Adelita’s Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Adelita's Mexican Restaurant

Adelita's Mexican Restaurant

No matter where you travel in Latin America, you’ll find grilled meat (carne asada) on the menu. Restaurants called parrillas which specialize in grilled foods also grill seafood (mariscos) and poultry.

Particularly popular in Argentina and Colombia, the mixed grill called Parrillada Mixta (or just parrillada) can be any combination of grilled meats, poultry and seafood.

Parrillada de carne asada.

Parrillada de carne asada.

My inaugural experience with parrillada in San Antonio, Texas left such a huge impression on my taste buds that I behave like Pavlov’s dogs upon seeing it on a menu. More often than not, I’m left disappointed because my very first parrillada set a nonpareil standard for excellence.

At Adelita’s, a Mexican restaurant launched in 2004, parrillada is on the menu in three incarnations–parrillada de carne asada, parrillada de mariscos and parrillada mar y tierra (sea and land).

While it’s not nearly as wonderful as in San Antonio, Adelita’s one of the few restaurants in New Mexico we’ve found which even offers parrillada. Served on an unheated metal grill, it is intended and enough for two people.

Three salsas are brought to your table before you even order.

Three salsas are brought to your table before you even order.

Adelita’s version of carne asada parrillada features carne asada, sausage, onions, green peppers and tomatoes, all grilled exceptionally well. Included with the parrillada are your choice of flour or corn tortillas as well as four corn tortilla quesadillas with melted Asadero cheese.

The parrillada mar y tierra is as disappointing as the carne asada parrillada is good. Generous portions of squid, shrimp and crab legs make for wonderful eye-candy, but when they’re served as salty as if just caught, they detract from any inherent flavors the accompanying meat has.

Parrillada is just one of many tempting items on a multi-page menu. One of the temptations I succumbed to was the caldo siete mares (seven seas soup), a seafood soup of shrimp, octopus, slams, crab legs, red snapper and mussels. With a little desalination, the soup would have been wonderful. I’m zero for two when it comes to ordering any seafood items and will probably stick to the land-based cuisine in the future.

Tostadas de ceviche

Tostadas de ceviche

Adelita’s serves three complementary salsas in the colors (red, white and green) of the Mexican flag. The green salsa is avocado-based and tastes like liquefied guacamole. The red salsa is made from blended chile pequin and competes with the white salsa (made from ground jalapenos) for most piquant.

Efrain Castillo has an amazing voice!

Efrain Castillo has an amazing voice!

The horchata, as sweet as leftover milk from a child’s cereal, is served on what might best be described as an ice cream sundae dish. It’s among the best in town as is the moist tres leches cake which positively oozes with milky goodness as you slice into it with your fork.

Adelita’s is a very colorful restaurant with orange walls and pillars around which paper mache vines wrap with yellow daisies and purple wisteria. It also fills a void in the north valley where authentic Mexican restaurants are rare.

On some Friday nights, you’ll be treated to the soothing stylings of guitarist and singer Omar Villanueva and his repertoire of romantic Mexican ballads. On Sundays, you might find Efrain Castillo, a young troubadour (pictured at left) with an amazing voice and an impressive repertoire of timeless Mexican songs.

5700 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 25 March 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Parrillada; Horchata; Tres Leches Cake; Tostadas de Ceviche

Thai Basil – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Thai Basil, named for one of the most fragrant herbs in the world.

Thai Basil, named for one of the most fragrant herbs in the world.

Lemongrass, mint, ginger, lime, chile peppers and particularly Thai basil combine in congruent deliciousness to make Thai cuisine among the most popular ethnic cuisines in North America.

As one of the most popular culinary herbs in the world, basil is a richly aromatic, slightly spicy ameliorant to many of the best dishes proffered at all Thai restaurants.  Also known as “hairy basil” and by its Thai name of “horapa”, it is used in salads, soups, curries and as a garnish.

The aroma of Thai basil is stronger and sweeter than its Italian counterpart and it has a peppery flavor slightly reminiscent of star anise.  Vietnamese cooking also relies heavily on Thai basil.  It’s no wonder so many Thai restaurants across the country are named for this diverse and revered herb.

Albuquerque’s Thai Basil restaurant launched in 2004 on the site of the popular Thai Kitchen which closed earlier in the year.  Owned and operated by California transplants well versed in the art of Thai cuisine, it quickly established a reputation as one of the city’s best new restaurants.

The menu cover features three-dimensional elephants.

The menu cover features three-dimensional elephants.

The Thai Basil restaurant is perhaps more sparsely decorated than other Thai restaurants in town, but what festoons its walls is very interesting.  Thematically, the restaurant celebrates music.  In Thailand, music has evolved dramatically over the past six centuries so that eclectic musical genres are accepted.

On one wall are five wooden figurines of a traveling musical troupe, each member carrying or playing an instrument of some sorts.  Several musical instruments–woodwinds, string and percussion–festoon the walls.

Interestingly, instead of the heterophonic (one melody but multiple voices, each playing the melody differently or in a different tempo or rhythm) music you typically hear at many Thai restaurants, at Thai Basil, it’s modern pop music that is showcased.  That music resonates from a television showing what might be described as Thailand’s version of MTV.

The tables are highly lacquered in a rich cherry-like sheen.  Both artificial and real plants of several varieties are strewn throughout the restaurant.

Thai Basil offers a daily lunch buffet.  Above the buffet station is a placard reading “Eat what you take, take what you eat”  along with the warning that you will be charged for wasting an unreasonable amount of food.  The buffet is also available for take-out provided you abscond with a “reasonable amount” of food.

The menu depicts, in two dimensions, the national symbol of Thailand–the elephant.  More than 4,000 elephants, approximately half of them domesticated, are fighting for their survival in Thailand thanks to a decline in their natural habitat, ivory poachers and even extermination at the hand of man if caught trespassing into human settlements.

Tod mun,

Tod mun

Anyway, that menu features nearly two dozen lunch specials, all at very reasonable prices.  An asterisk (*) denotes hot and spicy dishes.  Diners can specify from one to ten, the level of spiciness they desire.

Fourteen appetizers are available, including beef or chicken satay which seem to be almost synonymous with Thai starters.

The Tod Munpla or deep-fried fish cakes are delicious.  Flecked with tiny green bean pieces and kafir leaves and redolent with red curry flavor, they are delicious on their own, but even better with the accompanying cucumber sauce.  The cucumber sauce is made with chopped cucumbers, cilantro and crushed cashews in a vinegary, sweet sauce.

Thai egg rolls, which tend to be somewhat smaller than their Chinese counterparts, show up on the menu in several varieties.  The one we like best are the shrimp rolls which come six to an order.  Deep fried crepes are stuffed with shrimp and avocado and are delicious on their own.  They’re served with a cloying sauce that could use some piquant additives.

Plating at Thai Basil is an art form.  Every appetizer and entree looks great in addition to generally tasting great.

Shrimp rolls, served six to an order.

Shrimp rolls, served six to an order.

For me, one of the measures of a great Thai restaurant is in how it prepares its curry dishes.  At Thai Basil, the green curry isn’t as sweet (coconut infused) as at other Duke City Thai restaurants.  It’s also far more piquant.  To be safe, I ordered it at the “eight star” degree of spiciness and at that level, my tongue was nearly seared.

The green curry is an excellent dish for showcasing the herb for which the restaurant is named.  In addition to coconut milk, green curry is crafted with bamboo shoots, green beans, squash and that olfactory arousing Thai basil.

Non-noodle entrees are accompanied by steamed jasmine rice which is shaped like a Valentine heart.  It may be a reminder of how heart healthy Thai food can be (if you order the right things, of course).

The seafood portion of the menu is intriguing as it offers entrees you won’t find at any other Thai restaurant in Albuquerque.  The wait staff delights in patrons who order such entrees as sweet and sour fish, apple trout, lemon trout or salmon curry.  These entrees, it seems, don’t ensnare as many “Occidental” diners as they do Thai transplants.

Don't fear the apple trout.

Don't fear the apple trout.

If, on the other hand, you’ve lived in the Orient in a past life and your propensity for authenticity extends to such un-Westernized tastes as the much maligned durian (the world’s most malodorous fruit), Thai Basil’s seafood entrees will definitely intrigue you.

My only disappointment with the apple trout is that the deep-fried trout isn’t marinated in the homemade green apple salsa then pan-fried together.  Instead the salsa was served on a separate plate and cold, much like a Thai papaya salad.

The trout is crispy and golden brown, albeit not a very substantial trout.  Fortunately, it is de-boned.  In addition to green apples, the salsa included onion, carrots, cilantro and jicama in a vinegary sauce.  Its taste is actually similar to papaya salad in that the dominant taste is neither sweet nor sour nor savory.  Instead, it’s a blending of several flavors that go well together, but don’t necessarily excite your taste buds.

If noodles are what you crave, Thai Basil serves some of the best Pad Thai (stir-fried small rice noodles, bean sprouts, ground peanuts and green onions with eggs) in town.

Pad Thai with shrimp.

Pad Thai with shrimp.

Pad Thai, which literally means Thai style frying, is the national dish of Thailand and perhaps the most popular entree among American aficionados of Thai cuisine.  In western restaurants, Pad Thai is generally covered in a red oil and can be a bit “heavy” tasting while the version typically found in the streets of Thailand is relatively dry and light.

Still, there are many ways to prepare it and you rarely experience a bad version of Pad Thai.  It’s one of the “safest” things you can order for someone who fears Thai food because it’s new and different to them.

At Thai Basil, the Pad Thai has the right combination of sweet and savory tastes and it isn’t quite as heavy as other Pad Thai we’ve experienced.

Only two desserts are offered on the menu: sticky rice with mango and Thai coconut ice cream.  With these two choices, who needs anything else.  When in-season, the mangos are sweet and juicy, a perfect complement to the coconut infused sweetness of the sticky rice.

Thai Basil
5201 4th, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Curry, Egg Rolls

Great American Steakhouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Albuquerque's very best steakhouse, the Great American Steakhouse!

Arguably Albuquerque's very best steakhouse, the Great American Steakhouse!

Since the nineteenth century, land and cattle companies have been established throughout the west to buy, sell and lease land for grazing and breeding beef cattle. During years of ample water, high beef prices and fortuitous grace, profits are generally high.

While most Albuquerque urbanites might not know or concern themselves with the history of cattle raising in the old west, they do know and appreciate great steak. For years they’ve been patronizing the Great American Land and Cattle Company on Tramway and Indian School.

Starting in 2006, they won’t be able to do so. That’s because the restaurant has undergone a name change, one that better reflects the restaurant’s culinary fare (and I suspect prevents any confusion with the Texas Land And Cattle Company, a chain restaurant.)

There’s another reason Albuquerque’s Great American Land and Cattle Company has changed its name to Great American Steakhouse. Jerry Wright, the restaurant’s affable co-owner once promised his mother that salad would never grace the menu at the Great American Land and Cattle Company (more about that salad later).

The addition of salad to the menu is just one of the many changes at Albuquerque’s very best steakhouse. The Great American Steakhouse now offers “Wagyu” steak, the American version of the Japanese “Kobe” beef. Just as the French are vociferous that the term “champagne” should only be used to refer only to the sparkling wines made in the Champagne region, the Japanese Minister of Agriculture is adamant that “foreign-bred” cattle should be labeled Wagyu (wa means Japanese, and gyū means cattle, or simply “Japanese cow”)

Jerry Wright, the restaurant's affable proprietor is a great host!

Jerry Wright, the restaurant's affable proprietor is a great host!

No matter what it’s called, Wagyu beef is more than a cut above (forgive the pun). Wagyu is a breed of cattle genetically predisposed to intense marbling. It produces a high percentage of buttery-tasting, unsaturated fat laden beef.

Wagyu cattle are hand-massaged with sake and are fed a daily diet of corn, alfalfa, barley and wheat straw and are raised in a stress-free environment. The result is meat that is extraordinarily tender and extremely expensive.

Instead of the US Dairy Association’s seven quality grades (USDA Prime, Choice and Select being at the top), Wagyu beef is graded on a 12-point Kobe marbling-score scale. The greater the marbling, the higher the score–and obviously, the cost. For comparison, USDA prime would have an equivalent ranking of four to five and “certified angus” at most restaurants would rate a mere two or three.

At the Great American Steakhouse, the Wagyu beef might have a Kobe rating of six or seven, but to steak aficionados, it will certainly rate a perfect ten. The price is more than reasonable, too. You can have a three-quarter pound Wagyu top sirloin for under thirty dollars, a steal at the price.

Even before its introduction of Wagyu beef, I have long contended that the Great American serves the most tasty steaks in the Duke City–a steak done right, where a 16 ounce slab of beef doesn’t shrink to 11 ounces after grilling!

Wagyu beef, the very best cut of steak money can buy!

Wagyu beef, the very best cut of steak money can buy!

At the Great American, the New York steak is almost two inches thick and is a full pound of USDA beef, butterfly cut when ordered at medium, medium well or well done (don’t do this to any steak). Similarly, the well marbled ribeye covers the entire plate and is nearly as great to look at as to consume. These delicious steaks, optimized with the right amount of marbling, require no additives (although the restaurant does sell very good steak condiments). It is easily the tastiest steak in Albuquerque, well worth the price.

As tasty as the standard New York steak is, one bite of the Wagyu top sirloin and you might swear off any other cut. Alas, because Wagyu beef is in such limited supply, the restaurant might run out if you don’t get there early.

The Great American’s wonderfully unctuous Wagyu beef doesn’t just titillate your mouth; it makes love to it–slowly, sensually and with a deliberate precision that seems to touch each of your 10,000 taste buds. It is outstanding beef that merits its reputation.

Since its beginning, the Great American has had a standard and very successful template. All meals include a huge baked potato (baked to perfection every time), pineapple coleslaw, ranch-style beans and a bolillo roll with seconds at your beck and call.

The pineapple coleslaw has a perfect blend of sweet, tart and savory tastes. The cabbage is unfailingly fresh and crisp while the sauce is creamy and absolutely delicious.

I used to think that the ranch-style beans (cowboy caviar) were very much reminiscent of the Lawry’s seasoned beans my Kim prepared for me before she learned about New Mexico style beans from my mom. I’ve since become a great fan, enjoying the unique seasoning more each visit.

The New York steak, juicy and absolutely delicious!

The New York steak, juicy and absolutely delicious!

For years, some patrons lamented the fact that the menu was devoid of salad of any kind. Jerry Wright may have staved off serving salad until he found one worthy of the restaurant’s high standards–and he’s done so.

The Great American salad starts with chopped iceberg lettuce which is then topped with red onion, croutons, tomato wedges and Wisconsin bleu cheese crumbles. A creamy and absolutely delicious Ranch dressing completes the salad. This may sound like a standard salad at some restaurants, but the difference is in the execution.

This salad is constructed with the freshest ingredients and the piece de resistance is the salad dressing which you’ll want to dredge up with the restaurant’s fresh, warm bolillo bread.

Great American was the favorite Albuquerque restaurant of my Chicago born and bred father-in-law who wanted his first Duke City meal at every visit to be at this northeast heights restaurant overlooking the city.

We’ve also had visitors from the Midwest (for whom fish fries are a ritual, if not a religion) swear that Great American’s beer-battered fried fish (which I believe is haddock) is every bit as good as the fried fish served in Wisconsin. I might not go quite that far, but I would say the tartar sauce is among the best I’ve ever had anywhere and the fish would indeed be very competitive in Wisconsin.

Ranch-style beans and pineapple coleslaw accompany every dinner entree.

Ranch-style beans and pineapple coleslaw accompany every dinner entree.

The Great American’s barbecue sauce is terrifically tangy but offered only on sausage and chicken, my two least favorite barbecued items. The sausage is a terrific kielbasa with a bite of its own; ameliorated by the sauce, it’s pure dynamite.

If you have room for it (a rarity), dessert is also a great treat. The rich and decadent chocolate ganache cake, served warm is a great way to end a meal.

The Great American Land and Cattle Company restaurants in El Paso and Anthony, Texas are owned and operated by Jerry’s stepbrother.

The Great American family of restaurants has its genesis in Roswell, New Mexico of all places. Back in 1971, the Wrights learned from a master chef the right way to prepare steak and run a restaurant with a format to which the restaurant has subscribed ever since: good food, good mood, good service and consistency.

A chocolate ganache cake served warm is a great way to end a meal.

A chocolate ganache cake served warm is a great way to end a meal.

Recipes are designed to balance the gratification of our five taste sensations: sweet, sour, salt, bitter/astringent and pungent. A line-up of award-winning wines are also available to enhance your dining experience. The Great American Steakhouse’s distinguished wine list is celebrated in well-attended thematic wine dinners in which fine wines are paired with victuals.

The same great cuts of steak and the fine wine served at the restaurant are available for take-out (as if you could really grill them nearly as well at home).

A sentimental reason we hold this restaurant close to our hearts is that this is where we finally met the charming, witty and beautiful Janet Resnik, dearly departed wife of my dear friend, colleague and fellow gourmand Bill. Like the restaurant, she was even better than advertised.

The Great American Steakhouse
1550 Tramway, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LAST VISIT: 3 March 2007
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Kobe Top Sirloin, New York Steak, Beer Battered Fried Fish, Barbecue Chicken and Sausage