An Hy Quan Vegetarian Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

An Hy Quan for Outstanding Vegetarian Vietnamese Cuisine

Celebrity chef  and professional cynic Anthony Bourdain, one of the more vocal detractors of the vegetarian lifestyle, contends “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.”  He’s not alone in his opinion.  Vegetarians are perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood group in the culinary community.  Consider the stereotypes.  Nay-sayers with their preconceived and oversimplified notions founded on ignorance would have you believe all vegetarians are emaciated and pallid tree-huggers who worship at the altar of PETA.  They attack vegetarian fare as bland and boring, lacking in variety and mostly tofu and lettuce. 

You can bet they wouldn’t spout their ill-founded drivel about vegetarian cuisine if they partook of just one meal at An Hy Quan, a Duke City restaurant showcasing Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine.  An Hy Quan’s cuisine is every bit as good as the food served at Albuquerque’s best Vietnamese restaurants, all of which cater primarily to carnivores.  They’d also have to toss out their stereotypes that a vegetarian diet renders its practitioners pale, sickly and scrawny should they meet Bill, the restaurant’s affable proprietor.  Admittedly not a bona fide vegetarian, Bill has reduced his consumption of meat over the years by nearly ninety-percent and he’s never felt better.  He sports a mesomorphic somatype (meaning he’s really built) that would put some athletes to shame.

Papaya Salad: The Very Best I’ve Ever Had

Interestingly,  even though many Vietnamese dishes are replete with vegetables, a vegetarian diet is rare in Vietnam.  Bill confirmed that strict adherence to vegetarianism is practiced mostly in Buddhist temples and on the first and fifteenth of each Lunar Calendar month when all Buddhists shy away from meat.  In Vietnam as in much of Asia, the citizenry believe meat is the best part of any dish.  Try going meatless along the Mekong and you can expect quizzical looks if not being overtly asked “why would anyone would turn down meat?”  It’s not easy for Vietnamese to comprehend that someone wouldn’t want meat which they believe imbues people with strength, stamina and vigor.  Eschew meat and they worry you’ll become too enfeebled and malnourished to function.

An Hy Quan, a term which translates to “a place of peace and happiness” is breaking down any stereotypes diners may have about vegetarian food and is earning converts daily in the process.  One of the reasons for its popularity is that An Hy Quan features Vietnamese vegetarian fare that’s true to traditional Vietnamese flavors and ingredients.  It’s the antithesis of faux burgers which, even diehard vegetarians will admit, taste like desiccated, overcooked corrugated cardboard.  Another reason so many savvy diners flock to An Hy Quan is Bill, the peripatetic owner and amiable ambassador of an addictive restaurant.

Egg Rolls

Bill grew up in the restaurant business.  His mother was a pioneer, launching Huong Thao back when there were fewer than a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the Duke City.  From the onset, Huong Thao had a reputation as a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, earning accolades from the Vegetarian Society of New Mexico for its “great food” and “many vegetarian options.”  Bill eventually bought and operated Huong Thao for about seven years before embarking on other ventures.  When he made his return to the restaurant business, he wanted to do something different, something as pioneering as his mother had done.  He launched An Hy Quan in 2015.

Almost from the beginning, An Hy Quan was recognized as something special. In September, 2015, it was named by Movoto, a multi-state real estate brokerage, as one of the “ten best Albuquerque restaurants for vegetarians.”  Movoto wrote “The menu at An Hy Quan Vegetarian Restaurant is enough to make a person cry with happiness. From appetizers to dessert, dining is an adventure in flavor and technique combined with excellent service and generous portions. Select memorable dishes like Vietnamese spring rolls, avocado shakes, mock pork, and much more.”  Not long thereafter, An Hy Quan was recognized by Three Best Rated as one of the Duke City’s three best vegetarian restaurants.

“Chips and Salsa” An Hy Quan Style

Peruse the menu and you’ll quickly discern many familiar favorites–ranging from rice plates to noodle dishes and some of the best, most diverse soup (including pho) selections in the city.  While some Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque boast of menus listing well over one-hundred items, An Hy Quan’s menu seems somewhat abbreviated in comparison.  That doesn’t make it any easier to decide what to order.  Put yourself in Bill’s hands and you’re assured of a great meal.  There are at least two “must have” appetizers, one of which I had both during my inaugural and second visit.  It’s an addictive dish you might dream about.

24 June 2016: That would be the papaya salad, the very best my Kim and I have ever had.  A fresh and invigorating starter possessing more mouth-pleasing qualities than any salad in recent memory, it’s artfully plated and large enough to share.  Matchstick-like slivers of papaya resembling noodles are tossed with fresh basil, chopped peanuts, ground chili and mock ham in a shallow pool of pleasantly piquant “fishless” sauce with tangy citrusy notes.   You’ll be tempted to lap it up off your plate when the last remnants of the salad have been polished off.

Curry Tofu with Rice

24 June 2016: Following traditional New Mexican restaurant practices, An Hy Quan delivers complimentary Vietnamese “chips and salsa” to your table.  They’re not chips and salsa as you’d enjoy them at say, Mary & Tito’s Cafe.  They’re chips and salsa as they might be served in Vietnam.  The chips are made from fried potato starch.  Texturally they resemble the packing peanuts you shove into boxes to protect your delicate valuables.  The salsa is a chili sauce with a nice level of heat.  Instead of dipping the chips into the sauce, you’ll spoon it on as liberally as your taste buds can appreciate.

25 June 2016: Vegetarian egg rolls sound much like an oxymoron, a seemingly contradictory term much like “honest politician.”  Though described on the menu as “deep-fried egg rolls,” eggs aren’t used in preparing these tightly-wrapped, golden-hued cylindrical treasures.  Served four per order, they’re as good as any egg rolls served at any Vietnamese or Thai restaurant in the Duke City.  Because most egg rolls are engorged primarily with vegetarian ingredients, you might not be able to tell any difference.  They’re absolutely delicious.  So is the dipping sauce with flavor notes resembling fish sauce.

Curry Noodles

24 June 2016: Regular readers recognize my rapacious love of curry, whether it be Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese or meteorologist (KRQE’s pulchritudinous Kristen Currie).  It stands to reason vegetarian curry would be added to that list…and it was.  My inaugural meal at An Hy Quan was curry tofu served with rice.  Vietnamese curry tends to be very aromatic, somewhat lighter than Indian curries and not cloying as some coconut-infused Thai curries tend to be.  Though you’ll be tempted to finish the large portion, consider that the flavors of curry get better over time and the promise of left-overs becomes something to look forward to.  This curry is served piping hot and has a pleasant amount of piquancy that’s tempered only slightly by the cubed tofu and vegetable variety.  It’s an absolutely delicious curry dish!

25 June 2016: If your preference with curry leans toward noodles instead of rice, An Hy Quan has you covered.  The curry noodles dish features wide rice noodles, cubed tofu and assorted vegetables (including yu choy which resembles spinach in both appearance and flavor).   As with the curry rice dish, curry noodles are served with tofu which inherits the wonderfully pungent and pleasantly piquant flavors of the curry.  The assorted vegetables are fresh and unfailingly crispy–not quite al dente, but perfectly prepared.  My Kim, who doesn’t share my affinity for curry, loved this dish.  So will you!

Cashew Mock Pork Over Crispy Noodles

25 June 2016:  One of An Hy Quan’s most popular dishes (raved about in several Yelp and Zomato reviews) is the cashew mock pork rice dish.  My Kim who prefers noodles (even over Alford) asked nicely if she could have the mock pork and cashews over crispy noodles and the ever-accommodating Bill agreed.  The dish was even more delicious than she could have conceived.  Kim finds something magical in the reconstitution of crispy noodles in the dish’s light sauce.  She loved the mock pork, admitting it’s as good as the real stuff.  She even enjoyed the vegetables and the sesame seeds which topped them.  This dish should be standard on the menu (Kim won’t even ask for residuals). 

21 November 2016: Deciding to pursue a vegetarian lifestyle is the easy part.  Preparing palatable vegetarian dishes at home or discovering restaurants which make them delicious takes a little more work.  When my friend Elaine, already one of the most healthy and fit people I know, decided to try vegetarianism, she asked me to take her to my favorite vegetarian restaurant.  It didn’t take much deliberation to decide where we’d go.  Not surprisingly, Hy Quan exceeded her expectations.  Elaine fell in love with the papaya salad and egg rolls, but it may have been the clay hot pot rice dish we split (and couldn’t finish) which most excited her.  Clay pot cooking is very popular throughout Asia where the clay pot is used as both pot and serving vessel.  Aside from rice, this dish contains an assortment of vegetables (carrots, cabbage, zucchini  and green onion) prepared perfectly as is the accompanying tofu.  The dish has a a smoky, wok-fried flavor with crispy, fresh vegetables and at the bottom edges of the pot, amazing caramelized rice which Bill confirmed is the most popular feature of a terrific dish.

Clay Hot Pot Rice

If you’ve never enjoyed vegetarian fare, it’s time to visit An Hy Quan where you might not be able to taste any significant difference and even if you do, you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.  An Hy Quan isn’t only one of Albuquerque’s very best vegetarian restaurants, it’s one of the city’s best Vietnamese restaurants.  Make that best restaurants of any genre.  It’s that good!

An Hy Quan Vegetarian Restaurant
1405 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 332-8565
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 November 2016
1st VISIT: 24 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papaya Salad, Curry Tofu, Egg Rolls, Curry Noodles, Cashew Mock Pork Over Crispy Noodles, Clay Hot Pot Rice

An Hy Quan Vegetarian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
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
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
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
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 24
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chana Chaat, Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken, Seafood Korma, Carrot Pudding, Mango Kulfi, Mango Lassi,

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

Vinaigrette – Santa Fe & Albuquerque, New Mexico

Vinaigrette, a salad bistro in Santa Fe

During a 1994 episode of Seinfeld, Elaine’s boss, Mr. Pitt becomes obsessed with finding a spaceship obfuscated within a stereogram, a computer-generated image that presents an optical illusion in which a 3D image is hidden within a single 2D image to be revealed only when the viewer focuses his or her eyes correctly.  To the detriment of a pressing business deal, Mr. Pitts loses three days trying to find the spaceship.  First he tries blurring his eyes as if staring straight through the picture before eventually finding success by employing an intensely deep focus.

Placitas resident Gary W. Priester calls creating 3D stereographic images his “all-consuming passion for almost 15 years.”  Gary has authored three books on stereogram images and is one of two contributors to a Japanese stereogram magazine series which has sold close to four-million copies.  His work is mesmerizing in its ability to captivate the viewer.  Fortunately for those of us who don’t always focus correctly, Gary does us all a favor on his Custom Stereographic Web site by explaining exactly how to see stereograms.

Garden Salad, a bright mix of baby greens, carrot ribbons, bell peppers and parmesan cheese. Tossed in a zippy Romesco dressing.

Gary’s clarity and focus aren’t  limited solely to stereograms.  He’s become a trusted advisor on dining options I might not otherwise know about or maybe even consider,  including introducing me to more healthful options.  For years I was of the ilk which associated salads with the word “diet,” an extension of the word “die.”  Though my advancing geriatric progression has changed that perception, I’m still not always as attuned to healthful alternatives as I am to where you can find the best new purveyor of green chile cheeseburgers.  Fortunately clearer-minded readers of my blog like Gary keep me honest.

Alas, it took almost two years before I followed Gary’s recommendation to try Vinaigrette, an environmentally aware “salad bistro” in Santa Fe.   Perhaps indicative of my meaty myopia and carnivorous cravings, I also neglected a recommendation from immensely talented writer Wolf Schneider when she interviewed me for Edible Santa Fe.   Had the restaurant been named “Blue Cheese” I surely would never have waited.

Cherry Tart: Dried cherries, mild feta cheese, peppery baby arugula and toasted pecans with Champagne vinaigrette.

Vinaigrette opened its Santa Fe doors in November, 2008, the unintended brainchild of Harvard graduate Erin Wade who had never previously worked in, managed or owned a restaurant.   Obviously a novitiate no longer,  she now owns and operates two of New Mexico’s very best and most highly regarded farm-to-table restaurants, having expanded to Albuquerque’s Old Town district in November, 2012.  Much of the medley of multicolored organic greenery used in her restaurants comes from an absolutely unimpeachable source–her own organic ten-acre farm about half (which includes a 1,200 square-foot greenhouse) an hour north of Santa Fe in the village of Nambe.  Local sources are used widely in the Albuquerque operation.

Wholly unlike the middling quality all-you-can-eat salad bar restaurants dotting the fruited plain, Vinaigrette offers a menu showcasing healthful salads in bountiful, but not profligate portions.  You won’t waddle out of this restaurant wondering how salad can be so filling.  Nor will you find such un-salad-like offerings as chocolate muffins, focaccia bread and other high-carbohydrate, high-calorie offerings.  That doesn’t mean every plate is heaping with barely edible “rabbit food” lacking in flavor or imagination.

The very best Cobb salad in the universe!

The very best Cobb salad in the universe!

The only rabbit-like aspect to Vinaigrette is the tendency for diners to hop from option to option unable to decide which salad to order, so replete with creativity is Vinaigrette’s inspired menu. Featuring ten signature salads and seven classic salads, the menu may eliminate any preconceived notions about salad restaurants you may have.  It did me…and that’s even before studying the available salad pairings, none of which are needed to make any  Vinaigrette salad outstanding, but any of which makes it just that much better.

You can pair your salad with meat (lemon-herb chicken breast, grilled flank steak, grilled pork tenderloin, hibiscus-cured duck confit), seafood (seared tuna steak, seared diver scallops, grilled shrimp and the day’s fresh fish) or choose from a category called “et cetera” which includes roasted seasonal vegetables, grilled tofu, grilled marinated baby artichokes and baked Panko-crusted goat cheese.  Sight unseen, these offerings are more taste bud tantalizing than ingredients which sit in steely repositories for who knows how long at those “other” salad restaurants.

A basket of bread

Vinaigrette’s palate-pleasing prowess doesn’t stop at salads.  The menu also includes a bevy of sandwiches, soups and sides.  Sandwiches are served with a side Garden, Greek or Caesar salad.  The “sides and soups” include Erin’s Mac & Cheese, fresh seasonal sauteed Nambe greens, mushroom stew and soup of the day.   Vinaigrette also offers beer and wine lists which change periodically to provide variety for guests.  There are a few differences between the Santa Fe and Albuquerque menus. 

Before launching in Albuquerque, Erin Wade had actually considered making Southern California the home of her second restaurant. As fate would have it, she was then introduced to a long vacant a 3,000-square-foot building on the fringes of Old Town with tremendous potential.  Fittingly the edifice was tailored for the type of “green” operation Wade desired, wanting to be “green outside the plate,” too.  The Albuquerque restaurant features reclaimed pine floors from Dixon, high efficiency lighting tracks, Energy Star kitchen equipment, recycled-content tiles, door hardware made from 90% post-consumer waste, eco-friendly fabrics and zero-volatile-organic-compound paint.  Vinaigrette recycles and composes all its organic waste.

In November, 2012, Vinaigrette launched in Albuquerque

In November, 2012, Vinaigrette launched in Albuquerque

The attentive servers at both locations are attired in bright tee-shirts on which the leafy parts of salad ingredients are painted.  It takes away much of the mystery as to what “greens” actually are and if you thought lettuce is the principle component of all salads, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.  Vinaigrette’s salads are sophisticated and inventive without being too fru-fru.  Even some of my troglodytic carnivorous colleagues will enjoy them.

Even Vinaigrette’s most rudimentary salad is an edible work of art.  The Garden Salad, a bright mix of baby greens, carrot ribbons, bell peppers and Parmesan cheese tossed in a zippy Romesco dressing is a colorful concordance of fresh and beautiful ingredients resembling a colorful painting.  It’s more than several orders of magnitude better than what most restaurants call a garden salad, typically a mound of iceberg lettuce, artificially ripened tomatoes, cucumbers and a large dollop of gloppy salad dressing.

Cuban Torta: Mustard-roasted pork shoulder and green chile ham, griddled with red onions and Swiss cheese on a split roll with avocado and mayonnaise, chipotle and sweet relish.

Cuban Torta: Mustard-roasted pork shoulder and green chile ham, griddled with red onions and Swiss cheese on a split roll with avocado and mayonnaise, chipotle and sweet relish.

If you’re a fan of bold flavors, it’s possible to enjoy them even with salad.  The Cherry Tart, while it may sound like a pastry dessert, is such an bold-flavored salad.  It’s composed of dried cherries (as fresh and delicious as any I’ve ever had), mild feta cheese, peppery baby arugula and toasted pecans with a Champagne vinaigrette dressing.  Baby arugula has been described as having a “subtle nutty flavor with a radish-like edge.”  While not entirely accurate, it is most certainly a bold and spicy, maybe even peppery green.  It’s clearly the star of this salad.  The Champagne vinaigrette dressing is lightly applied to allow other flavors to shine. 

If you don’t necessarily want to experiment with heretofore untried salad ingredient combinations, the “Classic Salads” section of the menu provides more familiar, traditional and time-honored options.  It may even restore your faith in how “Classics” such as the Cobb salad should be made and remind you why you loved them in the first place.  Kelly Koepke, (erstwhile restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal) who can turn a phrase better than anyone in Albuquerque, turned me on to Vinaigrette’s Cobb salad.  Though she liked my “best of the best for 2012” choices, she was confident the Cobb salad would make my list once I tried it.  She was right!  I’ll let her describe why it stands out: “It’s not the usual composed Cobb with gloppy dressing that most restaurants serve. Instead, it’s a chopped, tossed Cobb with the perfect amount of tangy dressing. Best. Cobb. Ever.”

Morty & Cheese: Mortadella and tangy melted robbiola with scallion yogurt sauce, on griddled and pressed ciabatta

Morty & Cheese: Mortadella and tangy melted robbiola with scallion yogurt sauce, on griddled and pressed ciabatta

A small basket of bread is available for the asking.  The bread is fresh and delicious with a nice crust surrounding soft, pillowy insides.  Best of all, it’s served warm.  A decanter of olive oil (and malt vinegar if you request it) accompanies the bread to your table.  Beauteous breads are also the canvas upon which some of the best sandwiches in New Mexico are made.  Vinaigrette’s sandwich menu includes some of the classics– Reuben, tuna melt, hot turkey–and some sandwiches upon which inventive liberties are taken to increase their deliciousness. 

You might think you’ve had every variation of the Cubano possible with little discernible difference between most of them.  Vinaigrette’s Cuban Torta (mustard-roasted pork shoulder and green chile ham, griddled with red onions and Swiss cheese on a split roll with avocado and mayonnaise, chipotle and sweet relish) actually surprised me in many pleasant and delicious ways.  The first surprise is the split roll on which the sandwich is constructed.  It’s not the de rigueur panini-style bread which is often abrasive enough to hurt the roof of your mouth.  It’s a soft bread somewhat reminiscent of just baked bagels without the chewiness.  The combination of chipotle and sweet relish provides a wonderful balance between tangy, sweet and piquant notes that complement the mustard-roasted pork shoulder and green chile ham, either ingredient of which would make the basis of a wondrous sandwich.  This sandwich doesn’t subscribe to any template of what a Cubano should be and taste like.  Viva la diferencia!

Peach berry pie

Another sandwich replete with surprises is the Morty & Cheese (Mortadella and tangy melted Robiola with scallion yogurt sauce, on griddled and pressed ciabatta).  Mortadella is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of cold-cut cured meats, often regarded as just “Italian bologna.”  As someone who grew up enjoying fried bologna (as well as fried spam) sandwiches, I’ll rise to the defense of this maligned meat.  Italian Mortadella is a fatty, nicely seasoned meat that goes well with any other sandwich ingredient.  That’s especially true of a good cheese such as Robiola, a soft-ripened, slightly tangy (with slight notes of sourness) cheese that couples well with yogurt.  The sandwich construction department at Vinaigrette obviously understands sandwich harmony.  This one has it in spades!

A number of fresh desserts is also available and all hold true to the restaurant’s commitment to serving organic and local as much as possible. One post-prandial treat which will impress itself on your memory is a peach berry pie made with peaches, blackberries and blueberries. The peaches are certainly not the canned variety; they have a recently picked texture and taste. This is a lip-puckering dessert also lacking that artificial pectin sometimes used to over-sweeten pies. It’s all natural and all delicious.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Even better is a pumpkin cheesecake so good you might wish for fall year-round.  The menu describes it simply as “aromatic, autumnal, satisfying!”  It has all those qualities and so much more, especially the satisfying adjective.  Its aromatic qualities are courtesy of using the right spices in perfect proportion to one another and the pumpkin itself which is garden-picked fresh.  For years my Kim and I have experimented with pumpkin cheesecakes and have never managed one quite as good.  

In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Vinaigrette a “Hot Plate” award for its chicken souvlaki.  Hot Plate awards are accorded annually to some of the city’s most delicious dishes as seen by the magazine’s editors and staff.  The magazine warns that you’ll be rooting for an encore after your first slow jam…” with this carrot cake.

Vinaigrette is, dare I say, a welcome departure from the superfluity of Santa Fe style so prevalent in the City Different.  Fortunately Santa Fe style, as represented by the bandana-sporting coyote baying at the moon  (ostensibly a carnivore who probably doesn’t like salads) who has come to symbolize Santa Fe style is adaptive and inclusive and there’s a place for great salads in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  That place is Vinaigrette.

Vinaigrette
709 Don Cubero Alley
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 820-9205
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 5 October 2010
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Garden Salad, Cherry Tart, Peach Berry Pie

Vinaigrette on Urbanspoon

Vinaigrette
1828 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 842-5507
LATEST VISIT: 31 December 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cobb Salad, Cuban Torta, Morty & Cheese, Pumpkin Cheesecake

Vinaigrette on Urbanspoon

El Patio – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Patio in the UNM area

El Patio in the UNM area

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt had the type of job any aspiring sojourner would envy.  He hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing  the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies.  Observing that “thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” Kuralt avoided the interstates, instead traversing America’s back roads and byways in search of real people with interesting stories to tell.

Kuralt loved New Mexico, which he noted in his terrific tome America, is really a misnomer.  In his estimation, New Mexico “should be called Precambria for the sea that crashed upon its shores for tens of millions of years, or Mastadonia, for the mammals that later roamed its plains..; or Sandia for the mountain where the camp of an ice age hunter, the earliest known American was found in a cave…New Mexico is old, stupendously old and dry and brown, and wind-worn by the ages.”

Chips and salsa at El Patio

Chips and salsa at El Patio

Kuralt also loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment.  In his book America, he declared the Own Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.  During his peridoc visits to the Duke City, the peripatetic wanderer also frequented Old Town’s La Placita restaurant which he considered one of his favorite feeding stations.  In 1988, the legendary newsman featured El Patio in a CBS “Sunday Morning On The Road” segment.

El Patio was then but ten years old, but already becoming a formidable presence in the Duke City dining scene.  It was then one of the few New Mexican restaurants in the UNM area, but that wasn’t solely the reason it garnered rave reviews and legions of loyal fans.  Discerning UNM students appreciated the authenticity and deliciousness of the food; for many of them, it represented a home away from home where they could get cooking as good or better than mom’s.  Those former students have raised a generation, many of whom followed their parents to UNM and to El Patio.

Carne Adovada Burrito with a fried egg on top

Carne Adovada Burrito with a fried egg on top

El Patio is ensconced in a converted home just south of Central Avenue on Harvard Drive.  A telltale sign you’ve made it to the popular restaurant on this relatively low traffic drive is the can’t miss Taos blue Mexican picket fence.  Beyond the fence lies the patio (El Patio), essentially the entire front yard, which is shaded by tall trees, a welcome respite from the sun’s heating rays.  El Patio’s patio also welcomes dogs.

For the duration of its three decade plus, El Patio has been family owned and operated.  Founding owners Dave Sandoval (a fellow Taoseño) and wife Gloria Sandoval remain involved, but much of the day-to-day operation has been transitioned over to their progeny, sons Thomas and Christopher who have made some changes, including the addition of a catering service and a sales operation which markets El Patio’s fabulous salsa and green chile.  Both can be purchased in the restaurant and at several stores throughout the Duke City.

Carne Adovada plate (no beans)

Thomas Sandoval, the elder sibling, is the chef while Christopher is the restaurant’s front-end man.  Thomas acquired his culinary skills literally at his maternal grandfather’s apron strings.  His grandfather taught him well.  El Patio’s food is as good today as it was decades ago when it first blew me out of the water.

Interestingly, El Patio considers itself primarily a vegetarian restaurant, but that distinction isn’t readily apparent in its meat dishes which are as good, if not better, than meat-based New Mexican entrees at other restaurants.  Even the most ardent carnivores, however, should at least try the vegetarian entrees which go a long way toward showcasing the delicious versatility of New Mexican cuisine.  The restaurant’s vegetarian enchiladas, for example, are made with spinach instead of meat.  The spinach imparts a spring-like freshness and healthful, but surprisingly (at least to meatatarians) delicious qualities to the enchiladas.

Beef and chicken enchiladas Christmas style

Beef and chicken enchiladas Christmas style

Many pundits rank El Patio among the top four or five New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, leaving one to wonder if voters on “best of” polls mistakenly stuff the ballots for “El Pinto” when meaning to vote for El Patio which is several orders of magnitude better.  You’d think after the “dangling chad” episodes during the presidential elections in Florida, more extreme care would be taken in the voting process.

Salsa isn’t complementary at El Patio, but it’s worth the paltry pittance for which you pay for it, especially considering the attentive wait staff is on the ball to replenish each ramekin just as you’re running low.  The salsa is jalapeno based, but I believe it includes a tinge of red chile powder.  In any case, this is a wonderful salsa, some of the very best in the city.  This flavorful salsa has a nice piquant bite that will get your attention without dulling your taste buds for your entrees.  The accompanying chips are low in salt, crisp and formidable enough to scoop up ample amounts of salsa.  In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at El Patio the seventh best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.

El Patio’s Combination Plate: Two Cheese Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Taco (not pictured) Served Christmas Style

The restaurant’s most popular entree, according to the menu, are the green chile chicken enchiladas.  El Patio is so accommodating (one of the main reasons for its popularity), you can have dual meat–beef and chicken–enchiladas and you can have them Christmas style and on blue corn tortillas with the requisite fried egg on top.  This best of all worlds approach for one of New Mexican cuisine’s most versatile entrees is my favorite way to have them.  The shredded chicken is moist and delicious, prepared to absolute perfection.  The beef is ground hamburger, not shredded beef as Mexican restaurants will serve on enchiladas, but the beef is well-seasoned and not refried as some restaurants are apt to do.  The red chile is rich and flavorful at about a medium level of piquancy.  The green chile has a fresh, fruity taste.  Both are par excellence.

Carne Adovada is available in several dishes, including on a smothered or hand-held burrito. Because the chile with which carne adovada is smothered is oftentimes not the same chile in which the pork is prepared, my Kim will never order a smothered carne adovada burrito. She contends it allows her to better enjoy the purity of the adovada. El Patio’s adovada is outstanding, well worthy of a visit from my friend Ruben whose quest for the perfect carne adovada continues. The pork is spoon tender (that means even more tender than fork-tender) and absolutely delicious, a benchmark which competes with some of the very best in the city.

Chicken Taco

Chicken Taco

El Patio’s combination plate is the best way to introduce newcomers to some of the best the restaurant has to offer.  A veritable platter is brimming with two enchiladas engorged with chile, a chile relleno and a taco (thankfully served on a small plate) all topped with shredded Cheddar and your choice of chile.  The chile relleno is especially noteworthy.  A single sweet-piquant chile is stuffed with cheese then battered and deep-fried.   It’s quite good.

Each entree is served with pinto beans (not refried), potatoes and lots of garnish (lettuce and tomato).  The potatoes have a consistency near being mashed.  Similar to the boiled potatoes at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, they appear to be an anomaly at first in that they’re not crisply fried, but by your second forkful, you’ll be hooked.  The potatoes have a sweet-savory marriage that makes them a joy to eat.  The beans are perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious.

Sopaipillas at El Patio

Sopaipillas at El Patio

A la carte options abound for smaller appetites.  A plain chicken taco is hardly plain when adorned with the restaurant’s moist chicken, shredded Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and that sensational salsa.  This is the type of taco about which dreams are formed.

Entrees also include complementary sopaipillas.  Large, cloud-like and puffy, they emit wisps of steam as you cut into them to form a pocket for honey.  These are not doughy as some sopaipillas are made, but rather have thin walls that are easy to penetrate, but not so thin that they’re sieves for the honey.

We’ve found service at El Patio extremely capable and more than accommodating, but then we tend to visit when the restaurant first opens (11AM seven days a week) and the choicest seating is available.  Experience has taught us that this extremely popular restaurant fills up quickly–and for good reason.  This is one of Albuquerque’s very best New Mexican restaurants, a genuine gem.

El Patio
142 Harvard Dr SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-4245
LATEST VISIT: 31 January 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Sopaipillas, Beef and Chicken Enchiladas Christmas Style, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicken Taco, Combination Plate, Carne Adovada Plate

El Patio de Albuquerque on Urbanspoon

Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

Annapurna on 4th Street in the North Valley

Annapurna on 4th Street in the North Valley

Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.”

Anthony Bourdain’s dour diatribe on the “evils” of vegeterians and vegans is hardly unwonted.  The internet is rife with mean-spirited assailments against people who choose a plant-based diet that includes fruits, cereal grains, seeds, nuts and vegetables and may or may not exclude dairy products and eggs.  Reciprocation in kind is also well represented on the Internet by vegetarians and vegans who lambast the carnivorous cravings of meat-eaters.

Annapurna and its sprawling space

Annapurna and its sprawling space

This lack of civility and parochial discourse is usually reserved for politics and ideologues (on both sides of the aisle) who can’t concede any merit whatsoever about the opposing viewpoint.  It’s not enough to disagree with someone else’s opinion or choice, dissenters on both sides seem to have a base need to resort to derisive pejoratives.

So, just how do you resolve differences of opinion without resorting to name-calling?  The answer may lie in an article published in the Society page of the New York Times Sunday edition on May 5, 1918 which posited that “soap-boxers emitting hatred and trust” may be having trouble with their stomachs which sometimes direct human action more than the mind does.   The writer observed that where there are points of disagreement, a good dinner usually settles them.

Thaali Plate: A cup of each of our Vegetables  of the day, a cup of Dal, a cup of Sambhar, Basmati rice or brown rice,  Chapati (flatbread), and your choice of a chutney, yogurt or raita.

Thaali Plate: A cup of each of our Vegetables of the day, a cup of Dal, a cup of Sambhar, Basmati rice or brown rice, Chapati (flatbread), and your choice of a chutney, yogurt or raita.

The question then becomes just where to have that dinner.  Obviously in the case of vegetarians and meatatarians, it would be a challenge worthy of a sagacious Solomon.  For me, it’s enough of a challenge to get some of my friends and colleagues to try something new and different, something outside their comfort zone–somewhere like Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine, a world vegetarian cafe which touts itself as “the place for healing cuisine.”

Most of my colleagues equate “healing cuisine” with medicine and believe vegetarianism should be practiced exclusively by rabbits.  Their idea of world cuisine is pizza, tacos and egg rolls.  Fortunately my friend and fellow Air Force retiree Randy Lake (who risked merciless taunting from our crew in ordering a veggie burger at the Stone Face Tavern) and his beauteous better half Bonnie, like me, welcome a periodic respite from the mundanity of the “usual suspects.”  They were more than eager to visit Annapurna with me.

South Indian Sampler Plate: One Miniature Masala Dosa, a piece of Vadai, a bowl of Sambhar with two Idlis and a side of coconut chutney

South Indian Sampler Plate: One Miniature Masala Dosa, a piece of Vadai, a bowl of Sambhar with two Idlis and a side of coconut chutney

Annapurna is a Sanskrit (the ancient language of the Hindus) word that literally means “complete food.”  As the goddess of food and abundance, Annapurna is also responsible for the nourishment of the family.  This isn’t nourishment in the American sense of caloric overachievement, but in the Hindu traditional sense and medical treatise for healing and prolonging life called Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is a 5,000 year-old system of healing and well-being.  “Ayur” means “life” and “veda” means “knowledge,” hence the knowledge of longevity.  Ayurveda offers healing, rejuvenation and self realization through balanced foods, herbs, yoga, massage, aroma and meditation.  Ayurveda teaches how to pay attention to how and what is eaten and to take responsibility for our health.

North Indian Sampler Plate: One cup of Saag with two paneer, one cup of  Mataar with two paneer, one cup of our Bean of the Day, and your choice of  Basmati or brown rice, one Chapati, one mini Dosa, or three Puri

North Indian Sampler Plate: One cup of Saag with two paneer, one cup of Mataar with two paneer, one cup of our Bean of the Day, and your choice of Basmati or brown rice, one Chapati, one mini Dosa, or three Puri

Ayurveda prescribes purity of food (Sattvic) for healing and maintaining good health.  Sattvic food incorporates the six tastes in every meal: sweet, bitter, sour, astringent, salty and pungent.

Interestingly, in the west, it’s generally accepted that the human tongue can discern only four different tastes and that all tastes in the dining experience are combinations of those four: sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. By contrast, the Chinese have long believed that the human tongue possesses a fifth taste sensation–one that can detect pungent foods.  The Sattvic recognition that there are six discernible tastes should be a siren’s call to all adventurous foodies.

ABC (Avocado, tempeh Bacon, Cheddar cheese, spinach, tomatoes, and chipotle dressing)

ABC (Avocado, tempeh Bacon, Cheddar cheese, spinach, tomatoes, and chipotle dressing)

As Randy, Bonnie and I found out during our inaugural visit to Annapurna, the depth of flavors in virtually every bite will certainly invigorate and stimulate seemingly every one of your ten-thousand taste buds.  Even if you don’t consciously attempt to discern each of the taste sensations, you’ll swear you’re tasting them in every mouthful.  Of course adventurous, exotic and taste awakening sensations don’t mean as much if the cuisine doesn’t measure up in deliciousness.

At Annapurna, deliciousness is part and parcel of every dining experience.  It’s Indian cuisine to the nth degree and an order of magnitude better than most vegetarian cuisine.  It’s cuisine that provides pleasure in every forkful, a sensual delight in every meal.  The Alibi described every platter at Annapurna as a “delicacy.”

Masala Dosa (Dosa filled with a spicy vegetable mixture. Served with Sambhar and coconut chutney)

Masala Dosa (Dosa filled with a spicy vegetable mixture. Served with Sambhar and coconut chutney)

First-time visitors need not despair about what to order, especially if you’re already somewhat familiar with Indian cuisine.  The menu is extremely user friendly with vivid color pictures of many entrees as well as inviting descriptions of the entrees.  To the greatest extent possible, the food is locally grown and is always freshly prepared every day.  That is an amazing feat considering the breadth of the menu, a multi-page compendium of Ayurvedic deliciousness.

An Annapurna dining experience is not only meat-free, you won’t find white flour, white salt, white sugar, sodas or alcohol and with the exception of homemade paneer (a traditional, unaged, non-melting farmer’s cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice or other food acid) and a traditional milk-based chai (a tea brewed with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs), you won’t find much dairy either.

Annapurna’s Gourmet Pizza adorned with green chile, Kalamata olives and tempeh bacon

The menu changes seasonally–another Ayurvedic principle based on the seasons knowing what you need during each quadrant of the year.  In addition to the mostly traditional Indian cuisine, the menu also includes some “western” or rather “westernized” entrees such as pizza, sandwiches, veggie burgers, lasagna, wraps and even a brunch burrito.

One of the very best ways to acquaint yourself with the menu is by ordering one of the sampler plates.  Fortunately the first three items on the menu feature three grand sampler plates with an impressive array of delicious dishes.  The Thaali Plate, for example, includes a cup of each of the restaurant’s vegetables of the day, a cup of Dal (a yellow split mung bean soup with vegetables), a cup of Sambhar (a spicy, brothy yellow split mung bean soup with vegetables), Basmati or brown rice, Chapati (flatbread) and your choice of chutney, yogurt or raita.  This is a stellar plate with a lot going on.  It will put a smile on your lips and bring warmth to your heart.

Shepherd’s Pie: Lentils, carrots, celery, and greens smothered in a sweet potato topping and baked until golden. Served with a side salad

The South Indian Sampler Plate is referred to on the menu as a “combination for the curious.”  It features one miniature masala dosa (an Indian crepe filled with a spicy vegetable mixture), a piece of Vadai (a deep-fried cake akin to an Indian hushpuppy), a bowl of Sambhar with two Idlis (soft, fluffy white, round discs made of rice and lentil batter which might remind you of dumplings) and a side of coconut chutney.  Every bite of every item is absolutely delicious, a joy to eat.

The menu refers to the North Indian Sampler Plate as “a combination for the hungry.”  It features a cup of Saag (a spinach and mustard leaf based curry dish) with two paneer, a cup of Mataar (a creamy, spiced tomato and pea soup) served with three paneer, a cup of the bean of the day and your choice of Basmati or brown rice as well as one Chapati, one mini dosa or three Puri (a puffed, savory fried bread.  Mataar Paneer is my very favorite Indian dish and Annapurna’s rendition is among the very best I’ve ever had, so flavorful, so soul-warming that days later it still pervaded my mind.  If the menu didn’t offer so many other intriguing options, this sampler platter could become a habitual favorite.

Two stack gluten- free pancakes made from scratch with a batter containing freshly ground cardamom and a variety of seasonal fruit. Served with organic maple syrup

“As easy as ABC,” an idiom which describes something that’s very easy is an apt name for one of the least complex items on the menu.  “ABC” in this case stands for Avocado, tempeh bacon and Cheddar cheese which along with spinach, tomatoes and chipotle dressing form a wrap which might have you thinking “BLT.”  That’s in large part due to the tempeh bacon (sometimes referred to as fake-on) which has the flavor and consistency of bacon with far fewer calories and fat.  Served with salad and your choice of masala fries or a cup of the soup of the day, it’s Annapurna’s version of an American classic–sandwich and fries.

A far more exotic culinary adventure can be had with a Masala Dosa, a South Indian crepe/pancake made with rice and urad dal (a whitish lentil), rolled and filled with a spicy vegetable mixture that includes carrots, potatoes, onions and more (perhaps lentils).  Indian spiciness is not nearly the same as the spiciness found in New Mexican food.  While this entree has some piquancy, it’s spice-based and not chile-based and doesn’t have the “burn” of New Mexico’s official vegetable.  The spicy vegetable mix is intensely spiced and strongly flavored in the most pleasant sense.  The Dosa is whisper thin and crisp.  At about ten inches in length, it may at first glance appear daunting in size, but it’s light and substantial at the same time so finishing one shouldn’t be a problem for even smaller eaters.

Lasagna: Thick pasta, house-made marinara, butternut squash, zucchini, and eggplant, baked golden. Served either vegan or with Mozzarella

Annapurna’s menu is eye-catching for its surprises.  It’s a rare vegan restaurant and even more rare Indian restaurant in which you’ll find Shepherd’s Pie, Lasagna, Pizza, Pancakes and even Burritos.  A line-up with such diverse items seems more appropriate for one of those all-you-can-eat restaurants which server every conceivable item under the sun, but none of them well.  The difference is that Annapurna’s rendition of the aforementioned items is very well executed…and that’s no longer a surprise to anyone who frequents this outstanding restaurant.

Take, for example, the gourmet pizza. Its canvas is a wheat-free and yeast-free herb crust.   (As an aside, Nations Restaurant News, a respected trade magazine, reports that the most popular pizza toppings in India are pickled ginger, minced mutton and paneer.)   Standard toppings are a house-made classic marinara, organic mozzarella, zucchini, eggplant and onion.  Optional toppings include portabello mushroom, tomatoes, Feta cheese, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, green chile, roasted bell peppers and tempeh bacon.  With perhaps the exception of tempeh bacon, doesn’t that sound like a pie you might find at a pizzeria?

Greek Wrap: Babaganoush (eggplant), spinach, feta, and tomatoes. Served with a side salad (red pepper vinaigrette) and a creamy lentil soup

You don’t even have to close your eyes to imagine it’s a pie from one of Albuquerque’s fine pizzerias.  Your eyes and nostrils won’t deceive you; it looks and smells like a very good pizza.  Better still, it tastes like a very good pizza.  My inaugural offering included three optional toppings: green chile, tempeh bacon and Kalamata olives.  The combination of a tangy sauce generously applied on the pie and a nicely roasted green chile made for a lively flavor tease.   The tempeh bacon, while not bringing to mind a fennel-kissed sausage or Canadian bacon, imparts a porcine smokiness to the pie. The crust doesn’t have the chewiness or char you might find on a pizza, but it holds up well against the weight of all the toppings.

The lasagna, a favorite of my friend Señor Plata, is very much reminiscent of lasagna you might find at an Italian restaurant.  It’s constructed from thick pasta, a house-made marinara, butternut squash, zucchini and eggplant baked golden.  Señor Plata orders it with mozzarella, but vegans can opt to have it sans cheese.  Served in a casserole dish, it arrives at your table some twenty to thirty minutes after you order it and it remains steaming hot throughout your meal.  Several Duke City restaurants offer a vegetarian lasagna, but Annapurna’s is the best.

Pasta special of the day: pasta, beans, tomatoes, cheese, red peppers and parsley with a dinner salad.

Lovers of breakfast at anytime, even low-carb diners, will be thrilled to find Annapurna serves pancakes–a short (but definitely not small in circumference) stack of gluten-free pancakes made from scratch with a batter containing freshly ground cardamom served with organic maple syrup.  The pancakes are delicious with or without the syrup but purists might miss spreading butter on these tasty orbs.  Nearly the circumference of the plate in which they are served, they’re easily big enough to share, but you might not want to because they’re quite good.

My Cotswolds friends in England might accuse the colonists of heresy if they saw the ingredient list on Annapurna’s Shepherd’s Pie.  Traditionally made with a mashed potato crust and lamb mince, Shepherd’s Pie is as English as the Queen’s jewels.  Taking liberties with this popular English standard, Annapurna’s rendition is made with lentils, carrots, celery and greens smothered in a sweet potato topping baked until golden.  With all due respect to my English home of more than three years, Annapurna’s Shepherd’s Pie is better than any I had in England.

Annapurna is owned by Yashoda Naidoo, a former accountant who pursued her passion for healing food and launched the first instantiation of her restaurant in 2002 near the University of New Mexico.  Today there are three Annapurna restaurants in the Land of Enchantment, including one in Santa Fe.  The most recent to launch is on North Fourth Street in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.

Annapurna Chai House
5939 4th St NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 254-2424
LATEST VISIT:  7 June 2011

1st VISIT:  25 August 2009
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Thaali Plate, South Indian Sampler Plate, North Indian Sampler Plate, Mango Lassi, Masala Dosa, ABC, Gourmet Pizza, Shepherd’s Pie, Lasagna, Cardamom Pancakes, Greek Wrap


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