Loving Vegan – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Loving Vegan Closed Its Doors on Friday, November 13th, Two Days After My Inaugural and Only Visit

My adovada adoring amigo Ruben likened the irony to an episode of Seinfeld.  Two weeks into his experiment with an ostensibly healthier vegan diet, he was craving sushi and needed his sushi-specific pangs of hunger sated.  No sooner had we finished a very satisfying sushi soiree at Albuquerque’s only vegan sushi restaurant than our waitress apprised us the restaurant would be closing for good two days later.  “Serenity now,” we cried, mimicking Frank Costanza when faced with a stressful situation.  It just didn’t seem fair that we would make such a delicious discovery only to have plans for future meals dashed. 

Loving Vegan gave it the “old college try,” initially launching in June, 2012 on Coors Blvd before relocating in November, 2013 to a much more heavily trafficked Nob Hill location.  In its relatively short life, Loving Vegan garnered a loyal following and a very prestigious honor.  Within a year of opening, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) named Loving Vegan the “top restaurant for vegan sushi” in the United States and Canada.  The citation from PETA read: “Loving Vegan earned our top prize because it truly proves that any food can be made deliciously and healthfully without animal products. Cheers and congratulations to Loving Vegan — this number-one award is well deserved!”

Interior of Loving Vegan

Despite being a relative newcomer competing against vegan restaurants in such population centers as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Ontario (Canada) and Baltimore, to veteran observers of the Duke City dining scene, it  came as no surprise that Loving Vegan would be accorded such an honor. After all, it was founded by Kathy Punya, one of Albuquerque’s most active restaurant impresarios.  Among Kathy’s other eateries are a number of Sushi King restaurants throughout the Duke City as well as one in Rio Rancho.  Kathy Punya knows sushi! 

Kathy also knows restaurants.  After all vestiges of Loving Vegan have been cleared out, one of her other restaurants, Soul and Vine, a downtown fine-dining gem will be moving in.  Parking in Nob Hill is probably only slightly better than in the downtown district, but Nob Hill may be more heavily trafficked in the evening hours than is the downtown area, especially by the dining demographic.

In 2013 PETA named Loving Vegan the best Vegan Sushi Restaurant in America

Ruben and I were pleasantly surprised at the diversity and depth of the Loving Vegan menu.  Not only did the menu list a tremendous variety of sushi (nigiri, sashimi, rolls, hand rolls and chef’s specials) options, a separate  menu showcased Bento boxes, rice dishes, pan-fried noodles, noodle soups, Chinese stir-fried dishes and chef specials.  The chef specials included Pad Thai and three curry dishes including a vegan duck curry dish that beckoned me to try it.  Loving Vegan’s menu was as ambitious and inviting as any menu in any of Albuquerque’s many Asian restaurants. 

As we discovered, diners didn’t need to be of the vegan or vegetarian persuasion to enjoy a meal at Loving Vegan.  If we hadn’t known better, in fact, we would have sworn there was little discernible difference between some of the vegan sushi we enjoyed and sushi at traditional “fishy” sushi restaurants throughout the Duke City and that’s not just the horseradish-heavy wasabi talking.  Before finding out about the restaurant’s impending closure, it pleased Ruben to no end that despite his new healthful dietetic lifestyle, he’d be able to continue enjoying sushi.

Miso soup

By no stretch of the imagination is miso soup veganThe basis for this traditional Japanese favorite is dashi, a fish-based (fermented bonito or skipjack tuna fish shavings) broth and a salty fermented soybean paste.  A vegan-friendly version can be made fairly easily by substituting vegetable stock for the dashi.  Loving Vegan’s rendition has the pungent, salty qualities of traditional miso soup and had it been served hot instead of lukewarm, it would have been even more enjoyable. 

We initially wondered if the sheer number of ingredients on each sushi roll was a deliberate attempt at “masking” the flavor of the vegan ingredients, but it dawned on us that most American sushi rolls also tend to constructed from a preponderance of ingredients.  The vegan spicy tuna crunch roll was an exception in that the sole listed ingredients were vegan spicy tuna and cucumber inside with tempura flakes and sweet sauce on top.  Frankly, we didn’t spend much time trying to discern the nuanced differences between vegan tuna and its “regular” sushi counterpart.  That’s more indicative of our genuine appreciation for its deliciousness than any perceived lack of scientific curiosity.  This was a very good roll.

Left: Loving Vegan Roll; Right: Vegan Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll

We also disposed of the Loving Vegan Roll (green chili tempura, avocado, cucumber, vegan lobster inside; deep fried with spicy mayo, sriracha, and sweet sauce on top) rather quickly.  It wasn’t until we had wiped it out that we asked ourselves about the flavor of the vegan lobster.  Neither of us discerned, either texturally or flavor-wise, any lobster-like flavor.  We did, however, note that the “green chili” wasn’t especially reminiscent of New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile.  Any heat we gleaned from this roll had its genesis in the wasabi and sriracha.  Still in all, we enjoyed the Loving Vegan Roll very much. 

Framed and captioned photographs on the walls proved very enticing–true food porn, none more alluring than the grilled portobello (SIC) roll (a unagi roll with cucumber, salmon and sweet sauce on top).  “Mock” unagi was nearly as good as its eel-based counterpart thanks largely to a generous application of the sweet “eel sauce.”   If the rapidity with which we dispensed of this roll is any indication, we enjoyed it thoroughly…and as with our previous vegan sushi conquests, we didn’t spend much time trying to determine its composition though I now surmise roasted eggplant may have been the basis for mock unagi.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Roll

Albuquerque apparently didn’t love Loving Vegan enough to keep it operating, but Ruben and I certainly wish it would have survived the test of time.  With sushi this good, a vegan lifestyle might be even be more than palatable. It just might be delicious.

Loving Vegan
3409 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 11 November 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Miso Soup, Grilled Portobello Mushroom Roll, Loving Sushi Roll, Vegan Spicy Tuna Roll

Mint Tulip Vegan Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant on Central Avenue

My Friend Sr. Plata by The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant on Central Avenue

Once a year during a certain holiday in November, meat-eaters use the
hollowed-out rectum of a dead bird as a pressure cooker for stuffing.
And people think vegans are weird because we eat tofu?”
~Gary Yourofsky

In the spirit of the much debated question of “nature or nurture,” my inaugural visit to The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant prompted my own philosophical contemplation, “are veggie haters born or made?”  The answer is probably a little of both. Many of us were–as children–traumatized by well-intentioned parental chiding or threats regarding vegetables: “Eat Your Vegetables!”   “You’re not leaving this table until you eat your rutabaga!”  “No dessert until you finish all your vegetable medley!”

Then there are those of us who were once served a mushy bowl of peas, an overcooked plate of carrots, spinach suffering from freezer burn and the like.  Others of us may have, in an effort to lose weight, endured a fad diet consisting solely of certain vegetables.  Whatever the reason, it’s no wonder so many people become veggie-haters. 

Hummus Plate

Hummus Plate

The problem with hating vegetables is that they are, almost inarguably, the most healthful food group on Earth.  Vegetables are an amazing source of antioxidants, fiber, phytochemicals. potassium and other beneficial nutrients.  Eating a diet rich in vegetables (and fruits) as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, protect against certain types of cancers, reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes as well as decreasing bone loss.

Aside from the clinical benefits of vegetables, the truth is when prepared well, vegetables can be absolutely delicious–even if they’re not disguised as some “pseudo meat.”  Unfortunately, not even some of the very best chefs and cooks at much acclaimed restaurants do much more with vegetables than boil or saute them.  Talk about bland and boring.  Talk about unrealized potential.

Buffalo Ranch Wrap: grilled seitan tossed with our buffalo sauce, carrots, celery, mixed greens and ranch dressing all wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Buffalo Ranch Wrap: grilled seitan tossed with our buffalo sauce, carrots, celery, mixed greens and ranch dressing all wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant is that its menu looks so un-vegan.  Scrawled on a slate board behind the counter at which you place your order is a menu listing such carnivore favorites as a BLT, Club Sandwich, Reuben, Buffalo Ranch Wrap and Burger.  You can also order a Brat (with kraut and onions) or a hot dog.  Anyone contemplating a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle might be surprised by all the inventive and delicious potential of such a diet.

The aforementioned meaty sounding sandwich fare is made possible by something called a meat analogue…or meat substitute, imitation meat, faux meat, fake meat or mock meat, if you prefer.  Whatever you choose to call it, meat analogues approximate three essential aesthetic qualities of meat: texture, flavor and appearance.  Some meat analogues are so similar to the real thing that if you don’t know what you’re eating, you’d swear it was meat.  While many analogues are soy- or gluten-based, The Mint Tulip also offers a number of gluten-free items such as salads, grilled vegetable sandwich, grilled cheese sandwich and even the shakes (save for the mint cookie).

Pancakes with syrup

Pancakes with syrup

Accompanying me on my inaugural visit to The Mint Tulip was my good friend Sr. Plata.  We were the oldest diners in the Cafe by twenty years or more as well as the only patrons not sporting multiple tattoos, gauged piercings, multi-colored spiked hair or some other generational personal affectation.  We reminisced about once being the same age as the other diners and how we, too, sported the personal attributes that defined our generation (and ticked off our elders).  It’s no wonder we felt right at home. 

We also felt like welcomed guests courtesy of the kindness of co-owner Rosa Zamora who patiently answered our questions and made recommendations.  She pointed out that the breakfast menu, while limited, is served until breakfast items run out.  On any given day, that could mean a breakfast burrito (potato, spinach, sausage and red or green chile) or a sausage cheese biscuit (fresh-baked biscuit sandwich with Cheddar spread and a breakfast sausage patty).  

It could also mean pancakes, three golden brown and fluffy orbs served with syrup and Earth Balance butter, a plant-based vegan butter made without artificial ingredients or hydrogenated oils.  The pancakes are made from scratch with all-purpose flour.  The Mint Tulip made believers out of two converts with pancakes every bit as good as you’ll find at any conventional breakfast restaurants (and better than the pancakes at Annapurna, another Duke City vegan favorite).  The only thing missing is bacon…and drat my terrible memory for not having thought about ordering it on the side. 

Also as good as you’ll find at any “conventional” sandwich shop is the Buffalo Ranch Wrap, a flour tortilla encasing grilled seitan (wheat gluten which when grilled, has a texture and appearance very similar to meat), carrots, celery, mixed greens, ranch dressing and some of the best buffalo sauce this side of western New York.  In total, the sandwich is moist (you’ll be grateful for the cloth napkins) and delicious, but the buffalo sauce, in particular, is spectacular.  You can imagine dousing wings with it (not coincidentally, hot wings tossed in the buffalo sauce are on the menu). 

Chips and salsa, chips and queso and hummus are among the starters though if the entree-sized portion of hummus is any indication, they can easily be shared.  The hummus is served with grilled bread (brushed with olive oil), carrots, olives and artichoke hearts.  There are Middle Eastern restaurants in the Duke City who don’t prepare hummus as good as the Mint Tulip does.  It’s thick, garlicky and plentiful; you’ll run out of carrots and bread before you run out of hummus. 

Whether veggie haters are born or made, The Mint Tulip Vegan Cafe is good enough to convince them that vegetables can be delicious.

Mint Tulip Vegan Cafe
2110 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 8 March 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buffalo Ranch Wrap, Pancakes, Hummus Plate, Ginger Lemonade

Mint Tulip on Urbanspoon

Paddy Rawal’s OM- Fine Indian Dining – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Behind the glass, Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining Restaurant

It wasn’t New Mexico’s Chamber of Commerce winter weather that enticed Chef Pramad “Paddy” Rawal to remain in the Land of Enchantment. In fact, when he first landed at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, he wondered if he had gotten on the correct flight. Albuquerque was as frigid as his home in Michigan which he had left just hours prior. Attired in clothing more appropriate for a balmy spring day, Paddy had certainly not anticipated the winter snap that kept New Mexicans indoors for several days on that uncommonly cold December in 2010.

Paddy was in New Mexico to visit his artist friends Dick and Jane in Santa Fe. Michigan transplants themselves, his friends had long tried to influence Paddy to leave the Wolverine State and open up a restaurant in Santa Fe. They wined and dined their guest and did their best to point out the charms of the capital city, but Mother Nature would not cooperate. Then they took him to a couple of New Mexico’s most highly regarded Indian restaurants. That’s when he came to the conclusion that what passes for good Indian food in New Mexico wasn’t good enough for his friends. Four months later, Paddy opened up Raaga Fine Indian Dining in Santa Fe.

The interior of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant in Albuquerque

From day one Raaga has been a huge critical success in The City Different, beloved not only by a very grateful Dick and Jane, but by Santa Fe’s savvy, well-traveled dining public. The feeling is very much mutual. Paddy has fallen in love with Santa Fe and sees himself as potentially retiring in New Mexico. Considering the well-traveled Paddy has worked as a chef in India, Egypt, Dubai, Australia and Michigan, that’s quite a testament to enchantment and to much better weather than what first welcomed him to the state.

With the November 1st, 2012 launch of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant, Duke City diners have begun to experience for themselves what Santa Fe diners now know and what East Lansing diners have been missing since Paddy closed his two Michigan eateries. OM may be in a class of its own in New Mexico when it comes to fine Indian dining! A number of infatuated patrons, including Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, have already become confirmed habitues. In short order, OM will have legions of pleased patrons.

Chef Paddy Rawal brings Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken to our Table

The main reason, of course, is the cuisine. Boasting of rich, intricately flavored dishes prepared with the finest spices, freshest herbs and highest quality ingredients, OM takes Northern Indian fare to new heights, even incorporating local Southwest elements as well as Chinese dishes to create imaginative and sophisticated fusions of deliciousness.   There are two aspects of Indian cuisine at which OM exceeds.  One is in the use of spices, the true legacy of India’s culinary heritage.  While the primary function of spices is to enhance the flavor of food, it is experience and tradition which determine their optimal use, whether it be to season food, enhance its texture or introduce color.  The other aspect is in the preparation of sauces, each one designed to bring out the finest qualities of the ingredients on which they’re used.  

The other reason OM will, in short order, become a Duke City favorite is Paddy Rawal himself. A peripatetic presence, Paddy is the consummate host and a veritable whirling dervish who is seemingly everywhere at once. He wears the stains of spilled sauces on his chef’s coat as a badge of honor, evidence that he himself is preparing the incomparable cuisine himself. Expect him to check up on you frequently to ensure your dining experience is as good as it can be. Paddy is a very engaging, charming and modest fellow, quick to turn compliments about his cooking into something praiseworthy he noticed about you. Interacting with satisfied customers is imperative to him.

Stuffed Dried Fruit Naan and Chana Chaat with Mango Lasi

The OM menu offers an exciting culinary journey into superior taste and flavor, into subtle nuances and exotic complexity, into delicate spice blends and rich, creamy sauces.   All dishes can be ordered mild, medium, hot, hell or any variation thereof (medium plus for example). A daily lunch buffet–at a ridiculously low price considering the quality–features various vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes as well as rice, salad, naan and dessert.  Now if you’re sniggering at the seemingly contradictory notion of a fine dining restaurant offering a buffet, you’ll salute Paddy’s prowess at making all-you-can-eat a sublime offering.  With a menu that showcases vegetarian and vegan options as well as seafood and meat entrees, there truly is something for everyone at OM.

12 November 2012:  Thus far, Albuquerque’s favorite OM appetizer is chana chaat, one of the most popular of Indian street foods and not only because it can be served as a side dish, snack or salad. OM’s rendition combines chickpeas, cucumber, blueberries, whole wheat crisps, tomatoes, mint chutney and sweetened yoghurt. It’s a refreshing adventure in bright and lively flavors and textures, an absolute delight because so many flavors coalesce on your taste buds.  Those flavors are both contrasting and complementary, flavors that play off each other.

Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken (Bone-In Chicken, a Thigh and a Breast)

My mom, a tortillera in the most traditional sense  may disown me for this, but I’ve come to prefer naan to tortillas, even those she prepares with love on her seasoned comal.  OM offers nine varieties of naan, a flat, leavened bread made of white flour and baked in a tandoor; and roti, its wheat counterpart which is cooked on  a flat griddle. Now, three baskets of naan is far too many for a meal for two, but when you can’t make up your minds, order to your hearts’ content because you’ll have wonderful naan for later. Three distinctive varieties with which we fell in love are the rosemary-olive oil naan, stuffed cheese naan and stuffed dried fruit naan.  Each has its unique flavor profile with the commonality being a pinto pony-like char and a light burnishing with clarified butter (ghee).  Whether you nosh on the naan, dip it into a chutney or use it to sop up a superb sauce, you’ll savor every bite.

While Ancho and Amchur in combination may sound like a suppressed sneeze, they’re actually spices which Paddy employs.  New Mexicans are more familiar with Ancho, a powder made from a type of chile that lends a rich, subtle piquancy to foods.  Amchur, a greenish-yellowish powder of dried mangoes, lends the quality of fruity-sweetness, but not to a cloying degree.  The qualities of these two complementary spices are well in evidence on the Ancho-Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken.  The spices penetrate deeply into the bone-in thigh and breast, imparting a slight piquancy and tanginess to the tandoor grilling.  As if the moist, tender, delicious chicken isn’t wonderful enough, OM includes a sauce which also utilizes those spices.  It makes a terrific dipping sauce for the chicken or for the naan.

Seafood Korma (Scallops, Shrimp, Mahi Mahi, Cashew Cream Sauce)

Korma Sutra might be an appropriate descriptor for the Seafood Korma which just may have a foodgasm effect on your taste buds. Korma, a Northern Indian specialty, is a mild and creamy curry sauce with a distinctively rich, almost silky flavor.  The basis for Korma is a mixture of yoghurt, cream and pureed cashews blended with toasted spices.  OM prepares it to your specified level of piquancy, however, ask for any potency beyond  medium and you risk degrading the rich, complex flavors of the spice and sauce meld.  The seafood–scallops, shrimp and mahi mahi–is slowly simmered in the sauce so it’s infused with flavor.  This may well be the most memorable Korma dish I’ve had, besting my previous favorite from an Indian restaurant in London.  The portion size is generous so you’ll be taking some home.  You’ll luxuriate in the aromas that fill your kitchen.

Desserts, if you manage to save room for them, are outstanding!  The carrot pudding (halwa), a wonderfully unique dessert composed of grated carrots and ground nuts prepared in butter and boiled milk then lightly sweetened with raisins, is my early favorite.  Served warm, it showcases the natural sweetness of carrots while removing any residual bitterness.  At the other end of the spectrum texturally is mango kulfi, an Indian ice cream that is more dense and “more frozen” than American ice creams.  Besides mango, the most pronounced flavor comes from sweetened condensed milk complemented with cardamom.

Carrot Pudding and Mango “Kulfi” (House-made ice cream)

18 February 2013: Paddy pays tribute to the Land of Enchantment with a stuffed Poblano, a New Mexican-Indian fusion appetizer served with a side of mint-coriander chutney.  You’ll recognize the “innards” as the contents with which Indian Samosas are stuffed: spiced mashed potatoes and peas.  The Poblano barely registers on the Scoville Scale of piquancy, but the chutney seems to bring out whatever heat is inherent with the pepper.  While this is a nice dish, my native pride would have preferred a nicely roasted New Mexico Hatch green chile. 

As noted above, OM specializes in naan, the wonderful Indian flat bread prepared in a tandoor.  Roti is the whole wheat alternative, a wedge-shaped bread often found in Malaysian restaurants, too.  OM’s roti is quite good though not as moist and buttery as the naan.  Still, it’s not a bread any diner would kick off their plate.  As with naan, the roti goes very well with chutneys, especially the tamarind.

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

OM’s menu includes a number of Indian-Chinese fusion dishes.  Ask Paddy why he would combine the flavors of two ancient culinary traditions and he will remind you he’s a chef–not a chef who specializes in Indian food, but a chef formally trained in more than ten different cuisines.  He hopes someday to launch, perhaps in San Francisco, a restaurant showcasing a fusion of Italian and Indian food.  Paddy has already conceptualized several dishes he hopes to introduce to intrepid diners. 

You don’t have to be an adventurous diner to appreciate OM’s Chilli (SIC) Chicken, boneless chicken sauteed and cooked with ginger and garlic then finished in a tomato-based Szechuan sauce.  Appearances can be very deceptive.  At first glance you might think the crimson sauce will be as cloying as most Chinese sweet and sour sauces, but that’s certainly not the case.  The sauce has a savory-tart flavor profile, emphasizing the sour (but not overly so) aspects of sweet and sour.  The all white meat boneless chicken is tender and moist.  Vegetables–red and green peppers, onions–are perfectly prepared. 

Chilli Chicken

Chilli Chicken

Diners who enjoy Thai curry, but who don’t necessarily appreciate the qualities of Indian curry will almost certainly enjoy OM’s Chicken Madras, perhaps the one dish most responsible for winning over converts to Indian cuisine.  Named for the city of Madras, it’s a dish as varied as the hundreds of recipes from which it’s prepared.  This hearty tomato-based curry is redolent with the spices of curry leaves, ginger, mustard, coconut milk and peppercorn.  It can be prepared to the degree of heat you desire, but too much piquancy and you might not appreciate the richness and sophistication of the flavors.  Chicken Madras may be the perfect winter entree, as heart-warming an entree as your favorite winter soup. 

OM, by the way, is not an abbreviation.  It represents a mystical Sanskrit sound of Hindu origin, a sacred chant considered the “primordial seed” of the universe.  Om is considered the “root mantra” from which all other mantras emerge.  Ancient sages believed that through chanting om, one can experience the infinite within themselves. 

Chicken Madras

Chicken Madras

In 2012, Raaga was selected as one of the best new restaurants in America by Kunda Eats, the only restaurant in New Mexico honored. It will surprise absolutely no one if OM garners a similar accolade in 2013.  Duke City diners will beat a path to this restaurant, already one of the best in the city in any genre–and the path is familiar, too.  OM is located at the former site of Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine.

Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining
7520 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2013
1st VISIT: 12 November 2012
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chana Chaat, Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken, Seafood Korma, Carrot Pudding, Mango Kulfi, Mango Lassi,

View Paddy Rawal’s ‘OM’- Fine Indian Dining on LetsDineLocal.com »

Paddy Rawal's 'OM'- Fine Indian Dining on Urbanspoon

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