Cafe 6855 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe 6855 on 4th Street

The cover page of the May 20, 2013 edition of Time Magazine depicts a twenty-something woman sprawled on the floor taking a selfie. In large type above the photo is the caption “The Me Me Me Generation” subtitled with “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” If you believe the monolithic label “millennial” (typically assigned to a person born between 1981 and 2001) defines all young people and that popular characterizations and stereotypes about millennials are accurate, perhaps you’ll be interested in an oceanfront piece of real estate I’m selling in Arizona. If your perceptions of young people skew toward the negative, let me introduce you to Victoria and Julian Gonzales.

Victoria and Julian are among the 80-million millennials across the fruited plain. As with many millennials, they’re technologically savvy, very civic-minded and conscious of health, environmental and socioeconomic issues. They’re confident and driven. They’ve got exceptional work ethics and value social connectedness very much…and not just online Both are very outgoing and friendly. They’ve had to be. We’ve known Victoria and Julian since they tagged along with their charismatic dad Michael as he launched Café Bella, his then-fledgling coffee empire in Rio Rancho. We’ve watched them grow not only into very accomplished baristas who’ve served me hundreds of red chile mochas, but into extraordinary young adults with good heads on their shoulders. To say we’re very fond of them is an understatement.

Left: Our beautiful server and friend Victoria Gonzales and her sister…er, mom Tiffany

Until recently, Victoria, a full-time student at the University of New Mexico somehow managed to put in as many as sixty hours in her two part-time jobs (Café Bella and Joe’s Pasta House).  When she moved on to another job, we missed seeing her perpetually smiling face, always effusive greeting and nonpareil ability to prepare the perfect red chile mocha. Fortunately, her new job is as a hostess and server at Café 6855 on North 4th.  It’s not much further from Cafe Bella for us and it’s got a capacious, but intimate dog-friendly patio.  Our inaugural visit to the Cafe was a happy reunion in that we were well taken care of by Victoria and got to visit with her mom Tiffany and grandmother Mary Ann who were also visiting Cafe 6855 for the first time.  It’s easy to see where Victoria and Julian get their good looks and winning personalities (okay, Michael may have had a little to do with that as well).

Cafe 6855 is the sister restaurant to Vernon’s Speakeasy, a highly touted steak restaurant which has garnered local and national recognition as New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant.  Its name is derived from its address (6855 4th Street) where it shares space with its elder sibling.  More precisely, Cafe 6855 is located in the space which previously housed Prime and before that the Calico Cantina & Cafe.  Cafe 6855 is open daily for lunch and serves a fabulous brunch on weekends, but in the evenings and at night, the cafe space and patio become part of Vernon’s.  At the Cafe, you can even order Vernon’s steaks at lunch and brunch

Carolina Chicken Salad

Instead of a large menu, Cafe 6855 focuses on a few items and if our inaugural experience is any indication, they’re prepared extraordinarily well.  By the way, when you dine al fresco, especially with a dining companion as charming and outgoing as our debonair dachshund Dude, you get to know everyone on the patio.  There was consensus among the dozen or so people enjoying the patio as to the high level of deliciousness to which we were all treated.  Those of us who ordered the breakfast enchiladas (more on them later) were especially enthralled with our choice.  One diner even offered a thousand dollar bribe to get the recipe for the chile.  It would have been a bargain at that price.

The lunch menu (noting that all items are subject to change and availability) is segmented into four sections: Soups and Side Salads, 6855 Sandwiches, Salads and Cafe Specialties.  Then there’s the dozen item brunch menu which features items you might find at other purveyors of eye-opening brunches.  In other words, outwardly the menu has no surprises.  What is surprising, however, is just how good your meal is prepared.  Moreover, there’s enough variety to warrant frequent return visits (that is, if you can get past those breakfast enchiladas).

New York Steak with Eggs, Toast and Fruit

There are four salads on the lunch menu, each intriguing in its own way.  The most unique offering is the Carolina Chicken Salad (fried chicken, pickled okra and red onion, chopped tomato, shredded cheese, candied bacon and pecans, with romaine tossed with a spicy honey mustard vinaigrette). This is the antithesis of every boring chicken salad you’ve ever had (and I’ll bet most of them were probably constructed with cold chopped chicken).  You’ll probably want to pluck the fried chicken out of the salad and eat it on its own, but it goes very well with the other ingredients, perhaps marrying best with the candied bacon and pecans.  The spicy honey mustard vinaigrette is slathered on generously, a huge plus.

In the Land of Enchantment, two ubiquitous breakfast favorites reign supreme and have done so for a long time. New Mexico’s two most beloved—some would say beatified–breakfast items are breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. Breakfast tacos (not talking here about the Texas-style taquitos at Whataburger) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, breakfast enchiladas have played third and fourth fiddle to their breakfast brethren. Café 6855 may just change your mind about to order for breakfast and brunch. The brunch menu offers the very best breakfast enchilada we’ve ever had, a beauteous behemoth that covers an entire plate. Picture three rolled enchiladas engorged with your choice of chicken or seasoned ground beef and cheese covered in a blanket of red or (and) green chile and two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications. Trust me, you’re going to want these enchiladas “Christmas” style. Red and green are equally terrific with a nice balance of piquancy (a little too much heat for my Kim) and flavor (sheer lick-the-plate deliciousness). These enchiladas are so good you’ll probably polish them off even though they’ll fill you up halfway through your meal. If you’re going to leave anything on the plate, it’ll probably be the pinto beans which are quite good, but the star of this dish is clearly the enchiladas. 

Breakfast Enchiladas with two eggs

My Chicago born-and-bred bride of three decades thought she might be disappointed with the brunch entrée of strip steak and eggs, figuring that a fifteen dollar steak could hardly compete with the high priced steaks she’s had at Vernon’s. Okay, so the steak wasn’t prime beef, but it was eight-ounces of well-seasoned, nicely-marbled beef as tender and delicious as we’ve had at several higher priced chop houses. Served atop the steak is an herbaceous compound butter which you can spread onto the beef. It’s a nice touch! The steak is served with two eggs your way, seasoned papas, fresh fruit and toast. The small, cubed papas are a worthy accompaniment though you’ll probably want even more than you’re served.

It goes without saying that service was flawless with Victoria taking care of our every need and brightening our day with her smiles and charm.  Seeing her was the reason we visited Cafe 6855.  Outstanding food and service are two of the many reasons we’ll return.

Cafe 6855
6855 4th Street, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 341-0831
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 October 2017
# OF VISITS:  1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Carolina Chicken Salad, Breakfast Enchiladas with Two Eggs, New York Steak with Eggs

Cafe 6855 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Seared – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Seared on San Pasqual in Albuquerque’s Old Town

While you might not be able to judge a book by its cover, sometimes a book title will resonate deeply and you know you’re going to enjoy reading it very much. That’s especially true when a book title warmly reminds you of nostalgic memories long buried in your past. Such was the case when I espied Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood by award-winning raconteur Regi Carpenter. That title aptly described daily life for the long suffering Peraltas, our childhood neighbors in Peñasco. Mama Peralta, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, was such a scatterbrained cook that she used the smoke alarm as a timer. She didn’t sear meat, she cremated it. Even the cockroaches at the Peralta home ate out. So did her children who had more meals at our kitchen table than they did at home.

“Wait,” you ask, “isn’t searing a technique practiced by great chefs?” In the hands of the right person, searing is indeed a culinary technique used to build deep savory flavors. Searing meats, chicken, fish and other proteins at high heat caramelizes their surfaces, imparting a deep-brown crust, especially on thick cuts. Searing crisps the skin on fish and imbues pork chops and other animal proteins a deep layer of flavor in a short amount of time. Alas, Mama Peralta’s idea of searing meat involved heat that was much too low (which allowed her to focus on the marathon phone call sessions in which she engaged at around meal prep time). As a result, the inside of the meat cooked at the same rate as the outside, resulting in very little browning, a zombie-gray pallor, ”carne seca” texture and a perpetually disappointed (and hungry) family.

The Dining Room at Seared

For entirely different reasons, a visit to Seared, a high-end American bistro on San Pasquale Avenue in Albuquerque’s Old Town, also reminded me of our deliciousness-deprived neighbors. At Seared we experienced the type of deliciousness our neighbors never enjoyed when Mama Peralta practiced her unique brand of meat mummification and her family prayed after they ate. Perhaps divine intervention would have occurred had the Peraltas lived on a street named for the patron saint of cooks and kitchens. Then again, Mama Peralto often used the San Pasqual retablo hanging on her kitchen wall as a place to drape dish towels (we could never understand why she needed dish towels when all meals she prepared were served on paper plates).

Seared is located on southwest side of the weirdly confusing, labryinthic Old Town intersection in which Lomas Boulevard meets Central Avenue and San Pasquale crosses both. Getting there is a challenge, but your patience will be rewarded—just as it was more than a decade ago when Jennifer James–then a relative newcomer to the Duke City–plied her craft at the then occupant, Chef DuJour. More recently, the “plain Jane” edifice has been the home of Cheese & Coffee, a popular purveyor of specialty sandwiches, made-from-scratch soups and crisp, fresh salads. Habitues of Cheese & Coffee can still get their favorite sandwiches at the tried, true and trusted San Pasquale location. They just won’t be able to get them after 3PM.

Fried Asparagus with Green Chile Ranch Dressing

Since late-August, 2017, at precisely 3PM, the 2,100-square-foot space begins its daily transformation from simple sandwich shop to Seared, an upscale American bistro “with a French and Italian twist.” The metamorphosis takes an hour during which white linen tablecloths are draped over dining room tables, silverware is laid out meticulously, moveable walls are rearranged and even the art is changed out. The art, by the way, includes colorful portraits of some of your favorite characters from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Signage is also changed out, a relatively easy feat considering there’s no flashy neon or LED involved.

Seared is the brainchild of Jan Barringer-Tenchipe and her husband and business partner Alejandro. Jan has owned the San Pasquale location of Cheese & Coffee for seven years, but with the notorious Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project having proven deleterious to business, she decided to offer Duke City diners another reason to visit the beleaguered Old Town area. Besides that, she and Alejandro had wanted to work together for a while. Seared aptly describes Alejandro’s cooking style, a style he honed in upscale and fine-dining restaurants throughout the city. During our inaugural visit, both Jan and Alejandro checked up on us several times. Their hospitality and commitment to great food and impeccable service is genuine and one of many reasons we’ll be back.

French-Cut Pork Chop

Another reason, of course, is the menu, a compelling bill-of-fare that defies ordering quickly. You’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to order. Everything listed is appealing. Should you visit on Sunday for brunch, you’ll have two equally enticing menus from which to choose–an intriguing brunch menu and the sumptuous daily menu.  We opted for the daily menu, reasoning that we now have an excuse to return on a lazy, brunchy Sunday afternoon.  Another excuse, not that one is needed, is a pleasant dog-friendly patio with plenty of shade behind the restaurant.  You’ll want to peruse the herb garden where such fresh ameliorants as rosemary, basil, parsley and more can be found.

What surprised us most about the menu is how relatively inexpensive each entree is considering the generous portion size and quality of preparation.  This is fine-dining at near cheap-eats prices.  The appetizer menu ranges from salmon crudo to encrusted brie and a cheese platter offering a diversity of local and imported fromage.  The soup and salad menu includes one of the best described chopped salads we’ve seen on any menu.  If it tastes as good as it reads, it’ll be a hit among Duke City diners.  Entrees showcase all your favorite proteins: pork, beef, chicken and fish.  There’s also a vegetarian entree which just might convert some of us carnivores.

House Cut Loin Steak

It took us nearly ten minutes to decide which appetizer to request. Our choice, the fried asparagus served with a green chile ranch is a winner.  Lightly coated in a tempura batter, the half-dozen asparagus spears are firm and crisp with none of the stringiness you find in poorly fried asparagus (Mama Peralta).  Though addictive on their own, the housemade green chile ranch dressing elevates the fried asparagus to the “must have” appetizer level.  The green chile ranch isn’t as piquant as the one now offered at Dion’s, but it, too, is so good it should be bottled and sold.  Seeing a generous portion of the green chile ranch remaining after we had polished off the asparagus made it easy to decide what dressing would be gracing the salad accompanying my entree.  The salad, an old-fashioned dinner salad with fresh, crisp greens, croutons, cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots is terrific.

Often when unable to choose from two equally evocative entrees, I ask our server to surprise me, always assuring him or her that either choice will make me happy.  The slow-braised French-cut pork chop made me very happy indeed.   As with proteins which are “Frenched,” the meat is cut away from the end of the chop so that part of the bone is exposed, essentially giving it a built-in “handle” which makes it easy to pick up and eat.  Another portion of the pork chop is roughly six-ounces of artfully prepared, absolutely delicious porcine perfection.  The chop is positioned atop a creamy, delectable grain mustard sauce that’s been tempered a bit so as not to obfuscate the delicate flavor of the pork.   The chop is served with a mound of rich potatoes au gratin and a fennel apple salad that rings with freshness. This chop competes with the bone-in pork chop at Mykonos Cafe for “best in town” honors.

German Chocolate Cake

My Kim’s house cut loin steak proved equally formidable, reminding us of the many times we enjoyed loin steak in England.  Though usually basted with chimichurri sauce, Kim asked that it be served on the side.  No sauce was needed.  Sliced thinly into medium-rare visions of pink pulchritude, the loin steak was fulsome and flavorful with a rich beefy flavor.  The herbaceous notes imparted by the chimichurri appealed to me, but my Kim is much more a purist than I when it comes to the flavor of beef.  Accompaniment for this terrific steak came in the form of roasted red potatoes and calabasitas (a substitute for broccolini).  Both are equal to the task of sharing space on a plate with that magnificent loin steak.

Jan is the baker in the family though Alejandro wishes she prepared her German Chocolate Cake more often at home.  It’s simply the best German chocolate cake I’ve ever had at any restaurant, equal to the version made by my not-at-all Teutonic mom.  One of the things we appreciated in this cake is that it is served at room temperature, not obviously thawed to order.  The coconut-pecan frosting is slathered on generously, but not so much that it overwhelms the delicate chocolate cake itself.  Another surprise we enjoyed is the sweet-tart raspberry jam spread atop the frosting.  It’s goodness on top of goodness.  The portion size is very lavish.  Call it a sizeable slab of sumptuousness.

Sorbet Trio: Mango, Lemon and Raspberry

For my Kim, the perusal of a dessert menu stops and ends when she espies sorbet.  Her excitement is in triplicate when a sorbet trio is available.  Seared’s sorbet trio features three of her favorites: mango, lemon and raspberry.  All three flavors are fresh, lively and delicious with the icy coolness you appreciate most when temperatures are unseasonably warm.

Seared is one of the very best reasons to make your way to the Downtown area.  Jan and Alejandro aim to please and their aim is certainly true. 

Seared
119 San Pasqual, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 999-8414
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Fried Asparagus, French-Cut Pork Chop, House Cut Loin Steak, German Chocolate Cake, Sorbet Trio
REVIEW #999

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

Monte Carlo Steakhouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Package Liquor Store

The Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Package Liquor Store

“Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter
That looks like Elvis.”
~George Jones

Having spent much of his career in an inebriated state, Country music icon George Jones actually lived the life experiences that inspired much of his music.  After one of his four divorces, Jones sat alone in a rather empty home, his ex-wife having absconded with almost everything–furniture, china, glassware and more.  Among the few items left behind were a small table, a Jim Beam whiskey decanter bearing the likeness of Elvis Presley, and a Fred Flintstone jar of jelly beans.  After dumping the jelly beans, the “Possum” used the jar as a glass into which he poured the entire contents of the Jim Beam decanter.  The imaginary conversations he had with Elvis and Fred Flintstone during his impaired state were the inspiration for the song “The King is Gone.” 

Only among avid collectors will you generally find Jim Beam decanters sporting the likeness of The King.  The Duke City’s most prolific collectors of vintage adult beverage decanters, bottles and signage is the Monte Carlo Steak House on Route 66.  Kitschy mirrors emblazoned with the logos of beer distributors, anthropomorphic alcohol decanters, faux wood walls, garish neon signs, Velvet Elvis and stereotypical “leatherette” booths may have been born in another era, but they never go out of fashion because the Monte Carlo is one of the most comfortable and welcoming restaurants in the city. To those in the know, it’s also one of Albuquerque’s very best steak houses.

Taking you back 40 years–the interior of the Monte Carlo Steakhouse

“Those in the know” now include a nation-wide audience who watched the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode entitled “Where the Locals Go” in which “local hot spots” got the inimitable Guy Fieri treatment.  Contrary to the episode’s title, not all locals go to the Monte Carlo–or at least they didn’t until after the show’s premier.  In fact, many people even within the confines of the Duke City had never heard of the Monte Carlo until the Food Network introduced it to them.  It truly was one of Albuquerque’s best kept secrets.  As Fieri did, you can enter the steak house through a bustling package liquor store (which doubles as a veritable museum for even more collectibles).  You can also enter directly through an entrance on the restaurant’s west side.  One of the first things you’ll notice is a full-service bar which probably can’t concoct the libation of your choice, but can dispense long-neck Budweiser, Schlitz and Pabst like there’s no tomorrow.  The volume is turned way down on the restaurant’s televisions, but then you probably couldn’t hear them amidst the din of an eclectic crowd.

One of my propeller-headed, Jedi-worshiping, 40-something Luke Skywalker wannabe colleagues uttered “come out of the light and into the darkness, Luke” when he stepped into the Monte Carlo Steakhouse from a bright, sunlit Duke City afternoon. It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dimly lit beef and beer palace by the Rio Grande–and when they do adjust, you’ll wonder if you stepped out of a portal into the 1960s.  The Monte Carlo Steakhouse is an anachronism, a bona fide throwback to a bygone era–and indeed, the restaurant has been in business since 1970.

Greek Olives and Feta Cheese

There are no distinctions between the lunch and the dinner menu and even though the menu stipulates that baked potatoes and rice pilaf are available only after 5PM, you can generally have either with your lunch. Lunch specials are available Monday through Friday while a prime rib–regarded by many as among the city’s very best–is the evening special Thursday and Friday.  Aside from the aforementioned baked potato (perfectly done) or rice pilaf, each dinner also includes one slice of Texas toast.

The parking lot is generally crowded with mechanical conveyances of every type, size and description and waiting lists tend to be long, especially on weekends.  Despite nearly overflow crowds, the wait staff is among the most accommodating and friendly in the city.  Many regulars opt for the bounteous Greek appetizer plate in lieu of the standard fried appetizers (zucchini, onion rings, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese sticks) and are rewarded with a platter of salami strips, Greek olives, Pepperoncini, tomatoes and one solitary dolma (stuffed grape leaf) all drizzled with Kalamata olive oil.  Sadly, this otherwise outstanding precursor does not include pita bread.

Salad

Steak dinners are accompanied by your choice of soup or a fresh dinner salad (perfunctory iceberg lettuce only, not the fancy designer lettuces upscale steak houses proffer) made with shredded red cabbage, tomato, carrot slivers and your choice of dressing.  For a full Greek experience, a good bet is the zesty Greek dressing which is liberally sprinkled with bits of fetid Feta cheese.  Among the restaurant’s most popular soups is the creamy green chile chicken soup, a swimming pool-sized bowl of soul-warming soup served hot.  Thickened heavily (probably with corn starch), it is replete with chicken pieces.  The green chile lacks piquancy but has a nice flavor.  Soup and salad not withstanding, this is a meat and potatoes establishment in the anachronistic traditions of the 70s.  Observing the offerings–burgers, steaks, ribs and even a cheesesteak, Fieri noted “you don’t come to this joint for a tomato and avocado on whole wheat.

The menu defines the degree of doneness for each charbroiled steak–from the “cold center” of a rare steak to the “cooked throughout” description of a well done steak–and includes a disclaimer that the restaurant is not responsible or meat ordered well done. The chef is truly master of his broiler domain, typically achieving the exacting specifications requested by discerning diners who would think nothing of sending back a steak not prepared the way they asked for it.

A lovely slab of beef and French fries

We can’t imagine ever sending the steak back.  The bone-in 20-ounce Porterhouse steak is charbroiled to perfection with just enough marbling for flavor.  Unless otherwise requested, each steak is prepared with Seasonall, an all-purpose seasoning (no MSG) used liberally.  An excellent alternative is asking for salt, pepper and garlic on each side of your steak. While on the grill, the chef will also brush on some melted butter.

One of the things that makes a Monte Carlo steak stand out is the fact that the restaurant still cuts its own steaks fresh daily, a practice begun by founder Michael Katsaros when the restaurant launched nearly thirty years ago.  The Katsaros family still runs the restaurant.  After his first bite of a ribeye, Guy Fieri’s uttered then reiterated the statement “that’s just great.”  You’re probably thinking “he’s the host of the show and is supposed to be enthusiastic about the restaurants featured,” but his sentiment pretty much echoes that of most people who discover the Monte Carlo Steak House.

Louie's Special, maybe the best steak sandwich in town.

Fieri also pointed out that “it ain’t just killer steaks that get hand-cut here.”  The souvlaki, “made with mama’s classic Greek recipe with a family twist” is made from pork tenderloin cut at the restaurant.  Each souvlaki portion is 12 to 14 ounces of some of the most tender and delicious, albeit non-traditional, skewered meat you’ll ever have.  The souvlaki is allowed to age for five to six days in a marinade of lemon juice, white wine, salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano and vinegar before it hits the grill.  After it’s done on the grill, it’s brushed on with a mix of olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Watching this inspired creation, Fieri exclaimed “I hear the national anthem of flavor town going off right about now.”  In between utterances of “wow” and “this is monster flavor, he called the flavor “so deep and so rich” and after a few forkfuls, he proclaimed “I’m moving in.”

3 November 2016: The charbroiled green chile cheeseburger is a role-model for how this most sacrosanct among New Mexico’s many sandwiches should be prepared. There are too many green chile cheeseburgers in which green chile barely registers on the Scoville scale with about as much piquancy as a bell pepper.  This green chile bites back with a pleasant piquancy heat lovers will respect.  What really sets this cheeseburger apart, however, is the freshness and moistness of the beef patty which is essentially ground steak, a thick third-pound of beef prepared to your exacting specifications. Wholly unlike the desiccated Frisbees served at some burger establishments, these meaty orbs are oh so wonderfully juicy–even if ordered at medium.  Monte Carlo’s green chile cheeseburger was selected for inclusion on both the 2009 and 2011 editions of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  It’s one of the favorite green chile cheeseburgers of Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author and architect of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger initiative.  Mine, too.

Green Chile Cheeseburger, one of the very best in New Mexico

Another “not to miss” entree is the Greek style chicken. The loquacious Fieri admitted to “not having talked much or taken a breath” while sampling this perfectly prepared poultry which he described as “killer,” one of the adjectives he uses effusively when he really likes something. He also noted that “it’s about as basic as you can make it” and “as tender and juicy as you can get it.” The key is getting it. If you haven’t visited the Monte Carlo Steakhouse, it’s worth the drive from anywhere in the Duke City area just for this chicken.

3 November 2016:  If you have to work overtime to make up for an extended lunch hour to drive across town for a lunch special, it’s worth it, especially if the lunch special is the hamburger steak with grilled onions.  My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik describes it as “75-percent as good as its counterpart at San Antonio’s fabled Owl Cafe.”  Bill, who matriculated at New Mexico Tech loves the Owl’s hamburger steak almost as much as he loves his car.  To compare the Monte Carlo’s rendition is a high compliment indeed.   Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver had his hamburger steak smothered in grilled onions and roasted green chile, two components which made his lunch even more memorable though the incendiary green chile did have him reaching for coffee more often than usual.

Hamburger steak and Onion Rings

The spaghetti’s golf ball sized meatballs have a little flavor “je ne sais quoi” that most diners try to figure out. The secret is a bit of Greek mint which just seems to invigorate the meatballs with flavor. Fieri called it a “money meatball.”

The meats are so well flavored, the service so accommodating and the ambiance so 60s, you’ll wonder why anyone would visit an inferior chain restaurant for a lesser steak or spend nearly $100 for a steak dinner at one of those hoidy toidy, fancy schmanzy restaurants.  Fieri called the Monte Carlo “just an average off-the-hook steakhouse with homemade Greek.”  Everyone else calls it special.

Monte Carlo Steak House
3916 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 831-2444
LATEST VISIT: 3 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Greek salad; Greek Appetizer Plate; Porterhouse Steak; Green Chile Cheeseburger; Hamburger Steak

Monte Carlo Steak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ruth’s Chris Steak House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ruth’s Cris House in Albuquerque’s Uptown Area

During a recent Friends of Gil (FOG) outing, a newcomer asked how my Kim and I can afford to eat out as often as we do (about three times  week on average).  The practice of “dating your mate” is something we began half a lifetime ago when we were stationed in Mississippi and my Air Force salary was, to put it conservatively, considerably less than one-thousand dollars for every year of my life.  Despite the fact that I’d been handpicked for the only job of its kind in my career field, a position with significant responsibilities usually accorded to someone of higher grade and experience–not to mention the possibility of war and deployment every service member faces–by most standards we would probably be considered at the bottom rung of the middle-class.

Our date nights could hardly be considered extravagant or high-end. Fortunately the Gulf Coast had a multitude of reasonably priced restaurants serving high quality seafood, Southern cuisine and barbecue. During our frequent visits to New Orleans, we favored“second tier” (in reputation and price, but certainly not in quality) Cajun and Creole restaurants because we couldn’t afford the anointed restaurants that had made the Crescent City a world-renowned dining destination. For our tenth anniversary I was determined to do something special for my bride. It literally took months of scraping and going without, but eventually I managed to save enough of my weekly allowance to take her to dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Mobile, Alabama.

First Floor Bar and Seating

Even back then–long before the advent of social media and a connected world–Ruth’s Chris was regarded as the place to go for special occasions, albeit one that cost a king’s ransom. Mobile was actually one of the first cities across the fruited plain to boast of a Ruth’s Chris franchise and it was less than an hour from our Ocean Springs home. Praying ninety-five dollars (adjusted for inflation, that’s about two-hundred dollars in 2016 dollars) would be enough, I asked my Kim to don her finery and ferried her to the most posh dining establishment we’d visited during our years together. Ruth’s Chris was everything we had hoped it would be.  The ambience—from subdued lighting to spacing and music—was one of comfort and intimacy, but it was the sizzling prime beef which took the spotlight and we were a rapt audience.

Fast forward twenty-some years to my most recent “Jack Benny” birthday. After years of chiding her for taking me to such paragons of mediocrity as Subway and Olive Garden for my birthday, my Kim decided to surprise me with our first return visit to a Ruth’s Chris restaurant in more than two decades. She wouldn’t have been able to do so even a month earlier because Ruth’s Chris didn’t grace the mean streets of Albuquerque until about a week before our visit. For some reason, the extravagant eatery didn’t deign to launch in America’s 32nd most populous incorporated city until 2016—more than twenty years after setting up shop in Mobile, the country’s 123rd most populated city. Even if that speaks to the widely-held perception that Albuquerque is a cow town, shouldn’t a cow town (especially a cow town) boast of arguably the most popular high-end steak house in America?

Bread

Fittingly Ruth Chris landed in the Uptown district, increasingly the city’s center of commerce. More specifically, it’s located in the Park Square shopping center in a three-story space previously occupied by Robert R. Bailey Clothiers. Few, if any, vestiges of the natty haberdashery remain. Nor are there any de rigueur abobe-hued touches or tributes to the Southwestern architectural design style that defines Albuquerque. Instead, Albuquerque’s Ruth’s Chris would fit in at every other city in which the 150-strong chain plies its craft.  A large mural in the downstairs bar area depicts Tucumcari’s legendary Blue Swallow Motel, a Route 66 landmark, but there isn’t much else that bespeaks of the restaurant being in the Land of Enchantment.

Step into the restaurant and you’ll find yourself in the lap of opulence. A comfortable waiting area beckons, but waiting is wholly unnecessary if you’ve got reservations. Your hostess will escort you to your table which is bedecked in white tablecloth with place settings and glassware for your party. The lower level doubles as a capacious bar and dining room, but for more quiet and intimate dining, you’ll want to dine at mezzanine level which you can reach via a few winding stairs or you can take an elevator. A large circular skylight with dozens of dangling lights ensures the mezzanine is flooded with natural light and artificial light as needed.

House Salad with Blue Cheese

Even among the masses who’ve frequented Ruth’s Chris over its forty-plus year existence, the genesis of the name “Ruth’s Chris” isn’t widely known. Contrary to a widely-held notion, the steak house isn’t named for someone named “Ruth Chris.” More than forty years ago, “Ruth Fertel, a divorced mother of two, mortgaged her home for $22,000 to buy a small 60-seat restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana named Chris Steak House. Shortly thereafter, a fire forced her to change the original location and she renamed the restaurant, “Ruth’s Chris Steak House.” Her restaurant has since featured custom-aged USDA prime (only two-percent of all beef earn this distinction) beef broiled to your exacting specifications in 1800-degree heat and served on a 500-degree plate still sizzling when it arrives at your table.

Despite the name on the marquee, Ruth’s Chris is about much more than USDA Prime beef. In addition to steaks and chops, the menu offers surprising variety, including seafood and specialties (chicken, fish or vegetarian fare). Appetizers and sides are internationally inspired, not only prepared to order, but guaranteed to complement any entrée. There are eleven starters on the menu, including a veal osso buco ravioli dish. The ala carte menu also includes numerous side dishes as well as soups and salads with soups and dressings all being made in-house. Bargain hunters will appreciate seasonal three-course meal offerings at prices substantially lower than some of the pricey steak entrees.

Sizzling Blue Crab Cakes

Much as we had remembered during our inaugural visit decades ago, personal and attentive service was a hallmark of our dining experience at Ruth’s Chris. Quickly noting our genial server sported a tie emblazoned with the Air Force logo, we struck up a conversation and discovered that Kenneth is, like me, an Air Force retiree. He’s also originally from New Orleans where we’d spent so much time during our eight years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Kenneth proceeded to guide us through the ordering process, sagely recommending dishes he thought we might enjoy based on preferences we expressed. Throughout our two-hour visit, the tandem service ensured our beverages and bread were faithfully replenished without us having to ask.

As we contemplated the menu, a small loaf of bread with whipped butter was brought to our table. A hard crust belied the soft, pillowy bread inside. The soft butter spread easily onto the steaming bread, a simple pleasure that seems somehow lost on fine-dining restaurants that insist on serving warm bread with cold butter. Good as the “staff of life” is with just some simple butter, it’s a bread whose purpose in life, other than granting pleasure, may well be for sopping up sauces and dressings. You’ll certainly want some of this inspired bread on your table to dredge up any of the steak house’s amazing blue cheese dressing (because licking your plate at a fine dining restaurant isn’t cultured.)

Loaded Baked Potato

The blue cheese is absolutely amazing, replete with sizeable chunks of picturesque blue veining and an earthy sharpness that characterizes fine blue cheese. It’s the highlight of an excellent steak house salad (fresh Iceberg, baby Arugula and baby lettuces tossed with grape tomatoes, garlic croutons and red onions). Don’t be shy about requesting a ramekin or three extra servings of the blue cheese because you’ll want some on every bite of the fresh, crisp greens, not to mention on the warm bread. Grape tomatoes are another highlight. Despite their diminutive size, they have a meaty texture with a thick skin and just enough sweetness and acidity for balance. The garlic croutons, red onions and blue cheese dressing will wreck your breath in the most delightfully delicious manner.

There are eleven starters on the Ruth’s Chris appetizer menu with ten of them featuring seafood. The only landlubber’s choice is the veal osso buco ravioli. A chilled seafood tower that includes Maine lobster, king crab legs and knuckles, colossal lump crab meat and jumbo cocktail shrimp sounds more like an entrée than an appetizer. We opted for sizzling blue crab cakes (two jumbo lump crab cakes served with sizzling lemon butter). Deposited on a sizzling pool of butter and surrounded by finely chopped red and green peppers, three generous, hand-formed lumps of crab meat looked good enough to eat…and they were. Alas, the lemon butter and peppers probably took away a bit too much of the crab’s natural sweet and briny flavors, but at least there was none of the “fishiness” you sometimes find in seafood served at landlocked locations.

Bone-In Filet

A baked potato (one-pound potato fully loaded “with all of your favorite fixings”) is but one of several inviting items on the thirteen-item signature side dishes menu. Frankly we haven’t had a truly excellent baked potato, especially one of such behemoth proportions, since the Great American Steakhouse closed in 2008. At Ruth’s Chris, “fully loaded” means chives, bacon bits, sour cream, melted cheese and butter, all of which are piled on where the potato is sliced open. Though the potato is baked well, not every forkful includes some of the fixings. On those forkfuls lacking fixings, we found the baked potato just a bit on the dry side (not an uncommon event considering the Duke City’s altitude).

Preliminaries out of the way, we were ready for the main event, ever curious to see if Ruth’s Chris steaks were as good as we remembered them to be so many years ago. From the Porterhouse for two, a whopping 40-ounces of prime beef, to the petite filet at four-ounces, there’s a cut for every appetite though price points can be a bit traumatizing. Eschewing the heftier cuts, I opted for the bone-in filet, a 16-ounce cut with a blend of marbling and mellowness near the bone. A perfectly pulchritudinous sear on the outside belies the medium rare degree of doneness on the inside (as per my exacting specifications). As advertised, the steak was still sizzling angrily on the 500-degree plate. Perhaps because of the plate’s heat retention properties, red steak juices didn’t drip off the steak onto the plate. By no means was this a desiccated slab of steak. It was one of the most delicious filets we’ve had in years.

12-Ounce Ribeye

My Kim ordered a Ribeye, described on the menu as a 16-ounce cut of USDA prime beef that’s well marbled and deliciously juicy. After struggling to cut the steak, she asked me when sinewy and tough became synonymous with well marbled. Sure enough, the Ribeye was far more chewy than we’d expected, too much of a challenge to enjoy. We sent the steak back and ordered another filet in its place. Staff and management apologized profusely and more than “made it right” with our second filet of the evening.

American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was once quoted as saying “take care of your memories, for you cannot relive them.” While that may be true, our return visit to Ruth’s Chris did rekindle memories of when we couldn’t afford such a meal and made us appreciate that we can now splurge every now and then. Ruth’s Chris is the perfect memory-making, occasional splurge restaurant.

Ruth’s Cris Steak House
6640 Indian School, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-3350
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 May 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$$$
BEST BET: Bone-in Filet, Baked Potato, Bread, Sizzling Blue Crab Cakes, House Salad with Blue Cheese

Ruth's Chris Steak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Western View Diner & Steakhouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Neon Spangled Route 66 Sign

Since the 1930s, neon signage has been a prominent and vital part of Route 66 as it meanders through Albuquerque. From the foothills of the Sandias in the east to the parched desert expanse of the west, Route 66 is festooned with vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through the city. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon might be the siren’s call that has drawn generations of “cruisers” to Central Avenue.

One of Albuquerque’s most prominent neon spangled signs celebrates Route 66 as it spans across all four lanes of Central Avenue near its intersection with Coors Boulevard Southwest.  Literally at the shadow of that span is the Western View Diner & Steakhouse which has been pleasing weary travelers and hungry locals since 1941 thanks to generous portions of reasonably priced and delicious comfort food with a homemade taste that comes from years of plying its culinary craft.

The Western View Steak House and Coffee Shop

To say the Western View Diner & Steakhouse was at Albuquerque’s western fringes back when it launched seven decades ago is an understatement.  Aside from sagebrush and vast expanses of horizon, there wasn’t much in the city this far west.  The Western View is one of the very few surviving restaurants which predate the tremendous expansion that has seen the city’s population skyrocket from just over 36,000 in 1941 to over half a million in 2010.

Because of its longevity, this venerable Albuquerque institution was, in 2010, named to the New Mexico Tourism Department’s “Culinary Treasures Trail,” an initiative which honors those rare and precious family-owned-and-operated gems operating continuously since at least December 31st, 1969.  As with all the restaurants on the list, the Western View Diner & Steakhouse is an independent mom-and-pop restaurant which has stood the test of time to become beloved institutions in its neighborhoods and beyond.

The Western View Dining Room

The menu primarily features American standards with New Mexican and Greek entrees thrown in for good measure. The diner has been owned by three successive Greek proprietors, the most recent being Stavros Anagnostakos.  Like many august diners, the Western Diner’s character is in its austerity, its staff and its clientele. One wall features vintage black and white photographs of the stars of yesteryear. Frequent diners prefer to sit at a stool along the counter. That gives them the best vantage point for the dessert tray and better access to the chatty and accommodating wait staff.

Yes, this venerable restaurant has character to spare despite lacking the over-the-top flamboyance of the anointed local favorites and cookie-cutter chains. It’s informal and inexpensive, unpretentious and welcoming…a genuine anachronism. It’s no wonder its parking lots are always full. Look around the dining room. What you’ll see is generations of families, many of whom grew up visiting the restaurant. This is a neighborhood institution which has been doing the right things right for its faithful patrons.

Biscuits with Butter and Jam

The Western View Diner serves breakfast all day long. There’s something almost musical in the clanking of spoons as they stir coffee at all hours of the day. There may also be nothing more arousing (to both genders, but particularly men) at 3PM than the sizzle of crisp bacon on the frying pan and its accompanying aromas as they waft throughout the dining room. That’s what we experienced during our inaugural mid-afternoon visit when at least half the dining patrons were partaking of breakfast.

5 December 2010: Although the diner is renown for its fluffy, house-made biscuits and gravy, an excellent alternative are the pancakes. A short stack means two fluffy orbs that nearly cover the entire plate. A dollop or two of creamy butter, a ladle of syrup and you’re in carbohydrate heaven. It’s been our experience that long-established diners serve the very best pancakes and the Western Diner is no exception. The Western View is also quite accomplished at American breakfast standards. Regardless of what you order–breakfast or lunch–a biscuit or ten is a must.  These biscuits have a rare “biscuit integrity” in that they don’t crumble and fall apart when you attempt to slather on some butter and jam.  Moreover, they’re very tasty and are excellent for sopping up gravy.

New York steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.

New York steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.

17 June 2007: One of the entrees for which this restaurant is known is steak (hence the “Steak House” on the marquee). For just about a dollar an ounce, you can treat yourself to a fresh-cut New York steak that’s heavy on flavor and surprisingly light on the gristle and fat you might expect for an inexpensive cut of beef. Grilled to your exacting specifications (we like salt, pepper and garlic on both sides), it’s a carnivore’s dream. The New York cut is much better than we’ve had at many an Albuquerque steak restaurant, especially at the price.

17 June 2007: The steak is served with your choice of potato–baked potato after 5 PM, mashed potatoes and French fries before then. The mashed potatoes are among the best we’ve had in this city–far better than the de rigeur garlic mashed potatoes served seemingly everywhere. These are real potatoes with a buttery creaminess that reminds us of home. A thick piece of buttered Texas toast fills what little room is left on the plate. It, too, is so much better (and bigger) than Texas toast we’ve had elsewhere.

Chicken Fried Steak

3 April 2016: My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” would like the next New Mexico Tourism Department’s culinary initiative to be a “New Mexico Chicken Fried Steak Trail” patterned after its Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  Though chicken fried steak is more the domain of Texas than it is of New Mexico, there are several potential chicken fried steaks in the Land of Enchantment that could grace such a Trail.  One would be the chicken fried steak at the Western View.  It’s a thin, pounded, lightly breaded steak covered with a rich, creamy gravy served with two eggs and home fries.  The gravy is ladled on rather generously which is a good thing if you love gravy…and this is a gravy you’ll probably love.  If not, refer back to my suggestion that you order one (or ten) biscuits.

3 April 2016: For my Kim, the quintessential breakfast to remind her of home in Chicago is a breakfast of pork chops. At the “Hog Butcher for the World” (a nickname for Chicago), you’re likely to get inch-thick pork chops even early in the morning. In Albuquerque, an order of two pork chops stacked atop one another wouldn’t equal an inch.  Though thin and about the diameter of a hamburger patty, the Western View’s pork chops are seasoned nicely (salt, pepper, garlic) and grilled well.  They’re served with two eggs and home fries.

Pork Chops and Eggs for Breakfast

17 June 2007: The Western Diner’s comfort food ensemble will warm the cockles of your heart as it sates your appetite. For those of my generation, it will bring back memories of home-cooked meals in which steamy plates of meatloaf, mashed potatoes ladled with brown gravy and corn were a Sunday tradition. The meatloaf, by the way, is in the best traditions of American diners–moist and served thick. Cut into it and steam wafts upward, an indication this dish is served hot, the way it should be. The gravy is thick with flecks of ground pepper swimming in the murky liquid. 

Western View’s diner has a rather extensive, multi-page menu that showcases New Mexican favorites–everything from tacos and burritos to combination plates brimming with food.  The combination plates are served with a fiery salsa that goes well on everything.  Alas, the chile is adulterated with cumin so we never order the restaurant’s New Mexican food.  Because seating is in fairly close proximity, we have noticed that diners who do order chile-laden items seem satisfied with their meals.

An old-fashioned chocolate milkshake with whipped cream

5 December 2010: Another old-fashioned standard reminiscent of bygone days in which malt shops were the hang-out of teenagers are milk shakes.  These are served in old-fogyish hard plastic glasses, the type of which probably predate most of you reading this review.  Made with real ice cream, the milk shakes are served thick and cold, easier to drink up with a spoon than with a straw.  They’re also served with a thick dollop of real whipped cream topped with a single cherry, another time-honored tradition.

5 December 2010: Of course, nothing goes better with shakes than the marriage made in malt shop heaven, a vintage cheeseburger and a mound of French fries. The deluxe burger is an ten-ounce beefy behemoth grilled to about medium well, topped with a single slice of American cheese and served on toasted buns. On the side are a plastic cup of green chile, a single tomato, four dill pickles, a slice of raw onion and shredded lettuce. This is an excellent burger, as good or better than several on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail despite being as simple as a burger can be.

An old-fashioned cheeseburger with French fries

Order a burger and you might not be asked to what degree of doneness you’d like for it to be prepared, but the results are flavorful nonetheless.  The beef patty has a nice grilled flavor reminiscent of a burger prepared outdoors.  The neon green chile has a piquant bite that complements the other fresh ingredients.  Alas, the sesame seed buns have a hard time holding in all the ingredients.  The French fries are nothing special, pretty much boilerplate.

17 June 2007: For dessert, an absolute must-have is the chocolate cake. A thick slab is easily big enough for two and is as delicious as any chocolate cake you’ve ever had anywhere. The frosting is thick yet not at all cloying as are the frosting in those hideous store-bought Plaster of Paris designer cakes. It’s diet devastating delicious. Other dessert options include baklava and several fresh house-made pies.  3 April 2016:  Among the luscious cakes masterfully created by the pastry chef is a lemon cake topped with lemon “salt.”  It’s rich, creamy and absolutely delicious with just enough lemony flavor to tickle your tongue.

Lemon Cake

There’s a reason the Western diner has survived more than sixty years. It leaves enticement to its food and not its facade. That’s the way it should be!

Western View Diner & Steakhouse
6411 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 836-2200
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 03 April 2016
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: New York Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Texas Toast, Pancakes, Meatloaf, Guacamole, Deluxe Burger, Chocolate Milk Shake, Chicken Fried Steak, Lemon Cake, Pork Chops

Western View Diner & Steak House on Urbanspoon

Kasey’s Restaurant & Pub – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

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. 

22 February 2016: According to the National Turkey Federation, in 2013, more than 240.0 million turkeys were raised, of which more than 200 million were consumed in the United States. Three holidays account for nearly half the turkeys enjoyed across the fruited plain: 46 million were eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter. Despite a very active lobby, the turkey has not made significant inroads as “the other white meat.” Perhaps that would change if more Americans were introduced to the turkey burger at Kasey’s. Though it is not “ground in-house from New Mexico grass-fed turkeys,” my server assured me the turkey was procured locally. Ground and shaped into a round patty, the turkey is terrific, a good half-inch thick and covering the bottom bun. Only three ingredients come standard on this burger: fig mustard, pickled onions and brie. To add anything else would be to desecrate a bastion of deliciousness. The fig mustard packs a pop reminiscent of Dijonnaise.  It pairs well with the sweetness of the figs and the tanginess of the pickled onions while the brie is a nice counterbalance with its savory richness.

Turkey Burger with Green Chile Onion Rings

22 February 2016: Burgers and sandwiches are served with your choice of sides: French fries, house-made chips, green chile onion rings, house salad or fruit. You know you’re from New Mexico when you read no further than “green chile onion rings.” My server told me it’s one of Kasey’s most popular sides. Though you’ll probably be offered ketchup with these pearlescent orbs, you’ll want them naked—sans ketchup, mustard or any other saucy ameliorant. These onion rings are most definitely not the “out-of-a-bag” variety virtually every burger joint in town serves. The onions are of varying size and thickness with an uneven texture that bespeaks of being battered right before frying. Bite into them and the addictive flavor of roasted green chile makes love to your taste buds.

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
LATEST VISIT: 22 February 2016
1st VISIT: 1 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
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, Turkey Burger

Kasey's on Urbanspoon

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

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