Slapfish – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Slapfish, a Modern Seafood Shack

Every year, a jolly, bearded (some might also say fat) gentleman leaves the comforts of his home to celebrate an event that comes only once a year. Throughout the year he’s visited good little mom-and-pop restaurants across the Land of Enchantment and rewarded them with kind reviews wrapped in polysyllabic words and alliterative phrases. On this special day, my Kim’s birthday, the bearded gentleman isn’t quite as jolly for as faithful readers know, once a year I agree to take my cookie-baking bride to the Olive Garden. It’s a deal we have, albeit one that makes me feel like Faust in the Christopher Marlowe play. Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. In my case, the deal is a visit to Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year. I sure got the rotten end of that deal.

On 28 October 2017, my Kim decided to collect my soul, er….have me make good on my promise and take her to the Olive Garden (which she doesn’t like nearly as much as she likes the annoyance it brings me at the mere thought of visiting a chain restaurant). In the traditional deal with the devil motif of literature and cinema, when Satan comes to collect the witless pawn’s immortal soul, the pawn begs, bribes, cajoles and barters to no avail. Unlike the pawn, however, I had one barter up my sleeve. “Rather than the Olive Garden, wouldn’t you rather go to a better chain restaurant, one which purports to serve lobster rolls, ostensibly like the ones with which you fell in love in Maine?,” I pleaded. “If you’re talking about Slapfish, I’m game,” she replied. Phew, a reprieve for at least another year.

A cup of Clam Chowder

As with an increasing number of brick-and-mortar restaurants, Slapfish got its start as a mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck for you, Bob). In 2012, the founding owners hit the brakes on their mobile operation and launched their first sit-down restaurant in Huntington Beach, California. A scant five years later, Slapfish has restaurant locations across California, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and even South Korea and London with plans to open fifty locations in six states (as of 2016). If past performance is a predictor of future success, the sky’s the limit for Slapfish, a fast-casual seafood shack offering a seasonally-driven menu showcasing responsibly sourced, fresh and healthy seafood. Slapfish, by the way, is an onomatopoeia (words that imitate a sound) for the sound fresh fish make while slapping around the dock.

New Mexico’s sole Slapfish location, a 2,000-square-foot space with two dog friendly patios, is located at the Holly Center (also home to newcomer Blaze Pizza, Tamashi Sushi, Tropical Smoothie and Jersey Mike’s) in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. Slapfish celebrated its grand opening on October 7th and boasts of “fresh as coastal seafood” and a “sea-to-table concept.” A second Duke City location is in the planning stage. Though now ensconced in a brick-and-mortar edifice, there’s one hold-over element from Slapfish’s days as a food truck. You have to place your order at a counter, above which a fairly minimalist menu displays featured fare along with specials of the day.

Lobster Taquitos

“Must Have” (Slapfish’s term, not necessarily mine) selections headline the menu. These are the appetizers, some of which are rather intriguing. Among the more interesting offerings are the chowder fries (natural-cut fries smothered in creamy clam chowder and bacon) and lobster taquitos drizzled with “awesome sauce.” A “daily fish” is on the menu every day and it served in a salad, as a sandwich or as a bowl (with two sides). Main (and in some cases Maine) entrees are displayed on the “Signatures” menu. The lobster roll isn’t shown online, but it was available on the day of our inaugural visit, albeit at “market price.” Sides include housemade pickles (pickled or fried), some of the best we’ve had in Albuquerque. Fountain drinks are of the Maine Root handcrafted beverages brand.

In retrospect (and hindsight is always 20/20) we should have had the chowder fries. Instead, we ordered just one component of those chowder fries—the clam chowder—and did so only after verifying that it’s New England style clam chowder, not Manhattan style. There’s a huge difference. An overfilled cup of steaming hot chowder was replete with a generous amount of bacon bits, bite-sized red potatoes and well, not many (if any) clams (perhaps we should have asked Forrest Fenn to organize a treasure hunt to find them). As a bacon chowder, this cup was satisfying, but we didn’t order a bacon chowder. We ordered a clam chowder. Also conspicuous by their absence are the traditional New England style oyster crackers which typically accompany clam chowder throughout New England.

Lobster Ramen Burrito

Much more satisfying were the lobster taquitos drizzled in awesome sauce. Though the term “awesome sauce” has a fingernails on a chalkboard effect on some people, to others it’s become a catchphrase synonymous with “excellent” or “extremely good.” It could be argued that these taquitos (two per order) are more akin to a chimichanga because the tortilla is fried or even closer to an egg roll than a taquito, but what can’t be disputed is that they’re pretty darned good.  For under seven dollars, we didn’t expect an engorgement of lobster and our expectations were met.  What little lobster there was had a fresh and delicious.  The awesome sauce (an orange smoked chile sauce) is a nice touch.  It doesn’t have the type of heat a New Mexico chile-based sauce would have, but it’s got a pleasant personality.

Birthday or not, my Kim always orders first. Indicative of how little I understand women, I thought she’d surely order a lobster roll.   After all, she couldn’t get enough of them during our last visit to Maine. Instead, however, she ordered a shrimp ramen burrito. Yep, you read that correctly. A shrimp ramen burrito. She redeemed herself a little by asking for lobster instead of shrimp, a twelve-dollar upcharge.  So what exactly is a lobster ramen burrito?  Picture a flour tortilla engorged with ramen noodles, spinach and sizeable chunks of lobster meat from the tail and claws.  She used her fork to extricate the lobster which she dipped into warm butter and she slurped up the noodles, but basically left the tortilla shell alone.  After more than two decades in New Mexico, she still won’t eat “store-bought” tortillas and finds the term “hand-held” not applicable when it comes to burritos.

Lobstah Roll

Because my Kim didn’t order the lobster roll, it freed me up to be able to do so.  At first glance, it did bear a resemblance to the boatsful of lobster rolls I consumed in my years in Massachusetts.  Lobster meat from the tail and claws piled atop a split top roll.  Alas, there wasn’t much lobster inside the fluffy roll which was grilled and toasted to a lightly crispy exterior.  A light, sweet dressing (thankfully not gobs of mayo) and celery salt dress the lobster meat.  The lobster, while delicate and sweet, had a slightly stringy texture–discernible to us because we’ve devoured so much lobster.  Perhaps, Slapfish is still trying to figure out the nuances of high-altitude cooking.

In an interview with Forbes, founder Andrew Gruel admitted he “wanted to run the Chipotle of seafood.”  Despite some small foibles, it’s much better than Chipotle.  It’s inventive seafood the likes of which Albuquerque hasn’t seen before.

Slapfish Restaurant
6400 Holly Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-1645
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Clam Chowder, Lobster Roll, Lobster Taquitos

Slapfish Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TFK Smokehouse & Art Barn – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The TFK Smokehouse, No Longer Just on Wheels

Every summer, a predictable ritual takes place. After hibernating comfortably since the previous autumn, men attired in aprons emblazoned with the slogan “kiss the cook” will selflessly volunteer to “cook” a meal. This, of course, means barbecue, a decidedly masculine affectation and the only type of cooking most men can be entrusted to do. When this ritual is completed and guests are sated, lavish praise and thanks are heaped upon the “chef.” In truth, the only aspects of this ritual for which men are typically responsible is getting the grill lit, placing the meats on the grill and turning them (after our female better halves warn us that the meats are burning). Normally all the preparatory work—buying the food; preparing the salad, vegetables and desserts; preparing the meat for cooking; organizing plates and cutlery; preparing the plates—is done by our wives and girlfriends. Ditto for the post-dining rituals—clearing the table, doing the dishes and putting everything away. Insouciant clods that men are, we can’t figure out why our ladies are upset when we asked how they enjoyed their “night off.”

While most of us endowed with the XY-chromosome pairing can identify with the scenario described above (which some women might find entirely accurate), Katie Calico and her husband Chris White have a more egalitarian relationship when it comes to the barbecue ritual. The two own and operate the TFK Smokehouse, an endeavor which requires equally exhausting effort from both of them. We first observed them prepare then serve meals out of their barbecue mothership, one of the very best mobile food kitchens (food truck for you, Bob) an endeavor which nearly wore us out. They performed the same type of prep work the brick-and-mortar restaurants do, but they did so in a much more confined space, a food truck other food truck vendors refer to as “The Cage” for its mix of industrial meets artistic design.

My Friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott (in his Ugly Denver Broncos Shirt) Stands by the TFK Smoker

TFK, by the way, doesn’t stand for “Truck Food Kitchen” as we had surmised before meeting Katie. It stands for “Talking Fountain Kitchen,” in honor of Katie’s erstwhile venture, Talking Fountain Gallery and Boutique. Before launching the TFK Smokehouse in November, 2013, Katie owned and operated the gallery on Lead Avenue. She explained that “talking fountains” don’t speak on their own; for centuries, fountains have served as meeting places in which citizens of Rome could express themselves—even during Mussolini’s regime. The idea of expressing yourself any way you can resonated deeply with Katie who continues in that spirit even though her primary focus has expanded to now include the culinary arts.

The TFK Smokehouse is reflective of the creativity formerly on display at her gallery. Once a flatbed trailer sporting stainless steel tables, the Smokehouse underwent a significant make-over. Many of the display fixtures and racks from the defunct art gallery were repurposed for the truck along with other artistic treasures. The result is a rather unique food truck that belies any stereotypes you may have about food trucks…at least in terms of appearance. From a functional standpoint, however, the Smokehouse is everything you would expect a great food truck to be. The aromas wafting from this mobile conveyance are akin to smoke signals beckoning you to sample the fruit wood-perfumed fare.

Burqueño Cheesesteak with Coleslaw

When we asked to which style the Smokehouse subscribes from among the four regional pillars of American barbecue (Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, Carolinas), Chris told us they employ the St. Louis style of barbecue. On a per capita basis, St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce than any city in the nation and boasts of former world barbecue champion Super Smokers among other purveyors of outstanding barbecue. He added that the influence of molasses is readily apparent on their sauce. It’s also apparent that savvy diners keep track of where the Smokehouse will be parked. In the time it took us to finish our lunch, dozens of diners had queued up and ordered food either to go or to consume at one of La Cumbre Brewing Co’s shaded picnic tables.

3 June 2017: In that time, the most frequently ordered item appeared to be the Burqueno Cheesesteak (smoked prime rib with grilled onions, green chile and Asadero cheese on a toasted baguette). In this town only the transcendent green chile Philly from Philly’s N’ Fries is even in the same ballpark as this behemoth sandwich. Several elements make this a special sandwich. First and foremost, it really is made with prime rib, not some inferior cut of beef. That prime rib is lightly smokes so as not to detract from the native deliciousness of that cut. Secondly, the green chile actually bites back. You probably won’t be reaching for water (unless you’re from Colorado), but you’ll definitely get a little endorphin rush. Third, the toasted baguette is courtesy of Albuquerque’s premier bakery, Golden Crown Panaderia. No one in this town knows bread as well as Pratt and Chris Morales.

BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich

3 June 2017: On the date of our inaugural visit, the Smokehouse menu featured six sandwiches, each served with a side item (your choice of cole slaw, potato salad or kettle chips).  Roasted green chile can be added to any barbecue sandwich for a dollar more.  It’s a very worthwhile investment especially with the BBQ beef brisket sandwich (smoked beef brisket on a bed of cole slaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet BBQ sauce on a toasted bolillo roll.  This is a very good sandwich with contrasts (the crunchy, tangy cole slaw and the sweet sauce, for example) which work very well together.  The brisket is shredded into tender tendrils of moist, juicy beef.  True to its genesis, the St. Louis style sauce is very much on the sweet side.  Thankfully other elements provide a nice counterbalance.

3 June 2017: For lesser appetites, the Smokehouse offers “pint” sized barbecue sandwiches for about half the price of the standard-sized sandwiches.  These pint-sized treasures are available in your favorite meats (brisket, pork, chicken).  A vegetarian-friendly sandwich christened the Bella (balsamic-glazed portabella mushrooms on a bed of coleslaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet sauce on a toasted bolillo roll) is another superb option.  The balsamic glaze imparts vinegary notes that work very well with the sweet sauce.  The portabella mushrooms have a meaty texture and earthy flavor, but it’s just a bit obfuscated by the sauce. 

Pint-Size BBQ Bella Sandwich with Potato Salad

On Wednesday, 3 October 2017, the mobile smokehouse with a siren-like appeal launched a brick-and-mortar operation in the cute big red barn that previously housed Kasey’s Restaurant & Pub on Washington about a mile south of Central.  For Katie, who once worked in the food truck on a 103-degree day while nine months pregnant, getting out of the elements is a blessing.  A larger venue also means she and Chris can expand their menu to showcase bodacious barbecue that just can’t be contained in a mobile kitchen.  Visit the TFK website and you’ll notice the restaurant’s full appellation is TFK Smokehouse and Art Barn.  In addition to culinary arts, Katie is exhibiting  paintings of her “beautiful friends” which hang on the wall.  Reminiscent of the Talking Fountain gallery, the entire venue showcases art in various mediums. 

Though the brick-and-mortar restaurant will attract new guests, habitues of La Cumbre Brewing Co. consider Saturday, October 14th a day which will live in infamy. That’s the last day the TFK Smokehouse rolled onto the familiar parking lot to feed cerevisaphiles.  Many of them will be making the ten mile trek to experience their familiar favorites at a new location.  Occasional specials such as the Burqueño Cheesesteak are now part of the daily menu.  Oh, and what a menu!  It’s got everything from salads and sandwiches to smoked meat by the pound to bbq platters.   For those of us who love our meats slathered in sauce, the Smokehouse now gives you a choice of four sauces: Carolina BBQ, Tangy Cider BBQ, Green Chile BBQ and a Sweet BBQ.  You can also order a flight of all four or enjoy the meats san sauce.

Barbecue Brisket Nachos

27 October 2017: Joining me during my inaugural visit to the barbecue barn were my great friends Bill Resnik and Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, both tough critics when it comes to barbecue.  Ryan has been smoking meats for years and has visited many of the prestigious pantheons of Texas barbecue.  The Land of Enchantment’s barbecue hasn’t impressed him much.  Similarly Bill prefers smoking his own meats though he has an affinity for Powdrell’s barbecue sauce.  The TFK Smokehouse would have to be pretty darned good in order to impress these two.  It is!

27 October 2017:  Six appetizers adorn the menu–everything from lemongrass chicken satay to fried asadero mac n’ cheese bites.  While all are tempting, our ebullient server steered us toward the special of  the day, brisket nachos.  Great choice.  Picture a creamy asadero cheese sauce, house-pickled jalapeños, scallions, and some of the most tender and delicious brisket you’ll find all piled onto deep-fried flour tortillas cut into triangle shaped chips.  These are some of the very best nachos in town with every component a perfect complement to the others.  Asadero is a great choice for a cheese sauce, a mild tasting, nicely melting cheese with a pleasant acidity and fresh flavor.  The pickled jalapeños have a nice balance between sweetness and piquancy.  The star of these nachos, however, is the brisket which is redolent with fruit wood smoke.  Each tender tendril of brisket is moist and delicious.

The Smokehouse Reuben

27 October 2017:  Our server was two-for-two in the recommendations department.  When we queried him about the pastrami used on the Smokehouse Reuben, he explained that a recent guest said the Reuben should win a Nobel prize and that the pastrami is smoked on the premises though it’s brined elsewhere.  The menu describes the Smokehouse Reuben as “a pile of TFK smoked pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, grilled onions and housemade Russian dressing on toasted marble rye.”  Pile is a good term.  The sandwich is generously endowed with some of the very best smoked pastrami you’ll ever have.  The smokiness is tempered by the tangy, assertive sauerkraut and a delicate Russian dressing on a fresh marble rye canvas.  The most prevalent flavor is that of the pastrami.  Everything else is supporting cast, but the type of supporting cast which should win awards (maybe not a Nobel prize, but…).

27 October 2017:  Bill’s inaugural selection, the meatball platter with two sides, also proved a winner, too, though the sweet sauce is practically lacquered on each meatball and virtually covers the bottom of the plate.  The meatballs themselves are terrific, fashioned from housemade smoked pork tenderloin and bacon.  They’re fork tender, moist and just a bit smaller than a ping pong ball.  The appetizer menu offers an alternative meatballs option, smoked pork chile cheese meatballs, which shouldn’t be quite as sweet.  Bill raved about his Caprese salad side though he couldn’t find much mozzarella in it.

Meatballs Platter with French Fries and Caprese Pasta Salad

27 October 2017: Ryan’s meal choice was the three-meat combo featuring brisket, pork and baby back ribs, all prepared to Ryan’s liking.  He appreciated the meatiness of the baby back ribs.  All too often you have to commission a search party to find much meat on baby backs.  These ribs also have a nice bark and an obvious smoke ring, very endearing qualities on any barbecued meat.  Ryan also loved the brisket, the Lone Star state’s favorite barbecue.  Both the brisket and pork are cut thick with flavorful fat left on–again as it’s often served in Texas.  Nary a disparaging word was heard at our table as three tough critics all certified TFK Smokehouse barbecue as very, very good.

From among the four sauces, there was consensus as to the one we enjoyed least.  That would be the sweet sauce which we all found to be almost cloying.  Ryan and I enjoyed the Carolina mustard sauce with its tangy kick while Bill was partial to the tangy cider BBQ sauce (which even reminded him of his cherished Powdrell’s sauce).  Neither of us discerned any heat at all in the green chile sauce, but at least it wasn’t cloying.  Consensus was also decreed that none of the meats needed sauce.  That’s one of the signs of truly great barbecue.

Three Meat Combo

More than most Albuquerque area restaurants, the TFK Smokehouse does a terrific job of posting on its Facebook page what it’s daily specials are (including tempting desserts none of us had room for).  Alas, the page also includes photos of some of the featured fare.  It’s food porn that’ll have barbecue aficionados salivate with lust.  That lust is justified.  The TFK Smokehouse was one of the city’s very best food trucks.  Now it’s one of its very best barbecue restaurants.

TFK Smokehouse
400 Washington Street, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-8668
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 October 2017
1st VISIT: 3 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: BBQ Bella Sandwich, Burqueño Cheesesteak, BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, Coleslaw, Potato Salad, Baked Beans, The Smokehouse Reuben

TFK Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Matanza Beer Kitchen in Nob Hill

At school, whenever I heard the word matanza, hog butchering,
My face warmed up with joy and my heart beat a happy sound.
It was a heavenly time for me.
Images of sizzling chicharrones, crisp, meaty cracklings and
Fresh, oven-baked morcillas, made my mouth water.”
~Hoe, Heaven and Hell by Dr. Nasario Garcia

For young boys growing up in rural New Mexico in the 60s, one of the rites of passage signifying our transition from childhood to young adulthood was being asked to participate in the matanza.  As one in a succession of life’s progressions, working a matanza was an even more important milestone than being allowed to order the “Teen Burger” instead of the “Mama Burger” at A&W.  Among other things, it meant adults now trusted us not to get in the way, to follow orders to the letter and perhaps more importantly, not to shed tears for the “guest of honor” we helped raise from suckling piglet to fatted hog. 

It would be disingenuous of me to say I ever got over the gory sights and smells of slaughtering what were essentially pets we’d nurtured just for that purpose.  Fortunately those memories don’t haunt me as much as my heart is warmed by the wonderful memories of time spent with family.  A matanza is so much more than a rite of massage.  It is a time-honored tradition, a festive occasion in which friends and family gather together to celebrate the changeover from harvest season to winter’s early arrival.  It’s a way of life.  Reading Dr. Nasario Garcia’s inspiring tome Hoe, Heaven, and Hell: My Boyhood in Rural New Mexico rekindled so many wonderful experiences of growing up in Peñasco and being around matanzas since about the age of six. 

Matanza’s commodious dining room in the Nob Hill Restaurant

When it was announced that a new restaurant to be called the Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen was to launch in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, those memories flooded back.  Despite the beer hall-kitchen appellation, I entertained faint hopes that it would be some sort of pantheon of porcine perfection, a memory-inducing milieu that would recall the matanzas of my youth.  As more information trickled down, it was obvious the true spirit an tradition of the matanza would not be relived at this Matanza.

Instead, the Albuquerque Journal‘s pansophical retail reporter Jessica Dyer divulged that Matanza would feature “progressive New Mexican food” with a menu showcasing such contemporary interpretations as “blue corn duck tamales, tacos stuffed with ground Kobe beef and blue cheese crumbles, or even kale-and-wild-mushroom blue corn enchiladas.”  Moreover, she revealed, Matanza would spotlight only New Mexico beers (more than 100 on tap) and wines.   Hmm, that doesn’t sound like any matanza in which I participated though enough beer and wine might evoke a familial spirit in some crowds.

The Trifecta

Matanza is located in a cavernous 5,500 square-foot edifice which previously housed a retail boutique.  Situated on the corner of Central and Wellesley, it has the advantage of being at the heart of heavily trafficked Nob Hill and the challenge of providing close proximity parking.  Matanza is the brainchild of restaurant impresario and chef Peter Gianopoulos whose footprint in the Duke City dining scene includes Q Burger in the downtime district and the UNM area’s Brickyard Dive.  His restaurants tend to be avant-garde and fun with food guests really seem to enjoy.

To hard-line traditionalists, the terms “contemporary” and “progressive” are often seen as pejoratives. Some view restaurants taking such approaches as stabbing at tradition. Others argue that not every cuisine needs to evolve and New Mexican food especially is perfect just the way it is. Call it the “anti Santa Fe argument,” a reference to the progressive Southwest fusion cuisine movement of the 1990s that made it fashionable to meld New Mexican ingredients, particularly chile, with other cuisines.

Fideo Carbonara

Matanza is a perfect restaurant for those of us who respect tradition, but don’t consider it blasphemous to try something new and different.  My own grandparents might not recognize the melange of heretofore untried ingredient combinations, but they were open enough to have tried them and would probably have found many of them not just acceptable, but delicious. My millennial nieces, on the other hand, would welcome (if they noticed them at all) the innovations, especially if they looked good on a selfie.

25 October 2015: The trepidatious at heart might want to start with something at least vaguely familiar, something they can find at many New Mexican restaurants. The Trifecta is that familiar starter, a triumvirate of New Mexican appetizer favorites: house guacamole, roasted green chile salsa and queso blanco.  If that sounds pretty blasé for a supposedly leading edge restaurant, you’ll quickly note that the Trifecta is served with a variety of tostadas (chips) and chicharrones. Though the salsa and queso somewhat obfuscate the salty-fatty flavor of the chicharrones, the smooth, buttery guacamole pairs well with them. Only the salsa has much of a bite.

The Matanza Experience

25 October 2015: In a New Mexico meets Italy twist that works surprisingly well, Matanza offers a Fideo Carbonara entree that may have you doing a double take. Instead of pasta made from thin noodles (usually vermicelli or angel hair pasta), this dish is made with a thicker, longer pasta (probably spaghetti) and served in a concave bowl with Ponderosa-Cabernet braised pork belly with red chile, snap peas, toasted pinon, fresh basil and aged Parmesan. As with its Italian counterpart, this is a sinfully rich dish that has the added benefit of red chile’s delightful heat. Considering the liberties taken with one of my favorite traditional Italian dishes, it made a very good impression on me.

27 January 2016: For the entirety of the eighteen years I worked for a Fortune 50 company whose corporate values include “risk-taking,” I was never asked to organize a team outing that included a restaurant meal. For many of my colleagues, venturing outside the Chili’s, Applebee’s, Olive Garden comfort zone was apparently too much of a risk. That’s not the case at the University of New Mexico where my new colleagues enjoy venturing away from the “usual suspects” and experiencing new culinary adventures. When asked to organize a retirement dinner for a beloved colleague, my choice was Matanza, a restaurant none of them had visited. Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head the minute we walked in when our server greeted us with news that the venting system wasn’t functioning and we’d be limited to ensaladas (salads), horno flat breads and some appetizers. Not to be deterred, our intrepid group made the best of a potentially bad situation and merrily ordered dishes we otherwise would have skipped over in favor of entrees.

Albuquerque’s Second Matanza, This One on the West Side

For several of us, that meant horno flat breads, a lovosh-like thin pizza. Matanza offers five flat breads, each named for a different area of the city: The Nob Hill, The Old Town, The Valley, The West Side and The Heights. Whether or not the flat breads are intended to represent the personality of the areas they represent can be debated. What’s not up for debate is that they’re delicious. My choice was The Valley (crispy pork belly, chiffonade pear, candied Las Cruces pecans, poppy seed-dressed micro cilantro and goat cheese) which I ordered not because of any particular affinity for that part of town, but for the interplay of flavors. The chiffonade pear and candied pecans, for example, provided a sweet contrast to the slightly sour and wonderfully pungent goat cheese. The crispy pork belly provided the smokiness and flavor of thick bacon.

25 February 2016: Because their inaugural experience at Matanza had been so enjoyable, the team asked me to organize another event a few weeks later at “our table.” It surprised me to see how familiar some of them had become with the menu, the result of several visits (five by Louella and Chuck) on their own. With a full menu available to us, we cut a wide swathe through entrees theretofore untried. Three of us planned to compare notes on the blue corn duck tamales. Alas, Mr. Murphy determined to dampen my experience. When asked about my entrée, my tongue-in-cheek response was “this is the worse blue corn duck tamale I’ve ever had.” That’s because our server delivered black and blue label tacos (Kobe beef, melty bleu cheese crumbles, crispy onion strings and housemade New Mexico-style hot sauce) instead of the coveted tamale. Rather than send them back, I sought to enjoy them though when you’ve got your heart set on duck tamales, it wasn’t easy. There are several enjoyable elements to the tacos, but the Kobe beef wasn’t one of them. Kobe beef makes a great steak, but may be a bit too oleaginous for tacos.

Big Dipper

Matanza West

In September, 2017, Matanza launched its second restaurant, this one on the burgeoning west side.  Located in the space which previously housed Vernon’s Open Door and before that the Stumbling Steer and even Quarters, Matanza West has nearly twice the space as its elder sibling with 10,000-square-feet and a capacity of some 300 guests, not including a sprawling patio.  In addition to  100 local craft beers, wines and other drinks, an expansive kitchen allows for a menu twice the size as its predecessor.   You’re bound to find a thing or ten you’ll like.  After you’ve perused the soups and salads, you’ll come across a menu called Matanza Smokehouse.  This section of the menu is described as “Matanza’s secret spice rubbed pecan wood smoked or slow roasted all natural cruelty-free meats.  Served with fresh flour tortillas, Matanza barbecue sauce and choice of two sides.  Add Caesar Limon or soup or cup of soup…” 

15 October 2017:  Among the appetizers available only at Matanza West is the Big Dipper, an Ursa Major-sized platter large enough to feed a family of four.   Picture green chile spinach and artichoke fondue; white bean and Chimayo chile hummus; Spanish olive, caper and piñon tapenade all served with homemade pita chips and flatbread.  Though the pita chips and flatbread are tailor-made for scooping, we would have preferred soft pita bread on which we could spread the three dips.  We would also have preferred chile with more bite, especially on the fondue.  The tapenade was our favorite of the three dips, a flavorful melange of ingredients which work so well together, especially the sharp, tangy capers and woodsy piñon.

Cream of Peppercorn Elk and Wild Mushroom Soup

15 October 2017:  My adovada adoring Kim, a purist about her favorite New Mexican dishes, was not very happy with the creative liberties took with a dish showcasing a quadrumvirate of items.  In Matanza’s defense, a plate named The Matanza Experience didn’t promise traditional New Mexican authenticity.  Instead of carne adovada, the plate offered pulled pork adovada.  There’s a big difference, the latter being more akin to a barbecue entree (and indeed, a smoky barbecue sauce is provided).  The plate also included smoked ribs, pork belly and chicharrones, none prepared as you’d find them in a New Mexican matanza.  That doesn’t make them bad, just different.  Viva la differencia. The pecan-smoked ribs have a caramelized bark and very endearing sweet-smoky-piquant notes.  The crispy pork belly and its smoky, bacony properties are noteworthy.  The four items are served with “artisan” tortillas: flimsy, floppy, waifishly thin tortillas with little substance.  Two sides are also served with this dish.  Make one of them calabasitas, some of the very best in town.

15 October 2017: The Matanza menu includes “Soups Del Corazon,” soups from the heart, six exemplars of why soup is a comfort food favorite.  We had only one, but will return for other such as the calabasitas bisque and lamb posole with Hatch green chile and Mexican oregano.  If the cream of peppercorn elk and wild mushroom soup is any indication, Matanza’s soups are enchanting elixirs for whatever ails you. Quite simply, it’s one of the very best mushroom soups we’ve ever had–comparable to the one we make at home (don’t tell my Kim). Its depth of flavors is well balanced between the earthy wild mushrooms and their rich umami qualities and the clean, healthful flavor of elk seasoned not too assertively with peppercorn. A cup of this sumptuous soup isn’t sufficient. A pho-sized bowl would be perfect.

High Desert Fried Steak

15 October 2017: Hoping lightning would strike twice, I ordered the High Desert Fried Steak (country-fried sirloin, elk and mushroom cream gravy, red chile Cheddar mashed taters and braised greens). Alas, no good deed goes unpunished. The elk and mushroom cream gravy, while quite good, isn’t as memorable as the peppercorn elk and wild mushroom soup. It’s a hearty, thick gravy served hot and it covers the entire steak which itself is fork-tender and flavorful. It’s also as big as a western saddle so you’ll be taking some home. Ask for a side of the gravy for your mashed potatoes which otherwise lean toward the dry side. The braised greens are terrific.

Matanza, the restaurant, may become a tradition in much the way matanzas have been part and parcel of life in New Mexico for generations.

Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen
3225 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 312-7305
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 February 2016
1st VISIT: 25 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Trifecta, Fideo Carbonara, Matanza Adovada, The Valley (Flatbread), Black & Blue Label Tacos, Calabasitas,

Matanza Beer Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen
3700 Ellison N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-6753
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cream of Peppercorn Elk and Wild Mushroom Soup, The Matanza Experience, High Desert Fried Steak, The Big Dipper

Matanza Beer Kitchen West Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Desert Valley Brewing – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Desert Valley Brewing on Ellison in Albuquerque’s Burgeoning West Side

Every time a new brewery launches in the Duke City,  aficionados of quaffing ales, lagers and stouts celebrate another venue where they can slake their thirsts. The media, on the other hand, always seems to ask one question: “Is Albuquerque approaching a “saturation point?,” meaning can the market sustain another brewery. Cerevisaphiles will tell you this is just an alarmist “sky is falling” media seeing the (beer) glass overfull and creating yet another sensational headline.  In any event, the answer seems to be a resounding no.  In that respect, Duke City brewing trends mirror those of other cities throughout the fruited plain.

There are more craft breweries operating today than at any point in the fruited plain’s glorious history–about a thousand more than the previous all-time high set in the mid-1870s.  Within a decade after the Civil War there were some 4,000 breweries operating in America, serving a population of plus-or-minus 45-million.  That’s an astounding one brewery for roughly 11,000 people.  With 5,000 breweries operating across the fruited plain as of the end of 2016, the number of breweries as a proportion of the population is one brewery per 65,000 people based on a population of 325-million.  If the same number of breweries per capita matched that of the mid-1870s, there would be nearly 30,000 breweries across the United States.  So, yes, there’s room to grow.

Waffle Nachos

In 2015, the state’s breweries produced nearly 70,000 barrels of beer, an increase of more than 10,000 barrels over the preceding two-year period.  As of September, 2016, the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department counted 67 breweries in the Land of Enchantment.  That seems to indicate the state’s brewery industry is performing well with no surcease in sight.  Even those of us who don’t imbibe adult beverages find something to like about purveyors of pilsners.  A Yelp search indicates there are fifteen pages (at ten listings per page) of brewery-restaurants in the metropolitan Duke City area.  Even more impressive is the number of brewery-restaurants rated four stars or higher.  Perform a yelp search for “new restaurants” and invariably, a large number of new restaurants listed will be brewery-restaurants.

September, 2017 saw the launch of Desert Valley Brewing, a brewery-restaurant on Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side.  Desert Valley occupies the southwest corner of the familiar edifice which previously housed such short-lived ventures as Quarters BBQ, Stumbling Steer and Vernon’s Open Door.  (Is it just my imagination or does Desert Valley resemble UNM’s famous Pit…er, Dreamstyle arena?)  The northwest corner of the sprawling complex is home to Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen which showcases more than 100 New Mexico only beers and wines.  For aficionados of adult beverages, visiting this area is akin to a shopping center for their favorite beers.  Duke City diners will also find much to love at both venues.

Granola Parfait

Seating options include a capacious dog-friendly patio with plentiful shade for those sultry summer days and an interior space with a long bar and televisions tuned to sporting events.  Our inaugural visit was on an early Saturday afternoon when brunch was featured fare.  We had hoped to partake of the more intriguing lunch-dinner menu with such tempting teases as green chile meatloaf and carne adovada nachos (alas made with cumin).  The kitchen is helmed by Chef Dakota McCarthy, a graduate of the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale Arizona.  The brunch menu is replete with mostly calorific “breakfasty” items served in portions large enough to sustain some of us for an entire day.

Watching platters of food destined for other tables convinced us this brunch wouldn’t be our usual two entree, one appetizer and maybe a dessert experience.  No, we would have to share everything (not that we don’t already do that).  Our appetizer, the waffle breakfast nachos (waffle pieces, tortilla chips, bacon, sausage, black beans, avocado, cherry tomatoes, scallions, Cheddar and Jack cheese, three eggs cooked your way) served with salsa and sour cream) validated our approach.  Perhaps indicative of the brewery-restaurant’s newness, our server forgot the salsa, sour cream and syrup for the waffles.  They’re an important component of this mammoth platter.  Without the syrup, you’ll find yourself extricating the waffle triangles and wishing they were slathered in sweet syrup.  Make sure you order your eggs over easy so the lovely yellow oak can coalesce with everything else on this “but the kitchen sink” appetizer.

Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter

My Kim certified the Granola Parfait as the best she’s ever had in Albuquerque (though in my estimation, The Shop is nonpareil in the granola department).  Served in a large goblet, this parfait showcases a house-made brewer’s granola, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and berries.  The Greek yogurt is uncharacteristically (but very much welcome) sweet, a nice foil for the sweet-tart berries which burst with flavor when you bite into them.  The brewer’s granola is superb mixture of rolled oats, nuts and honey which crunches nicely when you bite into it. 

The menu offers an inviting chorizo biscuits and gravy entree (probably large enough for a family of five), but all we could manage was an order of buttermilk biscuits with honey butter.  The biscuits are light and fluffy and about the size of an Olympic discus.  The sweet honey-butter is a perfect complement to the natural savoriness of the biscuits.   

Whether or not the Duke City is approaching a brewery saturation point, the Desert Valley Brewing Co. is poised to become a favorite for cerevisaphiles and foodies alike though you should be forewarned that if you consume the entirety of your meal, you may not be able to eat again for a day or so.

Desert Valley Brewing Co.
3700 Ellison Road, Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 899-8494
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Granola Parfait, Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter, Waffle Nachos

Desert Valley Brewing Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe 6855 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe 6855 on 4th Street

The cover page of the May 20, 2013 edition of Time Magazine depicts a twenty-something woman sprawled on the floor taking a selfie. In large type above the photo is the caption “The Me Me Me Generation” subtitled with “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” If you believe the monolithic label “millennial” (typically assigned to a person born between 1981 and 2001) defines all young people and that popular characterizations and stereotypes about millennials are accurate, perhaps you’ll be interested in an oceanfront piece of real estate I’m selling in Arizona. If your perceptions of young people skew toward the negative, let me introduce you to Victoria and Julian Gonzales.

Victoria and Julian are among the 80-million millennials across the fruited plain. As with many millennials, they’re technologically savvy, very civic-minded and conscious of health, environmental and socioeconomic issues. They’re confident and driven. They’ve got exceptional work ethics and value social connectedness very much…and not just online Both are very outgoing and friendly. They’ve had to be. We’ve known Victoria and Julian since they tagged along with their charismatic dad Michael as he launched Café Bella, his then-fledgling coffee empire in Rio Rancho. We’ve watched them grow not only into very accomplished baristas who’ve served me hundreds of red chile mochas, but into extraordinary young adults with good heads on their shoulders. To say we’re very fond of them is an understatement.

Left: Our beautiful server and friend Victoria Gonzales and her sister…er, mom Tiffany

Until recently, Victoria, a full-time student at the University of New Mexico somehow managed to put in as many as sixty hours in her two part-time jobs (Café Bella and Joe’s Pasta House).  When she moved on to another job, we missed seeing her perpetually smiling face, always effusive greeting and nonpareil ability to prepare the perfect red chile mocha. Fortunately, her new job is as a hostess and server at Café 6855 on North 4th.  It’s not much further from Cafe Bella for us and it’s got a capacious, but intimate dog-friendly patio.  Our inaugural visit to the Cafe was a happy reunion in that we were well taken care of by Victoria and got to visit with her mom Tiffany and grandmother Mary Ann who were also visiting Cafe 6855 for the first time.  It’s easy to see where Victoria and Julian get their good looks and winning personalities (okay, Michael may have had a little to do with that as well).

Cafe 6855 is the sister restaurant to Vernon’s Speakeasy, a highly touted steak restaurant which has garnered local and national recognition as New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant.  Its name is derived from its address (6855 4th Street) where it shares space with its elder sibling.  More precisely, Cafe 6855 is located in the space which previously housed Prime and before that the Calico Cantina & Cafe.  Cafe 6855 is open daily for lunch and serves a fabulous brunch on weekends, but in the evenings and at night, the cafe space and patio become part of Vernon’s.  At the Cafe, you can even order Vernon’s steaks at lunch and brunch

Carolina Chicken Salad

Instead of a large menu, Cafe 6855 focuses on a few items and if our inaugural experience is any indication, they’re prepared extraordinarily well.  By the way, when you dine al fresco, especially with a dining companion as charming and outgoing as our debonair dachshund Dude, you get to know everyone on the patio.  There was consensus among the dozen or so people enjoying the patio as to the high level of deliciousness to which we were all treated.  Those of us who ordered the breakfast enchiladas (more on them later) were especially enthralled with our choice.  One diner even offered a thousand dollar bribe to get the recipe for the chile.  It would have been a bargain at that price.

The lunch menu (noting that all items are subject to change and availability) is segmented into four sections: Soups and Side Salads, 6855 Sandwiches, Salads and Cafe Specialties.  Then there’s the dozen item brunch menu which features items you might find at other purveyors of eye-opening brunches.  In other words, outwardly the menu has no surprises.  What is surprising, however, is just how good your meal is prepared.  Moreover, there’s enough variety to warrant frequent return visits (that is, if you can get past those breakfast enchiladas).

New York Steak with Eggs, Toast and Fruit

There are four salads on the lunch menu, each intriguing in its own way.  The most unique offering is the Carolina Chicken Salad (fried chicken, pickled okra and red onion, chopped tomato, shredded cheese, candied bacon and pecans, with romaine tossed with a spicy honey mustard vinaigrette). This is the antithesis of every boring chicken salad you’ve ever had (and I’ll bet most of them were probably constructed with cold chopped chicken).  You’ll probably want to pluck the fried chicken out of the salad and eat it on its own, but it goes very well with the other ingredients, perhaps marrying best with the candied bacon and pecans.  The spicy honey mustard vinaigrette is slathered on generously, a huge plus.

In the Land of Enchantment, two ubiquitous breakfast favorites reign supreme and have done so for a long time. New Mexico’s two most beloved—some would say beatified–breakfast items are breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. Breakfast tacos (not talking here about the Texas-style taquitos at Whataburger) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, breakfast enchiladas have played third and fourth fiddle to their breakfast brethren. Café 6855 may just change your mind about to order for breakfast and brunch. The brunch menu offers the very best breakfast enchilada we’ve ever had, a beauteous behemoth that covers an entire plate. Picture three rolled enchiladas engorged with your choice of chicken or seasoned ground beef and cheese covered in a blanket of red or (and) green chile and two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications. Trust me, you’re going to want these enchiladas “Christmas” style. Red and green are equally terrific with a nice balance of piquancy (a little too much heat for my Kim) and flavor (sheer lick-the-plate deliciousness). These enchiladas are so good you’ll probably polish them off even though they’ll fill you up halfway through your meal. If you’re going to leave anything on the plate, it’ll probably be the pinto beans which are quite good, but the star of this dish is clearly the enchiladas. 

Breakfast Enchiladas with two eggs

My Chicago born-and-bred bride of three decades thought she might be disappointed with the brunch entrée of strip steak and eggs, figuring that a fifteen dollar steak could hardly compete with the high priced steaks she’s had at Vernon’s. Okay, so the steak wasn’t prime beef, but it was eight-ounces of well-seasoned, nicely-marbled beef as tender and delicious as we’ve had at several higher priced chop houses. Served atop the steak is an herbaceous compound butter which you can spread onto the beef. It’s a nice touch! The steak is served with two eggs your way, seasoned papas, fresh fruit and toast. The small, cubed papas are a worthy accompaniment though you’ll probably want even more than you’re served.

It goes without saying that service was flawless with Victoria taking care of our every need and brightening our day with her smiles and charm.  Seeing her was the reason we visited Cafe 6855.  Outstanding food and service are two of the many reasons we’ll return.

Cafe 6855
6855 4th Street, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 341-0831
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 October 2017
# OF VISITS:  1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Carolina Chicken Salad, Breakfast Enchiladas with Two Eggs, New York Steak with Eggs

Cafe 6855 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Seared – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Seared on San Pasqual in Albuquerque’s Old Town

While you might not be able to judge a book by its cover, sometimes a book title will resonate deeply and you know you’re going to enjoy reading it very much. That’s especially true when a book title warmly reminds you of nostalgic memories long buried in your past. Such was the case when I espied Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood by award-winning raconteur Regi Carpenter. That title aptly described daily life for the long suffering Peraltas, our childhood neighbors in Peñasco. Mama Peralta, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, was such a scatterbrained cook that she used the smoke alarm as a timer. She didn’t sear meat, she cremated it. Even the cockroaches at the Peralta home ate out. So did her children who had more meals at our kitchen table than they did at home.

“Wait,” you ask, “isn’t searing a technique practiced by great chefs?” In the hands of the right person, searing is indeed a culinary technique used to build deep savory flavors. Searing meats, chicken, fish and other proteins at high heat caramelizes their surfaces, imparting a deep-brown crust, especially on thick cuts. Searing crisps the skin on fish and imbues pork chops and other animal proteins a deep layer of flavor in a short amount of time. Alas, Mama Peralta’s idea of searing meat involved heat that was much too low (which allowed her to focus on the marathon phone call sessions in which she engaged at around meal prep time). As a result, the inside of the meat cooked at the same rate as the outside, resulting in very little browning, a zombie-gray pallor, ”carne seca” texture and a perpetually disappointed (and hungry) family.

The Dining Room at Seared

For entirely different reasons, a visit to Seared, a high-end American bistro on San Pasquale Avenue in Albuquerque’s Old Town, also reminded me of our deliciousness-deprived neighbors. At Seared we experienced the type of deliciousness our neighbors never enjoyed when Mama Peralta practiced her unique brand of meat mummification and her family prayed after they ate. Perhaps divine intervention would have occurred had the Peraltas lived on a street named for the patron saint of cooks and kitchens. Then again, Mama Peralto often used the San Pasqual retablo hanging on her kitchen wall as a place to drape dish towels (we could never understand why she needed dish towels when all meals she prepared were served on paper plates).

Seared is located on southwest side of the weirdly confusing, labryinthic Old Town intersection in which Lomas Boulevard meets Central Avenue and San Pasquale crosses both. Getting there is a challenge, but your patience will be rewarded—just as it was more than a decade ago when Jennifer James–then a relative newcomer to the Duke City–plied her craft at the then occupant, Chef DuJour. More recently, the “plain Jane” edifice has been the home of Cheese & Coffee, a popular purveyor of specialty sandwiches, made-from-scratch soups and crisp, fresh salads. Habitues of Cheese & Coffee can still get their favorite sandwiches at the tried, true and trusted San Pasquale location. They just won’t be able to get them after 3PM.

Fried Asparagus with Green Chile Ranch Dressing

Since late-August, 2017, at precisely 3PM, the 2,100-square-foot space begins its daily transformation from simple sandwich shop to Seared, an upscale American bistro “with a French and Italian twist.” The metamorphosis takes an hour during which white linen tablecloths are draped over dining room tables, silverware is laid out meticulously, moveable walls are rearranged and even the art is changed out. The art, by the way, includes colorful portraits of some of your favorite characters from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Signage is also changed out, a relatively easy feat considering there’s no flashy neon or LED involved.

Seared is the brainchild of Jan Barringer-Tenchipe and her husband and business partner Alejandro. Jan has owned the San Pasquale location of Cheese & Coffee for seven years, but with the notorious Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project having proven deleterious to business, she decided to offer Duke City diners another reason to visit the beleaguered Old Town area. Besides that, she and Alejandro had wanted to work together for a while. Seared aptly describes Alejandro’s cooking style, a style he honed in upscale and fine-dining restaurants throughout the city. During our inaugural visit, both Jan and Alejandro checked up on us several times. Their hospitality and commitment to great food and impeccable service is genuine and one of many reasons we’ll be back.

French-Cut Pork Chop

Another reason, of course, is the menu, a compelling bill-of-fare that defies ordering quickly. You’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to order. Everything listed is appealing. Should you visit on Sunday for brunch, you’ll have two equally enticing menus from which to choose–an intriguing brunch menu and the sumptuous daily menu.  We opted for the daily menu, reasoning that we now have an excuse to return on a lazy, brunchy Sunday afternoon.  Another excuse, not that one is needed, is a pleasant dog-friendly patio with plenty of shade behind the restaurant.  You’ll want to peruse the herb garden where such fresh ameliorants as rosemary, basil, parsley and more can be found.

What surprised us most about the menu is how relatively inexpensive each entree is considering the generous portion size and quality of preparation.  This is fine-dining at near cheap-eats prices.  The appetizer menu ranges from salmon crudo to encrusted brie and a cheese platter offering a diversity of local and imported fromage.  The soup and salad menu includes one of the best described chopped salads we’ve seen on any menu.  If it tastes as good as it reads, it’ll be a hit among Duke City diners.  Entrees showcase all your favorite proteins: pork, beef, chicken and fish.  There’s also a vegetarian entree which just might convert some of us carnivores.

House Cut Loin Steak

It took us nearly ten minutes to decide which appetizer to request. Our choice, the fried asparagus served with a green chile ranch is a winner.  Lightly coated in a tempura batter, the half-dozen asparagus spears are firm and crisp with none of the stringiness you find in poorly fried asparagus (Mama Peralta).  Though addictive on their own, the housemade green chile ranch dressing elevates the fried asparagus to the “must have” appetizer level.  The green chile ranch isn’t as piquant as the one now offered at Dion’s, but it, too, is so good it should be bottled and sold.  Seeing a generous portion of the green chile ranch remaining after we had polished off the asparagus made it easy to decide what dressing would be gracing the salad accompanying my entree.  The salad, an old-fashioned dinner salad with fresh, crisp greens, croutons, cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots is terrific.

Often when unable to choose from two equally evocative entrees, I ask our server to surprise me, always assuring him or her that either choice will make me happy.  The slow-braised French-cut pork chop made me very happy indeed.   As with proteins which are “Frenched,” the meat is cut away from the end of the chop so that part of the bone is exposed, essentially giving it a built-in “handle” which makes it easy to pick up and eat.  Another portion of the pork chop is roughly six-ounces of artfully prepared, absolutely delicious porcine perfection.  The chop is positioned atop a creamy, delectable grain mustard sauce that’s been tempered a bit so as not to obfuscate the delicate flavor of the pork.   The chop is served with a mound of rich potatoes au gratin and a fennel apple salad that rings with freshness. This chop competes with the bone-in pork chop at Mykonos Cafe for “best in town” honors.

German Chocolate Cake

My Kim’s house cut loin steak proved equally formidable, reminding us of the many times we enjoyed loin steak in England.  Though usually basted with chimichurri sauce, Kim asked that it be served on the side.  No sauce was needed.  Sliced thinly into medium-rare visions of pink pulchritude, the loin steak was fulsome and flavorful with a rich beefy flavor.  The herbaceous notes imparted by the chimichurri appealed to me, but my Kim is much more a purist than I when it comes to the flavor of beef.  Accompaniment for this terrific steak came in the form of roasted red potatoes and calabasitas (a substitute for broccolini).  Both are equal to the task of sharing space on a plate with that magnificent loin steak.

Jan is the baker in the family though Alejandro wishes she prepared her German Chocolate Cake more often at home.  It’s simply the best German chocolate cake I’ve ever had at any restaurant, equal to the version made by my not-at-all Teutonic mom.  One of the things we appreciated in this cake is that it is served at room temperature, not obviously thawed to order.  The coconut-pecan frosting is slathered on generously, but not so much that it overwhelms the delicate chocolate cake itself.  Another surprise we enjoyed is the sweet-tart raspberry jam spread atop the frosting.  It’s goodness on top of goodness.  The portion size is very lavish.  Call it a sizeable slab of sumptuousness.

Sorbet Trio: Mango, Lemon and Raspberry

For my Kim, the perusal of a dessert menu stops and ends when she espies sorbet.  Her excitement is in triplicate when a sorbet trio is available.  Seared’s sorbet trio features three of her favorites: mango, lemon and raspberry.  All three flavors are fresh, lively and delicious with the icy coolness you appreciate most when temperatures are unseasonably warm.

Seared is one of the very best reasons to make your way to the Downtown area.  Jan and Alejandro aim to please and their aim is certainly true. 

Seared
119 San Pasqual, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 999-8414
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Fried Asparagus, French-Cut Pork Chop, House Cut Loin Steak, German Chocolate Cake, Sorbet Trio
REVIEW #999

Seared Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pollito Con Papas – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pollito Con Papas on Gibson Just West of Louisiana

I think a rotisserie is like a really morbid ferris wheel for chickens.
It’s a strange piece of machinery.
We will take the chicken, kill it, impale it and then rotate it.
And I’ll be damned if I’m not hungry because spinning chicken carcasses
make my mouth water. I like dizzy chicken.
Mitch Hedberg

Comedian Mitch Hedberg may have meant it in a funny vein, but it’s no joke that Americans are finding rotisserie chickens  not only sexy and sumptuous, but convenient, flavorful and oh, so easy to prepare.  The latter three were reasons most cited by consumers for liking rotisserie chicken.  In 2015, the National Chicken Council survey estimated that 900 million rotisserie chickens are sold each year in the United States, a number that’s expected to exceed one billion by 2018.  According to Lohud, a trade publication, nearly 700 million of those birds will be sold in supermarkets. At $5 a pop, that’s $3.5 billion in sales.

Since 1980,  the per capita consumption of poultry–and not just rotisserie chicken–in America has increased significantly.   According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Chicken Council, Americans are eating more chicken than ever.  The per capita consumption of chicken has risen from 48 pounds in 1980 to an estimated almost 91 pounds in 2017, an increase of more than 75-percent.  This increase is attributed to consumers desiring to eat leaner proteins.

Monica and Rene Coronado, The Heart and Soul of Pollito Con Papas

In the coastal nation of Peru, restaurants and roadside stands featuring pollo a la brasa (an entire chicken prepared on a rotisserie charcoal oven) are as ubiquitous and beloved as burgers are in America.  In the world culinary stage, this is significant because Peru (yes, Peru!) has been widely recognized by the cognoscenti as a delicious dining destination and a culinary trend-setter.  In fact, Frommers Travel Guide recently proclaimed Lima, Peru as the “top food and drink destination for 2012,” declaring that “Lima is now drawing a new flock of visitors who travel all the way to Peru just to eat.” Peruvian cuisine. In 2005, Bon Appetit declared Peruvian “the next hot cuisine,” extolling its “vibrant ceviches, crispy, spiced rotisserie chickens and packed-with-flavor empanadas” then encapsulating its declaration with “this is one cuisine we could eat every day.” 

What’s surprising is not that the culture-rich cuisine of a small, multi-ethnic nation rarely on the world’s stage is receiving such acclaim, it’s that it’s taken so long.  Peru’s culinary traditions, after all, began in pre-Columbian times. Peru was home not only to the oldest known civilization in the Americas (the Norte Chico civilization flourished as early as the 30th century BC) but later to the largest civilization in the Pre-Columbian Americas–the Incan empire.  Immigration melded the culture and cuisine of the Spanish, Basque, African, Moorish, Sino-Cantonese, Japanese and in the 19th century, the Italian, French and British with Peru’s indigenous peoples, the descendants of the pre-Incas and Incas, to combine the flavors of four diverse and distinct continents.

Chimichanga engorged with Peruvian-style chicken

With our typical “land of mañana” attitude, Albuquerque hasn’t been as quick to embrace Peruvian cuisine as have larger American metropolitan areas–not that we’ve had much opportunity.  In the year Peruvian was declared “the next hot cuisine,” the Duke City’s first (and only) Peruvian restaurant both opened and closed.  Albuquerque–you’ve got a second chance!  In 2011, Rene and Monica Coronado launched Pollito Con Papas on the southeast intersection of Broadway and Avenida Cesar Chavez.  In August, 2012, the Coronados moved their restaurant to Gibson Avenue, just east of San Pedro.  The specialty of the house is Peruvian style chicken.  It’s addictive!

The Coronados have the pedigree to make this delicious concept work.  The vivacious Monica is originally from Peru.  Her face practically glows with pride as she discusses the cuisine of her place of birth and the successes of her family in the restaurant business.  One cousin owns the fabulous and famous El Pollo Rico Restaurants in the Arlington, Virginia area.  El Pollo Rico is one of the highest rated rotisserie chicken restaurants on the entire East Coast where Peruvian style chicken has been all the rage for years.  One of her brothers, Enrique Servan is the chef at Restaurante Serrano a highly regarded Peruvian-Spanish fusion restaurant in Berlin, Germany.  Chef Servan is considered an ambassador to the world for Peruvian cuisine and has been pegged to showcase Peru at the 2017 Peru to the World Expo in New York City.

Half a Chicken with Fries

The Coronados are new to the restaurant business, but they did a lot of homework prior to launching their eatery.  Before embarking on their restaurant venture, the couple visited Peru (where Rene admits to having gained 12 pounds on one visit).  There Rene visited several rotisserie chicken restaurants, gleaning as much information as he could from the owners.  Because local ordinances in Peru tend to be somewhat more liberal than those in America, Rene quickly recognized he would have to modify his method of  preparing rotisserie chicken.  He wouldn’t, for example, be able to bring onto the premises and use the 18 outdoor grills–ranging from smokers to barrel-style–he used for years to prepare chicken in his backyard. 

One area in which the Coronados don’t have to compromise in the least is in the uniquely wonderful marinades and sauces used in the preparation and serving of the chicken.  More impressively, they do not serve frozen poultry–apparently an anomaly because city inspectors were nonplussed  over the fact they had never before seen a restaurant launch its operation without a freezer.  Each chicken is simultaneously brined and marinated for at least ten hours in a bath of several ingredients (vinegar, cumin, salt and pepper are discernible, but that constitutes fewer than half the ingredients in the marinade).  The chicken is served with a creamy light green Ahi sauce of medium-piquancy and maximum addictiveness.   If the ahi sauce doesn’t have enough heat for you, the terrific staff at Pollito Con Papas can bring you  sauce made with the incendiary rocoto chile.  For true volcano-eaters, an even more combustible chile piquin is available, but only those of us with asbestos-lined tongues can handle it.

Boneless thighs–marinated for eight hours

The entire Pollito Con Papas menu is comprised of whole chickens; boneless, skinless marinated chicken thighs; fresh, hand-cut wedge fries with ketchup; chicken- or vegetarian-style potatoes; and chicken engorged chimichangas all served with that wondrous green sauce.  By design, the restaurant does not serve tortillas, pico de gallo, or other popular New Mexico extras.  Rene’s objective is “to keep it super simple but incredibly delicious.”  “We just give our customers a taste and explain how our chicken is prepared and how we are able to provide a delicious meal at a reasonable price due to the fact that we have minimal waste. Where else can you feed four people good quality food for less than ten dollars a person-our price includes tax.” Where else indeed?

Pollito Con Papas’ new home as of August, 2012 is in a much more heavily trafficked street and in a much more capacious building with generous parking than its predecessor.  One thing that won’t change is the friendliness of the affable owners.   When my friend Ryan Scott, the dynamic host of the galluptious Break the Chain YouTube program and I discuss what we love most about mom-and-pop restaurants, near the top of the list is the warmth and hospitality of mom and pop themselves.   The Coronados didn’t need years of restaurant experience to understand this formula very well!  It comes from the heart!

Boneless/Skinless Grilled Thigh with Chicken Stuffed Potato

Consider the chimichangas your appetizer. Reminiscent of egg rolls on steroids, the chimichangas are sliced diagonally and are engorged with the restaurant’s wonderful marinated chicken.  There’s no scrimping on the chicken which is so very finely chopped that the chimichangas become very dense and tightly packed.  You’ll want to deluge the chimis (an Arizona diminutive) in the Ahi sauce or maybe one of the other sauces only New Mexican fire-eaters will appreciate. 

The half-chicken–breast, wing and thigh–is an even better way to enjoy the marinade in which the chickens are prepared. The lengthy marinade process ensures deep penetration of flavors so it’s not just the skin which absorbs the ten ingredient melange of flavors.  The brining and marinade process ensure every single bite is redolent with deliciousness while the process of slow-cooking makes a moist, delicious, non-greasy and very healthy chicken that doesn’t rely solely on salt for its flavor (as grocery store rotisserie chicken tends to do).  The fact that each chicken is fresh and never frozen further seals in flavors and gives the chicken a texture you won’t find in poultry previously frozen (which tends to become desiccated after thawing).  The accompanying papitas are fresh and hand-cut on the premises.  They’re Texas thick and golden hued, better with the green sauce being a better condiment than the ketchup. Peru, by the way, is where potatoes were first domesticated.  There are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru today so it stands to reason Pollito Con Papas fries are among the very best in Albuquerque.

Lomo Saltado

8 May 2017: The boneless, skinless marinated thighs are a best bet for bone-phobic diners.  Chicken thighs, not breasts as is the common misconception, are the most moist, tender and flavorful piece on a chicken.  These thighs are oh so mouth-watering moist and the flavor profile is a nice balance of spiciness, savoriness, and peppery qualities with discernible hints of sweetness and tanginess, too.  The discernment of flavors is an adventure in pure deliciousness.  French fries aren’t the only papas with which those wondrous chicken breasts.  The chicken stuffed potato is an amazing marvel of culinary creation–poultry perfection enveloped by seasoned mashed potatoes all nestled under a coarse cassava breading. Texturally, the exterior is somewhat reminiscent of tater tots while the fluffy interior is cloud-like and creamy at the same time. These stuffed potatoes are in a class of their own.  Vegetarians appreciate the vegetarian stuffed potatoes, easily the best in Albuquerque.

8 May 2017: Make sure to follow the restaurant’s Facebook page to find out what the specials on Thursday and Saturday are.  Consider yourself blessed if that special is Lomo Saltado an exemplar of the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine. A century or more before Asian fusion cuisine became a culinary fad, Chinese immigrants arrived in Peru looking for work. They integrated their own culinary techniques and ingredients to Peru’s diverse culinary vernacular. The most visible aspect of the Chinese influence on the Peruvian table is Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian stir-fry. The bravado of this dish is that it dares offer two starches–rice and potatoes–in one dish, a juxtaposition Americans might find a bit strange. This hybrid stir-fry is made with thinly sliced beef, tomatoes, peppers and onions blended in a pan with soy sauce and get this, French fries (another Peruvian passion). It’s a very interesting dish made even better with the Peruvian condiments (ketchup need not apply).

Seco de Pato with Yuca and Rice

16 September 2017:  Rene congratulated me on being the first guest ever to try a new special, seco de pato with yuca and rice.  If my inaugural experience is any indication, this is a very special special.  Interestingly the term “seco” translates from Spanish to “dry,” but this decadent duck is anything but dry.  Seco de pato is a duck stew prepared with cilantro, Peruvian yellow pepper and Peruvian spices served with a side of white rice and yuca.  As with all confit duck dishes, the unctuous duck fat penetrates deeply into the rich, delicious duck meat (and by the way, there’s no such thing as white meat in duck).  The spice blend elevates the duck flavor, imbuing it  with even more finger-licking personality.   Even after polishing off the duck, there’s plenty of sauce left with which to enjoy the white rice.

16 September 2017:Picarones may resemble donuts, beignets and even onion rings, but they’re uniquely wonderful and addictively delicious.  Known as “Peruvian donuts,” these golden-hued rings are made from sweet potatoes and squash then drizzled with fig syrup.  Consider it heresy if you will, but picarones are better than just about any American donuts you’ll find.  Texturally, they’re a delight to eat with a crispy exterior which contrasts perfectly with the doughy interior.  Then there’s the fig syrup–sweet, but not cloying.  Because the picarones themselves are on the savory side, the syrup imparts match made in heaven qualities.

Picarones

16 September 2017:  My beverage of choice during my first four visits was Inca Kola, a yellowy, sweet, slightly fruity carbonated beverage which invites you to “immerse yourself into a micro vacation.”  As with RC Cola, it’s a terrific departure from the usual Coke and Pepsi suspects.  Perusing the menu, I saw that Pollito Con Papas also offers Peruvian chicha, a purplish-black beverage made with Peruvian purple corn and infused with pineapple, lime and apples as well as cloves and cinnamon.  When the weather turns colder, chicha is served hot.  It’s the perfect winter beverage, but it’s equally delicious any time of the year.  As with the stuffed potatoes, chicha is a process- and time-intensive item to prepare, a labor of love so to speak.

In its October, 2014 issue, Women’s Day magazine named Albuquerque as home to one of the country’s up-and-coming food scenes. Taking input from Yelp, the magazine evaluated cities with a large proportion and variety of highly rated new restaurants, delis, grocery stores and other purveyors of comestibles. The article didn’t cite the usual suspects in the pantheon of outstanding New Mexican restaurants. Instead, Women’s Day touted a “handful of new Peruvian, Costa Rican and Cuban spots” which have “reenergized local palates.” Three Duke City restaurants were singled out: Pollito Con Papas, Guava Tree Cafe and Pasion Latin Fusion.

Inca Kola at left, Peruvian Chicha at right

A Nogales native, Rene joined the Air Force several decades ago in hopes of being able to travel across the globe.  The Air Force sent him to Kirtland Air Force Base, a few hundred miles away.  He’s been in the Kirtland neighborhood ever since.  Among his most faithful and most frequent guests are officers and airmen from Kirtland, some of the finest gentlemen you’ll ever meet…which reminds me it’s time for a very special public service announcement:

The Team Kirtland Home Away from Home sponsors “Adopt an Airman,” a terrific program that matches first-term Airmen and enlisted students at Kirtland Air Force Base with volunteer civilian host families. For many of these outstanding young men and women, it can be their first time away from home and families can offer friendship, mentoring and engagement with larger groups. Host families provide home-cooked meals, recreational activities such as Lobo or Isotopes games, recreation such as hiking, fishing, or golf. Families and airmen are matched based on mutual interests. If your family is interested in adopting an airman, visit the Kirtland Home Away From Home site to learn more and apply.

There is nothing fancy about Pollito Con Papas. It has none of the over-the-top veneer, flash and panache of the well-financed corporate chains. What it does have is a wonderful product–likely the very best chicken you’ll have in New Mexico. This is four-star quality food prepared by very nice people and served in the most humble surroundings. Whether you order it for take-out or enjoy it at the tiny eatery, the operative word is enjoy and you WILL enjoy it immensely.

Pollitos Con Papas
6105 Gibson, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-765-5486
Web Site
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LATEST VISIT: 16 September 2017
1st VISIT: 26 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $
BEST BET: Boneless Thighs, Half Chicken, French Fries, Chimichangas, Inca Kola,  Lomo Saltado, Seco de Pato, Peruvian Chicha, Picarones, Pomegranate Cheesecake, Chicken Stuffed Potato

Pollito Con Papas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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