up. As the Avengers’ collective exhaustion has rendered them silent, it’s hard to tell whether or not they enjoyed the shawarma. They’re too tired and beaten even to utter such customary expressions of appreciation as “mmm” or “yum” (perhaps Rachael Ray has copyrighted that superpower).

Chicken Shawarma Plate

Because some of the Avengers movie was filmed in Albuquerque, my Kim and I wracked our brains trying to figure out where in the Duke City the “shawarma joint” could have been located. It didn’t look like any local shawarma joint with which we’re acquainted. We also wondered how a “genius millionaire playboy philanthropist” such as Iron Man’s alter-ego Tony Stark could have lived into his early 50s and not know what shawarma is. Thanks to a number of Middle Eastern Restaurants throughout Albuquerque, most of our fair city’s savvy diners not only know what shawarma is, they can tell you where to find the best shawarma in town. Yes, the Duke City does have several options…and most of them will elicit utterances of “mmm” and “yum.”

Talk about the effectiveness of product placement in Hollywood blockbusters. Worldwide increases in shawarma sales have been attributed to the Avengers movie. According to TMZ, sales of shawarma at one Hollywood shawarma joint, went “through the roof,” shooting up some 80 percent after the movie opened. Whether or not shawarma sales in Albuquerque were similarly impacted by the Avengers isn’t known, but it’s a certainty that if it took the Avengers movie to get you to try it for the first time, your second, third and fiftieth times ordering it will be because good shawarma has addictive properties.


As of May, 2016, Duke City diners have another shawarma joint where they can assemble. Sporting the descriptive appellation of Middle Eastern Foods & Kabobs, it’s housed in the space which once served as home to Kasbah Mediterranean Cuisine and prior to that to Guicho’s Authentic Mexican Food. Though it has a Central Avenue address, you’ve got to turn north onto Monroe to park in one of the restaurant’s few slots. The restaurant is on the smallish side, but has an homey appeal with shades drawn to keep the room cool. Music videos play from a television in the dining room. You’ll be invited to seat where you wish and a menu will be delivered promptly.

Menu offerings are relatively sparse, listing three appetizers, four plates, four kabob plates, a house salad, three sandwiches and one specialty dish (rack of lamb) not always available. Where the menu lacks in variety, it excels in price structure. There are only two items on the menu priced north of ten dollars. Everything else is priced for the year 2010. There are no burgers on the menu nor is there anything prepared with red or green chile.  Meats are certified Halal which means the animal has to be killed and handled in accordance with  Muslim religious rules. These rules make the meat halal, or permissible.

Lentil Soup

22 July 2016: Cost-conscious diners will appreciate the bargain-rich plates. The chicken shawarma plate, for example, is served with two dolmas, freshly grilled pita bread, hummus and your choice of salad or fries. It’s a lot of food. Though you’ll be tempted to spear the bite-sized strips of seasoned chicken with your fork, the more traditional way to eat shawarma is to create small “sandwiches” with the pita bread. A little hummus and a bit of tzatziki sauce and your taste buds will perform a happy dance. Sumac, that delightfully lemony reddish spice is sprinkled liberally onto the hummus though for me, even a bit more would have been better. For the dolmas (rice and dill wrapped in grape leaves), only tzatziki sauce will do. The salad if pretty routine stuff (chopped Romaine, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers sprinkled with feta cheese and lightly dressed), but very satisfying.

25 July 2016: There’s a tiny café in Israel employing a unique way to promote reconciliation. The restaurant offers a 50-percent discount to any table in which Arabs and Jews elect to sit together. That’s promoting peace one falafel at a time. When good falafel is served, it’s hard not to think of peace and love and other good things. Falafel (small orbs constructed of soaked chickpeas, coriander, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper) is one of the most popular foods in the world. Experience it for yourself in the form of a falafel plate (two dolmas, freshly grilled pita bread, hummus and your choice of salad or fries) at the Middle Eastern Foods & Kabobs restaurant.

Falafel Plate

25 July 2016: The menu offers a soup of the day served with pita bread. On my second visit, my server brought me a complimentary bowl of the restaurant’s vegetarian lentil soup, a warm and delicious elixir. Never mind that the day’s temperature was steadily climbing near the century mark, a good, hot soup has cooling properties that make the exterior heat tolerable. You can imagine just how much better that soup will be on a cold winter day. 

16 April 2017:  You don’t have to utter “Abra Kebab Ra” in order to find good kabobs in the Duke City, but you might think it’s sheer magic to find four kabob plates on the menu: lamb kabob, ground beef kabob, chicken kabob or a mixed kabob plate.  What could be better than choosing a skewer from two of the three (lamb, chicken, beef)?  The lamb and ground beef combination is a great choice!  Meats are very nicely seasoned although both my friend Nader and I thought they were overdone, probably having spent too much time over high heat.  As a consequence they were a bit on the dry side.  The seasoning was a saving grace.  Skewered vegetables (red, green and yellow peppers as well as onions), on the other hand, were perfectly done.  Served with heshweh, pita and salad, the mixed kabob plate is almost large enough for two though you won’t want to share this delicious bounty.  Heshweh is a surprising dish–long-grained Basmati rice, pine nuts, short wheat noodles, onions, raisins and green peas.  It’s a delightful treat.

Mixed Kabobs with with Heshweh, Salad and Pita

After an arduous day of waging war against tight deadlines and fighting work challenges, savvy diners make like the Avengers and assemble at Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs for shawarma and so much more.

Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs
4801 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-5151
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 April 2017
1st VISIT: 22 July 2016
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Falafel Plate, Chicken Shawarma Plate, Lentil Soup, Mixed Kabob with Heshweh

Middle Eastern Food & Kababs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gyros Mediterranean – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gryos Mediterraneon just off the UNM campus is a popular dining destination.

Gryos Mediterranean on Cornell.

It’s not easy being a gastronome about town when you make less than a thousand dollars a month and have a car payment, rent and a social life.   Stationed at Kirtland in the early 1980s, my Air Force salary pretty much dictated that most of my meals were at the base’s chow hall (which thankfully was legions better than the Peñasco High School cafeteria).   The little that was left of my meager monthly take-home pay meant social outings were pretty much of the cheap eats variety.

The epicenter for many of my off-site meals seemed to be Cornell Drive where it was possible to find restaurants with a broad socioeconomic appeal–restaurants which nurtured a refreshing open-mindedness toward the cuisines of the world.  Within easy walking distance of one another on Cornell, you could find battleship sized slices of pizza at Nunzio‘s, the very best lamb burger and green chile stew in the world at the long defunct Sheepherder’s Cafe, half a city block of full-contact eating at the Frontier Restaurant and a gourmand’s paradise of Greek food at Gyros Mediterranean.

Gryos Mediterranean dining room.

A Rare Sight: Gryos Mediterranean Not Packed.

Though my first two years in the Air Force (happily served in the Boston area) introduced me to Asian cuisine of every type, I was virginal when it came to Greek food until discovering Gyro’s Mediterranean on Cornell. Back then, this was the place to go for the eponymous gyros, a popular Greek sandwich. Gyros, a blend of lamb, beef and aromatic herbs and spices is grilled slowly on a vertical spit then sliced thinly into a pita which is topped with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, a savory yogurt sauce loaded with garlic and cucumbers.

5 December 2015: Both Gyros,  the restaurant, and I have grown up and out since then.  While Gyro’s gyros are still among the best in town, the restaurant itself has added an extensive menu of Greek classics.  Your best bet remains the gyros combination platter which includes a Greek salad and patates.  Order it with double meat and you might have some left over to take home.  By far, the very most popular side dish or appetizer at Gyros are the patates, thinly sliced homemade potato chips served warm.  They’re not quite as thin as conventional potato chips, but they’re much better tasting even if a bit salty.  Don’t dare desecrate these chips with ketchup.

Double Meat Gyros

Appetizers (mezedakia) play an important role in the Greek table.  Most Greek appetizers are salty, piquant (or both) and accompanied by ouzo (a clear anise-flavored liqueur).  By tradition, appetizers are meant to be eaten slowly and while they are quite delicious, their traditional purpose remains to make drinking ouzo easier. Although Gyros Mediterranean doesn’t serve ouzo, appetizers themselves are cause for celebration.

One of the most popular is the aptly named mezedakia (small plates of tasty morsels or appetizers).  At Gyros, the featured tasty morsels are dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with aromatic rice), feta cheese, Kalamata olives and pita bread (all pictured below).  The dolmades, although fresh and well seasoned, have a “canned” taste (very few restaurants make their own any more).   The feta is of the wonderful breath-wrecking variety, definitely not recommended for a hot date.  The Kalamata olives are mouth-watering with a briny flavor and meaty texture.  The pita is unfailingly warm.


5 December 2015: The saganaki, a slab of bubbly Green Kasseri cheese served with pita is far superior to the de rigueur cheesy fried mozzarella offered at chain restaurants. Crisp on the outside, soft and gooey on the outside, it is expertly pan-fried at your table then extinguished with a squeeze or two of lemon.  As with other Greek appetizers, saganaki is designed to be consumed in small amounts, as part of a large spread of small dishes.  The saganaki by itself won’t fill you up, but it will leave you sated.

Another intensely flavored appetizer is tarama, a carp roe spread.  I’ve heard tarama referred to as a “poor man’s caviar” and while I wouldn’t go that far myself, tarama is one of the most delicious things you can spread onto a piece of warm pita bread.  The name for this dish is derived from the Turkish taramas, which means “preserved roe,” and salata, Italian for “salad.”  The dish is made by blending the roe with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice to create a smooth, creamy paste,  then adding body to the paste with mashed potatoes or moistened breadcrumbs.

Saganaki set afire at our table

Some entrees include sides of Pepperonici and Kalamata olives, both of which are delicious. The Greek salad includes huge chunks of feta cheese, a sharp, fetid fromage. It also features red, ripe tomatoes, lettuce and a tangy Greek dressing that will enliven your taste buds. As with the gyros, the onions used on the salad are white onions which are much more flavorful than the seemingly more popular red onions.

Something else you can spread onto pita bread is potatoes. While that may sound somewhat unconventional, Greeks have long used potatoes as a vehicle for complementary ingredients.  In Skorthalia, an appetizer at Gyros Mediterranean, potatoes served cold and the consistency of mashed potatoes are blended with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and white wine.  The potatoes spread easily onto the pita bread and make for an interesting starter.


Dessert options include a bevy of baklava or baklava-like sweet treats, most resplendent in a honey sheen.  A nice alternative is the tongue-twisting Galaktoboureko, an inspired custard pie sandwiched between flaky phyllo dough baked until golden then drenched with a citrus-infused syrup.  Don’t buy the Homeric myth that the Trojan War started over Helen of Troy, the face that supposedly launched a thousand ships.  the Trojan War started over Galaktoboureko, an epic dessert!

Galaktoboureko, a tongue-twister name for a terrific dessert

Though this gastronome about town can now afford more than the cheap eats of my youth, I still return often to Cornell where some of the deliciously diverse diners that sated me in my poverty are still appeasing patrons of every wallet size.

Gyros Mediterranean
106 Cornell, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexican
(505) 255-4401
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 December 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Gyros, Patates, Tarama, Galaktoboureko, Spanakipita, Saganaki

Gyros Mediterranean Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Aura European and Middle Eastern Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Aura European Mediterranean Restaurant

Countries and states may recognize borders but food doesn’t, especially today in an increasingly connected world where it’s possible to enjoy the cuisine of many of the world’s diverse and distant cultures without crossing a single border. Attribute the modern world’s dietary diversity to improved agricultural, transportation and preservation methods as well as rampant imperialism throughout the history of humankind. Consider the culinary influence of invading forces on the ancient nation of Armenia. During the course of its storied history, Armenia was invaded and occupied in succession by Persians, Byzantines, Mongols and Turks, all of whom left their mark on the cuisine.

Though we were pretty sure the menu at Aura European and Middle Eastern Restaurant in Albuquerque would offer diversity, the terms “European” and “Middle Eastern” cast a rather broad net. European, for example, could encompass Spanish tapas, Italian pastas, French crepes and so much more. Similarly Middle Eastern is a rather broad category that could describe the cuisine of several nations and cultures, not all of whom share similar palates. There is no way, we thought, any restaurant could possibly attempt such a broad brush approach to European and Middle Eastern cuisine. There’s just too much diversity to execute the concept well. A quick perusal of the menu assuaged our concerns.

The rich interior of Aura

Aura’s menu isn’t a compendium of all foods European and Middle Eastern (not even close), but it offers a nice representation of the diverse melting pot cuisine on which brothers Ash and Marat Darbinyan were raised in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. If you’ve frequented Middle Eastern restaurants, you’ll find the menu more than vaguely familiar. You’ll recognize such appetizer delicacies as hummus, dolmas and crab cake. Lunch and dinner offerings such as Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Marsala, French Onion Soup and Russian borscht will also leap out at you as familiar favorites. So, too, will grilled lamb chops, kebabs and baklava. What you might not recognize, at least by name, are the premium wraps made with lavash bread, the Russian blinchik and the shashlik (grilled and skewerered meats and vegetables).

Aura is located in the Far North Shopping Center (just east of Budai Gourmet Chinese) in the space which previously housed Athens Eclectic Greek and other restaurants. The 86-seat restaurant has a very inviting vibe tailor-made for relaxed dining. Ash runs the front of the house while Marat runs the kitchen as he once did at the long defunct Charcoal Mediterranean Grill. The brothers Darbinyan have lived in Albuquerque since 2006, but Aura is the first eatery they’ve owned. It’s the culmination of a dream they’ve long shared and for which several restaurant jobs have prepared them. With amiable, professional service and a menu sure to please the discerning palate, the brothers have the formula that portends success.

Aura Appetizer Plate

Though there are probably several yet-to-be-discovered “must have” dishes on the menu, we certainly found one during our inaugural visit.  The Aura Appetizer Plate is everything you could possibly want if you love dips.  Picture hummus, tzatziki dip, spicy feta dip and an eggplant spread, a quadrumvirate of dip deliciousness served with pita bread wedges.  What we appreciated most about the fabulous foursome is that each has a unique flavor profile–the tanginess of the tzatziki, the garlicky bite of the hummus, for example.  Our favorite is the spicy feta dip which pairs the sharp, tangy sheep’s milk cheese with sweet-spicy red peppers.  It’s a magnificent duo.  The eggplant spread (roasted eggplant, red peppers, onions, parsley, tomato paste and spices) is the most interesting and multi-faceted.

In my seven years of serving as a judge at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souperbowl event, only one intrepid restaurateur (the brilliant Kevin Bladergroen at Blades’ Bistro) has ever attempted borscht, one of the most popular soups across Eastern European nations.  There are dozens of variations, some with and some without beetroot, the ingredient which gives borscht its reddish hue.  It’s been said that borscht isn’t about ingredients, it’s about spirit (aura?).  Aura’s version is replete with finely chopped vegetables in a comforting broth and it’s served with a dollop of sour cream.  It’s reminiscent of borscht we’ve had at some restaurants (including a Bohemian cafe in Chicago) and different from others.  That, too, is encompassed in the spirit of borscht.

Russian Borscht

My first exposure to Beef Stroganoff was courtesy of the “Tree Frogs,” Peñasco’s Boy Scout Troop 512.  During a camping excursion to the Jicarita wilderness, the experienced among us crammed lightweight dehydrated foods into our backpacks.  Somehow Beef Stroganoff was among our provisions, albeit a dish no other Tree Frog would even sample.  That turned out propitious for me. Reconstituted Beef Stroganoff began a lifelong love affair with the Russian dish.  Though my Kim makes a better-than-restaurant version at home, seeing it on a restaurant’s menu rekindles my love for the dish.  Rarely do we pass up the chance to order it at restaurants if only to compare it the one we make at home. 

We had expected Aura’s rendition (tender grilled beef, yellow onion, mushrooms smothered in a sauce served with fusilli pasta) to be prepared the traditional Russian way which is with potatoes, not pasta.  As the Web site To Discover Russia explains “Beef Stroganoff is at best a vague resemblance to the original dish, and at worst – absolutely different inexpressive concoction.”  The version we make at home is with egg noodles, so we don’t exactly subscribe to tradition either.  One thing we do at home and which many recipes advocate is thoroughly smothering the noodles with a rich, creamy mushroom sauce.  Aura’s version is rather stingy with the sauce though what there is of it is tasty.

Beef Stroganoff

In 2013, the per-capita consumption of lamb among Americans was a meager one pound per person per year.  Instead, beef is what was for dinner–to the Brobdingnagian tune of sixty-one pounds per person.  As recently as 2011, the American Lamb Board reported that nearly half of American diners had never even tasted lamb.  Blame this travesty on the latest war to end all wars, when rations for American servicemen in Europe included mutton (older sheep) passed off as lamb (typically slaughtered between the ages of 4 and 12 months).  Servicemen hated the strong musky flavor of adult sheep and brought their distaste home with them.  Understandably, many of them forbade lamb from their dinner tables, resulting in generations growing up unfamiliar with the delights of real lamb. 

As an unabashed lover of lamb, it saddens me to learn that lamb is loathed, in many cases by diners who haven’t even tried it.  Sure, that leaves more for me and for enlightened diners in virtually every nation outside the fruited plain, but  passion, much like misery, loves company.  If you like lamb, but your excuse for not trying lamb is that it’s too expensive, Aura features three grilled lollipop lamb chops for under twenty dollars, far less than what you’d pay for a steak.  And if you’re phobic about its purported off-putting flavor, you’ll appreciate the well-seasoned preparation which complements without obfuscating, the distinctive, slightly gamy, more earthy flavor lf luscious lamb.  These chops are served with your choice of one side and a salad.  The grilled asparagus is an excellent complement.

Lamb Chops

In an increasingly connected world, it’s still gratifying to find there are still new and different foods to be tasted; to discover menus offering foods you’ve never heard of, much less tasted; to be titillated by different yet familiar spice combinations.  That’s what you’ll find at Aura European Mediterranean Restaurant.

Aura European Mediterranean Restaurant
6300 San Mateo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-3224
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 8 October 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lamb Chops, Russian Borscht, Beef Stroganoff, Aura Appetizer Plate

Aura European Mediterranean Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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