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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.

Nick & Jimmy's Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Effingbar and Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Effingbar in Albuquerque

The late comedian and beloved social critic George Carlin might be surprised at how far America has come (some might say how much we’ve regressed) when it comes to uttering foul invectives, especially the “seven words” he postulated “you can never say on television.” While most of us still won’t vocalize the infamous “F-word” in polite company, its diminutive version has become part of our vernacular. Whether on screen or in print (or on shirts emblazoned with the abbreviation F.U. (which doesn’t stand for Florida University)) it’s “F this” and “F that.” 

It’s been said that the F-word is the most versatile word in the English language in that it can be used as an action verb, passive verb, adverb, noun, adjective and even conjunction.  Make it a gerund by adding “ing” and the F-word’s utility as an adjective is virtually unlimited.  Like something and it’s “effing great.”  Hate something and it “effing stinks.”  At the very least, a bar and grill with the unique name “Effingbar and Grill” will get your attention.  It’s not until you visit that you’ll determine whether it’s effing good or effing bad.

The interior of the Effingbar & Grill

Our server jokingly apprised us that the “effing” part of the bar and grill’s name can essentially mean whatever we want it to mean, then clarified that the “Effingbar” is actually named for the owner’s hometown, Effingham, Illinois.  While that may be the case, the menu is replete with items prefaced by “effing” and even if they’re not, you may just find yourself asking for the effing hot dogs or effing nachos then effing thanking your server when she effing delivers them.  It’s a good bet she’s heard it all before. 

We all like to think that the adult beverage establishment we frequent is the proverbial place “where everybody knows your name.” The Effingbar truly may be that place. Like Cheers barflies Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin, regulars–and there seem to be many of them–belly up to their favorite bar stool for an unfettered view of one of the fourteen high-definition televisions, all turned to sporting events.  The Effingbar and Grill also offers karaoke and live music as well as daily lunch specials.

Chips and Salsa

Established in 2010, the Effingbar and Grill seems to have fallen under Albuquerque’s culinary radar a bit with nary an Urbanspoon review and only eight (mixed) reviews on Yelp as of this writing.  Frankly, it might have escaped my notice, too, had it not been for a posting on the “Best Burger Review” blog touting the “best burgers we ate in 2014.”  Described as “one of the most under-rated burgers in Albuquerque” and “nothing fancy, but, juicy and full of flavor,” far be it for me to pass up such a tempting appraisal. 

With its masculine ambiance of dark wood accents and darkness punctuated by generous dabs of light emanating mostly from televisions and illuminated bar signs, the Effingbar and Grill won’t be mistaken for a fine dining establishment, but its culinary offerings are head and shoulders better than dive bar food.  The menu offers an array of New Mexican entrees, certified Angus beef burgers (fresh, never frozen), sandwiches, hot dogs and even steak.

The Effing Burger with Green Chile and Chile Cheese Fries

If you’re tired of insipid salsa that tastes good, but doesn’t bite back, the Efingbar and Grill has salsa you can truly respect.  If  you don’t exclaim out loud “this salsa is effing hot!,” you’ll at least be thinking it.   It’s among the most piquant salsas in town, on par or even more piquant than the incendiary offering at Sadie’s Dining Room.   We usually have a surfeit of chips remaining after quickly polishing off the salsa, but that wasn’t the case with this flame-eater’s delight.  The queso isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a very good flavor and perfect viscosity. 

Visit the Effingbar’s Facebook page and you might be tempted to lick the screen.  That’s because the page’s cover photo depicts the Effing Burger, ten ounces of fresh ground Angus beef cooked to your exacting specifications (though medium-well to well are recommended) and topped with American and Swiss cheeses, sauteed mushrooms, bacon, green chile and a large onion ring on a sourdough bun with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles served on the side.  Perhaps the best thing about this burger is how the melange of fresh ingredients take a supporting role to the thick, nicely seasoned beef.  The next best thing is how the green chile actually bites back.  Though you can have this burger with fries or onion rings, its best pairing might be with the chile cheese fries Christmas-style.

Taco Plate with rice and beans

New Mexican dinner offerings include an enchilada plate, huevos rancheros, burrito plate and taco plate.  The taco plate is a terrific threesome of (your choice) tacos constructed either on hard-shells or soft tortillas engorged with seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese and chopped tomatoes served with a ramekin of salsa and sides of beans and rice.  While the tacos are quite good, you might find yourself surprised at how good the rice is.

Pursuers of cheap eats will appreciate an occasional special of two hot dogs for under four dollars. You can have these fabulous franks dressed your way (mustard and relish for me) within a split wiener repository, but you’ll probably come away with a higher appreciation for how well they’re grilled.  Few things in life are as satisfying as a simple hot dog or two.

Hot Dogs with Lays Potato Chips

The Effingbar and Grill is one of the Duke City’s most effing good surprises–a friendly, easy-going milieu that actually serves effing good food (and maybe even a PBR or six for my friend Bob).

Effingbar & Grill
5300 Sequoia Rd. N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 833-3765
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 31 January 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Hot Dogs, Taco Plate, Effing Burger, Con Queso, Salsa with Chips

Effingbar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Omira Bar & Grill – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Omira01

Omira Brazilian Steakhouse on the southeast intersection of Cerrillos and St. Michael’s in Santa Fe

HOLLY: I can’t believe you’ve never taken anybody here before.
JERRY: Well, I’m not really that much of a meat eater.
HOLLY: . . . You don’t eat meat? Are you one of those. . .
JERRY: Well, no, I’m not one of those.
~ Seinfeld

“One of those!”  Around my Chicago born and bred Kim and her family, that term fits me to a tee.  As with many Midwestern families, my in-laws are rapacious carnivores.  Their dining room table is a pantheon of pork and a bastion of beef.  It’s a Bacchanalian feast of multitudinous meats.  Similarly, meals at Windy City  restaurants are veritable meat-fests where diners unleash their innermost meat-eating-machine.  In the city’s chophouses (what every other city calls a steakhouse) heavily marbled flesh is displayed under glass, trophies of edible excess.  Is it any wonder the city’s defining foods include humongous Italian beef sandwiches, slabs of Flintstonian-sized ribs and steaks the size of manhole covers. 

This obsession with meat isn’t solely a Midwestern phenomena.  People throughout the world are eating more meat and fat than ever with worldwide meat consumption expected to double by 2020.  In the western world alone, the per capita consumption of meat is a whopping 176 pounds–or about what my in-laws eat in a week.  When they decide to lose weight or live more healthily, meat mongers eschew carbs and happily sink their teeth into…even more meat, a much-appreciated dietary byproduct of the most popular meat-centric diets in the world.

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The massive Salad Bar at Omira

Carnivores–and those among us who, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, are “one of those”–can dine together in perfect harmony, eating side-by-side at veritable meatatoriums known as Brazilian Churrascarias.  Strictly speaking, calling a Churrascaria a Brazilian “steakhouse” is a misnomer in that you don’t plop yourself down and order a slab of beef (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Instead, you pay a fixed price (preco fixo) for the decadent indulgence of sitting down for bounteous portions of magnificent meats and full access to a sumptuous salad bar.  For carnivores, this is basically heaven on Earth.  For those among us who are “one of those” there’s still  much to enjoy.

The rodizio service is almost as entertaining as it is indulgent.  Machete-wielding servers channeling their inner gaucho traverse the room with oversized skewers of freshly prepared meats.  They risk life and limb to appease ravenous carnivores, some of whom would just as soon not wait for the meats to be sliced and apportioned.  On each table, you’ll find a “signaling” apparatus (not wholly unlike the famous bat signal in the campy Batman series) that apprises your server you want more meat.  This carnivorous cavalcade doesn’t end until you turn off the signaling device.

Omira03

While the light is on, your server will continue to bring food to your table

Perhaps someday Santa Fe’s resident carnivores will celebrate the summer of 2013 as the “summer of meat,” a tribute to the launch of the Omira Bar & Grill.   While the marquee is subtitled “Brazilian Steakhouse,” Omira is Brazilian only in the spirit and style of the Churrascaria.  Its world-cuisine offerings are more than a tad more sophisticated and of significantly higher quality than at other Churrascarias we’ve frequented while holding to a much appreciated price point.  Within months of opening, the Santa Fe Reporter named Omira one of Santa Fe’s ten best restaurants for 2013, a tremendous accomplishment considering the quality and diversity of the city’s restaurant scene.

Omira is the brainchild of Ziggy Rzig, a Tunisian-born entrepreneur who also owns the Pyramid Cafe, a popular Mediterranean restaurant on Cordova Road.  Ziggy is as hands-on and personable as any restaurant owner we’ve met.  He’s a peripatetic presence at the cavernous Omira, flitting from table-to-table while simultaneously acting as host, server, busboy and all-around ambassador.  The only job he doesn’t do is chef.  That’s the bailiwick of his beauteous bride Sally.  Ziggy credits being actively involved in every facet of day-to-day operation as one of the reasons Omira is able to maintain such high quality at a surprisingly low price point.

Omira06

Owner Ziggy Rzig

It’s certainly not the only reason.  Ziggy frequents the farmers’ market to find fresh, local produce where the tremendous variety and seasonal diversity allows for frequent menu changes.  Meats are also sourced locally.  Lamb and pork, both grass-fed, are procured from the Talus Wind Ranch Heritage Meats in Galisteo.  Beef is sourced from 4 Daughters Land & Cattle Company in Los Lunas.  While technically an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) restaurant, the quality at Omira is wholly antithetical to your typical AYCE pantheon of the pig-out.

Ziggy jokes that Omira is named for the Spanish expression “¡O, mira!’” which translates from Spanish to “oh, look” as in “oh, look at all the wonderful food.” (Actually, Omira is a portmanteau for the names of Zigg’s children, Omar and Samira.)  You won’t just look.  You’ll do a double- or triple-take.  As you walk past the front dining room into the larger, main dining room, your eyes will instantly train on a glimmering, glinting steely salad bar, one unlike any salad bar you’ll find in New Mexico.  It’s a veritable cornucopia of freshness, variety and pulchritude.  The burnished salad containers aren’t overfilled with their contents replenished faithfully to ensure freshness and minimize wastage.

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From the salad bar and a bowl of butternut squash soup

If your idea of salad is the anachronistic concept of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and gloppy blue cheese, you’re in for a surprise.  The salads, about two dozen in all, are already prepared for you.  Clearly marked cards are labeled with the names of artistic composed salads: mushrooms in Balsamic vinaigrette, Greek salad, kale salad, Basmati rice, watermelon and cantaloupe in mint dressing, chopped beets and feta, Asian coleslaw and so much more.  If you discern an Asian influence throughout the menu, credit Sally, of Southeast Asian descent. 

There are a number of very pleasant surprises in the salad bar experience though because of the rotating menu, it’s likely some of those we enjoyed most won’t be available in future visits.  Among our early favorites were a butternut squash soup, as warm and comforting as any soup.  It’s a soup with personality, seasoned assertively but not so much that it takes anything away from the flavor of the squash.  The Thai chicken curry is as good as we’ve had at some Thai restaurants.  Bread rolls are yeasty and delicious, perfect for sopping up the curry and soup.

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Egg Rolls

The fried bananas, a popular dish in Malaysia where they’re known as pisang goring, bring together sweet, ripe bananas sheathed in a light batter.  Traditionally a street food favorite, they’re wonderful even without coconut sprinkles or ice cream (hint here). The mushrooms in Balsamic vinegar are only lightly dresses so  as to allow the fleshy fungi to sing with delicious earthiness.  Surprisingly, the freshly-made Caesar salad is as good as you’ll have at fine dining restaurants.  It’s a daily salad bar standard.

If you’re not carnivorously inclined (or you’re “one of those”) you can opt out of the cavalcade of carne altogether and you’ll be perfectly happy (understatement) with the salad bar.  Better still, focus on the salad bar one visit and the meat next time.  Only certified gurgitators will have the caloric overachieving capacity to eat everything they want on both during one visit.  My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott and I certainly tried, but were woefully inadequate for the task.

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At top, Bottom Sirloin Steak; At bottom: Panko Encrusted Pork Sirloin wrapped in Bacon

Though the meats are slow-cooked to bring out the optimum smokiness and delicate flavors of the nicely marbled grass-fed stock, you may quickly find yourself falling behind if you’re still attacking your salad when the parade of meats begins.  Depending on where in the meaty rotation your server (likely Izzy himself) is, you might start with German sausage, a nicely seasoned, not too assertive sausage with a smoky flavor.  Maybe it will be with the crispy egg rolls stuffed with ground beef.  The egg roll plating isn’t only decorative, it’s deliciously functional with swirls of a Sriracha and a soy-Hoisin sauce for your dipping pleasure.

The meat-fest features both bottom sirloin and top sirloin, two distinctly different cuts of beef from a one to two foot section of the cow.  Top sirloin, along with tenderloin, is considered one of the “better” cuts.  From the bottom sirloin comes a personal favorite, the tri-tip.  Both the top and bottom sirloin are flavor-rich though not necessarily as tender as one might think.  The meat with which I fell most in love is the panko-encrusted pork sirloin wrapped in bacon.  Panko, Japanese breadcrumbs, imbue the sweet, tender pork with a delightful crispiness while bacon imbues everything it touches with deliciousness.  For my friend Ryan, it was the Picanha, the most prized cut of meat in Brazil.  Picanha is the cap that sits on top of the top sirloin butt roast.  It’s a wonderfully beefy, magnificently marbled and superbly flavored cut of beef.

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Two chicken hearts and Tokyo style beef

For the intrepid among you (Franzi, I have you in mind here), chicken hearts are not to be missed. Probably closer in flavor to dark meat chicken than to white meat, chicken hearts have a musky offal flavor and impart a slightly metallic aftertaste.  More to the liking of most diners is Tokyo style beef, folded flank steak with the complementary contrasting flavors of soy and teriyaki for savory and sweet notes.  Among carnivores filet mignon is a universal favorite.  Often referred to as “beef tenderloin,” filet mignon is a tender cut resplendent with superb beefy flavor.  The leg of lamb is a moist, tender dark meat with a wonderful flavor and very little of the gaminess for which lamb is renowned.  One commonality among all meats is absolutely impeccable seasoning.  Every dish is served as well as it can possibly be made–an optimum in deliciousness.  You could happily make a meal of any one of the cavalcade of meats, but you’re treated to all of them.  It’s truly a carnivore’s paradise.

There are about a dozen meat offerings on the lunch buffet with filet mignon and leg of lamb added for dinner.  As an intermediary in between meats, Omira serves grilled pineapple sliced tableside.  It’s a good palate cleanser that prevents a meaty overload.  Moreover, it’s the very best grilled pineapple I’ve ever had.  Glazed with a combination of butter, brown sugar and Amaretto, it may remind you of the best pineapple upside down cake you’ve ever had without the cake part.  Seriously, this is one addictive pineapple.  Great fortune smiled upon us during our inaugural visit as the talented Sally had just prepared a loaf of pecan bread, a moist, tender and delicious post-prandial treat.  Other  desserts may be offered when you visit.

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Pecan Bread

For sheer quality and value Omira Bar & Grill may be unmatched in Santa Fe, but it’s certainly no slouch in the department of deliciousness with something for everyone to love–even if you’re “one of those.”

OMIRA BAR & GRILL
1005 South St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 780-5483
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 06 December 2014
1st VISIT: 15 December 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Panko Encrusted Pork Loin Wrapped in Bacon, German Sausage, Fusion Dolmas, Egg Rolls, Grilled Pineapple, Top Sirloin, Bottom Sirloin, Filet Mignon, Tokyo Style Beef, Mediterranean Chicken Wrapped in Bacon, Picanha, Lamb Kefta

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