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
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Apricot Bread Pudding, Mango Chutney Chicken Egg Rolls, Nouveau Duck L’Orange, Spicy Tuna Salad, Drunken Mushroom Soup

Fiesta Flavors – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Mixed fruit cups, buttered corn nibblet cups, fruity refreshing beverages and frozen fresh fruit treats are the centerpieces of several quickly growing niche chains, one of which launched an Albuquerque shop in the spring of 2004. That niche includes both diet and health conscious treat seekers as well as the growing Hispanic market, making the Duke City a natural choice for Fiesta Flavors.

Niche or not, the intriguing menu has something for everyone. The fruit cups, whether mixed or as a single fruit offering, are served with your choice of three toppings: a sweet and creamy blend of sweetened and flavored sour cream, a low-fat and sugar free yogurt and best of all, the Fiesta chili blend of salt, lime and chili. As served on the bananas con crema, the homemade sweet cream enlivens the fruit and leaves you craving more.

The star of the show, however, are the corn cups which feature hot buttered corn cut from the cob then mixed with the Fiesta chili blend, cheese and sour cream. There’s no picking at your teeth after a bowl of this masterpiece. Fruity freezes made with your two choices of fruit blended with your fresh juice choice are the perfect cure for a balmy summer day. They are both refreshing and delicious.

As for noshes, your choices aren’t quite as exotic or interesting. I made the mistake of ordering a hot dog with cheese which included that gloppy cheese normally reserved for bad nachos. That hot dog perpetuated all the worse hot dog stereotypes and jokes. An order of taquitos was somewhat better, especially since the accompanying guacamole was wonderfully piquant.

Fiesta Flavors’ South Valley location is somewhat off the beaten path and may deter some prospective diners.

Fiesta Flavors
1511B Goff, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2004
BEST BET: Fruit Cups, Corn Cups, Fruit Freezes