Cafe Laurel – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe Laurel on Central Avenue Just East of Old Town

To anyone else,” my Kim joked “the name Café Laurel is just a cute name probably chosen because the owners like laurel leaves. To you the name has to mean something.” She reminded me of the hours I spent dissecting former President Bill Clinton’s statement “It depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is.” “You’re too literal. You don’t just want to know what words mean. You need to know why they’re used.” “But,” I retorted “laurel leaves aren’t just a leafy plant. Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte fashioned “crowns” out of laurel leaves, probably,” I surmised “because laurel leaves were more comfortable than the heavy, bejeweled metallic crowns that may have been the reason for the adage “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” She rolled her eyes.

Sure,” I argued “the owners of Café Laurel may have had nothing more in mind when naming their restaurant than they liked the laurel plant, but the implication of the name Laurel means a lot more.” “How did you arrive at that conclusion,” she asked. I explained that “in ancient Greece and Rome, laurel leaves were used to fashion wreaths that were presented to those achieving the highest levels of success, such as winning an event at the ancient Olympics.” I added that “the Bible imputes such traits as fame, success and prosperity to the laurel. So, the implication is that this is a restaurant which has earned victories and honor in the culinary field.” She ended our discussion with “ask a stupid question...”

The charming, verdant interior of Cafe Laurel

If you’re wondering why my long-suffering Kim puts up with such a literal guy, it’s probably because I take her to restaurants such as Cafe Laurel–restaurants which really do earn accolades and plaudits. She can put up with my etymological analysis because when it comes down to it, she enjoys a date night every time we go out (or so she tells me). In any regard, Café Laurel’s exterior signage facing Central Avenue, is festooned with painted laurel leaves directly below the restaurant’s name. Inside, the restaurant is awash in greenery—hanging and potted plants everywhere you turn. It makes black-thumbed people like me green with envy that others can coax plants to grow so lushly. Talking to our plants at home has never worked for me, probably because as my Kim reminds me “they don’t understand your big words either.”

In May, 2018, Café Laurel will celebrate its third anniversary of serving the neighborhoods sandwiched between Old Town and Downtown on historic Route 66. Its pedigree, however, goes back quite a bit further than those three years. So do several items on the menu. If Café Laurel inspires a little déjà vu, it could be because some of the dishes—and certainly the hospitality—are reminiscent of Christopher’s, a beloved Old Town institution co-owner Ken Faber’s mom ran for nearly two decades in the 1970s and ‘80s. Ken owns and operates Café Laurel with his lovely bride Debi. Ken’s 28-year career in corporate chains serves him well on busy days when orders come in like a fusillade of shots. Debi runs the front of the house. Both are very friendly and accommodating.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Macaroni Salad

For the versatile among us who enjoy breakfast items for lunch and burgers for breakfast, Café Laurel is a dream come true. You can order anything on the menu any time of day. Sadly this means 8AM to 3PM Tuesday through Friday and 9AM to 2PM on Saturday and Sunday. The menu isn’t especially large, but it offers good variety of mostly American and New Mexican favorites. You may want to get there early or you might miss out on the daily quiche or daily special. Breakfast favorites include omelets, huevos rancheros, burritos and crepes. Warm sandwiches—served with your choice of macaroni salad (curry-based), Greek salad or chips—include several standards and others which should be. Meatless enchiladas, vegetarian sandwich and a number of salads are available. Sweets and treats seem to go quickly.

When my friend and frequent lunch companion Bill Resnik invited me to Café Laurel, he didn’t extol the variety of the menu. Bill is a pretty monogamous guy. When he finds something he loves (such as his beautiful bride Tish), he sticks with it. During his own inaugural visit to Café Laurel, he fell in love with the green chile cheeseburger (listed on the menu as “burger”; make sure to ask for the green chile). This is a behemoth between buns: two Angus beef patties prepared to your exacting specifications (medium rare if you want the optimum in juiciness), lettuce, tomato and red onion on a grilled roll with mustard and ketchup on the side. Every burger should be this good! The green chile has both the roasted flavor and piquancy aficionados demand. The two Angus patties protrude beyond the confines of the buns. Every ingredient (even the tomatoes) is fresh. The grilled roll is formidable enough to contain all the juiciness though it’s a definite four- or five-napkin affair.

Chicken Salad Salad

So impressed was I by the green chile cheeseburger that a return visit was quickly imminent. My Kim and our debonair dachshund The Dude had to experience Café Laurel, too. As we were to learn during our ninety minutes at the restaurant, this is a favorite restaurant for four-legged children. Because Café Laurel doesn’t have any appetizers per se, we gravitated toward the salads section of the menu. We were relieved for a change to find these are the salads of yore, not the seemingly de rigueur newfangled salads with their candied pistachios, dried cranberries and vinaigrette du jour. We hadn’t had a chicken salad salad in a long time and Café Laurel’s version beckoned. A meant to be shared plate of white meat chicken, celery, chopped pecans, Cheddar cheese, Mandarin oranges, tomato, cucumber, hard-boiled eggs on greens was picture perfect, impeccably fresh and delicious. The way it was designed on the plate actually resembled three salads. Instead of being jumbled together, ingredients were splayed neatly in three sections of the plate: right, left and center. That’s the way we ate the salad.

In a recent comment posted by Sarita, a good friend of this blog (and someone with whom I hope to someday have the honor of breaking bread…or tortillas, pita, lavosh, etc), she highly recommended several items on the menu, lavishly praising the roast beef (not thinly sliced…very tender). She recommended the Toasted RB (roast beef, Cheddar, green chile and mayo on a grilled roll). Not in a green chile mood, my Kim opted instead for the cleverly named Adobe Brick, a brick-sized sandwich she would later praise as “one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in Albuquerque.” So what’s in an Adobe Brick? Picture thickly sliced, tender roast beef; sour cream, Provolone, grilled mushrooms and red onions on grilled sourdough. This is truly a sandwich for which all ingredients work in multi-part harmony. From the umami of the sour cream and mushrooms to the mellow mildness of the Provolone, this sandwich will enrapt your taste buds. Sourdough is the perfect canvas for a sandwich that needs absolutely nothing else.

Adobe Brick, a Magnificent Sandwich!

You might not think a restaurant named “Café Laurel” would prepare some of the very best red chile in town, but it does! It’s not the most piquant or earthy red chile you’ll find, but more than most red chiles, it’s got a deep, rich flavor profile that will remind you that chile is technically a fruit. No, it’s not overly sweet, but it’s got sweet, mellow notes and a deep roasted flavor. That wondrous red chile crowned my plate of enchiladas (layered flat corn tortillas with chile and Cheddar and a garnish of chopped tomatoes and lettuce) with a flour tortilla and papitas on the side. The pool of yellow yoke mingling with the red chile is enjoyable from the perspective of both esthetics and deliciousness. The flour tortilla, of course, is essential because it forms “New Mexican spoons” where you fold bite-sized bits of the tortilla into a repository into which you can spoon in the other elements of this enchanting enchilada. It’s a meatless enchilada, the type of which Catholics will appreciate during Lenten Fridays.

On every table at Cafe Laurel, you’ll espy handmade snail-mail ready postcards which you’re invited to fill out and send to a friend. Cafe Laurel will even mail them for you and in exchange for completing a postcard, you’ll get a free beverage card. Being the over-analytical type, I was stumped by the Twitter-like hashtag “meetmeatlaurel” referenced on the postcards.  Why, I wondered, would Cafe Laurel use a hashtag extolling its meat (meet meat). Sure their burgers and sandwiches use high quality meat, but… It took Kim about one second to figure out the hashtag actually read “meet me at Laurel.” Some genius I am, huh?

Enchiladas!

Cafe Laurel was a “Best of the City” winner in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual readers’ poll for 2016. It continues to earn its laurels and shows no sign of resting on those laurels. With its legacy and people-pleasing proprietors, it’s a restaurant that should be great for a long time.

Cafe Laurel
1433 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 259-2331
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 February 2018
1st VISIT:: 2 February 2018
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Green Chile Cheeseburger, Enchiladas, Chicken Salad Salad, Adobe Brick
Restaurant Review #1025

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

El Farol – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Farol on Canyon Road in Santa Fe

For over a quarter century, the most popular section in New Mexico Magazine (the nation’s oldest state magazine, by the way) has been a humorous column entitled “One of Our Fifty is Missing.” The column features anecdotes submitted by readers worldwide recounting their experiences with fellow American citizens and ill-informed bureaucrats who don’t realize that New Mexico is part of the United States. Some travelers from other states actually believe they’re leaving their nation’s borders when they cross into New Mexico. Others think they need a passport to visit (not that they’d visit considering they’re wary of drinking our water.) Merchants and banks throughout America have been known to reject as “foreign credit cards” American Express and Visa cards issued by New Mexico banking institutions.

Sometimes you have to wonder if “one of our fifty is missing” applies also to American History textbooks. As an unabashedly proud New Mexican of Spanish descent, I always wondered why public schools taught impressionable students that America’s history was the exclusive domain of the thirteen colonies. You would think this great country’s history began when the pilgrims descended on Plymouth Rock. Seemingly unbeknownst to history books was all the history transpiring across the Land of Enchantment decades before the heralded pilgrims. For every “oldest this” or “first that” attributed to one of the thirteen colonies, there was already something significant older or precedent in the Land of Enchantment–with few exceptions, one being restaurants.

Dining Room at El Farol

Unlike the urban east, New Mexico was largely rural and agrarian with farms producing just enough to feed the families that tended to them. Being much more urban, it makes sense that the thirteen colonies are the domain of the quaint colonial restaurants. Seven of the ten oldest restaurants in the fruited plain reside in the states representing the red and white stripes festooning the flag. Among the most venerable is Boston’s legendary Union Oyster House which opened its doors as a restaurant in 1826, almost ninety years before New Mexico joined the union. Even the Union Oyster House, however, is a youngster compared to Newport, Rhode Island’s White Horse Tavern, circa 1673. As for the Land of Enchantment, numerous online sources (including the restaurant itself) will tell you the oldest restaurant in the state is Santa Fe’s El Farol.

In 1835–twenty-six years before the American Civil War and eight-seven years before New Mexico joined the union— La Cantina del Cañon, a saloon dispensing liquor and food, opened its doors on Canyon Road. Instead of the fashionable destination art district it is today, back then Canyon Road was a hard-packed dirt trail flanked by old adobe homes. The cantina was owned and operated by the Vigil family well into the mid-twentieth century. In 1963, it was sold and ultimately rechristened El Farol. Perhaps because of the continuity of having a restaurant at the same spot, it’s been pretty widely accepted that El Farol is the oldest restaurant in New Mexico .

Caldereta de Langosta

While it may be debated as to whether or not El Farol is the oldest restaurant in New Mexico, there many things about El Farol that cannot be disputed. It was once described by the New York Times as “one of the best bars on Earth!” MSN heralded El Farol as “one of the 39 most historic restaurants in America.” From 1985 through April, 2017, El Farol was owned and operated by Hernandez (home to Ansel Adams’ most famous photograph) native David Salazar. In the three decades in which Salazar ran the restaurant, thousands of visitors and locals frequented El Farol. Many came to experience the palate-pleasing creations of Chef James Campbell-Caruso, now chef-owner of La Boca, who ran the kitchen from 1999-2006. This may have been the restaurant’s halcyon period as it garnered numerous James Beard Awards and for a while, had the distinction of being one of the few restaurants west of the Mississippi to offer Spanish tapas. In 2017, the restaurant was sold to Richard Freedman who owns the Santa Fe Teahouse almost directly across the street.

After the change in ownership, El Farol underwent an extensive make-over which focused on preserving the legacy of the restaurant while reinvigorating a venerable institution in need of some spit and polish. Several new coats of paint brighten up the dining room to accentuate the iconic murals painted by former patrons, including one over the bar by Alfred Morang, a distinctive Santa Fe figure and founding member of Transcendental Painting Group. The flamenco dinner show, traditional Spanish tapas, good wine, the romantic garden setting…even the bullets on the floor remain though the menu did undergo a transformation of its own.  It’s a menu that reads like a fine novel, one you can’t put down.

Ensalada de Otoño

As you’re perusing the menu, your server will ferry over a plateful of lavosh (Armenian flatbread) and a bowl of olive oil.  For my Kim, olive oil alone doesn’t cut it; she has to mix it with Balsamic vinegar.  At El Farol this is a good thing.  The Balsamic vinegar has the viscosity of motor oil and sweet-tart notes that will delight you.  The olive oil is also of high quality.  The versatility of lavosh is such that it can be served soft like a tortilla or hard like a cracker.  El Farol’s rendition is cracker-like, but it has nicely absorptive properties and picks up the olive oil-Balsamic vinegar very well.

For years, my Kim has eschewed every seafood-based soup I’ve ever encouraged her to try. This includes some terrific cioppino in San Francisco, bounteous bouillabaisse in Boston and even the magnificent seafood bisque at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. She loved the caldereta de langosta (a Majorcan lobster stew made with sofrito, onions, tomatoes, garlic, preserved lemon and Marcona almond gremolata) at El Farol!  While sipping this luscious stew, we reviewed the ingredient list and were amazed that we could not only discern each component, but that they all worked so well together in a “no stars all stars” fashion.  This is a soul-satisfying elixir sure to remedy whatever ails you.

Aguacate

The “Starters” menu lists both cold (frio) and hot (caliente) options.  Among the former is a gluten-free autumn salad (ensalada de otoño) which packs some of my favorite all-season salad ingredients into one decoratively appointed plate: caramelized squash, pickled beets, dried blueberries, charred red onion, citrus, toasted pepitas, aged goat cheese, black kale and a goat cheese dressing.  It’s a multi-ingredient, multi-colored, multi-textured, multi-napkin affair, one of the very best salads in the City Different.  Among the stand-out components were the sundry citrus fruits including juicy slices of grapefruit and orange.  The toasted pepitas and dried blueberries lend textural contrasts while the pickled beets and caramelized squash provide interesting flavor counterbalances.

Several items on the menu have simple, one-word names that belie the complexity of the items for which they’re named.  One such example is the Aguacate which translates from Spanish to “avocado.”  A fruit high in healthy fats, avocados are versatile and delicious though all too often not used creatively.  El Farol flash fries a ripe, fat avocado  stuffs it with pico de gallo and drizzles it with a lime crema.  It may sound like a strange combination of ingredients, but they actually go together very well.  The pico (red onion, tomato, green pepper) is lively and fresh while the lime crema lends a citrusy tang to the proceedings, but it’s the flash-fried. lightly battered avocado which shines most.  As with most avocados at their peak of ripeness, it’s buttery, unctuous and rich.  Make sure each forkful has a bit of each component to maximize your enjoyment of this terrific dish.

Cerdo

My Kim’s entree choice was the Cerdo, a one-word descriptor which translates from Spanish to pork.  The Cerdo (pork tenderloin sandwich with bacon, Idiazabal cheese, avocado, arugula and fig mustard on rustic bread), served with pork cracklings and fries is one of the better pork sandwiches in Santa Fe.  Though its unique elements shine, this is one of those sandwiches which is the sum of all its parts.  All those parts work together as if they have always belonged together, but it took a chef genius to figure it out.  You’re probably curious about the Idiazabal cheese and rightfully so.  It’s not often used in these parts.  Idiazabal cheese is a Basque cheese made from sheep’s milk.  It inherits a sweet, aromatic smoke from the way it is stored and has a taste somewhat reminiscent of caramel and burnt caramel.  The fig mustard is both sweet and sharp like a Dijon.  The pork is tender and moist.

With so many other entree options available, I joked with our server about the propriety of ordering a burger at a restaurant such as El Farol. With a wink, he urged me to do so, confidently boasting that El Farol serves the very best burger in Santa Fe. Considering the City Different is home to such peerless purveyors of mouth-watering burger indulgence as Santa Fe Bite, the Counter Culture Cafe and Cowgirl BBQ (to name just a few), that’s a pretty audacious statement. El Farol’s burgers, he explained are eight-ounces of ground beef impregnated with bone marrow and brisket. That must account for just how moist, juicy and absolutely this multi-napkin burger is.

Hamburguesa El Farol

There are actually two burgers on El Farol’s lunch menu–the Hamburguesa El Farol and the Hamburguesa Santa Fe.  The latter is El Farol’s version of a green chile cheeseburger which not only includes Hatch green chile, but green chile toasted buns between which are also nestled avocado, Cheddar and bacon.  Despite these enticing ingredients, my contrarian appetites steered me toward the Hamburguesa El Farol (eight-ounces of ground beef, Balsamic onion jam, Manchego cheese on toasted brioche).  What a great, great choice!  Make no mistake about it, what makes this burger special is the ground beef.  It’s ground steak in all its glory–rich, beefy and a perfect canvas for the sweet-tangy Balsamic onion jam, caramelized onions tinged with velvety, complex sweetness.  The Manchego also has sweet, nutty notes, but they’re wholly different than those of the onion jam.  Worthy accompaniment for this behemoth burger is a field greens salad.

El Farol’s dessert menu is a mix of predictable post-prandial pleasures (such as churros and a selection of artisinal cheeses) and unique creations heretofore unexplored.  In perusing the dessert menu, our eyes quickly fixated upon a dessert reminiscent of the fabulous citrus cake we enjoyed so much at Jake’s in Palm Springs.  The Limon Brazo de Gitano (rolled sponge cake, lemon cake, raspberry meringue, raspberry caramel, candied pistachio) was a real surprise, especially the interplay of the sweet-sour lemon and juicy, slightly sweet taste of raspberry.  The rolled sponge cake is ethereal in its lightness and elevated to greatness with lemony swirl.  The candied pistachios impart flavor and textural contrasts as well as palate cleansing between bites of sweet and citrusy deliciousness.

Limon Brazo de Gitano

El Farol translates from Spanish to “the lantern” and indeed, this landmark restaurant and cantina is a veritable welcoming beacon of warmth and light, a refuge from worldly cares.  It’s what El Farol was destined to be.

El Farol
808 Canyon Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 983-9912
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET:

El Farol Restaurant & Lounge 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.

Salmon Crudo

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.

French-Cut Pork Chop

17 September 2017: 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. 

28 January 2018: In Japan, until some three decades ago salmon was eaten only cooked or grilled.  That meant no salmon sashimi, salmon sushi or salmon crudo.  Wait, aren’t salmon sashimi and salmon crudo the same thing?  Both involve mastering the art of raw fish, but that’s where the similarities stop.  Sashimi is about appreciating the purity of masterfully sliced fish while crudo, an Italian term, is very ingredient-driven.  Seared’s appetizer menu includes a salmon crudo (citrus-cured salmon, pickled onions, carrot salad, wasabi aioli and soy ginger sauce) dish that’s not only beautiful, but is constructed from ingredients which work so very well together.  The mild-flavored, pink-fleshed salmon is neither too rich or oily and it sings neath the wasabi aioli and soy ginger sauce.  It’s meant to be eaten with the carrot salad which is garden-fresh and lively under the same saucy influences.  Together this starter is a great way to start a meal at Seared.

House Cut Loin Steak

17 September 2017: 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.

17 September 2017: 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. 

Grand Slam Chicken

28 January 2018: When used in the context of  food, the term “grand slam” may inadvertently trigger thoughts of Denny’s grand slam breakfasts, a pick your favorite four-item array of breakfast favorites.  Visit Seared for Sunday brunch and you’ll never again associate grand slam with Denny’s.  Seared’s Grand Slam Chicken (thick chicken fried chicken nestled in two fluffy, homemade buttermilk biscuits along with a molten blanket of Cheddar, crispy sliced bacon all topped country sausage gravy) will forever be your favorite grand slam breakfast.  This sumptuous sandwich reminds your humble blogger of the Charleston Nasty Breakfast from the Hominy Grill in South Carolina and if you read my review, you’ll see just how highly I think of that sandwich.  Served alongside the grand slam chicken are some of the best roasted red potatoes in town.  Not only are they perfectly roasted, they’re flecked with rosemary which imparts invigorating freshness.

28 January 2018: When Chef Alejandro ferried the Filet De Boeuf (an eight-ounces of local, grass-fed beef, roasted red skin potatoes and red onions, asparagus, red wine demi-glaze reduction and roasted garlic butter)  destined for my Kim’s side of our table, I almost reached up to intercept it.  The Chef’s mastery of meats and complementary sauces is in rarefied air.   An artistic stacked food plate on a white background is how professionals do it, but a pretty meal doesn’t always translate to a delicious one.  This one is both beautiful and delicious.  Prepared at medium-rare, the filet is tender, juicy and tasty as well as devoid of any extraneous fat and sinew.  The red wine demi-glaze is superb, so good you’ll be tempted to lick the plate so as not to leave any.  The roasted red skin potatoes  and red onions are worthy accompaniment as are the asparagus spears.  This is the most expensive item on the menu, but it’s well worth the price.

Filet De Boeuf

17 September 2017: 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.

17 September 2017: 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.

German Chocolate Cake

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: 28 January 2018
1st VISIT: 17 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Fried Asparagus, French-Cut Pork Chop, House Cut Loin Steak, German Chocolate Cake, Sorbet Trio, Filet De Boeuf, Grand Slam Chicken, Salmon Crudo
REVIEW #999

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

Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fire Grill on Osuna

The book of Genesis in the Old Testament explains that after the great flood, God commanded humankind to “increase in number and fill the Earth” (be fruitful and multiply, if you prefer). Instead, humanity decided to do the exact opposite–to build a city with a tower reaching to the heavens where all the population could live so as not to be scattered over the face of the Earth. In response, God “confused” the languages of humanity so they could no longer communicate with each other. As a result, people who spoke the same languages departed and settled other parts of the world…just as God wanted.

You might assume that those of us who served in the armed forces would all share a common lexicon.  Sure, we have a common military alphabet (alpha, bravo, Charlie, etc.) and subscribe to military time (about which Colonel Henry Blake lamented on the television comedy MASH “I wish the Army would tell time like everybody else!”).  Alas, like the gibberish-speaking people of the Tower of Babel, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all have their own jargon. We don’t always understand what our comrades in arms are talking about. That’s especially true among the Air Force veterans among us who “flew a desk.”

Imported Meats, Cheeses, Olives and Almonds Basket

When my friend Jack, a retired Army grunt (an Army and Marine Corps acronym which stands for “General Replaceable Untrained”), recently told me about “pop smoke,” I immediately assumed he was using an Army term this desk pilot doesn’t understand. The term was made doubly confusing because he used it in the context of describing beer and grilling, which I immediately suspected was another Army term. As it turns out “pop smoke” is indeed an Army term. It’s used to describe when troops use smoke to signal an incoming helicopter. Beer and grilling, on the other hand, has no Army connotation other than some of my retired Army friends consume both in mass quantities.

Jack’s association of pop smoke with beer and grilling has nothing to do with his nostalgia for the good old Army days. He was trying to tell me about a recently launched (December, 2017) wood-fired grill and draft house called Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill. Devon is the name of owner Jeremy Dow’s year-old son. Pop Smoke, as you might have surmised, is a reference to the Army term, but more in a peacetime connotation than when used in under hostile conditions. When not under fire, the term “pop smoke” means “let’s get out of here and grab a beer” or “let’s go somewhere to relax.” What do you know? All my years in the Air Force I was popping smoke and didn’t even know it.

Spicy Wild Game Gumbo

The curiously named Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill is located in a suite within a former 28,000 square-foot warehouse-office space on Osuna immediately west of Monroe’s. That entire space is being retrofitted into a lifestyle and restaurant development property. Already such tenants as Breve Coffee and Crepes have moved in with several other eateries slated to open their doors soon. A capacious, dog-friendly patio prefaces the south-facing entry. Step inside and the siren’s call of a wood-fired grill will envelop you. The best seat in the house, in fact, just may be in front of the grill where you can watch the kitchen staff master the flames to concoct something delicious. Alternatively, you can sit in a larger dining room or relax in the upstairs lounge.

Devon’s menu is rather small, but very interesting with some offerings unique to the Duke City. Your eyes will probably gravitate to the red wattle sandwiches on the menu (more on these later). Red wattle hogs are large, red swine with a fleshy, decorative, wattle attached to each side of their necks. These hogs are raised at the Dow family ranch in Chilili and are butchered in-house at Devon’s. The menu also includes some wild game entrees including albondigas with elk, venison and boar. A bevy of adult beverages is available to slake your thirst, but if you have yet to reach adultery, Rocky Mountain sodas (brewed in small batches with love) out of Denver are a very nice option.

Red Wattle Pork Sandwich with Porcini Fries

Devon’s is a rarity among restaurants throughout New Mexico in that it doesn’t offer an appetizer of chips and salsa.  The closest thing to a salsa is a housemade romesco sauce our server called “Spanish ketchup.”  If you’re craving a starter sans sauce, you can’t go wrong with Devon’s imported meats, cheeses, olives and almonds basket (Brie, smoked Gouda, sopressata, wine and lavender roasted olives, rosemary and sea salt roasted almonds, crostini).  The almonds are of the Spanish Marcona variety, a sweeter, plumper almond than most.  The olives are Italian as is the sopressata, a dry salami.  Turophiles will love the textural and flavor contrasts between the smoked Gouda and Brie.  This basket is a winner.

An entree sure to comfort Duke City diners on blustery days is Devon’s spicy wild game gumbo (elk, venison, boar and red wattle with rice and beer bread) made with La Cumbre’s Noche and Bosque’s lager.  For my Kim, this gumbo didn’t have enough file powder (a seasoning made from the ground, dried leaves of the sassafras tree), but in my estimation, the spiciness more than made up for it.  This gumbo has more heat that many bowls of chile served throughout the Duke City.  The elk, venison, boar and red wattle are plentiful and each has a own unique texture and flavor profile (I say this because of past experiences with wild game meats that all tasted the same).

My Kim ordered one of the two sandwiches on the menu in which red wattle pork was the featured protein.  Her red wattle pork sandwich and fries (sliced red wattle pork with grilled pineapple and caramelized onions) entree actually turned out to be two sandwiches.  More specifically, two slider-sized sandwiches.  Though having the circumference of a slider, each sandwich included a skyscraper tall portion of shredded pork with a generous toss of caramelized onions and grilled pineapple.  Devon’s gives you three French fry options from which to choose: garlic fries, salt fries or porcini fries. 

You might not remember the full name of Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill, but you’ll probably find yourself popping smoke to get there. Say “hi” to Jack if you see him there. He likes it so much, he plans on moving in.

Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill
6001 Osuna, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-2829
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Red Wattle Pork Sandwich; Porcini Fries; Spicy Wild Game Gumbo; Imported Meats, Cheeses, Olives and Almonds Basket

Devon's Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho Garden – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Pho Garden in Rio Rancho

It should have been a point-counterpoint debate for the ages. My ideologically opposed and perpetually squabbling friends Carlos and Hien were arguing about the concept of American exceptionalism. Carlos took the Reaganesque position that America is the shining city on a hill. “Everything about America is great,” he proclaimed. “We have the highest standard of living and pretty much the best of everything.” Hien mirrored Obama’s stance that America does not have exclusivity in believing itself to be exceptional. Much like the chasm that divides Congress, neither disputant would concede a modicum of merit in the other’s argument. When it seemed as if this argument would end in another stalemate, Hien pulled out his trump (no, not another reference to a President) card.

There’s one thing about America that isn’t exceptional,” he declared. “American fast food is terrible.” With that point having been made, Carlos, long an advocate of independent mom-and-pop eateries, capitulated. True to form, they then began an argument as to which American fast food franchise is the worse. Carlos singled out Taco Bell as a piteous parody of the Mexican and New Mexican food on which he was raised and in which he takes so much pride. Hien wasn’t as singularly focused in his criticism. In his estimation, all American fast food is terrible. “It’s unhealthy, high in saturated fats and calories and it tastes awful,” he argued. Having just recently returned from his native Vietnam, Hien then made his case by boasting about how poorly American fast food has been received in his homeland.

Papaya Salad with Chicken

“In my hometown of Ho Chi Minh City (the largest city in Vietnam with a population of about ten-million), you won’t find a McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or KFC in every corner,” he began. “Everyone went to McDonald’s when it first opened (in 2014) because we’d heard and read so much about it, but curiosity quickly faded. Most of the menu features fried, high-fat, high-calorie foods. McDonald’s never incorporated local flavors and healthy ingredients into their food. Not only that, but you can get a banh mi for under two dollars and it’s much fresher, healthier and infinitely more delicious than a Big Mac.” Since that first McDonald’s launched in Vietnam, only fourteen others have opened. That’s hardly taking the country by storm. Similarly, Burger King has had to close several of its outlets as have other chains which dominate the American fast food market.

Contrast the poor performance of American fast food in Vietnam with the widespread acceptance and burgeoning popularity of Vietnamese food across the fruited plain and you have what might be termed as a culinary trade imbalance. America certainly got the better end of that deal. The Institute for Immigration Research estimated there were 8,900 Vietnamese restaurants in the United States as of 2014, and that number has been steadily increasing. Vietnamese restaurants across the fruited plain serve not only a Vietnamese-American community of almost two-million people, but an increasing numbers of Americans from all ethnic backgrounds. It seems the only people who don’t like Vietnamese cuisine are those who haven’t tried it.

Grilled Beef Rolls with Grape Leaf

Perhaps the one Vietnamese dish which has gained the most sweeping mainstream acceptance is pho, the traditional, slow-cooked soup many of us already consider a comfort food staple. Culinary cognoscenti believe pho could someday soon follow the path of pizza (Italian), tacos (Mexican), gyros (Greece) and sushi (Japanese) as ethnic foods that have become part of the fruited plain’s mainstream culture. When, not if, pho does ascend to this rarefied air, we can thank such restaurants as Rio Rancho’s Pho Garden for having made pho and other Vietnamese culinary delights so accessible and so delicious.

Pho Garden opened its doors in November, 2017, taking over the spot vacated by Pizza 9 in a small strip mall just recessed off Rio Grande Blvd. Pho Garden is Rio Rancho’s fourth Vietnamese restaurant. My friend Hien suggests perhaps the city should change its nickname from “City of Vision” to “City of Vietnamese Restaurants,” indicating most of the lettering is already in place. The restaurant is fairly small with fewer than a dozen tables in near personal space proximity. Step inside and you’ll likely be greeted by Khan, the effusive owner and a familiar face if you’ve frequented Que Huong, his previous Duke City restaurant venture.

Rare Steak & Well Done Noodle Soup

Unlike at Que Huong and other Duke City Vietnamese restaurants with their compendium-like, multi-page menus (novels), Pho Garden’s menu is limited if you consider 75 items (not counting beverages) to be limited. There’s nothing out of the ordinary in terms of how the menu is organized: appetizers, sandwiches (banh mi), beef-rice noodle soup (pho), Udon-style noodle, noodle bowl, rice dishes and house specialties. Beverages include the usual suspects including durian shakes. The smaller menu is befitting a small kitchen, but it doesn’t translate to smaller portions. Steaming bowls of pho ferried to your table are roughly the size of a swimming pool.

My Kim calls Vietnamese grilled beef rolls wrapped in grape leaf, a Vietnamese specialty offered at Pho Garden, “Vietnamese dolmas.” That there are similarities between the Greek dolma and the Vietnamese grape leaf rolls often surprises people. What shouldn’t surprise anyone is that these starter favorites are an absolutely delicious way to begin a meal at a Vietnamese restaurants. Entirely different than Greek dolmades which are more often stuffed with rice and herbs, Pho Garden’s version features the anise, lemon grass and cinnamon blessed grilled beef encased in a small, tightly wrapped, cigar shaped grape leaf served with a sweet, spicy and tangy dipping sauce. They’re served five to an order.

Combination Beef Noodle Soup

As a naïve child, I probably learned as much about the world from watching Gilligan’s Island as I did in some of my grade school classes. Gilligan’s Island taught me about the versatility of papaya, a fruit theretofore unavailable in Northern New Mexico. Professor Roy Hinkley used glycerol from papaya seeds as an ingredient in a bomb. He used ferric nitrate from papaya root to create an antidote for a deadly mosquito bite. What Gilligan’s Island never taught me is how wonderfully delicious papaya salad is. It’s become one of my very favorite starters in Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. Pho Garden’s version is terrific with sweet, savory, tangy and piquant notes tantalizing and titillating our taste buds. We ordered the version with chicken on which cold-cut type chicken strips were laid out atop the salad with crushed peanuts forming a crown of sorts.

When you visit a restaurant whose name includes the name of the dish in which it ostensibly specializes, you’ve got to have that dish.  While ordering pho at the Pho Garden was a no-brainer, deciding which of the more than thirty pho options to order was a much greater challenge.  My Kim surprised me by ordering the rare steak and well done steak noodle pho.  Before she captured my heart there’s no way she would have ordered something so primal sounding as rare steak.  In truth, the thinly sliced steak doesn’t remain rare for long.  It actually cooks within the steaming beef broth.  And what a broth it is.  It’s rich, delicious and as all great pho should, its presence is preceded by its aroma.

My first choice would have been the spicy Hue style noodle soup, but apparently it’s the favorite of other diners as there was none to be had.  You could hardly call the combination beef noodle soup (rare steak, well done steak, beef tendon, tripe and beef meatball) a consolation price.  It’s a carnivore’s choice with meats of varying textures and flavors.  Beef tendon and tripe are among my favorite pho meats, but it was the beef meatball with its assertive seasoning that garnered most attention.  Served alongside the pho is a plate replete with fresh bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, jalapeños and lime.

The very name Pho Garden has connotations of freshness and deliciousness and indeed, this is one restaurant that lives up to its names.  It’s so good my friends Carlos and Hien might not find anything about it to warrant an argument.

Pho Garden
1751 Rio Rancho Blvd, S.E., Suite 106
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 404-0774
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Combination Beef Noodle Soup, Rare Steak & Well Done Noodle Soup, Grilled Beef Rolls with Grape Leaf, Papaya Salad with Chicken

Pho Garden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Spencer’s Restaurant – Palm Springs, California

Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs

Dean Beck: What do you have against preachers?
Clay Spencer: It’s what they preach against I’m against.
Dean Beck: I’m afraid I don’t understand?
Clay Spencer: They’re against everything I’m for.
They don’t allow drinkin’ or smokin’, card playin’, pool shootin’, dancin’, cussin’ –
or huggin’, kissin’ and lovin’. And mister, I’m for all of them things.
~Spencer’s Mountain

In the family-centric 1963 movie Spencer’s Mountain, hard-drinkin’, hard-lovin’ Clay Spencer (brilliantly portrayed by Henry Fonda) dreamed of building his wife Olivia (the stunning Maureen O’Hara) a beautiful home on a piece of land he inherited on Spencer’s Mountain.  My dream was a bit less ambitious.  My dream was to take my Kim to Spencer’s Restaurant at the Mountain, “one of the all-time great restaurants in the city” according to The Infatuation, an online recommendation service.  To be named an “all-time great” bespeaks of Spencer’s longevity and to the sustained love the Palm Springs dining public has for this treasure set in the historic Palm Springs Tennis Club area at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains just a few blocks west of downtown Palm Springs.

The dog-friendly patio in which The Dude held court

Named after the owner’s dog (an award-winning 110-pound Siberian husky), it stands to reason that Spencer’s would be dog-friendly and indeed it is.  In Palm Springs, our “dog-friendly” experience has come to mean friendly diners making a fuss over our debonair dachshund The Dude.  He could probably run for mayor and win (it would help that he’s almost the same height as Sonny Bono, a former Palm Springs mayor).  No candidate would ever kiss as many babies (or adults) or garner as much bipartisan support (plus, his honesty is refreshingly impeccable).  Two patios–one enclosed by glass but no roof–provide an outdoorsy feel with towering ficus and fig trees providing shade and natural beauty.  Even without our Dude, there’d be no better place to dine at Spencer’s.

Though categorized as a fine-dining restaurant, Spencer’s is synonymous with stylish elegance and comfortable informality, self-described as “Featuring Four Star American Cuisine with a French – Pacific Rim Influence in a Casually Elegant Atmosphere.”  Locals have recognized Spencer’s for having Palm Springs’ Best Sunday Brunch, Best Outdoor Dining, Best Power Lunch, Best Wine List, Best Chef, Best Caterer and Most Romantic.  They’ll tell you “Spencer’s is Palm Springs’ “it” place for any occasion.”  On an average week, Spencer’s draws more than 2,000 guests.

Spencer’s Hot Appetizer Sampler

Lest, I be remiss, Spencer’s serves the very best cup of coffee we’ve ever had at a restaurant, a fragrant blend of pure indulgence and sinful pleasure.  Brewed by Douwe Egberts out of the Netherlands, it’s a combination of strong Robusta beans and aromatic Arabica beans which come together in a symphony of flavor that swaddles you in a cloud of aromatic delight.  Two carafes weren’t nearly enough.  Though Douwe Egberts is available online, we were apprised that Spencer’s has a special (translation: expensive) brewing machine which makes the perfect cup every time.

With  appetizers ranging in price from $12 to $32, Spencer’s Hot Appetizer Sampler is practically a steal–three appetizers for thirty dollars (as of the date of our visit).  We’re not talking about bottom-shelf stuff, here.  This is a winning troika: Chinese Style Kung Pao Calamari tossed with a cilantro sweet and spicy chili sauce, Sauteed Crab Cakes (Maryland blue crab meat with heirloom tomato, lemon butter sauce, capers and tiny greens) and Coconut Shrimp.  Never have we had calamari as tender and fresh.  It was wholly devoid of the rubbery quality some calamari has.  Only one thing was wrong with the sauteed crab cakes and that was that there were only two of them.  Only in Corrales at the home of Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, will you find crab cakes this good.  The coconut shrimp was a bit on the unremarkable side, but the same could be said about virtually all coconut shrimp.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Long-time readers of Gil’s Thrilling…are probably tired of my ad-nauseum whining about the scarcity of life-altering risotto, the type of risotto which elicited a carnal response from one of George Costanza’s girlfriends.  Most risotto is passable at best, but more often than not, it’s as boring as an Al Gore speech.  Spencer’s gluten-free wild mushroom risotto (Aborio rice with sautéed wild mushrooms and Parmesan cheese) with grilled shrimp is the best risotto we’ve ever had that didn’t include lobster or some other ocean-based protein.  When prepared well, risotto has a rich, creamy and slightly chewy texture, with each individual grain of arborio rice standing out clearly and having a hint of a bite, rather than being soft or mushy.  Perhaps because preparing risotto can be a complicated process requiring painstaking monitoring, not many restaurants prepare it well.  Spencer’s version is terrific!

For me, “any other white meat” is preferable to a steak.  That’s especially true of pork chops.  Deciding whether to order Spencer’s honey-brined center-cut pork chops or the wild mushroom risotto was a delicious dilemma.  Fortunately, my Kim preempted me by ordering the pork chops which meant that with sufficient pleading, she’d share a bite or six.  Considering she declared this one “the best pork chop I’ve ever had,” she was surprisingly generous in sharing an inch-thick chopped sitting on a pool of red wine demi-grace and topped with a pineapple-mango chutney all served with  mashed potatoes and asparagus.  Where to begin?  The pork chop was moist, tender and devoid of sinew and fat.   I would gladly shampoo my hair in the red wine demi-glace just so its aromas would linger.  The pineapple-mango chutney prevented me from just grabbing the chop by its “handle” and devouring it like a troglodyte (or Philadelphia Eagle).

Honey Brine Center Cut Pork Chop

Spencer’s Restaurant on the mountain certainly earns its billing as an all-time great restaurant.  From an experiential standpoint as well as a culinary revelation, it’s a restaurant we’ll long remember and one to which we hope to return.

Spencer’s Restaurant
701 West Baristo Road
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-3446
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Chinese Style Kung Pao Calamari, Sautéed Crab Cakes, Coconut Shrimp, Wild Mushroom Risotto, Honey Brine Center Cut Pork Chop

Spencer's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheeky’s – Palm Springs, California

Cheeky’s, the most popular breakfast restaurant in Palm Springs

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is widely credited with the aphorism “England and the United States are two nations divided by a common language.”  My Kim and I had no idea just how different the Queen’s English is from the English spoken by the colonists until we were assigned to Royal Air Force Fairford.  As part of the newcomers orientation, we were required to attend a course in which those vast differences were explained.  Many of those differences were rather comedic, but we were warned, “if Yanks aren’t careful, we could perpetuate the dreaded “ugly American” stereotype widely held in some parts of Europe.”

We learned, for example, that if an American serviceman walks up to an English lady and introduces himself with “Hi, I’m Randy,” he’s likely to get slapped in the face.  Randy has an entirely different connotation in England where it means “frisky.”  Similarly, we were instructed that if we were to hear an English citizen declare “I’m going to suck on a fag,” we shouldn’t take offense or feign being shocked.  It actually means he or she is going to smoke a cigarette.   For us, the term “shag” described a cheesy carpet found in the back of a van.  In England, shag is a verb which (as Austin Powers later taught us) meant “to  have sex with someone you don’t know.

Our server shows off his “cheeky” shirt

As we discovered over time, a one-hour course isn’t going to cover everything.  For example, a  friend of mine coaching a youth soccer team once told the English mother of a promising player “your son has a lot of spunk,” a statement she found extremely offensive.  My friend couldn’t understand her agitation until someone explained that in England “spunk” actually means er, uh…you’d better look it up.  I experienced a more harmless misinterpretation after asking a grocer where I could find napkins (for wiping hands and face) and was directed to the feminine products aisle.

Two of the terms we found perplexing (until we figured them out–long before Michael Myers introduced the terms on Saturday Night Live) were “cheeky” and “cheeky monkey.”  Cheeky means “disrespectful in speech or behavior” and a “cheeky monkey” is someone who acts in a way which shows they don’t take a situation seriously; they’re monkeying around.”  We had thought cheeky was an adjective to describe the posterior (derriere, buttocks or booty, if you prefer) and wondered why mothers would refer to their children as “cheeky monkeys.”

A flight of bacon

When restaurant impresario Tara Lazar was asked why she would name her uptown Palm Springs restaurant “Cheeky’s,” she replied “obviously, because I’m a smart-ass.”  That irreverence is only one of the reasons Cheeky’s is widely considered the very best restaurant for brunch in the Palm Springs area.  It’s reflected in an avant-garde menu so unlike the menu at other area restaurants which have held on to the past seemingly because to do otherwise would be to tarnish the era of Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and other denizens of the desert.  It’s even reflected on the shirts in which wait staff are attired–shirts which depict monkeys monkeying around, doing what monkeys do.

Cheeky’s has a no reservations policy.  It’s strictly first-come, first-served.  Place your name on a list and wait.  For fifty-minutes in our case.  We generally don’t want more than ten minutes, but any restaurant for which hungry patrons queue up in uncharacteristically cold sixty-eight degree weather at nine in the morning, bears exploring.  Our debonair dachshund The Dude didn’t mind.  He held court for his many admirers, some of whom had come even further than we had to partake of this unique brunch restaurant.  Others were locals who regaled us with their gushing tales of Cheeky’s unbelievable brunch entrees.

Duck Confit Hash

Cheeky’s is open from Wednesday through Monday and only from 8AM to 2PM, serving breakfast all day and lunch after 11:30AM.  The menu is changed weekly which might mean if you fall in love with a dish, it may not be available the next time you visit.  The breakfast menu is a bit irreverent, too.  Departures from the conventional aren’t wholesale (no deep fried chicken feet parmigiana, for example (thank you, “8”)), but you will find many of the “usual suspects” aren’t prepared the way you’re used to having them.  Buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, for example.

One “must have” item according to the coterie of Colorado travelers we befriended on line was the flight of bacon.  It’s similar to a “beer flight” in which a number of small beer glasses are presented to cerevisaphiles, each holding a different beer.  A flight of bacon is worthy of an Erica Jong novel as it would cure any fear of bacon you might have.  Our flight–five strips of beauteous bacon–consisted of Beeler Apple Cinnamon (Rachael Ray’s favorite), Eggnog (it was Christmas season, after all), Buttered Rum (ditto), Jalapeño (with a pronounced bite) and Nodines smoked (from Connecticut).  All were quite good, but for our money, the honey-chile glazed bacon from Albuquerque’s Gold Street Caffe remains the undisputed, undefeated champion bacon of the world.

Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Our server’s most enthusiastic recommendation was for Cheeky’s duck confit hash with white Tillamook Cheddar, mushrooms, potatoes and two poached eggs.  The duck confit (cooking the meat at low temperature in its own fat) alone made this hash different.  What made it special was the mellifluous melding of ingredients.  This wasn’t a thrown-together jumble of stuff.  It was a contrived attempt to put together several items that go well together, very much reminiscent of French preparation.  Success!  This was easily the best hash dish we’ve ever experienced though the little devil over my right shoulder persisted “if only it had a bit of green chile.”

My Kim isn’t always as willing to take as wide a departure from her favorites as her mad scientist of a husband.  There’s no way, I thought, she won’t send back scrambled eggs that aren’t crispy on the bottom–despite the menu forewarning of “custard” scrambled eggs.  Custard scrambled eggs are much more “creamy” and soft than conventional scrambled eggs.  To the uninitiated they may even appear underdone.  Call these eggs decadent, absolutely delicious and addictive with cheesy notes reminiscent of Southern cheese grits.  The custard cheesy scrambled eggs are served with maple sausage (or three slices of bacon) and Deb’s cheddar scone.  The scone is magnificent–light and flaky yet substantial and beckoning for the housemade strawberry jam.

Buttermilk and Fresh Corn Pancakes

Though we both ordered an entree, there was no way we could pass up sharing the buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, the type of savory and sweet entree we love.  On reflection, we agreed the combination is a natural.  Corn may be a vegetable, but it’s got glorious sweet notes that should marry well with pancakes and the Vermont maple syrup on our table.  The corn didn’t make just a perfunctory appearance on the pancakes.  It was plentiful and it complemented the syrupy, buttery buttermilk pancakes very well.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver would love these pancakes, easily some of the best we’ve ever had. 

England and the United States are indeed two nations divided by a common language, but Cheeky’s is a great unifier, bringing together breakfast and lunch items together in a spectacular manner.  Cheeky’s is a wonderfully irreverent restaurant.

Cheeky’s
622 North Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-7595
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttermilk and Fresh Corn Pancakes, Duck Confit Hash, Flight of Bacon, Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Cheeky's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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