Japanese Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Japanese Kitchen in Albuquerque's Uptown area

For generations, traditional New Mexican food as it had been served for generations by Hispanic families in Northern New Mexico was surprisingly rare in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment.  Many restaurants throughout the state served “Mexican” style food similar to what our neighbors in Arizona and Texas offered.  That meant insipid chile lacking the flavor and piquancy which has become a hallmark of New Mexican cuisine.  Once restaurants such as Rancho de Chimayo began serving traditional New Mexican food, the genre immediately made tremendous inroads, quickly usurping the popularity of the interlopers.

Though tradition has certainly not gone by the wayside, New Mexican food has both grown and evolved over the years largely through the influence of “Santa Fe style” whose genesis may be rooted in the confluence of Pueblo adobe style and Spanish territorial architecture, but whose influences have branched to other aspects of the city’s laid-back culture of joie de vivre and self-expression.  Mark Miller, the high priest of Southwestern cuisine and other inventive chefs recognized the potential for chile, the centerpiece of New Mexican cooking, to be used in ways heretofore unexplored.  They have revolutionized the use of New Mexico’s official state “vegetable” and in the process expanded the diversity and popularity of New Mexican food.

The interior of the Japanese Kitchen

As far as I know, there has been no popular backlash against the adulteration and metamorphosis of New Mexican cuisine.  Nor have a phalanx of abuelitas steeped in the traditional ways protested vehemently against perceived injustices done to New Mexican food. New Mexicans, renown for our “live and let live” attitude, have acceded to the new genre with the recognition that traditional New Mexican food continues to exist and thrive on its own.  We recognize that there’s a place for the traditional and the unorthodox.  Credit it to our characteristic tolerance and laissez faire, but don’t underestimate our pride in tradition.

When it comes to pride and haughtiness in culinary traditions, the Japanese may be unrivaled.  They do not take lightly the effrontery being heaped upon their culinary culture and traditions.  The Japanese consider their cuisine  a time-honored and highly-developed art involving all the senses–from the aesthetic to the olfactory.  Their passion for authenticity is reflected in the use of timeless ingredients prepared by chefs who undergo rigorous training regimens.  To see Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai restaurants offer “Japanese” cuisine or to see supermarkets proffer inferior sushi is an insult to this prideful culture.

"Green Earth:" Inside--green chile tempura, avocado, cucumber, asparagus, spinach, shrimp; Outside--wrapped soy paper, creamy green chile sauce

According to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, there are more than 24,000 Japanese restaurants outside Japan and they account for $22 billion in revenue a year.  The number of Japanese restaurants in the United States  alone doubled in the decade of the nineties to more than 9,000 with no surcease to their popularity.  Unfortunately, the global demand for highly trained Japanese chefs  can’t be met by the tiny nation.  That accounts, in part, for cooks from other Asian nations being brought in to prepare “Japanese” food.  Heck, in an episode of “No Reservations,” host Tony Bourdain profiled a Mexican sushi chef in Laredo, Texas.

The use of chefs who are not properly trained and steeped in the culture behind the cuisine has rankled the ire of Japanese chefs, prompting the creation of advocacy groups, even within the United States, aimed at protecting their highly traditional and exquisitely artistic form of cooking.  They’ve got their work cut out for them.  Most people outside of Japan wouldn’t recognize traditional Japanese food, particularly sushi.  In fact, much of what Americans consider traditional sushi, was actually developed because Americans were so wary of “raw” fish.

Albacore Tuna Green Chile Roll (top); Crunch Roll (bottom left); Unagi (bottom right)

When we peruse a sushi menu offering California rolls, spider rolls, salmon sushi and rolls engorged with Philadelphia cream cheese, most of us don’t stop to consider whether or not they’re traditional (they’re not).  We only know how much we appreciate the melding of flavors and the pleasure they bring. Maybe that’s what it’s all about.  While purists may lament the burgeoning onslaught of Pan-Asian and fusion restaurants serving sushi, they can’t ignore the popularity and imagination which goes into the creation of the faux sushi enjoyed by so many.

The Japanese Kitchen, one of Albuquerque’s most venerable sushi restaurants, actually offers the very best of both worlds.  In addition to offering Omakase prepared by Japanese trained sushi chefs, the Kitchen also serves the whimsical sushi Americans love so much.  Omakase means the chef decides the menu and prepares it according to strict and elaborate rules, presenting a series of plates beginning with lighter far and proceeding to heavier, richer dishes.  At the Japanese Kitchen, you can trust the chefs.

Baja California: Inside--Real crab leg, tempura, cucumber, avocado; Outside--Sliced mango, tuna, strawberry with mango sauce, sweet and sour sauce

The Japanese Kitchen is actually comprised of two separate and distinct restaurants separated by the Park Square courtyard in Albuquerque’s uptown area.  The main Japanese Kitchen restaurant is the elder sibling, a pioneer of Teppan grilling  in Albuquerque, while the Japanese Kitchen Sushi Bar, a free-standing restaurant opened in 2001.  Owners Jeff and Keiko Bunts expanded the restaurant in 2006, adding a Robata Bar.  Robata, which translates from Japanese as “fireside” honors yet another centuries-old form of Japanese cooking.  Robata is served as small appetizers, allowing diners to pick and choose as many combinations as they wish.

For my gorgeous cousin Andrea, it’s all about sushi and the Japanese Kitchen is her choice.  She’s such a sushi buff that at a recent family gathering, she referred to tortilla pinwheels as “New Mexican sushi.”  She also chided me for the length of time elapsed since my last visit to her favorite sushi restaurant.  Considering she’s the only other person in my family who will eat sushi (unless it’s called something else and looks and tastes like Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks), her opinions carry a lot of weight with me…and she’s of the opinion that tradition is nice, but what matters most is how great the sushi tastes.

With a similar open-mindedness, our sushi order was almost entirely nontraditional–a succession of inventive rolls seemingly crafted as much for their pleasing aesthetic qualities, but for flavor profiles which cleverly meld ingredients for optimal deliciousness.  The “Green Earth” maki roll, for example, is crafted with green chile tempura, avocado, cucumber, asparagus, spinach and shrimp all wrapped in soy paper instead of nori (seaweed) or rice.  The most unique aspect of this roll, however, was the green chile sauce pooled at the center of the plate. This is a roll designed not to be consumed with soy sauce and wasabi.

Jewel: Inside--fried soft-shell crab, green chile tempura, avocado, cucumber. Outside--wrapped soy paper, creamy green chile sauce

Also unique is a surprisingly delightful and wholly whimsical maki roll.  It’s only fitting that it’s named “Baja California” because it was the original California roll that began the Americanization of sushi in the 1970s and which was instrumental in the growth of sushi’s popularity across the country.  While the California rolls take on uniqueness was only slightly more than substituting avocado for toro (fatty tuna), the Baja California expands that permissiveness tenfold.  The inside is fairly traditional–real crab leg, cucumber and avocado, but outside, the roll is topped with sliced mango, tuna, a shaved strawberry and mango sauce.  In the middle of the plate is a sweet and sour sauce.  Consider this a dessert sushi if you will, but don’t write it off until you try it.  It’s surprisingly good.

There are two pieces of sushi which define most of my visits to sushi restaurants. One is the grilled unagi (eel), a nigiri style sushi, which is said to have stamina-giving properties.  Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, unagi is believed to heighten men’s sexual drive.  Japanese wives would prepare unagi for dinner to suggest to their husbands that they want an intimate night.  After waddling out most sushi restaurants, intimacy is the last thing on our minds. The other is any roll in which green chile plays a part. It baffles me that sushi restaurants often use a green chile with a better roasted flavor than you’ll find at some New Mexican restaurants. That’s the case with “Jewel,” a maki roll with fried soft-shell crag, green chile tempura, avocado and cucumber on the inside and a creamy gren chile sauce on top.

Even better is the albacore green chile roll atop of which is delicately placed a small strip of roasted green chile.  There’s something magical about the dual-heat combination of green chile and wasabi.  The Japanese Kitchen’s rendition of the crunch roll is also quite good with its fried tempura batter sheath enveloping other ingredients.  Perhaps no roll is more ideally suited for the wasabi and soy sauce mix than a crunch roll.

Original Tempura Ice Cream: Icy cold inside, sizzling hot outside; rich vanilla ice cream in a crispy coating is deep fried

Perhaps figuring we had already thumbed our noses at tradition, we opted to end our meal with a wholly Americanized Japanese dessert–tempura ice cream, icy cold vanilla ice cream on the inside and a crispy tempura coating on the outside.  Though a nice end to a great sushi meal, perhaps more fitting would have been green tea ice cream or even better, a plum sorbet (alas, not on the menu).

The Japanese Kitchen Sushi Bar adheres to some timeless Japanese traditions while giving Americans the experience they crave.  It’s one of Albuquerque’s most revered and esteemed purveyors of sushi and so much more.

Japanese Kitchen Sushi Bar
6511 America’s Parkway, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 872-1166
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 22 January 2011
# of VISITS: 3
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Jewel, Green Earth, Baja California, Alcabore Tuna Green Chile, Crunch Roll, Unagi, Tempura Ice Cream

Japanese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Gutiz – El Prado, New Mexico

Gutiz Restaurant for Latin and French Fusion Cuisine in El Prado

I recently joked with my friend Lesley King that she is the true New Mexico Gastronome. Lesley, the wonderful author who enthralls readers with her monthly “King of the Road” columns for New Mexico Magazine, likes to say–jokingly–that she “eats and sleeps around,” because her writing assignments require that she sample so many restaurants and accommodations.  She has literally traveled every friendly highway and byway in the Land of Enchantment, dining in as many–or perhaps even more–restaurants than I have while somehow managing to remain svelte and elegant.

I had the great privilege of collaborating with Lesley and Chef Rocky Durham in celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s cuisine in a feature for New Mexico Magazine. The June, 2010 edition of America’s oldest and best official state magazine introduced readers to “New Mexico’s Best Eats,” eight of the very best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment: Huevos Rancheros, Green Chile Cheeseburgers, Green Chile Stew, Comfort Food, Deli Sandwich, Tacos, Local Seasonal Ingredients and Desserts.  Two versions of each dish–a downhome version and an uptown version–were showcased in lyrical prose.

The wait staff's prep station at Gutiz

The three of us, all New Mexico natives and peripatetic diners, deliberated spiritedly as to what restaurants would fill each category.  Rocky and I, both the type of men who would actually stop and ask for directions, were wise enough to defer to Lesley’s vast knowledge and much broader travel experiences when we were at a loss.  Such was the case in deciding where New Mexico’s best upscale huevos rancheros were served.  While Rocky and I both drew blanks, Lesley buoyantly made a case for a unique interpretation of huevos rancheros masterfully prepared at a small, somewhat off-the-eaten-path diner in El Prado.

Demurely, Lesley admitted that she sometimes wakes up in Santa Fe and wants to drive to El Prado just to eat this “reconstructed” interpretation of huevos rancheros.  All the essential elements used in the construction of huevos rancheros–pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, eggs, cheese, red and green chile and a tortilla–can be found in the dish with which Lesley became so enamored.  The dish–called the Taoseño and served only at  Gutiz in El Prado,–also includes kidney and garbanzo beans, rice and potatoes, all baked and served in a terra-cotta bowl.

Mint Lemonade

Lesley’s enthusiasm for this dish had me wondering if she would channel John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech with a New Mexico twist, “Soy un Taoseño.”  Though she had us at hello, we didn’t interrupt her alacritous delivery which almost literally had us drooling.  On that basis alone, the Taoseño, while not a conventional rendition of the dish, certainly convinced us it warranted recognition as New Mexico’s best uptown huevos rancheros.  Today, a framed plaque on a wall at Gutiz commemorates the Taoseño’s inclusion among New Mexico’s best eats.

Frankly, the term “among New Mexico’s best” could certainly apply to Gutiz as well.  Founding owner and chef Eduardo Gutiz hit upon a masterstroke when he created the inspired menu, a fusion of French and Spanish cuisine made extraordinarily well.  Lesley explained that chef Gutiz was born in Spain, raised in France and has traveled extensively through Peru and Bolivia.  Foodies recognize that Spain, France and Peru (yes, Perus) are some of the most highly regarded culinary hotbeds in the world.  That wasn’t lost on chef Gutiz who incorporated elements of those three nations on his menu.

New Zealand Green Lip Mussels in a garlic, white wine, tomato, Bolivian aji panca cream sauce served over Gutiz potatoes.

Gutiz (the restaurant, not the chef) is housed in an adobe abode the color of earthen stucco (which in New Mexico can be any of several shades).  Window sills and the picket fence enclosing the patio are a sublime shade of Taos blue.  On an upper level wall on the restaurant’s west side is what appears to be a shuttered balcony on which a metallic rooster perches as if to greet the day.  Oval signage indicates you are at Gutiz, the restaurant’s name framed by the words “Latin French Fusion.”

The interior is very small, but very homey.  The front counter does double duty as the wait staff’s prep station and bar complete with bar stools.  Positioned atop a brick facade is a basket of breads baked in-house and fresh that day, their aroma still wafting throughout the restaurant if you get there for breakfast.  A small glass pastry case on one side of the bar showcases artisan cakes and tarts while a beverage cooler keeps the restaurant’s popular mint lemonade in abeyance until you order it.  The walls are festooned with colorful photographs, the type of which glean appreciation from most diners.  In the summer, particularly during monsoon season, the restaurant’s cooling system struggles to keep temperatures comfortable in the sole dining room.

Outstanding, fresh white bread to sop up the wonderful broth in the bowl of mussels

The menu indicates breakfast and lunch are served all day, Tuesday through Sunday from 8AM to 3PM. The breakfast menu is unique and innovative, a true fusion of complementary ingredients from French and Latin culinary disciplines, including some northern New Mexican inspired dishes.  Tapas, small dishes which can be eaten as an appetizer or eaten as a meal are predominantly seafood oriented.  The specialties section of the menu features Paella Valenciana made the traditional Spanish way.  Salad selections meld the flavors of greens, vegetables, fruits and cheeses.  A sumptuous bounty of sandwiches are served on the restaurant’s homemade French bread. French bread, croissants and pastries are baked fresh every morning.

The menu is a refreshing departure from the mundane, a carte du jour worthy of the Bohemian free-wheeling style of Taos.  It’s adventure eating in the most pleasurable sense, a different menu than you’ll find anywhere in New Mexico.  Though chai teas, fresh ground coffee, espresso and cappuccino are available, start your adventure with a frothy, cold glass of mint lemonade.  Its a uniquely flavored elixir which might remind you of a thin mint Girl Scout cookie dipped in a lemonade with equal pronouncements of sweet and sour.  You’ll ask for at least one refill.

The Taoseño, one of New Mexico's "best eats"

Here’s a challenge for my readers.  Name one person who says they don’t like bread and who can back it up.  It’s easy to find people who don’t like vegetables or meat, but I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who dislikes bread…and even if you could find one, they’d be converted at first bite of Gutiz’s fresh baked bread.  It’s because of this legendary bread that we ordered a tapas appetizer of steamed mussels, a large order (about 20 New Zealand green-lipped mussels) of beautiful bivalve mollusks swimming in a luxurious broth of garlic, white wine, tomato, Bolivian aji panca cream sauce served over Gutiz potatoes.

The mussels are good.  That’s to be expected.  The broth is superb, a concordant melding of flavors that go exceptionally well together.  It’s a broth made to be sopped up with the restaurant’s delicious yeasty bread.  The staff of life at Gutiz has just enough outer crust to form a rim.  The rest is pure spongy deliciousness capable of sopping up its weight in broth.  It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll pay a pittance for additional slices to ensure you don’t miss a glorious drop.

Scottish Sausage: two eggs, grilled Scottish sausage and chipotle sauce served with a mixed green salad and Gutiz potatoes.

As for the Taoseño, my friend Lesley may have understated just how good this “best eats” eat is.  No one ingredient dominates the flavor profile; it truly is a marriage of compatibility.  Everything works well together!  The textures, the flavors, the aesthetics of the dish–it’s a dish deserving of accolades as New Mexico’s very best uptown huevos rancheros.  Not even the old school traditionalists would argue that honor after but just one bite.

The best part of waking up might also be another Gutiz breakfast entree, the Scottish sausage plate.  Having had Scottish sausage at a pub just off Princess Street in Edinburgh, I expected a square sausage patty about a half-inch thick and the perfect size for a sandwich.  Instead, Gutiz’ rendition of Scottish sausage is two diagonally sliced links about five inches in length drizzled in a chipotle sauce.  This is a taste bud awakening grilled sausage with a pleasantly piquant bite.  The sausage is served with two eggs any style and Gutiz potatoes, cubed tubers seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, paprika and tumeric.  No mater what you order, you’ve got to have a side of these wonderful potatoes.

Grilled Goat Cheese Quesadilla

The sandwich menu might pry your eyes away from breakfast and tapas entrees, especially since most sandwiches are served on the restaurant’s fantastic French bread.  A better canvas for a sandwich there might not be in all of Taos county.  There’s actually only one sandwich not made on the divine staff of life.  That’s the grilled goat cheese quesadilla which is made on a flour tortilla stuffed with goat cheese, a touch of Cheddar and Jack cheese.  It’s grilled and topped with diced tomatoes and basil pesto and served with a side of cucumber and roasted red pepper salad.

This is not a common quesadilla! Unlike the oh-so oily, blase and boring tortilla sandwiches crafted from (could-it-be-Kraft) processed cheeses and their de rigueur toppings of sour cream and guacamole, this quesadilla shows imagination and flair.   The basil pesto is a nice touch and much more exciting than guacamole.  The roasted red peppers find a perfect foil in the cucumbers.  These are nice adds all, but the real star is the quesadilla itself.  The goat cheese is  unctuous with an earthy richness we enjoyed immensely.  After devouring each wedge-shaped slice of this pinto pony color speckled tortilla engorged with goat cheese, you might never again settle for lesser stuff.

Pollo Borachon (Drunken Chicken)

The “Specialties” section of the menu is as “special” as you might infer.  Though the wait staff are consummate sales people with ambassadorial qualities, I’ve only heard them use the term “great choice” one time on the items we’ve ordered.  The item which prompted the effusive exudation was the Pollo Borachon (drunken chicken), a stew of chicken, onions, carrots, green peas, pinto beans, mushrooms and bacon marinated in red wine and baked in a casserole dish with a thin bread shell that envelops the casserole dish similar to a pot pie dish.

If that sounds like a Latin-French fusion interpretation of Coq au Vin, the fabulous French chicken stew, it’ll take only one swoon-inducing whiff for you to appreciate the liberties taken by the chef.    If your mouth is as agape as mine was when yours is delivered to your table, perhaps one of the helpful wait staff will volunteer to play “mommy” and cut it open for you as they did for me.  The surgical precision cut at the top of the golden bread bowl releases the steamy fragrance of the dish, exposing nearly an entire chicken, bone and all.  The chicken, purplish in color from the red wine, falls off the bone into the blessed broth which is just tailor-made for sopping up with the bread cover. The vegetables are perfectly prepared, a healthful and delicious mix.  This is a fabulous entree!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

During both my near noon visits to Gutiz, the pulchritudinous pastries I so lusted after were gone (darn those locals who get there early or call in and “reserve” their favorite desserts as you should), but you can hardly call chocolate croissant (pain au chocolat) a consolation prize.  This light, delicate and flaky French-style croissant is engorged with delicious adult (dark) chocolate, but not so much that it oozes out.  Each bite rewards you with the butteriness of the croissant and the incomparably addictive sweet bitterness of dark chocolate.

If you love “adult” chocolate, the semi-sweet variety with a high cocoa composition, you’ll fall for the flourless chocolate cake which is drizzled with confectioner’s sugar and accompanied by whipped cream dusted with cocoa.  It’s gluten-free greatness in every rich, moist, delicious bite.  During a January, 2011 visit, there were three desserts on the table to be split among four of us.  Our 96-year-old friend Patty Sahd enjoyed the flourless chocolate cake so much, we let her have most of it.  She said she’d never had anything like it.

Banana cake

In the summer of 2010, Eduardo Gutiz sold his eponymous restaurant.  We were assured nothing on the menu has changed.  We were glad to discover that the friendliness for which Gutiz has long been known remains a constant in this extremely popular restaurant truly serving some of New Mexico’s very best eats.

Gutiz Restaurant
812B Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico

(575) 758-1226
Web Site
: 16 January 2011
: 3
: $$
: The Taoseño, Scottish Sausage, Steamed Mussels, Goat Cheese Quesadilla, Pollo Borachon Chocolate Croissant, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Banana Cake

Gutiz on Urbanspoon

Desert Fish – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Desert Fish, a seafood oasis on Central Avenue

If you were entertaining a visitor from Seattle or Portland, would you take them to Long John Silver’s, Captain D’s or even  Pelican’s to show them how the seafood in land-locked Albuquerque measures up to the seafood in those two bastions of fresh, succulent seafood?  Not likely!  You’d probably want to take them to a restaurant which showcases New Mexico’s red and green chile.  For some reason, however, during business trips to Seattle and Portland, my well-intentioned colleagues insist on taking me to Mexican restaurants.  Perhaps they assume that with my Spanish surname and place of residence, I would want to try their Mexican food.  That makes as much sense as expecting me to stay at La Quinta and drive a Ford Fiesta rental car.

As a consequence of such faulty (albeit well-meaning) assumptions, I’ve been subjected to such chains as Chevy’s and other restaurants of that ilk where instead of “red or green,” a gloppy brown “sauce” absolutely reeking of the accursed demon spice cumin is ladled on liberally over the overly cheesy entrees.  Perhaps discerning my disdain for chains, my colleagues have also entertained me at such independent, but no less offensive Americanized Mexican restaurants as Macheezmo Mouse (you read that correctly).

The swanky interior at Desert Fish

Admittedly two or three days into a business trip, I start to crave New Mexican food, but not so much that I’ll visit a pitiful pretender.  My friend and colleague Steve Caine did that and will forever rue the day.  Upon returning from Portland, he asked me to help him with his expense report. His itemized report indicated he had dined twice at Chevy’s, a middling quality Americanized Mexican restaurant which wouldn’t survive in the tough Albuquerque market. I teased him mercilessly. Worse, when our boss saw what the commotion was all about, he immediately put Steve on double-secret probation. Steve has never lived down visiting a Chevy’s in Portland where he could have had some of the country’s freshest and best seafood.

When the din died down, Steve admitted somewhat sheepishly that after two days in Portland, he was missing New Mexican food so desperately that he visited the closest facsimile he could find. It was either Chevy’s or the aforementioned Macheezmo Mouse. Most business traveler from New Mexico have probably been there, too…well, not to Chevy’s, but at a point in the trip where the craving for New Mexico’s inimitable cuisine strikes like an addict’s need for a fix.

Mojito Ceviche:  Rock cod thinly sliced and marinated in lime juice, light rum, sugar and mint. Served with fresh made blue corn chips.

Peter Martin can certainly relate to that type of craving.  The Seattle native and owner of the Desert Fish restaurant has been marooned on a land-locked desert isle of a sort, having moved to New Mexico shortly after a friend bought the Tesuque Village Market outside of Santa Fe.   Youthful in exuberance and chronology, Peter has been working in nightclubs and restaurants for more than two decades, but it wasn’t as much an entrepreneurial spirit that prompted his venturing into the restaurant ownership business as it was just how much he missed seafood.  No matter how much New Mexico’s restaurants may think they’re serving good seafood, they’re not serving the type of seafood with which Peter was raised.

That would be seafood prepared as it is throughout the Pacific Northwest by seafood houses whose idea of freshness is off-the-boat and where catch of the day means this morning.  It’s seafood the type of which you find at the world-famous Pike’s Place Market where fishmongers toss fish at one another to the delight of visitors.  It’s wild-caught fish which are healthier and are more palatable in texture, aroma and flavor than their farm-raised brethren.  It’s an oyster bar serving a variety of oysters with a sweet oceanic flavor.  It’s Dungeness crab, a delicately flavored, slightly sweet West Coast delicacy.  Peter has made all of this available in Albuquerque.

Fresh Oysters: Kumamoto, Snow Creek, Penn Cove, Kushi and Miyagi with three dipping sauces: Clover honey and Tabasco, Raspberry and Champagne

The aptly named Desert Fish was launched on December 10th, 2010 at the former site of Sonny’s Bar and Grill on Route 66 in the Nob Hill District.  Gone are the pool tables, dartboards and numerous televisions usually tuned to sporting events.  The bandstand was retained, its stage to be graced by local music acts, their tunes piped in through a sound system reputed to be one of the best in town.  The ambiance is refined, like a true Northwestern seafood emporium and not a stereotypical nautical themed template.

While rich, dark woods imbue a room with masculinity, Desert Fish’s more gender-neutral light, but no less rich, woods give it character.  The bar’s paneled wainscoting extends to the smooth hewn planks on the ceiling.  Exposed industrial-style ductwork adds a touch of modernity while a twelve-foot totem pole, reminiscent of those carved by the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest,  provides a bit of whimsy.   On the day of our inaugural visit, the topmost figure on the totem pole sported a Seattle Seahawks helmet.

Cioppino: Hearty fish stew with shrimp, Dungeness crab, salmon, clams and mussels in a savory tomato broth with our own Desert Fish spice. Served with grilled bread.

The restaurant has two main dining areas.  As you enter (through a door on the edifice’s west side, not through Central Avenue as you might think) to the right there’s an intimate dining room with about a dozen tables.  More commodious is the main dining room where your interior views are of the stage, bar and oyster bar while your exterior views through large picture windows are of Central Avenue.  You’ll want to appreciate those views later; first you’ll want to peruse the menu which is not so much a compendium of all great seafood, but a carefully selected assemblage of incomparable seafood.

There are seven appetizers on the menu including a couple (French fries and kabobs) which are decidedly not seafood.  A soup of the day and clam chowder as well as a number of salads provide delicious alternatives to starters to be  sampled during future visits (and there will be many), but it’s the “bar menu” which will command most of your attention.  Price points are surprisingly comparable to what you might pay at a restaurant in Portland or Seattle and there’s no compromise in quality here.  Seafood is flown in fresh every two or three days.  A grilled rib eye steak au poivre is the only landlubber’s entree on the menu, but then you didn’t come here for meat, did you?

Whole Dungeness Crab: Succulent steamed crab served with corn on the cob and choice of fries.

You came to Desert Fish for the seafood, the quality of which my foodie friend Larry McGoldrick describes as “superior.”  On his Urbanspoon page, Larry assures readers that “Desert Fish has become a polished eatery and imbibery in the three short weeks that it has been open.”  You can trust the good professor of oceanography.  He lived on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay before moving to New Mexico.  Larry’s recommendations in mind, we wanted to try everything he had but opted instead to try a few different items so readers can get two perspectives on the menu’s delicious offerings.

As we do at most mariscos (Mexican seafood) restaurants, we had to have ceviche.  At Desert Fish that means Mojito Ceviche, thinly-sliced rock cod marinated in lime juice, light rum, sugar and mint.  The ceviche is served with fresh made blue corn chips and in the fashion of tostadas de ceviche, the combination of light, delicate fish and crispy corn is hard to beat, not that the chips were necessary in the least.  This is ceviche reminiscent of ceviche you might find at a Peruvian restaurant meaning it’s incomparably fresh and wholly imbued with flavors which are both complementary and contrasting.  The infusion of fresh citrus juices and rum, in particular, impart an almost Tropical feel.


Truffle Fries, Sweet Potato Fries and House Fries

Seafood connoisseurs recognize that no other seafood offering tastes as much like the sea as oysters, renown nearly as much for their aphrodisiac properties as for their flavor.  It’s a flavor attributable to terroir, the specific environment in which they grow.  Desert Fish offers a variety of oysters from a variety of locales.  Order at least one from each and discern the nuanced flavors.  The Kumamoto, considered by many as the perfect oyster, is sweet and “fruity” in an oceanic way.  Snow Creek oysters, raised in the deep waters of the Puget Sound, have a hint of iron in a sweet-salty flavor profile.  Penn Cove, perhaps the most “beautiful” of all oysters, are about medium in brininess while retaining a sea-saltiness.  Kushi (Japanese for “precious”) oysters have a clean flavor and are small in size.  Miyagi oysters are full-flavored and robust.

Though I prefer the unfettered flavor of oysters in all their native deliciousness, Desert Fish serves their oysters with three dipping sauces: clover honey and Tabasco, raspberry and champagne.  Each imparts its own complementary flavor ameliorating qualities to the oysters.  Unlike most oyster “shooters” which are tangy and piquant, these sauces are sophisticated and delicious.  The champagne resonated most with me with its characteristically dry and sweet flavors.  Neither the raspberry or clover honey and Tabasco sauces are as sweet as their names might suggest.

Milk and cookies

During all my visits to San Francisco, one of America’s truly great culinary hotbeds, the one dish I absolutely have to partake of is cioppino, a fish stew whose genesis is indeed the City by the Bay.  No one does this Portuguese-Italian dish better than the seafood houses by the piers.  Traditionally made from the catch of the day–usually Dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels, fish and clams–in a savory broth of fresh tomatoes and a dry white wine sauce, it is a hearty, delicious comfort soup.  Though several restaurants in Albuquerque have tried their hand at cioppino, they all fall woefully short.  Cioppino is a very nuanced dish with distinct seasonings which bring out the flavor of their seafood constituents.  Desert Fish’s rendition includes a beautifully pink grilled salmon, Dungeness crab, clams and mussels and is served with grilled bread.  It’s a San Francisco-worthy cioppino.

Another San Francisco treat popular throughout the Pacific Northwest is Dungeness crab, sweeter and more tender than lobster with more meat than the vaunted blue crabs of Larry McGoldrick’s former stomping grounds.  The legs  and body are engorged with sweet, succulent meat that’s easier to extricate than the meat of Alaskan king crab.  At Desert Fish, a whole Dungeness crab is served with sweet corn-on-the-cob and your choice of fries.  Ask the accommodating wait staff to bring you a sampler of all three fries: sweet potato, truffle fries and house fries, all of which are so reminiscent of the fries served at seaside stands.  The corn-on-the-cob is grilled and unseasonably sweet.  Best of all, it’s a whole ear of corn, not a half-sized piece that will have you longing for more.

The totem pole at Desert Fish. Check out the Seattle Seahawks helmet on top

The dessert menu includes several surprises including milk and fresh-baked cookies.  While milk and cookies may sound a bit quaint outside the child’s menu, these cookies are very good–two chocolate cookies with chocolate chips and pecans.  Milk, of course, is the perfect accompaniment to cookies of any kind.  This is a combination that might take you back to your childhood.

Desert Fish is the real deal–a Pacific Northwest seafood house in the desert southwest.  From its look and feel to the fantastic flavors of the fish and more, it is a welcome respite for expatriates from either coast.  It’s the type of seafood restaurant to which I wish my colleagues would have taken me all those times I suffered through Mexican food as mediocre as any you’d get on a frozen dinner.

Desert Fish
4214 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 15 January 2011
CLOSED: May 2013
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Fresh Oysters, Chioppino, Dungeness Crab, Mojito Ceviche, Fries, Milk and Cookies

Desert Fish on Urbanspoon

Outlook Cafe – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Outlook Cafe in Rio Rancho

Some would argue that the city of Rio Rancho was spawned as a dubious marketing ploy designed to bilk gullible New Yorkers out of their savings by enticing them to a vast wasteland under the pretext  that their  “lucrative investment” would  ensure a comfortable retirement in “among the greenest, most fertile valleys in the world.”  Others see those pioneers who sought to civilize the wilderness on the plateaus west of Albuquerque as visionaries possessing a clarity and prescience that escapes most of us.

Frankly, on our inaugural trek to the Outlook Cafe, we began to question our own sanity as we traversed what seemed to be an endlessly empty enormity of sage and sand beyond any vestige of civilization save for the two-lane Unser Boulevard on which we drove.  Any restaurant this far out in Rio Rancho’s vast outskirts would have to be a veritable oasis in a high desert expanse untouched and unsullied by modernity.   It would have to be a true destination restaurant, an  exclusive enclave far away from the bustling well-beaten and well-eaten path that defines the City of Vision’s dining scene.

The interior of the Outlook Cafe

In truth, from the intersection of Rio Rancho’s Unser and Southern Boulevards, the Outlook Cafe is almost equidistant to the Cottonwood Mall.  There are far fewer traffic lights, no traffic snarls and once you’re past the turnoff to Northern, virtually no other traffic and only a couple of residential neighborhoods.  So, we could perhaps owe the perception of distance to hunger and the anticipation of quelling it with food Susan, a faithful reader of my blog, described as “WOW!!!” and “great.”  Well, there is that, but it also seemed far because our paradigm is that most great restaurants are clustered in populated areas.  Our mistake!

You’ll know you’re getting close when you’ve driven about three miles north of the  Santa Ana Star Center and you see the signage for Mariposa, an environmentally-responsible master-planned community in the northwest outskirts of Rio Rancho.  Mariposa blends state-of-the-art homes and community buildings with the natural splendor of the hilly desert topography in which the 6,500-acre community is situated.  The delicate balance of nature, architecture and community blend in harmoniously with each other.

Cheesy Grill'as: Mozzarella-stuffed bruschetta wedges with Home on the Ranch dressing

The Outlook Cafe is ensconced in a 1,200 square-foot corner space in the capacious two-story business center, a modern edifice with plenty of glass to take advantage of wondrous panoramic views.  From the ground-level cafe, your views are of the Sandia, Sangre de Cristo, Manzano and Ortiz Mountains, views which seem even more spectacular from the patio.  The restaurant’s interior is charming in a contemporary European sort of way.  Walls are festooned with photo prints from throughout Europe and the Middle East.

The cafe is the brainchild of Linda Woestendiek who runs the restaurant with her affable husband Uwa and their son.  With an outlook that could only be described as optimistic, the Woestendieks launched the Outlook Cafe in March, 2009, seemingly in opposition of one of the rules of restaurant success–“location, location, location.”  Less than two years later and with minimal advertising, the cafe is frequented by diners from throughout the metropolitan Albuquerque area, Santa Fe and beyond.  One particularly enthusiastic patron from Four Hills visits weekly for the cafe’s lamb chops.

A cup of goulash, one of three "stoups" on the menu

The cafe is also frequented by a bobcat, perhaps drawn in by aromas emanating from the kitchen.  Other indigenous wildlife have been spotted in the neighborhood, a realization that the community is truly leaving the area as undisturbed as possible.   With tables in relatively close proximity to one another, it may not be possible for patrons to have a completely undisturbed dining experience, but as Uwa explains, a unique phenomenon  occurs at the Outlook Cafe.  Rather than stay to themselves, patrons often join their tables together and make new friends.

The cafe serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and breakfast until 3PM on weekends.  The menu is surprisingly ambitious considering the tiny confines.  Even more surprising is the concept change that sees a transformation from comfy cafe to sophisticated bistro during dinner hours and a menu featuring such eye-openers as skewered swordfish and portobello stroganoff.  If you’re not in an upscale, uptown mood, at eveningtide, there’s also a “pub” menu that includes popular lunch favorites such as burgers and sandwiches.

An XXL Hot Dog with mustard and relish served with a large pickle

All menus will have you doing a double-take.  There’s not only something for everyone, there’s something different than is offered just about anywhere else.  For example, rather than the de rigueuer two or three soups many restaurants serve, the Outlook Cafe serves a variety of “stoups” which are not quite a stew, but more than a soup.  If it’s on the menu, the stoup of the day–any day–is the goulash.  Uwa explained that this is German-style goulash, the difference being that his rendition is better than conventional goulash.

The goulash is fantastic–chunks of beef tenderloin, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes in a well-seasoned broth showcasing the dynamite flavor of Spanish paprika, a lively and piquant seasoning that Uwa roasts himself.  Available in cup or bowl sizes (always order a bowl or you’ll find yourself requesting a second cup), the soup arrives at your table steaming hot, a perfect elixir for cold or wet weather.  Without exaggeration, this is some of the very best goulash I’ve ever had–and certainly the very best “stoup.”

Brie Burger: A third-pound of lean, ground beef stuffed with melted Brie, served with mango salsa

Few things go as well with a piping-hot stoup as grilled cheese sandwiches and the Outlook Cafe offers an interesting variation.  On the “Off The Charts” section of the menu you’ll find Cheesy Grill’as, mozzarella-stuffed bruschetta wedges offered with your choice of one of three sauces: Bloody Mary (spicy marinara), Home on the Ranch (a green chile Ranch) and New Orleans Blues (Tabasco blue cheese).  The grill’as are sliced thinly and have diagonal grill marks that complement a buttery glisten.  Where the Home on the Ranch dressing lacks in piquancy, it makes up for in sheer deliciousness.

The “Off The Charts” menu also celebrates the diversity of the hot dog, offering four XX hot dogs. The “basic”–onions, relish and condiment–is the least interesting, at least in ingredient composition, but it’s an excellent grilled dog served on bakery bread. The other hot dogs are the German (sauerkraut, grilled onions and stone-ground mustard), Castilian (sauteed sweet peppers and onions) and the Chicago (yellow mustard, sweet relish, green chili (sic), pastrami, chopped onions, dill pickle spear and celery salt. The latter doesn’t quite fit the Windy City hot dog template, but locals will appreciate the green chili.

Panini Marinara with Meatballs: An open-faced, mozzarella-stuffed garlic bruscetta panini topped with four Italian meatballs and marinara sauce

Panini Marinara with Meatballs: An open-faced, mozzarella-stuffed garlic bruscetta panini topped with four Italian meatballs and marinara sauce

Panini sandwiches have become so commonplace as to be considered passe.  Frankly, there aren’t many surprises in the pressed bread arena.  When Outlook’s lunch menu listed some of their panini sandwiches as “original,” we were skeptical, expecting slight variations on the same standard offerings you’ll find just about everywhere.  As we quickly discovered, with a little imagination, high-quality ingredients and a willingness to take a departure from the norm, the panini sandwich can be transformed into a surprisingly tasty meal.

Such is the case with the Panini Marinara with Meatballs, a sort of deconstructed-reconstructed rendition of a meatball sandwich.  Instead of a few messy meatballs being stuffed into a hoagie type bread, four sizable meaty orbs covered in a rich red marinara and sprinkled with mozzarella rest atop a mozzarella-stuffed garlic bruscetta panini.  This is a sandwich you eat with a fork, though it would be excellent on its own right as a cheese sandwich with meatballs on the side.  The meatballs are this sandwiches best feature.  They’re well-seasoned without a profusion of gritty filler.  The marinara has a tangy, fresh tomato taste and would make a great sauce for pasta.

"Let Them Eat Bread"

"Let Them Eat Bread" - sliced baguette served warm with assorted butters and a vegetable spread

The menu’s specialty burgers are an enticing invitation to try something safe yet unconventional, familiar yet different.  That’s especially true if you think you’ve sampled almost every conceivable ingredient combination possible on a burger.  A new one on me was the Brie Burger, a third-pound of lean, ground beef stuffed with melted Brie served with mango salsa, a sliced tomato, large-leaf lettuce and a dill pickle spear on wonderful bakery buns smeared with mayonnaise.  The brie is of medium sharpness, a crumbly variety with a nice flavor.  The salsa is fresh and delicious, an amalgam of onion, red pepper and juicy mango.  This is a find!

Now, it’s one thing for a restaurant to excel at lunch.  The real test, especially for a small restaurant with an ambitious menu, is to perform exponentially better at dinner.  Lunch is like a preliminary bout; dinner is the main event.  That’s when expectations are highest.  That’s when you know you’ll be shelling out the big bucks, but you also expect to get your money’s worth.  Our expectations of the Outlook Cafe were so high from our inaugural lunch that we returned for dinner three nights later.  The “little cafe that could”…did.  It surpassed our expectations.

Crab Stuffed Deviled Eggs: Four egg halves filled with a creamy deviled egg and crab mixture, topped with red and black lumpfish caviar

The “Snacks and Starters” section of the Bistro Nights menu includes an appetizer throwback from the 1950s  which seems to be making a comeback, even in fine-dining restaurants.  Deviled eggs are no longer the Rodney Dangerfield of any restaurant’s starter menu.  They’re getting respect because chefs are employing their creativity to do more than evoke nostalgia.  The Outlook Cafe’s rendition is a beauteous tray showcasing four egg halves  filled with a creamy deviled egg and crab mixture topped with red and black lumpfish caviar.  They’re as tasty as their plating is elegant.

The dinner portion of the Bistro Nights menu features seven entrees, four of which are asterisked with the designation “an Outlook Cafe original.”  To say anything is original is an audacious claim, but the Outlook Cafe may just have pulled it off with eye-opening combinations such as the lamb chop entree which helped me understand just why someone would drive from the Four Hills neighborhood for these every week.  Now, there’s nothing original about lamb chops.  It’s the entire plate that earns that designation.

Lamb Chops (ten-ounces) served on a bed of orzo with streams of mint/jalapeno and roasted pepper sauces

Four lamb chops, ten-ounces in all, are perfectly prepared at medium which means they’re juicy with just a hint of pink inside.  These meat lollipops have none of the characteristic gaminess for which lamb chops are often disdained.  They’re absolutely delicious, a wonderful foil for the mint and jalapeno sauce.  Lamb and meat sauce are meant for one another; jalapeno adds a little zest to the freshness of the mint.  This stuff should be bottled and sold.  The orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, is buttery and delicious with a creaminess unique to this pasta.  The roasted pepper sauce was pure dynamite with more than a hint of piquancy and a nice pepper-flavored intensity.  These are lamb chops I’d order again and again and again.

Another entree that bears repeating is the Steak Au Poivre, a ten-ounce flatiron-style peppered beef tenderloin served with rustic garlic mashed potatoes.  This is a remarkable steak with a nice crust derived from the peppercorns which provide its pleasant pungency, a complementary counterpoint to the beef’s rich flavor.  This steak is tender and delicious with a gravy-like pan sauce hinting of perhaps a cognac reduction.  By design, the rustic mashed potatoes have a lump here and there, but they’re so darned deliciously garlicky you won’t care.

Steak Au Poivre - Flatiron-style peppered beef tenderloin served with rustic mashed potatoes

Dinners include a complementary serving of “let them eat bread,” a sliced baguette served warm with assorted butters and a vegetable spread.  On the night of our inaugural visit, our bread was accompanied by an herb butter, a cream cheese with garlic spread and a third spread which escapes me.  The baguette is terrific–a hard-crusted beauty with a soft, airy inside.

Desserts are housemade treats showcased under glass.  Linda is the inspired genius responsible for such gems as cinnamon roll cookies.  Bite into these orbs of deliciousness and you’ll see a cinnamon swirl that just seems so right considering these cookies are topped with an orange-flavored glaze.  Another excellent sweet treat is the blueberry cheesecake, a not-so-traditional confection that starts with a bar cookie which is topped with a blueberry-infused cheesecake.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies and Blueberry Cheesecake

Cinnamon Roll Cookies and Blueberry Cheesecake

It’s interesting that with our appetites sated and our taste buds contented, the “endlessly empty enormity of sage and sand” seemed suddenly rich with beauty. As Rio Rancho continues its expansion and more people discover this little gem, the road to the Outlook Cafe will be a bit more congested and the topography won’t seem as blessedly, desolately empty. It’s a drive we’ll take more often to what is truly an off-the-beaten path jewel.

Outlook Cafe
2500 Parkway Avenue, N.E., Suite 104
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 13 January 2011
1st VISIT:  31 October 2010
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Cheesy Grill’as, Goulash, XXL Hot Dog, Brie Burger, Cinnamon Roll Cookies, Blueberry Cheesecake, Panini Marinara with Meatballs, “Let Them Eat Bread”, Crab Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Lamb Chops, Steak Au Poivre

Outlook Cafe on Urbanspoon

Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreño – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreno on Bridge Street

In the 1980s, several hundred thousand Salvadorans fled their civil war ravaged nation (courtesy, many would say of America’s attempting to turn El Salvador into the Western hemisphere’s version of Vietnam).  Many migrated to large metropolitan areas in the United States where their culture has quietly flourished.  Those immigrants introduced and hooked Californians on their national snack, a modest street food called the pupusa.  If you’ve never had a pupusa, there’s a chance you may have learned of them on the Food Network’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives program.  In 2009, host Guy Fieri visited Santa Fe’s Tune-Up Cafe where the garrulous wayfarer was first introduced to pupusas himself.

A pupusa is a thick, hand-made corn tortilla stuffed with sundry ingredients, the only limitation as to what each is engorged with being the imagination of the chef preparing them.  Unlike New Mexican tortillas, Salvadorian tortillas are made with no baking powder and very little (if any) salt.  They’re roughly four-inches in diameter and made with a maize masa.  In recent decades, pupuserias have sprung up in many large American cities.  Generally small and family run, pupuserias have been developing a very popular following among college students and adventurous diners.

Pupusas and curtido at Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreno (Photo by Sergio Salvador

Pupusas and curtido at Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreno (Photo courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreño launched in November, 2005 and within months inspired a “Where’s Waldo” type search for a rumored Salvadoran restaurant, the Duke City’s first.  That search was triggered by a reader of the Albuquerque Tribune’s “Food City” column who was desperately craving pupusas.  Fortunately for other pupusa fanatics, another reader let everyone know just where the restaurant is.  It’s a homey hole-in-the-wall on the corner of Goff and Bridge.  In 2010, a second instantiation of the restaurant opened on the corner of San Mateo and Gibson, directly west of the “Chevy on a Stick.”

Owned by retired military veteran Eddie Aguilar but run by his sister Antonia Miles and their huggable mother Ruth Aguilar, Pupuseria Y Restaurante  Salvadoreño is a treasure which looks as it belongs somewhere in inner city Los Angeles.  As terrific as it is and after experiencing absolutely addicting flavor explosions during each visit, our return visits have been all too infrequent.  Antonia is the visible face of the restaurant while Ruth operates the kitchen with the skill of someone who loves to cook.  To Ruth there is no greater compliment than the smile of her customers’ as they enjoy her cooking.

A sensational Salvadoran meal (Photo courtesy of Sergio Salvador) Click photo for more

A sensational Salvadoran meal (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Several colorful towels adorn the restaurant’s walls.  One towel depicts the Salvadoran and United States flags with the words “Estamos Unidos” (we’re united).  Other colorful towels portray Salvadoran women preparing pupusas in an open air market at which children are frolicking.  There are at least two maps of El Salvador on the wall as well as two posters of the country’s currency, the Colon.  Perhaps reflective of El Salvador’s attitude toward family, most of the restaurant’s seating seems tailored for groups of four or more.  When all tables are occupied, you can still sit on a counter above which a television seems perpetually tuned to a soccer game.

The menu features nine different pupusas, all served with curtido (a pickled-cabbage relish with a taste more than vaguely reminiscent of something between coleslaw and sauerkraut) and a water-thin tomato salsa.  The curtido is made with beets, cabbage, carrots, dried hot pepper and Mexican oregano (a natural flavor ameliorant far superior to its ground American counterpart).  You can eat the curtido as you would any coleslaw or you can pile it on your pupusa as Salvadorans tend to do.  Either way, it’s an exciting taste experience.

A Salvadoran Tamale prepared on banana leaves

A Salvadoran Tamale prepared on banana leaves (Photo courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

The pupusas are as wonderful as those I first experienced in San Jose, California several years ago.  It isn”t difficult to imagine a Salvadoran mother lovingly crafting the pupusa revuelta (mixed), crafted with cheese (a soft Salvadoran cheese called quesillo), chicharrones and refried beans…and indeed, we have been so effusive in our praise of this tortilla treasure that Ruth has come out of the kitchen during each of our visits to accept our compliments in person.  Equally praise-worthy is the pupusa de queso con loroco.  Loroco is a vine flower bud that grows throughout Central America.

You could easily make a meal out of several pupusas and would be more than satisfied, however, the menu is replete with intriguing choices–starting with the beverage (bebidas) selections.  Aguas Frescas include horchata (the refreshing rice and cinnamon drink), piña (pineapple), melon and tamarindo (a slightly sour fruity drink).  For health-conscious diners, several natural juvos (juices) flavored with carrot (zanahoria) and other fruit or vegetable ingredients can also be found.  The zanahoria y naranja (orange) beverage is a refreshing and delicious surprise chock full of vitamins.

Healthful and refreshing beverage (Photo by Sergio Salvador) Click for More

Healthful and refreshing beverage (Photo courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

The menu also includes entree choices sure to please the discerning diner.  As you contemplate the menu, you’ll enjoy the complementary chips and salsa.  Both are more in the style of Mexican salsa and chips than they are New Mexican which means a pureed and piquant sauce and thick, unsalted chips.  Carnivores are sure to enjoy the beef steak encebollado, a thin steak in a light brown gravy flavored with roasted onion and peppers.  The cut of meat is typically cut, but the flavors work very well together.  If fish is more what you wish, the mojarra frita, a lightly battered fried fish is a very good choice (just watch out for those sharp bones).

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once posited that “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”  Let me posit that New Mexico and El Salvador are a state and country similarly separated.  Case in point are tamales and torta de huevo, two dishes common to both New Mexico and El Salvador yet two dishes as different as night and day while retaining some unmistakable similarities.

Torta Cubano stuffed with ham, cheese, lettuce, hot dog, guacamole, mayonnaise and coleslaw

Salvadoran tamales are filled with shredded chicken and wrapped in a banana leaf (hoja de platano).  Texturally, the masa is more fine than the masa used in New Mexican or Mexican tamales.  In fact, the masa is prepared first then wrapped around the shredded chicken and steamed in the banana leaves.  The leaves impart a distinct herbaceous quality to the chicken and seal in the moistness you want in a chicken dish.  In New Mexico torta de huevo is a traditional Lenten dish made from egg whites beaten to a frothy consistency then fried into circular “fritters.” In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreno a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its tamal de pollo as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Salvadoran torta de huevo is more akin to an unfolded omelet.  Similar to an omelet, it is stuffed with various ingredients–primarily chopped onions and tomato at Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreno.  Unlike American omelets which tend to be light and fluffy, Salvadoran torta de huevo has a fried egg texture and appearance.  Bite into it and you’ll notice the differences immediately.  This entree is served with refried beans, sour cream and quesillo, the unique Salvadoran cheese.  The refried beans are actually better than just about any I can remember having at any Mexican or New Mexican restaurant.

Torta de Huevo Salvadoreno with beans, cream and quesillo

In the nearly four years (2007-2011) which elapsed between our visits to this fabulous Salvadoran treasure, several things had changed–all for the better.  The complementary salsa and chips  are new as are “tortas ricas.”  Tortas are popular Mexican sandwiches typically made from an oblong six-to-eight inch soft Mexican bread rolls called bolillos).  The restaurant offers three different tortas: the Cubana, the carne asada (literally roasted meat) and the jamon (a dry-cured ham).  Our waiter heartily recommended the Cubano and for good reason.

The Cubano, loosely patterned after the famous sandwich of the same name, is fantastic–a large bolillo stuffed with ham, cheese, hot dog wieners, lettuce and tomato.  The bolillo is smeared with both mayonnaise and guacamole, giving it a very rich taste.  The torta is as thick as a triple-beef hamburger; you have to open your mouth wide to bite into it, but when you do, you’ll be surprised at the deliciousness of the ingredient combination.  The ham and hot dog duo, in particular, are quite good, literally two pork products in concert with one another.  It’s big enough for two to share.

Salsa and chips

We were so pleased with our introductory meals that even though bursting from the large quantities of food we had just consumed, we were eager to see if the chef’s kitchen mastery extended to desserts.  Though not on the menu, Ruth whipped up some warm natillas richly flavored with cinnamon and raisins.  Somewhat more liquefied than natillas you might find at a New Mexican restaurant, Ruth’s version is simply wonderful, among the best we’ve had anywhere.

Albuquerque has become a rich melting pot in which the world’s cultures integrate easily and contribute to the fabric of the city.  One of the best ways to begin to appreciate a culture is through its cuisine.  Our visits to Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreño have certainly increased our appreciation for the great people and culture of our Central American neighbor.

Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreño
1701 Bridge, S.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 9 January 2011
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pupusa Revuelta; Pupusa De Queso Con Loroco; Pupusa De Salami; Pupusa De Camaron; Platano Frito Con Crema Y Frijoles; Beef Steak Encebollado; Torta de Huevo Salvadoreno, Torta Cubana, Torta de Carne Asada

Pupuseria Y Restaurant Salvadoreño on Urbanspoon

‘O Eating House – Pojoaque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The O Eating House in Pojoaque, New Mexico

The O Eating House in Pojoaque, New Mexico

Until the 1990s, Poeh (also known as the Pueblo of Pojoaque) lived up to its name. In Tewa, the traditional language of six of New Mexico’s eight northern Pueblos, “Poeh” means pathway. That’s all Poeh seemed to be–a pathway to somewhere else.  Located fifteen miles north of Santa Fe on U.S. 84/285, Poeh didn’t seem to draw a second glance from speeding motorists on their way to Taos.  That was the case until the 1990s when the late Poeh governor Jake Viarrial and other tribal visionaries led an economic renaissance that established thriving Pueblo businesses, including flourishing gaming operations.

Today Poeh’s numerous tribal enterprises make it a model of prosperity and self-sufficiency. Its empire now includes the Cities of Gold casino, the Buffalo Thunder resort (New Mexico’s largest and most expensive resort), two hotels, two golf courses, a shopping center, a wellness center and a Santa Fe caliber fine-dining restaurant called Ó (pronounced “oh”) Eating House.

The spectacular 1,700 square-foot dining room.

The restaurant is named for the traditional corn grinding stone, perhaps the most essential of prehistoric cooking implements, at the center of traditional Pueblo kitchens.  Located just east of the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum, the Ó Eating House launched its new dining concept on December 18, 2006. Like the museum, it is visually striking, almost breath-taking. It was designed by Poeh’s governor George Rivera, an accomplished artist and enterprising leader who was instrumental in designing the restaurant’s most awe-inspiring feature (maybe aside from the food).

Easily the most prominent and wow-eliciting feature in the dining room is a Pueblo-themed metal and mica lighting arrangement suspended from the ceiling. At 17X24, the multi-hued light mural is replete with Pueblo motifs such as the whirling eternal spiral of life at the center of this functional masterpiece.  Walls are festooned with framed paintings depicting autumnal scenery by the talented Harry Greene.  The commodious dining room is far from the only eye-catching feature at this spectacular setting.  A cozy bar accommodates kitchen-side dining while a walled courtyard with rough-hewn latillas and open-air ventilation provides yet another terrific milieu.

Artisan bread from Albuquerque’s terrific Fano Bakery

The artistic theme continues with the menu, a compendium of culinary creativity.  Although the adjective “fusion” is probably bandied about too often, the menu truly incorporates some of the best elements of Italian and Mediterranean influences.  It might be debatable as to who the better artist is, governor Rivera or Chef Steven Lemon. On each plate, be it appetizer, entree or dessert, everything is where it should be for optimum harmony, balance and appearance. The balance of color, texture and appearance gives diners pause to reflect on how great everything looks. If they think everything looks good, just wait ’til they taste their bounty.

Chef Lemon, whose pedigree includes a six-year stint as head chef at Pranzo’s Italian Grill in Santa Fe followed by three years as chef and part-owner of Albuquerque’s Scalo, has been at the helm since March, 2010.  He has resurrected the O Eating House which started off with so much promise under the masterful hands of its first chef,  the highly credentialed Enrique Guererro and the upscale Southwestern menu and theme he conceptualized.  When Guererro left, a succession of chefs came in and made thematic changes but none met with the critical success of the restaurant’s first chef.  None, that is, until Chef Lemon.

Zucchini Fritti: Tempura Battered, Flash-Fried Zucchini Sticks Tossed in Truffle Oil, Parmesan and Parsley; Served with a Lemon Aioli

Completely self-taught, Chef Lemon has created a Santa Fe quality restaurant at a Pojoaque price point, making fine-dining affordable without compromising on quality.  Unlike some restaurants in Santa Fe and Taos, it’s entirely possible to have a wonderful three-course meal at a price that won’t give you sticker shock.  Lunch entrees range in price from ten to fifteen dollars while the most expensive dinner entree is several dollars south of thirty.  Housemade pastas–spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine–are all hallmarks of the menu as are a variety of cheeses (including a buttery Burrata), also made on the premises.

Also characteristic of the O Eating House is service with a personal touch.  During our inaugural visit, we were attended to by restaurant manager David Marquez who followed Chef Lemon from Scalo.  From escorting us to our table to taking and delivering our order, David made our visit an absolute pleasure.  He is intimately familiar with the menu, allowing him to provide  astute recommendations to tailor your meal for your specific taste.  It helps that he has a sophisticated palate and understands well that nuanced touches can improve on dishes that are excellent to start off with.  I’ll elaborate further on this point in discussing some of the items we had.

Antipasti: Sopressata, Porcini Salumi, Salchichon de Vic, Grappa Cured Salmon, Marinated Olives, Il Saggio Goats Milk Cheese, Ricotta Salada, Roasted Almonds

As we perused the menu, a conical wrought iron basket of sliced bread served warm was brought to our table along with a rectangular plate of olive oil mixed with Balsamic vinegar.  The bread had a familiar taste and texture.  David confirmed the bread is made by Fano Bakery, a Duke City treasure specializing in artisan-style rustic and specialty breads.  Not surprisingly, Fano Bakery bread was served at Scalo as it is at numerous high-quality restaurants.  Characteristic of baguettes from Fano, a hard-crust complements a soft, airy texture.  It’s an excellent bread on which to nosh while contemplating your meal.

Don’t make a decision until you’ve heard the specials of the day, all of which might be the starring attraction at any restaurant. David’s flawless recital of those specials reminded me of days long gone in which I wasn’t held bound by the “rule of seven” and could retain a dozen or more pieces of new information in memory.  As wonderful as he made those specials sound (and as pitiful as my memory is), I had to ask him a couple times to recite those items in which we were most interested.  They sounded better every time we heard them anew.

Apple Wood Smoked Bacon Linguine: Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, Caramelized Onions, Roma Tomatoes, Cream, Smoked Jalapenos and Grilled Chicken

The expansive menu is a pleasure to study.  Nine brick oven gourmet pizzas make a pretty persuasive thin-crusted argument that’s hard to resist.  The ingredients on the nine pizzas make it evident these pies aren’t a haphazardly thrown together melange of frou-frou ingredients, but if the combinations aren’t to your liking, you can always craft your own from your choice of two dozen ingredients.  The same salads and starters menu is available for both lunch and dinner.  Items on this page of the menu range in price from seven to ten dollars.

The Antipasti is a starter sure to please the most discerning of diners, especially if you love cured Italian meats and fish. The Soppressata, a Tuscan salami made from choice cuts of cured-dry pork and flavored with black peppercorns, is fabulous–the epitome of salami perfection. Coarsely ground, it is sliced just thick enough to showcase its intense flavor.  The Porcini Salumi, a  sausage stuffed with earthy Porcini mushrooms and aged Parmigiano Regianno is sliced painfully thin, making flavor discernment a delicious adventure.  From the Catalonia region of Spain comes the Salchicon de vic, a rich and fatty salami freckled with garlic and black pepper. If your tastes favor fish, you’ll love the Grappa (an Italian brandy made from the residue of pressed grapes) cured salmon topped with capers. This quadrumvirate is only part of one of the state’s very best antipasti plates.

Housemade Pan-Fried Buttermilk Chicken and Linguine with Pan Jus

The antipasti also showcases fantastic fromage in the form of Il Saggio, a cellar-aged, robustly flavored goat’s milk cheese that’s both sweet and fragrant; and ricotta salata, an aged cheese made from lightly salted sheep’s milk curd.  This cheese has a mild milky taste with a hint of nuttiness.  It’s a good grating cheese, but great on its own.  At the center of the antipasti platter is a small bowl of green and black olives flanked by a handful of almonds.  The golden sheen from a light drizzle of olive oil on the plate is a decorative and delicious touch.

Jeff Beeman, the affable owner of the Casita de Chuparosa in Abiquiu, who reintroduced me to the O Eating House recommended a number of dishes he’s enjoyed during his visits to the O Eating House.  Though by the time we arrived at the restaurant I had forgotten (my feeble memory again) what he had recommended, I did remember him using the word “fritti,” Italian for fried.  As such we ordered a second starter, Zucchini Fritti (tempura-battered, flash-fried zucchini sticks tossed in Parmesan and parsley and served with a lemon aioli.  Now, fried zucchini may sound so 1970ish, but Chef Lemon’s rendition is several orders of magnitude better than the pedestrian fried zucchini served at inferior restaurants.  Unlike other fried zucchini we’ve had, this one is only lightly battered, allowing the freshness of the zucchini to shine.  The zucchini is perfectly fried, remaining crispy and moist.  The lemon aioli lends a nice tanginess.

Fancy Bacon Pizza: Pizza-Fried Eggplant, Roasted Peppers, Mozzarella and Fancy Bacon (Guanciale)

If you like rich pastas (and who doesn’t), the O Eating House has a winner in the Apple Wood Smoked Bacon Linguine (apple wood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, Roma tomatoes and cream).  Consider it heresy if you will, but that dish, sublime as it sounds, can be improved.  General Manager Daniel Marquez explained how, recommending the addition of smoked jalapenos and grilled chicken.  It was an astute recommendation for which we are most grateful.  The smoked jalapeno, in particular, added piquancy to a dish that might otherwise have been too rich if that’s possible.  Apple wood smoked bacon improves everything it touches; nothing else needs to be said about its contribution to the dish.  The housemade linguine is perfectly prepared and the cream sauce is as rich as expected, but oh so nicely tempered by the smoked jalapeno.  This is a phenomenal dish.

In describing the day’s specials, Daniel explained that Chef Lemon’s pan-fried buttermilk chicken has been flying off the kitchen.  There’s a reason for that.  This is some of the very best fried chicken we’ve had since leaving Mississippi in 1995 and it would be considered a great fried chicken even in the deep south.  It’s a quarter chicken–breast, thigh and leg–with a lot of juicy white meat impregnated just noticeably by the tanginess of preserved lemon.  The seasoned flour coating is light and delicate.  Normally served with polenta, we requested pasta instead and Daniel accommodated.  The pasta was flavored with chicken pan jus, an excellent touch.


Almond and Toasted Fennel Bread Pudding Topped with Caramel

The Fancy Bacon Pizza (fried eggplant, roasted peppers, mozzarella and fancy bacon (Guanciale)), is a fine-dining quality gourmet pie with neighborhood pizzeria touches.  A thin-crust canvas that’s light, delicate and crispy without being cracker-like, is the basis for a pizza that’s as good for breakfast as it is just after it’s delivered to your table.  The pizza’s is slightly charred on the edges, but “char” is one of those flavors that seems to work well only on pizza.  The fancy bacon lives up to its name.  Guanciale, an unsmoked, cured Italian bacon tends to have a stronger flavor profile than pancetta and is preferred by some chefs on carbonara dishes.  It’s my new preference for bacon on pizza.

The menu lists only two desserts, but several others are available and will be vividly described by your server.  As usual, my choice is bread pudding and no standard offering does the O Eating House serve.  It’s an almond and toasted fennel bread pudding topped with a rich caramel.  The big surprise here is the toasted fennel which imparts a flavor reminiscent of licorice.  The brick-shaped slab is moist and thoroughly delicious with the caramel being the proverbial icing on the cake.  Larry McGoldrick, my fellow bread pudding loving gastronome, would love this one.

A Trio of Sorbets: Vanilla, Lemon and Blood Orange

Despite outdoor temperatures approaching temperatures more often experienced by polar bears than by thin-blooded New Mexicans, my Kim had a trio of sorbets: vanilla, lemon and blood orange, all served on a large green goblet.  The sorbets are rich and creamy with pronounced flavor profiles.  Vanilla bean is in evidence throughout the vanilla sorbet while the two citrus-based sorbets have the tangy intensity lemon and orange aficionados appreciate.  It’s never too cold for sorbet this good!

It’s never too soon or too often to visit the O Eating House, a fine dining quality Italian-Mediterranean restaurant at which you can afford to eat well.

A bronze sculpture by Roxanne Swentzell

A bronze sculpture by Roxanne Swentzell whose museum is next door to the O Eating House

While in Poeh, you have to make time to visit not only the Poeh Museum whose focus is on preserving traditional and contemporary art and culture, but the five-story Roxanne Swentzell Tower Gallery. Swentzell is a rare talent and an inspiring human being with exceptional personal warmth. Her sculptures are unforgettable.

‘O Eating House
86 Cities of Gold Road
Pojoaque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 8 January 2011
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Artisan Bread, Zucchini Fritti, Antipasti, Pan-Fried Chicken, Fancy Bacon Pizza, Applewood Smoked Bacon Linguine, Almond & Toasted Fennel Bread Pudding, Sorbet (Vanilla, Blood Orange, Lemon) Trio

O Eating House on Urbanspoon

2010: The Year In Food

From Left to Right: Bruce "Senor Plata" Silver; Bill "Roastmaster" Resnik; Gil Garduno and Paul "Boomer" Lilly enjoy Green Chile Phillys at Itsa Italian Ice

From Left to Right: Bruce “Senor Plata” Silver; Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik; Gil Garduno and Paul “Boomer” Lilly enjoy Green Chile Phillys at Itsa Italian Ice

Tis the season…for year-end retrospectives in which the good, the bad and the ugly; the triumphs and tragedies; the highs and lows and the ups and downs are revisited ad-infinitum by seemingly every print and cyberspace medium in existence.  It’s the time of year in which the “in-your-face” media practically forces a reminiscence–either fondly or with disgust–about the year that was.  It’s a time for introspection, resolutions and for looking forward with hope to the year to come.  The New Mexico culinary landscape had more highs than it did lows in 2010. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.

In January Mary & Tito’s was announced as the 2010 recipient of the Foundation’s “America’s Classics Award,” a prestigious accolade honoring “a restaurant with timeless appeal, beloved in its region for quality food that reflects the character of its community. Mary and her daughter Antoinette, the heart and soul of Mary & Tito’s, picked up their award at New York City’s fabled Lincoln Center in March. Mary & Tito’s has been earning devotees since 1963 with the best, most authentic New Mexican cuisine in the Land of Enchantment.  It is the third restaurant in New Mexico to be honored with the America’s Classic Award, joining Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual (honored in 1999) and The Shed (honored in 2003) as honorees.

Uber-talented chef Jennifer James was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as “best chef in the southwest,” a validation of her place among the nation’s very best chefs. At her eponymous restaurant, the chef has made  the concept of dining as a social event fashionable and fun.

Also in January, the Travel Channel traveled from coast to coast to uncover the “101 tastiest places to chow down“–joints serving some of the biggest and best dishes of deliciousness around.” Only one New Mexico restaurant made the list, but it’s a great one worthy of recognition.  At number 45 on the chow down countdown was Cecilia’s Cafe, a downtown Duke City institution.  The program described Cecilia’s as “where they serve up New Mexican food so messy not even a stack of napkins will help.”  Frankly, the food at Cecilia’s is so good, with a little chile you might even want to chow down on those napkins.

A green chile pupusa topped with curtido from Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreno

New Mexico Restaurant Week, a seven-day extravaganza in Santa Fe and Albuquerque invited diners to experience extraordinary specially created, multi-course dinners at amazingly low prices.  The event proved so successful that in 2011, it has been expanded to include a week each in Taos and Las Cruces.  Multi-course dinners will be available at a bargain price of just two for $25, or $20, $30 or $40 per person.  The 2011 New Mexico Restaurant Week runs February 27th – March 6th in Taos;  March 6-13 in Santa Fe; March 13-20 in Albuquerque; and March 20-27 in Las Cruces.  Optimists like to think of it as “restaurant month” because you can travel from city to city to partake of culinary greatness at unbeatable prices.

Fresh off his 2009 “green chile cheeseburger throwdown” victory over Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay, San Antonio’s Bobby Olguin, proprietor of the now world-famous Buckhorn Tavern parlayed the charm and wit he displayed on the throwdown episode to earn a hosting gig on KASA Fox 2.  As host of “New Mexico’s Hot Chefs,” Olguin hobnobs with some of New Mexico’s most prominent chefs, all of whom prepare appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts, sharing some of the recipes featured in their restaurants.  New Mexico’s Hot Chefs airs weekly and can be viewed throughout central and northern New Mexico.

In April, Livability.com named the “10 most surprisingly vibrant cities for foodies to flex their taste buds,” cities which “aren’t just some of the best cities for food — they’re great communities for everyone.”  Albuquerque was number seven on that list, cited for “marrying traditional New Mexican cuisine with an independent spirit and hunger for diversity.”  The real surprise to foodies in the know is that Albuquerque’s burgeoning culinary scene would come as a surprise to anyone.  Savvy diners will tell you Albuquerque is no longer the homely stepsister ignored by dutiful suitors who prefer the cuisine of Santa Fe, its more glamorous sibling.

Roasted red pepper sandwich from Sophia’s Place on Fourth Street in Albuquerque (Courtesy of Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver)


New Mexico Magazine, which has long showcased dining in New Mexico in its recurring “breakfast, lunch and dinner” feature dedicated its June, 2010 issue to celebrating New Mexico’s Best Eats.  The magazine introduced readers to eight of the very best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment: Huevos Rancheros, Green Chile Cheeseburgers, Green Chile Stew, Comfort Food, Deli Sandwich, Tacos, Local Seasonal Ingredients and Desserts.  Two versions of each dish–a downhome version and an uptown version–were showcased.

In July, PETA ranked Albuquerque third in its large city category as “the most veg-friendly cities in North America,” noting that “going vegan in Albuquerque is easier than learning how to spell the city’s name!”  Perhaps there’s a correlation between the city’s vegetarian-vegan friendly restaurants and Men’s Health magazine ranking Albuquerque number six on their list of the “Top 10 Leanest Cities in the US.”

New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when it’s delivered to other tables.

Chef James Campbell Caruso and wine director Adam Johnson of Santa Fe’s fabulous La Boca restaurant reached the United States finals of the prestigious Copa Jerez competition.  The food and Sherry pairing competition attracts top chefs and sommeliers from eight countries including Spain, the United States, Japan, Germany and others.  The winner from each participating country will compete in  an international finals judged by some of the world’s best food and wine experts.  La Boca’s inspired Spanish cuisine in the form of inventive tapas is a winner by any measure.

On October 1st, the national newspaper USA Today published a compilation of America’s “great burger joints,” one in each state.  The choice for New Mexico was the green chile cheeseburger from Five Star Burgers.  According to USA Today, “When you talk burgers in New Mexico, you’re talking green chile cheeseburgers.  What distinguishes 5 Star Burgers, with restaurants in Taos and Albuquerque, is quality.  Served on a brioce bun from local Fano bakery, their all-natural, hormone-and antibiotic-free Black Angus beef is ground fresh daily and cooked to order.  The 8-oz green chile cheeseburgers come in two varieties.  Both are delicious.”

In November, USA Today asked local experts to name just one great pizza parlor in each state and the District of Columbia.  The New Mexico selection was none other than Giovanni’s Pizzeria.  According to USA Today, “local foodies agree that Giovanni’s Pizzeria in Albuquerque makes the best pies. This is New York style thin-crust pizza crispy with a blackened spot or two and a good, yeasty taste.  But being New Mexico, green chile shows up frequently as a topping.  Specialty pizzas include the New Mexican with chicken, ricotta, garlic, red onions and green chile.  Both dough and toppings are made fresh daily in house.”

In November, the New Mexico Tourism Department introduced the New Mexico Culinary Classics Trail, an initiative which recognizes those rare and precious family-owned and operated gems operating continuously since at least December 31, 1969.  A comprehensive list of more than seventy culinary treasures are profiled on the Department’s Web site which also includes an interactive map which will guide visitors and locals alike to these treasures.

A number of wonderful restaurants closed their doors for the last time in 2010.  By my count, 20 restaurants met their demise in a very challenging year for businesses across America.  Duke City diners said good bye to such favorites as the Blue Cactus Grill, the Independence Grill and Chef Jim White’s Cafe & Catering.  The City of Vision is drying its eyes over the closure of Mad Max’s BBQ, Dahlia’s Central Mexican Cuisine and the Black Olive Wine Bar & Grill.  Notable Santa Fe closures include The Original Realburger and Honnell’s Late Nite Burger .  Taos County lost Gypsy 360 Cafe and Joseph’s Table.

2010 was a banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog which achieved two major milestones during the year.  In November, the blog hit the one-million visit milestone then a month later the 2,000th reader comment was published.  Readers haven’t been shy about expressing themselves with passion, humor and one-upmanship.  I value your comments immensely and appreciate that you thought enough of my blog this year to have voted me as one of the Duke City’s five best bloggers for 2010 in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue.

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