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The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse – Los Lunas, New Mexico

The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse for the best in fine dining in Los Lunas

New Mexico is truly a dichotomous land, a state in which seemingly contrasting qualities exist in symbiotic harmony with each other. While most of those contrasts exist spectacularly in nature, the Land of Enchantment’s architecture is no stranger to contradictions. One such example is the Luna Mansion, a stately manor built in the Southern Colonial architectural style, but whose basic construction material is adobe. The Luna Mansion was built in 1880 by the Santa Fe Railroad Company in exchange for right-of-way through lands owned by the Luna family. In the 1920s, the Luna-Otero family added to the grandeur of the Los Lunas showcase by building a front portico and grand solarium. White Grecian columns bid all visitors welcome.

In the 1970s, the Luna Mansion was transformed into a restaurant, perhaps rankling the ire of Josefita Otero, one of the original family members to dwell in the Mansion. Her apparition, attired in 1920s regalia, began to appear. Several other apparitions, including Cruz, a groundskeeper, are said to haunt the restaurant while others have been seen or felt on the grounds of the estate. Perhaps they continue to visit the Luna Mansion for the food.

One of the first floor dining rooms

While Auld Lang Syne faded with the dawning of 2009, the Luna Mansion was put up for sale by Earl Whittemore who had owned the property for more than three decades. It wasn’t for sale for long. Fittingly, the Mansion was purchased by Pete and Hortencia Torres, longtime owners of the Wittwer House, another historic property converted to a restaurant (the award-winning Teofilo’s Restaurante). Moreover, the Torres family has a restaurant pedigree in Valencia County that goes back more than six decades. Pete’s parents opened the eponymous Pete’s Cafe in 1948. Teofilo’s is directly across Main Street from the Luna Mansion, now a registered national historic landmark.

Under the auspices of the Torres family, the Luna Mansion remains a monument to the way good food used to be served in bygone days before America became a fast food nation, back when hearty portions of delicious cuisine could be enjoyed in a relaxing milieu. Though not by design, the restaurant brings to mind the clean, elegant Harvey House restaurants which introduced a touch of refinement and civility to an untamed frontier while serving good food at reasonable prices throughout the Old West. There’s a Harvey House a few miles south in Belen though it no longer serves food.

Sourdough bread

The Luna Mansion name is now appended by “Landmark Steakhouse,” a recognition of its historic place in the community as well as the Torres family commitment to providing a memorable fine dining experience for their patrons. As the name implies, the specialty of the house is USDA prime beef aged 21 days for flavor and tenderness and hand-carved by local butchers exclusively for the Luna Mansion. The menu also offers fresh fish, seafood and poultry. Several menu items popularized during the tenure of previous owners have been retained (including one of my favorite desserts) while New Mexican chile inspired items no longer have a place on the daily menu.

The nattily attired and attentive Luna Mansion wait staff is as energetic as any in the Duke City area, but with a small town neighborliness you don’t often find in the big city. They’ll be happy to engage you in small talk or discuss the history of the Mansion if you wish, but they’re also professional enough to leave you alone if that be your preference. Best of all, they’re always on-the-spot with hard-crusted sourdough bread and soft butter as well as ice water or your beverage of choice. The sourdough isn’t baked on the premises, but it’s served warm and is replenished faithfully.

The Maytag Wedge: Crisp iceberg lettuce layered with bleu cheese dressing, crumbled Maytag bleu cheese, chopped tomato and crisp bacon

This appetizer menu includes some traditional (some might say anachronistic) steakhouse starters such as shrimp cocktail, Oysters Rockefeller and calamari, but throws in shrimp wontons as a surprising change of pace. These wontons aren’t your typical desiccated dumplings fried to a crackling, crunchy and empty shell. These are roughly the size of a beverage coaster and stuffed with a generous bounty of cream cheese, green onion and shrimp. Best of all, they’re served with a jalapeño sweet and sour sauce that packs a punch. The calamari are small ringlets of squid goodness–not too chewy or too thickly coated. The accompanying cocktail sauce is packed with a potent horseradish.

31 May 2012: The menu also offers a Maytag Wedge constructed from crisp iceberg lettuce layered with bleu cheese dressing, crumbled Maytag bleu (sic) cheese, chopped tomato and crisp bacon. As a bleu (or blue) cheese aficionado who routinely asks servers to bring me as much bleu cheese as they can carry, it does my heart good (only figuratively) to see the generous dollops of my favorite salad dressing. Maytag blue cheese has been hand-formed and cave-aged since 1941 and is one of the most flavorful of all bleu (or blue) cheeses. The other salad components are quite good, but it’s the pungent cheese that stars here.

A 24-ounce Porterhouse steak (21 day aged beef hand-carved by local butchers exclusively for the Luna Mansion

You might not consider Los Lunas (or anywhere in landlocked New Mexico) a destination for seafood, but the Luna Mansion might just change your mind. Daily offerings include two lobster tails, tipping the scales at about a pound, at market price. There’s also a pound or pound and a half of sweet, juicy Alaskan King Crab also at market price. A long-time restaurant favorite is the Mansion Steak, a six ounce filet smothered by crab meat and Béarnaise sauce. Both the filet and the crab are good in their own right, but don’t necessarily combine all their best qualities when paired together.

31 May 2012: The purity of beefy deliciousness is best exemplified by the 24-ounce Porterhouse steak, as good a prime cut of beef as we’ve had in the Albuquerque area. It is prepared to your exacting specifications (at medium, it’s got that pinkish center that ensures juiciness and flavor) and is seasoned with exactly the right amount of sea salt, pepper and garlic. This beauteous beef has marbling for flavor, but not much of the excess fat you cut out and leave on your plate. As with other entrees, steaks are accompanied by your choice of potato (a fully loaded baked potato, French fries or whipped Yukon Gold potatoes). The baked potato is perfectly cooked all the way through and is roughly the size of a child’s football.

Lamb chops with creamed spinach in the background

31 May 2012: Another spectacular plate features four lollipop (what lamb rib chops are called when they’re “Frenched” (when the meat is cut away from the end of a rib or chop, so that part of the bone is exposed)) lamb chops served with mint sauce. Lamb chops essentially come with a built-in “handle” which makes them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine dining restaurant). Each lamb chop is pert and petite, but it’s packed with flavor and is very tender. When asked the degree of “doneness” for your chops, it’s best to leave it to the chef’s discretion. Most chefs prepare lamb chops by broiling, grilling or pan-searing them for only a few minutes on each side. At medium, the Luna Mansion lamb chops are moist and delicious.

19 July 2015: The Luna Mansion set the bar very high, hosting the inaugural brunch venture for the discerning and culinary savvy Friends of Gil (FOG).  Ten of us convened at the historical gem to enjoy a sumptuous repast that included a prime rib breakfast burrito.  Engorged with scrambled eggs and grilled prime rib topped with red chile, it’s a Cadillac of breakfast burritos in a neighborhood of Chevys.  This burrito was served with French fries, a surprising departure from the usual hash browns.

Prime Rib Burrito

The menu offers several “sides including creamed spinach, steamed asparagus, sauteed garlic spinach, whipped Yukon Gold potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, baked potato and French fries. The creamed spinach is a winner thanks to the infusion of intensely garlicky heavy cream playing off the natural acerbic qualities of the spinach. The cream is a bit on the watery side, but is good enough to sop up with the restaurant’s sourdough bread.

19 July 2015: It’s not every brunch that allows guests to also select from the dinner menu.  The only concession at Luna Mansion is that baked potatoes aren’t available until after five.  If you’re having the pasta, you don’t need another carb anyway.  You might not even miss out on the Mansion’s magnificent meats.  That is if the fettuccine with a red chile cream sauce and sirloin tips is on the menu.  First, the pasta is perfectly prepared if your ideal is neither mushy nor al dente.  The red chile cream sauce is rich and delicious with just enough piquancy to be discernible, but not so much that it tastes like another New Mexican dish showcasing our enchanting chile (great as it is).  The sirloin tips are a highlight, a reminder that the Luna Mansion serves some of the very best steak in the area.

Fettuccine with Red Chile Cream Sauce and Sirloin Tips

31 May 2012: Only three desserts–the Mansion Mud Pie, classic cheesecake and housemade key lime pie–grace the menu, but savvy diners look no further than the Mansion Mud Pie, one of my favorite desserts in the area. The foundation for the pie is a thick Oreo crust which is topped with about two inches of mocha flavored ice cream, a chocolate ganache and whipped cream garnished with almond slivers. This is a pie for the ages, a pie I might haunt the Luna Mansion for someday.

The Mansion Mud Pie, a Luna Mansion specialty

The Luna Mansion has long been one of Valencia county’s culinary crown jewels, but it’s good enough to warrant mention among the most highly regarded fine dining establishments in the metropolitan Duke City area.

The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse
Highway 6 & Highway 85
Los Lunas, New Mexico
505-865-7333
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Mud Pie, Shrimp Wontons, The Maytag Wedge, Porterhouse, Lamb Chops

Luna Mansion on Urbanspoon

Kasey’s Restaurant & Pub – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kasey’s on Washington, south of Central

Thematically, it’s usually pretty easy to tell what some restaurants have to offer. Seafood restaurants, for example, tend to have nautical-themed “tells” such as fish nets, buoys and oars designed to evoke the salty, briny look and feel of the sea. The “template” for barbecue restaurants seems to include red and white checkered cloth tablecloths adorning oak tables, cute ceramic pig figurines on the counters and country music blaring from a tinny stereo. Irish pubs typically are accentuated with dark woods and perhaps more importantly, Guinness draft imported directly from Dublin where it is brewed.

By design and deliberation, the overarching concept of theme restaurants touches the architecture, decor, music, menu and the overall “feel” of the place. Unfortunately, in far too many cases the food appears to be a secondary consideration, taking a backseat to the faux and fantasy of all-encompassing theme. Much like an amusement park, the theme often brings in customers based solely on their expectations for an implied experiential premise (we’re so easily entertained).

The main dining room at Kasey’s

On Washington, about half a mile south of Central, stands a curiously out-of-place edifice that can only be described as barn-like. (albeit sans weather vane). There is no exterior signage that tells you what this “barn” actually houses though its pristine exterior certainly seems to indicate it’s probably not an abode for Albuquerque’s most pampered bovines. Even when you find out this barn is home to Kasey’s Restaurant & Pub, you’re still at a loss as to the type of food offered. Is it grub or is it cuisine? Is it barbecue or is it steak?

Set foot in the premises and you’ll find yourself in a swanky milieu with white linen tablecloths and folded napkins on every table. You can also opt to sit at the generously appointed bar which features, get this, wine from the tap, Albuquerque’s largest selection. If you’re thinking wine from the tap is just a step up from Wal-Mart wine-in-a-box, co-owner Gary Lange will assure you it’s good stuff that’s already won over some of the Duke City’s (my words, not his) wine snobs.

Pumpkin Waffles and Fried Chicken

It’s not until you peruse the menu that you begin to discern what Gary and his lovely better half Casey Armstrong-Lange have in mind for the restaurant they launched in December, 2014. And, it’s not until you discuss it with them that you recognize the passion they share. Even then, it may not be until you see a server pass by you with a tray of skyscraper-tall burgers that you truly appreciate that passion. It’s a passion for the community they love and the food they lovingly prepare and serve Duke City diners. They procure beef from Deming and hand-cut every steak. They also grind their own hamburger. The quality shows.

Gary and Casey were destined to own and operate their own restaurant. Before they were married, Casey actually worked for Gary as a chef for the Norwegian Cruise Lines where they rarely had time to luxuriate in the Hawaiian waters where they were ported. The couple later worked together at a resort in the Denali National Park in Alaska and in Oklahoma before launching their restaurant venture, their first as owners. A culinary arts graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, Casey helms the kitchen while the peripatetic Gary runs the front of the house.

Stardust

The barn? Well, they sort of lucked into that. The building is actually owned by Casey’s father and uncle. Over the years, the edifice has served as an aquarium store, a bridge club and even a chicken restaurant (now, that makes sense). It took more than four-months to renovate the building into the spic-and-span state in which it stands today. At first browse of the pristine interior, you may even forget about the farm animal jokes with which you were going to regale the wait staff.

The lunch menu offers a nice variety of burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups and even a couple of steaks. The aforementioned burgers are artwork on a plate and they’re pre-announced courtesy of an aroma that may leave you drooling. The sandwich menu includes such rareties as a chicken banh mi and pork belly tacos. Lest I forget, the appetizer menu includes red chile pulled pork egg rolls which are one of the restaurant’s early run-away hits. The restaurant menu dresses-up a bit for dinner with an appetite-whetting selection of steaks prepared in your choice of butter. Dinner entrees also include braised short ribs and much more.

Pate Maison: Chicken Pate, Cornichons, Caramelized Onions, Baguette

1 March 2015:  Our inaugural visit to Kasey’s was on a Sunday in which brunch was the featured fare.  The brunch menu is somewhat limited and doesn’t include appetizers. Limited, however, doesn’t mean you won’t find something you’ll enjoy. For some, it will be the fried chicken and waffles, a seemingly de rigueur brunch standard. My Kim orders this combination virtually every time she sees it on a brunch menu, but rarely is she pleased. Kasey’s rendition is the best she’s had. The pumpkin waffles are extraordinary light and absolutely sumptuous.  They’re slathered with a tangy strawberry butter that tempers the sweetness of the syrup and melds well with the waffles.  The fried chicken is three triangular shaped chicken breasts.  It’s a very moist and very tasty chicken despite a rather thick coating. 

1 March 2015: Stardust is believed in some cultures to have mystical and magical qualities.  We wondered if those qualities extended to a breakfast sandwich named Stardust (English muffin, mushrooms, filet medallion, over easy egg, Bernaise) with a side of breakfast potatoes. It’s a very good sandwich though because of the runniness of the egg, you’ll eat it with a knife and fork and not like a sandwich. The filet medallion is especially good though somewhat on the thin side. The breakfast potatoes are little cubes of nicely fried potatoes.

New York Strip and Steak Fries

14 March 2015: Eschewing the tempting red chile pulled pork egg rolls takes a lot of willpower, but in a fit of madness we did just that, opting instead for Pate Maison (chicken pate, cornichons, caramelized onions, baguettes). The pate is smooth and deeply flavorful. It spreads lusciously on the lightly toasted baguettes (a welcome change from too many overly toasted, dry baguettes which tend to overwhelm the flavor of pate). The caramelized onions are served cold and are probably better as a side than served atop the pate. Seriously, you don’t want anything coming between you and that pate, except maybe that lightly toasted baguette. Cornichons, as always, are a terrific foil.

14 March 2015: The lunch portion-sized New York strip is a slab of beautifully glistening beef prepared to your exacting specifications. Order a steak at medium and that’s what you’ll get at Kasey’s. At nine-ounces, the New York strip may not be the beefy behemoth carnivores crave, but for sheer deliciousness, it doesn’t take a backseat to its thicker brethren. It’s served with a side of steak fries which do a great job absorbing malt vinegar (no ketchup for us).

Coffee-Rubbed Flank Steak, Grilled & Balsamic Reduction, Crispy Onions, Mashed Potatoes, Sauteed Spinach

14 March 2015: My last experience with a coffee-rubbed steak was at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, Nevada. It left a rather indelible impression on me so when we espied it on the menu at Kasey’s, it was a foregone conclusion we would have to order it.   The flank steak is grilled and sliced into small strips similar to roast beef.  It’s an even better steak than the New York strip.  We suggested to Gary that he find a way to bottle the coffee rub and serve it as a sauce even though a more prominent flavor is a Balsamic reduction drizzled on the steak.  The steak is moist, tender and delicious.  The accompanying mashed potatoes are, well, they’re mashed potatoes.  Much better, if fortune smiles on you, is spinach sauteed in butter and garlic. It’s good enough to convert even avowed carnivores. 

14 March 2015: Desserts are no afterthought at Kasey’s.  In fact, you’ll be thinking about the whiskey caramel bread pudding long after your meal.  What most nay-sayers don’t like about bread budding is it can be more than a bit cloying, maybe even tooth-decayingly sweet.  Kasey’s tempers their bread pudding with a Jack Daniels whiskey and caramel sauce and a single scoop of vanilla ice cream.  The combination is a winner.

Whiskey Caramel Bread Pudding with a scoop of Ice Cream

If luck or design takes you down Washington Avenue and you espy Kasey’s, you no longer need wonder what the barn-like structure houses.  What you should wonder instead is whether you’ll be having one of those beauteous burgers, a sumptuous sandwich or a nicely-priced steak.  You’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy.

Kasey’s
400 Washington, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505.241.3801
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2015
1st VISIT: 1 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stardust, Fried Chicken and Pumpkin Waffles, Whiskey Caramel Bread Pudding, New York Strip Steak, Coffee-Rubbed Flank Steak, Pate Maison

Kasey's on Urbanspoon

Los Arcos Steakhouse & Bar – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Los Arcos Steakhouse and Bar

Because of the geothermal mineral springs which issue from the ground, the city of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico was originally named “Hot Springs.” Seeking to distinguish itself from other cities of the same name and to advertise its plentiful resources, city residents voted to rename the city in response to a challenge rendered by a successful 1950s NBC television show called Truth or Consequences. The rest, as they say, is history. This small resort town with an year round permanent population of just over 8,000 bustles with activity, much of it centered around nearby Elephant Butte lake.

Truth or Consequences (T or C to the locals) is a city which honors its history and is an exemplar of small town traditions and hospitality, but the incursion of Spaceport America and its offering of suborbital rocket rides may prompt the acceleration of the city’s eye to the future.  Deep-pocketed adventurers who can plunk down as much as $200,000 for a ticket will likely demand more of the hospitality industry than the relatively austere and simple amenities currently available in T or C.  It remains to be seen whether the city can and will change to meet those demands while retaining the small-town charm so many of us love.

Egg Rolls with a Sweet-Spicy Mustard

No matter how much things change in T or C, we can almost be assured of one thing: Los Arcos Steakhouse and Bar will remain unchanged.  Launched in 1970, Los Arcos remains what Los Angeles Magazine called “a 70s-style monument to surf and turf.”  The restaurant and its menu may be an anachronism, but great service and hospitality are timeless and the true secret to the longevity and success of Los Arcos.  It’s no wonder that for more than four decades, it’s earned a reputation as a favorite stop between El Paso and Albuquerque. 

Even in the 1970s, the Los Arcos menu would be unique for its variety.  You no longer have to step back in time to find such appetizers as oysters Rockefeller, shrimp cocktail, shrimp won tons and fried veggie platters.  Steaks are aged and trimmed by the staff.  Several beef combinations are available with fresh seafood: Australian lobster tails, king crab and two prawns.  Other seafood and fresh-water options include herb-crusted catfish, Indonesian shrimp and Walleye Pike deep-fried in beer batter.

Baby Back Ribs: Mesquite Smoked with Orange Pecan BBQ Sauce

28 September 2014: Not necessarily an anachronism, but still somewhat rare within appetizer menus are old-fashioned egg rolls, the type of which are standard in Chinese restaurants.  Two golden-hued egg rolls per order are accompanied by a sweet-spicy mustard with all the benefits of sweet and sour sauce with the eye-watering kick of hot mustard.  The egg rolls are engorged with vegetables as is usually the case in Chinese restaurants. 

5 March 2004: The “Los Arcos Specialties” menu is a sort of catch-all of entrees which aren’t steak or seafood.  You’ll find baby back ribs, chicken, a shrimp and chicken and a smoked pork loin.  Also available are the unique pairings of a charbroiled filet topped with green chili (SIC) and Mornay sauce as well as a filet topped with crab and Bernaise.  The smoked pork loin is a thick-cut steak about four inches around and about three inches tall.  It’s tender, tasty and served with honey mustard and applesauce. 

Mud Pie

28 September 2014: Another Los Arcos specialty are the baby back ribs which are mesquite smoked with an orange pecan barbecue sauce.  The orange-pecan sauce doesn’t have the citrus properties you might expect.  In fact, it’s rather sweet with smoky notes.  A full rack of ribs is meal enough for two.  These baby backs are at the opposite extreme of of the “fall off-the-bone” ribs which often denote being overdone.  In fact, you need a knife to separate and cut each rib and extricate the pork which isn’t as tender as we like our ribs.

28 September 2014:   The highlight of our two visits has been Los Arcos’ Mud Pie, an Oreo cookie crust topped with coffee ice cream, chocolate fudge, whipped cream and almonds.  It’s an excellent dessert, especially if you love coffee-flavored sweet treats.  The Mud Pie is a coalescence of ingredients which go very well together to create a very satisfying dessert you may not want to share. 

Los Arcos remains a timeless classic that continues to win over generations of diners with its combination of great service and solid food.  Time will tell if it becomes a favorite of Truth or Consequences space tourists.

Los Arcos Steakhouse & Bar
1400 North Date Street
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 894-6200
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 28 September 2014
1st VISIT: 5 March 2004
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 17
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Smoked Pork Loin, Mud Pie

Los Arcos Steak & Lobster on Urbanspoon