Tim’s Place – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED: 2015)

Tim’s Place, the world’s friendliest restaurant

In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

WARNINGThe program you are about to see…seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns.  By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show–in a mature fashion–just how absurd they are.”  With that stark warning, the landmark satire All in the Family debuted on January 12th, 1971.  No television program–before or since–has changed the face of television to the extent All in the Family did.  Some credit it for ushering in the era of political correctness.

At its peak, All in the Family was the highest rated television show in America from 1971 through 1976, commanding as many as sixty percent of all television sets across the fruited plain.  Many tuned in to see what the show’s central character Archie Bunker would say or do.  A bigoted loading dock worker from Queens, Archie unabashedly expressed his every racial and political view, all of which were borne out of negative stereotypes, intolerance and ignorance.  Invariably his malapropisms and foibles made for very humorous television.

In one especially memorable episode, the target of Archie’s unfounded misconceptions was George, a cognitively disadvantaged box boy.  Archie caused George to lose his job by encouraging him to take a break while still on the clock at the market.  Undaunted by Archie’s attitude, George left,  returning later with a new job and a plaque which read, “Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.”  It’s a lesson we should all heed.

Though born with Down Syndrome, Tim Harris has been teaching everyone with whom he comes in contact very important lessons, one of the most important of which is the therapeutic value of hugs.  Tim is the proprietor of Tim’s Place, the “world’s friendliest restaurant.”  He makes it a practice to bestow his staff and customers with a “Tim Hug,” a calorie free, guilt free treat “guaranteed to improve your lease on life.”

In his book Touching: The Human Significance of Skin, Dr. Ashley Montagu affirms the importance of touch on all aspects of human development: “Both the hugger and the person being hugged benefit because they have the immediate positive outcome of feeling good. Hugs are heartwarming and can have the effect of leaving one energized and rejuvenated. A caregiver’s hug accurately expresses to a child feelings of love, acceptance, comfort and a desire for closeness.”  He adds, “Hugging is health-enhancing because it reduces tension and stress, aids the immune system, helps with sleep, assists in building self-esteem and best of all has no negative side effects. When we open our hearts and arms to others, we inspire them to do likewise.”

As of June 30, 2011, the date of my inaugural visit, Tim had given more than 11,000 hugs according to the Official Hug Counter hanging on a wall.  That’s a lot of therapy! Tim doesn’t charge extra for this life-affirming succor and unlike some credentialed quacks who charge an armload, he consistently gets results.  Just look at the beaming faces of loyal patrons who frequent Tim’s Place not only for the excellent food, but for the soothing picker-upper of a tight hug from what may well be the Duke City’s most beloved restaurateur.

Probably the only hugs counter in America

Tim’s life is an inspiration, the story of a young man unencumbered by limitations and surmounting life’s vicissitudes to excel at every challenge which came his way.  A 2004 Eldorado High School graduate, Tim was elected homecoming king by the highest voting margin in school history.  On the week of graduation, he was voted Student of the Year by faculty, staff and administration.  He has earned dozens of gold medals as a Special Olympian participating in basketball, volleyball, poly hockey, track and field, and golf.

In 2008, Tim graduated from Eastern New Mexico, earning certificates in Food Services and Office Skills.  He honed his skills in the hospitality industry by working at several restaurants before embarking on his current entrepreneurial venture as owner of Tim’s Place.  The world’s friendliest restaurant has been open for breakfast, lunch and hugs since June, 2010, earning a loyal following.  Tim’s Place is open from 6:30AM to 2:30PM seven days a week.

Rangoon Artichoke Wontons with a Cucumber Dipping Sauce

The staff at Tim’s Place works in tandem to ensure your dining experience is as pleasant as it can be.  Tim starts each day with hugs for all his employees.  It’s no wonder they’re all so friendly and attentive; the attitude of the owner is infectious.  Customer service is more than a term at the friendliest restaurant in the world; it’s the way business is conducted every single day with every single customer.

With personal customer service being the focal point, the menu doesn’t have to be a compendium of every breakfast and lunch item possible as you’ll find at some of the impersonal, cold and unfriendly chains.  It does, however, have to be well executed or the savvy Albuquerque dining crowds wouldn’t return in droves…no matter how friendly the staff and owner are.

Breakfast Enchiladas: Two farm fresh eggs, blue and yellow corn tortillas with carne adovada served with papitas and calabacitas.

The breakfast and lunch menus showcase stick-to-your-ribs entrees, both traditional American and New Mexican favorites.  Portions are generous, but not profligate.  Best of all, you can have either or both breakfast or lunch at all hours in which the restaurant is open.  A salad with waffles, a green chile cheeseburger with French toasts…the possibilities are delicious.  Kiddo’s breakfast and lunch items are also available as are breakfast and lunch desserts–just peachy cobbler, cobbler of the week or ice cream.

Perhaps the most creative item on the menu is a starter which by virtue of its name you might expect to find at an Asian restaurant.  Tim’s Rangoon artichoke wontons are much better than just about any wontons you’ll find at any Asian restaurant.  These are engorged with a cream cheese and artichoke heart mix then deep-fried to a crispy consistency.  They’re the antithesis of wontons which seem to be lots of crispy wrapper with very little filling.  The wontons are served with your choice of dipping sauces: cucumber, chorizo or green chile ranch.  The cool cucumber complements the artichoke hearts very well.

Tim’s Big Breakfast: Two farm fresh eggs any style, 2 bacon strips, a sausage patty, ham steak, papitas, toast and pancakes (pictured below)

On those rare days in which you want something other than the de rigueur New Mexican breakfast of  huevos rancheros or breakfast burritos, Tim’s offers a breakfast enchiladas plate good enough to have at any hour of the day.  Constructed of two farm-fresh eggs (prepared any way you want them), blue and yellow corn tortillas and your choice of beef, chicken or carne adovada served stacked, these enchiladas are as good as just about any you’ll find at any New Mexican restaurant.  The carne adovada is fork-tender and delicious, marinated in a rich red chile that bites back.  This plate is served with papitas and calabasitas, both of which are worthy accompaniment.

For those mornings in which you wake up famished and you want to trounce your hunger, try Tim’s Big Breakfast which lives up to its name: two farm-fresh eggs any style, two bacon strips, a sausage patty, a ham steak, papitas, toast (or tortilla) and your choice of half a waffle, French toast or a short stack of pancakes.  You have to appreciate a breakfast in which you don’t have to choose from among your favorite breakfast proteins; instead, you can have them all.  The pancakes are among the best in the Duke City.  They’re thick, fluffy and just made for a syrupy bath.

Pancakes, a part of Tim’s Big Breakfast…

In its annual Food and Wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff sampled “every dish of nachos in the city” and selected Tim’s nachos as the eighth best in the city.  The magazine described these nachos as possessing “fresh roasted chile that topped the mound of crispy chips” that “sent us to a happy place.”

Archie Bunker might not have understood the determination and heart of Tim Harris, but even the curmudgeonly bigot would have appreciated the food at Tim’s Place…and who knows.  Maybe a heaping helping of a Tim Hug would have changed Archie’s demeanor, too.

Tim’s Place
8050 Academy, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tim’s Big Breakfast, Breakfast Enchiladas with Carne Adovada, Rangoon Artichoke Wontons

Tim's Place on Urbanspoon

Guicho’s Authentic Mexican Food Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Guicho's, a unique Mexican dining experience

Guicho's, a unique Mexican dining experience

There have been Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment for as long as there have been restaurants.  While the distinction between Mexican restaurants and New Mexican restaurants has become less obfuscated over time, there is still a tendency among many casual diners to think “a Mexican restaurant is a Mexican restaurant.”  That errant thinking is probably due to the preponderance on this side of the border of Mexican restaurants from the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.

The cuisine of Chihuahua is characterized by its simplicity, reflecting the resilience of its people, settlers of a land steeped with rugged terrain, craggy mountains and rough lands in which great temperature variations exist between scalding heat and almost freezing cold.  Dehydrated chile is a staple of Chihuahua.  When reconstituted, flour is added to thicken it for such popular favorites as enchiladas, tacos, chile rellenos, quesadillas, beans and tamales, all foods with which New Mexicans are intimate.  The cuisine of this region is also characterized by the use of melted or roasted cheese, much of it courtesy of the large Mennonite population in the area.

Art abounds on the walls of Guicho's

Art abounds on the walls of Guicho's

In the past decade or so, New Mexico has seen a growing number of restaurants from states other than Chihuahua.  Because Mexico spans several climatic zones and a diverse topography, its cuisine varies from region to region.  The favorite foods of the Mexican coast may not even be available further inland.  Inland foods may not be as commonly served on the coasts.  Ah, those coasts!  Mexico’s beautiful and varied coastal waters are not only pristine in their azure purity, they yield an abundant and unsurpassed assortment of deliciously prepared delicacies from the sea.  Restaurants such as Mariscos Altamar celebrate that cuisine.

The introduction of mariscos restaurants featuring the succulent seafood of Michoacan and Nayarit was followed shortly by the launching of Papa Nacho’s, a restaurant featuring cuisine from the state of Sinoloa.  Patterned after some of the fine cosmopolitan restaurants of Mexico City is Los Equipales, a fine-dining establishing offering foods with which even the despotic Montezuma would have been acquainted.  Guadalajaran gastronomy from the the largest city in the state of Jalisco which borders the Pacific ocean, could be found at Dahla’s Central Mexican Cuisine in Rio Rancho until it closed in 2010.  The culinary traditions of the Veracruz-Chiapas region were honored at Bernalillo’s La Bamba Grill, an off-the-road gem which closed in 2009.  There are other examples, but if you’ve been to these treasures, you get the picture-any generalization of Mexican food is unfair and it is wrong.

Salsa and chips

Salsa and chips

A visit to any of the aforementioned restaurants is, in fact, an adventure in the discovery that the cuisine of Mexico is as varied as its 31 free and sovereign states.  Still, that culinary diversity seems under-represented in the Duke City because the cuisine of Puebla is not more prominent..  Puebla, known as Mexico’s “cradle of corn” is considered by many culinary scholars as the birthplace of Mexican food as we know it today.  It was in the tile-clad kitchens of Puebla’s convents where dignitaries were entertained that lavish dishes such as mole poblano and chiles en nogada were first made.

Puebla’s culinary significance spans time immemorial–from its roots in the ancient techniques and rudimentary ingredients of its indigenous peoples to the Spanish influenced cuisine of the colonial period and the resultant mix and subsequent and continuous evolution.  Not only is Puebla famous for its incomparable culinary diversity, it is renown or the beauty of its kitchens which tend to be colorful in their utilitarian function.  Beautifully painted clay pots and exquisite Talavera tile and pottery are integral to the culinary experience.

Quezadilla Synchronizada

A cursory perusal of the menu is all it takes to figure out that Guicho’s Authentic Food Restaurant is a compendium of the incomparable cuisine of Puebla.  The name Guicho itself has nothing to do with Puebla, but is a nickname given to the restaurant’s owner Jose Luis (much as in the way men named Ignacio are often nicknamed “Nacho”).  Jose Luis and his family are from the Mexican state of Puebla and they are proud to showcase their state’s incomparable cuisine.

They are also proud to showcase the incomparable beauty of their state on colorful murals painted on the restaurant’s walls.  One mural depicts an Aztec warrior kneeling beside what might be a funeral pyre on which lies a beautiful maiden, perhaps a sacrifice to appease the gods.  The model for the maiden is Jose Luis’s daughter, a teenager equally at home speaking in English or Spanish.  A painting of a citadel aflame depicts Puebla’s role in the Mexican Army’s defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862 (today celebrated as Cinco de Mayo).

Barbacoa y Consome de Borrego al Estilo Puebla

Barbacoa y Consome de Borrego al Estilo Puebla

The windows throughout the dining room are framed with what appears to be Talavera tile, the tin-enameled earthenware.  The time-honored techniques used to create this rich earthenware produce a hard opaque white glaze which serves as a canvass for colorful, enamel-painted designs.   On closer inspection you’ll find that the window frames are not Talavera tile, but an artist’s rendition (a very good one).  A large ceramic statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico and the Americas, stands on a tall niche carved into one wall.  There is truly something to see at every turn at Guicho’s.

Unfortunately there’s also something…too much…to hear as well.  The booming sounds of Mexican rap emanating from tinny speakers competes with the raucous sounds of a Mexican comedies from a blaring television.  This is the sole detractor from an otherwise very good–and very authentic–meal.

Milanesas Rellenas

Milanesas Rellenas

That authenticity begins with licuados, the fresh and delicious Mexican aguas frescas (Spanish for fresh waters).  Aguas frescas are a combination of either fresh fruits, seeds, cereals and sugar and water blended together to make a refreshing drink.  Sometimes served from large barrel-shaped containers, aguas frescas tend to be almost cloying in their sugar content.  That is courtesy of the increasing use of vendor provided aguas frescas throughout Mexican restaurants in America.  At Guicho’s, the aguas frescas are made on the premises and they are definitely not overly sweet.  Instead, they taste as the fruit should taste, whether in season or not.

Salsa and chips are complementary at Guicho’s.  Similar to many Mexican salsas, this one is somewhat thin, though not to the extent that it runs off your chips like a sieve.  The salsa relies heavily on cilantro and a blend of chiles (perhaps arbol) for flavor and heat intensity.  The chips are homemade and substantial.  They’re also fresh, low in salt and delicious.

The menu showcases a number of intriguing appetizers, most substantial enough for sharing.  One of the best is the quezadilla (sic) synchronizada (so-called because the top and bottom tortillas are “synchronized” together).  Two paper-thin flour tortillas envelop very thinly sliced ham and a thin sheen of the requisite melted queso.  That’s it!  Nothing else!  Surprisingly, these are terrific quesadillas thanks in large part to some of the very best pico de gallo in Albuquerque, a pico constructed of very fresh, hand-chopped bell pepper, white onion, jalapeño and tomato.

Longanizada, rajas con papas, arroz y frijoles (Pork sausage, potatoes with jalapeños, rice and beans)

The menu is as intriguing and appealing as a menu you’d find at a restaurant on Puebla itself.  A number of dishes feature mole poblano, the thick rich chocolate-tinged sauce whose very origin is steeped in legend.  One chile relleno entree includes several of the ingredients used to make chile rellenos en nogada, a traditional Puebla Christmas dish, but falls short on only a few ingredients.

What facilitated the ordering process during my inaugural visit was the fact that our first visit took place on a Sunday, the only day of the week in which another famous and uniquely Puebla entree is featured.  That would be Barbacoa y Consome de Borrego al Estilo Puebla, essentially grilled mutton (lamb, if you prefer) and a clear consomme.  The mutton arrives at your table exactly the way it was prepared–right on the bone.  It’s up to you to extricate the tender meat from the bone, a task you can undertake with fork or fingers.  The borrego is seasoned very well, removing any gaminess you might expect from mutton. It is also quite good, some of the best borrego I’ve had in years, in fact.

Chiles Rellenos De Queso: One poblano pepper and one jalapeño pepper stuffed with cheese and served with rice, beans, nut cream and pomegranate with corn tortillas.

The consome actually comes from a pan at the bottom of the roaster which catches the drippings from the borrego.  It is a richly flavored stock though quite “filmy” from the fat which drips down onto he soup pan.  Don’t let that detract you in the least.  This is a comforting soup, the type of which embraces you warmly and makes you feel good all over.

The oversized platter also includes grilled nopalitos (cleaned, sliced and lightly sauteed cactus pads), grilled jalapenos, sliced avocado and Mexican queso fresco. The nopalitos are sauteed with thinly sliced radish, tomatoes, onions and a little cilantro. They are reminiscent in flavor of a tame green pepper. The grilled jalapenos are terrific–incendiary enough to get your attention, but with a full-bodied flavor.

Platano Frito

Platano Frito

If you’re not in the adventurous mood or if you loathe lamb, Guicho’s has several more “conventional” (though not boring in the least) entrees available.  Milanesas Rellenas, breaded pork steak stuffed with yellow cheese and ham, are a popular favorite.  The pork steak is sliced thinly then pounded for tenderness.  The breading is light and well-seasoned while the addition of ham and cheese surprisingly doesn’t give the entree the saltiness you might expect.  This entree is served with rice, beans, French fries and corn tortillas.  The beans are refried and they are outstanding!

For breakfast and brunch lovers, Guicho’s offers a number of eye-opening dishes, most quite simple and both filling and fulfilling.  One of these is a combination platter showcasing longanizada, a pork sausage light on the flavor profile compared to chorizo; papas con rajas (potatoes with jalapeños), rice and beans.  The rajas are sliced in a long and thin fashion, looking like bell peppers.  One bite of the roasted hot peppers will certainly tell you these are several degrees of magnitude more piquant than the bell pepper.  Three small mounds of rice in the colors of the Mexican flag (red, white and green) along with refried beans are excellent, especially for scooping with the accompanying corn tortillas.

One of the most special dishes for which the state of Puebla is renown is chiles rellenos en nogada which are wholly unlike the chiles rellenos with which most New Mexicans are intimately acquainted.  On this dish, a poblano pepper is engorged with such unconventional ingredients as pork, apples, pears, tomato, onion, garlic and raisins all seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger then smothered with a walnut brandy cream sauce. Guicho’s doesn’t offer chiles rellenos en nogada, but it does serve what might be termed as a poor third cousin–chiles rellenos de queso, one poblano pepper and one jalapeño pepper stuffed with cheese and topped with a nut cream and pomegranate.  Unlike the more famous rellenos en nogada, these are not a melding of sweet and savory flavors.  The queso fresco makes this most decidedly a savory dish.  It’s not nearly as good as chiles rellenos en nogada, but it’s good in its own right.

Fresas y crema

Fresas y crema

Several dessert entrees will catch your eye though you might not have much of an appetite left after consuming the large portions served at Guicho’s. The platano frito, a banana sliced from top to bottom is slathered in a strawberry marmalade, drizzled in chocolate sauce, bordered by whipped cream topped with sprinkles and is served with two thin wafer cookies. Talk about a sugar rush. This pile of sweetness is a caloric overdose, the type of dessert your arteries can tolerate only infrequently.

Far less sugar-intensive are fresas con crema, strawberries with cream.  The strawberries are just about equally tart and sweet while the cream is not of the sweet whipped cream variety Americans gravitate towards.  It’s real cream, the rich, savory type.

Another mural at Guicho's, this one depicting several of the dishes on the menu

Guicho’s reflects the high standards for which cuisine in Puebla is renown.  It is a welcome addition to the New Mexico dining scene and goes a long way toward continuing to show that all Mexican restaurants are not alike.

Guicho’s Authentic Mexican Food Restaurant
4801 Central, N.E. (at Monroe)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 26 June 2011
1st VISIT: 26 April 2009
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Milanesas Rellenas, Barbacoa Y Consome de Borrego, Licuado de Melon, Licuado de Sandia, Chiles Rellenos de Queso, Quezadilla Synchronizada,
Platano Frito, Longanizada con rajas y papas, Fresas con Crema

Guicho's on Urbanspoon

Cool Water Fusion Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Cool Water Fusion Restaurant in the Wyoming Mall Shopping Center

All day I’ve faced a barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
And souls that cry for water
Cool, clear, water.

The Sons of the Pioneers

Cool Water!  For all of us who have experienced the energy-depleting sensation of being parched on a sweltering, sudorific day in the desiccated southwest, there is nothing which will quench that thirst better than cool water.  Country crooner Marty Robbins sang about it in 1959 when he released his version of the classic Sons of the Pioneers song, his velvety smooth voice conveying the anguish of a man (and his mule Dan) in dire need of cool water’s life-giving, energy-replenishing qualities.

Cool Water!  From the sense that in the American vernacular, being cool is hot, being bad is good and being really great is wicked, “cool water” conveys something superlative, exciting or attractive as opposed to something merely acceptable, ordinary or satisfactory.  The word “cool” acquired that connotation in the jazz era, but the slang term reached its pinnacle in popularity in the 1950s when the beatniks of the age used it to differentiate themselves from the “straights.”  Cool could mean relaxed, laid-back, stylish, excellent or just about any life-affirming or positive term.

The interior of Cool Water Fusion Restaurant

The “Cool Water Fusion Restaurant” in the Wyoming Mall launched on July 13, 2010, at the very height of Albuquerque’s sweltering summer season.  Its north-facing frontage shaded patrons from the heat of the day, the sun-blocking covered walkway keeping the sun’s rays in abeyance.  From the perspective that the restaurant offered a respite from the baking furor of the sun, the Cool Water restaurant was indeed a “cool” place to be.

The restaurant is also “cool” from the connotation that it is a hip and happening (two more slang terms from the hipster generation) place to be.  Deeper than it is wide, the restaurant’s walls are festooned by framed reproductions of Ansel Adams photographs, including one of Moonrise Over Hernandez.  It’s one of only two photographs on the wall taken in New Mexico; most of the other photographs depict water with the sensation of cool only possible in black-and-white.  Front and back walls are painted a light, cool shade of blue with faux Anasazi stonework flanking the entrance to the kitchen.

Red chile braised pork served over a corn cake and topped with an egg and green chile coulis

High ceilings reveal the industrial ductwork so prominent in modern restaurant decor.  Overhead lighting is subdued, providing just enough illumination to give the sensation of cool.  Booth and table seating are available with each table draped by a white linen tablecloth.  The floors are stark concrete.  An eclectic musical array is piped in through the restaurant’s sound system, but it’s not loud enough to disrupt dining conversations.

Also “cool” is the fact that the restaurant serves “fusion” cuisine, the inventive combination of diverse, sometimes disparate culinary traditions, elements and ingredients to form an entirely new genre. In large metropolitan areas, particularly in California, the fusion of different cuisines have become commonplace. Restaurants featuring the melding of French and Chinese cuisine are especially popular.  In studying the menu at Cool Water, you’ll find an imaginative diversity of ingredients from throughout the world playing against one another.

Blue Corn Crusted Onion Rings Served With Green Chile Ranch Dipping Culture

Culinary students will appreciate how well Cool Water’s menu crosses cultural boundaries to invent entrees which very discernibly combine elements of two or more regions.  The most obvious cultural meldings are those celebrating New Mexico’s tricultural heritage.  The appetizer menu, for example, includes blue corn crusted onion rings served with green chile ranch dipping sauce representing New Mexico’s Native American (blue corn),  European (onion rings)  and  Spanish (green chile) cultures in one dish.

The menu is relatively small, not a compendium of more dishes than a restaurant could possibly execute well.  It doesn’t try to do all and be all.  Rather it focuses on a select number of appetizers, lunch, brunch and dinner entrees and desserts prepared as well as they can be.  Five appetizers lead off your culinary adventure at Cool Water.  A soup of the day and three salads are next on the menu which, despite its small size, is more vegetarian-friendly than many restaurants in the Duke City.

Cajun Chicken Sandwich blackened chicken, pepper Jack cheese, sauteed bell peppers, and aioli with housemade potato chips

The lunch menu, offered from 11AM through 2PM, showcases several sandwiches as well as the chef’s unique interpretation of London fish and chips, Fettucini Alfredo Parmesan, an Indian taco, quiche of the day and two burgers, including the “Coolwater Burger,” a half-pound burger topped with bacon, roasted green chile, and pepper Jack cheese on a handmade bun served with housemade potato chips.  Make sure to check the flat screen monitor on the restaurant’s rear wall for the specials of the day.

Brunch selections, offered on Sundays from 10Am to 2PM, include some of the “usual suspects,” but done with Cool Water’s unique touches.  Huevos Rancheros, for example, start with a fry bread canvas instead of a more conventional corn or flour tortilla.  Crab eggs Benedict are also interpreted freely with a Challah bread base instead of English muffins and a roasted corn and Poblano Hollandaise served with a red chile glazed bacon.  There are seven items on the brunch menu and all are, at the very least, interesting.

As to what’s for dinner, expect even more of the inventiveness and fusion which makes this restaurant’s menu very cool. Try, for example, blue corn crusted fried chicken topped with chipotle honey glazed and served with roasted corn on the cob. The restaurant’s Osso Bucco is made with turkey instead of veal shanks. Rainbow trout is stuffed with crab meat, wrapped in bacon and served with roasted corn salsa. Dinner is served Monday through Thursday from 4:30PM to 8PM and on Friday and Saturday from 4:30PM to 9PM.

Cuban sandwich: braised pork, Swiss cheese, grain and yellow mustard, and sliced pickles served with housemade potato chips

Our inaugural visit was fittingly on one of the coolest days of the year 2010, ironically a day in which being “cool” was the furthest thing from our mind. We wanted to swaddle ourselves in the warmth of piquant chile within the confines of a warm restaurant. Even though Cool Water’s high ceilings and concrete floors don’t easily trap and disperse heat, the restaurant is comfortable enough even on a cool day. More importantly, service is warm and accommodating with a single, highly energetic waitress making everyone feel welcome.

Perhaps the warmest sounding appetizer in this cool new restaurant is a red chile braised pork served over a corn cake and topped with an egg and green chile coulis. It’s big enough for two and will warm the coddles of your heart, taking the chill off any cold day. The braised pork is shredded with nary a hint of fat. It’s tender and perfectly prepared, akin to a very good carne adovada. Neither the red chile or the green chile coulis are particularly piquant, but both have a sweet, smooth flavor with no cumin. The corn cake is sweet and moist, better than creamed corn. Break open the fried egg and let the yoke run over the dish for yet another taste experience. This is an excellent appetizer.

During a recent visit to the Golden Crown Panaderia, Albuquerque’s best baker Pratt Morales brought a handful of blue corn flour to our table, inviting us to close our eyes and imbibe its sweet fragrance.  At the hands of a master, blue corn flour can be used to make fantastic breads and tortillas–not only good, but good for you, containing twenty percent more protein than white or yellow corn.  Cool Water offers a blue corn crusted onion ring appetizer that showcases the pronounced flavor and coarse texture of a blue corn crust; it’s somewhat unlike other onion rings you may have had.  Bite into that gruff exterior and you’re rewarded with sweet, flavorful onions in large ringlets.  The green chile ranch dipping sauce has just the faintest of hints of green chile and is wholly unnecessary.  These onion rings stand out on their own.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the Cool Water Fusion restaurant its Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its blue corn crusted onion rings 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.

Blue Corn Crusted Fried Chicken Topped with Chipotle Honey Glaze Served with Roasted Corn on the Cob

During our eight years of living in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we frequently worshiped at the altar of Paul Prudhomme and other high priests of Cajun and Creole cooking, especially those expert in blackening techniques.  Those eight years made Cool Water’s Cajun Chicken Sandwich (blackened chicken, pepper Jack cheese, sauteed bell peppers and aioli) a welcome offering.  Contrary to some misconceptions, blackening is not at all about charring food to form a crust around it.  Instead, it’s about dipping fish, fowl or meat in melted butter, dredging it in a mixture of herbs and spices then preparing it in an extremely hot cast iron skillet.  The characteristically black-brown shades on the crust result from a combination of charred spices and browned butter.

The Cajun Chicken Sandwich is served on a square, soft bun about the size of a hamburger bun. The blackened chicken is redolent with a charred herbaceous and spicy quality some may find off-putting. This is not the Colonel’s chicken. It’s got a sophisticated, adult-flavor wholly unlike the sweet, moist fried chicken usually inserted between buns. The pepper Jack cheese, a spicy, semi-soft cheese and the sauteed bell peppers add to the strong, pungent flavors. This isn’t a sandwich for everyone, but it rekindled my Cajun impressed taste buds at least for a while.

Save for the turkey wrap which is accompanied by a small wedge salad, sandwiches are served with housemade potato chips. The chips are slightly thicker than commercial chips and like those chips in a bag, aren’t uniform in size or texture. Some are thicker than others and have virtually no crust while others have a pleasant, discernible crunch.


Blue corn shows prominently in a dinner selection that our waitress indicated is one of the restaurant’s most popular entrees, the blue corn crusted fried chicken topped with chipotle honey glaze.  You can count on one hand the number of restaurants in Albuquerque which serve fried chicken.  Cool Water’s fried chicken deserves the index finger as in the finger designating it as number one, the best fried chicken served by any Duke City restaurant, a fried chicken that doesn’t rely on twelve herbs and spices for its flavor.

Instead of the conventional leg, wing and thigh, this organic bird offering is in the form of a large chicken breast.  You won’t discard the crispy exterior of the blue corn crust as you might a greasy crust elsewhere.  When a crust is good, you can usually expect that it seals in the moistness and flavor that characterizes great fried chicken.  The blue corn crust certainly does that.  The chicken is juicy and it’s tender, fully impregnated with flavor.  The chipotle honey glaze elevates it to an even higher level of deliciousness with just a hint of the smoky fire for which chipotle is known coupled with the sweetness of honey, a coupling somewhat reminiscent of a great Chinese sauce, but better.

Dinner specials tend to be fine-dining restaurant quality offerings and they’re priced that way.  The cioppino, for example, set us back $35, but after having enjoyed every morsel, we didn’t flinch at the price.  Made well, cioppino, the incomparable Portuguese-Italian dish is one of the most comforting, hearty and delicious comfort soups anywhere.  Cioppino is a very nuanced dish that takes on the personality of the seafood from which it is constructed as well as the distinct seasonings which give it its kick.  Alas, some cioppino, even some in San Francisco, tastes like seafood swimming in spicy V8.

Bread pudding a la mode with caramel

Cool Water’s cioppino emphasizes the seafood–haddock, cod, shrimp and mussels.  It does not mask–with a surfeit of seasonings and a plenitude of piquancy–the native flavors of high-quality seafood flown in fresh.  Haddock, a mild-tasting, white-fleshed fish and cod, another mild-flavored, flaky fish, instead are the stars of a broth made with sliced, fresh tomatoes (not out of a can), red and yellow peppers and seasonings that complement, not overwhelm, the cioppino.  It’s a San Francisco quality cioppino.

There are only three items on the dessert menu: bread pudding a la mode with caramel, cobbler of the day a la mode and fried ice cream served over fry bread. The bread pudding is very basic, much in the tradition of the bread puddings which have been made for hundreds of years. It’s a no-frills bread pudding wholly unlike some of the extremely complex concoctions made at other restaurants in the Duke City. Its components are bread and custard topped with creamy vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel. It would certainly be interesting to hear what my friend Larry McGoldrick, a bread pudding aficionado thinks of this rendition.

The cobbler of the day is a nice contrast between hot and cold, sweet and savory, tangy and other textural and flavor differences.  On the day of our inaugural visit the flavor of the day was peach, a juicy variety with only a mild sweetness.  Unlike some pectin-enhanced cobblers, this one relies on natural sweetening.  It makes a difference.  The sweetness comes from the vanilla ice cream, a premium blend with a good flavor.

Cobbler of the day a la mode

In its inaugural year of operation, the Cool Water Fusion Restaurant was selected by Alibi readers as Albuquerque’s very best new restaurant for 2010.  Ensconced in a not cool at all strip mall, it’s Arthur Fonzarelli cool in a Potsie Weber nerd shopping center.

Cool Water Fusion Restaurant
2010 Wyoming, N.E., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 26 June 2011
1st VISIT: December 30, 2010
COST: $$
BEST BET: Red Chile Braised Pork, Cajun Chicken Sandwich, Cuban Sandwich, Cobbler of the Day, Bread Pudding, Blue Corn Crusted Onion Rings, Cioppino, Blue Corn Crusted Fried Chicken

Cool Water Fusion on Urbanspoon

Sushi and Sake – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sushi  & Sake, all you can eat sushi in Nob Hill.

Sushi & Sake, all you can eat sushi in Nob Hill. There's a second Sushi & Sake on Academy

If white wine goes with fish,
do white grapes go with sushi?
George Carlin

A reader once asked Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten what he was a snob about. His reply, “I am also a snob about food. The other day, in Baltimore, I passed a sign outside a restaurant that said “Sushi Buffet!‘ and laughed out loud because it occurred to me that “sushi” and “buffet” are two words that should never appear together.”  His sentiment resonates strongly with sushi aficionados who adhere to the strict rules of etiquette which governs the way in which true sushi snobs enjoy sushi.

It’s a given that a true sushi snob would never eat at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant nor would such a snob ever be found mingling with the rabble who sit in booths or receive table service.  Sushi snobs will only sit at a sushi bar in as close proximity to the sushi chef as possible.  They like to converse with the sushi chef, hoping to ingratiate themselves by asking the right questions to demonstrate they are savvy connoisseurs and not “trough-divers” like most of the crowd.  They treat the sushi chef like Magellan, their esteemed navigator on a culinary adventure.

Who says sushi chefs have to be men?

Who says sushi chefs have to be men?

Rapport with the chef established, sushi snobs will generally order Omakase, a term which translates literally from Japanese to “It’s up to you.” More specifically, omakase means the menu is left up to the chef. This gives the sushi chef the opportunity to showcase their skills, to serve what they think is good. Omakase tends to be quite expensive, giving the restaurant a nice profit margin. For the true sushi snob, this is all well and good. They accept that being a sushi snob ain’t cheap.

One Albuquerque sushi restaurant in which no true food snob would be caught dead is Sushi & Sake, an all-you-can-eat sushi concept which defies all the traditions to which food snobs hold fast. While the sushi snob may adhere strictly to tradition and etiquette, it is no longer a “losing face” taboo for sushi chefs to defy centuries old traditional path. Even sacrosanct training methods are starting to fall by the wayside. Perhaps it’s because these traditional training methods are so strictly regimented and rigorous.

Caterpillar roll (inside-out maki roll with avocado on the outside) and Shrimp Tempura Roll

For up to a year, training involves nothing but properly preparing sushi rice before a chef candidate is even allowed to clean fish. Cleaning and filleting fish involves comprehending the differences in the flesh and texture of each species. This phase of training can also take up to a year. By the time these chefs prepare their first piece of sushi, they will have mastered techniques designed to bring out the very best in each fish in terms of texture, taste and presentation.

Over the past quarter century or so, sushi’s burgeoning popularity has meant the dilution of the product. You no longer have to visit a Japanese restaurant for sushi. In Albuquerque, you can find passable to good sushi served in Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese restaurants. You can even find sushi in local organic food superstores throughout the city. It’s highly unlikely this sushi is prepared by chefs schooled in the traditional ways. This does not mean the sushi is inedible (although a true sushi snob could never choke any of it down).

"Silly Sushi" - not after you taste it.

Contemporary sushi chefs, even many from Japan, craft their own creative variations to their sushi, in essence creating the antithesis of the “purity” for which traditionalists strive.  Another sushi tradition which has started to fall by the wayside is the prohibition of female sushi chefs. Several reasons, the most plausible having to do with traditional gender role assignments, are given for the scarcity of female sushi chefs.

In the Duke City, the restaurant with the most creative sushi offerings is Sushi & Sake on Central Avenue. It’s also one of only two sushi restaurants I’ve seen employing a female sushi chef.  In 2010, a second instantiation of Sushi & Sake launched, the scion being located on Academy where Tomato Cafe once held court for more than a decade.

Ornately decorated sushi

Ornately decorated sushi

The Central Avenue Sushi & Sake occupies part of the building which houses the Korean BBQ House and is owned by the same people. It launched in January, 2005 and has been a very popular draw as it probably will be for a long time.  The restaurant features an “all you can eat (AYCE) in an hour” dining concept, but unlike American buffet restaurants, takes precautions to minimize waste. Aside from having only one hour to consume all the sushi you can handle, you’re permitted only one re-order and will be charged for sushi left unconsumed.

The AYCE includes one “chef’s special” per person. The menu lists twelve chef’s specials, each one seemingly a greater departure from tradition than the other. A picture of each special illustrates just how creative and colorful sushi can be when taken beyond traditional boundaries…far beyond in some cases..

The pizza roll.

The pizza roll.

Okay, I’m not talking sushi with peanut butter or chocolate here, but when is the last time you had sushi with mango. Mango is the featured ingredient on Sushi & Sake’s “Mango Tango” maki roll. Nestled inside its rice bed is tempura battered shrimp, but atop the rice are strips of tangy mango sprinkled with Masago, the small eggs of a smelt-like fish. These eggs are a different, almost luminescent, shade of orange than is the mango.

The dressing accompanying the Mango Tango is a citrus and wasabi combination. A tangy sweetness is the prominent taste on this roll. It’s probably not one you would want to dip into your wasabi and soy sauce mix and maybe not even one you might order a second time, but it’s a very interesting piece of sushi.

Sushi & Sake's second restaurant, on Academy

Sushi & Sake's second restaurant, on Academy

Another unique special from the chefs’ fertile minds is the Amigo roll, perhaps the sushi equivalent of a chile relleno. Get this–a New Mexico green chile (spelled “chili” on the menu) is actually stuffed with crab meat then nestled within sushi rice. No wasabi is necessary to spice this one up. It is served with a spicy dressing that seems to include both wasabi and chile.

On yet another maki roll chicken, not fish is featured–and it’s pretty darn good. So too is the “pizza roll” which is actually a California roll with salmon on top and which is baked in a small casserole dish. The “pizza sauce” seems to be a caramelized teriyaki sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. Take it slow with this one because it comes straight out of the oven and can singe your tongue and the roof of your mouth.

Crunchy Munchy Roll (Spicy Tempura, Crab Meat Topped With Spicy Crab and Crunchy Tempura Flakes) and Hot Mamma Roll (Spicy Tuna and Cucumber, Topped With Spicy Crab with a Spicy Dressing)

The “Albuquerque special roll” looks more like a Vietnamese spring roll than it does a hand roll. It features crab, shrimp, avocado, cucumber and lettuce enveloped in egg roll wrapper.

Perhaps as if to ingratiate itself upon local diners, Sushi & Sake also serves a Green Chili Roll in which the flavor of roasted green chile is prominent despite the restaurant’s abhorrent spelling: “chili.” For some reason, the roasted green chile effect seems so much more pronounced on sushi than on most New Mexican food dishes.

Spicy Tuna Hand Roll and Four Pieces of Unagi

The two-page AYCE menu includes many of the standard sushi items you’ll find at almost every other sushi restaurant in town, but you’ll also find some uniquely prepared and distinctively non-traditional pieces of sushi. The traditionally schooled sushi chefs might not approve of some of them (and the sushi chef never would), but Albuquerque diners seem not to care. It is, after all, sushi and it’s all you can eat.

Sushi and Sake
3200 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 18 June 2011
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Teriyaki Chicken Roll; Mexican Roll; Pizza Roll; Green Chile Roll

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Real Food Nation – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Real Food Nation on Old Las Vegas Highway

“Come on, you know you want it!”  Television commercials, movies and especially cartoons frequently depict temptation as a battle being waged by two miniature versions of the person being tempted. Faced with a crisis of conscience–doing the right or the wrong thing–a devil-self (complete with horns and a pitchfork) suddenly pops up on the left (or sinister) shoulder and an angel-self on the right.  Quite naturally, the devil-self prods and prompts for the person to do the wrong thing while the beatific angel-self implores the person to resist temptation.

When waging an internal conflict as to whether or not I should have some unhealthy dessert, a greasy burger or another slice of pizza, my muse, angel and conscience is often Kate Manchester, the brilliant and beautiful publisher of Edible Santa Fe.  For more than five years, Kate has been educating the readers of her fabulous publication about the virtues of actually paying attention to how and where our food is raised, processed and how it arrives at their tables.  In the process she’s introduced us to such concepts as “locavorism,” “sustainable,” “slow foods” and “organic.”

Real Food Awaits You

With my benevolent angel over my right shoulder during times of caloric trial, I’m prompted to ask “what would Kate eat.”   The answer, of course, is invariably the most healthful, responsibly grown and sustainable foods possible–and usually grown in the local area as well.  Alas, more often than one should ever admit, my malevolent devil-self wins over and I succumb to tasty temptation.  The consequences are an ideal weight–for a man nine-feet, six-inches tall.

Experience has taught me that my Kate angel should be listened to more often.  The benefits are not only more healthful, they tend to be more delicious.  In the June, 2011 edition of  New Mexico Magazine she introduced readers to the lamb burrito from the Atrisco Cafe & Bar, a restaurant with a vast network of local sources who provide its organic produce and meats.  The lamb burrito was a New Mexico Magazine “Best Eats” choice in the category of “best use of local, seasonal ingredients.”

Place your orders here

Though not exclusively a restaurant-focused magazine, Edible Santa Fe frequently celebrates restaurants who abide by the ideals and standards represented by the magazine.  Its Eat Local Guide lists only restaurants who emphasize the use of local, seasonal ingredients and who are committed to “real food.” Peruse the list and you’ll find some of the best and most highly regarded restaurants in New Mexico.

So, just what is real food?  You could say it’s synonymous with “local,” “slow,” “green” or “fair,” but that wouldn’t do it justice.  Real food is a holistic term which coalesces the many diverse ideas people have about a values-based food economy–the seed to plate food system which recognizes the fundamental value of human dignity and health, social justice, environmental sustainability and animal welfare.  Real food is a concept which recognizes the need to change our fundamentally flawed food system, understanding that the business-as-usual approach by big government and business is wreaking havoc with the health of our bodies, our communities and the Earth.

Three Salad Plate: Organic Colorado Quinoa, Organic Roasted Beets and Cucumber Salad

If the aforementioned description of “real food” calls to mind some boring salad, read it again.  Real food isn’t a vegan or vegetarian concept.  In fact, beef, lamb, pork and fish are all part and parcel of the real food concept.  The difference has to do with how they are raised, processed and how they arrive at our tables.  Real food is not processed by some factory to be delivered in a hermetically sealed box or wrapping.  It is not engineered in a lab nor puffed up by hormones.  It is not aged or ripened with artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners.  Obviously, it’s not practiced by drive-up fast food emporiums and their Styrofoam containers.    Sounds pretty good to me!

Still not convinced?  Two of Santa Fe’s most esteemed practitioners of real food concepts were among the top vote-getters in the 2011 Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail balloting.  One of them was the previously mentioned Atrisco Cafe & Bar.  The other is one of Kate Manchester’s favorite exemplars of real food.  Not surprisingly it’s name is Real Food Nation.  Rather than clumsily attempt to paraphrase what Real Food Nation is all about, I’ve borrowed the following paragraph directly from the restaurant’s Web site.

Local Lamb Burger with Merguez Spice and Fries

“Real Food Nation is committed to a sustainable business model and to providing our guests with the freshest and purest ingredients available. We change our menu often to use the best of the season and source the cleanest, sustainably raised meat, poultry and seafood possible. We support local farmers and ranchers as much as we can, with quality and taste being the deciding factor in what we use. We use organic flours from New Mexico & Colorado and organic grains and beans whenever possible. All breads are made in house. Our menu is determined by what is in season and what tastes best.”

Real Food Nation is located on the intersection of Old Las Vegas Highway with US Highway 285, just east of the world-famous Bobcat Bite.  It’s housed in a venue which  was once a gas station, the first or the last one in or out of Santa Fe depending on which direction you were headed.  To your left as you walk in, you’ll find an array of glass cases displaying attractive pastries, breads and more.  The menu is scrawled on slate boards.  If you’re still a skeptic about real food, your first inclination might be “this is real food?”  For the most part, the menu is replete with such favorites as breakfast burritos, burgers, meatloaf and more.  Vegan and vegetarian options abound as do sandwiches,soups, salads and a quiche of the day.

Two Eggs, Home Fries and Heritage Bacon

Real Food Nation does not offer tableside ordering service nor will you be escorted to your table by a host.  Instead you place your orders at a counter as you would at a commissary and you’ll find your own table.  A large table in the room at which you place your order will provision you with the agave nectar, sugar, cream, napkins and silverware you’ll need for your meal. Once you’re at your table in one of the dining rooms, the wait staff will take excellent care of you by delivering your meal promptly and refills as you need them.

An acre of land behind the restaurant provides Real Food Nation with salad ingredients of unimpeachable quality and freshness.  The greens and vegetables are grown using biodynamic principles and irrigated, to the extent possible, with captured rainwater.  The results are absolutely delicious.  The best way to experience this freshness is with an assorted three salad plate.  The triumvirate of terrific salads my Kim and I shared were an Organic Colorado Quinoa salad (with edamame, scallion and cilantro dressed with a sesame tamari dressing), Organic Roasted Beets (with a sherry orange vinaigrette) and a Cucumber Salad (red onion, cilantro and mint dressed with a ginger-sweet chile dressing).  The only way this entree could have been improved is had we ordered a six salad plate.  Every salad is absolutely delicious and impeccably fresh.  Served on the same large plate, they will ultimately coalesce, but the resultant ingredient blend is just as delicious as each salad is separately.

Cream of Corn and Poblano Soup

If you’re not in a green chile cheeseburger mood (rare though that may be), Real Food Nation has a burger unlike any you’ll find at most restaurants.  It’s a local lamb burger made with Merguez spices and served with fries.  Merguez are Algerian and Tunisian sausages made with lamb then spiced with harissa (a hot chile sauce), cilantro and a spice blend from which I was able to discern caraway and cumin.  The flavors are quite intense–not necessarily piquant, but well-spiced.  The burger is topped with feta cheese and roasted red peppers which add fuel to an already fiery burger.  This burger is not for everyone, but if you appreciate intense flavors, it will knock your socks off.

At the opposite spectrum, but no less delicious, is an entree of two eggs, home fries and heritage bacon.  The eggs are sourced from Beneficial Farms, a local purveyor of chemical free, sustainable farming products.  The differences are discernible and they’re delicious.  The heritage bacon is terrific–crisp and definitely not cured using injected brine as the bacon tends to be at fast food restaurants.  It’s bacon as it should be.

The cream of corn and poblano soup showcases a fine balance between the sweetness of fresh corn and the earthy, mildly spicy flavors of the roasted poblano,  flavors which go very well together to provide a comforting warmth.  While poblano doesn’t have the kick of other chiles, its flavor profile is no less savory and delicious.

In June, 2011, Real Food Nation launched its “supper club” concept, showcasing “farm fine dining” in an intimate setting–not hospitality, but house-pitality.  The supper club features a seasonal Mediterranean-inspired menu and of course, sustainably raised and fished meats and seafood.  Real Food Nation is real food and it’s really good!  It’s a restaurant my Kate angel endorses and that also makes it very good for you.

Real Food Nation
624 Old Las Vegas Highway
Santa Fe, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 5 June 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Three Salad Plate, Local Lamb Burger, Cream of Corn and Poblano Soup

Real Food Nation on Urbanspoon

Harry’s Roadhouse – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Harry's Roadhouse

Harry's Roadhouse, a Santa Fe institution

Roadhouses–great inns and restaurants located near major highways traversing the country–once dotted America’s fruited plain, offering respite and sustenance to weary or hungry travelers. Renown for serving great comfort foods, they have been an important part of America’s heritage though with the advent of fast food restaurants and chains, fewer authentic roadhouses exist today.  Harry’s Roadhouse may be a bit more sophisticated and eclectic than its roadhouse brethren, offering several kinds of pizza, sandwiches, burgers, salads, pastas, Cajun and Asian cuisine as well as American comfort food standards that give it a feel and taste of home.

To say it’s a popular dining destination is an understatement. If you don’t get there early, you may have to wait to be seated despite the restaurant’s sprawling multi-room capacity. Even during peak hours, the efficient wait staff will likely have you seated within half an hour.  The lavender trimmed restaurant has several dining rooms, each with a different decor. There’s a room with an atrium-like ambience and windows to maximize light. There’s an artsy Southwestern room with mismatched tables.

Dining outdoors is my preference at Harry's

Eat outdoors at Harry's

Ask for seating where you can have a view of the restaurant’s center, a kitchen abuzz with activity. That puts you also in close proximity to the counter in which Harry’s famous pies and desserts will elicit gustatory lust in the most staunch dieter.  During the summer, even better seating is available out-of-doors in Harry’s garden. Colorful hollyhocks are the home of busy bees, but they’ll leave you alone if you reciprocate that courtesy. Clinging to the coyote fencing buttressing much of the property are verdant grape vines and their clustered green fruit.

Summer may be the best time of year for dining at Harry’s. One of the reasons is the availability of watermelon juice on the menu. It’s as fleshy as if just extricated from its rindy home and not necessarily thirst quenching, but absolutely delicious.  Reputedly Harry’s is also home to great lime-infused margaritas and other adult libations. A rustic bar features spirits of all sorts. Alternatively, teetotalers will enjoy some of the very best lemonade you can find anywhere.

Vietnamese style lobster roll

Vietnamese Lobster spring roll

At dinner almost immediately after ordering, you’ll be treated to a basket of warm, crusty sourdough bread baked by the Sage Bakehouse, a state treasure. This bread truly deserves the sobriquet “staff of life” as each and every loaf is baked to golden perfection using a natural leavening process free of commercial yeast.

The menu changes frequently and is sure to have something everyone in the family will enjoy. From appetizers to entrees, Harry’s Roadhouse delivers on its motto of “A Square Meal Every Time.” You’ll see this motto emblazoned on the shirts worn by the wait staff and you’ll see it executed in every meal.

Migas - Scrambled Eggs with Onion, Green Pepper, Tomato, Pickled Jalapeno, Tortilla Chips and Cheese served with a side of Black Beans and Salsa

Note: In 2007, Gibbs Smith published Harry’s Roadhouse Cookbook in which Harry Shapiro includes the recipes for many of the most popular dishes served in his restaurant. It’s a must have for Roadhouse fans.  Shapiro is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but he moved to New Mexico after falling under the enchanting spell of our cuisine.  He and his wife Peyton Young have been serving Santa Fe’s Southwestern cuisine favorites for more than a decade.

A popular appetizer when on the menu are the Vietnamese Lobster Spring Rolls (pictured above) served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce not at all dissimilar to Nuoc Mam, the incomparable Vietnamese fish sauce. The translucent wrapper envelops thin egg noodles, a few sprigs of mint and sweet, succulent lobster. The dipping sauce is terrific.

Thai style grilled beef salad

Thai Style Grilled Beef Salad

In fact, that dipping sauce is even better on an entree of Thai Style Grilled Beef Salad than the spicy Thai dressing which accompanies it. The salad features grilled (just above a sear) skirt steak on chopped Romaine lettuce with snap peas, tomatoes, corn wheels, cucumbers and scallions.  The skirt steak is pink-fleshed and slightly chewy, but it is very well seasoned and works well with all the fresh components in this creative salad. Only the spicy Thai dressing fails to live up to its dressing, being more salty than spicy.

From Asian cuisine to the cuisine of Europe, Harry’s Roadhouse seemingly does it all and very well at that. The Baked Penne with four cheeses and a touch of marinara is sure to appease any fromage fanatic…and if four cheeses isn’t enough, you can order this entree with gorgonzola for an appetite quelling, artery clogging bowl of deliciousness. Better still, order it with Harry’s spicy Italian sausage to cut the creaminess and richness of the cheese.  Staying in Italy, simple thin-crust cheese pizza cut into six pieces is substantial enough for two and is better than the pizza served at many pizzerias in town.

Chocolate Cream Pie

If it’s on the dinner menu, the leg of lamb served with a brown gravy infused with fresh ground mint is a good choice. Unlike the overly sweet mint sauce often served with lamb, it’s got that natural, herbal scent and taste of freshness. The accompanying roasted potatoes are optimized by a hint of rosemary and pepper.

The lunch menu is laden with sandwiches, salads and pizzas. The green chile cheeseburger is a “must have.” Grilled to your specifications, it features a thick, hand-formed patty; chopped, gorgeous green chile and other ingredients of your choosing.  Perhaps only the legendary Bobcat Bite serves a better green chile cheeseburger in the Santa Fe area though for some reason, Harry’s burger has not yet made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger.  Ask for the hot and sweet mustard which has both the gunpowder bite of Chinese hot mustard and the sweetness of honey mustard.  Together with the green chile, it makes the burger (and your taste buds) sing.

Homemade vanilla ice cream sandwich

Homemade ice cream sandwich

That mustard comes standard with Harry’s nonpareil grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread which includes aged extra sharp Cheddar cheese and grilled onions. It’s a two-fisted, must-have sandwich. It’s an adult grilled cheese sandwich several orders of magnitude better than any other in town. Ditto on the “must have” for Harry’s New Orleans worthy catfish po-boy with jalapeno tartar sauce, a good cure when we’re missing the Crescent City’s cuisine. Burgers and sandwiches alike are accompanied by hand-cut French fries which are best dipped in that hot and sweet mustard.

Even though Harry’s hefty lunch and dinner portions may leave you waddling, you’ve got to sample Harry’s desserts–Sizeable slabs of sweet deliciousness in every bite and meant to be shared.  The homemade ice cream sandwich features a chocolate cookie crust that puts Oreos to shame while the ice cream (over an inch high) has a premium dairy taste you’ll love.  Premium also describes the luscious pumpkin cheesecake with a praline crust.  It tastes like pumpkin from the vine, not pumpkin from the can.  It is rich, moist and delicious.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Even better is the banana cream pie which might be better than anything Maryann ever prepared at Gilligan’s Island. The flavor of the banana does all the talking here, not some cloying sugar additive. It’s one of the best desserts in Santa Fe.  If you like strong chocolate, the El Rey bittersweet flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream has your name on it. Scrape off the whipped cream and it’s even better.

In 2005, Harry’s Roadhouse was named Santa Fe’s Restaurant of the Year by the Santa Fe Reporter. It’s a very well-deserved honor for one of the City Different’s unique treasures.  In 2008, Harry’s was featured on an episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Titled “What’s For Breakfast,” the episode showcased some of Harry’s breakfast fare.  There are many Santa Feans who have a “square meal every time” for every meal of the day starting with breakfast.  Now that’s a great way to start the day off.

Cajun style duck hash

Breakfast specials are scrawled on a slate board near the front entrance.  You might think it audacious for “hash” to be considered a special.  Hash, after all, is typically a dish made with left-overs of pre-cooked chopped meats and vegetables.  Harry’s elevates hash to a new level and if it’s on that special’s board, make sure you order it. It’s Cajun style duck hash made with smoked duck, Andouille sausage, green and red peppers, onion, celery, okra, sweet potatoes and corn, a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness. This entree is offered with two eggs any style. Just make sure not to ask for eggs over well because you want runny yellow goodness mixing with the melange of ingredients. There’s a lot going on with this hash entree–from the smoky, spicy aggression of the Andouille sausage to the sweet potato goodness.

Of course no breakfast would be complete without Sage Bakehouse toast.  Though it’s been said that man cannot live by bread alone, I could live happily for a long time on only Sage Bakehouse sourdough bread toasted, buttered and slathered with strawberry jelly.  If it doesn’t come standard with your order, ask for a couple slices on the side.  It’s the best toast in town.

Toasted Sage Bakehouse Sourdough with Bacon

One of the daily offerings which includes toast also features two eggs (any style), home fries and your choice of homemade turkey sausage, ham or scrapple.  Srapple is fairly common in Pennsylvania where Harry Shapiro is from, but rarely seen in these parts.  It originated as a way to avoid throwing away scraps of pork left over from butchering.  During the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode at Harry’s, host Guy Fieri told Harry no one in Philadelphia could tell him exactly what part of the pig it came from.  Harry’s retort, “everything but the oinks” isn’t far from the truth in some restaurants.

Harry’s one-ups traditional Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple.  He makes it out of pork butt, pork stock and vegetables all ground and formed into loaves.  Slices of the scrapple are then fried in clarified butter.  Fieri overcame his initial hesitation (admitting he didn’t want to like it) to proclaim Harry’s scrapple “seriously great.” I’ll echo that sentiment.

Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple

Harry even adds surprising twists to popular breakfast favorites–like chocolate French toast and blue corn waffles with strips of bacon inside the waffle itself.  Better still, you can have these with Shaker Mountain Farm 100 percent pure Grade A maple syrup.  According to Saveur magazine, an estimated 90 percent of Americans have never tasted real maple syrup.  Most breakfast syrup consumed in America, Saveur claims, is “of the high-fructose corn variety dressed up with caramel color to make it look like the real stuff.”

Harry’s rendition of migas puts a unique Santa Fe spin on a breakfast offering more frequently found in Texas than in the Land of Enchantment.  Traditionally a Lenten dish, migas are a scrambled eggs dish typically served with refried beans, but Harry’s changes things up a bit with black beans.  Other ingredients include onion, green pepper, tomato, pickled jalapeño, tortilla chips and cheese with a side of salsa.  Viva la differencia!  These are excellent migas.

Leave it to Harry’s Roadhouse to redefine comfort food and reinvent fun at mealtime. In a city replete with high-end dining establishments, Harry’s is the people’s choice.

Harry’s Roadhouse
Old Las Vegas Highway
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 5 June 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Homemade Ice Cream Sandwich, Chocolate Cream Pie, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Homemade Scrapple, Cajun Style Duck Hash, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Migas

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Chocolate Cartel – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Chocolate Cartel, a chocoholic's paradise on Juan Tabo

“Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands —
and then eat just one of the pieces.”

Judith Viorst, American Author & Journalist

“Betcha can’t eat just one.”  In the early 1960s, Lay’s Potato Chips made that slogan a household phrase, in the process increasing potato chip sales significantly and opening up new markets internationally.  Today, North Americans consume approximately 1.2 billion pounds of potato chips every year, making it the most consumed snack food in the entire continent.  There is no physiological basis, however, for Lay’s assertion that its salty snack favorite is so addictive it can’t be resisted.  The same can’t be said of chocolate

Chocolate most assuredly does have psychoactive properties.  Similar to turkey, chocolate is replete with tryptophan, amino acids in the human diet which assist in the production of serotonin, our mood-modulating neurotransmitter. It is also imbued with phenyl-ethylamine, a substance which stimulates the same bodily reaction as falling in love.

A chocolate menagerie under glass

Female humorists have often extolled the superiority of chocolate over sex, even comprising a list of twenty reasons chocolate is better than sex. Perhaps in retort, Italian researchers (mostly men) “discovered” that women who eat chocolate regularly have a better sex life than those who abstain from chocolate goodness. Women who consume chocolate frequently were shown to have higher levels of desire, arousal and satisfaction from sex than women who deny themselves chocolate.

Milton S. Hershey, John Cadbury, Frank C. Mars, Henri Nestle, Willy Wonka…all famous chocolatiers, all men.  Hmm.  Could it be they all got into the trade because they suspected chocolate could help them “get lucky?”  They wouldn’t be the first.  Mexico’s despotic emperor Montezuma drank as many as fifty goblets of chocolate (flavored with chili peppers, vanilla, wild bee honey and aromatic flowers) because he believed chocolate had stamina-enhancing properties which came in handy when “entertaining” concubines.

Dark chocolate turtles: macadamia nuts, pecan, cashews and almonds

Most men, it seems, also believe in the ability of chocolate to help us advance in the game of seduction (either that or we lack the imagination to buy our significant others anything else) because we buy some 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate each year for Valentine’s Day.  If the fact that tons of chocolate are left on shelves is any indication, maybe we’re not buying enough.  Maybe the chocolate we’re buying–Brach’s, Nestle’s, Dove–isn’t having our desired effect.

Since 2009, men and women throughout the Duke City have improved the quality of their chocolate purchases, ergo perhaps the quality of our trysts.  That’s because Scott and Tim Van Rixel relocated their nationally acclaimed Xocoatl Chocolates from Taos, renaming it The Chocolate Cartel.  In their 5,500 square-foot facility on Juan Tabo, which includes a retail shop, customers have discovered the difference truly great chocolates can make.

Sea salt and caramel gelatto (left) and Mayan Spiced Chocolate Sorbet

Truly great chocolate isn’t cheap like the stuff left on shelves the day after Valentine’s Day. Assortments of chocolate truffles, available in quantities of four, six or twelve, start at eight dollars for a four piece box.  No ordinary truffles are these: Ultra Dark, Espresso, Irish Cream, Honey & Pollen, Pomegranate, Smoked Chile, Raspberry & Rose, Almond Amaretto, Cinnamon, Blueberry Port and Blood Oranges.  The flavor profiles are so absolutely amazing, your eyes might just tear up in sheer awe.  The smoked chile, in particular, warrants a salute to Montezuma, especially when the deceptively piquant chile kicks in.  New flavors are periodically introduced.

The Chocolate Cartel obtains its beans, the criollo cacao, from a Venezuelan supplier renown for its organic farming.  Criollo cacao beans produce the highest quality chocolate though its yields are low because of their susceptibility to diseases.  In the hands of certified master chocolatier Scott Van Rixel, the very best in handcrafted chocolates are created from these most rare of cacao beans.  Chocolate Cartel chocolates are both smooth and intensely flavored, rich and mellow, decadent and delicious beyond any chocolate you’ll find in Albuquerque.

To say the Chocolate Cartel is a serious chocoholic’s paradise is an understatement.  Its offerings include chocolate covered almonds, assorted turtles, Mayan hot chocolate, dark chocolate flourless cake and chocolate bars. As popular as the chocolates are, the Cartel has earned almost as much acclaim for its gelatto and sorbet products, both of which are without peer in New Mexico.

The Mayan-spiced chocolate sorbet (cinnamon, red chile, almonds, cocoa powder) is smooth and creamy, devoid of the graininess found in inferior sorbet.   Unlike ice cream, sorbet isn’t made from cream, milk or egg yolks, but there’s absolutely no skimping on the rich chocolate goodness of this one.  It’s an adult chocolate kids of all ages can appreciate.

I was first introduced to what may be the Van Rixel’s magnus opus at Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria where the sea salt and caramel gelatto (local milk, agave, no corn syrup, gluten-free) stands out as Albuquerque’s best gelatto by far.  Made with a lower butterfat content than ice cream, but with many of the same ingredients, it is the essence of the best sea salt caramel candies in a frozen treat.

At the Chocolate Cartel, you definitely can’t eat just one.  This is the best chocolate in Albuquerque!

Chocolate Cartel
315 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505 797-1193
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 4 June 2011
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sea Salt and Caramel Gelatto, Mayan Spiced Chocolate Sorbet, Pecan Chocolate Turtle

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