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Gioco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gioco Sports Bar in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District

Archaeologists in Spain have unearthed the original man cave.  What is most remarkable about this finding is how very similar Neanderthal man and contemporary man are.  Men, it seems, have not evolved much.  Neanderthals were hairy and brutish in appearance, much like the New York Giants.  They spoke in guttural grunts, similar to today’s politicians.  Neanderthals scrawled their art on cave walls; contemporary man expresses himself artistically on bridges, underpasses and walls.  Neanderthal man used tools: hammers and axes; contemporary man uses tools: television remote controls and iPhones. 

Cultural anthropologists (and Barbara Streisand) have long posited that throughout evolutionary history, man has had an inherent need for belonging to a social group.  We are driven to form and maintain at least a few lasting, positive and significant interpersonal relationships.  For many men, one of the most powerful bonding agents is sports.  We derive a sense of belonging through our affiliation with the sports teams we like–to the extent that we wear team apparel which encases us like engorged sausages.  We like to get together to cheer our teams and express our contempt and ridicule for teams we dislike (think UNLV Rutting Rebels and other miscreants of that ilk).

Gioco Offers a 130-Inch Television and 15 Smaller Ones

Our man cave away from home is the ubiquitous sports bar.  It’s our refuge from the interminable “honey do’s”  our significant others don’t remember until five minutes before kick-off.  It’s our sanctuary where, like a pride of male lions, we can kick back, tell a few lies and be waited upon as we enjoy our favorite team (everyone’s a Lobo! woof, woof, woof) conquer a hapless foe.  Nothing makes a man cave more appealing than copious quantities of food and televisions the size of drive-in movie screens.  For many Duke City residents who sport the XY-chromosome pairing, Gioco Sports Bar has become the man cave of which used to only dream. 

Boasting a 130-inch television and fifteen “smaller” televisions (most larger than a Smart car), it’s a man cave in tribal proportion, accommodating more than 100 avid sports fans (spelling bee watchers need not visit).  The menu is replete with such man favorite entrees as artisinal pizza, pressed panini sandwiches, nachos and chicken wings, all of which are baked (nothing on the premises is fried save for some of the patrons).  Adult beverages flow freely.  It’s no wonder sports fans plant their gluts on a chair as soon as Gioco opens and remain until closing time, standing only when nature calls or the visually impaired officials blow a call against our team.  Look for some Duke City sports fans to try homesteading at Giaco soon.

Korean Pork Ribs

Gioco opened its doors on September 1st, preceding the National Football League’s 2014 kickoff by a week.  Translating from Italian to “game,” Gioco is the brainchild of the good folks who brought us O’Niell’s, a popular venue despite the fact that 130-inch televisions don’t grace its walls.  Gioco, in fact, occupies the space next door to O’Niell’s on Central Avenue, sitting on an adjacent 3,000-square-foot space that used to be O’Niell’s special events area. 

Whether you enter through the Central Avenue door or through the rear entrance by the capacious parking lot, the minute you walk in your eyes will be captured by the sheer masculinity of the venue.  Only when Chuck Norris dines alone will there be so much testosterone in one place. Dark colors and subdued lighting are punctuated by televisions with sports on every channel. The menu is pretty manly, too, even though it lists five salads (albeit loaded with meats and cheeses).

Right: Salumeria-Pepperoni, Genoa salami, spicy capicola, Parmesan and mozzarella and a classic pizza sauce. Left: Pepperoni and green chile

Manly sports fans will love the descriptions behind every menu item.  The stuffed mushrooms, for example, are described thusly: “Not since Wilt denied Kareem twice has anything been so righteously stuffed, with cream feta and Parmesan.”  Some of us who can’t recite the preamble (or don’t know what a preamble is) to the Constitution of the United States can tell you exactly why The Italian sandwich description reads “Joe DiMaggio would order 56 of these.”   Sports trivia is something at which we excel. 

There are more appetizers (ten) on the menu than there are of anything else.  If so inclined, we can order two or three…or ten appetizers and call it lunch.  Among the more intriguing starters are the Korean Pork Ribs (described as “We’ve used our most flavorful Taekwondo to attack these ribs. Now shiu! At ease! Enjoy your half rack.”).  They don’t resemble any Korean pork ribs I’ve ever had (perhaps they were adopted).  As with several similar starters offered throughout the Duke City, these ribs were almost cloying with a lacquered on sauce.  Their sole redeeming quality is how meaty they are.

Build Your Own Pizza: Garlic Oil Sauce, Sausage, Cheese

Pizza, which occupies the top of the manly sports fan food pyramid, is among the featured fare at Gioco.  Never mind that it’s “artisinal” pizza, it’s still pretty darned good.  Better still, you can customize it the way you want it.  If you want half of one of the menu’s standard pizzas on one side and half of another pizza on the other side, tell your server and it’ll be done.  Each pizza is about ten-inches around, not one of those puny “personal pan” sized pizzas which leave you hungry.  The menu describes the crust very well: Our Sweet Spot crust hammers it home by finding the sweet spot of thickness, keeping it light while keeping the bite.”  It is indeed a very good crust. 

The crust is a perfect canvas for the “have it my way” custom pizza I ordered.  The Salumeria (pepperoni, Genoa salami, spicy capicola, Parmesan and Mozzarella with a classic pizza sauce) occupied half the pizza.  The other half was pepperoni and green chile.  This is a perfect combination!   Not unexpectedly considering the salted cured meats from which it is constructed, the Salumeria is a bit on the salty side, but those meats (especially the spicy capicola) are plentiful and they’re macho meats.  Alas, the green chile was a bit on the insipid (like Eli Manning) side, lacking the eye-watering, tongue-blistering heat men (at least New Mexican men) love.

Limoncello Cake

Though not a sports fan (save for a drive-by interest in the Chicago Bears…when they’re winning), my Kim didn’t feel completely out of place at Gioco though she didn’t understand why our server wouldn’t change the channel to the Food Network (isn’t Iron Chef a sport?).  We were both lamenting the fact that we hadn’t had a good pizza in four months (not even in California) so she ignored all the football games on the televisions.  Her  “build your own” pizza was constructed with a garlic oil sauce, sausage and cheese.  It was a bit rich for me and the garlic sauce was powerful enough to ward off a family of vampires (or any amorous prospects), but it just right for her. 

There are only three desserts on the menu, none made on the premises.  Frankly, most manly sports fans would just as soon have chicken wings and call them dessert.  The Limoncello cake is probably the least sweet among the three desserts, offering tangy (albeit not lip-puckering) notes to offset the sweetness.  After one bite I cursed myself for not having ordered the nachos instead. 

As a purveyor of pizza, Gioco is a people-pleasing place. As a man cave, it may have no equal in the Duke City.

Gioco
4310 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-2177
Web Site
LATEST VISIT:  25 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Build Your Own Pizza, Salumeria Pizza, Green Chile and Pepperoni Pizza

Gioco on Urbanspoon

Bistro Piattini – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bistro Piattini on Girard

Italy is an illusion, indeed, a mirage, the stuff of wishes.”
~Mario Luzi

In the 1996 motion picture Big Night, two Italian restaurants across the street from one another operate in diametric opposition to one another both philosophically and in practice.  One is enormously successful because it gives customers what they want and expect (even though savvy diners would consider the culinary fare mediocre and uninspired).  In the other restaurant, the chef is a perfectionist who will labor all day to create a perfect dish and becomes exasperated when diners don’t recognize the authentic culinary art he creates, preferring  “Americanized” Italian food instead.

You might think the American dining public would prefer the latter and reject the former.  Our inaugural visit to Bistro Piattini seems to indicate the opposite may be true in Albuquerque.  Our route to Piattini took us past an Olive Garden where throngs of patrons lined up to get their fill of mediocre Americanized Italian food.  When we arrived at Piattini, we practically had our choice of seating.  The cavernous restaurant was nearly empty on a Saturday at noon.  We could only hope this was an anomaly because diners should be beating down the doors to dine at any restaurant owned and operated by Chef-Owner Peter Lukes.

A view of the exhibition kitchen

Chef Lukes and his wife Maggie launched Piattini in May, 2014 after a 16-year-stint at Terra Bistro, one of the Duke City area’s very best Italian restaurants, despite violating the three most important tenets of successful restaurants: location, location, location.  Situated in the North Valley on heavily trafficked Alameda, Terra was the very definition of a destination restaurant, one with a strong enough appeal to draw customers from beyond the city’s burgeoning Northwest side.

Piattini is much more centrally located than was Terra, although Girard is somewhat less trafficked than Alameda.  Located just a few blocks north of the University of New Mexico, Piattini occupies the space long held by the Grocery Emporium in a neighborhood that’s more residential than it is retail.  No vestiges of the grocery store remain.  Piattini is a beautiful space courtesy of Maggie Lukes, an über-talented interior designer with a flair for creating spaces which are both comfortably cozy and upscale.

Fano bread with a mix of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar

As much as we’ll miss Terra (and selfishly, our proximity to it), in time the lure of innovative and well-executed Italian cuisine will make Piattini a favorite.  Where Terra was more formal and upscale, Piattini is just a bit more casual and relaxed.  While Terra featured a more conventional antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, dolci format, Piattini’s focus is on small plates similar to Spanish tapas or Chinese dim sum.  Many of the familiar favorites from Terra are still available though scaled down to fit the format.  Piattini, which translates loosely from Italian to English as “small plates” is an apt descriptor for the restaurant’s menu.

The dinner menu at Piattini is segmented somewhat differently than at Terra, at least in terminology.  Starters or appetizers are called “Boccone” which translates to “morsels.”  Next on the menu is the “Giardino” or “Garden” section which lists the restaurant’s salads.  The “Fattoria or “Farm” section lists small plates of meats and cheeses while the “Mare” section lists seafood items.  The “Farina e Acqua which translates to “Flour & Water” is a compilation of pasta dishes.  Then there’s the “Pietra” or “Stone” which lists Piattini’s pizza selections.  The “Contorni” section lists sides. 

Ceviche Italiano

The Pièce de résistance is the “Grandi Piatti” or “Large Plates” section of the menu. This section features several items with which we were familiar from having dined at Terra.  On his outstanding blog Larry’s Albuquerque Food Musings, my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, was especially effusive about the dinner menu which, unfortunately, is not available during the lunch hour.  Serendipitously, we did visit on the day Piattini introduced its new weekend brunch menu so even though we missed out on the fabulous dinner menu, there were many terrific options available. 

Alas not available at Piattini is the warm, fresh, house-made bread right out of the oven which was a staple at Terra.  It’s entirely unfair to consider bread from Albuquerque’s artisan Fano Bread bakery a consolation prize since it’s excellent bread, but the bread at Terra was peerless in the Duke City.  Still, Fano bread encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread.  When dipped into mixture of virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar the character of the bread really stands out.  If you’re not careful, however, you can easily fill up on bread.

Asparagi: grilled asparagus, prosciutto di parma, balsamic vinaigrette, Gorgonzola cheese

Time was the only restaurants in which you could find ceviche were either Peruvian or Mexican.  Today ceviche can be found in Japanese restaurants as well as avant-garde Italian eateries such as Piattini.  Each restaurant puts its own spin on a dish which is essentially seafood catalyzed in citrus juices.  At Piattini, the Ceviche Italiano ( scallop, shrimp, tuna, tomato, cucumber, lime, parsley, basil) would never be mistaken for the ceviche at a Mexican restaurant where the citrus flavors can be a bit overwhelming.  The emphasis at Piattini is on the freshness and natural flavor of the seafood and the way it plays against a lesser citrus influence.  The invigorating Italian basil and its peppermint-anise notes is a terrific twist. 

Many adults grow up to rue the wasted years in which foods such as spinach, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus were feared and hated.  Fussy eaters as children sometimes become adventurous diners who grow up to love those foods they once avoided like a plague.  Asparagus is usually near the top of public enemy number one lists.  If asparagus was prepared everywhere as it is at Piattini, even persnickety diners would enjoy it.  The Asparagi (grilled asparagus, prosciutto di parma, balsamic vinaigrette, Gorgonzola cheese) is an amalgam of ingredients and flavors that complement one another very well though the grilled asparagus is excellent in its own right.

Salsiccia: fennel sausage, roasted peppers, tomato sauce, blended cheeses

Amateur treasure hunters from around the country have been scaling mountains and scouring forests in search of an elusive one-to-three million dollar treasure believed to have been buried by Forrest Fenn, an eccentric New Mexico millionaire.  Jokingly, my Kim said she’d like to  challenge those treasure hunters to find sausage in Piattini’s Salsiccia, a pizza crafted with roasted peppers, tomato sauce, blended cheeses and (ostensibly) fennel sausage.  Kim is a Chicago area native used to mounds of sausage so Piattini’s Salsiccia failed to win her over despite the high-quality crust courtesy of flour imported from Italy.

Those treasure hunters won’t find syrup on the brunch menu’s stuffed French toast offering.  Syrup certainly wasn’t needed.  Two thick slices of soft bread are engorged with rich, creamy and soft Mascarpone cheese, an Italian cheese with a very high butterfat content and sweet flavor (reminiscent of a sweet cream cheese) then sprinkled with confectioner sugar, tangy strawberries and even more Mascarpone.  Over the years stuffed French toast have fallen out of fashion in a calorie-counting society which eschews sweetness.  These French toast will bring back even some of the most ardent ideologues.

Stuffed French Toast with strawberries, mascarpone, walnuts

The stuffed French toast are served with skillet-fried breakfast potatoes ringed with red peppers and onions, a bowl of fresh fruit (watermelon, honeydew melon, pineapple) and two slices of crostini created from the aforementioned Fano bread.  The potatoes are a wonderful foil for the French toast, providing the savory contrast often necessary with sweet entrees. 

As wonderful as scones can be, they are very fickle and have a relatively short shelf life.  Case in point the raspberry scone my Kim (it just wasn’t her day) ordered in lieu of dessert.  Though made fresh early in the morning, by 1:30PM, it had seen better times and was hard and crumbly, two of the characteristics you don’t necessarily associate with scones.  The raspberry jam was terrific, but would have been even better on a softer, less grainy scone.

Raspberry Scone with raspberry jam and butter

Although portions of our inaugural experience at Piattini didn’t meet our exceedingly high expectations, there’s no doubt we’ll return soon. That dinner menu beckons.

Bistro Piattini
1403 Girard, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 792-1700
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 27 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Asparagi, Stuffed French Toast, Fano Bread

Bistro Piattini on Urbanspoon

 

Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio

Just when you think you’ve seen it all and you think nothing else can possibly been done to exploit the versatility in pizza, something comes along which surprises you.  One such example is the “make your own pie” proposal by the entrepreneurial Kramerica Industries, a proposal which prompted extensive water cooler discussions.

Flamboyant CEO Cosmo Kramer envisioned a pizzeria in which “we give you the dough, you smash it, you pound it, you fling it in the air; and then you get to put your sauce and you get to sprinkle it over your cheese, and they–you slide it into the oven.”  His attempts at securing funding falter over a dispute as to whether cucumbers can be pizza toppings.

The classy interior of Nicky V’s

The aforementioned scenario transpired in an episode of Seinfeld, the “show about nothing.”  While the “make your own pie” concept has some fundamental flaws (people shoving their arms into a 600-degree oven), it does illustrate one of the few things that haven’t actually been done with pizza in the United States. Nicole “Nicky” Villareal didn’t have any uncommon business model in mind when she and her husband set out to launch Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio.

She wanted a true neighborhood pizzeria, the type of which she enjoyed so much during her travels throughout Europe where dining is regarded as a social event.  In Europe, friends and family often linger for hours, enjoying dining and discourse in welcoming cafes and sidewalk patios. That’s the spirit she wanted to convey with her pizzeria.  That’s the spirit that readers of Albuquerque The Magazine discerned in Nicky V’s when they named it Albuquerque’s very best new restaurant for 2010.  Nicky has the experience to pull  off her dreams, having served on the operational management side of several restaurants though Nicky V’s is her first venture in a sole ownership role.

Raviolo Fritti (Fried Ravioli and warm marinara sauce)

Nicky V’s is is about a mile away from restaurant row on Coors Bypass where a phalanx of mediocre chain restaurants blights the landscape. It is situated in the same corner space which once housed two other pizza restaurants–a middling quality Florida-based chain named New York Pizza Department (NYPD) and a local, non-related favorite named JC’s New York Pizza Department.  The 3,300 square-foot restaurant includes an east-facing patio featuring spectacular views of the cottonwoods surrounding the Rio Grande as well as the breathtaking Sandias.

Nicky V’s may have an old-fashioned customer-centric attitude, but the ambiance bespeaks of contemporary modernity.  You won’t find any of the stereotypical trappings–such as red and white checkered tablecloths–of neighborhood pizzerias of old, but you will find an old-fashioned attitude in which good service and friendliness abounds.  Nicky makes the rounds frequently to ensure her patrons are enjoying the dining experience while the wait staff is on-the-spot with a recommendation or a refill.

Il Manchango – Fuji apples, dates, Arugula, radicchio, toasted pecans, endives and Manchango cheese with a citrus vinaigrette

The walls are adorned with framed photographs of Venice, Rome and Orvietto taken by Nicky’s husband when they traveled throughout Europe during their one-year anniversary-slash-honeymoon.  Traveling throughout Europe via Eurorail left an indelible impression on Nicky.  It helped establish her vision for the type of restaurant she would eventually open.

The menu includes an array of familiar and innovative offerings.  Appetizers include throwbacks such as fritto misto (breaded calamari, onion rings, fried zucchini) as well as the seemingly de rigueur anti-pasto platter (cured meats, roasted peppers, olives, fresh mozzarella) and pita points and hummus (cucumber relish, Kalamata olives, hummus and warm pita).  Raviolio Fritti, fried ravioli with warm marinara, each of five the size of an iPhone, are a popular favorite.

Antipasto: prosciutto, salami, roasted peppers, olives, mozzarella cheese

7 August 2010: The Ravioli Fritti are lightly breaded then fried to a golden sheen and served in a conical wrought iron basket.  Each ravioli is sprinkled with shaved Parmesan and oregano and is stuffed with a rich cheese blend.  The consistency of each ravioli is just slightly crispy, but not crunchy.  The marinara is quite good, the type of which would go very well on a pasta dish. 

12 September 2011: Another excellent starter, one of the very best of its genre in the city, is the Antipasto platter, a plate brimming with crostini, prosciutto, salami, roasted peppers, olives and mozzarella.  By themselves, each individual item on the platter is quite good.  In combinations with one another, they’re all even better.  Top a crostini with a slice of prosciutto, spread on some of the near butter soft mozzarella then crown it all with the roasted pepper and olives and you’ve got an improvised sandwich of the first order.  You can also each component immensely by itself as the high quality shines with each and every bite. 

Pita Points and Hummus

20 July 2014: Appetizers at Nicky V’s tend to be not only beautifully plated, but very generously portioned.  Save for the Raviolo Fritti, the appetizers are pretty much intended to be shared.  That’s certainly the case with the Pita Points and Hummus, a manhole cover sized plate artistically plated with warm pita wedges, cucumber relish (cucumbers, kalamata olives, onions, Roma tomatoes), feta cheese and hummus on a bed of mixed greens.  The cucumber relish is delicious and would make a great salad by itself, but goes especially well with the Feta cheese because of how significantly its flavor profile clashes with the fetid fromage.  The hummus is very garlicky but with a discernible tang from a squeeze or two of lemon. 

Pasta dishes are adorned with a variety of sauces: white wine pasta cream sauce, mascarpone and lemon butter sauce, roasted pepper Parmesan cream sauce, fresh herb Veloute sauce and a cracked pepper pesto cream sauce.  None of the pasta entrees are made with a traditional “red” sauce (marinara or meat sauce).  Even the lasagna is made with a Bolognese meat sauce.

The Umbria - Truffle oil, smoked Cheddar, goat cheese, prosciutto, caramelized onions, garlic crunch and pine nuts

The Umbria – Truffle oil, smoked Cheddar, goat cheese, prosciutto, caramelized onions, garlic crunch and pine nuts

The pizza menu is segmented into a “Smart” category and a “Savvy” category, perhaps an indication that you can’t go wrong regardless of from which pizza you order.  The pizza dough is scratch-made in-house using a sourdough starter that is allowed to ferment for a day before being rolled into dough.  The dough is made from “the finest flours milled.”  Toppings are of “only the best quality, using local and organic whenever possible.” 

Only one size pizza is offered, a twelve-inch pie that’s perhaps a bit too big to be called a personal pizza, but may be too small to be shared.  Eat half at the restaurant and take the other half home; this pizza is just as good out of the fridge as it is out of the oven.  Pies range from the traditional (Margherita with red sauce, mozzarella slices and fresh basil) to the locally inspired (the New Mexican, made with red sauce, cheese blend, pepperoni, Autumn green chili and garlic crunch) to the innovative.

Tre – red sauce, Italian sausage, cheese blend, roasted red peppers, oregano

In the latter category are pizzas topped with non-traditional ingredients, the likes of which few pizzerias in Albuquerque offer.  These toppings range from the rich and sublime (the Novara includes gorgonzola, pears, ricotta cheese, toasted walnuts and olive oil) to the truly unique (the Siena is crafted from red sauce, Yukon potatoes, roasted red peppers, pancetta and fresh basil). It’s not every pizza for which wine pairings might even be a consideration, but Nicky can tell you exactly which wine and pizza combinations complement one another best. 

The restaurant’s phone number, by the way, is 890-WINE (9463), but don’t expect to find the cheap Chinati bottles which seem to adorn the red and white checkerboard tablecloths at the stereotypical mom-and-pop Italian joints. In fact, Nicky V’s earned Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence in 2012 in recognition of the restaurant’s more than 125 offerings covering all the reaches of the globe.   With our practice of never drinking adult beverages if we’re driving, we could only imagine what red vintage might have gone best with the Umbria, a pizza crafted with truffle oil, smoked Cheddar, goat cheese, Prosciutto, caramelized onions, garlic crunch and pine nuts.

Limited Time Special Served on St. Patrick’s Day: Gravy, ground beef, peas, mashed potato and Cheddar cheese (Photo courtesy of Bruce “Senor Plata” Silver)

5 June 2010: What my mind’s eye is still reliving is the wonderful texture of the pie.  Nicky V’s pizzas are thin-crusted, but not waifishly thin.  What sets them apart are their crunchiness which is wholly unlike the cracker-crust variety of pizzas.  It’s a crunchiness that doesn’t offset the pizza’s chewiness if that’s possible.  The Umbria is a terrific pizza with flavor explosions in every bite as excellent ingredients compete with each other for the rapt attention of your taste buds. 

5 June 2010: Another revelation in flavor appreciation is the Chieti, a masterpiece of a pie topped with garlic cream, a cheese blend, roasted butternut squash, Gorgonzola and baby arugula.  The top topper is butternut squash, a creamy, fine-textured, orange-fleshed squash with a taste vaguely resembling sweet potato.  The arugula and its characteristic light bitter flavor seems to bring out the pungency of the Gorgonzola, a blue cheese with a surprisingly sweet aftertaste.  The creator of this pie is an inspired genius!  Alas, it is no longer on the menu, but it’s much missed (at least by me).

The New Mexican: red sauce, cheese blend, pepperoni, green chile, garlic crunch

12 September 2011: Most pizza restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment pander to New Mexican tastes for green chile by offering it as either an optional topping or using it as the centerpiece of a specialty pizza.  Unfortunately, the green chile often has no more bite than parsley.  Nicky V’s offers two pizzas with names near and dear to the heart of many Duke City diners: the New Mexican (red sauce, cheese blend, pepperoni, green chile, garlic crunch) and the Lobo (red sauce, Italian sausage, green chile, red onions, cheese blend, fresh roasted red peppers).  The New Mexican will bring pride to any state citizen who loves chile.  It will also bring sweat to your brow and maybe even singe your tongue.  Not only does the green chile have heat, the red sauce may include red chile powder and even the pepperoni has a kick to it.  Piquancy aside, this is a very good pizza that will impress itself upon your taste buds and your memories. 

7 August 2010: The Tre, an Italian word that means three, is made up of more than three ingredients: red sauce, Italian sausage, cheese blend, roasted red peppers and oregano. Those ingredients are of superb quality. The red sauce and Italian sausage are as good as any on any pizza in the Duke City. The red sauce has a slight piquant bite with just a bit of sweetness and very little acidity despite the obvious fresh tomato base. The sausage has a nice fennel-rich flavor. The roasted red peppers are nonpareil, perfection itself. As my friend Larry McGoldrick has observed, Nicky V’s pizzas are as good as any thin-crust pizza you’ll find in Chicago…and yes, the Windy City has outstanding thin crust pizza!

Orvietto – smoked bacon, Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh basil, Crimini mushrooms, peas and pine nuts tossed with cavatappi with a white wine pasta cream sauce

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day 2011, Nicky V’s introduced–for a limited time only–a pizza special  citizens of the British Isles would have scarfed-up though Nicky admitted she had a hard time talking  customers into trying it.  One intrepid diner who did try the Shepherd’s Pie Pizza was my adventurous friend Señor Plata.  He ranted about this pizza, a thin-crust canvass with gravy slathered on instead of tomato sauce and topped with mashed potatoes, ground beef  and Cheddar cheese.  Larry McGoldrick had  recommended Nicky offer a corned beef and cabbage pizza which might also have received a cool reception from diners who wouldn’t try it.  Some year, I’ll be there to sample whatever Nicky contrives for St. Patrick’s Day. 

7 August 2010: As outstanding as the pizza is, Nicky invites her diners to try the pasta, recommending most highly the Orvietto, an amazing pasta crafted from smoked bacon (pancetta) crimini mushrooms, peas and cavatappi noodles in a white wine pasta cream sauce. The cavatappi, a double-elbow, corkscrew or spiral macaroni formed into a spiral tube shape with groves on their outside surface, is perfectly prepared, just beyond al dente. The white wine reduction melds with the crimini mushrooms and the beautifully smoked Italian bacon to form flavor combinations that dance on your taste buds. The sauce is just perfect, neither too rich or too subtle. This is one of the best pasta dishes we’ve had in New Mexico.

Il Adelaide: Garlic, yellow onions, marinated prawns, roasted corn, bell peppers and andouille sausage in a Creole pasta cream sauce

As fans of Garfield, once the world’s most widely syndicated comic, know, the rotund cat loves lasagna.  Once confronted by his owner Jon about having eaten four boxes of lasagna, Garfield’s hiccuped retort was, “It’s not my fault.  They started it.”  Garfield would want at least four boxes of Nicky V’s lasagna, a simple blend of lasagna noodles and ricotta cheese topped with mozzarella cheese made complex with a Bolognese meat sauce that the chef tends to for six to eight hours.  This is no ordinary meat sauce.  The Bolognese is true to time-honored traditions.  It’s also quite good. 

Another complex entree prepared exceptionally well is Nicky V’s Chicken Veloute, an entree made with one of the true classic sauces of French cuisine.   The sauce finds its genesis in the word velvety, an apt term for the sauce which is made from a light chicken stock thickened with a blond roux.  Nicky V’s rendition is also made with an onion confit (onions reduced to an intensified flavor), roasted garlic, Crimini mushrooms, chicken and spinach fettuccine.  My friend Señor Plata was surprised to find a dish of such complexity and depth of flavor in an Italian restaurant.  I was surprised at how good it was.

Gnocci: roasted chicken, artichokes, grilled leeks and spinach served with gnocchi in a roasted pepper parmesan sauce drizzled with truffle oil

14 December 2010: Save for the fabulous Orvietto which is in stratified company as one of the very best pasta dishes in Albuquerque, my favorite of Nicky V’s outstanding pasta dishes is the gnocchi, one of the most complex renditions of this dish I’ve ever had with roasted chicken, artichokes, grilled leeks, red onions and spinach served with gnocchi in a roasted pepper Parmesan sauce drizzled with truffle oil.  The gnocchi are rich dumplings with a texture so light they practically melt in your mouth.  The sauce is lick-the-plate good with flavor accents that impress themselves on your taste buds. 

20 July 2014: Chicken Parmesan is an old school entree some Italian restaurants (especially the haughty Northern Italian restaurants) are “too uppity” to serve.  Though it may seem to be a simple dish, it can be very challenging to make well.  Nicky V’s rendition is made with a very thick chicken breast.  Too long in the oven and the breading chars.  Not long enough in the oven and the inside of the chicken borders on raw.  We experienced both extremes, but in the process wound up falling in love with the side spaghetti.  More specifically, we fell in love with the spaghetti sauce which is made from tomatoes grown in Moriarty, New Mexico.  The sauce has a perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess without the oft-characteristic acidity of some tomatoes.  It’s an excellent sauce. 

Note:  Even though our experience with the Chicken Parmesan wasn’t up to the exceedingly high Nicky V standards, the staff was very accommodating, professional and kind when we sent the dish back.

Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti

28 March 2011: Conspicuous by virtue of its name is Il Adelaide which frankly sounds more Australian than it does Italian.  Rather than name it for an Italian landmark, the chef who conceptualized the dish named it for Nicky’s spicy little daughter Adelaide.  Il Adelaide is indeed spicy, courtesy of a pasta cream sauce redolent with Cayenne peppers.  Other ingredients include garlic, yellow onions, marinated prawns, roasted corn, bell peppers and andouille sausage.  It’s a complex dish which pays tribute to the lively flavors of Louisiana.  With the 2011 demise of the Cajun Kitchen, Il Adelaide is a comforting thought that you can still get a semblance of Cajun-Creole cooking in the Duke City.

Six salads are also available. These aren’t the types of salads that remind you that the word “diet” is simply the word “die” with the letter “t” added at the end. These are the type of salads of which you can make a thoroughly enjoyable meal. Three of the salads–a house salad, a Caesar salad and “the Wedge”–are pretty standard, though what will set them apart at Nicky V’s is the quality of ingredients and their freshness. The other three salads are crafted with ingenuity and flair. All are available in half- or full-sizes.

Joe Diaz’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Meatballs, Marinara, Parmesan and Provolone all stacked tall and sent into Nicky V’s brick oven until bubbly hot!

5 June 2010: The Il Manchango is festooned with Fuji apples, dates, Arugula, radicchio, toasted pecans, endives and manchango cheese with a citrus vinaigrette. This is an ingredient-fest combining several different taste and texture sensations–the sweet tartness of the Fuji apples; the sugary sweetness of fresh dates; the tangy zestiness of arugula; the crunchy saltiness of the toasted pecans; the unique buttery-bitter spiciness of endives and the pungent saltiness of the manchango drizzled with the citrusy sweetness of a vinaigrette.

This is an outstanding salad especially if you like adventurous taste discernment, flavor combinations and a variety of textures in one plate. It’s also a fun salad to eat. You can use the endive leaves to form a sort of lettuce taco in which you can pile on other ingredients.

Tiramisu (Espresso and rum-soaked lady fingers, mascarpone and cocoa powder

9 October 2012: For lunch only (11AM to 4PM), Nicky v’s offers four paninis, all built on French (not Italian) lightly toasted hoagie rolls served with a bag of Miss Vickie’s Salt and Vinegar chips (or a side salad for two dollars more) and a pepperoncini.  One of the most popular of the four is the Joe Diaz’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, named for KOAT-TV’s popular meteorologist who frequents the restaurant.  This panini is constructed from meatballs, marinara, parmesan and provolone stacked tall and sent to the oven until bubbly hot.  

5 June 2010: Nicky V’s desserts, many made in-house (sounds like a repeating theme) are par excellence, a quadrumvirate of fine-dining quality sweets.  The tiramisu, espresso and rum-soaked lady fingers, mascarpone and cocoa powder–is an exemplary rendition of this popular Italian cake.  It is neither too sweet nor too moist, but sufficient in both qualities to make it one of the best tiramisu in Albuquerque.

Profiterole – puffed pastry dough filled with a vanilla pastry cream dipped in chocolate

7 August 2010: A recent addition to the superb Nicky V’s menu is gelato, which is much more than Italian ice cream, having a lower butterfat and sugar content than ice cream. Texturally, it is much denser than ice cream with a much more intense and concentrated flavor than American ice cream.  High-quality artisan gelato retains its texture (from delicate ice crystals) for only a few days which is why great gelato is usually made on the premises or at least locally, not shipped from afar. Nicky V’s acquires its gelato from Van Rixel Brothers Gelato, the best local source possible.  It’s outstanding!  In fact, the sea salt and caramel gelato may be the very best gelato we’ve had in Albuquerque.  It’s Nicky’s favorite and mine, too.  Flavors will be rotated weekly.

5 June 2010: The profiteroles, puffed pastry dough filled with a vanilla pastry cream dipped in chocolate, are also quite wonderful. Even the whipped cream is made in-house (as if that needs to be said) and it’s some of the best we’ve had. The profiteroles are rich and delicious.

Sea salt and caramel gelatto

In business for just a few years years, Nicky V’s Pizzeria has earned accolades and honors restaurants in business for much longer can only aspire to. In July, 2011, Nicky was presented the award for “Best Small Business 2011″ by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. Her terrific restaurant was later selected to compete in the “Chef Knockout” competition, an Iron Chef style head-to-head cooking competition pitting some of the city’s very best restaurants. The sky is the limit for Nicky V’s, already one of Albuquerque’s very best restaurants of any genre!

Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria & Patio
9780 Coors Blvd, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-9463
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 October 2012
1st VISIT: 5 June 2010
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 23
BEST BET: Chieti, Umbria, Il Manchango, Profiterole, Tiramisu, Sea salt and caramel gelatto, Orvietto, Tre, Lasagna, Chicken Veloute, Gnocchi, Il Adelaide, Spaghetti

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