Fresh Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fresh Bistro on Fourth Street

Life is similar to a bus ride.
The journey begins when we board the bus.
We meet people along our way of which some are strangers, some friends and some strangers yet to be friends.”
~Chirag Tulsiani

Perhaps no mobile conveyance in the Land of Enchantment has ferried as many interesting people on as many colorful journeys as the “Road Hog,” the psychedelic bus which shuttled its passengers from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock to Llano Largo, New Mexico. The Road Hog’s 1969 arrival in Llano Largo heralded the start of the “summer of the hippie invasion” as The Taos News called it. There unwashed masses settled into a Utopian agrarian commune they called the Hog Farm. The Road Hog with its familiar duck hood ornament and Grateful Dead-style tie-dyed design became a common sight in Peñasco, my childhood home. Sadly, for want of a part nowhere to be found, the Road Hog is slowly rusting away at its home in Llano Largo.

If the Road Hog represented the counter culture and anti-American bourgeois of the 60s, the KOB TV mobile News bus represented the staid establishment. For years, the classic Fageol Twin Coach (circa 1955), emblazoned with the station’s call letters proudly reminded viewers that KOB TV was the first station across the Land of Enchantment to broadcast in color. Ultimately, more sleek and maneuverable motorized conveyances came along and the KOB TV bus became obsolete. It wound up a rusty, hollowed-out scrap heap in La Hoya, New Mexico where the time-weathered bus seemed fated to fade into oblivion. Unlike the Road Hog, however, the former News bus didn’t remain in the “island of misfit buses.”

Fresh Mobile Bistro, Forty Feet of Fine Dining Excellence

Where others saw an unused, unloved, unwashed motorized mess, Corrales Chef Jon Young and his radiant bride Melissa, saw their opportunity to become a part of the food truck revolution sweeping across the fruited plain. In 2014, they purchased the vintage bus and began the painstaking process of transforming it into a mobile food kitchen where Jon could ply his passion for creative fine dining. The renovation process required the patience of Job. Obsolete parts had to be retooled by hand. In fact, the entire refurbishment process was arduous and manual.  With Jon and Melissa working assiduously, the ugly duckling slowly began blossoming into a graceful swan. Timeworn seats gave way to swanky booths more comfortable and spacious than first class airline seats. A small, but fully functional kitchen was installed at the back of the bus. Kitchen utensils such as a spatula and spoon were converted into door handles.

Alas, sometimes bad things happen to good people. During the restoration project, Melissa was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. Healing became their focus and priority with the conversion project taking a back-burner for a while. Their dream was postponed for about a year. Today, the reservations-only luxury bus themed after the famous Orient Express is home to creative fine dining that comes from the heart of a very determined, very talented chef with a high likeability quotient. Spend just a few minutes with Jon and Melissa and you’ll find yourself rooting for them to succeed in a very tough business.

The Interior of Fresh Mobile Bistro

At an early age, the precocious chef knew he was destined to become a chef. While watching Julia Child prepare omelets on television, he complained to his mom that the revolutionary chef had stolen his idea. By age fourteen, he was slinging pizza dough in his hometown’s beloved Village Pizza. Later on, he took a job as a dishwasher at what was then New Mexico’s finest restaurant, the Casa Vieja, also in Corrales. Renowned chef Jean-Pierre Gozard started Jon at the very bottom—washing dishes. When a busboy left, Jon moved up and continued a steady ascent up the kitchen ranks. Like a sponge, he absorbed as much as he could from the fiery Gozard, acquiring classic French culinary techniques without having to attend a credentialed culinary school.

If Jon has a high likeability quotient, Melissa’s is off the charts. She is a buoyant bundle of energy with smiling eyes. Gracious and kind, she’s the restaurant’s hostess, operations manager and ambassador. A native New Mexican like Jon, Melissa has an entrepreneurial background. She keeps things moving efficiently and steadily with an attention to detail which ensures a smooth operation.  Moreover, she’s got a smile and a kind word for every guest.  Her sweet sister, also an ebullient whirling dervish, was our server during our inaugural visit.  She took very good care of us.

Chef Jon Young

Fresh Bistro, not to be confused with its mobile sibling Fresh Mobile Bistro, is located on Fourth Street in the converted home which previously housed Desert Grows.  Several small and smartly appointed dining rooms evoke a homey feeling.  Modern impressionist portraits festoon the walls while fresh flowers adorn the tables.  Towering deciduous trees and yawning umbrellas shield guests from New Mexico’s dazzling (Hi Deanell) sun in a capacious patio where our dachshund The Dude (he abides) enjoyed the rapt attention of other guests.  A lone troubadour regaled us with easy listing and folk tunes.

Fresh Bistro, the brick-and-mortar restaurant, is actually a spin-off of Fresh Mobile Bistro, the bus, which is parked behind the restaurant.  The full-service restaurant actually spawned because of the popularity of the mobile kitchen.  It was only natural that Chef Young would need a more expansive canvas for his edible art.  Before launching their traditional sit-down restaurant, the Youngs operated much as other mobile food kitchens, albeit one in which diners were embraced by quiet luxury evocative of a small Parisian cafe.  Ironically the mobile Bistro parked often at La Casa Vieja where the chef learned to master French culinary techniques.

Your Hostess Melissa Young

Whether you dine in the restaurant, on the patio or on the bus, you can be assured of a meal prepared from scratch by a very passionate chef who thrives on creating memorable meals that are as much a delight to the eye as they are to taste.  Reservations are required to dine on the bus where you’ll be transported to a timeless and rare elegance and indulgence with seasonal menus that will take you on a gastro-tour of taste.  Jon lovingly prepares each dish to order, imparting sage tidbits along the way.  Chef Young describes very clearly and accurately just where your taste buds will discern various elements of your meal.  Just as he predicted, his barbecue sauce–emboldened with Chimayo chile–imparts a nice heat about four seconds after you’ve tasted it.   The mobile bistro offers six-  and ten-course dinners, all served at an old-world pace to allow guests to fully appreciate each course.

Fresh isn’t solely the name on the marquee.  It’s an operational model and a philosophy.  The Youngs source as many ingredients from local growers so that most of what their guests enjoy is local, in season and, of course, fresh.  Structurally, the menu is similar to the menus at other bistros with appetizers, salads, soups, pastas, entrees and desserts.  Where you’ll notice the differences is in reading the vivid descriptions of each item–tantalizing descriptions punctuated with cooking techniques and premium ingredients.  It’s practically an invitation to drool.

Lavender French Toast

Coincidentally, our inaugural visit (on a Saturday when brunch is featured fare until two o’clock ) was on the day the village of Los Ranchos was celebrating its annual lavender festival. Lavender is a rarity among flowering plants in that it goes as well with savory dishes as it does decadent desserts. It has a penetrating floral and spicy aroma with a flavor profile similar to rosemary and thyme. It’s got a residual bitterness that’s overridden by its flavor and aromatic bouquet. To some, it tastes like soap (the same thing is often said about cilantro). To others, lavender can do no wrong. We were determined to enjoy this versatile, fresh, floral, clean flower in as many dishes as we could find.

French toast are described on the menu as “sourdough bread topped with sweetened mascarpone cheese topped with your choice of fruit and powdered sugar” with fruit choices being bananas, peaches and strawberries. When our savvy server suggested lavender, we jumped at the opportunity. Syrup need not apply for a place on these four golden slices of eggy bread flecked with lavender. Sweetened mascarpone made them sweet enough with the lavender often making its presence felt in tempering any residual sweetness. In the spectrum of sweet that runs from mild to cloying, these French toast were…just right.

Monte Cristo Sandwich with Salad

Similar to French toast, the bistro’s Monte Cristo is lightly dipped in egg batter then grilled. This beauteous sandwich is constructed on sourdough bread and filled with ham and Gruyere cheese. It’s topped with a cherry-brandy reduction. More commonly, a Monte Cristo is topped with a small amount of powdered sugar and traditionally served with a ramekin of raspberry or strawberry jam you can apply yourself. There’s nothing common about this sandwich. The cherry-brandy reduction is a superb complement to the savory elements of the sandwich, working with them instead of overpowering them with sweet notes. Both the rich, nutty Gruyere and the salty ham worked well, too.

It’s a rarity in Albuquerque to find a brunch menu without any number of dishes showcasing the Land of Enchantment’s addictive red or green chile. On Fresh’s brunch menu there are only two. One is eggs Benedict served with carne adovada. The other is a dish created by the inventive chef. It’s called a Frenchilada and it’s a sort of New Mexico meets France featuring layers of crepes filled with chicken breast, green chile, mushrooms and roasted garlic cream sauce with an egg on top. This is a magnificent dish! Chef Young doesn’t shy away from piquant chile and he doesn’t use it sparingly. The foil to the chile’s heat is the mushroom’s earthiness. You’ll want to lick your plate to ensure you don’t leave behind any of the roasted garlic cream sauce.

Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas

Perhaps the piece de resistance of our meal was Chef Young’s lavender bread pudding. It may not be on Larry McGoldrick’s Bread Pudding Hall of Fame, but that’s only because the professor with the perspicacious palate hasn’t yet had it. This is a superb bread pudding, the antithesis of so many cloying versions of a dish whose genesis has been traced back to 13th century England. Sure it’s sweet, but not nearly overly so. It’s light, delicate and spongy, topped with whipped cream and surrounded by a pool of sweet, creamy sauce. The lavender has its desired effect of introducing the elements of flowery freshness to a bread pudding which would have been wonderful without it, but becomes transformative with it.

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp describes his inaugural experience at Fresh (The Mobile Bistro) as “probably my favorite find in Albuquerque over the last year.” Larry McGoldrick tells us on his Yelp review that “Jon is a wizard in the kitchen. He has a passion for good, fresh, excellently prepared food, and that’s precisely what you’ll get here.” If you need further proof that the Fresh Bistro and its mobile sibling are a not-to-be-missed dining destination, read the Yelp reviews. Yelp critics tend to be a tougher crowd than I am and they give Fresh Bistro four-and-a-half stars. It’s a perfect ten in my book.

Lavender Bread Pudding

Fresh Bistro and its mobile sibling may be the culmination of the dreams of a very talented chef and his beautiful bride, but it’s a good bet you may find yourself dreaming about your next meal there.

Fresh Bistro
7319 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)
985-8449
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lavender Bread Pudding, Lavender French Toast, Monte Cristo, Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas

Fresh Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Corrales Bistro Brewery – Corrales, New Mexico

The Corrales Bistro

What is it about French words that make them sound haughty and pompous to some people and elegant and refined to others? Think I’m kidding? In Massachusetts, I knew a guy who for two years sported the nickname “Le Cochon” like a badge of honor  before someone had the heart to tell him it meant “the pig.” He had thought that sobriquet was a testament to his prowess with the ladies (on second thought, maybe it was).

Still questioning my observations on French words? Take an informal poll of men (women are smarter) in the office and ask them what the word “bistro” means. I did and most respondents gave me some variation of “snobbish, hoity-toity, fancy, upscale” restaurant. In truth, a bistro is a small restaurant which typically features simple fare and sometimes provides entertainment. So, if you’re looking for a fancy, upscale French brewery when you see the name “Corrales Bistro” you’ll be in for a disappointment. If, however, you’re looking for terrific sandwiches, burgers and New Mexican food you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Dog Friendly Patio

The Corrales Bistro Brewery (“The Bistro” for short) opened shortly after New Years Day on 2007 at the former site of Essencia, a wonderful fine-dining establishment which closed in 2006. It’s the brainchild of entrepreneurial Fritz Allen, proprietor of another business, Hanselmann Pottery in the same commercial center as his brewery. If you’ve driven past the bistro, you may have noticed its new signage which no longer includes the term “Brewery.” The term has been a bit of a misnomer—at least in terms of volume–for a while. Until 2013, Corrales did not have a village sewage system and all wastewater was dispatched into septic systems. That limitation made it a challenge to brew beer in the volumes other metropolitan area breweries do.

Before he launched his bistro-brewery, Fritz had to request a change in Corrales zoning laws to clear the path for his undertaking. An amendment to a village commercial zoning ordinance allowed him to brew no more than 5,000 barrels of beer a year. While the Bistro has a small selection of its own beers, its focus has also been on serving beer from great breweries across the Land of Enchantment. Habitues of the Bistro who appreciate New Mexico brewed beers are well advised to join the “Mug Club” where a membership fee entitles them to enjoy a 22-ounce mug of fine ale for a pittance.

Outstanding Salsa and Chips

One factor which distinguishes The Bistro from other taproom-restaurants is its sense of community. The Bistro is akin to the “Cheers” of Corrales. Everyone knows your name here. To a large extent, my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, credits his decision to move to Corrales on the neighborliness of The Bistro and the “Corralenos” who frequent it. During a visit in July, 2017, we watched as Fritz greeted most of his guests by first name and often with a hearty embrace. The Bistro truly is a hometown hang-out—even if you’re not from Corrales.

Our favorite dining area at The Bistro is an expansive dog-friendly patio. Seasonally-permitting, it’s a terrific venue for enjoying the salubrious Corrales air, punctuated only by the aromas wafting from the kitchen. The Bistro is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In keeping with its sense of community and local pride, The Bistro has become quite the platform for local musicians to showcase their talents. Almost every day of the year, talented musicians entertain patrons with such popular musical stylings as jazz, Celtic, bluegrass and folk.

The New Mexico Tortilla Burger

Tortilla burger

Just as The Bistro’s menu—a fusion of cultures and ideas–can’t be pigeonholed into one category, The Bistro has two mission statement-defining mottos: “if you are not crossing a cultural boundary, you can try harder” and “make yourself at home.” The Bistro does indeed showcase a multi-cultural menu and you certainly will feel right at home. Breakfast is primarily New Mexican entrees—all the dishes we know intimately and love greatly. For lunch and dinner, featured fare includes a nice selection of salads, sandwiches, wraps and specialty burgers, some of which may make you wish your home was in closer proximity.

Regardless of what you order, you’ll want to start your meal with The Bistro’s fabulous chips and salsa (some of the very best in the state). The salsa is made with an autumn-blend chile flecked with roasted red (more like orange) chile. Roasted red chile has a sweeter flavor than roasted green chile, a sweetness we mistakenly attributed to finely diced carrots. The melding of piquancy and sweetness is a pleasant surprise. Another is the generous portion of this terrific starter. Blue- and yellow-corn chips are thick enough to support the weight of any Gil-sized scoop of salsa.

Corrales Blue Quesadilla

Fire-roasted salsa and sour cream come standard with the Corrales Blue Quesadilla appetizer. This is one of the very best quesadillas in the metropolitan area, easily on par with the quesadilla at The Range. What makes this quesadilla special is that it’s crafted with two complementary cheeses, an ultra-sharp bleu (not blue) cheese and a mild Cheddar. It also includes New Mexico green chile, tomato, onion and Mexican herbs all grilled on flour tortillas. This quesadilla is roughly the size of half a pizza and could easily be served as an entrée.

The Specialty Burger section of the menu includes an impressive array of creative burgers all starting off with a half-pound of beef (or you can substitute a grilled chicken breast). Basic toppings are lettuce, tomato and onion. Your creativity will dictate what else goes on. For a New Mexico inspired departure from the traditional burger on the bun concept, try the New Mexico Tortilla Burger, a half-pound of beef wrapped in a tortilla with chopped lettuce, chile con queso and fire-roasted salsa. It’s an outstanding burger grilled to your exacting specifications. At medium done its pinkish insides are dripping with flavor. All burgers are served with a salad or The Bistro’s special blend of sweet and white potato fries.

The black and bleu

Black and bleu burger

There are ten sandwiches on the menu, some of which would challenge a competitive eater to finish. Take for example, the Ruben, a grilled triple-decker sandwich skyscraper high with corned beef, turkey, Swiss cheese, mild sauerkraut on lightly grilled rustic rye bread. Russian dressing may be in there somewhere, too, but it’s lightly applied to give the meat the opportunity to shine. Shine it does. This is one of the best Ruben sandwiches in the Duke City area. A propeller-headed mathematician friend of mine with a penchant for French words said it was “an ordre de magnitude” better than others he’s had in town.

Faithful readers of this blog have probably been subjected ad-nauseam to reading about my passion for pastrami, a passion shared only by Meg Ryan in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” when she gave Katz Deli diners an impassioned appreciation for this mildly smoked paragon of deliciousness. Alas, with few exceptions (foremost among them California Pastrami and Toro Burger) pastrami in the Albuquerque area tends to evoke one reaction–disappointment. Still my pursuit for pastrami perfection goes on.

Robust Ruben with Mixed fries

At The Bistro, pastrami is showcased in a uniquely named sandwich called El Pancho Greenblatt (pastrami, green chile and Cheddar cheese in a tortilla. My last experience with this sandwich is over a decade ago, but the Alibi’s Hosho McCreesh enjoyed one recently and had this to say about it: “The grilled tortilla wraps in all the hot, salty goodness of the pastrami and the luscious melted cheddar, and again the green chile brings the spicy heat that’s hard to beat. It’s a got a great name, a simple, straight-forward style, and comes with fries or a side salad. And while I’d love a dollop of a grainy, stone-ground mustard on the side, I’d certainly have this one again however they’d give it to me.” 

My friend Bill Resnik will tell you The Bistro’s sandwiches are made the way you might make a sandwich for yourself. You wouldn’t scrimp on ingredients and neither does The Bistro. You wouldn’t haphazardly toss tomatoes and lettuce on your sandwich; you’d position them carefully so they complement your sandwich. That’s the way The Bistro makes them. These are excellent sandwiches! Moreover, one waitress told us everything on the menu is made with an extra ingredient–love. How can you possibly go wrong?

El Pancho Greenblatt

Two other noteworthy items: (1) the thin-cut French Fries, available in traditional white or sweet potatoes, are salted just right. These fries straddle the fine line between being flaccid and droopy and being taut and firm. These are not the pale, golden and cardboard stiff super-salted fries served at chains. (2) at four to an order, the pancakes are a great breakfast option. They’re griddled to a golden color and with warm syrup will bring a smile to your face. The pancakes are served with four strips of bacon.

Pancakes

Okay, if you’re still inclined to believe French words show refinement and class, I’ve got one that describes the sandwiches at the Corrales Bistro Brewery–magnifique!

Corrales Bistro
4908 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 897-1036
Web Site   | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 9 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Ruben Sandwich, New Mexico Tortilla Burger, Corrales Blue Quesadilla, Pancakes,

Corrales Bistro Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Farina Alto – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Farina Alto in the Northeast Heights

Much thought, deliberation and market research usually goes into the naming of a business, but every once in a while, one linguistic aspect or another isn’t fully explored to the nth degree. Take for example  Chevrolet’s problems marketing the Nova in Latin America where the term “no va” means “it won’t go” in Spanish. Even though the Nova sold quite well, the car’s name wasn’t without irony and humor.  (Yes, I know the Nova story is an urban myth, but it helps illustrate my point.) Worse, a slogan for Frank Perdue chicken, “it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken,” translated (also in Spanish) as the equivalent of “it takes a sexually aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

Obviously, the “Alto” portion of Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar in Albuquerque is intended to accentuate the “Heights” where the restaurant is located. Alto, after all, translates in both Italian and in Spanish to “high” or “ high up” as in the foothills. Lesser known is the fact that “alto” also translates in Spanish to “stop.” That’s what you’ll read in Spain on octagonal red signs that in America read “stop.” So, Farina Alto not only translates to Farina at the Heights, but perhaps not intentionally to “Farina. Stop!”. Could it be the folks who named Farina Alto knew just what they were doing because stopping at Farina for lunch or dinner is a great idea?

The Sprawling Dining Room

Farina Alto is the younger, more cosmopolitan sibling of Farina Pizzeria, the East Downtown (EDO) area Italian restaurant which took the Duke City by storm when it launched in 2008 and continues to be regarded as one of the Duke City’s best and most inventive pizza restaurants. As with its elder sibling, Farina Pizzeria is owned by restaurant impresarios Pat and Terry Keene, founders and owners of the Artichoke Café, long one of Albuquerque’s most highly regarded fine dining experiences.

Situated in the edifice which previously housed the Pacific Rim Asian Bistro, Farina Alto is easily–at 6,500 square feet–three times the size of the original Farina. Its operating hours are expanded, too, with lunch and dinner served seven days a week. Unlike at its elder scion, Farina Alto’s seating isn’t in personal space proximity and a capacious patio is available for overflow crowds and diners who prefer al fresco dining. Few, if any, vestiges of the Pacific Rim remain. In the area which once served as a sushi prep area, you’ll now find a wine cave and a curing room for the high quality meats and oils used throughout the restaurant’s menu.   Alas, only the chef and sous chef enter the curing room so my pleas for a tour were gently rebuffed.

The Dog-Friendly Patio

Farina Alto launched on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 with an expanded menu featuring fresh, locally-grown ingredients.  Aside from ingredients of the highest quality, another factor which makes it “Farina-style” is the oven which bakes the restaurant’s signature thin pies in an inferno of heat–650 to 800 degrees.  By virtue of their thin crust, these twelve-inch orbs don’t require a lot of oven-time.  The thin crust also means you’re likely to see more char on the pizza’s edges and bottom than you would on a thicker crust.  The taste of char should be relatively innocuous, even pleasant, but it’s also an acquired taste.  If you accept it, if you like it, you’ll enjoy Farina’s pies because char is a flavor.

12 May 2013: Other restaurant standards ported over from EDO include some of the very best meatballs in town.  The notion of meatballs at an Italian restaurant conjures images of baseball-sized orbs made from veal, pork and beef and deluged by red sauce.  Farina’s meatballs al forno Balsamico are the antithesis of that stereotype.  This oven-baked deliciousness features four pine nut studded meatballs per order immersed not in tomato sauce, but in a sweet, tangy, savory Balsamic sauce.  The meatballs are accompanied by toasted crostini which you’ll use to dredge up any of the remaining sauce.

Meatballs Al Forno Balsamico

12 May 2013: Another EDO favorite which has moved on up to the East side is the pasta e Fagioli, a non-vegetarian bean and pasta soup.  Translating simply to pasta and beans, this Italian comfort food standard is simmered until rich, flavorful and redolent with a melange of ingredients working very well together.  The pasta e Fagioli is topped with ground Italian basil and served hot.  It is available in cup and bowl sizes.

FarinaAlto03

Pasta e Fagioli: (non-vegetarian) bean and pasta soup

25 January 2015: Since the mid-1960s “invention” of Buffalo chicken wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, there has been no surcease to the popularity of chicken wing pieces that have been deep fried and slathered in a spicy hot sauce.  Perhaps to stave of monotony, many restaurants have tried their hand at inventing the “next big thing” in the chicken wing arena.  Farina Alto’s effort involves chicken wings and legs rubbed with a red chile flake and thyme seasoning then tossed in an elderberry reduction and roasted in an oven.  The result is rather insipid chicken wings whose primary qualities are stickiness and sweetness.  The red chile flake is lost in the sweet, lacquered-on reduction.  The accompanying celery and blue cheese are a better bet.

Oven-Roasted Chicken Wings

3 July 2017:  There are over 3,000 different varieties of olives (and that’s a conservative estimate) with flavor profiles that are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent.  Though I’ve prided myself on a discerning palate able to detect nuanced differences on many foods, olives have always been one of foods so similar in flavor that I can’t tell the difference–especially when roasted and served in olive oil.  That’s how Farina Alto serves them.  The oven-roasted Italian olives appetizer includes several varieties, some small, others large, some green, some black and some brown.  The Castelvetrano olives stand out, but more for their bright green appearance than their flavor.  The generous bowlful also included Gaetas and Ligurias.

Oven Roasted Italian Olives

In his Local IQ review of Farina Pizzeria, Kevin Hopper wrote of the pizza “each pie’s individual ingredients come together to form a synergistic symphony of flavors.”   Each pie is crafted in the tradition of artisan pizzaiolos who  know what they’re doing in crafting pies with ingredients so complementary, they dance on all 10,000 of your taste buds with alacrity.  Other pizzerias use similar ingredients (for example: pepperoni, salami, mozzarella) to less acclaim, the difference being the high quality of the ingredients used at Farina Alto.

12 May 2013: The carnivore’s choice for pizza is the simply named Carne which does translate to “meat” in both Italian and Spanish.  A triumvirate of magnificent meats–pepperoni, salami and prosciutto–share space on a canvas of perfectly charred dough with a lightly applied tomato sauce and mozzarella.  Selfishly I love when my Kim orders meaty pizzas on which pepperoni is an ingredient because she doesn’t like pepperoni.  Make that she doesn’t like inferior pepperoni.  She loved the pepperoni at Farina Alto which means I didn’t get much of it.  The Carne is a pulchritudinous pie.

FarinaAlto04

Carne (pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, tomato sauce, mozzarella)

12 May 2013: For turophiles (connoisseurs of cheese), one cheese just won’t cut it.  Give us quattro formaggio (four cheeses) when you can or due (two) formaggio if the cheeses complement one another.  On the Formaggio di Capra, the two cheeses-farmhouse goat cheese and mozzarella–most definitely complement one another. Other ingredients on this masterpiece are leeks, scallions and crisp pancetta (a salt-cured pork belly meat).  The pancetta isn’t nearly as smoky as American bacon tends to be, lending instead an infusion of pure pork flavor.  It goes especially well with the smooth, savory-tangy farmhouse goat cheese. 

FarinaAlto05

Formaggio di Capra

25 January 2015: Several years ago, restaurants across the fruited plain tried to start a “breakfast pizza” trend. They couldn’t pull the wool over American consumers who weren’t fooled by “new Coke” and ultimately weren’t swayed by quiche-like frittata dishes marketed as “breakfast pizza.” Ever the skeptics, we didn’t know what to expect from Pizzeria Alto’s breakfast pizza.  As it turned out, it’s truly a pizza in the finest traditions of pizza.  It’s also breakfast in that breakfast ingredients (a fried egg over easy, roasted potatoes, apple wood smoked bacon) meld deliciously with the tomato sauce, green chile, leeks and the cheesy due of aged mozzarella and Fontina on a crispy, smoky pizza dough canvas with plenty of the characteristic Pizzeria Alto char.  This is a breakfast pizza the way it should have been made years ago!

Breakfast Pizza

25 January 2015: Conan O’ Brien recently joked that “a new study says that children are suffering bad health effects from eating too much pizza.  The study was explained in a pie chart which children immediately tried to eat.”  It’s not only children who partake of too much pizza.  When it’s as good as Farina Alto’s Salsiccia (tomato sauce, local fennel sausage, oven-roasted onion, Mozzarella and Provolone cheese) even Job would be tempted to overindulge.  True to the pizza’s name, the fennel-enhanced sausage is what makes this pizza special even though some may decry this pie as just a bit salty. 

Salsiccia

3 July 2017:  If you’re not in a mood for pizza, Farina Alto offers a number of pasta alternatives such as spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and rigatoni.   Also available is one of the most pretty-as-a-picture chicken Parmesan dishes in town.  By the way, the “Parmesan” portion of the name doesn’t mean it’s made with Parmesan cheese.  The dish is instead named after the Italian region of Parma where the dish is said to have originated.  This version is fairly typical–a breadcrumb coating, mozzarella and a marinara sauce.  Seasoning is where Farina Alto’s version falls short.  Our dish lacked the flavor punch from oregano, garlic and other Italian herbs and seasonings that says “I’m Italian.”  The dish was even a bit lacking in the salt department.

Chicken Parmesan

12 May 2013: Farina Alto’s dessert menu is limited only in the number of options available.  The deliciousness is unlimited.  Among the most popular options is the gelato, an Italian frozen dessert somewhat similar to ice cream.  The difference between gelato and ice cream is subtraction; gelato usually is not made with cream and usually has a much lower fat content.  Although other flavor options are available, you can’t go wrong with plain vanilla and not just as a metaphor.  The vanilla and the chocolate are exemplars of how good and how pure these two flavors can be, how intensely chocolatey and vanilla pure gelato can be.  The gelato is served with a chocolate biscotti which is also intensely chocolatey.

12 May 2013: It’s not likely any foodie will ever conceive of an Albuquerque tiramisu trail.  There just aren’t that many trail worthy options save for Torinos @ Home, Joe’s Past House and the Farina family.  Though it’d be a short trail, it would be a delicious one.  Farina Alto’s tiramisu is an excellent rendition: Savoiardi cookies soaked in espresso with marsala zabaglione.  The strong espresso is perhaps why tiramisu translates to “pick me up” in Italian.  This is an adult dessert, just sweet enough for interest.

FarinaAlto07

Tiramisu

Great pizza at the Heights can now be found on the gentle up-slope leading to the Sandias. It’s a pizzeria and more whose very name beckons you to stop.

Farino Alto
10721 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 298-0035
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2017
1st VISIT: 12 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Tiramisu, Gelato, Meatballs al Forno Balsamico, Pasta e Fagioli, Carne, Formaggio di Capra, Salsiccia, Breakfast Pizza

Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Patio – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Patio on Harvard Avenue

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt had the type of job any aspiring sojourner would envy.  He hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing  the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies.  Observing that “thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” Kuralt avoided the interstates, instead traversing America’s back roads and byways in search of real people with interesting stories to tell.

Kuralt loved New Mexico, which he noted in his terrific tome America, is really a misnomer.  In his estimation, New Mexico “should be called Precambria for the sea that crashed upon its shores for tens of millions of years, or Mastadonia, for the mammals that later roamed its plains..; or Sandia for the mountain where the camp of an ice age hunter, the earliest known American was found in a cave…New Mexico is old, stupendously old and dry and brown, and wind-worn by the ages.”

Chips and Salsa

Kuralt also loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment.  In his book America, he declared the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.  During his peridoc visits to the Duke City, the peripatetic wanderer also frequented Old Town’s La Placita restaurant which he considered one of his favorite feeding stations.  In 1988, the legendary newsman featured El Patio in a CBS “Sunday Morning On The Road” segment.

El Patio was then but ten years old, but already becoming a formidable presence in the Duke City dining scene.  It was then one of the few New Mexican restaurants in the UNM area, but that wasn’t solely the reason it garnered rave reviews and legions of loyal fans.  Discerning UNM students appreciated the authenticity and deliciousness of the food; for many of them, it represented a home away from home where they could get cooking as good or better than mom’s.  Those former students have raised a generation, many of whom followed their parents to UNM and to El Patio.

Frito Pie

El Patio is ensconced in a converted home just south of Central Avenue on Harvard Drive.  A telltale sign you’ve made it to the popular restaurant on this relatively low traffic drive is the can’t miss Taos blue Mexican picket fence.  Beyond the fence lies the patio (El Patio), essentially the entire front yard, which is shaded by tall trees, a welcome respite from the sun’s heating rays.  El Patio’s patio also welcomes dogs.

For the duration of its three decade plus, El Patio has been family owned and operated.  Founding owners Dave Sandoval (a fellow Taoseño) and wife Gloria Sandoval remain involved, but much of the day-to-day operation has been transitioned over to their progeny, sons Thomas and Christopher who have made some changes, including the addition of a catering service and a sales operation which markets El Patio’s fabulous salsa and green chile.  Both can be purchased in the restaurant and at several stores throughout the Duke City.

Carne Adovada plate (no beans)

Thomas Sandoval, the elder sibling, is the chef while Christopher is the restaurant’s front-end man.  Thomas acquired his culinary skills literally at his maternal grandfather’s apron strings.  His grandfather taught him well.  El Patio’s food is as good today as it was decades ago when it first blew me out of the water.

Interestingly, El Patio considers itself primarily a vegetarian restaurant, but that distinction isn’t readily apparent in its meat dishes which are as good, if not better, than meat-based New Mexican entrees at other restaurants.  Even the most ardent carnivores, however, should at least try the vegetarian entrees which go a long way toward showcasing the delicious versatility of New Mexican cuisine.  The restaurant’s vegetarian enchiladas, for example, are made with spinach instead of meat.  The spinach imparts a spring-like freshness and healthful, but surprisingly (at least to meatatarians) delicious qualities to the enchiladas.  The Frito pie is also meatless, but you won’t miss the meat.  It’s one of the best Frito pies in town.

Carne Adovada Taco

Many pundits rank El Patio among the top four or five New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, leaving one to wonder if voters on “best of” polls mistakenly stuff the ballots for “El Pinto” when meaning to vote for El Patio which is several orders of magnitude better.  You’d think after the “dangling chad” episodes during the 2000 presidential elections in Florida, more extreme care would be taken in the voting process.

Salsa isn’t complementary at El Patio, but it’s worth the paltry pittance for which you pay for it, especially considering the attentive wait staff is on the ball to replenish each ramekin just as you’re running low.  The salsa is jalapeno based, but I believe it includes a tinge of red chile powder.  In any case, this is a wonderful salsa, some of the very best in the city.  This flavorful salsa has a nice piquant bite that will get your attention without dulling your taste buds for your entrees.  The accompanying chips are low in salt, crisp and formidable enough to scoop up ample amounts of salsa.  In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at El Patio the seventh best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

30 June 2017: The restaurant’s most popular entree, according to the menu, are the green chile chicken enchiladas.  El Patio is so accommodating (one of the main reasons for its popularity), you can have dual meat–beef and chicken–enchiladas and you can have them Christmas style and on blue corn tortillas with the requisite fried egg on top.  This best of all worlds approach for one of New Mexican cuisine’s most versatile entrees is my favorite way to have them.  The shredded chicken is moist and delicious, prepared to absolute perfection.  The beef is ground hamburger, not shredded beef as Mexican restaurants will serve on enchiladas, but the beef is well-seasoned and not refried as some restaurants are apt to do.  The red chile is rich and flavorful at about a medium level of piquancy.  The green chile has a fresh, fruity taste.  Both are par excellence.

31 December 2011: Carne Adovada is available in several dishes, including on a smothered or hand-held burrito. Because the chile with which carne adovada is smothered is oftentimes not the same chile in which the pork is prepared, my Kim will never order a smothered carne adovada burrito. She contends it allows her to better enjoy the purity of the adovada. El Patio’s adovada is outstanding, well worthy of a visit from my friend Ruben Hendrickson whose quest for the perfect carne adovada continued until his passing on 30 May 2016 (I miss you, dear friend). The pork is spoon tender (that means even more tender than fork-tender) and absolutely delicious, a benchmark which competes with some of the very best in the city.

Combination Plate

1 July 2017: El Patio’s combination plate is the best way to introduce newcomers to some of the best the restaurant has to offer.  A veritable platter is brimming with two cheese enchiladas engorged with chile, a chile relleno and a taco (thankfully served on a small plate) all topped with shredded Longhorn Cheddar and your choice of chile.  Longhorn Cheddar is what makes the cheese enchiladas some of the very best you’ll ever have.  It’s a good melting cheese with a nice degree of sharpness and terrific cows’ milk flavor.  The chile relleno is especially noteworthy.  A single sweet-piquant chile is stuffed with even more of that luscious Longhorn cheese then battered lightly and deep-fried.   It’s quite good.  So is the taco.  Given your choice of carne advocada, chicken or ground beef (all good), opt for the carne adovada.  It’s prepared on a hard-shelled corn tortilla that crumbles quickly, but that’s why God invented forks.

Each entree is served with pinto beans (not refried), boiled and peeled potatoes and lots of garnish (lettuce and tomato).  The potatoes have a consistency near being mashed.  Similar to the boiled potatoes at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, they appear to be an anomaly at first in that they’re not crisply fried, but by your second forkful, you’ll be hooked.  The potatoes have a sweet-savory marriage that makes them a joy to eat.  The beans are perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious.

Fajitas

1 July 2017:  There’s a short list of fajitas on our list as best in the Duke City.  Topping our current list are the fajitas at El Patio.  Among the many reasons we esteem these so highly is the full half-pound of marinated steak, as tender and flavorful as any fajita beef we’ve ever enjoyed.  The marinated steak is hand-cut and sauteed with green and red peppers, mounds of onions, and diced tomatoes. They’re served with guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, salsa, a side of potatoes and two flour tortillas (white or wheat).  Oh, and there’s plenty of Longhorn cheese, too.

Entrees also include complementary sopaipillas.  Large, cloud-like and puffy, they emit wisps of steam as you cut into them to form a pocket for honey.   Kudos to El Patio for serving real raw honey, not that aberrational honey-flavored syrup.   These sopaipillas are not doughy as some sopaipillas are made, but rather have thin walls that are easy to penetrate, but not so thin that they’re sieves for the honey. If you don’t imbibe adult beverages, the watermelon limeaid is a very nice alternative.  It’s more tangy than it is sweet and it’ll quell your thirst on the dog days of summer.

Sopaipillas

We’ve found service at El Patio extremely capable and more than accommodating, but then we tend to visit when the restaurant first opens (11AM seven days a week) and the choicest seating is available.  Experience has taught us that this extremely popular restaurant fills up quickly–and for good reason.  This is one of Albuquerque’s very best New Mexican restaurants, a genuine gem.

El Patio
142 Harvard Dr SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-4245
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Sopaipillas, Beef and Chicken Enchiladas Christmas Style, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicken Taco, Combination Plate, Carne Adovada Plate, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Watermelon Limeaid, Frito Pie, Fajitas

El Patio de Albuquerque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fork & Fig – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fork & Fig, a Modern Eatery on Menaul Just East of Louisiana

Listen to Billy Joel’s 1983 doo wop hit Uptown Girl and you’ll probably get the impression that uptown is synonymous with uppity or at least upscale.  The lyrics describe a working-class downtown man (ostensibly Joel himself who’s originally from blue-collar Long Island) trying to win the heart of a wealthy, white bred uptown girl (Joel’s future wife Christie Brinkley). The perception of uptown’s haughtiness were reenforced in “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld in which John F. Kennedy, Jr. lived in trendy uptown.  When they finally came into money, the Jefferson’s moved on up, too.

Until just a few years ago, the Albuquerque neighborhoods around which conversations typically centered were Old Town, downtown, Nob Hill and even EDo (East Downtown).  Uptown was solely where the Coronado and Winrock Malls were.  With the closure of the Winrock Mall and subsequent launch of ABQ Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly, open-air lifestyle center, Albuquerque’s uptown area seemingly became “the heart of the city’s modern shopping and business district.”

The dining room with open kitchen at Fork & Fig

Though it may appear national chains such as the Elephant Bar, Dave & Buster’s, Bonefish Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill dominate the uptown culinary landscape, actually only 45 percent of the uptown area’s 75 restaurants are national chains.  Local mom-and-pop restaurants continue to thrive against the onslaught of deep-pocketed corporate competition.  Enter into the fray Fork & Fig, a modern eatery which opened its doors just before the calendar flipped to February, 2015. 

Fork & Fig is an exemplar of locally owned and operated.  After having worked as a personal chef in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, decided to try his hand at owning and operating his own restaurant.  Though Fork & Fig specializes in gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads, you can also get more substantial offerings (such as steak) on a take-out basis.  The restaurant, which has neither a freezer or a fryer, emphasizes fresh, local ingredients. 

Citrus Salad

Compared with some of the megalithic chains in the area, Fork & Fig is practically Lilliputian, seating only 40 patrons in its 1,500 square-foot space. Diminutive, however, doesn’t mean dull and drab.  Fork & Fig is a hip and happening venue sure to excite both even the most discerning palates.  Seating is in personal space proximity (which means you have a good view of what’s being delivered to your neighbors’ tables) with bar-like seating overlooking an exhibition prep kitchen and, when they’re not swamped, you can even interact with the chefs.  

In Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” peoples’ choice poll for 2015, Fork & Fig was named “Best New Restaurant.”  That’s quite an honor considering the high quality of new restaurants launched in 2015.  In January, 2017, Fork & Fig was one of a handful of Duke City eateries highlighted by Young Professionals of Albuquerque for inclusion in list naming “5 Eateries Perfect For Your Lunch Break.”  Since its launch, Fork & Fig has remained a consistent presence on Yelp’s list of “best restaurants in Albuquerque.”  It’s certainly a restaurant going places.

Sesame Salad

If there’s one thing a smallish restaurant with no freezer and no fryer can’t do, it’s be all things to all people.  It makes better sense to focus on a select few items and prepare them exceptionally well.  The few, the proud, the delicious at Fork & Fig is comprised of eight sandwiches (Sammys), five burgers (Burgs), three wraps, three greens (salads), five sides, a sour du jour and a dessert du jour as well.  With the Sammys, Burgs and Wraps, you also receive one side (Cotija corn, grilled zucchini, potato gnocchi, cherry tomato salad, green chile slaw).  Please note that because of menu rotation, some of the items described below may not be available when you visit.

8 February 2015: It’s probably not polite to drool when servers deliver a meal to your neighbors, but such is the hazard of close proximity seating.  The burgers, in particular, are drool-worthy.  They’re skyscraper tall with thick beef patties topped with sundry ingredients and imagination.  Sometimes, however, you feel like a burger and sometimes you don’t.  In the rare latter event, it’s nice to know you can find something as good as the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich (four cheeses, tomato fig relish and bacon on Hawaiian bread).  This magnificent melange of sweet, unctuous and smoky deliciousness is indeed an all grown up version of the sandwich we all loved as children.  The Cotija corn, a grilled ear of corn topped with shredded Cotija cheese) is a terrific foil.

The Fig with a Cool Watermelon Gazpacho

8 February 2015: Save for the sacrosanct green chile Philly at Philly’s N’ Fries, I’m at a loss to recall a single transformative or even memorable steak sandwich in the Duke City. Fork & Fig’s Ribeye Sammy (ribeye, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and creamy chimichurri on a ciabatta bun) aims to change my thinking. The ribeye is on the thin side (similar to a Mexican steak), but it’s tender and nary fat nor sinew rear their yucky presence. The chimichurri is indeed creamy, but a bit more of it would have been nice. The green chile slaw doesn’t have much personality or piquancy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the Ribeye Sammy.

8 February 2015: Uber chef Marcus Samuelsson believes “Salad can get a bad rap.  People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, far from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”  It’s with this approach that Fork & Fig creates the four salads on its Greens menu.  You’ve probably had a salad similar to The Citrus (berries and orange supremes, mixed greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette), but you’ll probably enjoy The Citrus more.  The blood orange vinaigrette should be bottled and sold. 

Cubano

24 June 2017: Humorist Fran Lebowitz once remarked “A salad is not a meal.  It’s a style.”  Most of us will agree with at least the first part of that quote.  Salad is definitely not a meal!  That said, salad can be a very enjoyable first course, a precursor to something less spartan.  Much as we might enjoy Fork & Fig’s The Sesame, we’re happy in the realization that something more substantial will follow–not that this salad is small by any means.  The sesame (greens, avocado, candied ginger, heirloom carrots, orange supremes, pickled red onion and sesame vinaigrette) is an excellent salad, one in which the combination of sesame seeds and sesame vinaigrette impart a discernible nutty flavor, something akin to sunflower seeds.  The sesame flavor is a perfect complement to the peppery arugula while the orange supremes and especially the candied ginger add a delightful contrast.

24 June 2017:  While mathematicians may get their jollies in contemplating the golden ratio (a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part), burgerphiles would rather contemplate ratios which make a perfect burger: the ratio of meat to fat and the ratio of beef to bun to ingredients.  Fork & Fig got the first ratio (meat to fat) just right on the eponymous Fig (beef, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, fungi, truffle fig aioli, bacon, greens, crispy onion and tomato on a brioche bun).  The beef, prepared a medium degree of doneness, is moist, juicy and very flavorful, about as flavorful as some very good steaks.  Alas, the ratio of bun to beef to ingredients was a bit askew.  Before we had consumed even half the burger, the bun had crumpled under the moistness and volume of the beef and accompanying ingredients.  We had to finish the burger with a fork.  By definition (at least mine), it’s no longer a burger when a fork has to be used.

Opera Cakes

24 June 2017:  Virtually every sandwich purveyor in the Duke City, it seems, offers its rendition of a Cubano.  Virtually all of them are formulaic copies of the other, most often served panini style.  Kudos to Fork & Fig for employing a buttery croissant as the canvas for its Cubano (sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, aioli grain mustard, kosher pickle). Two things stand out about this Cubano: the aioli grain mustard and kosher pickle.  Two things are in short supply: pulled pork and sliced ham.  Had more substantial portions of these proteins been piled on, this sandwich would be in contention for “best in the city.”

24 June 2017:  Fork & Fig offers a dessert du jour.  Good fortune smiled upon us when opera cakes were the delight of the day.  Essentially petit fours, a French term which literally translates as “small oven,” the opera cakes are bite-sized pastries.  Nine different cakes are available, but only five to an order are ferried over to your table and you don’t get to choose which five of the nine you’ll get.  Live dangerously.  If the five–apple crumble cake, pistachio, tiramisu, raspberry and lemon tart–which graced our table are any indication, you can’t go wrong with any of the five.  They’re small slices of decadent deliciousness.

Albuquerque’s Uptown area is far from the uppity and exclusive neighborhood so often stereotyped in song and literature.  In restaurants such as Fork & Fig, all are welcome no matter your neighborhood.

Fork & Fig
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881.5293
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2017
1st VISIT: 8 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grown-up Grilled Cheese, Cotija Corn, Ribeye Sandwich, Green Chile Coleslaw, The Fig, Cubano, Watermelon Gazpacho, Opera Cakes

Fork and Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TerraCotta Wine Bistro – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The TerraCotta Wine Bistro in Santa Fe

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
~Benjamin Franklin

In the 1960s, denizens of the fruited plain weren’t nearly as savvy about the fruit of the vin as they are today. Impressionable youth who tuned in every Sunday for Championship Wrestling from Albuquerque’s Civic Auditorium, for example, had the impression from Roma Wine commercials that all wine was served in large jugs. It really wasn’t far from the truth. Back then, a significant portion of wine production across the fruited plain was indeed destined for a jug. Another high percentage of wine would earn the ignominious distinction of being called “bum wine.” Sporting such brand names as Thunderbird, Mad Dog 20/20 and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, bum wines were considered “bottom of the barrel.” Consumers (quite often dipsomaniacs or teenagers) often shielded their bum wine purchases from the “decent public” in brown paper bags.

Fast forward five decades and America has become a nation of oenophiles—lovers and connoisseurs of wine–surpassing France as the world’s largest market for wine every year since 2013 (although on a per capita basis, the average French person still consumes about five times more wine than the average American). According to Wine Enthusiast, the preferred wines of contemporary America are no longer poured from a jug, but served in a glass as an accompaniment to a dinner meal. Not only are higher-end aficionados of wine dining out more often, statistics indicate they are spending around 25-percent more on wine when they do.

Front Dining Room

In 2014, Business Insider published statistics depicting wine consumption across the United States. The Land of Enchantment ranked 30th with an annual per capita consumption of 6.9 liters (about 1.82 gallons) while the nation’s capital was found to be the most prolific at 25.7 liters per capita. What is significant and surprising about New Mexico’s middle-of-the-road ranking is that the very first grapes planted for wine in the new world’s soil were sown and reaped at an Indian pueblo just south of modern day Socorro. Even more surprisingly, those grapes were planted in defiance of Spanish Law which, to protect the Spanish agriculture industry, forbade the exportation of Spanish grape vines.

Before grape vines were planted in New Mexico, Franciscan monks had wine shipped from Spain, a costly expenditure considering the nearest supply was several months distant. Central to the daily mass was wine which monks transformed into the blood of Christ. New Mexico State’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences describes the sacramental wine as “light pink in color” with a “sherry-like taste.” The wine was “18% alcohol and 10% sugar.” Ironically, like many wines of the 1960s, Spanish wines of colonial times was transported in jugs. Unlike wines of the 1960s, the jugs were sealed with a glaze that contained lead which leaked into the wine.

Back Patio is very Dog Friendly

Today, according to Wine Country New Mexico, “New Mexico remains a vibrant wine region containing an incredible variety of vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms amidst the low and high-desert vistas of the state.” Many of the high-quality wines produced in the Land of Enchantment have not only earned acclaim from top critics, the state’s wineries have an annual economic impact approaching $100 million. Having earned many prestigious accolades, New Mexico’s wines continue their meteoric rise on the national and international wine stages.  With a burgeoning craft beer industry and a thriving wine industry, New Mexicans who consider themselves both oenophiles and cerevisaphiles are indeed blessed.

Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “wine is bottled poetry.” Be that the case, the jugged wine of yore is the type of poem which may have begun “There once was a lady from Nantucket…” Finding a poem which fits contemporary wines is a greater challenge because just as every wine has its own unique flavor profile, each of us is a unique, inimitable individual whose own memories and senses of taste and smell influence our opinion of a wine. Rare and privileged are individuals whose palates are able to discern subtle nuances in the aromas and flavors of a wine—those, for example, who can detect notes of oak, fig, fresh roses and crushed berries.

Sage Bakehouse Rolls

Not only does wine delight oenophiles with olfactory, gustatory and trigeminal sensations, wine offers several surprising health benefits as chronicled by blogger extraordinaire Jen Miller in her fun feature 15 health benefits of wine according to science.  Jen points out that while “popping open the cork while the velvety oaked aroma fills the air and flowing effervescent liquid comes out from the bottle gives excitement to everyone,”  wine supports longevity of life, heart health, diabetes reduction, anti-cancer effects and more.  Wine truly offers a panacea for what ails us.

Having progressed from the days in which most wine was served in jugs or kept hidden in brown paper bags, a kinder, gentler and more gentrified America now enjoys wine in more sophisticated milieus. Among the Land of Enchantment’s most noteworthy is Santa Fe’s TerraCotta Wine Bistro which offers the largest selection of wines by the glass in the City Different. With an ambiance aptly described on the bistro’s Web site as “inviting, informal, up-beat, and just plain fun,” it’s “great for intimate or large gatherings.”  TerraCotta features globally -inspired food that is contemporary, eclectic and exciting, utilizing local and regional foods. The bistro prides itself on using high quality ingredients in creative combinations that change seasonally.

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Garlic Aioli

TerraCotta is located in Santa Fe’s historic downtown district and is housed in a charming 19th century adobe building not too far from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the world-famous Plaza.  Previous occupants of the charming edifice include Trattoria Nostrani, once named by Gourmet Magazine as one of the fifty best restaurants in the country.  TerraCotta has been named one of Santa Fe’s ten “most romantic restaurants” and boasts of one of the city’s “top ten wine bars” according to USA Today’s local expert Billie Frank.  Just as important to parents of indulged four-legged fur babies, TerraCotta has received a rating of 5.0 out of 5 bones by dog owners on BringFido.  Our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) enjoys TerraCotta’s covered porch.

As you contemplate TerraCotta’s expansive menu, you’ll enjoy the complimentary Sage Bakehouse bread rolls.  There are many reasons the Sage Bakehouse (an artisinal French bakery, pastry shop and cafe) reminds us so much of our favorite bakery in Lechlade, England.  Both old-world bakeries honor traditional bread-making practices.  The quality shows.  These simple yeasty rolls release a waft of fragrant steam when you cut them open to spread on butter.  It’s simplicity itself, but simplicity as delicious as it can be.

Grilled Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad

Sometimes local pride gets in the way of enjoying something we might otherwise find absolutely delicious.  Friends of mine refuse to ever try shishito peppers because they’re not “real chiles” (they’re Japanese).  In truth, when you roast these three- to four-inch peppers, they inherit the olfactory-arousing aroma of green chile.  Terracotta flash-fries them until their skin is lightly blistered though unlike green chile, shishitos aren’t peeled.  They’re served with a garlic aioli and chopped red peppers.  From a flavor perspective, shishitos are only mild on any piquancy scale, but they’re a joy to eat.

TerraCotta offers several salads, any of which would make a wonderful shared appetizer.  Our favorite salads tend to have multifaceted flavors (complementary and contrasting) and textures.  Fitting that bill perfectly is TerraCotta’s grilled pear, blue cheese and walnut salad.  We’ve had similar salads at other restaurants many times, but TerraCotta’s stands out.  The sweet, juicy pears are caramelized to the point that the fruit’s natural sugars congregate on the pear’s outer skin, rendering these pears absolutely addictive.  The pears contrast well with the sharp, fetid blue cheese crumbles and the walnuts (which thankfully aren’t candied).  A pomegranate vinaigrette with its tangy-sweet notes is an excellent foil for both the sweet and savory flavors.

Grilled Flank Steak

Selecting our entrees proved a significant challenge.  The menu offers so many tempting options (which is why return visits were invented).  At our server’s recommendation, I opted for the grilled flank steak (New Mexico beef marinated in coffee and cola, basil and olive oil topped with blue cheese compound butter accompanied by roasted potatoes and farmer’s market vegetables).  Sliced into quarter-inch strips similar to a roast beef, this steak is perfectly seasoned and only hints at its marinade.  We should, however, have asked for more of the blue cheese compound butter, so good we wanted to spread it over everything on the plate.  The potatoes are perfectly roasted with a crisp outer shell and soft, tender potato inside.

Much more generously sauced is  Beeler’s grilled tenderloin medallions (Riesling, red onion and apricot gastrique served with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and market vegetables).  The gastrique (a sauce base using a reduction of sugar and vinegar caramelized over low heat combined with a light stock) seems to heighten the sweet-tart-juicy qualities of apricot we enjoy so much.  A generous portion of medallions is virtually covered over by the gastrique, a technique which  sometimes leads to a protein being lost, but not in this case.  If anything, the gastrique brings out the grilled tenderloin flavors.  There’s delicious alchemy in its preparation.

Beeler’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions

Even teetotalers will find much to love at the TerraCotta, a wine bistro in which the kitchen knows what it’s doing and the wait staff will treat you like royalty.

TerraCotta Wine Bistro
304 Johnson Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 989-1166
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions; Grilled Flank Steak; Blistered Shishito Peppers; Grilled Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad;

TerraCotta Wine Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TFK Smokehouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

TFK Smokehouse Parked at a Brewery Near You

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 trailer, an endeavor which requires equally exhausting effort from both of them. Watching them prepare then serve meals out of their barbecue mothership nearly wore us out. They perform the same type of prep work the brick-and-mortar restaurants do, but they do 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.

Burqueño Cheesesteak with Coleslaw

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 is now 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.

BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich

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.

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.

Pint-Size BBQ Bella Sandwich with Potato Salad

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.

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. 

More than most Albuquerque area food trucks the TFK Smokehouse does a terrific job of posting on its Facebook page where it’ll be on any given weekend.  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 is one of the city’s very best food trucks.

TFK Smokehouse
(Location Varies)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-8668
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: BBQ Bella Sandwich, Burqueño Cheesesteak, BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, Coleslaw, Potato Salad

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

1 2 3 7