Groundstone – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Groundstone on San Mateo

Kids say the darnedest things.  That was the premise of popular radio and television shows hosted by Art Linkletter from the mid 1940s through 1969.  Linkletter would engage children (usually aged three to eight) in casual conversation.  Humor–often laced with double entendre–would often ensue out of the children’s naive and silly responses.  Once, for example, he asked a little girl to spell Art, his name.  She proceeded to spell the host’s name R-A-T.  Most parents can relate to the unpredictable nature of what their children say. More often than not, it resonates with child-like innocence, but every once in a while an utterly unintentional and unfiltered zinger sneaks out that will make parents want to slink away and hide.

When her son Caleb was four years old, Kimber Scott, an Albuquerque resident and one of my very favorite people, discovered that he was curious about everything his world had to offer.  He was fascinated by all the letters, numbers and colors that whizzed by him.  Now nine, he’s always asked a lot of questions and has never shied away from expressing himself.  Sometimes he speaks with the insightful precociousness of an older child and sometimes with the naivete of innocence, but more often than not, the streams of consciousness that come out of his mouth warrant being shared.  Thankfully Kimber chronicled Caleb’s words of warmth, wit and wisdom in a recently published must-read book she named Caleb-isms:  The Things My Kid Says.  It’s a wonderful insight into the world of a child you can’t help but love.

One of the capacious Groundstone dining rooms

Because Kimber and her charismatic husband “Break the Chain” maven Ryan are passionate gastronomes and always a pleasure to break bread with, it’s only natural that the book be laced with Caleb’s observations about food.  Here’s one of my favorites: Every day after school, Caleb usually asks if I will take him to get a cheeseburger.  Cheeseburgers are his all-time favorite food.  He has affectionately called them hambahgahs for as long as he could talk.  I tried to explain that i was not going to buy him a hamburger every day.  I went on to say that if I did, I would spend a lot of money every month just on after-school hamburgers and I was not willing to spend that much money.  As well as that it is not not the best after-school snack, mainly because it fills him up too much and he will not eat his dinner.  I guess I blabbed too much going on and on about why I was not going to get him one.  He was silent.  I looked in the rear-view mirror and asked, “Well?”  He sulked, then quoted a line from his favorite Pigeon book by Mo Willems.  “You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”

To good old Charlie Brown, happiness is a warm blanket.  To Caleb and many of the rest of us, happiness in a warm cheeseburger, preferably one with green chile.  My friend Ryan and I have shared many a cheeseburger, but I’ve yet to have the pleasure of Caleb’s company at a purveyor of bounteous burgers.  One of these days, perhaps I’ll ask Caleb to write a guest review.  With his astute mind, there’s no telling what he’ll come up with though it’s bound to be better and more percipient and mirthful than anything I can come up with.  In writing this review, I tried to channel my own inner Caleb, but just don’t have his flair for words.  Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this missive as much as we enjoyed our meals at Groundstone.

Ahi Poke

Parents of both two-legged and four-legged children will appreciate Groundstone’s family friendliness.  On both our visits, our sylphlike hostess Dawn fawned over our debonair dachshund Dude as did our smiling server Shannon.  They’re demonstrative dog lovers, not the pretentious type who only touch dogs with their fingertips.  During lull periods they returned to give the Dude more love.  We watched them impart the same kindness to children and elderly guests.  How can you not love a restaurant in which the term “dog-friendly” is a way of service, not just some patio in which dogs are sequestered away from everyone else?  Groundstone actually has two patios–one on the restaurant’s east side where the winter sun will keep you warm and one on the west side where the shade will shield you from summer’s rays.

Veteran restaurant impresario Russ Zeigler is the brainchild behind Groundstone.  He’s been creating restaurant concepts for four decades.  It’s pretty obvious one of the lessons he’s learned in that time is to hire good people who are earnest and caring in their approach to customer service.  That’s one of the things that sets apart restaurants such as Groundstone and Joe’s Pasta House.  Russ launched his first restaurant in 1977 and has since then owned or co-owned such stalwarts as Liquid Assets, High Finance, Options, Assets and Sandiago’s.

Green Chile Strips with Avocado Ranch Dressing

Groundstone is located in the 6,700 square-foot edifice which previously housed The Library and before that Johnny Carino’s, a short-lived Italian chain.  If you’re wondering, the genesis of the name “Groundstone” comes from the restaurant’s make-over.  During the renovation, an undesirable flooring had to be ground down to stone and concrete, leaving the floor with an organic look.  The cynosure of the capacious restaurant is an attractive bar back-dropped by distressed red bricks.  Several flat screen televisions are strategically placed throughout the dining room and bar, most tuned to NFL games during our visits.  Several of the staff are diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans, but they still treated this Cowboys loyalist very well.

Groundstone’s promise to its guests is “local, fresh, fun.”  The concept combines “the best of the burger, pizza, and craft beer scene, and rounded off with incredible gourmet salads meant to re-invent the dining experience.”  Russ calls the triumvirate of pizza, burgers and beer “the classics,” and indeed, there are few eateries across the Duke City in which this troika can be found under the same roof.   A commitment to serving mostly local ingredients will endear local diners who appreciate such high-quality local products as Fano bread and Bueno chile.  When local ingredients aren’t possible, the restaurant’s commitment to freshness and quality is not compromised.

The Cubano

26 November 2017: Appetizers (and desserts, too, for that matter) have become pretty blase as if imagination is left to wholesale distributors who supply so many restaurants.  It’s rare that we find an appetizer that surprises us.  Count among those rare surprises the Ahi Poke (sashimi grade seared tuna, kale, sweet chili (SIC), pickled ginger, wasabi, avocado, sesame soy glaze) at Groundstone. With a perfect sear framing the perfectly red tuna, it’s got the chops of a good sashimi.  The sweet chili sauce contrasts nicely with the quick burst of heat from the American wasabi and the biting freshness of the pickled ginger, all of which provide a diversity of flavors.  The buttery avocado and slightly bitter kale are good, but it’s the sashimi grade tuna which shines most.

3 December 2017: In the past few years, restaurants across the Land of Enchantment seem to have discovered the delicious potential of green chile as an appetizer alternative (or addition) to salsa.  It should come as absolutely no surprise that green chile strips have caught on.  The real surprise is that it took so long.  Groundstone’s version showcases Amber ale battered Bueno green chile strips served with a cooling avocado ranch dressing.  The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but it has a nice roasted flavor.  The avocado ranch dressing is a winner.  Even better is the green chile ranch which our delightful server Shannon thought we might enjoy.  The green chile ranch isn’t quite as thick as the Dion’s version, but it’s every bit as flavorful.  All salad dressings are made on the premises.

The Groundstone Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

3 December 2017:  Several elements define the Cuban sandwich, a hearty sandwich which got its start among the working classes in Cuba.  What Americans have come to know as a Cuban sandwich typically includes thin slices of marinated pork roast, thin slices of ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles.  Groundstone pays tribute to the Cuban sandwich with a burger called the Cubano.  The burger contains some elements of the popular Cuban sandwich, but it goes much further.  Picture Akaushi beef topped with black forest ham, smoked pulled pork, provolone cheese, pickles, whole grain Dijon ale mustard, served on a Fano brioche bun.  It’s a mouthful and then some.  The generous portion of this burger’s three meats–rich, buttery Akaushi beef (a type of Wagyu); salty, intensely-flavored black forest ham and smoked pulled pork– will make carnivores very happy.  It wouldn’t be a Cubano, however, without the pickles which provide a textural and flavor (zesty and sour) contrast.

26 November 2017: Sometimes a burger is constructed with too much of a good thing.  That was our assessment of the eponymous Groundstone burger (grass-fed beef topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, tomato, roasted garlic infused mayo, served on a Fano brioche bun).  Though the sautéed mushrooms provide terrific umami (deep, dark, meaty intensity), the strong, pungent garlic mayo is the dominant flavor.  That’s almost criminal considering the tender grass-fed beef; rich, sweet Gruyere and sweet caramelized onions.  We scraped off some of the mayo and enjoyed it much more.  Next time we’ll order this burger sans condiments.

The Brooklyn with Green Chile

3 December 2017:  Nine pizzas grace the Groundstone menu.  Available in ten- and eighteen-inch sizes, they’re not as waifishly thin as today’s fashionable pizzas nor are they thick, casserole-like slabs.  If the Brooklyn (pepperoni, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fontina, garlic infused olive oil) is any indication, they’re more generously topped than the penurious pizzas on which it’s a challenge to find some of the named ingredients.  That generosity applies as well to the cheese which drapes over the crust like a molten blanket.  No matter which of the pizzas you order, it can be improved with green chile (which goes well with everything).

Groundstone may not be entirely groundbreaking in its concept or menu, but it’s got a great pedigree and is committed to such ideals as using locally sourced products, enthusiastic and warm service and providing a comfortable milieu in which families can enjoy themselves.  With effervescent hostess Dawn and attentive servers such as Shannon at your beck-and-call, you can’t go wrong.  Groundstone is terrific: For now you’ll just have to take my word for it, but someday I hope to share Caleb’s unique perspective.

Groundstone
5001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 404-8287
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 December 2017
1st VISIT: 26 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ahi Poke, Groundstone Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, The Cubano, The Brooklyn, Green Chile Strips, Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing, Green Chile Ranch Dressing

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

M’TUCCI’S MARKET & PIZZERIA – Albuquerque, New Mexico

M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria

Greek mythology recounts the story of Tantalus, progeny of a divine parent (Zeus himself) and a mortal one.  Uniquely favored among mortals by being invited to share the food of the gods, Tantalus abused that privilege by slaying his own son and feeding him to the gods as a test of their omniscience.  The gods immediately figured out what Tantalus had done and in their rage condemned him to the deepest portion of the underworld where he would be forever “tantalized” with hunger and thirst.  Though immersed up to his neck in water, when Tantalus bent to drink, it all drained away.  When he reached for the luscious fruit hanging on trees above him, winds blew the branches beyond his reach.

For years, Duke City diners have been tantalized by the promise of signage beckoning us to visit “delis” only to realize, much like the gods of Olympus, that all is not as it appears.  A sign does not a deli make nor do products from peripatetic distributors.  As with Tantalus, we’re left to pine for the authenticity of a true deli, the type of which Albuquerque has not seen since the bygone days of Deli Mart.  Savvy diners may not be able to vanquish the ersatz delis to the underworld, but we can banish these pretenders to the realm of chain restaurants we choose not to frequent.

Huge Flavors Come out of This Small Space

By strict definition a “deli,” an abbreviated form of delicatessen, is a term meaning “delicacies,” “fine foods” or “delicious things to eat.”   Over time delicatessen and its diminutive form came to represent the store, restaurant or combination thereof in which these delicacies, fine foods and delicious things to eat are sold, either for take-out or eat-in.    For many of us who have lived in large cities, the term deli is synonymous with Jewish deli while for others a deli proffers specialty foods indigenous to Italy, Poland (see Red Rock Deli) or other European nation. 

The hard-liners among us will never accept  that Schlotzky’s, Jason’s, McAlister’s and others of that ilk are delis despite what their signage may say.  Nor will we ever be duped by the deception of diners daring to call themselves delis.  It goes without saying that we don’t believe a deli should  feature products burnishing the labels of Oscar Mayer, Hormel, Kirkland, Butterball or even the ubiquitous Boar’s Head.  An authentic deli should preferably cure, salt, dry and cut its own meats and make at least some of its cheeses–and if it doesn’t do that, it should procure and sell only the finest, most authentic meats and cheeses available.

Italian Charcuterie Board

With the December, 2014 launch of M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli, Albuquerque once again has an authentic Italian deli in the tradition of delis for which hard-core deli aficionados have pined for far too long.  It’s a deli in which I’d proudly break bread with Dave Hurayt, Bruce Schor, Bob Sherwood and Gary Feaster with whom I’ve commiserated about the absence of an authentic deli in Albuquerque.  Best of all, it’s a deli with a pedigree that promises authenticity and deliciousness. 

Trust the ownership triumvirate of John Haas, Katie Gardner and Jeff Spiegel to do for their Italian market and deli what they’ve done for their restaurant. The trio launched M’Tucci’s Kitchina in 2013 and accolades quickly piled on (including “Best New Restaurant” honors from Albuquerque The Magazine readers and being named one of the top 100 neighborhood restaurants in the US by Open Table).  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli is located about 150 feet away from its elder sibling in the Montaño Plaza shopping center.

Pickled Board

Ensconced within Lilliputian digs, M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli embodies the axiom “little place, huge flavors.”  Add huge aromas and you might feel you’ve been transported to a small corner New York City Italian deli.    You’ll be amazed at just how much is crammed into such a small space.  Seating for about ten guests is to your immediate left and right as you walk in.  Because of space constraints, the deli’s take-out business will be a robust part of the operation.  The rest of the space is devoted to mouth-watering Italian products, many of which are created on the premises. 

In fact, the talented staff at M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli bakes its own breads (sourdough, rye, whole wheat, baguette, ciabatta, foccacia), makes its pastas and sausages, cures many of its own meats (prosciutto, cotto, sopressata, mortadella, etc.) and makes its cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, burrata, etc.).  What isn’t made on the premises is procured from trusted, high-quality sources.  On the shelves you’ll also espy jars of fresh herbs (basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.) while refrigerated deli cases showcase pickled goods (eggplant, sweet or spicy cucumbers, cardamom carrots, giardinera, Sicilian green olives, Macedonian peppers and more).  Your taste buds might go into sensory overload, not to mention involuntary salivation.

Muffaletta with Farro Salad

Optimally, you’ll be able to score one of the four tables for a unique eat-in experience that will allow you to browse and sample as you wait for your meal which, by the way, is so much more than sandwiches.  First on the menu are three Italian charcuterie boards, all of which are accompanied by house-made artisan bread.  After you peruse the four enticing appetizers and three scrumptious salads, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose from among seven featured sandwiches, including a build-your-own option and all served with one side.  You can opt instead for one of three pastas.  Either way, you might not have room left for one of the three luscious desserts.

If, like me, you believe Italian delis start and end with meats and cheeses, you’ve got to try one of the three Charcuterie Boards (Salumi Board, Pickled Board, Cheese Board).  In America, the ancient European culinary art of charcuterie has recently started to become a highly revered and well-practiced art.   Charcuterie refers to the products made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie. The operative word here is “made” as in butchering, cutting, salting, curing, slicing, storing and preparing such meat products such as bacon, sausage, ham, pates, and more.  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli not only offers charcuterie, it is a charcuterie!

Pastrami

14 December 2014: The Salumi Board offers three options: pick two, pick three or pick four from among the meats.  An outstanding option is the spicy coppa (short for capicolla), a traditional, rustic Italian cured meat with a taste and texture similar to prosciutto.   If you’re a Sopranos fan, you might recognize capicolla by its slang name “gabagool.” By any name it’s delicious.   Speck, which is cured with such spices as juniper berries, nutmeg, garlic and bay leaves before being cold-smoked, is another terrific option.  It wouldn’t be a salumi (Italian cold cuts) board without Toscano salami, a dry, salami with large bits of fat, garlic and black peppercorns surrounded by leaner meat which provides a robust, distinctive but not overpowering flavor.  It goes without saying you’ll also want prosciutto on your board.  Accompanying these meats are slices of Italian bread, an addictive onion jam, house-made mustard, tomato relish and probably the very best spicy pickles you’ll ever have.

12 April 2015: M’Tucci’s pickled board is the very best we’ve had in New Mexico though there aren’t that many to compare with.  Available in quantities of two, three or four pickled vegetables, it’s essentially a vegetable plate even vegetable-haters will love.  Usually served with a local goat cheese, we lucked out during our April, 2015.  Because the deli had run out of what is undoubtedly an outstanding goat cheese, a Bucherondin de Chevre, a luscious and creamy French goat cheese was substituted.  Pierce the Bucherondin’s rind and you’ll enjoy a near-buttery soft, creamy and mild goat cheese that complements pickled vegetables very well.  Our pickled board included sweet and hot pickles, carrots and eggplant, all of which were oh, so delicious with distinctive notes in each.  Those pickles are absolutely addictive!

BLT

14 December 2014: The sandwich menu includes several familiar favorites such as the Cubano, BLT, Pastrami and Muffaletta, but while M’Tucci’s pays homage to traditions which spawned these sacrosanct sandwiches, it does not attempt to duplicate them.  The muffaletta, for example, is not an exact replica of the muffaletta you might have at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, but it’s an outstanding Italian inspired sandwich in its own right.  The canvas for this superb sandwich is housemade ciabatta which is generously topped with housemade capicola, mortadella, salami, an olive tapenade and house-smoked mozzarella. It takes two hands and a wide-open mouth to handle this mighty, meaty, magnificent sandwich.  The yin to the muffaletta is a ferro salad  (fresh grape tomatoes, walnuts, Tucumcari feta, pickled red onions on a lettuce leaf), one of the four available sides.

14 December 2014: Pastrami paramours often consider it heretical for pastrami sandwiches to be topped only with a good deli mustard with a dill pickle on the side.  Before they become apoplectic at learning M’Tucci’s pastrami (made on the premises) sandwich is made with herbed goat cheese, fresh red onions, a housemade mustard on housemade rye, they had darned well better try it.  It’s unlike any pastrami this aficionado has ever had and it’s a bit lean (fat is flavor) for my tastes, but it’s still a pretty good sandwich with that herbed goat cheese really standing out.  This sandwich pairs well with oven-roasted herbed potatoes, red potatoes seasoned with rosemary, thyme and fresh garlic. 

Carbonara

12 April 2015: For years, the benchmark against which I’ve measured all BLTs in New Mexico has been the TBL, a Gecko’s Bar & Tapas original stacked in triplicate with applewood smoked bacon, green leaf lettuce and ripe tomatoes on wheatberry bread.  It took more than a decade to find a BLT that’s better.  Like the TBL, M’Tucci Market’s version is also an original.  In its standard form, it, too, is made with applewood smoked bacon though for a mere pittance, you can substitute bourbon-glazed bacon.  Splurge!  It’s the best bacon we’ve had in New Mexico, better even than the red chile-honey glazed bacon at the Gold Street Caffe.  The BLT (butter leaf lettuce, fresh tomato, blue cheese aioli and wheat bread made on the premises) is all a sandwich should be though the hard-crusted bread scrapes against the roof of your mouth just a bit.  The blue cheese aioli is rather mild which is perfectly fine because it lets the bacon shine.  The lentil salad (pickled onion, carrot, zucchini, rosemary, sage, thyme and Tucumcari gouda) is an excellent accompaniment.

12 April 2015: While judging the Taste of Rio Rancho in February, 2015, my friend Mario D’Elia, the uber-talented executive chef for the Albuquerque Isotopes, commiserated that guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks) isn’t that widely used in Albuquerque restaurants, Chef Maxime Bouneou, formerly of  Torinos @ Home being one of the few to use it.  Add M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli to what will hopefully become a trend.  M’Tucci’s makes its own guanciale and it’s terrific.  The guanciale is perhaps my favorite ingredient in a Carbonara dish constructed of superb ingredients (housemade cured egg yolk, Pecorino, sage, pepperoncini flakes, shallots and tagliatelle made on the premises).  The tagliatelle (long, flat pasta ribbons) is fortified with an unctuous, but not overly excessive, sauce.   The portion size is relatively modest, but being so rich, Carbonara isn’t a pasta dish on which many diners can over-indulge.  This is a great one!

Italian Mac & Cheese

7 June 2016:  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, has (as of this writing) visited MTucci’s Italian Market & Deli some 48 times.  It’s easy to see why he loves this restaurant so much–as well as why your humble sesquipedalian blogger needs to increase the frequency of his visits.  The Italian Mac & Cheese (Rosemary ham, Morbier Mornay, handmade penne, fresh Mozzarella, Aleppo pepper bread crumbs) warrants a visit or ten all by itself.  After one forkful Larry declared it the best mac and cheese he’s ever had.  High praise indeed.  There’s a lot to love about this skilletful of deliciousness and inventiveness.  Instead of the usual half-and-half mixture of Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, the Mornay sauce is made with Morbier, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese which, interestingly, is fashioned with a black layer of tasteless ash.  The Morbier not only coalesces the penne, some of it melts into a delightfully oily pool at the bottom of the skillet.   Chunks of Rosemary ham imparts resinous, savory and sweet qualities that blend magnificently with other ingredients while the Aleppo peppers (about 10,000 on the Scoville scale) lends a pleasant piquancy.

7 June 2016:  When she hangs out with Larry and me, Dazzling Deanell  is like a delicate flower among two wilted weeds.  She not only graces our table with beauty, wit and charm, she always seems to order the right things.  Take for example, the Market Reuben (fresh market-cured corned beef, homemade sauerkraut, red chile mostarda on rye bread) she ordered during our June 7th visit.  Even as she ordered it, she declared the Reuben at O‘Hare’s Grille and Pub in Rio Rancho to be her favorite Reuben then conceded that M’Tucci’s version will probably be even better.  She has the gift of prophecy!  This is a fantastic Reuben, one she paired with a glorious beet salad.  The housemade rye is the perfect canvas for the other components.  The red chile mostarda (which has nothing to do with mustard and more closely resembles a relish) is a magnificent blend of fruity sweetness, piquancy and tanginess.  As we enjoyed the sandwich, we discerned a flavor similar to cloves (or perhaps crushed lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread spice cookies), but weren’t quite sure what its genesis was.  We surmise it may have come from the roasting of the corned beef itself.  The corned beef is even better than M’Tucci’s pastrami and that’s saying something.

Market Reuben (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

11 December 2016:  There appears to be no limit to the talents of Chef Cory Gray and sous chef Shawn Cronin , the uber-talented chefs who “bake, cook, age, and cure their way to creative culinary bliss.”    In November, 2016, the dynamic duo transformed M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli  into M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Pizzeria.  It’s not just a change in concept or solely an exercise in re-branding, but rather an ambitious expansion that reflects the addition of 12 pizzas into an already outstanding menu.  When you think about it, it just makes sense.  They were already hawking some of the best cheese, meat and bread in the city.  Why not put them all together?  And, if you’re thinking to yourself, there’s already a top tier pizza at M’Tucci’s Kitchina, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria has one-upped its elder sibling.  In fact, in our estimation, the only pizza in the Duke City that’s even in the same zip code is at the Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House. 

Custom-made ovens that heat to 800-degrees will ensure your pie is baked quickly and evenly.  You’ll find plenty of char on each pie, a hallmark of the pizza at Farina  where Shawn and Cory cut their teeth.  If char is not a flavor you like much, you can ask for light char.  The menu indicates “Our pizza dough uses wild sourdough starter instead of yeast, giving a better flavor and texture. We cook it until a deep caramelization occurs. We source the best ingredients, either house made, local, or imported.”  Ten years ago you wouldn’t have found a pizza menu like this one.  Instead of last decade’s sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives and the like, this menu lists such ingredients as orange-herb gremolata, baby kale, smoked buffalo mozzarella and caramelized onion coulis.  The result will make a believer out of you!

Caprese Trio

11 December 2016:  Mike Greenberg, the metrosexual nerd who pairs with the brutish former NFL player Mike Golic to host the morning sports talk show Mike & Mike (on Albuquerque’s ESPN 101.7 The Team) contrasts the difference in their personalities by condescendingly pointing out he enjoys Caprese salads while his endomorphic partner prefers donuts.  The implication here is that the Caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction and olive oil) is enjoyed by worldly sophisticates while donuts are an opiate for the hoi polloi.  In truth, Caprese salads are a favorite of all of us who enjoy salads. 

Though listed in the Insalata (salad) section of the menu, the “Caprese Trio” is unlike any composed Caprese salad you’ve ever seen.  Served on a slate board is a treasure trove of deliciousness: fresh mozzarella, Balsamic roasted tomato, fresh basil, smoked mozzarella, house Italian tomato jam, pesto, Burrata, fresh tomatoes, basil oil, ten-year old Balsamic vinegar and wedges of lightly toasted bread.  It’s sheer genius to compile such individually delicious ingredients into a cohesive array of complementary, harmonious magnificence.  Every single component is a shining star.  Our favorite may have been the burrata, an unnaturally soft and moist fresh Italian cheese made from cream and mozzarella.  Translated to “buttered,” it bears a strong resemblance to mozzarella, but is much softer and when penetrated by a knife or fork, has an interior that spills out, revealing unctuous, stringy curd and fresh cream.   The smoked mozzarella is absolutely amazing and the tomato jam is addictive!

Carbonara Pizza

11 December 2016:  Ordering the Carbonara pizza brought a broad smile to our server’s face.  She said it was her favorite pizza.  It’s easy to see why.   M’Tucci’s pizzaiolos nonpariel have taken Carbonara to the nth degree, actualizing its potential and fashioning a pizza as good as it can possibly be.  Not since Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach, California have we found a pizza that amazed us as much as this one did (Jim Millington, are you reading this?).  This fourteen-inch masterpiece redolent with char is topped with house-cured and smoked Guanciale, caramelized onion coulis, sauteed spinach, Tallegio cheese and Rosemary cured egg yolk.  The caramelized onion coulis imparts sweet notes while the Tallegio cheese provides an unusually fruity tang.  Our favorite ingredient, however, is the guanciale (about which I rave above).  The Neapolitan crust is light and chewy with the distinctive flavor of sourdough in evidence.

11 December 2016:  While the Margherita may be the forerunner of all pizzas, it’s never been one of my favorites.  It’s just too basic and unadorned to suit my “more is better” tastes.  M’Tucci Market & Pizzeria has made a convert out of me with its Buffalo Margherita (smoked buffalo mozzarella, basil-infused olive oil, tomato jam and roasted garlic).  Buffalo mozzarella, made from the milk of domestic Italian water buffalo, is a difference-maker.  With a high butterfat content, it’s got a seductive tang you just don’t get from mozzarella made from cow’s milk.  Then there’s the tomato jam with its rich, sweet-savory notes. It’s wholly unlike the savory acidity of the tomato sauce which typically graces pizza. Every Margherita should be this good!

Margherita Pizza

25 June 2017:  My friend Larry McGoldrick writes on his blog, “For my last dozen or so visits, I don’t even look at the menu. Cory and Shawn know what I like and what is healthy for me, and automatically start a custom meal as soon as I walk in the door.”  You, too, can eat like Larry and not just vicariously.   All you’ve got to do is roll the dice.  A small placard over the door reads, “Don’t know what to eat?  Roll the dice and let us decide with Chef Roulette.”  Yeah, it requires a high level of trust and not every chef warrants such trust.  Cory and Shawn do!

What is most amazing about the Chef Roulette concept is that the dish tailor-made for you may not be made exactly the same for the next intrepid diner who decides to roll the dice.  I wouldn’t change a thing about the mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin, two thick tenderloins stuffed with mushrooms and local-roasted leeks over roasted potatoes, cannellini beans, piñon and scallions over a roasted tomato cream sauce.  Along with Forghedaboudit‘s transformative pepperoni and sausage pizza and magnificent meatballs, this is the best dish I’ve enjoyed in 2017.  The roasted tomato cream sauce has an element of piquancy that pairs perfectly with the sweet-tanginess of the roasted tomatoes.  There is a complexity to this dish that extends far beyond its ingredients.  This is a dish which will enrapt your taste buds.  Knowing it may never again cross my lips is almost painful to contemplate.

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

21 October 2017:  Almost universally, New Mexicans tend to consider autumn their favorite season and rightfully so.  Autumn means the incomparable aroma of chile roasting, warm sunny days and cool crisp nights and canopies of brilliant yellow leaves on cottonwoods and aspens.  Autumn also means pumpkin pie and even better, hearty butternut squash stews and soups.  The very best we’ve ever had comes from M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria.  It’s an amazing melange of magnificence, a coalescence of complementary ingredients that bring out the best in each other.  This enchanting elixir is made with grade A Iberico house-cured bacon made from free-range, 100% Ibérico breed pigs that eat acorns.  Iberico ham is considered the “Beluga caviar of hams.”  That means it’s the absolute best. 

Though Iberico house-cured bacon gives this stew a pedigree, it’s just one of several ingredients put together so well that each spoonful may elicit a swoon or ten.  The sweetness of the butternut squash is counterbalanced by the piquancy of a local cayenne.  Yes, cayenne.  Louisiana may have made cayenne famous, but New Mexico-grown  cayenne is more flavorful and it rates higher on the Scoville scale than the jalapeño.  Other ingredients on the stew include cubed potatoes, cubed pear, kale and farro.  The stews is served hot the way autumnal stews are supposed to be served.  It’s the type of soul-warming soup which is synonymous with comfort food greatness.

Butternut Squash Soup

21 October 2017:  We all know diners who find something on a menu they love and would never consider ordering anything else.  Then there are the adventurous among us who rarely order the same thing twice…or at least not until we’ve tried everything on the menu at least once.  For us, M’Tucci Market & Pizzeria’s Chef Roulette concept makes great sense.  Believe me, you can trust Cory and Shawn to create something absolutely wonderful every time.  They’re the proverbial mad scientists only instead of steaming beakers and malevolent cackling, they experiment with ingredients, their quest being to concoct something delicious and different for all of their guests.  Sarah, our delightful server, told us about a recent evening in which everyone at a table of six ordered the chef’s roulette.  Every one of them was enthralled to receive something entirely different. 

As an aspiring cook, my own efforts at concocting delicious dishes with disparate ingredients often result in discordant and contradictory ingredient combinations that just don’t taste good.  As such, my admiration for Cory and Shawn grows with each Chef Roulette.  They truly have the Midas touch when it comes to creating the harmonious interplay of ingredients seemingly reserved for only the most delicious dishes.  Take for example the Chef Roulette pictured below–a pasta dish with the aforementioned Iberico house-cured bacon, kale and a butternut squash mostarda cream sauce.  Though it’s tempting to pluck out the rich, fatty (well marbled) Iberico bacon and let it linger on your tongue like a fine wine, it goes best with the sweet mostarda cream sauce and the slightly bitter kale.  This is one of those dishes a habitual “order the same thing” person should never order because chances are they’ll never experience anything quite this good.

Rolling the Dice Again…

21 October 2017: It’ll probably be a while (if ever) before my Kim can be convinced to roll the dice and order the Chef Roulette especially since she knows she can reach over and have a forkful or ten of mine.  She’s enamored of the Neapolitan pizzas (characterized by its thin, slightly crispy texture; hand-kneaded and wood-fired preparation) and plans to try them all eventually.  Her newest favorite (and it will be until her next pizza) is the Truffle (Morbier cheese, wild mushrooms, orange-herb Gremolata, white truffle oil and goat cheese).  If you’re wondering what the differences are between mushrooms and truffles, those differences can be described in two words–scarcity and flavor. 

Truffles need the right tree roots to grow on, some rain to fall, and the perfect temperature.  Then it takes special teams with dogs to find them underground.  Compared to the intensely robust flavor of truffles, mushrooms are fairly mild in flavor.  Truffle oil either is made with high-quality olive oil that’s been infused with white truffles or it’s manufactured with aromatic components.  M’Tucci’s uses the former, the good stuff. As a result, the white truffle oil imparts intensely earthy qualities–like mushrooms on overdrive.  Kudos to the chefs for their use of an orange-herb Gremolata whose citrusy notes sneak through every once in a while.  So does the Morbier and goat cheese blend with their salty, creamy deliciousness.  This is a great pizza!

Truffle Pizza

22 October 2017:  Though the menu offers a buffalo pâté (house buffalo-heart pâté, tapenade and candied pecan on a baguette), my Kim asked instead for duck pâté, a Chicago area favorite.  “Wait,” you ask, “didn’t Chicago ban pâté a few years ago?”  Close, but no cigar.  The Chicago City Council actually banned foie gras, a decision Mayor Richard M. Daley called “the silliest law that they’ve ever passed.”   And yes, there is a difference between pâté and foie gras, which is actually a popular form of pâté.   Pâté is actually French for “pie,” but it’s quite simply a mixture of seasoned ground seafood, poultry, meat or vegetables, and often a combination of several different base ingredients.  Duck  pâté is terrific on its own.  With the addition of a sweet-tangy tapenade and candied pecans, it’s certainly not the “livery” taste you might expect.  Instead, its flavor profile is a mild combination of duck seasoned very well.  It’s spread generously on a baguette and will spread delight all over your face.

Duck Pâté

22 October 2017: On a lazy Sunday morning, Cory proved himself a mind-reader in addition to being an absolute genius in the kitchen.  How could he have known that the perfect Chef Roulette for such a day would be two farm-fresh eggs over-easy, roasted potatoes, grilled red peppers, fresh local arugula and Iberico house-cured bacon with a housemade mustard.  My breakfast preferences lean toward enchiladas, tacos and burritos, but this Chef Roulette–even sans New Mexico’s sacrosanct red and green–is as good an Albuquerque breakfast as I’ve ever had.  Even without the iberico house-cured bacon, it would have been an off-the-charts breakfast.  That bacon just makes everything better.

Breakfast Roulette

14 December 2014: There are only three desserts on the menu and if they’re all as good as the two we chose, you’re sure to sate, if not titillate, your sweet tooth. The molded cheesecake topped with a fig jam renewed my faith in cheesecakes which of late have all been plagued by a boring sameness.  The crostata, a delicate Italian tart enveloping buttery butternut squash infused with sage is nearly as good.  Somewhat small by contemporary dessert size standards, they’re not to be missed.

12 April 2015: Not that long ago you could practically count on one hand, the number of Italian restaurants offering cannoli as a dessert option.  For the most part, it’s been pretty standard–tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta and often, mascarpone.  “Radical” versions sometimes included chocolate toppings.  Yawn!  During our visit in April, 2015, M’Tucci’s served a cannoli pila (an Italian term meaning “stacked” or “piled”) that was essentially a deconstructed cannoli.  Instead of the standard stuffed shell, bits of shell were topped with a mascarpone-ricotta mix topped with a cherry-walnut compote.  It’s a deliciously different way to enjoy one of the most popular of Italian desserts.

Italian Bread Pudding (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

7 June 2016:  When Larry first tried M’Tucci’s Italian bread pudding, it immediately rocketed to the coveted number one spot on his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  It was so good that both he and Deanell regretted not having ordered one each instead of sharing a portion.  One of my life’s greatest regrets is not having driven over immediately as soon as they told me (months ago) how fabulous this bread pudding is.  There are several reasons it’s so good.  First, the bread isn’t the mushy, squishy mess so often used on bread pudding.  It’s a housemade foccacia.  Secondly, it’s not cloying as bread pudding is oft to be.  Third, it’s made with premium ingredients.  The version to which I was introduced included blueberries and piñon and was topped with a seasonal melt-in-your-mouth gelato.  This is transformative stuff!

Pop culture enthusiasts will remember the scene from the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally in which Meg Ryan experienced delirious joy from her sandwich at New York City’s revered Katz’s Deli. Similar reactions at M’Tucci’s are sure to be repeated and when they are, you can tell your server “I’ll have what she’s having.”

M’TUCCI’S  MARKET & PIZZERIA 
6001 Winter Haven Road,  N.W., Suite G
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7327
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 October 2017
1st VISIT: 14 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Italian Charcuterie Board, Pickled Board, Pastrami Sandwich, BLT, Muffaletta, Carbonara, Farro Salad, Lentil Salad, Oven-Roasted Herbed Potatoes, Cheesecake with Fig, Crostata with Butternut Squash, Cannoli Pila, Italian Mac and Cheese, Market Reuben, Italian Bread Pudding, Carbonara Pizza, Buffalo Margherita Pizza, Caprese Trio, Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

M'Tucci's Market and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sauce Pizza & Wine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sauce Pizza and Wine in the Uptown Area

To celebrate the 100 year anniversary of pizza in America, James Beard Award-winning food writer Ed Levine ate nothing but pizza for an entire twelve month period, taking a representative pulse of the best from among thousands of pizza purveyors. His terrific tome, Pizza A Slice of Heaven, published in 2010, provides a definitive guide to a beloved staple that in its elemental form is simplicity itself–bread, cheese and whatever toppings a pizzaioli artisan might care to add. To the surprise of cognoscenti and plebeian alike, Levine declared the best pizza in the fruited plain (and the world, for that matter) to be made in the unlikely town of Phoenix, Arizona where the intensely brilliant Chris Bianco plies his trade as no other.  Yes, that Phoenix, Arizona!

In the dozens of business trips I made to the Phoenix area while working for Intel, convivial colleagues introduced me to a number of wholly forgettable models of pizza mediocrity.  “All-you-can-choke-down” seemed to be their primary criteria for assessing the quality of pizza.  I gleaned the impression that save for  Pizzeria Bianco, nary a good pizza was to be found in the 9,071 mile expanse of metropolitan Phoenix.  None of my colleagues had ever even heard of the anointed purveyor of peerless pies  and when I explained where Pizzeria Bianco was located, none would venture that far…especially when prodigious portions of the all-you-can-eat variety were in much closer proximity.  Eventually I made it to Pizzeria Bianco on my own and confirmed what Ed Levine had proclaimed.

Italian Chopped Salad with Basil Lemonade

When we heard a Scottsdale-based restaurant chain specializing in pizza would be expanding to Albuquerque, misgivings quickly set in.  If this interloper was comparable in quality to the cavalcade of barely passable pizzerias to which my colleagues introduced me, surely savvy Duke City diners would spurn it.  With the sobriquet Sauce–subtitled with “Pizza and Wine”–the burgeoning franchise currently has eight locations in the Phoenix area and four in Tucson with  Albuquerque being the first city outside of Arizona to which Sauce has expanded.  The franchise is located at The Corner @ Winrock, an Uptown property in the sprawling Winrock complex.  Sauce is situated in a 3,000 square-foot space on the corner of Indian School and Uptown and has a capacious dog-friendly patio.

The Sauce menu is so much more than pizza and wine.  Twelve signature pizzas constructed from handcrafted toppings, made-from-scratch sauces and dough prepared fresh daily, might be the first thing to which your eyes gravitate, but you’ll probably peruse the salads menu rather closely, too.  Prepared fresh daily, the ten composed salads aren’t all of the run-of-the-mill variety and the dressings are all house-made.  Locally-sourced, fresh-baked bread from Fano Bread Company is the canvas upon which the four paninis are made.  Pasta paramours have five choices, including a macaroni and cheese option which appears to be very popular.  Soups, sides and desserts are also very intriguing.  Guests order at a counter but an attentive server staff will deliver your order, refill drinks and bus tables.

Prosciutto and Fig Pie

If you’re tired of designer greens-based salads, Sauce has an Italian Chopped salad (pepperoni, sopressata, smoked mozzarella, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, red onions, roasted garbanzo beans and roasted garlic vinaigrette) that will make a believer out of you.  Sure, chopped salads (which include ingredients which have been chopped to be uniform then either composed or tossed) have been around for a long time, but peruse the aforementioned ingredients and you’ll probably note combinations heretofore unseen to you.  These ingredients coalesce into a  delicious whole in every bite.  There are plenty of surprises in this salad, among them the crunch of the roasted garbanzo beans, the smokiness of the mozzarella and the potency of the roasted garlic vinaigrette, for example.

From among Sauce’s signature pizzas, several are sure to pique your interest.  Among them are the Prosciutto & Fig (black mission figs, goat cheese and fresh arugula).  The idea of tossing arugula atop a pizza was almost certainly conceived by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.  It’s an idea oft duplicated, especially in California.  Not among my favorite toppings, arugula nonetheless adds a bold, peppery flavor to each pie.  While the black mission figs counterbalance the tanginess of the goat cheese and the saltiness of the prosciutto, a fig jam would have been preferable to sliced fig halves.  Our favorite aspect of each slice was the pizza crust, especially the cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza.  The cornicione is not only is soft and chewy, it’s got granules of sea salt that enhance its just baked bread flavor and aroma.

Lasagna Pie

Noting that “nothing ruins a pizza faster than the wrong toppings,” The Cheat Sheet, an online presence dedicated to “providing audiences the information they want in an approachable, entertaining way” compiled a list of the fifteen most hated pizza toppings many people think take a pie from delicious to disgusting.  Among them are spinach (described as making a pizza soggy while imparting very little flavor) and mushrooms (another topping which adds very little flavor).  Both spinach and mushrooms adorn the Lasagna Pie along with ricotta, meatballs and fresh garlic.  These ingredients seem more at home on a true lasagna than atop a beauteous crust.  Still, the one ingredient we enjoyed least was the meatballs which lacked the personality of say, a spicy sausage.

My Kim didn’t get much argument from me that along with the Chopped Italian, the best item on the Sauce menu is the gelato from Van Rixel Brothers. That could be said about almost every restaurant in which Van Rixel gelato is offered.  What’s so great about this gelato?  Aside from having a lower butterfat and sugar content than ice cream, texturally it’s also much denser than ice cream with a much more intense and concentrated flavor.  High-quality artisan gelato retains its texture (from delicate ice crystals) for only a few days which is why great gelato is usually made on the premises or at least locally (the Van Rixel Brothers are Albuquerque-based), not shipped from afar. Two winning flavors we enjoyed are lavender-lemon gelato and chocolate gelatoSauce’s portion size was very generous.

Left: Lavender-Lemon Gelato; Right: Chocolate Gelato From Albuquerque’s VanRixel Brothers

Sauce Pizza & Wine has redeemed Phoenix pizza in my eyes.  It’s not only better than any of the pizza parlors to which my Arizona colleagues took me, it’s a very good addition to the Duke City pizza scene.  The Italian Chopped salad alone is worth a visit (or six) while the basil-lemonade is a best in town caliber beverage.

Sauce Pizza & Wine
2100 Louisiana Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-5402
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lavender-Lemon Gelato, Chocolate Gelato, Strawberry-Basil Lemonade, Chopped Italian Salad, Prosciutto-Fig Pizza, Lasagna Pizza

Sauce Pizza & Wine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Zullo’s Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Zullo’s Bistro and Bar in Albuquerque’s Downtown

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
and say we’ve no money for butter.”
~Jenny Joseph

“Only you,” my Kim chided me “would approach an Italian bistro and associate it with a poem considered an ode to nonconformity.” It couldn’t be helped. My mind just works that way. Besides, purple is prominent on the exterior facade approaching Zullo’s Bistro on Old Route 66. “Why so much purple?” I wondered—”especially amidst the adobe-hued homogeneity that is Albuquerque.” My Catholic upbringing taught me that purple is used during Advent and Lent as a sign of penance, sacrifice and preparation. Purple also represents justice as one of the three colors of Mardi Gras. In the best-selling novel The Color Purple, purple is a reminder that we should take the time to notice what little things God does to show us that He loves us.  Purple, it seems is a very versatile color.

There’s even more purple inside the restaurant as well as on the expansive back patio It’s a drastic departure from the days in which the edifice–then home to the Blackbird Buvette–was as dark as a goth wardrobe.   So why purple?  Mike Zullo who owns the bistro with his daughter Jenni, is–like the old woman of Jenny Joseph’s poem–a bit of a nonconformist (he plays bluegrass music after all).  While other restaurateurs might go with an earthy adobe tone, he likes purple.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a Barney the annoying Dinosaur purple.  It’s more of a purple M&Ms purple.  There are pastel colors, too…and most “normal” people will probably notice them first.

The interior of Zullo’s Bistro

Zullo’s Bistro is the family’s investment in Albuquerque, Mike told us.  It’s an investment that’s been fraught with challenges–and not solely because the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) has made driving and parking downtown a serious challenge.  Since launching in the Spring of 2017, a number of days in the hundred-degree range slowed walk-in traffic from neighboring businesses–so much so that a planned daily lunch seven days a week is down to four days.  As the saying goes, however, “when life gives you plums, you make plum wine (purple of course).”  While lunch traffic may be way down, this is one jumping joint in the evening.  Zullo’s is one of the few downtown dining alternatives to food trucks that remains open into the wee hours of the night.  Live music is a huge attraction.

So is the capacious back patio, a corner of which is a designated musical space.   The dog-friendly patio offers sun-shielding canopies and overhead fans to help offset the heat. Alas, during our inaugural visit on a Saturday lunch hour we had the patio to ourselves.  Still, it’s easy to see why the back patio is such a popular draw.  Admittedly, we probably wouldn’t have been on the back patio if Zullo’s didn’t offer some tempting Italian food prepared by an Italian chef.  In 32 reviews Zullo’s has amassed a four-star rating (out of five) on Yelp.

Beet and Feta Salad

Zullo’s menu lists only about a dozen items, but a compendium-like menu is never a guarantee of quality and deliciousness.  Instead, Mike Zullo told us, his family restaurant emphasizes fresh, high quality ingredients and even pays tribute to the Land of Enchantment’s favorite vegetable by offering a green chile marinara option as well as frites with green chile.  There are three salads, two sandwiches and three pasta items on the menu along with three appetizer items such grass-fed beef meatballs (more on them later).  For diners who pride themselves on trying everything on the menu, it won’t take many visits to do so.  Thankfully, you’ll want to repeat several of the dishes.

One dish you’ll enjoy time and again is the beet and feta salad (yellow and red beets, feta, toasted walnuts, craisins, and spinach tossed in orange vinaigrette).  Yellow (golden) beets vary in sweetness, tending to be a bit sweeter and tasting a little less earthy and more mellow in intensity than their red counterpart.  Texturally, yellow beets are more tender and are easier to masticate.  They’re my favorites while my Kim enjoys the red beets best.  To counterbalance the sweetness of the beets, ask for an additional ramekin of the orange vinaigrette, one of the very best we’ve had.  The toasted walnuts also provide a nice foil.

Bruschette

Bruschetta is an example of culinary ingenuity meeting practicality.  Originally created as a means to use up bread beginning to get stale by adding oil and seasonings to improve its flavor, it’s become a versatile appetizer or snack.  Toasted slices of bread can be served with any number of toppings, the chef’s imagination being the sole limiter.  At Zullo’s, the bruschette features triple-cream Brie cheese, freshly chopped basil and assorted tomatoes on a toasted baguette.  It’s akin to a Caprese salad sans mozzarella.  Served three to an order, it’s a nice starter!  The fresh cherry tomatoes and their sweet, juicy flavor are a perfect foil for the invigorating basil and the rich, milky Brie.  Our sole complaint (and it’s a nit) is that we had to split one of the bruschette.  Make it a foursome and we would have been very happy.

In 2008, the New York Times celebrated the return of the “lost Jersey tomato.” Believe it or not, the Garden State’s state’s agricultural reputation was built on consistently sweet, juicy tomatoes (and jokes crediting Three Mile Island soil aren’t appreciated). According to the Times, “the classic Jersey tomato is not an heirloom, loosely defined as a tomato your great-grandfather might have grown in the backyard.” Instead, it’s a disease-resistant, high-yield, red, round tomato developed for taste. New Jersey tomatoes are the only tomatoes Zullo’s uses on their sauces. They’re more expensive, but the quality is certainly telling.

Pasta and Free Range Meatballs

Still believe nothing says Italian food like a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs?  Think again.  If you visit Italy and ask for spaghetti and meatballs, you might hear “sfigato” (loser) and “stunad” (stupid) being uttered under your server’s breath as they steer you toward something more authentically Italian.   Spaghetti and meatballs is strictly an American invention popularized in New York City.  For that, generations (at least of Americans) are grateful.  You’ll certainly give thanks for Zullo’s free-range meatballs served with fresh, hand-cut Pappardelle noodles and basil marinara.

My Kim believes these magnificent orbs are the best in Albuquerque and second only in New Mexico to the amazing meatballs at Deming’s tranformative Forghedaboudit.   Zullo’s meatballs aren’t of the crumbly variety, retaining their integrity even after you pierce them with your fork.  Already the most popular item on the menu, the grass-fed beef and sausage meatballs are about the size of a golf ball and are probably the first item on your plate you’ll attack, but don’t discount the papardelle.  Papardelle, a flat pasta cut into a broad ribbon shape, is tailor-made for sauce and Zullo’s doesn’t spare it.

Roasted Mushroom Manicotti with Green Chile Marinara

With nearly nine months having elapsed in 2017, reflecting on Gil’s “best of the best for 2017” has started to take on a more serious tone.  It’s a virtual certainty that Zullo’s roasted mushroom manicotti with green chile marinara will make it onto that hallowed list.  Normally served with a basil marinara, the four manicotti dish is an exemplar of flavors that work very well together.  The roasted mushrooms and their earthy deliciousness are finely diced and generously stuffed into the manicotti which is topped with the rich, fresh-flavored New Jersey marinara sauce punctuated with New Mexico green chile.  Between the acidity and sweetness of the marinara sauce and the pleasant piquancy of the green chile, this sauce is a winner.  Topping the manicotti is a melted three-cheese blend of Parmesan, Mozzarella and Pecorino Romano sprinkled with basil.  This is an outstanding dish!

The dessert menu is a bit on the small side, but the tiramisu has already garnered high acclaim.  Alas, Saturday night diners and revelers polished it all off so the only postprandial treat available to us was a chocolate gelato sprinkled liberally with walnut chunks.   Tannins in walnuts are great for balancing out sweet dishes, not that the chocolate is especially sweet.  Still, the walnuts provide a nice flavor contrast to an “adult” ice cream with plenty of rich creaminess, chocolate chunks and dense thickness.  It’s a nice way to finish a great meal though someday we’ve got to return to try that acclaimed tiramisu.

Chocolate Gelato with Walnuts

Zullo’s Bistro is living proof that you don’t have to be old to wear purple.  It’s seriously one of the very best reasons to visit Albuquerque’s downtrodden downtown district.  Go for the roasted mushroom manicotti and you’ll be back time and again.

Zullo’s Bistro
509 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6909
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Beet and Feta Salad, Bruschette, Pasta and Free Range Meatballs, Roasted Mushroom Manicotti with Green Chile Marinara, Chocolate Gelato with Walnuts

Zullo's Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Village Pizza – Corrales, New Mexico

Village Pizza in Corrales

Research has proven that taste buds are dulled by high altitude and cabin pressure, so as an aircraft climbs, our sense of taste diminishes by as much as 30 percent. That explains why many passengers praise airline food on flights in which meals are actually served.  It’s probably not that the food is good; it’s more likely that their sense of taste is diminished.  Alas, it’s not solely high altitude and cabin pressure which can diminish the sense of taste.  On this blog I’ve catalogued some of those factors: the use of spices (i.e., cumin) that mask the purity, earthiness and richness of red chile; the use of inferior ingredients that can’t mask the lack of quality; the impairing effects of alcohol on the senses of smell and taste; improper preparation time and so forth.  One factor I have not touched upon is “too much of a good thing.”

At Village Pizza, the pizza buffet is so inviting, so tempting, so alluring that you’re bound to consume more than you should.  In all its glory and splendor, the pizza buffet is as enticing as the sirens of Greek mythology who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices.   Willpower will wane.  Diet be damned.  Resistance is futile!  You can’t help but make repeat visits to this paragon of pizza perfection with occasional and frequent detours to the salad bar or to the tureen of green chile chicken stew, a magical elixir. The Village Pizza is a bit of a paradox–luring patrons with so much (maybe too much) of a good thing while daily demonstrating that willpower is not enough.

The sprawling dog-friendly patio

18 July 2009:  If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of ingredients (particularly meats) on restaurant pizza, you’re overdue for a visit to Village Pizza, the antithesis of the “where’s the ingredients” pizzas throughout the Duke City area.  It would be easier to locate Forrest Fenn’s fabled treasure than to locate more than a handful of pepperonis on many pizzas.  At the opposite extreme of these chintzy, cheap pies is the Village combo , described on the menu as “a real combo piled with smoked ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, hot or mild green chile, bell peppers, red onions, ground beef and hot or mild sausage,” the emphasis should be on “piled.”

When we first undertook the monumental task of finishing the Village Combo, our initial impressions were that moderation might be in order.  It’s the first time my Kim and I were ever intimidated by a pizza.  The ingredients on this baked behemoth were stacked so high we didn’t know whether to eat them, make a salad out of them or organize an expedition to climb them.  Perhaps only Joey Chestnut, the renowned greatest eater in history could have polished off this prodigious pie in one sitting.  Over time, we’ve come to appreciate that the Village Pizza strives to provide its loyal guests not only with great food and portions, but with great value.

The pizza buffet is a very popular draw

Geographically, the Village Pizza lies pretty close to the heart of the village, but villagers might argue that it actually is the heart of the village.  It’s where families congregate to share food, fun and fellowship.  Village Pizza has probably hosted more anniversaries and parties than any other venue in the village.  Cognizant of its location and of environmental concerns, Village Pizza gives discounts to diners who ride their bike or horse to eat at this converted home.  Exterior signage reads “Human Only Patio?  No!  Bring Your Lovable Canine Pal.”  That’s what we do and our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides) couldn’t be happier.

The restaurant has two large dining rooms as well as a capacious outdoor patio.  During buffet hours, all three can be quite crowded and at times rather “festive.”  Towering assiduous trees provide sun-shielding shade, but our favorite spot is beneath the covered portal where our backdrop is the preternatural photography of Kim Jew, a Corrales resident widely regarded as one of the Land of Enchantment’s most talented photographers.  Just as the Land of Enchantment provides the most beautiful subject matter for Jew’s photographs, the Village Pizza’s dough is the canvas upon which beautiful ingredients are heaped.

The Village Pizza, A Pie So Large It May Take a Village to Finish

In Corrales it may be said that if it takes a village to bake a great pizza, that village is the Village Pizza and if pizza dough is the canvass on which great pizza is made, Village Pizza creates the canvass on which masterpiece pizzas are made.  The dough–conventional or whole wheat–is made on the premises.  Thin, regular or “thick” varieties shaped into 12″, 14″ and 16″ sizes (three sizes, three thicknesses) are available for appetites of varying capacities.  Each pizza is hand-tossed and baked in slate ovens.  Fresh ingredients and real cheese are a standard as is the generosity of ingredients.  An array of exotic ingredients such as eggplant, artichoke hearts, feta and roasted pine nuts are available for pizza aficionados who don’t want a conventional pizza.  Village Pizza even offers a “take and bake” option so you can bake the pie at home.

The homemade sauce is very good, obviously made from rich tomatoes at the peak of freshness.  It is seasoned very well with basil, garlic and other complementary ingredients.  If you prefer pizza sans tomato sauce, the restaurant can accommodate you there, too.  In addition to the original red sauce, you can have a wonderful bianco (garlic and ricotta) sauce or pesto if you please.  There’s even a “gourmet” sauce option where you can choose two from the sauce triumvirate of tomato, bianco or pesto.

Two Slices from the Pizza Buffet

An all-you-can-eat buffet is available every day from 11AM – 2PM and Monday and Tuesday nights from 5PM until closing.  The buffet, which includes pizza, soup, salad and breadsticks, is one of the biggest draws to this Corrales institution.  Whether you order off the menu or opt for the buffet, your portions will be profligate.  Village Pizza is not a restaurant you visit if when you want a small meal.  Though we often eschew buffets, this is one we enjoy–even when having to share a dining room with a passel of party-goers. 

Several types of pizza are available on a large silver table spotlighted by heating lamps.  You needn’t worry about the pizza growing stale or cold because it doesn’t spend much time on the table.  A procession of hungry diners forms quickly after the pizza is replenished.  The buffet features many of the most popular pizzas–pies adorned with green chile, pepperoni, cheese and more.  The Hawaiian-style pizza (pineapple, Canadian bacon) is quite good, showcasing the contrast of tangy-sweet pineapple and salty-savory Canadian bacon.  Alas, the green chile would barely register on the Scoville scale.  It’s got virtually no heat and that’s a mortal sin in New Mexico.

Green Chile Stew from the Buffet

The salad bar allows you to indulge your creativity with a melange of fresh ingredients.  The foundation for your salad starts with either a conventional iceberg lettuce or spinach base.  Trays of ingredients include discs of pepperoni, sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives, chopped green peppers, flower seeds and some of the largest, most juicy pepperoncini (which packs more punch than the chile) in the area.  Salad dressings include all the usual suspects and a raspberry vinaigrette we enjoyed for dipping the bread sticks. 

Soup of the day is a celebrated event when the featured fare is green chile chicken stew.  A large crock of piping hot green chile chicken stew has its own place separate from the buffet as well as its own legion of admirers who queue up to ladle it onto their bowls.  This is a good green chile stew even though we were hard-pressed to glean any piquancy or smokiness.  What is discernible, however, is finely cut chicken and a thick broth.  We love that this stew is served hot, a much welcome respite from the chill of winter.

Calzone at Village Pizza in Corrales

Calzone at Village Pizza in Corrales

As someone for whom Spanish was the first and only language I knew until starting school, the word “calzone” has always amused me.  In Spanish and in Italian, a calzone is a trouser, so the first time I saw “calzone” on the menu of an Italian restaurant, confusion and humor abounded.  After having consumed one, it could have been called ropa interior (underwear in Spanish) and it wouldn’t have mattered.  This wondrous Italian turnover crafted from pizza dough baked golden brown and stuffed with rich Ricotta absolutely captivated me.

Village Pizza’s rendition, the Corrales Calzone, is much like those calzones with which I fell in love in Massachusetts.  It’s made from hand-formed dough whose outer borders are formed into bread knots you can tear off and dip into the accompanying red sauce.  The golden brown bread is heavenly, very much reminiscent of bread right out of the oven.  The calzone is about the size of a flattened football so there’s plenty of room in which to stuff it with mozzarella and Ricotta cheeses.  It’s brushed with pesto after it’s baked.  As with the pizza, you can have your calzone with additional ingredients.  Spicy sausage is a good choice here.

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

The menu features four appetizers: breadsticks, nachos (yes, nachos), chicken wings and a veggie plate.  The chicken wings are available in two varieties, a tangy honey barbecue sauce and tequila lime.  The tequila lime chicken wings are served with blue and yellow corn chips, sour cream and pico de gallo.  Unlike what most fried foul fanatics fantasize about, these are not deep-fried and therefore, don’t have a crispy texture.   The skin has a bit of an unappetizing “elastic” feel as you bite into it.  Discard the skin and you’ll find the tequila lime flavors do penetrate into the delicious, albeit chintzy chicken meat. 

There aren’t many dessert options on the menu, but it’s unlikely unless their to-go boxes are full, many diners will have room left over for dessert.   One option is a parfait-like dessert, a frothy chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream, piñon and two cherries.  It’s available in three sizes up to 16-ounces which means it’s big enough to share.

A chocolate mousse parfait at Village Pizza

A chocolate mousse parfait at Village Pizza

In January, 2014, Village Pizza branched out to the southwest corner of Griegos and Rio Grande which served for years as the home of Geezamboni, a popular barbecue restaurant.

Village Pizza
4266 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 898-0045
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 30 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tequila Lime Wings, Village Combo Pizza, Chocolate Mousse Parfait, Salad Bar, Green Chile Chicken Stew

Village Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Scalo Northern Italian Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Scalo, one of the crown jewels of the Nob Hill area.

When we moved back to New Mexico on May 15, 1995, our first priority wasn’t where to live, but where to eat.  Having been away for the better part of 18 years, there were so many old favorites with which to reacquaint ourselves and so many exciting new prospects we just had to try.  By year’s end, we had visited 75 different restaurants (no chains).  One of our favorite sources on where to eat was Albuquerque Monthly, a very well written publication which celebrated the Duke City’s culinary scene with an Annual Restaurant Guide and a “Best of Albuquerque” edition. 

On its tenth anniversary, the magazine created a “Best Of” Hall of Fame, listing the ten establishments–restaurants, bars, card stores, clothing stores, computer stores, galleries and more–which had received more “best of” votes during the decade than anyone else.  The first establishment listed was Scalo Northern Italian Grill, which was also perennial selection on the magazine’s annual listing of the city’s top ten fine-dining restaurants (other mainstays still serving the city include the Artichoke Cafe, Prairie Star and the Rancher’s Club).

The main dining room at Scalo

Call it heretical if you will, but it took a while before Scalo earned my affections.  One song described perfectly my first three experiences at Scalo, long regarded by many as an Italian restaurant in a class of its own–the pinnacle of Italian dining in the Duke City.  That song, a 1960’s baby boomer tune by Polly J. Harvey asked the question, “Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball if that’s all there is.”  After every meal at Scalo, I asked myself the same question: Is that all there is?…but I didn’t come away dancing (although the pricey tab usually made me want to take up drinking.)

Bread with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Because it was one of Albuquerque’s most popular, highly acclaimed and revered restaurants, I expected Scalo to completely blow me away. Instead, my every dining experience was a humdrum event that left me perplexed as to what I was missing.  That changed on Saturday, May 5th, 2005 when like a sudden, powerful and almost spiritual realization hit me–an eating epiphany of sorts. That epiphany came with the second or third bite of the spinach salad (yes, a salad!) with blue cheese, honeyed walnuts and strawberries. Almost ethereal in its lightness, this salad married ingredients that just shouldn’t work that well together, but nonetheless coalesce to create a memorable taste sensation.  The sharpness of the blue cheese, the tartness of the just in season strawberries and the salty sweetness of the honeyed walnuts were like the signature masterpiece of a culinary artist, easily one of the best salads we’ve had in New Mexico.

Great Northern White Bean Soup

Great Northern White Bean Soup

Perhaps not coincidentally, just a few weeks before that transformative visit Scalo’s ownership changed hands with entrepreneur Steve Paternoster assuming the helm.  Paternoster is one of Albuquerque’s most successful restaurant impresarios, having had a hand on several successful start-ups including La Brasserie Provence and Ptit Louis Bistro.  He is also one of the city’s most active philanthropists, garnering the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s (NMRA) Cornerstone Humanitarian of the Year for New Mexico in 2010.  That same year Scalo and Brasserie La Provence shared the NMRA’s “Restaurant Neighbor Award” for their ongoing contributions to many civic organizations, schools and churches. 

Carpaccio

It would be presumptuous to believe one person, no matter how influential or dynamic, could be solely responsible for my sudden change of heart about a restaurant.  After all Scalo has been serving Albuquerque since December, 1986 and during its quarter-century of operation has always been regarded as one of the city’s premier destination restaurants. In 2007, it was bestowed a Wine Spectator award of excellence for its outstanding selection of premium wines.  In 1998, it was featured in Gourmet Magazine.  After nearly three decades, it continues to garner accolades.  During his much missed very entertaining and interesting weekly radio show, Steve Paternoster often gave all the credit to Scalo’s success to the restaurant’s staff, most of whom have been with the restaurant for years.  It’s a good staff, as accommodating and friendly as they come in the Duke City, but Paternoster’s leadership and commitment to keeping his restaurant at the top is inspiring.

The Scalo experience is much more than excellent wines and quality Northern Italian cuisine. Its allure also includes a bright, airy interior bustling with the cacophonous din of constant activity from an open kitchen and an enthusiastic wait staff flitting from patron to patron, seemingly never skipping a beat or screwing up an order.  Weather permitting, al fresco dining is available in a capacious, covered, temperature-controlled patio replete with white linen table cloths and fine silverware.  It’s a patio our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides) enjoys very much.

Baked cavatelli

Baked cavatelli

7 October 2007: Scalo’s menu is influenced by seasonal harvests and it prides itself on using locally grown organic produce. The quality shows in some of the most inventive salads and soups anywhere in town.  The Great Northern White Bean Soup is one such soup–a brimming bowl of great ingredients melded together creatively. Those ingredients include shaved Parmesan cheese, a spicy-sweet pancetta, an invigorating Italian pesto pasta and hard-crusted Ciabatta croutons. This is the perfect autumn soup a comforting elixir that will cure what ails you. 

29 July 2017: If you find the notion of raw beef a bit primitive, you probably would never consider eating steak tartare (top-quality raw beef chopped and served with onion, capers, parsley, mustard, and egg yolk).  Instead, you might want to try Carpaccio.  Named for an Italian painter famed for his use of red pigments resembling raw meat, Carpaccio is often sliced so thin that you can almost see right through it.   Scalo’s Carpaccio (shaved beef tenderloin, Parmesan, arugula, local greens, extra-virgin olive oil) isn’t transparent, but it’s sliced so thin you practically have to scrape it off the plate as spearing it with a fork won’t cut it.  The marriage of shaved Parmesan and that whisper-thin beef tenderloin is especially memorable and the light olive oil touch with a sprinkling of cracked pepper brings it all together.  If you love carpaccio, you also owe it to yourself to try the superb lime beef at Cafe Dalat.  It’s carpaccio made the Vietnamese way and it’s a winner.

Gnocchi Scalo style is an adventure in flavor.

Gnocchi Scalo style is an adventure in flavor.

A meal at Scalo includes complimentary bread baked by the Swiss Alps Bakery which has been serving the Duke City for more than a decade. It’s a hearty, hard-crusted, airy bread just perfect for sopping up Scalo’s savory sauces. The bread is served with an olive oil and Balsamic vinegar mix. Alternatively, you can request butter which is soft and easy to spread.

7 October 2007: The Baked Cavatelli starts with a corkscrew shaped pasta baked al dente then topped with a fennel-rich housemade pork sausage, mushrooms, roasted garlic, ricotta, Parmesan and a pine nut gremolata in a marinara cream sauce.  There are a lot of things going on with this entree, but it’s not one of those dishes in which all the ingredients seem to be competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds. Instead the ingredients work well together in a concordant, complementary fashion.  You may want to isolate the flavors to focus on specific tastes (for example, the richness of the ricotta or the tangy, piquant bite of the sausage), but this is an entree in which the flavors are truly best in combination with each other.

chocolate semi freddo

chocolate semi freddo

7 October 2007: The sautéed gnocchi employs even more flavor combinations–a Gorgonzola cream sauce, toasted walnuts, balsamic currants and chives. There’s the pungent richness and sharpness of the Gorgonzola, the fruity tanginess of the currants and the flagrant effervescence of the chives. This gnocchi is rich and delicious. Gnocchi, which is much more than just Italian potato or semolina dumplings, should be light in texture with almost a melt-in-your-mouth quality. That’s what Scalo’s rendition of this taken-for-granted entree is–ethereally light and wholly enjoyable.

The lunch menu includes several wood-fired gourmet pizzas, most crafted with fairly standard, albeit high-quality ingredients.  On occasion, the pizze (sic) menu also includes pizza crafted with ingredients you might not see elsewhere in New Mexico on a pizza. Creativity seems to be a hallmark of all Scalo entrees. One pizza we enjoyed immensely but which isn’t on the standard pizze menu showcased fig preserve, prosciutto, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and arugula. At first browse, these ingredients seem somewhat disparate, yet Scalo made them work in a taste bud pleasing fashion. Scalo’s pizza is a semi-round pie served slightly crispy and waifishly thin. It’s not likely you’ll have any leftovers save for the impressions left  on your olfactory memories and taste buds.

Budino Di Pane

5 February 2012: Dessert (the “dolce” menu) is a celebratory event at Scalo where seven sensational sweet treats will challenge you to select the right one to finish off your meal.  As with the antipasti, insalati, pizze, panini, carne e pesce and fresh pasta menus, desserts are not permanent fixtures as Scalo changes things up frequently to keep things interesting and delicious.  You can generally expect to find homemade gelato on the menu and usually a “sampler’ which introduces you to three desserts at one fixed price.  During our inaugural brunch visit, we rejoiced at finding a Budino Di Pane, an Italian bread pudding topped with warm caramel and served with vanilla gelato.  It’s a dessert which in 1995 could well have been another epiphanic dish.

7 October 2007: If you fancy chocolate–and not the dairy chocolate variety tailored for children–you’ll love Scalo’s chocolate semi freddo Genoise cake with a pistachio bark in a warm pool of dark chocolate sauce.  This is not a fork-tender chocolate confection. In fact, it’s darn hard to cut into the cake, but once it’s in your mouth, it practically melts there. This is a dark, rich chocolate that should come with an “R” rating for adults only.

Ostrichi al Forno

Brunch 

Scalo was a relative late-comer to the brunch bunch, serving the traditional Sunday repast from 11AM to 2:30PM with a Bloody Mary bar starting at noon.  The brunch menu includes five items on the antipasti y insalate menu, four pizzas and a ten-item Primi Y Secondi menu.  In Italy, the traditional meal progression begins with an antipasto followed by a primi (usually soup, pasta or risotto) then a secondi (main course) and finally dolce or formaggi (a cheese course).  Portions in Italy tend to be much smaller than in America so that progression makes sense.  Scalo’s portions are somewhat more substantial and you might not follow the traditional progression.

5 February 2012: You would not, however, want to pass on an antipasti as terrific as the ostrichi al forno, four oysters on the half-shell baked with artichoke, aioli, Reggiano and truffle oil.  It’s a wonderful variation on Oysters Rockefeller and much better, too.  The greenish hue of the artichoke-infused, Reggiano blessed oyster appetizer is intriguing, but it’s the flavor of the dish–the brininess of the oysters, the fresh “greeness” of the artichokes, the sharp nuttiness of the Reggiano–that will ensnare your affections. You’ll want a dozen of these beauties.

Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda

5 February 2012: The Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda, a pounded bone-in crispy pork chop with an onion, bacon, capers and grain mustard cream  is somewhat reminiscent of a German weinerschnitzel though much more lightly breaded.  The mustard cream is more akin to a French Hollandaise sauce than to a pungent, tangy German mustard.  This prodigious hunk of porcine heaven is as substantial in flavor as it is in portion-size.  The pork chop is nearly fork tender and is terrific with or without the mustard cream.

5 February 2012: A more “breakfasty” brunch offering is the Polenta y Salsiccia, creamy polenta, grilled sausage, poached eggs, roasted peppers and mushrooms.  Polenta (not necessarily synonymous with grits) serves as the base for this dish–literally.  Piled atop the polenta are two sausages, one spicy and one sweet and frothy poached eggs.  The objective of this dish is to spread the runny yokes throughout the dish, making it a melange of flavors.  It may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but the combination of ingredients works very well.

Polenta y Salsiccia

29 July 2017:  My Kim likes to joke that her weird husband doesn’t like spaghetti, but loves all of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western. She, on the other hand, dislikes the Clint Eastwood shoot-em-ups and loves spaghetti.  Not finding spaghetti on Scalo’s brunch menu, she opted for the next best thing, a Scalo’s only entree called Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti (sauteed shrimp, olive oil, chili, garlic, sun-dried tomato, peas, parsley, lemon and white wine butter).  It’s a dish that will address different areas of your taste buds with flavor profiles that are alternatively piquant, savory, tart, briny and even a bit sweet.  The shrimp is fresh and snaps when you bite into it.  My favorite elements were the fresh green peas and sun-dried tomatoes.

Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti

29 July 2017:  One of the highlights of visiting my mom in Peñasco is enjoying organic farm-fresh eggs for breakfast.  Online debates rage as to whether there’s a discernible difference between farm-fresh eggs and their store-bought counterparts.  Having been raised on the former, I’m a stickler for farm-fresh eggs.  That said, the three eggs on Scalo’s Pizza Colazione (sunny side up egg, speech ham, Fontina, Gorgonzola, fresh rosemary, aged balsamic) reminded me of the eggs we gathered every morning from my grandmother’s chicken coop.  This is a terrific pizza, my only nit being that the eggs shouldn’t have been congregated so closely so as to better distribute the unctuous yolk.  The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy with a pronounced flavor of oven-baked bread.  In combination, the Fontina and Gorgonzola provide a wondrous cheesy flavor that goes very well with the salty ham.  In my pantheon of New Mexico’s very best pizzas, this one certainly deserves a high spot.  It’s outstanding!

Pizza Colazione

For several years my friend Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos has been extolling the greatness of Scalo’s Filetto (grilled beef tender loin, mushroom risotto, grilled asparagus, cambozola cheese, red wine reduction), a dish which certainly sounds worthy of much praise.  Alas, our visits to Scalo seem to occur most often on weekends during brunch.  One of these days we’ll have to join Bob for dinner.  That’s likely the day my rating for this Duke City institution is likely to climb.

Scalo Northern Italian Grill
3500 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 255-8782
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Spinach Salad; Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce; Pizza; Costletto alla Milanese Mostarda; Ostrichi al forno; Baked Cavatelli; Chocolate semi freddo; Carpaccio, Pizza Colazione, Spaghettini Olio e Aglio con Gamberetti

Scalo Northern Italian Grill 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

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