Sabroso – Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

The entrance to Sabroso

The entrance to Sabroso

We’ve all heard the expressions from a jack to a king, from a moth to a butterfly, from a lump of coal to a diamond, but who’s ever heard…from a chicken coup to an elegant gourmet restaurant?  That sounds like more than a bit of a stretch, yet that’s the metamorphosis that transpired decades ago at what is currently the site of Sabroso, one of Taos county’s swankiest dining establishments.

Local lore posits that in 1960, entrepreneurs started a restaurant not just on the site in which a chicken coup stood, but from its very walls.  That restaurant was christened Casa Cordova, a name it would proudly bear for years.

Over time and with changes in ownership, Casa Cordova became Momentitos de la Vida, a restaurant which would go on to earn AAA’s four diamond rating for four consecutive years (2000-2004).  In 2005, Momentitos closed its doors for good.  Several months later, in August of 2006, Sabroso emerged and is carving out its own niche in picturesque Taos county.

Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

Sabroso’s new ownership made a conscious effort not to be as ostentatious as its predecessor, a move intended to create a broader appeal to potential local patrons.  A bar menu featuring tapas style “small plates” and wood-grilled entrees (baby back ribs, burgers, salmon, etc.) has a price structure (nothing over $22) you would never have seen at Momentitos.

Despite lower prices than the previous tenant, there’s no down-scaling the quality and class of this high-end dining establishment in a picturesque setting backdropped by the majestic Sangre De Cristo Mountain range.

Just beyond the babbling brook near the entrance to the property is a half-acre of venerable plumb trees, the bounty of which often makes its way onto the menu in the form of a redolent sauce or tasty dessert.

The restaurant’s entrance is a large patio which can accommodate two dozen diners under the portal’s cooling shade.  A U-shaped bar and several open-air tables provide comfortable seating for even more diners.

Each of the restaurant’s stylish candlelit dining rooms features its own fireplace which combines with burnished copper candle sconces to illuminate the room with just enough light to read the menu and catch the glimmer in your dining partner’s eyes as she takes in one of the most enchanting and romantic restaurant settings in New Mexico.  The massive overhead vigas and the muted patinas of century and a half old adobe walls provide a comforting sense of sturdiness.  The seating is cozy, embracing you in style.  Conversations are in low tones punctuated by unobtrusive visits by a very attentive and knowledgeable wait staff

Seafood Bouilliabaisse

Seafood Bouilliabaisse

When not busy, Sabroso is intimate enough that your meal might even be brought to your table by executive chef Timothy Wooldridge, a wizard on the stove with impressive credentials.  During our inaugural visit, the chef had just returned from an exclusive week-long course on advanced Mediterranean cuisine at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.

At the very least, Wooldridge seems to make it a point to visit each table to ensure everything is to the satisfaction of his customers.  I was more than impressed by the just acquired food stains on his chef’s uniform, an indication that he’s in the kitchen preparing meals himself.

And what meals!  An eclectic menu of American and “global cuisine” appetizers, entrees and desserts includes options sure to please the most discerning palates.  You’ll undoubtedly see something on the menu for which you’ll expedite a future visit.

The selection of appetizers spans the globe as well as the sea and earth.  They range from hummus and baba ghanouj to fresh gulf oysters and moules mariniere (mussels).  If your preference is salads, four sensational options are available.

The pear and gorgonzola salad is plate-licking good with an array of complementary ingredients: pickled shallots, spiced walnuts and pungent gorgonzola drizzled with a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.  Served in a small plate, it is the type of salad you would want in a bigger portion, even if you don’t generally like salads.

A 12-ounce New York strip.

A 12-ounce New York strip.

The menu lists five main courses and five wood-grilled specialties including the catch of the day.  Your catch might be Sabroso’s bouillabaisse, the traditional Provencal fish stew of scallops, mussels, shrimp, calamari, squid and other bounties of the sea in a light tomato, herb and wine broth.  This traditional French dish is rich and hearty.  The seafood is off-the-boat fresh and delicious.  Three pieces of crostini with a saffron rouille accompany this entree.

Landlubbers might also opt for one of the restaurant’s wood grilled specialties, such as the New York steak, available in eight, ten and twelve ounce strips.  All steaks are hand-cut then hand-rubbed with a dusting of a house specialty rub.  A pink hot center welcomes those who prefer their steak at medium done.  The steaks are accompanied by selected seasonal vegetables and the chef’s choice of starch.

For an additional three dollars, you can add a generous slice of Stilton cheese, an English blue cheese injected with the same penicillium mold that produces Roquefort cheese.  Stilton is an outstanding cheese!

A variety of tempting dessert options ostensibly as wonderful as your meal is available.  We were somewhat surprised that Taos Cow ice cream, made in the village of Arroyo Seco, wasn’t a dessert choice, but it’s easy to forgive Sabroso and by your second bite of the decadent pot de creme, you might wonder why you were concerned about a cow in the first place.

470 State Highway 150
Arroyo Seco, NM
LATEST VISIT: 11 May 2007
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Pear and Gorgonzola Salad, Seafood Bouillabaisse, New York Strip Steak, Pot de Creme

Cake Fetish – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cake Fetish Cupcakes, an Albuquerque treasure

Cake Fetish Cupcakes, an Albuquerque treasure

Americans are absolutely food obsessed!  It’s become alarmingly obvious in our culture of caloric overachievers that few of us miss any meals.

It’s also telling (yet seemingly innocuous) that many of the terms of endearment we use for one another are related to food.  Terms such as honey, sugar, pumpkin and others are regularly used by sweet talking lotharios of both genders.

One term of endearment which has grown out of fashion is “cupcake” which in today’s vernacular refers to a woman whose front and back body fat hangs over the waistline, giving the woman the “top of the cupcake” look.

While “cupcake” may have become an intended compliment which will get your face slapped, cupcakes themselves have been reestablished as a cool, viable and in-demand dessert option.

The innovative Slate Street Cafe may have reinvigorated the “cupcakes as dessert” trend in Albuquerque, but with the March, 2006 launch of Cake Fetish, “Cupcake Carrie Mettling” (formerly an architect) took it to the next step.  Her tiny gourmet cupcake bakery celebrated all great things cupcake with a luscious line-up of colorful (and colorfully described) cupcakes of all varieties, each one seemingly more delicious than the other.

Cupcakes under glass.

Cupcakes under glass.

Note:  In 2007, Carrie sold her business to Ron and Caryn Koerner who will hopefully maintain her uncompromising standards for quality and freshness.

Cake Fetish’s to-go menu defines fetish as “an abnormally obsessive preoccupation or attachment; a fixation.”  While that definition may have been intended to describe her labor of love in crafting confectionary perfection, her patrons may find themselves cupcake obsessed, too.  Her cupcakes are absolutely addictive!

The cupcake menu features a selection of twelve different cupcakes available every day at the bargain price of $1.75 each or $10 a dozen.  You can also get a dozen “mini” cupcakes (about the diameter of a silver dollar) for $6.50 a dozen.  You’ll be hard-pressed to choose which ones to try first and will undoubtedly make return visits to ensure you haven’t missed something truly special.

Culinary historians know that the Mayans were marrying chocolate and chile creations centuries ago, but it’s unlikely they ever crafted anything quite as wonderful as the Hot Chocolate cupcake, a chocolate cake dipped in chocolate ganache with a kiss of red chile infused butter cream.

A delicious line-up

A delicious line-up

The red chile sneaks up on you and gives the chocolate an unexpected flavor explosion.  If New Mexico’s state legislature ever decides to name an official state cupcake, this one should be it.

If citrus producing Florida named an official state cupcake, perhaps it should import the Creamsicle and lionize it as a wonderful representation of the freshness you’ll find in the state’s oranges.  The Creamsicle is adorned with vanilla and orange swirled French butter cream.  You’d swear you were eating a Creamsicle were it not for the fact that this cupcake isn’t served off-the-freezer cold.

My other early favorite is called the Inside-Out German Chocolate.  It’s made with coconut and pecan icing then crowned with chocolate French butter cream and toasted coconut.  If you’re an aficionado of German chocolate cake, you’ll be besotted by this wonderful cake.

Cake Fetish has been feted with numerous awards including best cupcake honors from both the Alibi and Albuquerque The Magazine.  Google it and you’ll find a surprising number of bloggers waxing poetic about this wonderful restaurant.

Your dogs will also go wild over Cake Fetish’s cupcakes for dogs.  Available in several canine pleasing flavors, they’re miniature, dog tried and tested versions of the human kinds.  Just don’t stand between your canine and his or her cupcake.

In an era in which the word “fetish” itself has connotations of deviance, it’s refreshingly delicious to know that the word can be applied to something as wonderfully delicious as cupcakes.

Cake Fetish
2665 Louisiana, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 7 July 2007
BEST BET: German Chocolate Cupcake, Dreamcicle Cupcake, Hot Chocolate Cupcake

Asado Brazilian Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Asado Brazilian Grill

Asado Brazilian Grill

When it comes to diplomatic coups, one of the least known for which President George Herbert Walker Bush is credited is the introduction to the United States of the popular Brazilian Churrascaria (steakhouse) Fogo de Chão (literally Fire of the Ground).

During a visit to São Paulo, Brazil, the 41st President of the United States was so impressed by the unique dining concept that he told the owners a restaurant like theirs would go over big in his home state of Texas where as in Brazil, beef is king.  As one of the first Churrascarias to open in the United States, the Dallas Fogo de Chao helped blaze the way for other Churrascarias throughout the country.

The first to open in Albuquerque was Tucano’s Brazilian Grill which launched in 2000.  In May four years later, Asado Brazilian Grill opened along restaurant row on Albuquerque’s Pan American Freeway West.

The salad bar at Asado.

The salad bar at Asado.

Albuquerque’s Asado was actually the second in the state, launching more than a year after its sister Santa Fe restaurant (which closed in late 2005).  Still a third Asado is located in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.

The Churrasco tradition has its genesis in the Pampas, an extensive grass-covered plain in South America east of the Andes Mountains.  Churrasco translates roughly from Spanish to “barbecue,” but to avoid confusion, in the rest of South America the barbecue method of preparing meats is known as Asado.

Brazilian and Argentinean cowboys known as gauchos tended to large herds of cattle in the verdant Pampas, and similar to cowboys in America’s wild west, were often given lesser cuts of beef.  To make it more palatable, the gauchos would roast the beef for hours on wooden skewers over an open flame to tenderize it.

In modern Churrascarias, an all-you-can-eat dining tradition has emerged.  Servers come to your table with a skewer on which are speared several kinds of meat.  All courses are served sizzling right off that skewer and plated right onto your table.

Accommodating servers bring one meat after another until you say “nao obrigado”–no, thank you.  Not literally.  Each table includes a “cue” which tells your servers where you stand.  The green side reads “sim por favor” or “yes, please” indicating you want more selections brought to your table while the red side of the cue indicates you’re done.

I'd love to be able to read music...

I'd love to be able to read music...

From a visual perspective Asada is almost over-the-top with something to see at every turn. One of the first things you see at this sprawling open restaurant are rotating spits on which meats are being prepared.  It’s an Adkins dieter’s dream.

Standing atop the salad bar is a large cow, more like the golden calf fashioned by goldsmiths in the Ten Commandments movie than the cow you sometimes see atop American chain steak restaurants.  The cow is positioned almost directly below a chandelier from which hang monkeys, parakeets and other wildlife from the Amazon.  Its horns are adorned with grapes.  Could it be symbolic of the gluttony and lust of diners who take all-you-can-eat seriously?

The multi-hued walls are festooned with (to say the least) interesting art, some bringing to mind something Picasso might have painted in a drug induced fit of creativity.

Against one wall is a large wrought iron sculpture of a musical scale set against a colorful mosaic of tiles.  The sound of rivulets of water cascading down this art piece might lull you into a state of content relaxation were it not for the constant din of activity.

Lively Latin music, not all of it traditional Brazilian samba, resounds through the restaurant’s speaker system.  The ambiance is certainly intended to be festive and inviting.

The salad bar might even be better than the meat.

The salad bar might even be better than the meat.

After your server takes your beverage order, two dinner plates are brought to your table along with tongs for each diner.  These tongs are used for removing meat from the skewers or serving tray.  An indicator that the meats are tender is the absence of a true steak knife.  Instead, a fork and a simple table knife serve as your dining accoutrements.

Asado serves only certified black angus meats, fifteen of which are available on the dinner menu.  The lunch menu, a few dollars less expensive, offers ten different meat options.

The salad bar offers only cold salad and fruit options, but this is far from your typical salad bar.  Some of the salad offerings are terrific.  One salad features garlic cloves, sun-dried tomatoes and salty, pitted olives.

Skewers of sausage and ham.

Skewers of sausage and ham.

You can also treat yourself to any of several macaroni salads, potato salad and even cold nibblets of corn, creamed peas and green beans.  Vegetarians will like the salad bar as much as carnivores will appreciate the meat offerings.  Omnivores will benefit from a great assortment of both.

Shortly after you dispense with your salad, Asado’s servers begin a parade to your table with skewers of well-seasoned meats.  Even if not all the meats make it to your table, it’s unlikely most people would be able to sample more than one of each.

An assortment of slow roasted treasures.

An assortment of slow roasted treasures.

The slow-roasted dinner portfolio includes filet mignon, barbecue ribs, sausage, pork, beef ribs, pork loin, top sirloin, filet mignon with bacon, bottom sirloin with garlic, ham, skirt steak, brisket, lamb, turkey and chicken.

Each portion is pre-cut, some to bite size while other pieces will challenge you to finish them in three or four bites.  A commonality among the various meats is tenderness. Most are served at about medium well even though the outer layers may be a bit on the charred side.  Most meats are juicy and well-seasoned, albeit perhaps a bit on the salty side.  The fennel-kissed sausage would go well on a pizza while the pink ham paired with glazed pineapple might remind you of a holiday meal.

Asado, in concept and in execution, is a fun restaurant sure to please all but the most discerning and finicky of diners.

Asado Brazilian Grill
4959 Pan American West Freeway, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 6 May 2007
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Sausage, Ham, Chicken, Turkey, Brisket, Salad Bar

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