El Farol – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Farol on Canyon Road in Santa Fe

For over a quarter century, the most popular section in New Mexico Magazine (the nation’s oldest state magazine, by the way) has been a humorous column entitled “One of Our Fifty is Missing.” The column features anecdotes submitted by readers worldwide recounting their experiences with fellow American citizens and ill-informed bureaucrats who don’t realize that New Mexico is part of the United States. Some travelers from other states actually believe they’re leaving their nation’s borders when they cross into New Mexico. Others think they need a passport to visit (not that they’d visit considering they’re wary of drinking our water.) Merchants and banks throughout America have been known to reject as “foreign credit cards” American Express and Visa cards issued by New Mexico banking institutions.

Sometimes you have to wonder if “one of our fifty is missing” applies also to American History textbooks. As an unabashedly proud New Mexican of Spanish descent, I always wondered why public schools taught impressionable students that America’s history was the exclusive domain of the thirteen colonies. You would think this great country’s history began when the pilgrims descended on Plymouth Rock. Seemingly unbeknownst to history books was all the history transpiring across the Land of Enchantment decades before the heralded pilgrims. For every “oldest this” or “first that” attributed to one of the thirteen colonies, there was already something significant older or precedent in the Land of Enchantment–with few exceptions, one being restaurants.

Dining Room at El Farol

Unlike the urban east, New Mexico was largely rural and agrarian with farms producing just enough to feed the families that tended to them. Being much more urban, it makes sense that the thirteen colonies are the domain of the quaint colonial restaurants. Seven of the ten oldest restaurants in the fruited plain reside in the states representing the red and white stripes festooning the flag. Among the most venerable is Boston’s legendary Union Oyster House which opened its doors as a restaurant in 1826, almost ninety years before New Mexico joined the union. Even the Union Oyster House, however, is a youngster compared to Newport, Rhode Island’s White Horse Tavern, circa 1673. As for the Land of Enchantment, numerous online sources (including the restaurant itself) will tell you the oldest restaurant in the state is Santa Fe’s El Farol.

In 1835–twenty-six years before the American Civil War and eight-seven years before New Mexico joined the union— La Cantina del Cañon, a saloon dispensing liquor and food, opened its doors on Canyon Road. Instead of the fashionable destination art district it is today, back then Canyon Road was a hard-packed dirt trail flanked by old adobe homes. The cantina was owned and operated by the Vigil family well into the mid-twentieth century. In 1963, it was sold and ultimately rechristened El Farol. Perhaps because of the continuity of having a restaurant at the same spot, it’s been pretty widely accepted that El Farol is the oldest restaurant in New Mexico .

Caldereta de Langosta

While it may be debated as to whether or not El Farol is the oldest restaurant in New Mexico, there many things about El Farol that cannot be disputed. It was once described by the New York Times as “one of the best bars on Earth!” MSN heralded El Farol as “one of the 39 most historic restaurants in America.” From 1985 through April, 2017, El Farol was owned and operated by Hernandez (home to Ansel Adams’ most famous photograph) native David Salazar. In the three decades in which Salazar ran the restaurant, thousands of visitors and locals frequented El Farol. Many came to experience the palate-pleasing creations of Chef James Campbell-Caruso, now chef-owner of La Boca, who ran the kitchen from 1999-2006. This may have been the restaurant’s halcyon period as it garnered numerous James Beard Awards and for a while, had the distinction of being one of the few restaurants west of the Mississippi to offer Spanish tapas. In 2017, the restaurant was sold to Richard Freedman who owns the Santa Fe Teahouse almost directly across the street.

After the change in ownership, El Farol underwent an extensive make-over which focused on preserving the legacy of the restaurant while reinvigorating a venerable institution in need of some spit and polish. Several new coats of paint brighten up the dining room to accentuate the iconic murals painted by former patrons, including one over the bar by Alfred Morang, a distinctive Santa Fe figure and founding member of Transcendental Painting Group. The flamenco dinner show, traditional Spanish tapas, good wine, the romantic garden setting…even the bullets on the floor remain though the menu did undergo a transformation of its own.  It’s a menu that reads like a fine novel, one you can’t put down.

Ensalada de Otoño

As you’re perusing the menu, your server will ferry over a plateful of lavosh (Armenian flatbread) and a bowl of olive oil.  For my Kim, olive oil alone doesn’t cut it; she has to mix it with Balsamic vinegar.  At El Farol this is a good thing.  The Balsamic vinegar has the viscosity of motor oil and sweet-tart notes that will delight you.  The olive oil is also of high quality.  The versatility of lavosh is such that it can be served soft like a tortilla or hard like a cracker.  El Farol’s rendition is cracker-like, but it has nicely absorptive properties and picks up the olive oil-Balsamic vinegar very well.

For years, my Kim has eschewed every seafood-based soup I’ve ever encouraged her to try. This includes some terrific cioppino in San Francisco, bounteous bouillabaisse in Boston and even the magnificent seafood bisque at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. She loved the caldereta de langosta (a Majorcan lobster stew made with sofrito, onions, tomatoes, garlic, preserved lemon and Marcona almond gremolata) at El Farol!  While sipping this luscious stew, we reviewed the ingredient list and were amazed that we could not only discern each component, but that they all worked so well together in a “no stars all stars” fashion.  This is a soul-satisfying elixir sure to remedy whatever ails you.


The “Starters” menu lists both cold (frio) and hot (caliente) options.  Among the former is a gluten-free autumn salad (ensalada de otoño) which packs some of my favorite all-season salad ingredients into one decoratively appointed plate: caramelized squash, pickled beets, dried blueberries, charred red onion, citrus, toasted pepitas, aged goat cheese, black kale and a goat cheese dressing.  It’s a multi-ingredient, multi-colored, multi-textured, multi-napkin affair, one of the very best salads in the City Different.  Among the stand-out components were the sundry citrus fruits including juicy slices of grapefruit and orange.  The toasted pepitas and dried blueberries lend textural contrasts while the pickled beets and caramelized squash provide interesting flavor counterbalances.

Several items on the menu have simple, one-word names that belie the complexity of the items for which they’re named.  One such example is the Aguacate which translates from Spanish to “avocado.”  A fruit high in healthy fats, avocados are versatile and delicious though all too often not used creatively.  El Farol flash fries a ripe, fat avocado  stuffs it with pico de gallo and drizzles it with a lime crema.  It may sound like a strange combination of ingredients, but they actually go together very well.  The pico (red onion, tomato, green pepper) is lively and fresh while the lime crema lends a citrusy tang to the proceedings, but it’s the flash-fried. lightly battered avocado which shines most.  As with most avocados at their peak of ripeness, it’s buttery, unctuous and rich.  Make sure each forkful has a bit of each component to maximize your enjoyment of this terrific dish.


My Kim’s entree choice was the Cerdo, a one-word descriptor which translates from Spanish to pork.  The Cerdo (pork tenderloin sandwich with bacon, Idiazabal cheese, avocado, arugula and fig mustard on rustic bread), served with pork cracklings and fries is one of the better pork sandwiches in Santa Fe.  Though its unique elements shine, this is one of those sandwiches which is the sum of all its parts.  All those parts work together as if they have always belonged together, but it took a chef genius to figure it out.  You’re probably curious about the Idiazabal cheese and rightfully so.  It’s not often used in these parts.  Idiazabal cheese is a Basque cheese made from sheep’s milk.  It inherits a sweet, aromatic smoke from the way it is stored and has a taste somewhat reminiscent of caramel and burnt caramel.  The fig mustard is both sweet and sharp like a Dijon.  The pork is tender and moist.

With so many other entree options available, I joked with our server about the propriety of ordering a burger at a restaurant such as El Farol. With a wink, he urged me to do so, confidently boasting that El Farol serves the very best burger in Santa Fe. Considering the City Different is home to such peerless purveyors of mouth-watering burger indulgence as Santa Fe Bite, the Counter Culture Cafe and Cowgirl BBQ (to name just a few), that’s a pretty audacious statement. El Farol’s burgers, he explained are eight-ounces of ground beef impregnated with bone marrow and brisket. That must account for just how moist, juicy and absolutely this multi-napkin burger is.

Hamburguesa El Farol

There are actually two burgers on El Farol’s lunch menu–the Hamburguesa El Farol and the Hamburguesa Santa Fe.  The latter is El Farol’s version of a green chile cheeseburger which not only includes Hatch green chile, but green chile toasted buns between which are also nestled avocado, Cheddar and bacon.  Despite these enticing ingredients, my contrarian appetites steered me toward the Hamburguesa El Farol (eight-ounces of ground beef, Balsamic onion jam, Manchego cheese on toasted brioche).  What a great, great choice!  Make no mistake about it, what makes this burger special is the ground beef.  It’s ground steak in all its glory–rich, beefy and a perfect canvas for the sweet-tangy Balsamic onion jam, caramelized onions tinged with velvety, complex sweetness.  The Manchego also has sweet, nutty notes, but they’re wholly different than those of the onion jam.  Worthy accompaniment for this behemoth burger is a field greens salad.

El Farol’s dessert menu is a mix of predictable post-prandial pleasures (such as churros and a selection of artisinal cheeses) and unique creations heretofore unexplored.  In perusing the dessert menu, our eyes quickly fixated upon a dessert reminiscent of the fabulous citrus cake we enjoyed so much at Jake’s in Palm Springs.  The Limon Brazo de Gitano (rolled sponge cake, lemon cake, raspberry meringue, raspberry caramel, candied pistachio) was a real surprise, especially the interplay of the sweet-sour lemon and juicy, slightly sweet taste of raspberry.  The rolled sponge cake is ethereal in its lightness and elevated to greatness with lemony swirl.  The candied pistachios impart flavor and textural contrasts as well as palate cleansing between bites of sweet and citrusy deliciousness.

Limon Brazo de Gitano

El Farol translates from Spanish to “the lantern” and indeed, this landmark restaurant and cantina is a veritable welcoming beacon of warmth and light, a refuge from worldly cares.  It’s what El Farol was destined to be.

El Farol
808 Canyon Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 983-9912
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2018
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Caldereta de Langosta, Limon Brazo de Gitano, Hamburguesa El Farol, Cerdo, Aguacate, Ensalada de Otoño

El Farol Restaurant & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pig + Fig Cafe – White Rock, New Mexico

Pig + Fig Bakery & Cafe in White City

In its eighth season, the brilliant sitcom Seinfeld helped introduce casual comic book fans to the concept of Bizarro world, a setting which is weirdly inverted or opposite of expectations. In other words, a Bizarro world is a mirror image of conventionality, logic and reality, everything being reversed. Jerry Seinfeld’s polar opposite Kevin, for example, was depicted as kind, selfless and reliable in contrast to Jerry’s indifference, self-absorption and forgetfulness. Gene was quiet, studious, polite and giving while his Bizarro counterpart George was loud, obnoxious, cheap and slovenly. Some people believe there’s a polar opposite—a Bizarro version—of every one of us.

I met “Bizarro Gil” while stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. While I (all modesty aside) consider myself a bit of a renaissance man, Derwin was atavistic, a throwback to the days of Ralph Kramden when men were short-tempered, disparaging and chauvinistic. He couldn’t understand why I would take my Kim out for dinner so often when there we had a perfectly good stove at home. It galled him that Kim often picked where we’d eat. His retort to that grievous affront was “The last time women decided what to eat, they doomed humanity for eternity,” an obvious reference to Eve being misled by a waiter into ordering the most expensive special at Eden Eatery.

Pig + Fig Dining Room

Bizarro Gil, er…Derwin was especially critical of the spontaneity of our meal choices. My Kim and I didn’t decide what to eat until after discussing our options and preferences…and only after hashing over the travails of our day at work. Derwin, on the other hand, laid out a strict schedule of mostly 1950s diner-style American favorites (meatloaf on Monday, roast beef on Tuesday, pork chops on Wednesday and so on) from which his browbeaten bride was never allowed to deviate. What torqued him off most was the egalitarian nature of my relationship with my Kim. We usually cooked together. “Cooking,” he insisted “is women’s work.” He found the notion ridiculous that many of the world’s greatest chefs are men. “Girly men” he called them…and probably me, when my back was turned.

Obviously Derwin had absolutely no any sense of appreciation for independent-minded, entrepreneurial women who owned restaurants and therefore told girly men what to do. Such a notion was incomprehensible, a sheer travesty. His caveat to “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” is that “the kitchen should be at home in a man’s castle”…and “if a woman did have to work outside the home, it should be as a waitress.” He would have hated Laura Hamilton, owner and chef of Pork + Fig Bakery and Cafe in White Rock and would be incensed to learn that Laura’s enviable culinary credentials dwarf those of many men.

Apple Strudel & Strawberry Lemonade

In forging a distinguished career, Laura blazed a path that took her from Houston to Las Vegas, Miami, Paris and back home to Houston before moving to Los Alamos in 2009. She is a graduate of the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and got her baptism by fire at Houston’s prestigious Brennan’s where after only two years, she ascended to sous chef. At Brennan’s she helped co-author two cookbooks and was on the culinary team that launched Commander’s Palace in Las Vegas. From 2001 through 2009, she earned multiple culinary honors nominations in Houston restaurants.

After moving to Los Alamos, Laura took a three-year hiatus from cooking. In January, 2016, she launched Pig + Fig Bakery and Cafe in White Rock as a venue in which she can showcase gourmet comfort food and fine wine. Within a year, the Los Alamos Daily Post was calling it a “White Rock Institution.” In May, 2017, she added tapas to her restaurant’s menu (alas, they’re available only from 4-8p.m.). Breakfast is served from 7-11a.m. and lunch from 11a.m. to 4p.m. Pig + Fig is closed on Sundays (“a man’s day of rest” according to Bizarro Gil). I first learned of this culinary oasis from my dear Zuzu Petals (from It’s a Wonderful Life, not The Adventures of Ford Fairlane).

Pig + Fig Green Chile Stew

Unlike Chicago’s acclaimed Purple Pig which showcases porcine perfection in all its glory, the Pig + Fig offers an eclectic menu. Its appellation (and the tapas menu) is a tribute to Laura’s Spanish mother and Cuban father. During visits to Spain, she frequented tapas restaurants where she developed a fondness for pork and figs. The charming bakery-café is obviously a popular dining destination for denizens of White Rock, a bedroom community where most residents are transplants from throughout the fruited plain and beyond. The queue to place your order begins when you set foot in the door. Pastries under glass may evoke involuntary salivation, if not sheer lust.

Whether you’ve been hiking at Bandelier or just parched from the salubrious mountain air, the strawberry lemonade will slake your thirst and delight your taste buds. It’s served in a Mason jar with plenty of ice to keep it cold and it’s not too sweet or too tart (Goldilocks would love it). Because it was served at the same time as the lemonade, I made quick work of the apple strudel. My well-intentioned willpower to sample only one bite and save the remainder for dessert went out the window. This strudel is reason enough to consider moving to White Rock. It’s light, flaky and fabulous–the optimum ratio of apples to crust!

Hot Pig & Fig Sandwich with Sea Salt Potato Chips

It’s rare that White Rock is mentioned as a dining destination, much less one that serves excellent chile. Pig + Fig may soon be changing perceptions with its eponymous Pig + Fig green chile stew (Kyzer Farms pork chunks, potato, sweet onions, New Mexico green chile). This chile bites back—not so much that it’ll deaden your taste buds, but enough for you to take notice. The Kyzer Farms pork is an order of magnitude better than the pork you’ll find on most green chile stew. If green chile stew is the Land of Enchantment’s most comforting elixir, this one could be an archetype, an ideal example or theoretically perfect form.

Though the lunch menu features such gourmet fare as chicken tagine, summer gnocchi and pork tagliatelle, don’t discount the sandwiches, salads and quiches. If you do, you’ll miss out on such sumptuousness as the Hot Pig + Fig Sandwich (honey-cured ham, arugula, brie and fig jam in a sourdough bread canvas). This exemplar of sweet meets savory meets peppery is an outstanding sandwich in which so many complementary flavors coalesce that grown men (at least this one) will swoon in delight. Fig jam, brie and honey-cured ham are so good together it’s as if that combination has always existed. The peppery arugula is a nice foil.  So are the housemade sea salt potato chips.

There is so much to see and do in Los Alamos county—and now there’s a fabulous bakery and café to entice visitors from throughout the Land of Enchantment. The Pig + Fig is the real deal! Only Bizarro Gil could utter a disparaging word or ten about this place.

Pig + Fig Bakery & Cafe
35 Rover Blvd Suite G
White Rock, New Mexico
(505) 672-2742
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 September 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Hot Pig & Fig Sandwich, Sea Salt Potato Chips, Pig + Fig Green Chile Stew, Apple Strudel

Pig + Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Cellar – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Cellar Spanish Cuisine: Tapas, Beer and Wine

While touring Granada, Spain during a 2013 episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown, Emmy award-winning celebrity host Anthony Bourdain bemoaned that “we will never have tapas culture in America.” Then, to emphasize his contention even further (and perhaps to rankle the ire of American foodies who frequent “tapas” restaurants across the fruited plain), he challenged viewers: “You may think you know what a tapa is, like if you’ve had small bites at some fusion hipster bar where they do a whole bunch of little plates. Yeah, that ain’t a tapa.”

Bourdain, a best-selling author, world traveler, renowned chef and “poet of the common man” doesn’t just vociferate controversial statements because it’s good television. Agree with him or not, he knows what he’s talking about. When he says we will never have tapas culture in America, the operative word is “culture” as in the social practices associated with tapas. In Spain, tapas isn’t a formulaic approach in which a restaurant (or more likely, a drinking establishment) serves “small plates.” It’s so much more than that.

Dining Room at The Cellar

In modern day Spain, tapas are not only a gastronomic custom, they are a deeply rooted social and communal event described by Travel and Leisure as “walking, talking, drinking and nibbling.” Taverns are indeed clustered in close proximity to one another, making it easy for patrons to hop from bar to bar sampling the specialty of the house at each. It’s been that way since the reign of Castilian King Alfonso the Wise who decreed that no wine was to be served in any inn throughout Castile unless accompanied by something to eat. This precaution was to counteract the adverse effects of alcohol on an empty stomach.

Observing that glasses of wine or sherry served to patrons attracted fruit flies, bartenders began covering the top of the glass with a piece of bread to prevent the pesky insects from doing the breaststroke in the wine. In time, each tavern concocted its own signature toppings for the bread. For the most part, the covers or “tapas” were relatively simple–ham or anchovies, for example, but eventually, those simple glass covers evolved into such creative and sophisticated dishes that what is essentially Spanish bar food now rivals any of the world’s most celebrated cuisines.

Exhibition Kitchen

Bourdain reminded viewers of another reason America will never have a tapas culture: in Spain, tapas are free. As long as you drink, the tapas keep coming. You’ll only be charged for beer or wine and for caviar (which is consumed by the spoonful). “When,” he declares “complimentary plates include such mussels steamed in olive oil and fried eggplant and honey, does it matter?”  Besides, the salty caviar will only make you thirstier so you’ll drink more and eat fewer tapas. Tavern-keepers know what they’re doing.

There’s an inverse relationship here between “free” and quality. Free tapas in Spain are the complete antithesis of what free tapas might be like in America.  Picture if you will, choking down “all-you-can-eat apps” at TGI Fridays then noshing on mozzarella sticks at Applebee’s followed by fried pickles at Chili’s as you travel from one to the other to imbibe your favorite adult beverage. Tapas in Spain are far superior in quality and deliciousness to appetizers for which we pay at the aforementioned chains (and for which you’d be overcharged if they were free). Tapas are meticulously assembled, eye-catching and absolutely mouth-watering delicious epicurean delights.

Left: Green Chile Olive Oil; Right: Black Mission Fig Olive Oil

So, in the eyes of the bombastic Bordain, America will never have a tapas culture. So what! Culturally and socially, we’re not Spain. Our drinking establishments aren’t clustered in close proximity to one another and they’ll probably never offer gourmet quality tapas for free. Does this all mean we can’t appreciate our own interpretation of tapas for what it is? Absolutely not! Especially if the tapas bar looks and feels as if it could be right at home in Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian, Seville, Andalusia or Granada.

Such is the case when you first set foot in The Cellar on Lomas Boulevard just east of the downtown district. It truly does feel like “an oasis of casual elegance where delicious wines and sophisticated tapas cuisine will transport you to Old Spain.” This Iberian-themed restaurant is the brainchild of first-time restaurateur Gabriel Holguin. Where others saw a shuttered video store available to be rented, he visualized a tapas bar patterned after tapas bars in the aforementioned Spanish cities. Exemplifying a hands-on approach, he completely gutted and rebuilt the edifice, hand-carving all the tables, installing the pressed tin-work enclosing the kitchen and bar, setting up light fixtures and more. You name it, he had a hand in it.

Tabla de Tres Quesos

The results are visually stunning! This is a captivating milieu interspersing contemporary industrial duct-work with the baronial splendor of Old Spain. The color spectrum ranges from gleaming metallic silver to masculine dark wood floors and tables. Accommodating some forty patrons in relatively close spacing, the space is both functional and attractive. A very utilitarian semi-exhibition kitchen appears part pantry, part cookery. Everything from utensils to cutting boards to vegetables and condiments is within easy reach of the chef and staff. The dulcet tones of flamenco guitars play in the background.

The menu offers both lunch and dinner with the latter offering more options. If it’s tapas you came for, you’ll find a phalanx of choices. There are tapas frias (cold tapas) such as ceviche, table de tres quesos (three cheese plate) and atun y salmon crudo (raw tuna and salmon). The tapas calientes (warm tapas) menu includes such delights as patatas bravas (fried potatoes), aguacate frito (fried avocado) and calamari frito (fried squid). The menu also includes sopas y ensaladas (soups and salads), almuerzo (lunch) and entrees. It’s a tempting array of mouth-watering choices wholly unlike the “small bites at a hipster bar” Bourdain derides.

Risotto with Ten-Inch Ribeye

As you peruse the menu (all the while trying to allay involuntary salivation), your server will ferry over to your table a slate board with olive oil and rustic bread. This is no ordinary olive oil. It’s olive oil infused with flavor-boosting ingredients such as chipotle, green chile and black mission figs and it’s procured locally from the ABQ Olive Oil Company. Both the chipotle and green chile infused olive oils have a pronounced piquancy. The black mission fig infused olive oil is a vast improvement over the de rigueur olive oil and Balsamic vinegar combination. If you’re not careful, however, you can fill up quickly on the bread and olive oils.  There’s too much else to enjoy to fill up too soon.

2 April 2016: Turophiles will love the tabla de tres quesos (three cheese plate), a Spanish cheese plate with imported Manchego, Cabrales and Mahon quesos, grilled peppers, Spanish olives, dries apples and crostini. A good cheese plate provides diverse flavor profiles—from mild and sweet to pungent and sharp. This is a good cheese plate. Mahon cheese has a flavor not dissimilar to a fruity olive oil. The Manchego has a sweet, caramel-like, nutty flavor somewhat resembling Monterey Jack. If you like a strong, penetrating aroma and sharp, acidic flavor, the Cabrales will delight you. The dried apples are an excellent foil in between cheeses.

Langosta y Mantequilla (Lobster and Butter)

2 April 2016: Entrees include items both sea-farers and landlubbers will love. The first item on the menu is paella, a classic Spanish dish. If, like me, you can’t resist trying risotto no matter how often this most trying of dishes to prepare, can be, you’ll appreciate the creamy, stock-rich, well-attended risotto offered at The Cellar. It’s a winner. For a pittance you can add a six- or ten-ounce grilled ribeye steak to your risotto. The demi-glace (teriyaki, chile flakes) really gives the steak a nice sweet-savory flavor profile—maybe too much of it because we found ourselves eating the gristly, fatty portions of the meat, too, all because we enjoyed the demi-glace so much. Sauteed mushrooms, asparagus spears and grilled peppers, all prepared very well, complete this entrée.

2 April 2016: What initially prompted our visit to The Cellar was my Kim’s declaration that she was craving lobster. Since it’s my mission in life to spoil her, The Cellar’s langosta y mantequilla (lobster and butter) was a no-brainer. This entrée, one more likely to be found in Barcelona than in Maine, featured a baked lobster tail with drawn butter and aioli served with saffron rice, Spanish vegetables and grilled Poblano chile. The lobster proved as sweet as my bride though she would have liked three- or ten-ounces more of the delicate decapod.

Almejas (Little neck Clams)

Executive chef James Dukes, formerly of the St Clair Winery & Bistro, is a peripatetic presence at The Cellar.  During lulls in the action when he’s not tending the high heat of his stove, he visits guests to see if there’s more the staff can do to ensure a great dining experience.  After our second meal, we complimented him on his mastery of sauces and demi-glaces, prompting a shy admission that he does pride himself on ameliorating with sauces, seasonings and demi-glaces.  Few chefs in Albuquerque do it nearly as well!

11 June 2016: Little Neck, Cherry Stone, Top Neck and Quahog.  These words may not mean much in the Land of Enchantment where these mollusks haven’t been seen alive since 2.5 billion years ago when water covered almost the entire planet, even New Mexico.  Little necks are the smallest clam at about seven to ten clams per pound.  Despite the name, they’re a very utilitarian clam, finding their way  in-and-out-of-the-shell into sauces, soups, stews and clams casino (Joe’s Pasta House makes an outstanding version).  The Cellar offers little necks (Almejas in Spanish) in a simple but delectable broth (soup-worthy) and serves them with toasted bread which you’ll undoubtedly use to dredge up every bit of that broth.   Little neck clams may be small, but they’re satisfying and succulent.

Higo Y Panceta (Figs and Pancetta)

11 June 2016: The pairing of sweet and savory flavors isn’t universally appreciated.  Perhaps detractors have never tried the pairing of figs and cheese where a strong, sharp cheese is more than a perfect counterbalance to the near cloying flavor of figs.  It’s a pairing we can’t pass up.  The Cellar one-ups the figs and cheese duet with a terrific triumvirate of sugar coated roasted figs, seared pancetta and goat cheese drizzled with amber honey.  Called “Higo Y Panceta” or figs and pancetta, the threesome is best enjoyed if all three flavors are enjoyed in each bite (though each of the three are wonderful on their own).  The goat cheese with its mildly acidic creamy flavor is a nice foil for the figs which are so sweet, some people can’t eat more than one or two.  If you’re picturing Italian-style pancetta (usually sliced paper-thin), you’ll be surprised to see what look and taste like New Mexican chicharrones.  The pancetta is very rich and deliciously fatty, but those qualities are tamed when combined with the goat cheese.

11 June 2016: Chops connoisseurs generally agree that the optimum degree of “doneness” for lamb chops is always whatever the chef decides as ostensibly the chef should best how to prepare them.  Chef Dukes recommends medium-rare for The Cellar’s chops.  Take his recommendation to the bank!  The lamb chops (Costillas Del Cordero) are  spectacular: four lollipop (what lamb rib chops are called when the meat is cut away from the end of a rib or chop, so that part of the bone is exposed)) lamb chops served with what the menu describes merely as a red wine demi-glace (but which is oh, so much more). The lamb chops essentially come with a built-in “handle” which makes them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine dining restaurant). Each lamb chop is pert and petite, but it’s packed with flavor and is very tender. Then there’s the demi-glace with an attention-grabbing combination of lively flavors, including a piquant punch which offsets the slightly sweet notes of a sauce reminiscent (but much better) than Vietnamese chili sauce.

Costillas del Cordero (Rack of Lamb)

The lamb chops are served with patata Española (Spanish potato), a grilled potato sliced into half-inch thickness and topped with a tomato relish.  Forget French fries.  Banish baked potatoes.  Move away mashed potatoes.  This is a unique and tasty way to enjoy potatoes.  Viva la differencia!  Also accompanying the lamb chops are an assortment of Spanish vegetables and asparagus spears (a restaurant specialty), all beautifully seasoned and delicious.

11 June 2016:  There are four salads on The Cellar’s menu and to say they’re merely salads is to say the Mona Lisa is merely a painting.  These are not your “usual suspect” salads with all their predictability and boring sameness.  By no means does this mean they’re complex offerings of multitudinous ingredients.  The Tomate a la Parrilla con Jamon (Spanish ham and roasted tomato on a bed of Romaine topped with goat cheese and tossed in an olive oil vinaigrette), for example, is constructed of only four ingredients, but the interplay of each one of them makes for a harmony of flavors.  The slightly acidic goat cheese and the thin, salty Spanish ham make beautiful music together.  The olive oil vinaigrette makes its presence known without detracting from any of the other flavors.

Tomate a la Parrilla con Jamon

While America may not have a tapas culture in the way Anthony Boudain defines it, New Mexico has several tapas restaurants that hold true to the traditions of Old Spain (save for the “free” part). The Cellar belongs in any discussion of the Land of Enchantment’s best for a tapas experience New Mexican-style. 

The Cellar
1025 Lomas Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-3117
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LATEST VISIT: 11 June 2016
1st VISIT: 2 April 2016
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Langosta y Mantequilla, Risotto with Ten-Inch Ribeye, Tabla de Tres Quesos, Tabla de Tres Quesos, Tomate a la Parrilla con Jamon, Costillas del Cordero, Almejas, Higo Y Panceta

The Cellar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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