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O Ramen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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My friend Jim Millington stands in front of O Ramen on Central Avenue

“Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort.”
~Norman Kolpas

According to most online definitions, the term “soul food” defines the cuisine associated with African-American culture in the southern United States.  In wide use since the 1960s, the term originated and came into heavy use with the rise of the civil rights and black nationalism movements.   Though still  most widely associated with the African-American culture, over the years “soul food” has become synonymous with basic, down-home cooking, especially of comfort foods…and as Cracked magazine puts it, soul food is “the real reason why white people like Cracker Barrel.”

While the term “soul food” has, by definition, been culturally limiting and exclusive, in recent years the term has been broadened to include other cultures, albeit with a prefixed qualifier.  In 2011, for example, New Mexico Magazine’s celebration of the Land of Enchantment’s “best eats” included the category “New Mexican soul food.”   It was a declaration that New Mexican cuisine can also feed and nurture the soul.

My friends Jim and Janet Millington (left), Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) and Hannah Walraven ruminating about ramen

When my friend and culinary kindred spirit Nikko Harada used the term “Japanese soul food” to describe the food at O Ramen, it brought a broad smile to my face.  It’s far too easy to get into a thought process rut and immediately think “sushi” (or worse, the knife wielding prestidigitation of teppanyaki restaurants) when contemplating Japanese cuisine.  Nikko gets it.  Like me, she craves the Japanese food with soul-warming qualities–those homespun, flavor-packed dishes everyone in Japan, from children to grandparents, craves.

So, just what is Japanese soul food?  Think curry, tonkatsu, gyoza, tempura and the noodle dishes: soba, udon and especially ramen.   This is Japanese comfort food, what Bon Apetit editor Matt Gross describes as  “the earthy, fatty, meaty, rib-sicking, lip-smacking fare–the noodles and curries and deep-friend delights that millions of Japanese depend on everyday.”  It’s food to gather around, food to share with friends and family…food that truly feeds the soul.

Takoyaki Balls

Takoyaki Balls

Nikko’s enthusiastic endorsement for O Ramen was so effusive, I had to visit immediately: “it is seriously the closest I’ve come to eating legitimate Tokyo-style ramen in quite a while. The only other place that came even close was a ramen place my cousin took me to in the St. Mark’s district in NYC.”  My inaugural visit led to a second visit the following day with plans to return frequently.  That doesn’t happen very often, but then not every restaurant is as wonderful as O Ramen.

O Ramen is situated in the space which previously house Fei’s Cafe on Central Avenue across from the University of New Mexico.  Students expecting the microwavable noodles in a Styrofoam cup that constitutes the typical student diet (along with burgers, pizza and beer) are in for a surprise.  From a culinary, if not necessarily esthetically, standpoint, it’s as authentic and traditional as a ramen house in Japan.  The open kitchen, closed proximity seating ambiance at the 35-seat restaurant is more contemporary than it is traditional, but it’s not the ambiance that feeds the soul at O Ramen.

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Tonkotsu Spicy Miso (Ramen) with Nori (seaweed) and corn

Feeding the soul is the bailiwick of owner Kenny Wang and his staff.  Himself a former sushi chef, Kenny patterned his restaurant after ramen restaurants throughout Japan and in major metropolitan cities across the fruited plain.   Though the ramen noodles are imported weekly from California, the broths are lovingly prepared in-house–with heart (as the movie Ramen Girl depicted, ramen has no soul until it’s prepared from the heart and not from the head).  The process is painstaking. 

The Tonkotsu (pork bone broth) is rendered from the long (18 hours), slow boiling of pork hocks, neck bones and other ingredients.  This is a magnificent elixir, as soothing and comforting a broth as I’ve ever had.  My friend Andrea Lin, the luminous restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal, calls it “liquid pork.”  The porkalicious broth elevates the ramen noodles and miso to rarefied company, easily among the very best soups I’ve ever had.  I’m in good company.  Nikko calls it “some of the best ramen ever.”  O Ramen is so good, I momentarily contemplated not sharing it with my readers for fear it will get too crowded and I’d have to wait for a seat.

Tonkatsu Spicy Miso Ramen (Level 4)

One of the O Ramen offerings which most excited Nikko is the Takoyaki which she thought she’d never have again without traveling to Japan or New York City. She described is as “awesome and perfect.” Takoyaki, a casual Japanese fast food appetizer, translates literally to “octopus fried,” but that translation short-changes it. Takoyaki are tiny, piping hot balls of fried batter stuffed with green onions, ginger and octopus (yes, octopus) and topped with a small dollop of mayo. A crispy exterior easily gives way to a gooey, addictively delicious interior. Available in small (four pieces) or large (eight pieces), this is a perfect precursor to the ramen.

Ensnaring my affections most is the Tonkotsu Spicy Miso Ramen which combines a spicy miso with the house tonkotsu broth along with chashu pork, menma (a Japanese condiment made from lactate-fermented bamboo shoots), wood ear mushrooms, scallions, fresh ginger and a marinated boiled egg.   Optional toppings include nori (seaweed) and corn.  You can select the level of heat–from one to five–you desire, but Japanese soul food isn’t a test of heat tolerance as Thai food can be (even though the menu warns “Not responsible for burnt taste buds, but will take credit for full bellies.” You also don’t want the spice level to detract from your appreciation of the deep, soulful flavors of that magnificent broth and the ingredients with which it’s paired.  For fellow aficionado Jim Millington, level three is perfect.   The pork, though there’s relatively little of it, will make you swoon.  The noodles inherit the unctuous flavors of the broth and may have you closing your eyes in appreciation.  See where this soup ranks with my very favorite soups in New Mexico here.

Curry with rice

Curry with pork and rice

Japanese curry arrived in the island nation courtesy of the British navy and was not, as widely thought, imported from India.  Although that curry did have a strong Indian influence, Japanese curry in its current form is very different.  Called Karē, it has a very thick, velvety smooth-textured gravy that’s sweeter and less spicy than Indian curries.   Tadashi Ono, one of the authors of the wonderful book Japanese Soul Cooking contends the spices in Japanese curry “give you a high similar to sugar.” 

That high is deliciously palpable in O Ramen’s curry which is served with with your choice of what Nikko describes as “panko fried goodness: tofu, chicken, potato croquette or pork” and is served with rice. The light, delicate panko crust and amazingly grease-free pork is amazing! As fabulous as the curry is, it’s a cultural faux pas (though entirely American) to request even more curry with which to flavor the rice because rice is itself considered a vital element of Japanese soul food.  Call me an ugly American because I appreciate curry that good much more than the best of rice. 

O Ramen should perhaps be renamed “Oh, Ramen” as in “Oh, Ramen, how I love your soulful deliciousness.”   Humble trappings aside, this was perhaps my favorite restaurant to launch in the Duke City in 2014.

O Ramen
2114 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 243-3390
LATEST VISIT: 23 March 2015
1st VISIT: 24 April 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Tonkotsu Spicy Miso (Ramen), Curry with Pork and Rice, Takoyaki Balls

O Ramen on Urbanspoon

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Green Chile Cheese Fries

The internet is replete with compilations abounding in truth and humor entitled “You know you’re from New Mexico when…”  Perhaps most resonating in factuality are the items which depict just how much New Mexicans value their culinary traditions.  For example, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your favorite breakfast meat is sliced fried bologna; you buy green chile by the bushel and red chile by the gallon; most restaurants you go to begin with ‘El’ or ‘Los'; you have an extra freezer just for green chile; you think Sadie’s was better when it was in a bowling alley; and you can order your Big Mac with green chile.

Even if you’ve lived in the Land of Enchantment for only a short time, several items on that short list will ring with veracity for you. If you’re a lifelong resident, however, the list may get your dander up a bit because, conspicuous by their absence, are sacrosanct New Mexican foods and culinary traditions we treasure. We would add to the list, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your trail mix consists of pinon and carne seca and instead of popcorn, your home movie nights consist of eating chicharrones in front of the television.

The comfy, cozy dining room

You also know you’re from New Mexico if you can drive down the street and pass several stores selling carne seca. New Mexicans have always had an affinity for carne seca whose literal translation is “dried beef” but for which a more accurate description would be “dehydrated beef.” Spanish conquistadores and settlers learned the process for making carne seca from indigenous peoples, quickly discerning the value of preserving and ease of transporting dehydrated meats as they set off on their conquests. When they settled down and raised cattle for their families, they retained their carne seca preparation traditions. Years of preparing it had taught them that beyond its practicality, carne seca is an addictively delicious meat treat.

Frank Chavez and his family have been provisioning New Mexicans with high-quality, delicious carne seca for three decades, proffering some thirteen flavors. The carne seca is hung and dried in a controlled environment until the desired texture is achieved. The thin strips of dehydrated beef are then marinated in such ingredients as Hatch red and green chile with no additives or preservatives. Any triskaidekaphobia you might have will dissipate when you feast your eyes and wrap your lips around any of the thirteen flavors: original (salt only), peppered (salt and pepper), green chile, red chile, tangy teriyaki, extra hot teriyaki, lemon peppered, old-fashioned, garlic, extra hot Habanero, hot chile con limon and Christmas (red and green chile).

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Taco Burgers

27 November 2013: Texturally, the carne seca is absolutely perfect.  That means it snaps when you bite into it or break apart a piece.  It isn’t stringy in the least and is lean and super delicious.  The chile con limon is not to be missed.  Chile con limon is a very popular Mexican spice mix combining chile spices, salt, lemon and lime to impart an addictive piquant-tangy-citrusy flavor.  The heat is real.  So is the citrusy flavor.  Other early favorites include the extra hot teriyaki and the garlic, but that’s likely to change with future visits and more sampling.

Chavez, an Albuquerque native who grew up in the area around Central and Atrisco, realizes that New Mexican’s can’t live on carne seca alone. When he launched his second instantiation of the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company, he diversified its offerings by selling chicharrones, too…and if there’s anything New Mexicans love as much as carne seca, it’s chicharrones. We also love hot and spicy New Mexico Quality (the store brand) red chile chips so Chavez makes the very best, created with the same high standards as other products in the store.

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Carne Adovada Burrito

Several months after launching his second store (1900 Fourth Street, N.W.), Chavez once again listened to his customers (a novel concept more restaurateurs should embrace) who were clamoring for more. He expanded the menu beyond carne seca, chicharonnes and red chile chips, restructuring the store to include several tables for eat-in dining. One of the first to visit after the menu expansion was Rudy Vigil, the Sandia savant who’s led me to some great restaurants. Rudy endorsed the burritos at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company with the same enthusiasm he has for the University of New Mexico Lobos.

The limited menu befits the store’s diminutive digs.  Four breakfast burritos (served all day long), five lunch burritos, burgers (tortilla or bun) and taco burgers make up the standard menu, but savvy diners will quickly pick up on the fact that they can also order chicharrones in half or full-pound sizes.  Even better, they can indulge in a chicharrones plate which comes with two tortillas and four ounces of chile for a half-pound portion.  Order a full pound of chicharrones and you’ll double the number of tortillas and chile portion size if you order the full pound.  You’ll also double your enjoyment.

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Chicharonnes Burrito with Green Chile

1 November 2013: Order the taco burgers as an appetizer to begin your experience in New Mexico Beef Jerky Company deliciousness. The taco burgers are simple in their construction: a hard-shell corn tortilla, a hamburger-style beef patty, lettuce and your choice of red or green chile (or both). More tacos should be made with hamburger patties. Texturally, hamburgers have an advantage in that they don’t fall off the taco shell. Hamburger patties are also superior in flavor to fried ground beef. The real kicker, literally and figuratively, is the green chile which bites back with a vengeance. It’s an excellent chile, some of the best in town.

1 November 2013: The carne adovada burrito is so good, it’s easy to imagine yourself having one for breakfast and one for lunch two or seven times a week.  The breakfast version is made with carne adovada, eggs, cheese and potatoes while the lunch version omits the eggs (though as previously noted, breakfast burritos are available all day long).  The carne adovada is outstanding with tender tendrils of porcine perfection marinated in a rich, piquant red chile made from chile pods.  Burritos are generously engorged, easily twice as thick as most hand-held burritos…and most of the filling is carne, not potatoes.  They’re easily affordable and will fill you up.  My adovada adoring friend Ruben calls them “unbelievably good,” a sentiment you’ll echo. Another friend Mike Muller believes these are the very best carne adovada burritos in town. Frankly, I can’t think of any better.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Chips

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips

1 November 2013: By most measures, the carne adovada burrito would be the best burrito at most restaurants’ burrito line-up, but it may not even be the best burrito at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company. That honor probably belongs to the chicharrones burrito (with beans and chile), the only possible way in which chicharrones could be improved. The chicharrones are exemplars of crackling pork. They’re crispy, crunchy and redolent with porcine goodness. This burrito is tailor-made for green chile, an R-rated variety in that it may be unsuitable (too piquant) for some children, adults who don’t have an asbestos-lined mouth and Texans. This is chile the way New Mexicans have been preparing it for generations, not dumbed down for tourist tastes.

As a cautionary note, if you get there late in the day, say after 3:30, the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may have run out of chicharrones.  Fresh batches are made daily and if you’re fortunate enough to arrive shortly after a fresh batch is ready, you’re in for a treat.  Few things are as wonderful as freshly made chicharrones hot enough to burn your tongue.  Before day’s end, the freshly ground beef from which burgers are constructed may also be gone.

Baloney, Cheese, Egg and Bean Burrito

Baloney, Cheese, Egg and Bean Burrito

27 November 2013: The ground beef for the burgers comes from the same beef used to create the old-fashioned carne seca. Each beef patty is hand-formed and prepared at about medium-well then topped with mustard and onions. Green chile (a must-have) and cheese are optional. As a green chile cheeseburger, the emphasis here is on chile as in plenty of piquancy. If you’ve ever lamented not being able to discern any chile on your green chile cheeseburger, this is a burger for you. The chile is not only piquant, it’s got a nice flavor. The beef patty exceeds the circumference of the bun and is thick, probably a good eight ounces of delicious, rich beef. Burgers are served with New Mexico Quality red chile chips. 

24 September 2014:  Baloney!  If you’ve ever wondered why the popular Italian sausage is synonymous with a term commonly associated with nonsense, bunkum or insincerity, you’re not alone.  It turns out the word “baloney” was first used in the 1930s as a reference to the disingenuousness of government bureaucracies.  The term was later applied to “Bologna” sausages because the sausage tasted nothing like the meat used to make them (a mixture of smoked, spiced meat from cows and pigs). 

Baloney Sandwich

24 September 2014: There’s nothing insincere or nonsensical about the love of baloney, the sausage.  It’s long been a favorite among families in rural New Mexico, a realization some restaurants are only now starting to grasp.  New Mexicans love the log-sized baloney we slice ourselves so that it’s three or four times the height of the single-sliced baloney sold in supermarkets.  We like to grill or fry it over low heat so that it acquires a smoky char and we love our boloney on a tortilla.  That’s how Frank’s crew prepares it: two thick slices of grilled baloney, melted cheese, lettuce and an incendiary green chile that will bring sweat to your brow.  It’s the baloney sandwich of my youth recaptured and for my friends Bill and Phil, it’s a new way to appreciate the “Rodney Dangerfield” of meat products.  They’ve become hooked on the baloney sandwiches, much to the detriment of ordering anything else.

17 November 2014: Baloney–it’s not just for sandwiches anymore!  In fact, baloney is a versatile ingredient that improves almost every dish in which it’s used (and it’s pretty terrific on its own, too).  In addition to using it on the aforementioned baloney sandwich, the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company deploys baloney on its burritos, too.  Were it not for that sublime carne adovada, the baloney, egg and cheese burrito would be in contention for best burrito in town.  The only thing that can improve this winner is beans.

Chorizo Burrito

9 October 2014:  When I asked the genial server manning the counter whether or not the chorizo burrito included cumin, his answer validated my long-held assertion that cumin has no place in New Mexican food.  He told me: “we don’t use sobaco on anything here.”  Sobaco is Spanish for armpit, a description my friend Bill also uses to describe cumin.  The chorizo burrito (eggs, potatoes, cheese, chorizo in a flour tortilla) is the best I’ve had in memory, maybe the best ever.  The chorizo has a wonderfully piquant kick.  It’s not nearly as piquant as the XX-Hot chile of the day (a placard at the counter will tell you how hot the chile is ), but it’s got personality and deliciousness.

17 November 2014: Chile cheese fries aren’t a new idea.  Several New Mexican restaurants offer them though very few are notable.  At the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company, they’re so memorable you might wish they were available at every meal.  The French fries are reminiscent of the fries at the K&I Diner in that they’re soft and easy to pick up en masse with a fork.  The cheese is shredded, not gloppy.  The chile, of course, is fantastic!  The plate includes a garnish of chopped tomatoes and lettuce which go surprisingly well with the fries.

Green Chile Cheese Fries

3 December 2014: The New Mexico Beef Jerky Co. started its December (2014) in a new site about four blocks south of its inaugural Fourth Street location.  Now occupying the building where the late, lamented 4 Aces Grill got its start in 2011, Frank Chavez and his crew now have a venue in which they can better showcase the great service which has always accompanied the excellent New Mexican cuisine.  Now you can order either at the counter up front or you can take a seat and be waited upon. 

The new, larger space also allows for even more expansion of the menu.  With virtually every visit, there seems to be something new on the menu which means menu boredom can’t set in.  Cheese enchiladas are a  heretofore offering that won me over immediately.  That’s an easy feat considering how transformative the red and green chile are.  Beyond the chile, these enchiladas are prepared as well as enchiladas can be and they’re accompanied by outstanding refried beans and papitas along with a single tortilla.  Don’t forget to ask for a fried egg atop your enchilada.

Enchiladas with red and green chile and a fried egg (over easy)

7 February 2015: In past years there have been efforts to define New Mexico’s best sandwich.  More often than not, the de facto best “sandwich” named has been the green chile cheeseburger.  While the green chile cheeseburger is outstanding in its own right, as a sandwich it’s a cop-out choice, especially considering the surfeit of superb sandwiches crafted throughout the Land of Enchantment.  Among the very best unique to New Mexico sandwiches is the green chile Philly, essentially a Philadelphia cheese steak with green chile.  

Enter into the fray the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company whose green chile Philly might be in the company of the one served at Itsa Italian Ice as among Albuquerque’s very best.  It’s an overstuffed behemoth brimming with red, yellow and green peppers, cheese, chopped steak and the restaurant’s fabulous green chile.  It’s a concordant collection of ingredients in a soft, chewy bread canvas.

Green Chile Philly

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may be Lilliputian compared to those impersonal mega restaurants, but when it comes to service, the big boys can learn a thing or two from Frank Chavez and his crew. By the time our taco burgers were delivered to our table during our inaugural visit, Frank had already secured our unending loyalty with a generous sample of chicharrones. For “dessert” he brought us chicharrones in red chile and samples of the beef jerky.  He had us at chicharrones.  We’ll be back again and again.

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company
1527 4th Street, N.W
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6121
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2015
1st VISIT: 1 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 24
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicharrones, Chicharrones Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Taco Burger, Beef Jerky, Green Chile Cheeseburger, New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips, Baloney Sandwich, Chorizo Burrito, Chile Cheese Fries, Enchiladas, Green Chile Philly

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company on Urbanspoon

Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro on Central Avenue in the Nob Hill District

Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district largely owes its emergence as the city’s first “suburb” to Route 66, the great Mother Road which carried Americans westward.  Because of Route 66, the Nob Hill area has been, since before World War II, a thriving residential community replete with restaurants, motels, a modern movie theater, pharmacies and restaurants.  Today it remains the city’s cultural heart and, thanks to the preservation of Route 66 era architecture, retains much of the charm that captivated west bound sojourners.

New tenants such as Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro which launched in 2003 hold court in well preserved brick buildings and seem completely at home.  Antique mirrors, distressed wood floors, stained glass and warm colors coalesce with intoxicating aromas to make this classy bistro one of the city’s best launches (and lunches) of the new millennium.  The French rotisserie, visible from the main floor and the open mezzanine above, turns out some of the best meals in the city.

There’s just a bit of whimsy in the decor at Zinc

While considered a premium fine dining destination, Zinc’s generous portions are comparatively value priced–your bill may approach three figures, but you’ll feel you got your money’s worth.  Meals are well paced with appetizers and entrees brought to your table at seemingly prescribed intervals that allow you to savor and reflect on the quality of the former without pining for the latter. Portion sizes are reasonable–generous, but not profuse.

There are nearly as many floor levels at Zinc as there are layers of flavor in some of its terrific food. There’s a downstairs bar with a lighter menu, a street-level dining room and a mezzanine floor that provides perhaps the best vantage point of any floor. Comfortable spacing between tables is available at all three levels.

Duck Confit Egg Rolls–Absolutely Wonderful!

Zinc is the brainchild of twin brothers Kevin and Keith Roessler, two veteran restaurateurs who also own Season’s Rotisserie & Grill on the northern outskirts of Old Town. They also own Savoy, a Swanky fine-dining restaurant launched in 2007 in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights.  The menu at Zinc seems to be a fusion of eclectic American comfort food with departures into New Mexican and French cuisine. The menu is inventive and inspired with something for everyone, including a nice selection of vegetarian entrees.

The clientele is nearly as eclectic as the menu. At any given meal, you’ll see young ladder-climbing urban professionals and more seasoned and affluent diners who have already ascended to or near the top of the ladder. Most will order wine with their dinner and will linger in conversation long after their meal is over.

Steak Au Poivre

Steak Au Poivre

The wait staff is attentive without hovering and informative without being pedantic. They are well-versed in their craft and capable of clearly describing the nuances of the restaurant’s menu. Their recommendations don’t necessarily lean toward the most expensive items on the menu.

4 August 2014 (Brunch): One item everyone at Zinc recommends are the crispy duck confit eggrolls served with peanut curry and chile-lime dipping sauces. The duck is amazingly tender, the result of slow-cooking. It is wrapped in a won-ton type wrapper and is sliced diagonally (giving it the appearance of four egg rolls).  Other components of this delicious appetizer are ginger, mushrooms, sesame oil, scallions, chopped peanuts. soy sauce, spinach and carrots though it is the duck itself that will win you over.  These are easily among the best egg rolls in the city and are outstanding even without the dipping sauces. The peanut curry sauce stands out. It’s entirely unlike and better than the peanut sauce served with satay at most Thai restaurants. Unlike the Thai peanut sauce, it’s not cloying. It’s a savory sauce with a piquant punch to it.

Grilled Lamb Loin Mignon: Accompanied by chorizo-sweet potato tart with goat cheese bechamel, winter vegetable melange and pomegranate demi glace.

16 March 2008 (Dinner): Another excellent value appetizer are the steamed black mussels for only twelve dollars. Bathed in a basil-chardonnay broth and crowned with colorful julienne vegetables, these mussels are top tier. You’ll want to sop up the broth with the restaurant’s wonderful hard-crusted yet yeasty bread.  For years these mussels were one of the city’s very best bargains at ten dollars, but a dreary economy necessitated change.  They’re still a bargain considering the quality and deliciousness.

4 August 2014 (Brunch): Lest I forget, the complementary basket of bread is among the city’s best. I believe the bread is made by Albuquerque’s Fano Bakery, one of the very best bread-making companies in the state and a purveyor of artisan style rustic and specialty breads.  It’s  the type of bread you could eat by the loaf–with or without butter.  The butter served at Zinc is soft and smooth for easy spreading.  During Saturday and Sunday brunch, the bread plate may include croissants and scones.  The wait staff will replenish them happily.

Breads for Brunch

26 December 2010 (Bruch): Lamb is certainly a specialty at Zinc and is accented with seasonal touches.  The grilled lamb loin Mignon, for example, is accompanied by a chorizo-sweet potato tart topped with a goat cheese bechamel, contrasting elements which bring out each others best qualities.  A cleanly simple winter vegetable melange–baby asparagus, carrots, roasted onions–is perfectly prepared, so good even finicky children would love it.  The lamb loin, prepared at medium rare, sits on a puddle of pomegranate demi glace, an ever-so-slightly tangy sauce with a lightly lacquered texture which couples so well with the lamb that they rhapsodize on your taste buds with a subtle medley of flavors you’ll remember long after your meal.  The lamb has none of the gaminess for which lamb is often disdained.

16 March 2008 (Dinner): If you want something more lively, the seared flank steak Au Poivre will invigorate your taste buds with a pronounced black peppercorn taste. A nine-ounce steak seared in a cast iron pan, it is served with buttermilk mashed potatoes, fried mushrooms and onions, all of which are wonderful.  Steak Au Poivre is a staple at French brasseries throughout the country (both France and the United States), but is sometimes prepared with an excess of pepper, making it a bit acerbic.  At Zinc, it is perfectly prepared so that the peppercorn taste complements, not dominates, the flavor profile.  It is served with an espagnole sauce, a veal stock roux reduction sometimes called one of the “mother sauces” of classic French cooking.

Chicken and Waffles

Sunday brunch is an event worth getting up for at Zinc. The menu is only somewhat abbreviated, including more dining options than just about any brunch menu in town. The dulcet tones of soothing guitar music playing soft and low may just make the rest of the world seem so far away and small.  An eye-opening roasted chicken and cashew salad is a great way to start. This superstar salad features sugar snap peas, sweet n’ sour red onions and baby carrots mixed with field greens and a sharp Maytag blue dressing that emboldens the salad. It’s one of several inventive and delicious salad options available for brunch.

26 December 2010 (Brunch): Zinc’s pecan-crusted chicken and chorizo relleno, a unique rendition of the traditional New Mexican stuffed chile pepper, is also one of the state’s very best.  A baked poblano is engorged with cream cheese, Asadero cheese, chicken breast and crumbled sausage then topped with a fried egg sunny and covered with a wonderfully smoky and piquant Ancho chile sauce. Ancho chiles are essentially dried poblanos which may surprise some considering poblanos have a very mild flavor, barely registering on the Scoville scale.  Ancho chiles, on the other hand, can have significant heat and a pungent, smoky, wonderful flavor.  More restaurants should employ this very diverse and very delicious chile.

Pecan-crusted chicken & chorizo relleno: Baked poblano stuffed with cream cheese, asadero, chicken breast and crumbled sausage. Topped with sunny side up egg and ancho chile sauce. Hash brown pie on the side

Also worth getting up for is Zinc’s house-made pork sausage patty (a carnivore’s dream), which along with the sausage served at the San Marcos Cafe, may be the best sausage in New Mexico. It’s got the perfect balance of piquant bite and savory flavor sausage lovers appreciate. The sausage is available on several brunch entrees, including an amazing array of surprisingly good New Mexican dishes that for some reason aren’t available on the lunch or dinner menu.  That’s a shame because if Zinc focused exclusively on New Mexican food, it would be in rarefied company with the very best New Mexican restaurants in the state.

4 August 2014 (Brunch): As with fashion and music, the culinary world isn’t exempt from the whimsy of the trend.  While some foods are forever in vogue, for better or worse others come and go.  The Duke City may have been a bit late in following the waffles and chicken trend, but now it seems every restaurant in town is offering a variation of this popular soul food favorite.  Worse, some local restaurants have taken a rather homey combination and made it uppity with gourmet syrups and highfalutin alterations which make the chicken unrecognizable.   While Zinc jumped on the trendy bandwagon, at least the chicken and waffles haven’t been upscaled.  Better still, they’re actually pretty good.  The chicken, three pieces–a leg, a thigh and a breast– though prepared on a deep fryer, actually has a pan-fried taste.  The waffles are light, fluffy and served with maple syrup.

Grilled Breakfast Pork Chops and Chile Relleno

4 August 2014 (Brunch): Another breakfast standard which never seems to fall out of fashion is grilled pork chops, a solid and unspectacular (translation: boring) offering.  It’s usually up to whatever accompanies those “supporting cast” pork chops to enliven breakfast.  The yang to the grilled breakfast port chop’s yin is a blue corn-crusted Poblano stuffed with Mexican cheeses, fresh corn and peppers topped with a sunny side-up egg and a chipotle fruit glaze.  Frankly, the blue corn crust and egg dominate the flavor profile so much we had to taste the chipotle fruit glaze and fresh corn separately to make sure they were there.  It’s rare that breakfast pork chops are the highlight of a breakfast, but that was the case here.  The pork chops may have been solid and unspectacular, but they met expectations.

16 March 2008 (Brunch): Our waitress told us that some visiting tourists can’t handle the heat of New Mexican dishes and send them back. What a shame they don’t have the heat tolerance of New Mexicans. What a shame that they miss out on enchiladas engorged with absolutely delicious chorizo sausage and baked chicken.  Perhaps more to their heat tolerance level are Zinc’s rendition of stuffed sopaipillas which aren’t served with chile. Instead, two puffy sopaipillas are filled with lemon-blueberry custard then finished with Bosque Farms BeeSweet honey drizzle.

Stuffed Sopaipillas Zinc style

If you love lip-puckering lemon with real blueberries, this is the dessert for you. If you love real honey, you’ll love BeeSweet and you’ll lament the fact that far too many New Mexican restaurants fill their squeeze bottles with “sopaipilla syrup,” the honey flavored syrup that pales in comparison to real honey.

26 December 2010 (Brunch): Another fabulous dessert is the chevre cheesecake tart made with a honey granola crust branded with the letter “Z” (and probably not for Zorro).  Rivulets of ruby port gastrique and fig preserves provide terrific contrasts to the sweet, creamy cheesecake.  On the side of this dish is honeycomb, the pure essence of honey sweetness that’s better than any candy.

Chevre Cheesecake Tart – honey granola crust, ruby port gastrique, honeycomb and fig preserves

Zinc upholds the Nob Hill tradition and has itself become a destination worthy of the Mother Road. It’s a Santa Fe quality restaurant in the Duke City.

Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro
3009 Central, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505)-254-9462
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 03 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Crispy Duck Confit Eggrolls; Seared Flank Steak Au Poivre; Baked Chicken & Chorizo Sausage Enchiladas; Stuffed Sopaipilla; Chevre Cheesecake Tart; Pecan-crusted chicken & chorizo relleno; Grilled Lamb Loin Mignon

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