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Nouveau Noodles – Cedar Crest, New Mexico

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.  Chinese postulate that each of the five taste sensations corresponds to one of nature’s five elements: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth.

Dine at Nouveau Noodles and you’ll be convinced that there are at least five taste sensations and that they’re all present in each and every savory morsel of the innovative Asian fusion dishes masterfully crafted by chef Robert Griego.

Griego’s restaurant, a 2003 entrant into the Duke City area dining scene, features cuisine with an inventive big city sophistication and cachet served within the confines of a small town edifice reminiscent of a train car.

Fabulous would be a good word for describing the mango chutney chicken egg rolls with pickled ginger and an orange-chile dipping sauce.  These egg rolls would stand out on their own, but that sauce elevates them to a stratospheric level where they would find great company in the spring rolls (matchstick veggies and lettuce wrapped in a rice wrapper and served with an apricot ginger sauce).

Also extraordinary are the lightly battered and tempura fried vegetables served with a goat cheese dipping sauce.  The calamari ranks among the very best in the Albuquerque area.  Like all great appetizers, these two will heighten your anticipation for things to come.

A most worthy successor to those delicious antecedents is the Nouveau Duck L’Orange, described on the menu as “spicy braised duck gone tropical.”  A mélange of Mandarin orange, pineapple, mushrooms, and water chestnuts in a sesame butter sauce with soba noodles, it is infused with sensational flavors that will tantalize your taste buds and possibly give you pause to ponder that je ne sais quoi ingredient so hauntingly subtle.  We determined it to be five spice powder, a seasoning used frequently in Chinese dishes, and which supposedly embodies each of the five tastes in Chinese cooking.  If duck isn’t your thing, an outstanding orange beef entrée is also available.

On our third visit, rather than ordering off the menu, I asked Robert to surprise me and he exceeded all expectations with a red chile encrusted tuna in a green chile sauce with assorted fresh vegetables.  It was easily one of the best pieces of fish I’ve had in New Mexico–but not the best fish I’ve had at Nouveau Noodles.

That distinction would have to go to of all things, an appetizer–the amazing seared Ahi tuna and seaweed Timbale (sauced food molded in a straight-sided metal form and unmolded directly onto a plate) with greens, pickled red onion, sesame seaweed and soba noodles with an unbelievable wasabi crema.  Your eyes may water not only because of the wasabi’s tear inducing heat, but from the realization that you are tasting greatness.

For a complete Ahi experience, have as your main entree, the Spicy Tuna Salad–Ahi tuna marinated in a spicy Vietnamese sauce served rare (or seared) over greens in an incredible apricot ginger sauce and topped with fresh seaweed.  The piquant burn of the Vietnamese sauce is cut by just the right amount of rice vinegar and the tangy ginger sauce.  It’s a sensational salad.

If the drunken beef mushroom soup imbued with Merlot and sherry or a black bean and molasses soup are any indication, the Soup Nazi would goose-step as quickly as possible to Nouveau Noodles.

There’s no surcease to quality cuisine with the desserts, particularly the sublimely moist and luscious apricot bread pudding which is of New Orleans quality and the ginger flan (alas, no longer on the menu) which melds seemingly discordant ingredients in a preternatural way.  Also available are several cheesecake offerings created by the Cheesecake Factory.

Nouveau Noodles
12216 North 14
Tijeras, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 2 March 2005
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 25
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Apricot Bread Pudding, Mango Chutney Chicken Egg Rolls, Nouveau Duck L’Orange, Spicy Tuna Salad, Drunken Mushroom Soup