McGrath’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

At the turn of the 19th century, “Sex and the City” in Albuquerque may have meant a trip to the area near the bustling train station in which nearby “hospitality houses” catered to rail-riding clientele. The heart of the Duke City’s red light district was the area around Third and Copper where ladies of the evening entertained their guests in red light cottages, the most famous (and infamous) of which was Lizzie McGrath’s Vine Cottage.

Today the heart of the burgeoning area which once housed Albuquerque’s red light district is the posh Hyatt Regency hotel, a 21-story high rise with two distinctive pyramidal roofs that help make it the city’s second tallest building. The Hyatt’s signature restaurant, McGrath’s is named for the most famous madam in the city’s long-gone red light district.

Set in a contemporary atmosphere, McGrath’s is one of the city’s fine dining treasures even though it appears to be frequented more by visiting guests than locals (most of us don’t want to wait for a parking spot to become available and don’t want to pay to park). The lunch and dinner menus offer a wide assortment of seafood and USDA prime entrees as well as delectable desserts. For years, the restaurant earned accolades for the very best Sunday brunch in town.

The all-you-can-consume Sunday brunch featured “action stations” which offered up extensive selections of culinary treasures: fruits, muffins, breads, cheeses, salmon, gigantic shrimp, meats, waffles, and desserts to name a few. The brunch included the best omelets and blintzes in town (particularly the decadent chocolate blintz) for just over $22 per person (but well worth it).

The comestible smorgasbord also included your choice of two entrees (generally wonderful). Fresh squeezed orange juice (or at least it tasted like it) accompanied every brunch. In five visits, our sole point of contention with McGrath’s was the pitifully mild horse radish (a nit) served with the unfailingly spectacular steamship round.

You may have noticed the two previous paragraphs were written in the past tense. That’s because McGrath’s no longer offers its popular Sunday brunch. Instead, an all-you-can-eat breakfast is what famished guests and visitors wake up to. While the breakfast is one of the city’s best, it pales in comparison to the brunch.

The breakfast buffet includes scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, muffins, pancakes, French toast and more. Everything is perfectly prepared and seasoned well. The service is first-rate, among the very best in the city. The wait staff gets a kick out of serving “locals” who actually know what green chile is and don’t ask what a “kay saw dill yeah” is.

I must confess that we haven’t been to McGrath’s for dinner although we’re well acquainted with its innovative menu offerings. We hope someday the best brunch in town will return. That would be reason enough to bide our time and patience trying to find a parking spot in close proximity to the restaurant.

330 Tijeras, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 30 April 2006
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sunday Breakfast

Tony Roma’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

With more than 260 locations worldwide, Tony Roma’s can be found from Aruba to Venezuela and 25 countries in between. As of August 30th, 2005, one of the most famous barbecue chains in the world can also be found in Albuquerque where truly great barbecue is more scarce than precious, life-giving water. Alas, while the addition of Tony Roma’s may give the Duke City one more barbecue restaurant, it still does not have a great barbecue restaurant.

Tony Roma’s claim to fame is its baby back ribs for which it helped make America go hog wild. This self-proclaimed “Famous for ribs” restaurant launched in 1972 in North Miami, Florida. We first experienced it in London, England in 1984 and last visited in Portland, Oregon in 1997. Underwhelmed might be a good summation of those visits and applies similarly to our inaugural visit to the Albuquerque franchise. We drove less than a mile from our home to Tony Roma’s and wish instead we had driven 35 miles or so further to Jake & Andre’s Rib House in Belen which offers a superior dining experience (emphasis on dining, not ambience) all the way around.

The saccharine service provided by a transparently exuberant wait staff might be the only thing matching Tony Roma’s cloying signature sauces. The Carolina Honeys and Blue Ridge Smokies sauces are sweet, sticky and messy, nearly overwhelming the ribs (which were not as tender or juicy as described on Tony Roma’s Web site). The “Red Hots” sauce offers a slightly tangy respite, but falls short of New Mexico chile enhanced ribs served in several local restaurants.

Aside from the aforementioned sauces, you can also opt for Original, Honey Chipotle and Dixie sauces. Neither the baby back ribs or the St. Louis style ribs are particularly substantive and they certainly didn’t fall off the bone as some truly outstanding ribs are apt to do. The ribs are served with a lackluster coleslaw.

Starters include grilled sesame wings described on the menu as “jumbo chicken wings grilled over an open flame then tossed in Thai chili sauce and coated with black and white sesame seeds.” The most appropriate adjectives for this appetizer are left off the description: sweet, sticky and messy (sounds like a theme here). Despite the mess it makes, the Thai chili sauce is better than the barbecue sauces.

With one exception, the side items are as boring as the ribs are disappointing. The bone dry corn fritter casserole pales in comparison to the one served at Garduno’s. The loaded mashed potatoes were similarly desiccated and uninteresting. The only saving grace seems to be the green beans which are flash-fried, garlicky and delicious.

Despite its shortcomings, Tony Roma’s will be hugely successful in Albuquerque where chain gangs will queue around the building salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at the promise of yet another Lone Star caliber nationally known restaurant.

Tony Roma’s
10015 Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 22 April 2006
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Grilled Sesame Wings, Green Beans

Boba Tea Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

On June 7, 2005, the launch of Albuquerque’s first Boba Tea Company made “you suck” acceptable in polite vernacular. Long a pop culture term of mock derision, “suck” refers, in this case, to the drawing in of liquid refreshment by creating a vacuum in the mouth. More specifically, it refers to the act of sucking through an oversized straw, the tea, milk tea, hot tea, slush and smoothie beverages at the Boba Tea Company.

The Boba Tea Company is the brainchild of Vi and Hoa Luong, the enterprising duo which made Cafe O one of the city’s best restaurant launches (and lunches) in 2004. Wanting to create a “Starbucks for the younger generation” the Luongs have revolutionized tea drinking with a quantum departure from high tea tradition made fashionable in England. Boba tea certainly does that.

Tracing its roots back to Taiwan in the early 1980s, boba tea is derived from the starch of the cassava root, a type of sweet potato. The bottom of each boba tea cup (plastic, not china) is lined with gooey, gelatinous globules that seem to inherit the flavor of the drink. If you’re not a connoisseur of exotic teas, you can partake of boba slushes, as refreshing and intensely fruity beverage as you’ll find anywhere.

My early favorites are the raspberry and cantaloupe slushes, both of which taste like the pulpy area of the fruits from which their flavors are derived. Slurprisingly good is the chocolate milk slush which tastes like a liquefied fudgecicle. A chocolate/orange combination brought to mind the gourmet chocolates often sold around Valentine’s Day. The menu includes many unique flavors such as lychee, mung bean and more that will keep me busy trying to find a new favorite.

Situated next to Cafe O, the Boba Tea Company is designed as a fun for all ages (with an emphasis on youth) store staffed by a young, energetic staff. When completed, the Web site promises to be almost as fun to visit as the store where in addition to boba tea and slush, you can purchase tee shirts, hoodies, hats and camis inviting you to “join the Bobalution.” We’ve joined!

Boba Tea Company
4401-a Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 21 April 2006
BEST BET: Boba Slush

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