Olive Branch Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Olive Branch Bistro in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

The depiction of a dove in flight with an olive branch in its beak is common in early Christian art and tradition.  The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit while the olive branch is seen as a symbol of peace.  Christian tradition, as chronicled in Genesis 8:11, describes a dove carrying an olive branch to signal the cessation of flooding throughout the world after forty days and forty nights of rain: “And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.” 

Greek mythology mentions the olive branch numerous times, including during a tale of a competition between Athena, the goddess of the wisdom and Poseidon, the god of the sea.  With both immortals vying to become the patron deity of Athens, the victor and recipient of the city itself would be determined by which of the immortals bestowed the city with the best gift.  Poseidon stuck his massive trident into the ground to create a well of briny sea water, a fairly useless gift.  The wise Athena then planted a simple yet infinitely more useful  olive tree beside the well.  Athena’s gift was judged to be superior, earning her the title of patron deity of the city.

Athena and Poseidon Watch Over You As You Dine

A large mural on a dining room wall at the Olive Branch Bistro in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights depicts both deities as well as the Parthenon, the temple on the Athenian Acropolis.  It’s not every restaurant in which two imposing Olympian gods watch over you as you partake of traditional and contemporary Mediterranean cuisine.  Then again, not every restaurant has the history and heritage of the Olive Branch. if you’re scouring your memory banks for recollections of the Olive Branch, you need go no further than March, 2016 when the restaurant opened its doors at the site which, for the previous 34 years, housed the beloved Duke City institution, the India Kitchen.

Before there was an Olive Branch Bistro, however, there were a couple of food trucks prowling the mean streets of Albuquerque plying their mobile kitchen wares for the teeming masses.  One of those food trucks, the Greek Geek specialized in seven-inch pita pizzas and gyros.  The other, Hot off the Press, earned a following on the deliciousness of their Cubano and grilled mac and cheese sandwich.  Ryan Seabrook (Greek Geek) and the duo of Michelle Haskins and Karen Seabrook (Ryan’s mother) joined forces to launch the Olive Branch.  Instead of kitchens on wheels with no permanent seating for their guests, the triumvirate now offers 58 seats for guests and a kitchen in which the walk-in refrigerator eclipses  their previous working spaces

Bread and Olive Oil

Though sporting a Montgomery address, the Olive Branch Bistro is set back quite a ways from the heavily trafficked street (which sometimes doubles as a racecourse).  Its signage doesn’t beckon you either.  In fact, unless you’re looking for it (or at least looking for the India Kitchen), you might not find it.   Fortunately Heidi Pinkerton, the second most prolific contributor (behind my friend Larry McGoldrick) to Zomato waxed poetic about her inaugural experience: “Lamb, lamb, lamby lamb…oh my goodness, the best lamb that I have had in Albuquerque!”  Heidi had me at “lamb.”

Lamb, the other red meat, isn’t as prominent on the menu as you might expect for a restaurant specializing in Mediterranean food.  There’s plenty of beef and chicken, too, as well as several items in which meat doesn’t play a part at all.  The menu is a sort of “best of” compilation of items once offered at the Greek Geek and Hot Off The Press.  That means there’s something for everyone.  The “House Favorites” section of the menu, for example, showcases favorites from the Hot Off The Press days such as twice burnt tacos and the original Cubano.  The Grilled Sandwich section pays tribute to other Hot Off The Press creations such as the Grilled Mac and Cheese.

Italian Nachos

The “Mediterranean” section of the menu lists a number of Greek Geek favorites such as lamb and chicken gyros.  The menu also offers a number of burgers, salads and the incomparable seven-inch pita pizzas made famous by the Greek Geek.  The menu purports to offer an “irresistible blend of Mediterranean and American cuisine” with “recipes inspired by authentic Mediterranean dishes brought back from Greece, Turkey and Italy, with a touch of Albuquerque.”  If that doesn’t have you reaching for your car keys, you should see the housemade desserts, all made from scratch “with love.”

As you peruse the menu and wrestle with the many choices available, a basket of bread with olive oil is brought to your table.  It wasn’t the “peasant bread and a floral-olive oil” Heidi Pinkerton described in Zomato, but that’s probably an anomaly.  It may, in fact, have been fortuitous for us that the bread was somewhat stale because we didn’t polish it off quickly and ask for more.  On the other hand, the bread and olive oil were the restaurant’s opportunity to make a good first impression and it didn’t do so.  Luckily everything else made up for it, but we were dubious.

Lamb and Chicken Gyros

Italian Nachos (tortilla chips, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, green and black olives, pepperoncini and balsamic vinegar) would make a good impression on any discerning diner.  Unlike the Mexican and New Mexican nachos to which we’re all accustomed, Italian Nachos are an adventure into the unexpected, offering a flavor profile of contrasting and complementary ingredients that go very well together.  The salty richness of the cheese pair is a nice counterbalance to the pickled, lip-pursing tanginess of the pepperoncini.  You might be surprised at just how different green and black olives taste.  Then there’s the Balsamic vinegar which has both acidic and sweet notes.  You’ll scoop up these nachos with alacrity. 

Gyros, the traditional Greek fast food wrap stuffed with meat, vegetables, and Tzatziki, are served open-face style at the Olive Branch.  A large, flat pita served warm is topped with the restaurant’s signature lamb or chicken, black olives, tomatoes, feta and your choice of traditional or spicy Tzatziki sauce.  For a blend of flavors, ask the accommodating staff for both lamb and chicken.  Both are good.  If you like sharp, tangy feta, you’ll appreciate the large chunks which adorn the gyro.  For me, there can never be enough Tzatziki, that sauce made from Greek-style yogurt, diced cucumbers, dill weed and a small amount of vinegar.  Make sure you ask for a second portion, and make it the spicy version which packs a punch.

The Kraken

“Release the Kraken!”  If everything you ever learned about Greek mythology comes from the campy 80s movie Clash of the Titans, you probably believe the Kraken is a mythological sea monster released by Zeus to destroy Argos for its insolence.  In actuality, the Kraken is nowhere to be found in Greek myths.  Its origins are Nordic.  In any case, you’ll be happy that the Olive Branch has released The Kraken (the restaurant’s signature lamb piled on a ground beef patty topped with feta, spicy or traditional Tzatziki sauce and pepperoncini) on its burgers menu.  The combination of a ground beef patty and lamb brings out the best in both, but my favorite elements on this behemoth creation–where its personality comes from–is the spicy Tzatziki and lip-pursing pepperoncini.  The Kraken is served with fries (out-of-a-bag and nothing special).

The dessert menu is scrawled on a strategically placed slate board you’ll ponder throughout your meal.  It features such intriguing items as a ricotta cheesecake, baklava and pecan pie, again all housemade and made from scratch “with love.”  You can certainly taste the love in the Loukoumades, a type of Greek doughnuts (or more closely resembling donut holes).  Where traditional Loukoumades are generally  served with honey syrup and cinnamon, the Olive Grove takes creative liberties.  The Olive Branch injects chocolate and caramel into the center of a Loukoumades and tops them with even more chocolate and caramel.  What could be better.  Well, maybe one with key lime in the middle or one with cherry and peach.  Served piping hot, they’re a delightful treat.


Another Olive Branch specialty is the restaurant’s chocolate cheesecake.  Delightfully dense cheesecake on a Graham cracker crust–what’s not to like?  Chef Ryan Seabrook admits to not liking chocolate, but to enjoying this cheesecake which he told us “tastes like ice cream.”  It does indeed, albeit room temperature chocolate ice cream that doesn’t melt.  Sweet and delicious as these desserts may be, they pair well with the restaurant’s pomegranate-lemonade, a thirst-slaking beverage that’s sweeter and not as tangy as regular lemonade.

Chef Seabrook checked up on us several times during our visit.  He’s an engaging fellow with an aim-to-please customer orientation that’s reflected on the restaurant’s wait staff.   Because everything is made to order, a meal at the Olive Branch is nicely paced, not rushed. There’s something to see on every one of the restaurant’s walls, including tea towels with recipes for Greek standards.  Then, of course, there’s the mural of the Olympic gods watching over you as if to make sure you finish everything on your plate.

Chocolate Cheesecake

It’s not every food truck that translates well to a brick-and-mortar operation.  The Olive Branch Bistro has the pedigree and following to be successful, perhaps even to experience the longitude of its predecessor, The India Kitchen.

Olive Branch Bistro
6910 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 4 June 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chocolate Cheesecake, The Kraken, Gyros, Italian Nachos, Loukoumades

The Olive Branch Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Marcello’s Chophouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Marcello's Chophouse in Albuquerque's Uptown

Marcello’s Chophouse in Albuquerque’s Uptown

Steak–even the word conjures stereotypes of power brokers in suits and ties. There’s just something about sizzling, flame-kissed beef that seems to appeal to the wheelers and dealers and movers and shakers among us. Steak may just be the ultimate power food!  That power is also wielded in the ultimate thumbing of the nose at vegetarians when carnivores emphasize that they didn’t claw their way to the top of the food ladder only to eat vegetables.

Vegetarians may retort that steak is antithetical to a healthful lifestyle. To carnivores, however, it’s not as important that steak may not be good for you as it is that steak is oh so good. Meat lovers emphasize that there is nothing like a perfectly prepared steak!

The Wine Lockers at Marcello's Chophouse

The Wine Lockers at Marcello’s Chophouse

As a 1995 episode of Seinfeld illustrated, steak is also not just a guy thing anymore. When Jerry took a blind date to the Old Homestead Steakhouse, he admitted “I’m not really that much of a meat eater” to which his date replied “You don’t eat meat? Are you one of those…” Questions about his masculinity persisted when she ordered a porterhouse medium rare and Jerry had a salad.

Some of our neighbors take their steak more seriously, by far, than we do. Witness the 1998 suit of Oprah Winfrey under Texas’s “False Disparagement of Perishable Food Products” statute.  America’s multiple-Emmy Award winning host of the highest rated talk show in television history was accused, in essence, of defaming a product fattened for slaughter in the feedlots outside of Amarillo, Texas then served up at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.

Sacrilege! Audrey Hepburn, a paragon of virtue, looks on innocently where only men should dare to tread

Alas, until recent years, the only potential steak related lawsuit contemplated in Albuquerque would have been by Duke City diners forced to choke down the artery-clogging, gristly, weakly flavored mediocrity that passes as steak at a plethora of chain steak restaurants.  Until the past decade or so, Albuquerque’s carnivores didn’t have many options when it came to velvety, buttery textured, nearly sweet, perfectly aged, optimally marbled steak.

Today, our fair city can boast of several steak houses that aren’t just good by Albuquerque standards. Some of the Duke City’s steakhouses would be competitive in larger markets where steak has been king for a long time. The November, 2006 launch of Marcello’s Chophouse may have signaled that this Duke City steakhouse is confidently throwing down the gauntlet and will vie for accolades not just with the locals, but with some of America’s best steak restaurants.

Lobster bisque

Lobster bisque

The appellation “Chophouse” in and of itself means more than just another steakhouse. In cities like Chicago, chophouses are where you find the best prepared slabs of USDA prime bone-in steaks, chops and seafood served in elegant milieus with attentive tableside service amidst classy decor. We’re talking selected, hand-cut on the premises prime steaks served charred and bursting with prime-aged flavor.

Marcello’s Chophouse is the fifth Albuquerque restaurant launched by Frank Marcello, a restaurant impresario responsible for bringing to the Duke City Copeland’s of New Orleans, Zea Rotisserie & Grill, Gruet Grille and the Gruet Steakhouse. Marcello’s Chophouse is the most lavish and upscale of his impressive array of restaurants. At nearly 7,000 square-feet, this swanky anchor tenant of the ABQ Uptown, has already earned several accolades, including an award of excellence from Wine Spectator.  Many Duke City oenophiles (wine aficionados) have even purchased their own wine lockers (pictured above) at Marcello’s. Every time they visit the restaurant, their favorite wines await them at optimum temperature.

Lobster Mac-n-Cheese - a blend of lobster cream, cheese & Maine lobster pieces in a cast iron skillet

Lobster Mac-n-Cheese – a blend of lobster cream, cheese & Maine lobster pieces in a cast iron skillet

The dinner menu is replete with chophouse steaks, bone-in specialties, chops, seafood and so much more. The lunch menu is abbreviated in both menu selections and prices. In fact, only two steaks grace the lunch menu, a seven-ounce petite filet mignon and a four-ounce steak Diane. Not everything on Marcello’s menu is exorbitantly priced. In fact, there are many items on the dinner menu within the easy reach of most price-conscious diners.

The lunch menu features many reasonably priced entrees that–although portioned somewhat smaller than dinner menu entrees–will let you feel like a million bucks without having to spend nearly that much. One dish available on both menus is the extraordinary lobster bisque, a soup which hearkens back to another Seinfeld episode in which Elaine recounts her date with a lawyer. “Yeah, I met this lawyer and we went to dinner. I had the lobster bisque, we went back to my place, yada, yada, yada, I never heard from him again.”Jerry rejoined with “but you yada yada’d over the best part” to which Elaine responded “No, I mentioned the bisque.”

Petite Filet Mignon

Petite Filet Mignon

You will never yada yada the lobster bisque at Marcello’s! It is simply one of the most sublime soups in Albuquerque. The soup, a rich and creamy bowl of deliciousness, circumnavigates a solitary reddish-hued lobster claw while other lobster bits are submerged beneath a steamy broth. The soup is ameliorated with brandied Crème fraîche, a high in fat content cream that improves the flavor of anything in which it is used. The lobster is sweet and delicious. Close your eyes and you might think you’re in America’s Northeast where this transcendent decapod swims from cold Atlantic waters practically onto your table.

If the lobster bisque doesn’t sate your lust for lobster, there’s always Marcello’s Lobster Mac-n-Cheese, a blend of lobster cream, cheese and Maine lobster pieces in a cast iron skillet.  This is a rich, adult macaroni and cheese but perhaps too heavily dusted with parmesan, leaving it a bit desiccated. Save for the lobster bits, it’s not quite as good as the Ultimate Mac & Cheese at Chef Jim White’s restaurant (now defunct). Mind you, it’s still very, very good.

Chilled “Really Big” Shrimp with green chile & red chile cocktail sauce

Marcello’s brines its steaks for 24 hours then flash fries them to order at very high temperatures, a technique mastered by few. Have the Lilliputian petite filet for lunch and you’ll be thinking about the “Chophouse Cut,” a 22-ounce bone-in rib eye cut from a slow-roasted prime rib, for dinner.  At three times the size of the petite filet, the bone-in rib eye cut will have to go a ways to match the flavor of its smaller brethren.

The petite filet mignon, a mere seven-ounces, takes a back seat to no steak. Order it prepared at medium and it will arrive to your exacting specifications. That means a crusty exterior redolent with herbs and spices and seared to perfection. It means a slightly pinkish and moist interior replete with flavor.  A great steak requires little or no help other than salt, pepper and garlic, but Marcello’s seasonings are extraordinarily flavorful. They seem to bring out the meat’s inherent flavors and heighten their impact on your taste buds.

Housemade pastrami on sourdough

The petite filet is served with a dinner salad crafted from a mix of greens and very lightly drizzled with a dressing that seems to heighten the greens’ native freshness. You might think a loaf of ciabbata bread might be more appropriate for an Italian restaurant, but somehow it works at Marcello’s. This crispy, fragrant herbaceous loaf is a welcome change from the de rigueur hard crusted breads at other high-end restaurants.

Marcello’s manages to incorporate New Mexico’s official state vegetable in a manner heretofore not seen at other restaurants throughout the Duke City.  I’ve long contended that chile can improve everything it touches (including some desserts) and Marcello’s substantiates this by offering green chile and red chile cocktail sauce with its chilled “Really Big Shrimp” appetizer.  Six jumbo shrimp (an oxymoron if there ever was one) looking more like miniature lobsters are offered with the chile offerings.  The red chile cocktail sauce is especially good with a combination of horseradish bite and red chile piquancy.  The shrimp are fresh with a nice snap to them and none of the mealiness you sometimes find in shrimp cocktails.

New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger with Chophouse Creamed Spinach

Not on Marcello’s daily menu, but perhaps it should be is a housemade pastrami sandwich.  A half-pound of nicely marbled, just smoky enough and perfectly seasoned pastrami is served on thick, lightly toasted sourdough.  The bread is slathered with a Dijonnaise (Dijon mustard blended with mayonnaise) sauce, lettuce and pickles.  Though rye and mustard is normally my preference, this is a surprisingly good sandwich courtesy of the melt-in-your-mouth pastrami sliced into thin ribbons of deliciousness.

One of the challenges in selecting New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail worthy burgers is that many restaurants (even Lotaburger) offer green chile as a side and don’t necessarily have a green chile cheeseburger on their menus.  Marcello’s leaves nothing to chance, calling its offering the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger.  It’s a beefy half-pound behemoth topped with New Mexico green chiles, caramelized onions and a three cheese blend (white Cheddar, Fontina, Monterey Jack).  The green chile is fairly mild, but the three chile blend is terrific.  Normally served with fries, ask for the Chophouse Creamed Spinach instead.  While some creamed spinach dishes have an acerbic aftertaste, this one is rather sweet, the result of a generous sprinkling of anisette and nutmeg.

Frank's Favorite "Bananas for Sundae"

Frank’s Favorite “Bananas for Sundae”

A stunning selection of desserts completes the package. Perhaps in tribute to his Louisiana heritage, Marcello adds his name to only one–Frank’s Favorite “Bananas for Sundae,” a take-off on Bananas Foster. Frank’s favorite just might become your favorite. This dessert features a vertically split banana caramelized with cajeta (a Mexican confection made from goat’s milk) surrounding scoops of chocolate, vanilla and dulce de leche ice creams which are topped with a fresh raspberry compote, chocolate ganache and housemade whipped cream. This is a “died and went to heaven” dessert–sinfully rich, unbelievably delicious and totally terrific. It’s no wonder it’s Frank’s favorite!

One caution about another of Marcello’s dessert offerings–if you’re going to order the chef’s selection of cheesecake, ask for spoons instead of forks because if you’re sharing this postprandial treat, you might stab your companion, so enthusiastic will you be for the next bite.  The cheesecake selections are seasonal.  Summer is apparently the season for milk chocolate cheesecake on a Graham cracker crust paired with white chocolate cheesecake on an Oreo crust drizzled with a dark chocolate ganache.  Shaped more like flan than cheesecake, this delicious duo will leave a memorable impression on your taste buds.

Chef’s Selection of Cheesecake: Milk Chocolate on Graham Cracker Crust and White Chocolate on Oreo Crust Drizzled with Chocolate Ganache.

There’s a strong chance Marcello’s Chophouse may become your favorite steakhouse in Albuquerque. It’s got the pedigree to be successful and the arsenal of deliciousness to win over even the most staunch of critics. It’s steak at its best and oh so much more.

Marcello’s Chophouse
2201 Q Street N.E., Suite 9B
Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2012
1st VISIT: 11 April 2008
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Lobster Mac-n-Cheese, Petite Filet Mignon, Lobster Bisque, New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger, Pastrami Sandwich, Chilled “Really Big Shrimp,” Chef’s Selection of Cheesecake, Frank’s Favorite Bananas for Sundae

Marcello's Chophouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chow’s Asian Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Chow's Asian Bistro at the Cottonwood Mall

Chow’s Asian Bistro in the Cottonwood Mall

With but few exceptions, the Duke City’s Chinese restaurants have a boring sameness (perpetuating the stereotype that all Chinese food tastes the same) with an increasing emphasis on super-sized portions of Americanized Chinese food (fried, breaded and candied meats of poor quality).  One of the few Chinese restaurants which does not perpetuate that stereotype is Chow’s Chinese Bistro in Albuquerque’s Cottonwood Mall which launched in Albuquerque’s Cottonwood Mall in November, 2005.

Chow’s motto is “gourmet, not buffet.” The Web site promises slight variations in the menu among its restaurants, claiming those variations are suited to the taste buds of the community. That must mean Chow’s patrons like it either very sweet or extremely salty (more on that below).

East meets west at Chow's

East meets west at Chow’s where Anasazi style brickwork coexists harmoniously with Chinese lanterns

Chow’s has been the most popular Chinese restaurant in the City Different (not that there’s much competition) practically since it launched in 1992. Accolades festoon the restaurant’s walls.

2005 was a banner year for the Chow’s restaurant family. Not only was the Cottonwood restaurant launched, but the Santa Fe restaurant was voted one of the top 100 Chinese restaurants in America by the Chinese Restaurant News, the only New Mexico based Chinese restaurant to earn that distinction. Chow’s Web site also indicates the restaurant was named among the top 100 Asian restaurants in America by the National Restaurant Association.

At the Cottonwood Mall location, Chow’s “East Meets West” fusion concept applies not only to its non-traditional cuisine, but to the restaurant’s ambience. Exquisite Chaco style stonework melds with Asian art and faux dynastic period vases to form an elegantly appointed setting.

Firecracker Dumplings

The restaurant exudes class with its subdued lighting, attentive service and comfortable, well spaced seating. The Juan Tabo location, while not quite as stylish is also pleasing to the eye.  An inventive, contemporary menu offers an energizing departure from the oh so mundane Chinese cuisine proffered by most Chinese restaurants.

While some items (such as the ubiquitous sweet and sour chicken) are standard fare in America’s Chinese restaurants, an emphasis on presentation is apparent when these dishes are brought to the non-adventurous diners who order them.  Chow’s plating is esthetically pleasing, providing a visual appeal that heightens a diner’s anticipation.

One commonality among some of the appetizers and entrees at Chow’s is the liberal application of sauces, some of which are so cloying that the American Dental Association should take note. Subtlety is not among any of the sauces’ traits. They do make your taste buds take notice–not necessarily in appreciation. Some are wholly lackluster and others dominate the entrees they’re supposed to showcase.

Lemon pepper salmon with tempura shrimp

Lemon pepper salmon with tempura shrimp

When the Cottonwood version of Chow’s first launch, it served ranch style rolls, with an anemic wasabi sesame sauce, a boring misnomer unworthy of the name wasabi. This sauce had the kick of a legless mule.  Despite the boring sauce, the beef, celery and green onions on the spring rolls are delicious, making these spring rolls are first-rate. Fortunately a more taste bud inspiring orange ginger sauce is now served with those excellent spring rolls.

More indicative of the uninspired appetizer sauces is the honey sesame sauce glazing on the honey sesame ribs. There’s no zest whatsoever to that sauce. It’s lifeless and trite.

The restaurant’s two dumpling appetizers are infinitely better. The firecracker dumplings are boiled and stuffed with carrots and ground turkey then topped with a bright green spinach pesto that has a surprising kick.

Marquis Au Chocolat

Marquis Au Chocolat

More deserving of the “firecracker” name are the peek-a-boo dumplings, boiled chicken dumplings in a spicy sauce heavy on soy sauce, scallions and chili. It’s a sauce that livens up even the brown or Jasmine rice.  It’s a sauce that saved a dinner special of lemon pepper salmon with tempura shrimp (pictured at left) served with a coconut lime sauce. While the lemon pepper salmon is just fine, you’re better off discarding the listless sauce and asking for the peek-a-boo sauce.

Some entrees, like the Orange Peel Beef, Dragon Sesame Chicken and even the usually incendiary Kung Pao Chicken are almost exceedingly sweet.  The lacquered duck comes with a boring plum sauce we found so lifeless that we asked for the sweet and sour chili wing ding sauce which at least has some life to it.

An interesting entree variation is Chow’s Coffee Chicken, stir-fried chicken rubbed with French coffee and glossed over heavily with a “sweet spicy sauce.”  When the menu indicates “sweet spicy,” it means mostly sweet. If you find any spice, it will be in accidentally masticating one of the tear-inducing chili peppers used on some entrees.

By now you’ve probably got the picture that Chow’s sauces, especially the sweet ones, aren’t to our liking. When we want sweet, we want dessert. Fortunately Chow’s excels at dessert, but first a momentarily dalliance.

In Chow’s green bean chicken, you’ll find what is conceivably the saltiest dish in Albuquerque. Green beans. Chicken. At any glance, that sounds like a healthy, delicious dish and, in fact, the menu indicates it is the staff’s favorite dish.  Israel has developed technology to desalinate the Dead Sea. It’s very much needed on this entree which is not only replete with salt, but the chief ingredient in the “black beans and brown chili sauce” promised appears to be soy sauce.

As with many Asian restaurants, Chows dessert assembly includes green tea ice cream, but there are better options–such as one of the five different mousse-based desserts.

The Marquise Au Chocolat earns its pedigree with an adult chocolate (translation: mostly dark chocolate) blend of chocolate genoise, chocolate ganache and baked hazelnuts topped with a mini chocolate leaf. It’s a timbale-shaped dessert far less cloying than some of the restaurant’s sauces.

In some respects Chows may remind you of the overwhelmingly popular P.F. Chang’s, but it is far less gaudy and not nearly as boisterous. Like P.F. Chang’s, Chow’s does excel in presenting a visually appealing menu seemingly dominated by Americanized Chinese food sweetened and sauced to American tastes.

Chow’s Asian Bistro
Cottonwood Mall G-217
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 6 July 2008
COST: $$
BEST BET: Coffee Chicken, Firecracker Dumplings, Peek-A-Boo Dumplings

Chow's Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Swedish Bakery – Chicago, Illinois (CLOSED on February 28, 2017)

In New Mexico, which is very proud of its “tri-cultural” heritage, the contributions of Native Americans, Hispanics and Anglo-Americans are manifest in its languages, architecture, cuisine and cultural events. While New Mexico has certainly not shunned multi-culturalism, the lack of concentrated communities of residents from other heritages has meant those heritages aren’t celebrated as prominently, if at all. As much as my wife, a very proud Swede, has come to love New Mexico and the contributions of its tri-cultural population, she misses the availability of Swedish cuisine, products and the melodic, sing-song lilt of a Swedish accent.

Kim’s maternal grandparents immigrated to Chicago in the 1920s via Ryker’s Island. They settled in Chicago because of its considerable Swedish presence extending well back into the 19th century. The predominantly Swedish community of Andersonville, established in the 19th century, bids us Välkommen!” during many of our visits. Andersonville has been the home, since the late 1920s, of the Swedish Bakery, the ultimate Swedish neighborhood sweet shop and purveyor of the exquisite pastries, cakes and breads with which she grew up.

The amazing aromas of freshly baked products at the Swedish Bakery are such a potent medium for conjuring up memories of her childhood that my Kim can’t help but reminisce fondly of days long gone when such fragrances wafted from her grandmother’s kitchen. Watching her at the Swedish Bakery reminds me of the wide-eyed children who won a visit to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I’d also be disingenuous if I didn’t admit those aromas didn’t linger on my olfactory memories, too.

As enticing as those aromas are, the visual treat of ogling the bakery’s products under glass display cases provides an irresistible urge to sample some of everything: cakes; logs, rolls, slices; petits fours; pastries; loaves and bunds; coffeecakes; sweet rolls; donuts; pies and seasonal or holiday items. The Swedish Bakery is a veritable panacea for remedying the malaise we have when missing great Swedish foods.

Although the Swedish Bakery has an orderly process for filling orders, the queues of eager diners are usually long, particularly preceding the holiday season. You’re well advised to call in your order the day before so it will be available for pick up. If you do, however, you’re apt to miss having friendly discussions with fellow patrons, many of whom will be speaking with the unmistakable cadence of Swedish Americans. Despite the characteristically long lines, no one seems to lose patience as they wait their turn.

A must-have during a typical visit is limpa, a dense, moist Swedish rye bread flavored usually flavored with anise seed and molasses (and often cardamom and orange peel). This fragrant bread is perfect for toast, buttered lightly or slathered with your favorite jelly or marmalade. It’s hard to find limpa in the United States outside of Swedish communities like Andersonville. We covet this rare treat.

Another of our favorites is the fabulous cardamom coffee cake. Cardamom is an intense spice about which can be said that a little goes a long way. At the Swedish Bakery, the cardamom and cinnamon are perfectly proportioned to complement one another. This has become my very favorite coffee cake in the world.

Swedish Bakery
5348 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL
(773) 561-8919
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 22 November 2005
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Cardamom Coffee Cake, Limpa, Sweet Rolls, Donuts