Casa Chimayo – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Casa Chimayo on West Water Street in Santa Fe

Chimayó is one of the most mythologized, misunderstood—
and, some would say, maligned—places in New Mexico.
On one hand, it holds a place in popular imagination as the Lourdes of America,
a reference to the annual Good Friday pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayó,
a nineteenth-century church. New Mexicans and visitors from afar also celebrate
Chimayó’s weaving tradition, the potently flavorful chile grown there,
and the local restaurant, where margaritas compete with the church’s holy dirt as a tourist draw.

~ Postcard From New Mexico: Don Usner’s Chimayo

Named for the Tewa Indian word describing one of four sacred hills overlooking the verdant valley on the foothills of the Sangre De Cristos, Chimayó may be only 26 miles from Santa Fe and 52 miles from Taos, but in some ways seems further removed by time than by distance.  While its aforementioned counterparts have transitioned to artsy and cosmopolitan service and tourism economies, Chimayó has had a harder time moving away from its pastoral-agricultural sustenance roots.  

Where Santa Fe and Taos may be imbued with rustic sophistication and  urbane trappings, Chimayó moves at a slower pace.  At the end of the day, neighbors still meet at the fence for some serious “mitote” time.  Close friends are referred to as “comadre” (female) and “compadre” (male), as familial a Hispanic term for endearment as there is.   Land owners work together to maintain the acequias, the communal-ditch system which irrigates chile fields and apple orchards.  Chimayó is certainly not a village that time has forgotten, but one which beckons for a return to better times.

Casa Chimayo’s Dining Room

That’s the Chimayó in which Roberto Cordova fondly remembers being raised as a boy and for which he named his restaurant, Casa Chimayó.  Long before it was a restaurant, the nearly three-quarter century old adobe structure was a family home, the site of Roberto’s birth.  Though he was born in Santa Fe, Roberto spent his formative years in Chimayó where he learned traditions and culture from a very close extended family and the values of hard work from his grandparents.

Roberto traces his familial lineage back to Zacatecas, Mexico, from where his ancestors set off with other Spanish families to found and colonize the last Spanish frontier, the villages of Northern New Mexico prefacing the Sangre De Cristos.  Those settlers founded the villages of Santa Cruz, Quarteles, La Puebla, Chimayo, Rio Chiquito, Cordova, Cundiyo and Truchas, all still viable today.  These pioneering families also developed and perfected the now famous Chimayó chile.  Their descendants continue to plant and harvest this chile, annually surmounting Chimayó’s hot summer days, cool nights and unpredictable water availability to produce a delicious bounty.

Chile Relleno En Nogada

The edifice housing Casa Chimayó has long served as a restaurant, most recently hosting Los Mayas which shuttered its doors to begin the new year of 2011.  Rather than leasing to another prospective restaurant, the Cordova family decided to share their family’s culinary cultural heritage themselves by opening Casa Chimayó which launchd shortly after Los Mayas closed. 

From the outside, Casa Chimayó can’t help but resemble a long familiar enclave behind adobe walls.  If, however, you were familiar with Los Mayas, you’ll quickly discern the changes within the complex.  The entrance is now to your immediate left as you step into the walled courtyard.  The restaurant, a veritable museum, pays tribute to the community of Chimayó, honoring Roberto’s childhood home with vintage photographs and the incomparable weavings from the village.  The historic Santuario de Chimayó is well represented in art works as is another aspect of the village’s proud culture–the low-rider.

Salsa and Chips

On October 21st, 2013, the Food Network premiered an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives entitled “Aces of Authenticity.”  Casa Chimayó was one of two New Mexico restaurants showcased along with the incomparable Torinos @ Home in Albuquerque.  Host Guy Fieri chronicled the restaurant’s founding after Roberto’s retirement from government when his mamasita advised him to “open up a restaurant, hire some cooks and I’ll teach them how to cook our way.”  Our way is the traditional New Mexican way, the way his ancestors did it.

The menu forewarns that red or green, the chile is hot, apprising that a milder alternative is available in the “ranchero” sauce.  Casa Chimayó proudly serves sun-dried red chile pods and fresh, roasted green chile that is peeled in-house.  Both red and green chiles are grown and harvested by local farmers.  The only item in which cumin is used is the “Mercedes Posole,” described as “prize-winning red chile, hominy and pork stew often served when celebrating life’s blessings.”  You’ll find out quickly that a meal at Casa Chimayó is one of life’s blessings.

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Carne Adovada with an egg over medium, rice and beans

22 April 2018: Jerry Seinfeld quipped “Salsa is the number one condiment in America! You know why? People like to say salsa.” With all due respect to the comedian who eats his salsa in cars, salsa is the number one condiment in America because it’s the best condiment in America. Though most restaurants no longer offer complimentary salsa and chips, for many of us the notion of a New Mexican or Mexican meal without this dynamic duo is unthinkable. Casa Chimayo’s chips and salsa is a four dollar plus indulgence, but it’s money well spent. The salsa has a discernible bite and fresh flavors. It’s served with crispy, thick chips fashioned from fried flour tortillas. You’ll go through at least two bowlfuls of the beloved condiment before you run out of chips.

22 April 2018: As with its predecessor Los Mayas, Casa Chimayó offers chiles rellenos en nogada, which stellar food writer Lesley Tellez describes as “a living piece of Mexican history.”  The dish was invented by nuns in Puebla, Mexico in 1821.  Similar to how the Margherita pizza showcases the colors of the Italian flag, chiles rellenos en nogada feature the colors of the Mexican flag: a green poblano chile stuffed with sundry ingredients such as dry fruits, a creamy walnut sauce (white) atop of which pomegranate seeds (red) are tossed.  Because the flag of Mexico was first unfurled at about the same time, this dish evokes patriotic fervor among Mexicans.

CasaChimayo07

Pollo en Mole Rojo

Among New Mexicans such as my friend Skip Muñoz and I, the dish evokes involuntary salivation.  Made correctly, it’s one of the most spectacularly diverse and delicious dishes you’ll find at any Mexican restaurant.  Casa Chimayó’s rendition, available on the appetizer menu, is one of the very best I’ve had, better even than Los Mayas.  A poblano pepper is engorged with slowly stewed sirloin, apricots, raisins, apple and orange nectar then adorned with cream cheese, cinnamon and walnut sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds and piñon when in season.  There is no one flavor profile.  Instead you’ll enjoy a balance of several flavors playing off one another and providing flavor explosions with every bite.  It’s a dish raved about by the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host  Guy Fieri who visited Casa Chimayó in September, 2013.

27 December 2013: There are six quesadillas on the menu, all served with a side of salsa.  One of the more “New Mexican” of the half-dozen is made with cheese, calabasitas, corn and onions, the three latter ingredients a very popular  combination dish in both households and restaurants.  Interestingly the calabasitas are nearly al dente, retaining a delightfully crispy texture.  The accompanying salsa, made from fire-roasted tomatoes, cilantro, onions and jalapeños is fresh and invigorating.

Nuevo Mejico Lamb Chops

27 December 2013: The carne adovadasucculent pork marinated in a rich red Chimayó chile and spices (including a fresh Mexican oregano) then stewed slowly in its natural juices to a tender finish–is absolutely delicious.  Each tender tendril of porcine perfection is meant to be savored slowly  though it’s hard to hold back and not devour this delicious dish.  The Chimayó chile is piquant, but not overly so.  It’s also rich and earthy with complex notes and a silky, velvety texture.  The carne is accompanied by rice and whole pinto beans, the latter perhaps the best restaurant-made beans in Santa Fe, if not New Mexico.  These are beans made the way abuelitas have been preparing them for generations. 

27 December 2013: “Never the twain shall cross” is an adage which often seems applicable to New Mexican and Mexican restaurants.  It’s not every New Mexican restaurant which can cross over successfully and prepare Mexican food well…and vice versa.  Perhaps because of the family’s Zacatecas roots, the Mexican food is exemplary.  My love for the chiles rellenos en nogada is almost matched by my love for the enchiladas de pollo en mole rojo.  A citrus-marinated chicken breast is hand-shredded then sheathed by blue corn tortillas  covered in a complex mole sauce made with spices, peanuts and Mexican chocolate.  It’s a mole good enough to forgo New Mexican entrees.  That mean’s it’s special!

Natillas

22 April 2018: After the last war to end all wars, lamb chops went from fairly common family fare (at least in the west) to costly fine dining elegance.  Visit any high-end restaurant, particularly those specializing in chops, and you’ll find lamb chops are about as costly as premium cuts of steak.  Many of the lamb chops served in those palaces of prosperity serve lamb imported from New Zealand or Colorado.  For some reason, very scarce are those which offer grass-fed lamb raised in the Land of Enchantment.   Casa Chimayo is one such restaurant where the most beautiful lamb chops are available for dinner and Sunday brunch for about a third less than what you’d pay at a fine dining establishment.

Labeled “Nuevo Mejico (SIC) lamb chops and served two per order, they’re as succulent as any lamb chops anywhere.  Moreover they’re about an inch thick–or about twice the thickness of the “lollipop” version served at most hoity toity eateries.  The chef prepares them at rare though they do have a very nice sear on the outside.  If you can’t stand the sight of blood, you might want to ask for a higher degree of doneness.   They’re made even more red thanks to a red chile demi glace that gives them just a bit of bite. These chops are served with three Northern New Mexico standards–sauteed quelites (lambs quarters), pinto beans and chicos.  The latter are especially popular in Rio Arriba and Taos counties.  Chicos begin as an ear of field corn which is tied into ristras (strings) and hung to dry or alternatively roasted in an horno.   The kernels are then removed and stored until cooking time.  When cooked (boiled in water), they swell up to their former size and taste like freshly smoked corn.  In combination with pinto beans, they are magnificent!

Goat Milk Flan

27 December 2013: Desserts are oh, so New Mexican. Casa Chimayó is one of few New Mexican restaurants which serves sopa, a wonderful dish also known as caplrotada. By any name, sopa is a New Mexican bread pudding whose sweet notes are tempered by cheese, usually Cheddar. Served warm, it’s a very rich dessert, so much so that the natillas seem mildly sweet in comparison. The natillas, a custard dish made with milk and eggs, are slightly thicker than egg nog and sprinkled with cinnamon. 

22 April 2018:  I can count on one hand the restaurants which offer a flan that pleases my pedantic palate.  There’s Chef Estevan Garcia’s organic goat milk flan when he helmed Tabla De Los Santos, the silky smooth flan at Ben Michael’s Restaurant and the chocolate flan at Sandiago’s Mexican Grill.  Casa Chimayo’s goat milk flan makes four…and it might be the best of the lot.  The sugary caramel is lick-your-plate good while the goat milk lends an addictive sweet-sour flavor profile to a flan with the creamiest, dreamiest consistency of any flan ever.

Casa Chimayó is two blocks away from the Santa Fe Plaza and 32 miles from the pastoral village for which it’s named, but after one visit, it’ll be close to your heart.

Casa Chimayó
409 West Water Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 428.0391
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 April 2018
1st VISIT: 27 December 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chile Relleno en Nogada, Quesadilla (Cheese, Calabasitas, Corn, Onions), Chips and Salsa, Nuevo Mejico Lamb Chops Carne Adovada, Pollo en Mole Rojo, Sopa, Natillas, Goat Milk Flan

Casa Chimayó Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery – Palm Springs, California

Sherman’s Delicatessen and Bakery, a Palm Springs Mainstay

Not everyone appreciated my friend Bob’s stark honesty as much as I did.  For nearly twelve years, Bob was my most trusted source for information on the Santa Fe dining scene.  He was also a huge advocate for my writing, even when his reaction to one of my particularly “long way around” missives was “what?.”  From a style perspective, he was a “get to the point” guy while your humble blogger sometimes (okay, okay, always) takes a circuitous, raconteur’s route to get somewhere.   Bob often chided me for not liking cumin on New Mexican food, once telling me “when you fault a place for cumin it immediately moves up on my list of places to try.”  Perhaps because of the scarcity of just-off-the-boat seafood in our landlocked state, he frequented Pappadeaux which I told him for my tastes should be renamed “pappa don’t.”  For years I tried getting Bob to submit comments to the blog (“to elevate the dialogue” I pleaded), but he preferred our one-on-one conversations.

Our differences of opinion extended far beyond restaurants.  A former executive at Universal Studios, Bob couldn’t understand my high regard for the irreverent comedy Blazing Saddles.  His tastes were far more artistic and less sophomoric.  We didn’t always agree on which candidates for political office were the lesser evils, but concurred that the lesser of two evils is still evil.  One thing upon which we always agreed was the dearth of real New York style delis in the Land of Enchantment.  It’s a subject about which we commiserated frequently.  Having lived in both Los Angeles and New York, Bob missed the piled high pastrami and behemoth brisket sandwiches offered by delis at both conurbations.   When we last broke bread together (he finally talked me into joining him at Pappadeaux), he confided his desire to escape Santa Fe’s winters and move to Palm Springs which he told me had a number of authentic delis, the type of which he loved and knew I would, too.  

The Perpetually Busy Main Dining Room

My friend Bob made it to Palm Springs six months before I did.  He passed away in June, 2017.  When we stepped into Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, I told my Kim “Bob is here and he’s happy that we’re here, too.”  I missed my friend and wished we were enjoying the pastrami together…although it’s a given we would have disagreed on something, perhaps whether or not caraway seeds have a place on rye bread (I’ll take the pro to his con).  Despite our differences of opinion, Bob and I were both, in his words, “your mileage may vary” guys.  We liked and respected one another so much that our differences just made for more interesting conversation.  

It’s unlikely we’d get much conversation in at Sherman’s. For one thing, it’s a very loud, very crowded restaurant. Both the interior dining room and outdoor, dog-friendly patio are rather on the noisy side. Besides, who wants to talk much when you’ve got a mountainous meal in front of you?  Were I able to get a word in, I would probably have mentioned that a framed photograph of him should have been hanging on the walls beside the numerous glitterati (Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Barry Manilow, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rita Hayworth, Red Skelton, Marilyn Monroe and countless other celebrities) who have frequented Sherman’s. His retort would probably have been to remind me that his role wasn’t “star,” but “star-maker.”

Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef

Sherman’s is an old-fashioned kosher-style Jewish deli to which savvy patrons pilgrimage from all over the world.  Sherman Harris launched his eponymous restaurant in 1963 when Palm Springs was the playground for Hollywood icons.  Harris himself became a Palm Springs institution for his restaurant and philanthropic endeavors, earning a star on Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars on Palm Canyon Drive.  Today, Sherman’s is owned and operated by his children Sam Harris and Janet Harris who have carried on the famous Sherman’s legacy of great food and great customer service.  While Bob, an old friend, was the first to tell me about Sherman’s several years ago, confirmation on its greatness came from Loren Silver, big brother to my friend Sr. Plata.  Loren raved about the freshly baked breads and breakfasts.

When Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri roared into Palm Desert in his signature red hot Camaro for a taping of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (the episode first aired on May 12, 2017), one of his three area destinations was Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, albeit not the original, but a satellite just a few miles from the flagship.  In an episode entitled “Turkey, Taters and Dogs,” “Triple D” showcased Sherman’s turkey pastrami and latkes (more on these treasures below).  Fieri raved about Sherman’s delicious rye bread, up to 100 loaves a day baked  in-house.  He also helped prepare the turkey pastrami, a two day process (24 hours of brining followed by 24 hours wrapped up in spices, followed by it’s final destination: the smoker).

Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey with Cole Slaw and 1000 Island Dressing

Having been privileged to serve as a judge for the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souperbowl (the next event will be held on Saturday, January 27th, 2018  from 11 am to 2 pm.) on eight occasions, I’ve enjoyed some of the very best soups prepared and served by many of the Duke City area’s very best restaurateurs.  One soup never served to our esteemed panel has been sweet and sour cabbage with beef, a Jewish staple for generations.  It’s long been one of my favorite soups though I didn’t have a bubbie to prepare it for me.  Sherman’s sublime version is served hot and in plentiful portions.  Shards of beef, tender white cabbage, pearlescent onions and endless delicious define this elixir about which Sherman’s says “this outstanding soup is one that has made our reputation what it is today.”

Another soup not yet featured at the Souperbowl is an old-fashioned matzo ball soup, often considered the quintessential Jewish comfort food.  Made with chicken stock and matzo balls, a type of dumpling made by mixing chicken fat, matzo meal, water, and spices to taste, it’s a popular choice for Passover, but some of us like it all year-long.  Sherman’s matzo ball soup is served in a swimming pool-sized bowl and arrives at your table steaming hot.  It’s a soup so good you’d order it on one of Palm Springs’ many sweltering summer days.

Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye

You might think there’s a shortage of beef across the Land of Enchantment considering the parsimonious portions of meats with which New Mexico’s restaurants adorn their sandwiches.  Clara Beller’s “where’s the beef” lament should be the battle cry of diners who have got to feel cheated by meats folded over so as to give the appearance of more meat.  A typical sandwich at Sherman’s has several times more meat than most sandwiches in Albuquerque.  The #17 (corned beef, pastrami and turkey with cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing on buttery, grilled light rye), for example, is a skyscraper-sized behemoth with perhaps as much as three-quarters of a pound of each of the three meats.  It’s really three sandwiches in one.  Understandably, my favorite was the pastrami which is sliced thin and brined beautifully with caramelized edges. 

My Kim’s choice, another wonderful sandwich was constructed with pastrami and corned beef with cole slaw on grilled rye bread.  Sans turkey, this sandwich better showcased the sweet tanginess of the cole slaw, a moist, creamy version.  It also gave us the opportunity to better appreciate the light rye with the caraway seeds my friend Becky Mercuri appreciates on New York rye.  Sherman’s rye comes unadorned, but you have your choice of mustard–either Beaver brand deli mustard or honey mustard.  Both are terrific.  Because Sherman’s sandwiches are so large, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to open your mouth wide enough to enjoy them as you would other sandwiches.  These are best enjoyed with knife and fork or deconstructed.  That pastrami is heavenly…where my friend Bob is now enjoying his.

Latka with Sour Cream and Applesauce

If the term “latka” conjures images of the television sitcom character Latka Gravas, you need to visit an authentic Jewish kosher-style deli…and soon!  Latka (more commonly spelled “latke”), traditional Jewish potato pancakes often served during Hanukkah, are a specialty of Sherman’s (which graciously shows how they’re made on this video).  Sherman’s latkas are the very best we’ve ever had!  Served with apple sauce and sour cream, the latkas are absolutely addictive, so good you won’t want to share them.  They’re crispy (almost caramelized) on the outside and fluffy and light on the inside.  Sherman’s thinks so highly of their latka that they offer a specialty sandwich in which a generous serving of Corned Beef or Pastrami is made into a sandwich with two homemade potato latkes in place of bread.  We had our latka on the side, but could easily see the appeal of latkes in place of bread.

My Kim jokes that my favorite part of “adultery” (her wordplay for adulthood) is not having to wait until after a meal to have dessert.  Indeed, it’s not uncommon for me to have dessert before enjoying any savory fare.  The temptation to do so was certainly rife at Sherman’s which has one of the most alluring dessert cases we’ve ever seen with slabs of beauteously frosted cakes, pulchritudinous pies, craveable cookies and sumptuous specialty items such as bobka, cannoli, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls and Boston Cream pie (which I blame for my “freshman fifteen” after having lived in the Boston area for two years right out of high school).  Sherman’s rendition is as good as many decadent cake slices I enjoyed in Boston.  Layered with custard and topped with chocolate ganache, the Boston cream pie is as moist and tender as any in the Bay State.

Boston Cream Pie

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery is an old-fashioned kosher-style deli, the type of which my friend Bob and I would wander in the desert for forty years to visit.  It’s an outstanding deli and bakery.

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery
401 East Tahquitz Canyon Way
Palm Springs, California
(760) 325-1199
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey Sandwich; Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye; Latka; Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef; Boston Cream Pie
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1015

Sherman's Deli & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monte Carlo Steakhouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Package Liquor Store

The Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Package Liquor Store

“Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter
That looks like Elvis.”
~George Jones

Having spent much of his career in an inebriated state, Country music icon George Jones actually lived the life experiences that inspired much of his music.  After one of his four divorces, Jones sat alone in a rather empty home, his ex-wife having absconded with almost everything–furniture, china, glassware and more.  Among the few items left behind were a small table, a Jim Beam whiskey decanter bearing the likeness of Elvis Presley, and a Fred Flintstone jar of jelly beans.  After dumping the jelly beans, the “Possum” used the jar as a glass into which he poured the entire contents of the Jim Beam decanter.  The imaginary conversations he had with Elvis and Fred Flintstone during his impaired state were the inspiration for the song “The King is Gone.” 

Only among avid collectors will you generally find Jim Beam decanters sporting the likeness of The King.  The Duke City’s most prolific collectors of vintage adult beverage decanters, bottles and signage is the Monte Carlo Steak House on Route 66.  Kitschy mirrors emblazoned with the logos of beer distributors, anthropomorphic alcohol decanters, faux wood walls, garish neon signs, Velvet Elvis and stereotypical “leatherette” booths may have been born in another era, but they never go out of fashion because the Monte Carlo is one of the most comfortable and welcoming restaurants in the city. To those in the know, it’s also one of Albuquerque’s very best steak houses.

Taking you back 40 years–the interior of the Monte Carlo Steakhouse

“Those in the know” now include a nation-wide audience who watched the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode entitled “Where the Locals Go” in which “local hot spots” got the inimitable Guy Fieri treatment.  Contrary to the episode’s title, not all locals go to the Monte Carlo–or at least they didn’t until after the show’s premier.  In fact, many people even within the confines of the Duke City had never heard of the Monte Carlo until the Food Network introduced it to them.  It truly was one of Albuquerque’s best kept secrets.  As Fieri did, you can enter the steak house through a bustling package liquor store (which doubles as a veritable museum for even more collectibles).  You can also enter directly through an entrance on the restaurant’s west side.  One of the first things you’ll notice is a full-service bar which probably can’t concoct the libation of your choice, but can dispense long-neck Budweiser, Schlitz and Pabst like there’s no tomorrow.  The volume is turned way down on the restaurant’s televisions, but then you probably couldn’t hear them amidst the din of an eclectic crowd.

One of my propeller-headed, Jedi-worshiping, 40-something Luke Skywalker wannabe colleagues uttered “come out of the light and into the darkness, Luke” when he stepped into the Monte Carlo Steakhouse from a bright, sunlit Duke City afternoon. It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dimly lit beef and beer palace by the Rio Grande–and when they do adjust, you’ll wonder if you stepped out of a portal into the 1960s.  The Monte Carlo Steakhouse is an anachronism, a bona fide throwback to a bygone era–and indeed, the restaurant has been in business since 1970.

Greek Olives and Feta Cheese

There are no distinctions between the lunch and the dinner menu and even though the menu stipulates that baked potatoes and rice pilaf are available only after 5PM, you can generally have either with your lunch. Lunch specials are available Monday through Friday while a prime rib–regarded by many as among the city’s very best–is the evening special Thursday and Friday.  Aside from the aforementioned baked potato (perfectly done) or rice pilaf, each dinner also includes one slice of Texas toast.

The parking lot is generally crowded with mechanical conveyances of every type, size and description and waiting lists tend to be long, especially on weekends.  Despite nearly overflow crowds, the wait staff is among the most accommodating and friendly in the city.  Many regulars opt for the bounteous Greek appetizer plate in lieu of the standard fried appetizers (zucchini, onion rings, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese sticks) and are rewarded with a platter of salami strips, Greek olives, Pepperoncini, tomatoes and one solitary dolma (stuffed grape leaf) all drizzled with Kalamata olive oil.  Sadly, this otherwise outstanding precursor does not include pita bread.

Salad

Steak dinners are accompanied by your choice of soup or a fresh dinner salad (perfunctory iceberg lettuce only, not the fancy designer lettuces upscale steak houses proffer) made with shredded red cabbage, tomato, carrot slivers and your choice of dressing.  For a full Greek experience, a good bet is the zesty Greek dressing which is liberally sprinkled with bits of fetid Feta cheese.  Among the restaurant’s most popular soups is the creamy green chile chicken soup, a swimming pool-sized bowl of soul-warming soup served hot.  Thickened heavily (probably with corn starch), it is replete with chicken pieces.  The green chile lacks piquancy but has a nice flavor.  Soup and salad not withstanding, this is a meat and potatoes establishment in the anachronistic traditions of the 70s.  Observing the offerings–burgers, steaks, ribs and even a cheesesteak, Fieri noted “you don’t come to this joint for a tomato and avocado on whole wheat.

The menu defines the degree of doneness for each charbroiled steak–from the “cold center” of a rare steak to the “cooked throughout” description of a well done steak–and includes a disclaimer that the restaurant is not responsible or meat ordered well done. The chef is truly master of his broiler domain, typically achieving the exacting specifications requested by discerning diners who would think nothing of sending back a steak not prepared the way they asked for it.

A lovely slab of beef and French fries

We can’t imagine ever sending the steak back.  The bone-in 20-ounce Porterhouse steak is charbroiled to perfection with just enough marbling for flavor.  Unless otherwise requested, each steak is prepared with Seasonall, an all-purpose seasoning (no MSG) used liberally.  An excellent alternative is asking for salt, pepper and garlic on each side of your steak. While on the grill, the chef will also brush on some melted butter.

One of the things that makes a Monte Carlo steak stand out is the fact that the restaurant still cuts its own steaks fresh daily, a practice begun by founder Michael Katsaros when the restaurant launched nearly thirty years ago.  The Katsaros family still runs the restaurant.  After his first bite of a ribeye, Guy Fieri’s uttered then reiterated the statement “that’s just great.”  You’re probably thinking “he’s the host of the show and is supposed to be enthusiastic about the restaurants featured,” but his sentiment pretty much echoes that of most people who discover the Monte Carlo Steak House.

Louie's Special, maybe the best steak sandwich in town.

Fieri also pointed out that “it ain’t just killer steaks that get hand-cut here.”  The souvlaki, “made with mama’s classic Greek recipe with a family twist” is made from pork tenderloin cut at the restaurant.  Each souvlaki portion is 12 to 14 ounces of some of the most tender and delicious, albeit non-traditional, skewered meat you’ll ever have.  The souvlaki is allowed to age for five to six days in a marinade of lemon juice, white wine, salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano and vinegar before it hits the grill.  After it’s done on the grill, it’s brushed on with a mix of olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Watching this inspired creation, Fieri exclaimed “I hear the national anthem of flavor town going off right about now.”  In between utterances of “wow” and “this is monster flavor, he called the flavor “so deep and so rich” and after a few forkfuls, he proclaimed “I’m moving in.”

3 November 2016: The charbroiled green chile cheeseburger is a role-model for how this most sacrosanct among New Mexico’s many sandwiches should be prepared. There are too many green chile cheeseburgers in which green chile barely registers on the Scoville scale with about as much piquancy as a bell pepper.  This green chile bites back with a pleasant piquancy heat lovers will respect.  What really sets this cheeseburger apart, however, is the freshness and moistness of the beef patty which is essentially ground steak, a thick third-pound of beef prepared to your exacting specifications. Wholly unlike the desiccated Frisbees served at some burger establishments, these meaty orbs are oh so wonderfully juicy–even if ordered at medium.  Monte Carlo’s green chile cheeseburger was selected for inclusion on both the 2009 and 2011 editions of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  It’s one of the favorite green chile cheeseburgers of Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author and architect of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger initiative.  Mine, too.

Green Chile Cheeseburger, one of the very best in New Mexico

Another “not to miss” entree is the Greek style chicken. The loquacious Fieri admitted to “not having talked much or taken a breath” while sampling this perfectly prepared poultry which he described as “killer,” one of the adjectives he uses effusively when he really likes something. He also noted that “it’s about as basic as you can make it” and “as tender and juicy as you can get it.” The key is getting it. If you haven’t visited the Monte Carlo Steakhouse, it’s worth the drive from anywhere in the Duke City area just for this chicken.

3 November 2016:  If you have to work overtime to make up for an extended lunch hour to drive across town for a lunch special, it’s worth it, especially if the lunch special is the hamburger steak with grilled onions.  My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik describes it as “75-percent as good as its counterpart at San Antonio’s fabled Owl Cafe.”  Bill, who matriculated at New Mexico Tech loves the Owl’s hamburger steak almost as much as he loves his car.  To compare the Monte Carlo’s rendition is a high compliment indeed.   Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver had his hamburger steak smothered in grilled onions and roasted green chile, two components which made his lunch even more memorable though the incendiary green chile did have him reaching for coffee more often than usual.

Hamburger steak and Onion Rings

The spaghetti’s golf ball sized meatballs have a little flavor “je ne sais quoi” that most diners try to figure out. The secret is a bit of Greek mint which just seems to invigorate the meatballs with flavor. Fieri called it a “money meatball.”

The meats are so well flavored, the service so accommodating and the ambiance so 60s, you’ll wonder why anyone would visit an inferior chain restaurant for a lesser steak or spend nearly $100 for a steak dinner at one of those hoidy toidy, fancy schmanzy restaurants.  Fieri called the Monte Carlo “just an average off-the-hook steakhouse with homemade Greek.”  Everyone else calls it special.

Monte Carlo Steak House
3916 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 831-2444
LATEST VISIT: 3 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Greek salad; Greek Appetizer Plate; Porterhouse Steak; Green Chile Cheeseburger; Hamburger Steak

Monte Carlo Steak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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