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La Fonda Del Bosque – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

La Fonda Del Bosque within the sprawling National Hispanic Cultural Center

In the millennium year, after years of planning and lobbying, the dream was finally realized of a haven  dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and advancement of Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities. In 2000, the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), launched along the Camino Real in the Albuquerque’s historic Barela’s neighborhood.  The Center is an architectural anomaly in a largely adobe-hued area, its unique structures including a renovated hacienda-style school, a stylized Mayan pyramid with interior elements modeled on Romanesque architecture and a torreon (tower) housing a 4,000 square foot concave fresco depicting over 3,000 years of Hispanic history.

Ironically the complex chartered to preserve, protect and promote Hispanic culture had to displace several families, thereby disenfranchising some of the very families who embody the Hispanic culture in Albuquerque.  One resident–the late Adela Martinez–stared down bureaucrats and made them blink, refusing to move.  The forty-million dollar Cultural Center had to be redesigned to accommodate her family in the home she moved into in the 1920s.  Today, her family’s two small houses stand out, not like a sore thumb, but as a testament to the courage of one 80-year old Hispanic woman whose treasured memories were worth much more than the monetary treasures government offered.

fondadelbosque02

The home of Adela Martinez, a New Mexico treasure

Since November, 2000, the converted Barelas Elementary School on the sprawling NHCC complex has served as the home of La Fonda Del Bosque, a stylish 280-seat restaurant.    La Fonda, which translates from Spanish to “The Inn” almost immediately garnered recognition.  Within three years of its launch,  Hispanic magazine named it one of the 50 best Hispanic restaurants in the United States for two consecutive years (2003 and 2004).  It was also named one of Gourmet Magazine’s “Best Kept Secrets.” A higher compliment is that many locals love it, too, especially during the Sunday brunch when they can sample a greater bounty of Hispanic favorites.

Over the years, a number of catering and restaurant management companies have tried their hand at running La Fonda Del Bosque.  The most recent to take the helm is A KayTahRing Company which began operating the restaurant in June, 2012.  After several years of serving New Mexican food, the new operators are taking the restaurant in a new direction, showcasing “flavors, cooking styles and ingredients from the 27 countries comprising Central and South America and the Latino Caribbean islands” according to the restaurant’s Web site.

Dining Room at La Fonda Del Bosque

La Fonda is open for breakfast and lunch as well as for brunch on Sundays. Dinner is served only for special events when the upscale milieu really shines.   While the menu offerings may have a Latin fusion flair, the ambiance at La Fonda Del Bosque is most decidedly Southwestern with a pronounced New Mexican influence.  The centerpiece of the dining room is a wood-burning fireplace that may make you wish it was winter so you could imbibe the aromas of piñon wood.  On bright New Mexican summer days, the  tinwork light fixtures aren’t much needed because the large windows let in so much natural light.  Service is impeccable. 

The restaurant’s Web site describes the menu as “one bold statement after another.”   At the very least, it’s an ambitious menu that crosses over several borders and culinary cultures.  That’s especially true of the prix fixe menu for brunch which couples a buffet and a number of items from the menu.  Stainless steel vessels hold such buffet items as smoked salmon lox, Argentine prawn and chili quiche, seasonal fruit, Cuban Torrejas, Peruvian Ceviche Limon and twin crepes.  Don’t fill your plate too much because you’ll also have the opportunity to order an entree from the “kitchen” menu.  This menu ranges from the simple (huevos rancheros) to the complex (Seafood Valencia Paella).

Sunday Brunch Offerings Include Seafood Valencia (Paella made with chicken, chorizo, prawns, mussels and peas); smoked salmon lox; Argentine Prawn and Chili Quiche

The attentive wait staff does their best to ensure the buffet items are replenished so diners will always have fresh and warm food.  Their efforts are more successful when a passel of diners empties the serving vessels almost as quickly as the servers fill them.  Such was the case during our inaugural visit which transpired on the same day the Japanese Fall Festival was being held on the grounds of the Center.  Apparently a number of diners preferred Latin inspired cuisine to Japanese fare because La Fonda was quite crowded when we arrived.

Among the buffet items which would have stood out was the smoked salmon lox with cream cheese, capers, red onions and eggs.  Alas, the toasted bagels intended to be the canvas upon which to heap the other ingredients were stale and dry.  Still, who can resist salmon, capers and cream cheese, a triumvirate of taste. Also good were Cuban Torrejas, essentially pain perdu (French toast) stuffed with strawberry and mamey glaze, and topped with whipped Cream.   The Peruvian Ceviche Limon, fresh raw fish, calamari, octopus and shrimp served with yam and Peruvian corn was rather uninspired, a far cry from Peruvian ceviche we’ve had elsewhere. It lacked the freshness and the citrus-tinged zip of a great ceviche.

Carne Asada con Huevos al Gusto (Native to Northern Mexico): Half-pound charbroiled sirloin with 2 eggs any style, served with breakfast potatoes, adobo sauce

My choice from the menu was paella, but not just any paella. According to the menu, it was Seafood Valencia,  named for the city in Spain in which paella originated.  Valencia isn’t just where paella was first made, it’s where it’s best made.  Paella is a great source of local pride for Valencianos where it’s made so well that, much like some Italian food, its flavors improve into the next day.  Similar to the paella made in Valencia, La Fonda’s rendition has a slightly crunchy edge.  It’s replete with bite-sized pieces of chicken, seasoned pork sausage, prawns, mussels and green peas embedded in a mound of saffron-infused rice.   The portion size is more than generous, but the experience would have been even more authentic and fun had it been served in a paellera, the flat steel pan in which paella is traditionally prepared.  Exercise caution not to ladle out the paella on the buffet table (unless you really like paella) because it will count as your entree. 

Another palate pleasing entree is the carne asada con huevos al gusto, a plate native to Northern Mexico.  The carne asada is a half-pound charbroiled sirloin steak prepared to your exacting level of doneness.  In some Mexican restaurants–both in Mexico and in New Mexico–a half-pound sometimes means two portions of thinly cut, usually tough as leather steak so it’s a surprise to find a thick, juicy steak that’s almost fork tender.  Literally the term “huevos al gusto” translates to “eggs to your pleasure,” but really means “eggs made the way you want them.”  The breakfast potatoes are excellent, but the adobo sauce lacked any real punch.

Tiramisu and white chocolate truffle

The brunch menu also includes a dessert bar featuring such sweet-tooth favorites as tiramisu, truffles, and fruit tarts.  The tiramisu would never be mistaken for the tiramisu made at Torinos @ Home, not by a long stretch, but it’s better than out-of-the-box.

La Fonda Del Bosque offers catering services for special events such as weddings and anniversaries. With a patio which can accommodate as many as 1,500 guests, it’s a perfect venue for a good time.

La Fonda Del Bosque
Hispanic Cultural Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 30 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET:  

La Fonda Del Bosque on Urbanspoon

ZS&T’s Great Grub – Albuquerque, New Mexico

ZS&T’s Great Grub for great New Mexican food, sandwiches, burgers and delicious desserts

Here’s an idea: Quit playing on the Internet and get over to 5017 Menaul, N.E. for lunch. And dinner.” That’s not Gil Garduño admonishing you to take a break from the invaluable research you’re conducting on the Internet. That’s ZS&T’s Web site inviting you to what could very well be one of the best Duke City restaurants you’ve never heard of, a restaurant so confident in its cooking that its Web site boasts, “If you don’t think it’s the best food in Albuquerque, we’ll refer you to a good Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to get your taste buds adjusted.” Audacity, braggadocio or confidence?

As Muhammad Ali used to say, “it’s not bragging if you can back it up.” ZS&T’s owners have the pedigree to back it up! While the restaurant itself is a relatively new player on Albuquerque’s culinary stage, having opened in March, 2012, Suzie and Daniel Baca are certainly not newcomers to the city’s dining scene. In fact, under their stewardship, La Fonda Del Bosque, the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s flagship restaurant, garnered significant critical acclaim and hosted international glitterati from both the political and the cinematic arena.

The dining room at ZS&T’s Great Grub

When the National Hispanic Cultural Center decided to take the Center’s restaurant operation in a different direction, it was the impetus the Bacas needed to launch their own eatery, the culmination of a long-held dream. The Bacas named their first restaurant venture for their three sons – Zachary (Z), Sean (S) and Trevor (T). The restaurant’s walls are much like the walls of any family home in which proud parents showcase their children’s accomplishments. Those walls are a veritable shrine to the Baca scions’ athletic achievements with a number of trophies, plaques and even a championship belt. All three boys are stalwart kick boxers.

Interspersed throughout the walls are Oakland Raiders collectibles honoring the favorite NFL team of the Baca men. Mom Suzie is alone in supporting the St. Louis Rams, but that may be the only area of dissention among the Baca clan. In every respect, ZS&T’s Great Grub is a family-owned, family-operated restaurant. When Suzie and Daniel conceptualized their mom-and-pop restaurant, they envisioned “great grub, simply made and served with love” where “guests would be surrounded by the feeling of being at home.” Mission accomplished! During our inaugural visit, we were well attended by Trevor, a very well-mannered and personable young man.

Chips and salsa at ZS&T’s Great Grub

The menu is inspired from recipes and favorite foods of friends and relatives with several items named for family members. It’s executed by Daniel, a professionally trained chef who has delighted guests with his food at hotels and restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment as well as in Arizona and California. Befitting the tiny but homey 1,400 square-foot milieu, the menu is relatively simple featuring soups and salads, sandwiches and burgers, traditional New Mexican plates and sumptuous sweets for the sweet. ZS&T’s is open for breakfast and lunch every day but Monday and for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Delicious food and a family environment are why Chris Pinkston, who raved about the restaurant to me, visits two or three times a week.

The very first must-have on the menu is chips and salsa. What sets this salsa apart from the rest is its freshness. It is made-from-scratch daily from fresh ingredients. One ingredient you don’t see often in salsas throughout New Mexico is carrot, but you will see tiny flecks of orange carrot on the ZS&T salsa. The carrots provide a touch of sweetness and serve as a counterpoint to more astringent ingredients such as garlic, jalapeño, tomato, cilantro and bell pepper. The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it’s very, very good. The chips are just a tad on the salty side, but they’re crispy and formidable enough for Gil-sized scoops of salsa.

Aunt Patty’s Melt

There are three burgers on the menu, each one ostensibly better than the other, at least according to their sobriquets—Basic Burger, Better Burger and Best Burger. Basic pretty well describes the entry-level burger which is constructed with grilled beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. Bacon makes it a Better burger. Add guacamole and green chile and you’ve got the Best Burger. There are seven sandwiches on the menu including two named for sons Zach and Trevor.

Then there’s Aunt Patty’s Melt, a unique take on the patty melt. This is a patty melt the way only a New Mexican would make it. If you surmised that’s a sly way of saying it’s got green chile, you’re spot-on. The foundation for this excellent sandwich is a lightly grilled light rye bread. It’s topped with a perfectly grilled beef patty, American cheese, grilled onions, 1000-Island dressing and green chile. The sweetness of the grilled onions and the sweet-tanginess of the 1000-Island dressing are a nice foil for the piquant-fruitiness of the green chile. The beef is juicy and well-seasoned.

Enchilada Plate Christmas-Style with a Fried Egg. Calabasitas and Beans on the side

During their seven-year tenure at La Fonda Del Bosque, the Bacas enthralled visitors with their traditional New Mexican food. Ten New Mexican dishes are on the menu at ZS&T’s, all served with beans and your choice of Spanish rice or calabasitas with a flour tortilla. Carne adovada is available only on the breakfast menu and it’s the only item which includes cumin. Everything is made to order and arrives at your table steaming hot.

The menu showcases the versatility of enchiladas, which are available with beef, chicken, carne adovada or solely cheese and served with your choice of red, green or “Christmas” style chile. A grilled vegetable and avocado enchilada plate is also available. The enchiladas are made flat, three corn tortillas per order and with onions unless otherwise requested. Top them with an egg for another unique New Mexico touch. These are Chamber of Commerce quality enchiladas, the type of which you’d serve visitors to the Duke City to win them over about our cuisine. Neither the red or green chile is especially piquant, but both have a nice roasted flavor. Both the beans and the calabasitas are quite good. The fresh, crisp calabasitas include tomatoes, a very nice touch.

Natillas and Biscochitos, a fabulous combination

During our visits to La Fonda del Bosque, one of our favorite dessert combinations were natillas and biscochitos. More specifically, we enjoyed dipping the biscochitos into the natillas. The biscochitos, New Mexico’s official state cookie, are made with butter and have a just right amount of anise and cinnamon. The natillas are served cool. They’re light, creamy and cinnamon-rich. Only a handful of restaurants make natillas and biscochitos nearly as good.

The breakfast menu describes each of the eight items listed. The description for the Caramel Pecan Roll reads simply “LEGENDARY!!!!.” That’s four exclamation points and capital letters. Someone is emphasizing (shouting) that you’ve got to try these. The caramel pecan rolls are indeed exclamation point worthy. They’re excellent. The rolls are yeasty and buttery with a glaze of caramelized cinnamon sugar. Spread on some butter to cut the sweetness a bit and you’ll soon be swooning.

Caramel Pecan Roll

I’ll forgive you if you’ve stopped playing on the Internet and made a beeline for ZS&T’s, a family restaurant which makes you feel like you’re visiting a very nice family who will feed you very well.

ZS&T’s Great Grub
5017 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 200-0065
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 29 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Enchiladas, Natillas, Biscochitos, Caramel Pecan Roll, Aunt Patty’s Melt

ZS & T's on Urbanspoon

Stone Face Tavern – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Stone Face Tavern

The Stone Face Tavern

Boris Vallejo, one of the premier fantasy and science fiction artists in the world, might be flattered by the ambiance at the Stone Face Tavern.  He might even become a regular.

The Stone Face Tavern is like an adult Disneyland for aficionados of the fantasy and erotica genres masterfully created by Vallejo.  The south-facing facade resembles a multi-turret stone castle complete with threatening gargoyles perched on the parapet.  The ominous countenance, flowing beard and piercing eyes of a Viking warrior or Norse god (maybe even Odin himself) looks down upon you from a vantage point high above the entrance.

Step inside and it may take you a few minutes to adjust to the dimly-lit room (heaven help you if you wear transition glasses) where there’s something to see in every square foot.  Once adjusted, male eyes will scan the room but invariably fix upon two slate boards which feature life-sized chalk paintings of beautiful, scantily clad warrior women.  You’d swear Vallejo himself drew them.

Testosterone flows on Bikini Top Wednesdays

Testosterone flows on Bikini Top Wednesdays

Scantily-clad would also describe the waitresses, but so would buxom, beautiful and bikinis.  Bikini top Wednesdays make the Stone Face tavern even more popular if possible.  Before you red-blooded men rush over, make sure to call ahead because bikini top Wednesday isn’t a year-round event.  It’s as seasonal as NFL football games.  Whether for lunch or dinner, this watering hole is one of Albuquerque’s most popular lures for testosterone-laden bikers, businessmen, beer drinkers and bikini top appreciators.

In between ogling the waitresses and salivating at the Vallejo-like paintings, X-chromosome patrons will fixate on the televisions, all tuned to sporting events or manly action shows.  They might never notice the goofy, illuminated gargoyles on the tavern’s interior walls, the unfurled banners which drape from the ceiling or the placard cautioning “If you don’t like our food or service, you’d better lower your standards.”  Somehow they managed for years–even through the pervasive blue haze of cigarette smoke–to appreciate the glass encased tee shirts which caution “Don’t “f-bomb” with the locals.”  Thankfully smoking is now prohibited.

Me, I notice everything–like the menu which features a bevy of burgers, sandwiches, New Mexican entrees and even steak.  The menu is more upscale than you generally find at a typical tavern and amazingly (not that some of the imbibing crowd will notice) some of the food is actually pretty good.

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (buffalo sauce on the side) at the Stone Face Tavern

Take the gigantic buffalo chicken sandwich for example.  It takes two hands to handle the behemoth buns which wrap themselves around cheese, tomato, lettuce, a full fried chicken breast and a buffalo sauce as lethal as gunpowder.  Buffalo chicken wings have never seen a sauce quite as incendiary–or quite as good.  It’s a better chicken sandwich, by far, than you’ll find at any of the fried chicken chains.  My friend and colleague Fred Phillips loves this sandwich so much he’s earned the sobriquet “Four Bite Fred” for the ardor with which he attacks it.  He’s been responsible for introducing more people to this sandwich than most online dating services have made lifelong matches.

Another among the five chicken sandwiches on the menu is the aptly named New Mexico Cordon Bleu chicken sandwich, a take-off of the classic French favorite with a New Mexico twist, our ubiquitous green chile.  This sandwich features a seared chicken breast topped with ham, Swiss cheese, green chile, tomato, lettuce and mayo.  It’s a humongous chicken sandwich, requiring both hands to hold.  With a more ardent green chile, it might compete with the aforementioned buffalo chicken sandwich for the tavern’s best.

The chicken parmesan sandwich, an Italian-inspired creation has everything a brimming plate of chicken parmesan might have save for a side of spaghetti.  The chicken breast is roughly the size of what you’d get in the Italian dish, maybe even in a Texas plate of chicken fried chicken.  It protrudes well beyond the bun at all sides.  It’s a thick chicken breast with a relatively light breading considering its size.  The marinara sauce is thick, too, and draped over by a generous amount of cheese.  The French roll isn’t nearly formidable enough to hold in its contents so you’ll probably have to eat this sandwich much as you would chicken parmesan.

Chicken Parmesan Sandwich (fried chicken breast topped with marinara sauce, Jack cheese, lettuce and tomato served on a French roll)

The Stone Face Tavern also serves a formidable, two-fisted burger menu–six burgers including a green chile cheeseburger which packs a punch…as does the jalapeno-based salsa which will have you reaching for water more than once. Almost uncharacteristic of this predominantly man’s man’s tavern, the burger menu also includes a veggie burger, your choice of black bean or garden. It is served with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and mustard. I have it on good authority from my friend, the professorial Randy Lake that this is a pretty good burger.

The Tavern is owned by Billy Baldwin, a youthful Albuquerque entrepreneur who also owns other Duke City watering holes.  He’s president of the New Mexico Hospitality Retail Association.  Based on the Stone Face Tavern, it’s obvious he knows a thing or two about hospitality. He also knows a thing or two about constructing a menu that appeals to his clientele.  Three salads–blackened chicken, fajita and chef–will appeal to lighter appetites.  Eleven sandwiches, ranging from a Philly Swiss (one of the tavern’s signature favorites) sandwich to your choice of bratwurst or Polish sausage are probably more popular than the salads.  The menu includes only one seafood entree, salmon, but it also includes a half dozen New Mexican entrees, all of which are big enough to share.

Green Chile Stew and New Mexico Steak Sandwich

Green Chile Stew and New Mexico Steak Sandwich

Noe Pacheco, a long-time friend of this blog, raves about the New York Steak sandwich, a sandwich “so good, it makes me weep when I eat it.”   Ever the “homer,” my philosophy is anything named for New Mexico has got to be better than anything named for New York.  That means the New Mexico Steak sandwich for me.  Where the New York steak sandwich is served on a French roll, the New Mexico steak sandwich is served on a tortilla.  Alas, the tortilla is so thin and crispy that it cracks and you’re forced to eat the steak with a fork.  This is inexcusable.  There are plenty of purveyors of more pliable, thick tortillas that would hold up better.  It’s a pity waifishly thin, cracker brittle tortillas are the downfall of an otherwise terrific sandwich.

Appetizers include French fries, beer-battered mushrooms, chicken tenders, guacamole and chips, nachos, quesadillas, buffalo wings and chips and salsa. Non-sandwich entrees include chicken fried chicken or steak, steak fingers, New York strip and a hamburger steak.

Even though my friend Four-Bite Fred will probably never deviate from the buffalo chicken sandwich, there’s something for everyone on the menu.

Stone Face Tavern
8201 San Pedro, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 822-8855
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 6 June 2013
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, Chips & Salsa, Quesadilla, Enchiladas, Chicken Parmesan Sandwich, Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich, Green Chile Stew, New Mexico Steak Sandwich


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Stone Face Tavern on Urbanspoon