Looking around our table, my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott astutely pointed out the relative scarcity of pizza at our table. Considering the Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap Room may have been the most eagerly awaited pizzeria to open in Albuquerque in years, you’d think a phalanx of foodies would be devouring our weight in pizza…and while three pulchritudinous pies did grace our table, so did such eclectic fare as pho, chicken wings, roasted chicken and Chimichurri skirt steak a la plancha. Despite the term “eclectic” on the pizzeria’s appellation, the menu’s vast diversity actually surprised us.
It’s a testament to his tremendous creativity and talent that Chef Maxime Bouneou can still surprise diners who for nine years reveled in his fabulous Italian creations at Torinos @ Home, the restaurant he founded with his beautiful bride and partner Daniela. Surprises at Torinos were usually of the “I can’t believe how good this is” variety. At Eclectic, surprises fall under the “I can’t believe he can prepare this so well” category, emphasis on “this.” Frankly we shouldn’t have been surprised at the diversity of dishes he prepares so well. Maxime isn’t a great chef who prepares great Italian food. He’s a great chef who can prepare virtually anything!
Maxime’s pedigree as a chef is very impressive though more diners are acutely aware he wowed (absolutely blew away is more like it) Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives than know that in his native France, he worked in Michelin two- and three-star restaurants. Maxime’s ability to coax unbelievable deliciousness out of everything he prepares isn’t just a matter of talent. He and Daniela are committed to using the highest quality, locally procured organic ingredients wherever possible. Moreover, he absolutely loves what he does and continually works at improving his craft.
Daniela is the yin to Maxime’s yang. They complete one another with a work and life synergy few couples ever achieve. It’s been that way since they met in Nice, France where she was working as maitre d’ at a four-star hotel and he was the hotel’s promising sous-chef. They were married shortly thereafter and moved to Santa Fe where they launched Torinos @ Home in 2006. While the kitchen has always been Maxime’s domain, Daniela runs the “front of the house” with an incomparable elan. Her buoyant personality makes her the perfect hostess where she shines unlike no other in New Mexico. To say the Bouneous were beloved is an understatement.
In February, 2016, Maxime and Daniela sold Torinos, an event their adoring patrons believed warranted an apron flying at half mast. For months, we all speculated as to where they would land and even if they would remain in New Mexico. Fortunately the Bouneous have fallen in love with the Land of Enchantment and in early April, 2016 announced the forthcoming launch of their next restaurant venture, an undertaking they named “Eclectic. Urban Pizzeria and Tap House.” For months, legions of Facebook friends anxiously awaited the next snippet of news about the Bouneous return. Along with a Web site depicting construction progress, the Facebook page was both a big tease and an appetite-whetting medium.
On Saturday, August 27th at precisely 11AM, Eclectic opened its doors, a “soft opening” in which Daniela and Maxime may have set a one-day record for most hugs dispensed (although Tim Harris might have something to say about that). Guests were as happy to see the Bouneous as they were to sample their culinary fare. By Eclectic’s official September 17th launch date, it’s probably accurate to say many of us fed by the Bouneous for years will already have fallen in love with Eclectic, a restaurant which more than lives up to its name.
Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House is located on Menaul, about three blocks east of University. Because there isn’t a direct turn-in to the restaurant from east-bound Menaul, you’ll have to double back if you took the University exit. And because the pizzeria doesn’t have vivid, eye-catching signage and its storefront is a bit recessed from the street, you might miss it if you’re headed west from Carlisle. If you are headed west from Carlisle and you see Twisters, you’ve gone just a bit too far. Though your inaugural effort to find Eclectic might engender increased familiarity with Menaul, you’ll never again pass it by. Nor will you forget it.
Eclectic’s ambiance is industrial, but warm with blonde woods, distressed red bricked walls, hand-scrawled menus on the wall, a corrugated bar and industrial style polished concrete floors. Table legs are made from metal pipes, the type used in plumbing. Menus on clipboards hang from hooks on each table. Large south-facing windows let in sunlight. Seating is more functional than it is comfortable though we’ve lingered long and happily during our first two visits with no ill effect. Even al fresco dining is available thanks to a pet-friendly patio that doubles the pizzeria’s seating capacity. This is just one cool place to be, especially if you’re dining with friends.
31 August 2016: My friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and Bruce Schor who, because of this blog, enjoyed a kinship without ever having met, accompanied me on our inaugural visit. Walking into the restaurant was like old home week, a reunion of new and old friends. No sooner had we stepped in than we espied the charismatic Ryan Scott, his winsome wife Kimber and their precious angel Judah. Daniela and Maxime greeted us all like long-lost family. That’s pretty much how they treat everyone–and one of the reasons Eclectic will soon become Albuquerque’s favorite pizzeria and watering hole. Well that and the food. Oh, the food…
While a disclaimer cautions that the menu is subject to change without notice, in our experience every item on that menu is an absolute winner, a perfect ten. The first section of the menu is titled “Start With” and it included eight starters, each as appealing as the other. There are ten pizzas on the menu, including a “build your own” option. Save for the Reina Margherita, a vegetarian pizza, and the Quattro Formaggi, the pizzas are unlike any you’ll find in the city. Instead of the de rigueur “meat lovers” pizza for example, you’ll find a Nordik pizza with smoked salmon and capers. There are four items on the “Not A Pizza” section of the menu, entrees truly befitting the term “eclectic.” Those include roasted chicken, fish and chips, Chimichurri skirt steak a la plancha and beer braised short ribs. Three sides are also available as well as four decadent desserts.
31 August 2016: As we perused the menu, we enjoyed a bowl of spicy, eclectic olives (some with pits). Brine-cured green and reddish, the olives are meaty, fresh and rubbed with a pleasantly piquant chile. It’s not often, if ever, the flavor combination of briny and piquant is discussed on this blog, but the combination is surprising (there’s that word again). The piquancy level of the chiles is a degree or two of magnitude more intense than pimentos stuffed into olive centers (as in the olives used on martinis), but without compromising on aroma and flavor. Bruce Schor graciously allowed me to eat the single Thai bird pepper that helped give the olives their piquancy. It was an eye-opener.
31 August 2016: If he’s not Albuquerque’s foremost authority on chicken wings, Ryan is certainly their most prolific “appreciator.” My friend loves chicken wings, but not just any chicken wings. They’ve got to be better than good. When chicken wings earn the Ryan Scott seal of approval, you know they’re imbued with greatness. Ryan loved the “get your hands dirty” sriracha-lime wings at Eclectic. The unlikely combination of intense piquancy coupled with tangy, citrusy lime works surprisingly well with an optimum balance of two strong flavors. These meaty wings are accompanied with a buttermilk ranch dressing so good you’ll want to spoon it out of the ramekin, but it’s wholly unnecessary on the wings.
31 August 2016: “Don’t tell me Maxime does pho, too?” If that sentiment wasn’t outwardly expressed, it was certainly contemplated. Yes, Maxime does pho and it’s one of Daniela’s favorite items on the starters menu. Listed as Hot “PHO” YOU, it’s a spectacular soup though it could be debated as to whether it is or isn’t pho. Pho is technically a noodle soup and there are no noodles on this piping hot dish nor will you find the distinctive, aromatic essence of star anise, but those are technicalities. Call this “faux pho” if you will, but you’ll also be calling it absolutely delicious. Instead of the swimming pool-sized portion served at Vietnamese restaurants, Eclectic’s version is served in a small bowl with ladle. Maxime’s interpretation of pho is made with generous pieces of chicken, bamboo shoots, cabbage, nuoc mam, garlic and cilantro. It will blow you away!
31 August 2016: My friend Sr. Plata was on the first day of a low-carb diet when he espied big dips and dough on the menu. Needless to say, his low-carb effort was delayed by one day. Served with focaccia bread sticks is a triumvirate of terrific dips: humus, smoked trout and goat cheese, each a magnificent complement to the best focaccia you’ll find in the Duke City. If the notion of “smoked trout” dip channels memories of slick-talking salesman Dan Aykroyd hawking a Bassomatic, you’re probably not alone. Don’t let that notion stop you from enjoying this magnificent dipping sauce. Great as the dips are, the foccacia is fabulous–a precursor to the quality of the pizza crust to be enjoyed later.
31 August 2016: There are two versions of Brussels sprouts on the menu, one with bacon and one without. Sporting the curious appellation “Eat Your Brussels Carley,” they’re delicious with our without the pork candy. Named America’s “most hated vegetable” in a 2008 survey conducted by Heinz, Brussels sprouts are almost universally reviled. Many diners hate them without ever having tried them (probably because they heard someone else express their disdain for this villainous vegetable). Andy Griffiths even wrote an anti-tribute to Brussels sprouts. Entitled “Just Disgusting!,” its lyrics posit: “Who wouldn’t hate them? They’re green. They’re slimy. They’re moldy. They’re horrible. They’re putrid. They’re foul. Apart from that, I love them.” You’ll certainly love Maxime’s version!
31 August 2016: For many gastronomes the very notion of roasted chicken elicits if not an outward yawn, an ennui. Leave it to Maxime to enliven what is often a ho-hum dish. A generously applied pasilla chile and lime rub precedes a deeply penetrating heat roasting in the brick oven. The pasilla imbues the chicken with a unique flavor. Pasilla, the dried form of the chilaca chili pepper, is an aromatic, brownish red chile that smells somewhat like prunes and has a mild, rich and almost sweet taste with just a hint of residual bitterness. It’s increasingly finding favor among bold chefs such as Maxime who are skilled at building concordant flavors with diverse ingredients. The roasted chicken is served with a green mango chutney which complements the chicken very well.
31 August 2016: Eclectic’s “Build Your Own” pizza offers more options than just about any pizzeria you’ll ever find–and not just the boring “usual suspects” line-up of toppings. The build your own starts with tomato sauce, mozzarella and Cantal (a raw cow’s milk cheese with a pleasant milky aroma and a nutty, buttery flavor that finishes just slightly acidic). It’s the canvas atop which you can build your own masterpiece. Bruce (to avoid confusion with the other Bruce (Sr. Plata), let’s call him Bruce 1.0) added pork sausage and imported Gorgonzola, both excellent choices. The first thing you’ll appreciate about an Eclectic pizza is the aroma which precedes it out of the brick wood-burning oven. The taste and texture deliver on the promises made by the aroma. Waifishly thin, the pizza is imprinted with a pinto pony char and just a slight cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza. Both the sausage and imported Gorgonzola are first-rate.
31 August 2016: Who says pizza has to be based on tomato sauce? Certainly not Maxime who also offers one based on cilantro-pesto and another based on buttermilk. Yes, buttermilk! Unable to decide from among five tempting options, I asked the more decisive (and infinitely cuter) Kimber to order for me. Her choice, the North Shore (cilantro pesto, roasted chicken, smoked bacon, pineapple, cantal and mozzarella cheese) was outstanding! The cilantro pesto has a real zip that impregnates the wondrous crust thoroughly. As always, the combination of pineapple and bacon proved magical, the two disparate ingredients playing off one another in contrasting harmony. The bacon is thick and smoky, wholly unlike the tiny bacon bits some pizzerias use. The true test of pizza greatness, however, is how it holds up to refrigeration–essentially how good it is for breakfast. The North Shore is just as good cold the next day as it was out-of-the-oven. This is true pizza greatness!
6 September 2016: “How about dinner. I know a place that serves great Viking food.” Those words, uttered by the immortal Police Squad Lieutenant Frank Drebben gave me pause to reflect on Viking food and whether or not any restaurant in America actually serves it. Not even Google the Infallible (doesn’t that sound like a Viking name?) could find a single Viking restaurant across the fruited plain. If a Viking restaurant did exist, they’d be well advised to copy Maxime’s Nordik Pizza (buttermilk, smoked salmon, capers, red onion, cantal and mozzarella cheese). Only a pizzaioli genius could conceive of such a masterpiece. He hadn’t finished his first slice when my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared it second only to the Funghi & Tartufo from Piatanzi as his favorite pizza in the world. It is indeed a delicious pie, albeit one not everyone will enjoy. The smoked salmon, in particular, has an intensely smoky, fishy flavor and aroma.
6 September 2016: As a self-admitted mad scientist in the kitchen, experimentation with ingredient combinations brings me as much joy as frustration, as many successes as failures. When the ingredient combinations don’t complement one another, it’s “curses, foiled again!” Dazzling Deanell, on-the-other-hand, seems to have a Midas touch. She always seems to know what to order at restaurants and, as we discovered at Eclectic, she knows how to put together a perfect pie. The make your own beauty pictured above includes roasted red peppers, black olives, mushrooms and sausage. Sounds pretty standard, right? Not when the sausage is so magnificently fennel-kissed with notes of pleasant piquancy. Excellent ingredients make for an excellent pizza. Sausage will evermore grace any pizza we order at Eclectic.
6 September 2016: When my Kim espied a pizza named “Paysanne,” she thought the menu’s creator may have misspelled “Paisano”, an Italian term for compatriot. While that might make good sense, the pizza’s actual name really is “Paysanne” and if there’s one term which defines Maxime’s genius it might be this one. Paysanne describes meals prepared simply. Even Maxime’s most complex dishes and most creative combinations aren’t a mishmash of designer ingredients thrown together. Take the namesake “Paysanne” pizza, for example. It’s constructed with buttermilk, smoked bacon, mushroom, red onion, olives, cantal and mozzarella cheese. Simple, right. It’s simply delicious, a flavorful feast for the eyes and taste buds.
2 September 2016: My father-in-law loved short ribs, maybe even more than Adam did. He would have flipped over the beer braised short ribs at Eclectic. Martha Stewart once declared “there is perhaps no purer beef flavor than that of a short rib.” Ironically, short ribs were once disdained by chefs as “poor man’s food.” Under the right hands, however, this fairly modestly priced cut can be coaxed to rich, unctuous tenderness and complexity thanks to a basic braise. At Eclectic, the short ribs are served sans bone, but somehow they retain the silken richness of bone-in short ribs. Braised in beer, cherries and Pasilla chiles, the ribs are available in three sizes: small, medium and large. The medium is the size of a small roast with huge flavors.
2 September 2016: With only five desserts on the menu, you’d think it would be easy to decide which one to order. Under Maxime’s deft touch, they’re all bound to be great. Bread pudding not being an option made the choice easier for me. With fresh memories of the sumptuous peach cobbler at The County Line Restaurant there could only be one choice. Served in a cast iron pan, the rhubarb cobbler is superb! With a lip-pursing tartness, the rhubarb is counterbalanced by the sweetness of the ice cream and the savoriness of the pie crust.
Eclectic Urban Pizzeria may be the new kid on the block, but it may already be the answer to the supplications of pizza lovers across the Duke City for a transformative pie, one that’s not merely very good, but truly outstanding. As Ryan pointed out, however, pizza may not even be the best item on the menu. Repeat visits are a must!
ECLECTIC URBAN PIZZERIA AND TAP HOUSE
2119 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2016
1st VISIT: 31 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Spicy eclectic olives mix, Wings hot and tangy, Hot “PHO”YOU, Big dips and dough,Eat your Brussels Carley, Roasted chicken, North Shore, Beer Braised Short Ribs, Rhubarb Cobbler, Nordik Pizza, Paysanne Pizza