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EVO – North Charleston, South Carolina

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EVO (Extra Virgin Oven), one of the very best pizza restaurants in America

America is a pizza obsessed nation.  Ninety-three percent of us consume at least one slice of pizza per month and collectively, we each eat some 46 slices of pizza per year.  According to Pizza Magazine Quarterly, the pizza industry’s number one business magazine and web site, there are nearly 70,000 pizzerias in the United States (or about as many pizzerias as Santa Fe, New Mexico has residents) to sate our love of pizza.  Almost two-thirds (or about 46,000) of those pizzerias are independently owned and operated.

With such a large number of pizzerias serving the pizza loving public, creating a list anointing the best pizza or any number of best pizzas in the country is an audacious endeavor (just try picking the definitive pizza in the Duke City).  Even defining the criteria for designating the best pizza is a plucky proposition considering the tremendous differences in style between purveyors of the sacrosanct pie.  In September, 2012, The Daily Meal recruited an august panel au courant with all things pizza and asked them to compile a list of the best pizzas across the fruited plain. After much deliberation and trimming, five spots were allotted to each of seven regions.

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The EVO dining room

Because the list of America’s thirty-five very best pizzas includes such paragons of pizza perfection as Pizza Mozza (#25) and Pizzeria Bianco (#26), two transformative pizzas reviewed on this blog, the list has great credibility with me.  Charleston’s contribution to the list is EVO which was rated number thirty-two on the list, placing it in very exclusive company.  Now, Charleston is world renowned for its incomparable Lowcountry cuisine and some of the best seafood in the country, but pizza?  

Yes, pizza and it’s not solely the Daily Meal who holds EVO in such high accord. In 2011, USA Today asked local experts to name just one great pizza parlor in each state and the District of Columbia.  The one pizza from South Carolina singled out was none other than EVO.  Not to be outdone, the Food Network’s Cooking Channel highlighted EVO’s Pistachio Pesto Pizza as one of the ten best pizzas in the fruited plain.

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Perhaps the reason EVO is so highly regarded is because it subscribes to many of the tenets which make Lowcountry cuisine so highly regarded.  That means seasonal produce from local farmers to give its guests a fresh and fabulous farm-to-table experience.  A whopping eighty-five percent of the locally sourced ingredients come from within a twenty mile radius of Charleston. Reading the ingredients on the salad menu is like perusing the vegetable line-up at a farmer’s market.

EVO, which isn’t Rachael Ray misspelling one of her cloying catchphrases,  actually stands for “Extra Virgin Oven. EVO’s pizzas are prepared in the namesake wood-fired oven which renders a perfect Neapolitan-style crust, thin and light yet formidable enough to hold up against a cheesy blanket and generously applied ingredients.  At 800 degrees, your pizza is ready in less than two and a half minutes.  The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy. Best of all, the pizza has the flavor and aroma of just baked bread with the char marks aficionados love.

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Assorted housemade pickles, bread, housemade pimento goat cheese

EVO eschews the rubbery out-of-a-bag glop the chains use, preparing and pulling their own mozzarella twice daily.  The pizza dough is also made twice a day and all breads are baked on the premises (or rather in the EVO bakery directly behind the pizzeria).  All soups and sauces are prepared slowly and with a lot of care and attention.  Add the term “house-made” to describe the restaurant’s sweet sausage, aioli and dressings.  You can taste the difference.

If freshness has a flavor, you’ll find it in a steaming bowl of EVO’s roasted carrot, ginger and apple soup garnished with toasted pistachios and creme fraiche.  If she-crab soup wasn’t already the signature dish of Charleston, this soup would be a good candidate for that distinction.   It’s an absolutely delicious soup.   The combination of roasted carrots and apples makes sense in that the carrots provide a pleasant sweetness and the tangy apples serve as a bit of a foil for that sweetness  The ginger lends just a bit of assertiveness while the ground toasted pistachios provide a savory quality.  Texturally, the soup has a thick, creamy but not gloppy consistency.

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Pork Trifecta: Red Sauce, Housemade Sausage, Pepperoni, Bacon, Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano

My week-long visit to the Charleston area left so many aspects of Lowcountry cuisine unexplored that another visit or more is a must.  It took a visit to EVO for me to take in two other Southern staples: housemade pickles and pimento cheese, an appetizer served with the restaurant’s fabulous bread.   The housemade pickles include pickled green tomatoes and fresh cucumbers, both of which are spectacular.  Pickling isn’t necessarily intended to render vegetables lip-puckering tart.  Mission accomplished. Both tomatoes and cucumbers are crisp, fresh and pickled just enough to accentuate their natural flavors without obfuscating them.

Even better is the housemade pimento cheese.  If South Carolina’s nickname wasn’t “The Palmetto State,” it should be “The Pimento State.”  Pimento cheese is revered in the deep south, but nowhere more than in the Carolinas.   Although Cheddar is the traditional foundation for most pimento cheese spreads, EVO occasionally throws a curve ball by using goat cheese to which “personality” is added via cayenne pepper and finely chopped cherry peppers (pimentos).   The pimento spreads easily on the bread, but if you eat the entire loaf, you may not have room left for the pizza.  That would be criminal. 

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Sprecher Root Beer served on a Mason jar

As chronicled in my review of Melvin’s Legendary Bar-B-Q,in South Carolina pork is king.  That doesn’t apply solely to barbecue.  EVO’s signature pizza is the magnificent Pork Trifecta, so named because it’s  topped with housemade sausage, bacon and pepperoni, three ingredients only a cardiologist (and the Child Bride) wouldn’t love.  This is pork candy for the rest of us, the true trifecta of porcine perfection and it’s better than I could possibly describe it.  Available on an eight- or twelve-inch size, it’s also topped with red sauce, the house pulled mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano, all in perfect proportion.

Whether or not EVO belongs on the pantheon of America’s thirty-five very best pizzas is debatable. It’s certainly among the five best pizzas I’ve ever experienced. So many great pizzas, so very little time…that’s the problem with trying to rank and rate the very best.

EVO
1075 E Montague Ave
North Charleston, South Carolina
(843) 225-1796
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 17 April 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pork Trifecta; Roasted Carrot, Ginger and Apple Soup; Assorted housemade pickles, bread, housemade pimento cheese

Evo Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Pasion Latin Fusion – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pasion Latin Fusion Cuisine on Lomas

Pasion Latin Fusion Cuisine on Lomas

In my experience, food and passion always intertwine.
Passion is food for the soul’s mood at any particular time.”
Tammy Mollai

Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible show has some nerve!  In an episode which first aired in March, 2014, the tough-talking British mesomorph had the audacity to tell America that Pasion Latin Fusion wasn’t the beautiful, graceful swan with which many of us had fallen in love.  Although he didn’t directly call Pasion an ugly duckling paddling about aimlessly, Irvine certainly intimated that things at Pasion weren’t as rosy as some of us may have thought. 

The premise of Restaurant: Impossible is that within two days and on a budget of $10,000,  Irvine will transform a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence.  To make the show entertaining, any existing dysfunction or drama in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations is spotlighted in the fashion of all reality shows.  If you’ve ever been to Pasion Latin Fusion, words like failure, dysfunction and drama won’t ever come to mind.  Since its launch in 2011, reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, much moreso than reviews for other “failing” restaurants featured on Restaurant: Impossible.

Chef Elvis Bencomo shows off some of the design work completed by the Food Network's Restaurant: Impossible show

Chef Elvis Bencomo shows off some of the design work completed by the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible show

While the Food Network’s preview synopsized the issues at Pasion as “tension between Monica and their main investor, Elvis’s brother, and a menu that’s leaving customers confused and frustrated,” the most obvious revelation when the episode aired is that Elvis, Monica and Orlando Bencomo are extremely likeable and extraordinarily passionate about their restaurant.  If the Food Network came to Pasion expecting the dysfunction and drama of a soap opera, they instead got a true feel good story accentuating the love of a beautiful family. 

Robert Irvine’s renovation of Pasion was much more than cosmetic though that’s what visitors will notice first.  The interior has been wholly transformed from a milieu of dark jumbled gracelessness into a bright, airy and intimate two-level dining room.  The menu has also been revamped, both in content and in style.  All menu items are now clearly described so there’s no room for confusion.  Some eighteen items make up the “bocaditos” section of the menu.  Described as “Latin Street Food, served as it’s prepared,” bocaditos are appetizers  prepared in the inevitable Chef Elvis manner.  There are only six Platos Principales or main courses, but they’re so varied and good you won’t need more.

The redesigned interior of Pasion Latin Fusion

The redesigned interior of Pasion Latin Fusion

Pasion Latin Fusion is the brainchild of  Elvis  and Monica Bencomo, a husband and wife duo with (dare I say it again) passion for the melding of diverse and dynamic Latin flavors.  The third in the family triumvirate who own and operate Pasion is Orlando Bencomo, Elvis’s brother and main investor in the restaurant.  Orlando, a veteran of Afghanistan, runs the front of the house.  If the Food Network exposure gave any of them a big head, you certainly can’t tell.

Elvis is originally from Chihuahua and to say he’s a culinary genius may be a vast understatement. He’s a classically trained chef, but that’s a starting point. The genesis of his culinary creations is his creativity, imagination and willingness to experiment with ingredient and flavor combinations. He’s a true student of the craft, constantly reading and researching what it takes to create the foods that reflect his passion. It’s unlikely he ever studied Peruvian Ceviche 101 at his culinary alma mater, but one bite of his ceviche of the day and you might swear you’re in Peru. His arepas are reminiscent of those prepared in Venezuela, his chimicchuri as good as you’ll find in Argentina.  Get the picture?

Fire and Ice Tostada Tuna | Coconut | Habanero | Passion Fruit Sorbet

Fire and Ice Tostada Tuna

Monica, the statuesque occasional hostess with the radiant smile is originally from Chicago, but admits to growing up culinarily unadventurous, preferring a diet of burgers and fries to some of the legendary foods of the City of Big Shoulders. Today she’s happy to have broken the chain (my friend Ryan Scott was so proud when he interviewed her on his wonderful radio program) and loves to try new and different dishes. Elvis is more than happy to oblige with a menu unlike any in Albuquerque–one in fact that’s reminiscent of Peruvian and Latin fusion restaurants we’ve visited in San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Together Monica and Elvis have not only made beautiful food together, they actually enjoyed working together when Monica ran the front of the house. When I asked them to pose for a photograph and my camera stalled, Elvis commented that he didn’t mind, he could hold Monica forever. How’s that for passion? When we asked about the high quality of the grapes served with one dessert, they smiled broadly and admitted to have upped their consumption of grapes (along with wine and cheese) after having seen the animated movie Ratatouille. How can you not love that?

Pasión Fruit Salsa

Pasión Fruit Salsa

Pasion is situated in the Lomas edifice which once housed Capo’s, a long time Albuquerque Italian food fixture. Few remnants of its predecessor remain especially now that Pasion has been renovated.  It is at once both festive and romantic, the former bolstered by upbeat salsa music and the latter facilitated by low light. Appropriately the exterior signage includes a single red rose, a symbol for romantic passion. A sole fireplace suspended from the ceiling is both attractive and functional, adding the promise of a crackling flame on a blustery evening.  Two tiered seating includes both booths and tables.

The menu is an eye-opening melange of Latin fusion with elements of Cuban, Haitian, Mexican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Spanish, Mariscos, Argentinian and even New Mexican ingredients used in sundry and creative ways. As with true fusion, menu items have combined those elements–Argentinian chimichurri with Nicaraguan grilled steak, for example. It wouldn’t be a true fusion restaurant if diverse, sometimes disparate culinary traditions, elements and ingredients didn’t form an entirely unique genre. Pasion is a true fusion restaurant, not one which offers menu items from several Latin speaking nations.

Duck Taquitos Green and Yellow Chile | Pickled Vegetables | Mexican Cotija Cheese

Duck Taquitos

Start your Pasion experience with the agua fresca of the day. Many Mexican restaurants throughout the Duke City offer a pretty standard line-up of aguas frescas, typically horchata, limonada, sandia and melon. Many are not made in-house. At Pasion, the agua fresca of the day is not likely going to be the same old, same old you can find elsewhere. Instead Chef Elvis might surprise you with a virgin margarita agua fresca, complete with a salted rim, or he might combine several seemingly disparate flavors to create something uniquely wonderful.

29 March 2014: Bocaditos (appetizers) are similarly non-standard fare, an impressive assemblage of innovative deliciousness. You can make a meal out of the bocaditos.  Three per person is what our server advised.  One of those bocaditos should be the pasion fruit salsa with chips.  In New Mexico, chips and salsa are pretty de rigueur, so much so that it’s a rare salsa which can distinguish itself.  The pasion fruit salsa is unique, a combination of piquancy, tropical fragrance and tanginess.  It’s a welcome respite from the usual with chips.  Now, if you like your salsa to provide the flavor element of pain, this salsa won’t do it, but it does pack enough heat to titillate your tongue.

Quesadilla Cubano Braised Pulled Pork | Shaved Ham | Swiss Cheese | Dill Pickle | Grain Mustard

Quesadilla Cubano

29 March 2014: Thanks to visits to Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco, Mexican style ceviche (typically made from raw fish marinated in citrus juices and paired with cilantro, onions and chopped tomatoes) has been a source of ho hum for me. In Pasion, my passion for ceviche has been rekindled. The menu offers two standard ceviche offerings. They start off much like other ceviche–as seafood (tuna) marinated in lime, lemon and orange juices. Then the Chef’s creativity takes over, adding jalapeños, ceviche and plenty of oomph. The Fire and Ice, for example, is a ceviche made with tuna, habanero-coconut sauce and passion fruit sorbet served with tortilla chips.  The habanero-coconut sauce most assuredly has a pleasantly piquant bite coupled with the tropical sweetness of coconut.  The passion fruit sorbet is crystallized so it doesn’t melt messily over the ceviche.  Instead, it imparts a refreshing coolness that complements the other ingredients.  This is genius!

29 March 2014: In the 1980s, restaurants such as Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and the West Beach Cafe in Venice, California started a trend still going strong today when they introduced duck tacos.  Being a trend doesn’t equate to being good, however.   Unlike so many others, the duck taquitos at Pasion are worth the build-up and hype.  They’re, in fact, sensational!  There’s only one thing wrong with the three rolled taquitos engorged with pickled vegetables and slow-simmered duck meat seasoned with Caribbean spices topped with yellow and green chile sprinkled with Mexican Cojita cheese.  If there are two of you, splitting that third taqito could end up in the type of drama the Food Network would appreciate.

Caribbean Chicken Adobo Rub | White Rice | Mashed Ripe Plantain | Bacon

Caribbean Chicken Adobo Rub

29 March 2014: Pasion’s delicious tribute to the island nation of Cuba is in the form of a Quesadilla Cubano, the sandwich which has become an almost de rigueur offering at restaurants which proffer sandwiches.  Most Cubanos have become so similar as to be almost as blasé  as the plain ham and cheese on which they are loosely based.  At Pasion, the Cubano is an elegant sandwich brimming with delicious ingredients: slow braised pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and whole grain mustard pressed in a hybrid corn-flour tortilla.  Bruce Schor, a long-time friend of this blog and erudite epicure gave it the ultimate compliment: “The Cubano for me was very close to the Cubanos I learned to love in Union City NJ, the second largest Cuban expat community after Miami.”  

29 March 2014: Absent from the revamped menu are several favorites, but my sense of loss is mitigated by the addition of Caribbean Chicken, the very best I’ve ever had.  Caribbean chicken isn’t synonymous with jerk chicken.  In fact, Pasion’s Caribbean chicken doesn’t have a piquant punch.  Its flavor profile is derived from non-jerk Caribbean adobo spices and from having been wrapped and roasted in banana leaves which seal in freshness and flavor.  This is outrageously good chicken–two thighs and two legs.  The chicken is served with a white rice and mashed ripe plantain mound, a surprisingly good combination.

Pasión Platano Cake Banana Custard Cake| Cinnamon and Vanilla | Passion Fruit Mousse

Pasión Platano Cake

18 September 2011: The postres (desserts) menu is a continuation of the menu’s creativity, four items of pure, unbridled temptation. The pastel de queso, a goat cheese style cheesecake with mango caramel, may be the best of the lot. It’s a better goat cheese cheesecake than was ever conjured at Rosemary’s Restaurant in Las Vegas (one of my highest rated restaurants in America before it closed). When it arrives at your table, your first inclination might be to believe the kitchen sent out something else, perhaps a scoop of ice cream drizzled over by Gerber baby food. That “scoop” is a large roundish mound of sweet and savory goat cheese, as good as any chevre dessert you’ll ever have. There’s very little crust to get in the way here. It’s mostly goat cheese cheesecake the way it should be.

18 September 2011: The other of my two passions (aside from green chile cheeseburgers) is bread pudding, a dessert some consider an anachronism. Pasion offers an Aztec Bread Pudding con Cajeta (a reduced goat’s milk caramel) with a hint of red chile that will convert even the most ardent of bread pudding protagonists. This is one of the richest, densest, most flavorful bread puddings in New Mexico, ranking number eight on Larry McGoldrick‘s top ten best bread puddings in New Mexico. What elevates this bread pudding above the rest is the red chile which imparts just a bit of that back-of-your-throat heat great chiles have. It’s not a piquant heat, but that heat is certainly noticeable. The cajeta is the only thing that can and should top this bread pudding.

Pastel De Queso: Goat cheese style cheesecake with mango caramel

29 March 2014: Yet a third dessert that might never achieve the sure to be fame and popularity of the aforementioned duo is the Pasion Platano Cake, a banana custard cake topped with passion fruit mousse.  It’s rich, sweet and tangy in every bite.  The lip-pursing tartness isn’t quite lemon-like, but it’ll excite your mouth more than a handful of pop rocks.  Notes of cinnamon and vanilla occasionally sneak the tanginess of the passion fruit and the gentle sweetness of the banana.  If it sounds as if there’s a lot going on in this dessert, that’s because there is.  There’s a taste adventure in every bite.  

Every once in a while, the city’s burgeoning and exciting culinary scene needs an infusion of passion.  That’s what you’ll find in Pasion, one of the most creative and  unique restaurants to grace the Duke City dining scene in years.  It’s the type of restaurant the citizenry should promote to visitors who believe those ill-conceived stereotypes about our cuisine.

Azteca Bread Pudding Con Cajeta: with a hint of red chile and a milk caramel sauce

Restaurant critics realize that their influence only goes so far in their own hometowns.  For years, critics from the Albuquerque Journal, Alibi, Local IQ, Larry’s Albuquerque Food Musings and of course, Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog have been raving about how great Pasion Latin Cuisine is.  Over the years, Pasion has earned accolades and honors galore: “Top 5 Chefs of Albuquerque”, “Best Fusion Restaurant”, “Best New Restaurant” and “Best Kid Friendly Restaurant.”  Despite all these honors and accolades, Duke City diners haven’t been beating down the doors as they should for a restaurant of this caliber.   Robert Irvine’s visit will hopefully bring in new visitors.  After one visit, they’ll certainly be back.

Pasion Latin Fusion Restaurant
722 Lomas Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7880
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 29 March 2014
1st VISIT: 18 September 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Pastel de Queso, Azteca Bread Pudding con Cajeta, Quesadilla Cubano, Caribbean Chicken, Pasion Platano Cake, Duck Taquitos, Pasion Fruit Salsa


View Pasion Latin Fusion on LetsDineLocal.com »

Pasion Latin Fusion on Urbanspoon

Farm & Table – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The sprawling complex which houses Farm & Table

For the past quarter century or so, American chefs and the dining public have increasingly embraced the concept of farm-to- table cooking.  It makes great sense from an environmental and an economical standpoint and as the Smithsonian Magazine wrote, “the farm-to-table movement is at once hip and historic.”  Its historical aspects are especially relevant in agrarian New Mexican villages where farm-to-table hasn’t always been a “movement,” “concept” or “trend.”  It’s been a way of life, especially in the state’s frontier days when food wasn’t nearly as plentiful as it is today.

Enchanting as it may be, New Mexico is a land which can be harsh and unforgiving as Native American pueblos and early settlers found out when, for centuries, they eked out a meager subsistence from an austere terrain amidst the ravages of climatic extremes.  To a great extent their ability to coax a stable crop supply from an often unyielding earth was a tribute to their perseverance, hard work and divine graces.

A view to the restaurant’s open kitchen

By the early 1800s, farmers made up about 90 percent of America’s workforce.  Entering the 20th century, the percentage of Americans engaged in producing crops and livestock was down to 40 percent.  Today, less than one percent of the population claim farming as their principal occupation.  Largely because most of us have no personal experience in crop production, children–especially those growing up in urban areas–have no idea where their food comes from.  Ask many of them where their food comes from and they’re apt to say “the grocery store.”

For decades, if you asked American chefs where their restaurants’ food comes from, they might well have bragged about importing ingredients from throughout the world.  It was a very expensive proposition, one with a heavy-footed impact on the planet.  Today, more and more chefs are “staying local” and “going back to basics” for their food sources.  Their goals are not only to reduce the environmental impact on the planet (reduced fuel consumption, less driving and flying), but to introduce diners to fresher, better-tasting, more nutritious foods grown locally. 

Orange tarragon roasted beet salad (marinated beets, mixed greens and pickled turnips with rosemary blue cheese yogurt and orange segments)

America’s farm to table renaissance was largely born in California during the ’60s and ’70s.  Some sociologists consider it an extension of the same cultural revolution that spawned the “hippie movement” and brought into social consciousness such terms as “organic food,” “natural food,” “back-to-the-earth” and “support-the-local-farmer.”   Alice Waters, considered one of the movement’s founders admits, however, that she wasn’t looking for organic, local food when starting her pioneering farm-to-table restaurant Chez Panise. She wanted to provide a venue in which guests could experience the type of freshness and flavor she found in France.

The wild success of restaurants such as Chez Panise proved that locally grown organic food could provide both exciting variety and utmost quality.  Restaurants throughout California offering farm-to-table dining took root with effusive fervor.  Among the  movement’s practitioners, it hasn’t been uncommon for chefs to change their menus almost weekly depending on what’s available and fresh during growing seasons.  Not even nay-sayers who dismissed farm-to-table as another faddish trend could argue against the freshness, deliciousness and inventiveness of the movement’s restaurants.

Italian Soup

Though farm-to-table has had staunch devotees for decades among New Mexico’s restaurateurs, it’s only in recent years that they’ve really started to brand their culinary offerings as organic and locally grown.   Coupled with the very illuminating presence and farm-to-table advocacy of Edible Santa Fe,  a perfect storm has been created for restaurants showcasing the Land of Enchantment’s locally grown fare to succeed–and not just in Santa Fe which has been at the fore of New Mexico’s farm-to-table adoption.     

On March 1, 2012, the culmination of that perfect storm hit Albuquerque with the launch of Farm & Table, a  much anticipated opening fueled by food porn quality Facebook teases.  Within weeks of its opening, local media–KOB Television’s Best Bites, Local Flavor Magazine, the Alibi, the Albuquerque Journal, and the New Mexico Business Weekly–all rhapsodized effusively about the exemplar farm-to-table restaurant.  It’s usually my practice to let the hullabaloo die down before visiting a restaurant anointed by all the cognoscenti, but Franzi Moore, a faithful reader of this blog and a fellow epicure would hear none of that.  As persuasive and charming a barrister as there is, when Franzi says she wants my opinion, its nolo contendere; I had to visit Farm & Table.  We were joined by her husband Chris and their friend Beckett.

Black Cod & Parsnip Chowder

Black Cod & Parsnip Chowder

Farm & Table is located on a sprawling property on Fourth Street between Alameda and Paseo del Norte. It’s a veritable oasis of green amidst Albuquerque’s earth-tone and concrete modernity. The premises includes a working farm—nine acres of alfalfa and 1.5 acres for produce, including a greenhouse. The restaurant is a recent addition to a 200 year-old adobe edifice which houses La Parada (which translates from Spanish to “the stopping place” and indeed, the building was once a stagecoach stop), a bustling store showcasing the work of local artists in eclectic folk art, jewelry, vintage clothing and more.

The restaurant itself is comprised of two dining rooms and an expansive courtyard with views of the verdant fields in which many of the dinner or brunch ingredients are grown. The main dining rooms are festooned in an upscale Southwestern motif accented by sturdy blonde vigas and painted concrete floors. The smoothly hewn barn wood tables are burnished to a rustic glossy finish. One dining room offers a view to the heart and soul of the restaurant’s operations—not the kitchen, but the prep station in which the expediter (the person in charge of organizing orders by table, and garnishing the dishes before the server takes them out to the dining room) ensures everything runs smoothly. It’s a treat to see an efficiently run dining room operation and Farm & Table has become just that in a short time.

Pork belly with butterscotch miso sauce

The dinner menu showcases locally grown produce, both from the farm but from some of the state’s agrarian epicenters such as Albuquerque’s South Valley (spinach, arugula and field greens), Santa Fe (beets and potatoes), Los Lunas (grass-fed beef), Lemitar (red and green chile), Tucumcari (cheese), Corrales (Heidi’s organic raspberry jam), Mesilla (pecans) and honey from throughout the state. Obviously the menu’s pescatarian fare isn’t caught on the Rio Grande, but you can bet it’s sustainable seafood. Dinner and brunch menus are distinctively different with few cross-over items from one menu to the other. Both menus are vibrant and sure to please the most discerning palates.

Bread is baked in-house and is sliced thick. It’s served with an olive oil and seasonings dip, but is thoroughly enjoyable on its own where you can luxuriate on its artisan-quality, pillowy softness. As with all great breads, it’s also an excellent vehicle with which to sop up any remaining sauces from your plate. You might think it’s tacky to use bread in this manner, especially at a fine dining establishment, but it’s a time-honored custom practiced at some very fine restaurants in France. Besides, it’s less tacky than licking your plate.  It’s also not tacky to use your hands to pick up the thinly-shaved radishes (grown in the greenhouse) on the bread plate either.  They’re fresh and invigorating.

Local fig wood cold-smoked and seared scallops with bacon Brussels sprouts, white bean puree, apple foam and Balsamic caviar

Salads

29 April 2012 (Brunch): As you might expect, soups and salads are paragons of freshness at Farm & Table.  An orange tarragon roasted beet salad (marinated beets, mixed greens and pickled turnips with rosemary blue cheese yogurt and orange segments) honors its ingredients by letting them shine, not allowing them to be masked or overwhelmed by a dressing.  The earthy sweetness of the roasted beets is a perfect foil for the tangy orange segments.  The pickled turnips are not too tangy from the pickling process.  The mixed greens are crisp, fresh and delicious.  With most salads I ask the wait staff to bring me as much blue cheese as they can carry, mostly to obfuscate the flavors of stale, store-bought greens.  At Farm & Table, a little bit goes a long way though the rosemary blue cheese yogurt is good enough to drink like a beverage.

Soups

25 April 2012 (Dinner): Beethoven once said “only the pure of heart can make good soup.”  The Farm & Table kitchen must then be staffed with a phalanx of pure-hearted cooks.  The Italian soup is as good, if not better than most minestrone and pasta fagoli soups I’ve had in Italian restaurants.  Aromatically enticing, it is replete with fresh vegetables and redolent with a coarse-blend sausage from Joe S. Sausage, the Duke City’s  Scovie award-winning king of sausage.   A vegan soup (beet root, kale, spinach and so much more) might be even better.

Prince Edward Island Mussels with feta and green chile broth prepared with red onion and red bell pepper topped with cilantro

2 February 2014 (Brunch) Even in land-locked New Mexico, clam and seafood chowders have become fairly common.  Most won’t ever be mistaken for chowders offered along the country’s coasts.  In pairing black cod, one of ocean’s tastiest fish with parsnip, a mysterious root vegetable many people can’t identify, Farm & Table may have one-upped even some of coastal America’s best purveyors of sumptuous seafood soup.  Black cod, also known as “sablefish” is a delicate, flaky fish with a rich, buttery flavor and silky sweet and rich overtones while parsnip is a root vegetable with a sweet, delicate flavor.  This combination makes for a magnificent soup, one which will warm the cockles of your heart while tantalizing your taste buds.  It doesn’t as much explode with flavor as it does offer your taste buds the warmth and comfort of soupy deliciousness.  

Dinner

25 April 2012: Among the appetizers, the one that’s as impossible to resist as a dinner invitation from Franzi is the pork belly with butterscotch miso sauce. At first glance, the three petite pieces of porcine perfection resemble chocolate truffles, the sheen from the butterscotch akin to a glossy chocolate frosting. Far from being heart healthy, pork belly layers pork and fat together to provide a textural and flavor experience few foods can hope to match. In terms of flavor, think pulled pork meats bacon only better. It’s no wonder Emeril Lagasse likes to say “port fat rules!” The accompanying apple slices provide both a decorative touch and a flavor-texture contrast.

House-Ground Burger

House-Ground Burger

25 April 2012: What the dinner menu lacks in volume (only a handful of items plus specials), it more than makes up in the desirability of its entrees.  You might think it would be relatively easy to pare down your one selection from the relatively small number of entrees, but you’ll be hard-pressed to do so.  One safe bet is the grilled six-ounce beef tenderloin impregnated with a pungent blue cheese compound butter and served with horseradish mashed potatoes and roasted beets.  If you’ve lamented the absence of a steak that will make your eyes roll back in sheer delight, you’ll love this tenderloin, emphasis on tender.  At medium, it’s a foodgasm quality slab of beef.  The horseradish mashed potatoes add a nice kick.

25 April 2012: Seafood aficionados will react to the local fig wood cold-smoked and seared scallops the way a treasure-hunter reacts to finding a pirate’s plunder.  There are only three scallops on the plate, but they’re large and brimming with the sweet, succulent flavor that hearkens back to the days when scallops were synonymous with dining elegance.  The scallops are topped with Balsamic caviar to lend a tangy contrast.  A 2008 survey by Heinz shows that Brussels sprouts now take the prize as America’s most-hated vegetable.  Perhaps it’s because respondents have never had truly great Brussels sprouts.  Some of the very best we’ve ever had are the bacon Brussels sprouts at Farm & Table and not only because the bacon flavor shines through.  These Brussels sprouts are perfectly prepared.  They sit atop a white bean puree.  An apple foam on the plate is cute, but superfluous. 

FarmToTable16

Chicken Salad Sandwich with Mixed Greens Salad

Brunch

29 April 2012: Not available on the dinner menu is a brunch entree that has supplanted my favorite of its kind in Albuquerque.  That would be the Prince Edward Island Mussels with feta and green chile broth prepared with red onion and red bell pepper topped with cilantro.  Forgive me P’Tit Louis Bistro, but the mussels at Farm & Table are even better than yours and yours are superb!  The broth, especially the marriage of feta, green chile and red onion is absolutely glorious, better even than the restaurant’s wonderful soups.  You’ll want several slices of the restaurant’s housemade bread to sop up each drop.

2 February 2014: When you see diners order a burger for brunch at a fine dining restaurant there are only three conclusions you can draw: (1) other menu items are mediocre (see El Pinto); (2) the diners wouldn’t know good food if it bit them; or (3) that burger must be pretty darned good.  The House-Ground Burger (local grass fed beef, Tucumcari Cheddar cheese, farm greens, tomatoes on the house brioche and farm fries) is that darned good.  It’s simply one of the very best burgers I’ve had in New Mexico.  The green chile is very much on the mild side, so much so that I wondered if this is the “famous Colorado green chile” of which we heard so much before the 2014 Superbowl.  As with the Santa Fe Bite‘s world-famous burger, this burger is all about the beef, quite simply some of the very best beef on any burger in town.   The burger is roughly four inches in diameter and would resemble a slider were it not nearly as tall as it is round.  The other stand-out is the brioche bun which is about as perfect texturally and flavor-wise as any canvas on any burger in town. 

Pastel Impossible: Red chile chocolate cake with vanilla bean flan and spiced tortilla chip

2 February 2014: Mention chicken salad sandwich among foodies and you’re likely to lull their taste buds to sleep.  Chicken salad sandwiches aren’t widely noted for their taste appeal and are usually seen as more of a utilitarian offering, something you might serve if you’ve got left-over chicken and little time.  Farm & Table has a gumption to believe it can improve on something so culinarily uninteresting–and according to my Kim, it does.  Its components are celery, grapes, carrots, herbed mayo, farm greens and pecans on housemade toast.  My Kim must really have enjoyed this chicken salad sandwich because she only gave me one small bite.

Dessert

25 April 2012 (Dinner): While Franzi waxed eloquent about the entire menu, she was most enthusiastic about a dessert called Pastel Impossible (red chile chocolate cake with vanilla bean flan and spiced tortilla chip).  Sometimes called chocoflan, it melds chocolate cake and flan both texturally and as an unbeatable taste combination.  What is remarkable about this dish is that the chocolate cake and the flan are baked together, but are not mixed together.  What’s more remarkable is just how good the combination can be.

2 February 2014 (Brunch): The dessert against which I measure all other desserts is bread pudding.  Farm & Table hasn’t disappointed in either of the two bread puddings we’ve sampled.  One of the most unique is a Meyer Lemon bread pudding made from the house brioche and topped with a wonderfully crumbly streusel.  Meyer lemons are juicy and sweet while retaining the tongue-tingling properties of conventional lemons.  On the bread pudding it’s the sweetness that’s most prominent though just a touch of tartness sneaks in.  The streusel is a wonderful touch, so much more commonly used on coffee cakes, but at home on this terrific bread pudding.

Meyer Lemon Bread Pudding and Cream Puff

Meyer Lemon Bread Pudding and Cream Puff

Farm & Table is the type of restaurant rarity which promises and delivers a unique dining experience every time you visit.  It’s conceivable some, if not most, of the items about which I write on this essay won’t be on the menu when you visit.  Fret not.  You’ll find much to love at this gem of a restaurant.  Service is first-rate and the food is outstanding with appeal sure to please more than just locavores.

Farm & Table
8917 4th Street NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-503-7124
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 2 February 2014
1st VISIT: 25 April 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Pastel Impossible, Pork belly with butterscotch miso sauce, Local fig wood cold-smoked and seared scallops, Beef Tenderloin, PEI Mussels with Feta Cheese and Green Chile Broth, Farm to Table Burger, Orange Tarragon Roasted Beet Salad, Piloncillo Bread Pudding, Meyer lemon Bread Pudding, Cream Puff, Black Cod & Parsnip Chowder, Chicken Salad Sandwich, House-Ground Burger


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