Savoy Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Savoy, one of Albuquerque's best fine-dining restaurants

Savoy Bar & Grill, one of Albuquerque’s best fine-dining restaurants

In 1881, the Savoy Theater in London’s trendy West End was built to showcase the brilliant Victorian era collaboration of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan who composed fourteen comic operas.  The Savoy was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity.  It also has the distinction of being fronted by the only road in Britain where traffic is required by law to drive on the right-hand side.

In 2006, the Savoy Bar & Grill was built in Albuquerque to showcase yet another brilliant collaboration, that of identical twin brothers Keith and Kevin Roessler who also own and operate Seasons Rotisserie & Grill in Albuquerque’s Old Town and Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro in fashionable Nob Hill.  As restaurant impresarios, the Roessler brothers may have no equal in Albuquerque with each of their three restaurants being regarded as among the best in the city, particularly for high-end dining.

Housemade Foccacia Bread and Fano Bakery Baguettes With Butter Compound made with garlic and thyme

Housemade Foccacia Bread and Fano Bakery Baguettes With Butter Compound made with garlic and thyme

Savoy, the latest addition to the Roessler restaurant triumvirate, resembles a California wine-country bistro in both ambiance and menu.  That’s a natural considering their uncle and mentor Roger Roessler is a successful restaurateur in Sonoma County, California where the fruit of the vin is showcased in some of America’s finest wineries.   Roessler Cellar wines are featured at Savoy though not exclusively.

As one of the Northeast Heights’ few fine-dining establishments, the Savoy Bar & Grill helps fill a niche in an area that includes High Desert, Tanoan and North Albuquerque Acres, three of the city’s most upscale residential areas.  Fittingly, Savoy is an extravagant milieu, the result of a million-dollar plus renovation which saw the metamorphose of what used to be YesterDave’s, a 50s-style neon spangled burger and malt joint into one of the city’s most capacious and classy fine-dining eateries.

Local goat cheese wrapped in prosciutto with toasted baguettes and a black pepper-cranberry chutney

Local goat cheese wrapped in prosciutto with toasted baguettes and a black pepper-cranberry chutney

Facing Montgomery Boulevard, Savoy is an impressive sight, a 10,000 square-foot building which incorporates a stucco facade with an imposing grey brick frontage.  Step inside and there’s little architectural resemblance to any restaurant in Albuquerque.  The restaurant is smartly partitioned into several sections, each designed for optimal function and stylish comfort.

The bright and open main dining room includes comfortable seating for more than 140.  It also features unobstructed views to an arresting 1,800-square-foot exhibition kitchen where, despite the hustle and bustle of activity, sound is muted and won’t interfere with the enjoyment of an intimate mealtime conversation.  Strategically positioned skylights and natural New Mexico sunlight allowed in by large windows coupled with light colored walls complement some of the dark wood touches to form an elegant milieu.

Pomegranate Glazed Quail with Sweet Potato Fries

Pomegranate Glazed Quail with Sweet Potato Fries

A wood-burning oven is the exhibition kitchen’s culinary cynosure, the heart of the kitchen whose olfactory-arousing aromas will draw the rapt attention of Savoy’s guests as cedar planked salmon and seasonal flatbreads are prepared.  To the immediate west of the kitchen is the 25-seat Tasting Room highlighted by walls of glass-encased, refrigerated wine cubbies, a continuation of the restaurant’s wine-friendly theme.  Saturday afternoon wine-tastings are held in this venue.

Savoy’s Napa Room which seats as many as 50 guests and features state-of-the-art audiovisual drop-down equipment is ideal for corporate events and private parties.  A semi-private room with windows on three sides accommodates another 36 guests while a 45-seat bar and lounge lead to a 60-seat, vine-covered patio.  The sophisticated milieu has several fireplaces and seems tailor-made for long visits.

Fabulous salad: two types of greens, feta cheese, fried prosciutto de Parma, raspberries, port dressing

Like Gilbert and Sullivan, the Roessler brothers’ collaboration is complementary.  Keith is the operations and financial manager while Kevin serves as the restaurant’s wine manager.  It’s a formula that works well.  You can’t mention collaboration without a word or two about Savoy’s food and wine pairing.  The menu is designed to accentuate the combination of food and wine so they balance and complement one another’s natural flavors.  My best advice is to enjoy the foods you like with the wine you like.  Fortunately, the staff is on hand to provide good advice on food and wine pairings that make the most of both.

Keith Roessler describes Savoy as “like a chophouse, a blend between a steakhouse and a seafood restaurant.” Unlike at some chophouses, sides aren’t a la carte, making the high (for Albuquerque) price point very reasonable considering the high quality of the cuisine. As much as possible, both produce and meats are procured locally. The menu changes with the seasons to accentuate the availability of the freshest ingredients.

Autumn Squash Bisque:fried sage, whipped creme fraiche

Autumn Squash Bisque:
fried sage, whipped creme fraiche

The restaurant’s executive chef and co-owner is Bob Peterson whose previous experience includes stints at both the Seasons Rotisserie & Grill in Durango, Colorado and Albuquerque’s Old Town, both of which were founded by the Roessler brothers’ uncle.  Peterson’s cooking philosophy centers around providing a balanced dining experience in which flavors, textures, food temperatures and nutritional value are considered in the preparation of an entree.

Shortly after you’re seated and the menu is presented, a plate of breads will be brought promptly to your table. Savoy bakes its own bread in an oak-fired oven, but it’s the bread’s flavor which places it in a rarefied class. A housemade focaccia infused with caramelized sweet onions and rosemary is some of the best restaurant bread in town as are the restaurant’s sliced baguettes. Best of all, you can purchase either or both the focaccia or baguettes and take them home with you. It’s better than bakery-quality bread.

Antipasto Plate – house Burrata cheese, duck pate, cured meats, hummus, marinated olives, parmesan breadsticks, crostini

Antipasto Plate –
house Burrata cheese, duck pate, cured meats, hummus, marinated olives, parmesan breadsticks, crostini

The breads are served with a creamy whipped butter made in-house with garlic and thyme though tempered so it’s not as strong as garlic butter can be.  The butter spreads easily on the focaccia and sliced baguettes, both of which are fresh and delicious.  Characteristic of great baguettes, a hard-crust complements an airy inside texture.  The focaccia is soft and chewy.  Both are so good, you might finish a plate or two before your appetizers are delivered.

In general, critics don’t advocate ordering a bread-based appetizer when a restaurant’s in-house bread is as good and filling as Savoy’s bread is, however, if you exercise sufficient restraint with the complimentary bread, you shouldn’t miss the baked local goat cheese. The goat cheese is procured from The Old Windmill Dairy in McIntosh, New Mexico. It is packed in a “rind” of prosciutto and is served with toasted baguettes and a black pepper-cranberry chutney. It’s pillow soft and has a mild flavor accentuated by the saltiness of the prosciutto. The black pepper-cranberry chutney lends dimensions of flavor that seem to bring out unexpressed qualities in the cheese. This is an excellent appetizer!

Thin Sliced Lamb Sandwich with a Risotto Salad

Thin Sliced Lamb Sandwich with a Risotto Salad

From among the ten appetizer menu, you’ll probably want to try at least two starters.  The pomegranate glazed quail with sweet potato fries is an excellent option.  Despite its diminutive size, quail is a meaty fowl with little fat or sinew.  It’s also a fairly juicy bird which absorbs complementary flavors well.  The quail is lightly encrusted in a thin sheath that allows the sweet-tart flavor of the pomegranate glaze to penetrate deeply.  The sweet potato fries, just a handful, are thick and soft with a sweet, delicious flavor. 

On a blustery winter day, there may be no more comforting appetizer than a soul-warming bowl of soup, whether it be in the form of a pho, chowder, stew, consomme or bisque.  Savoy’s autumn squash bisque, is a  rich, thick, creamy soup that has been pureed so that it has an even texture.  It is delicious in its flavor profile and made even more magnificent because it’s served piping hot.  The sweet-savory flavor of the autumn squash is punctuated by the sour-tanginess of creme fraiche and the mildly astringent touch of fried sage.  The prevalent flavor, however, is that of succulent squash.  This is a soul-warming soup you will crave year-round.

Prime Rib Peppersteak Sandwich –spicy Tabasco remoulade, Gruyere cheese, parmesan fries

Prime Rib Peppersteak Sandwich –spicy Tabasco remoulade, Gruyere cheese, parmesan fries

Savoy’s antipasto plate is in rarefied air among all the antipasto plates offered throughout the Duke City.  The burrata, an almost unnaturally soft and moist fresh Italian cheese made from cream and mozzarella, is ethereal in its texture.  While it complements other plate ingredients, it’s best on its own.  The duck pate is mellow, the strong flavor of liver cut by spices (maybe even star anise) and perhaps a sherry or cognac.  The flavor of the hummus would be more discernible with pita slices rather than crostini or the parmesan breadsticks.  On its own, you’ll discern some the wonderful Middle Eastern spices used to flavor hummus.   The marinated olives are meaty, moist and flavorful.

Chef Peterson’s favorite meat is lamb, an overt invitation for diners to try the thin-sliced lamb sandwich for lunch.  The lamb comes from the Talus Wind Ranch in Galisteo, New Mexico which purchases, transports, processes and distributes the lamb and literally tracks it from ranch to refrigerator.  With a pedigree like that, when you can track a lamb’s parents, how can you possibly go wrong, especially when you order something like the amazing Thin Sliced Lamb Sandwich.

Fontina cheese Pasta with sage, chicken sausage, cherries, herbs and port wine topped with bread crumbs.

Fontina cheese Pasta with sage, chicken sausage, cherries, herbs and port wine topped with bread crumbs.

True to the menu, the lamb is thinly sliced, almost like the packaged stuff grocery stores call roast beef (but infinitely better).  Layers of pinkish-reddish hued slices of succulent lamb are embellished by a basil aioli, lettuce and tomatoes and served generously between two glorious slices of toasted olive bread.  It’s a thick sandwich, succulent, juicy and wholly wonderful.  The lamb sandwich is served with a side pine nut, red pepper and risotto salad served cold.  Unlike some risotto which tends to be clumpy, Savoy’s rendition showcases each and every grain of rice, all of which are perfectly prepared.  The salad collaborates fantastically with the sandwich. 

If sandwiches are what calls you loudest (and they often do, me), one sandwich which will absolutely sing is the Prime Rib Peppersteak Sandwich.  While peppersteak is known to have originated as a Chinese-American dish made with strips of steak sauteed with bell peppers and seasoned with pepper, ginger, and soy sauce, Savoy’s rendition is very unlike any Chinese version you’ve had.  The prime rib is sliced into tender strips, drizzled with  a spicy Tabasco remoulade and topped with melted Gruyere cheese.  It’s not nearly as peppery or spicy as its name might imply, but instead resonates with the characteristics of the high-quality prime rib from which it is made.  The sandwich is served with twice-fried parmesan fries.

Antelope Sausage Burger

Antelope Sausage Burger

During a visit in December, 2012, the lunch special of the day at Savoy was an intriguing burger unlike any burger I’ve ever had.  It’s an antelope sausage burger the size of a small skyscraper.  It’s a marvel to behold and far too large to fit in most human mouths.  In fact, it’s probably best consumed with a steak knife and fork.  The base for this behemoth burger is a toasted sesame seed bun baked on the premises.  It’s topped with organic arugula, a thick red tomato, crispy onion rings, melted housemade mozzarella, a house marinara sauce and one of the largest meat patties conceivable.  The patty is constructed of 85 percent antelope, pancetta and pork fat then seasoned with rosemary, thyme, pepper and fennel.  The concept is compelling, but frankly, this burger might have been best served as a pasta dish.  That’s what the combination of antelope sausage, marinara and mozzarella will remind you of.  Though flavorful, this burger isn’t exactly enjoyable to consume.  It’s just too large to enjoy as a true burger.  If you “squash” it down, the effect is similar to a car running over a squirrel (don’t try to picture that).   It’s not a pretty picture.

For dinner, New Mexico lamb is showcased in some of the most succulent lamb chops you’ll find anywhere. For some reason, there are several high-end, fine-dining restaurants in New Mexico touting their use of Colorado lamb entrees. They apparently don’t know that New Mexico’s lamb doesn’t’ take a back seat to lamb from anywhere.  Prepared at medium-rare, there’s more than a hint of pink on each of the three chops.  In fact, the meatiest part of the chops are even a bit chewy, courtesy perhaps of not being done sufficiently.  The edges, and especially around the bone, are grilled perfectly.  These chops have little of the characteristic gaminess of lamb and what little gaminess there is, is obfuscated by a sublime roasted garlic port wine glaze. Never mind the mint jelly; this glaze is fantastic…sopping up with bread good.  Though this entree is served with a couscous dish, substitutions are allowed.  The sour cream mashed potatoes are a worthy accompaniment to the lamb.

New Mexico Lamb Chops with Roasted Garlic Port Wine Glaze and Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans

A special restaurant like Savoy tends to have wonderful daily specials.  We happened upon such a special during our inaugural visit for lunch–a pasta dish with a Fontina cheese, port wine and cherry sauce with sage infused chicken sausage.  Quite simply, this is an exquisite entree, as wonderful a pasta dish as can be imagined. The flavors are rich and deep with heightened deliciousness, a perfect coalescence of complex and simple ingredients melding together perfectly.  This is an entree which would be the starring attraction of many a menu.  Sage is a vastly underused ingredient which really stands out in chicken sausage.

A true stand-out in the dinner menu is the seared ahi tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, sauteed mushrooms and a sake burre blanc (an ultra-rich, buttery sauce).  The sashimi grade ahi tuna is perfectly seared (the only way to truly appreciate tuna) with lightly crusted edges bordering the beautifully pink flesh.  The wasabi mashed potatoes aren’t nearly as Americanized Japanese horseradish tends to be, but it certainly imbues the potatoes with a slight burning sensation. The sugar snap peas are a delight, as much fun to eat as they are delicious.

Seared Ahi Tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, sauteed mushrooms, sake beurre blanc

Dessert options are limited–at least in terms of quantity.  An apple strudel with vanilla ice cream sounds simple and commonplace, but at Savoy it’s a transcendent dessert.  A flaky puff pastry enrobes thinly sliced apples which are a perfect balance of tart and sweet.  A small scoop of luxurious vanilla ice cream seems tailor-made to bring out the tartness of the apples even more, a perfect collaboration of flavors.

Peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream showcases the natural fruitiness of in-season peaches, not the artificial pectin that tends to be overly sweet. The peaches are juicy and tender, topped with a rich, buttery crust. You can taste the vanilla bean on the vanilla ice cream, a wonderful surprise. Though not a big dessert, it’s big in flavors.

Peach Cobbler With Vanilla Ice Cream

The Savoy Bar & Grill is all about collaboration: the collaborative partnership between entrepreneurial brothers who are bringing refined dining elegance to Duke City dining as well as the exquisite pairing of bold flavors in both food and wine. Savoy is among the finest in fine dining in the Duke City.

Savoy Bar & Grill
10601 Montgomery Boulevard Northeast
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 294-9463
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2012
1st VISIT: 30 December 2009
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Baked Local Goat Cheese, Pomegranate Glazed Quail, Thin Sliced Lamb Sandwich, Apple Strudel, Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream, New Mexico Lamb Chops, Seared Ahi Tuna

Savoy Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

2012: A Thrilling (and Filling) Year in Food

Friends Who Feast: From Left to Right--Bob of the Village People, Paul "Boomer" Lilly, Bruce "Sr Plata" Silver, Gil Garduno and Bill "Santa" Resnik

Friends Who Feast: From Left to Right–Bob of the Village People, Paul “Boomer” Lilly, Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver, Gil “The NM Gastronome” Garduño and Bill “Santa” Resnik

Tis the season…for year-end retrospectives in which the good, the bad and the ugly; the triumphs and tragedies; the highs and lows and the ups and downs are revisited ad-infinitum by seemingly every print and cyberspace medium in existence. It’s the time of year in which the “in-your-face” media practically forces a reminiscence–either fondly or with disgust–about the year that was. It’s a time for introspection, resolutions and for looking forward with hope to the year to come. The New Mexico culinary landscape had more highs than it did lows in 2012. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.

The apparently can’t keep a secret. In January, the site revealed America’s ten most secret restaurants, eateries which “remain conundrums to the outside world, with only a select few joining the inner circle of diners privy to their culinary secrets.” The only New Mexico restaurant “outed” was Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse in Albuquerque which the dailymeal described as “a high class speakeasy.”


Egg Rolls from SaiGon Restaurant in Rio Rancho

More than 1,200 guests visited the Roadrunner Food Bank on January 29th to partake of the very best soups and desserts in the Duke City as prepared by nearly 50 restaurants. In addition to sampling soups and desserts, attendees got to vote for their favorite soup, vegetarian soup and dessert.

  • The People’s Choice Soup winner was the Artichoke Cafe for its butternut squash crawfish bisque. Kelly’s Brew Pub earned second place for its cream of chicken green chile. Third place went to the Standard Diner for its bourbon lobster bisque.
  • The People’s Choice in the vegetarian soup category was Johndi’s BBQ for its gazpacho. Second Place went to the AKayTahRing Company for their Green Chile Chicken Chowder. Finishing third was the Gecko Bar and Tapas for its fire-roasted chipotle carrot chowder.
  • The “Critics’ Choice” for best soup as determined by a panel of eight celebrity judges went to Sheraton Uptown for a green chile and mushroom soup. Second place went to the Marriot Uptown for their cream of calabasitas with green chile and smoked chicken. Street Food Asia earned a third place finish for its curry laska.
  • In the dessert category, the People’s Choice winner was Nothing Bundt Cakes. Second place went to the Artichoke Cafe while Farina Pizzeria and Wine Bar earned a third place showing.

Double meat, double cheese, double green chile burger from Twisters

Going vegan in Albuquerque is easier than learning how to spell the city’s name!” That’s the verdict of the which in February, named the Duke City one of America’s Most Vegetarian-Friendly Cities. The site advised, “You’ll find tons of vegan options, such as the veggie chicken nuggets and boba tea at the Fei Health Café and the tofu scramble at Flying Star Café. Also check out both locations of Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café, offering a selection of vegan bakery items and ayurvedic cooking classes.”

In February the James Beard Foundation announced its nominees for 2012 honors. Three of New Mexico’s finest chefs were named semi-finalists for Best Chef Southwest: Martin Rios, owner of Santa Fe’s Restaurant Restaurant Martin; Jennifer James of Jennifer James 101; and Frederick Muller of El Meze in Taos. Both Rios and James are three-time semi-finalists. Santa Fe’s The Compound Restaurant, owned by Mark Kiffin, a previous Best Chef Southwest winner, was nominated in the national restaurant service category.

Egg, Ham and Beans Burrito with Suiza Sauce from Delicias Cafe, one of the very best Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque

Zagat celebrated Mexican food week in March, finishing the week off in style by addressing six debates about Mexican food and asking readers to weigh on on what side they support. New Mexicans can relate to most of the debates: Corn Tortillas vs. Flour Tortillas; Hard Shell vs. Soft Shell; Green vs. Red; American-style vs. Mexican-style cheese; and big vs. thin burritos. Who better than New Mexicans to weigh in on the green versus red debate. Eric DiStefano, chef and owner of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe prefers green while Mary & Tito’s owner Antoinette Knight is a staunch advocate of the red chile which she credits with helping the restaurant earn a James Beard America’s Classics Award.

During its Mexican food week, Zagat also compiled a list of 10 Crazy Tacos From Around the U.S. On the list was the Navaho (sic) Taco from Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe which the Zagat writer described as a “disc of Navaho fry bread covered with beans, cheese, chilies (sic), shredded lettuce, tomato and usually a salsa. For most New Mexicans, the only thing crazy about these tacos is how Zagat spelled Navaho. Zagat also recommended washing down these tacos with one of the Coyote Cafe’s habanero margaritas.

A slice of Sicilian style rosemary pizza from Fastinos by Saggio

Zagat must have had a few too many habanero margaritas in declaring “Southwestern” style Mexican food in Arizona and New Mexico as “pretty darn similar,” that reasoning based on the fact that they’re both on the border of Mexico’s Sonora state. Dan Garcia, vice president of Albuquerque’s Original Garcia’s restaurant family stressed that green chile is what makes New Mexican food best and touted hand-rolled tortillas which are “nicer, thicker, fuller and more filling” and sopaipillas.” At least Zagat didn’t compare New Mexico’s unique and superior cuisine to Tex-Mex.

In April, the Huffington Post‘s food blog proclaimed the green chile cheeseburger the “hottest roadside dish in the U.S.,” crediting its ascendency to the Food Network “Throwdown” episode in which San Antonio’s Bobby Olguin bested Bobby Flay in a green chile cheeseburger throwdown. According to the writer, New Mexico’s iconic burger “suddenly took on nearly mythic proportions across the country as the rodeo food of the cowboy gods.” (huh?) Surprisingly he wasn’t as impressed by Olguin’s Buckhorn Tavern burger as he was with the green chile cheeseburger at Santa Fe’s “practically unknown dive cafe,” Horseman’s Haven. (huh, again)

Penne con Salsiccia from Scalo Northern Italian Grill

in a May, 2012 article entitled State Dinners, 2012: Food Pilgrimages You Must Make This Summer, Grub Street New York, the daily food online magazine from New York Magazine published a list of 50 dining pilgrimages its readers should undertake. The ambitious list was limited to only one restaurant per state which meant leaving off hundreds of potentially worthy choices. It’s hard to argue that New Mexico’s “not-to-be-missed” restaurant is Mary & Tito’s, but there are so many other wonderful restaurants in the Land of Enchantment. Grub Street got it right in saying Mary & Tito’s has been “serving up what most agree is the best red chile in town” since 1963.

In May, New Mexico’s four-time James Beard award-winning authors Bill and Cheryl Jamison released Tasting New Mexico: Recipes Celebrating One Hundred Years of Distinctive Home Cooking, a terrific tome which should grace the kitchen and library of every home in the Land of Enchantment. Their passion for the traditional foods of their adopted home state is reflected in their raconteur approach toward describing the state’s restaurants, cooks, food products and local dishes. Tasting New Mexico is a love story–more than a cookbook, better than a travel guide. Featuring 100 distinctive recipes, it is the best and most important culinary compilation about New Mexico ever written.  Cheryl is also the contributing culinary editor for New Mexico Magazine where she publishes the wonderful Tasting New Mexico blog which dishes out the latest from the New Mexico dining scene.

Tasting New Mexico, an outstanding cookbook from Bill and Cheryl Jamison

On May 9th 21st Century Business, an award winning targeted business show, visited the Golden Crown Panaderia to spotlight the bakery’s online ordering system and how the orders come into the bakery and are displayed to the employees. Owner Chris Morales praised the reliability and efficiency of the panaderia’s point of sale system, indicating the system makes it easy for the restaurant to process its orders and perform inventory to ensure the availability of needed ingredients.

In its May, 2012 issue Taste of Home magazine celebrated the “Great American Drive-Through,” a compilation of “regional foods that make significant deposits to the culinary treasure of the country.” Four distinct culinary trails were spotlighted: the Colorado Ale Trail, the Vermont Cheddar Trail, the North Carolina Barbecue Trail and the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. According to the magazine, four spots in particular “reveal the true meaning of “hot on the trail.” Those four spots were the Bobcat Bite, Monte Carlo Steakhouse, Buckhorn Tavern and Sparky’s.

The Wednesday special at Mary & Titos: Carne Adovada Chimichanga

The May 21, 2012 issue of People Magazine featured popular Albuquerque restaurant Tim’s Place and its affable proprietor Tim Harris. In a feature entitled “Serving Hot Food and Warm Hearts,” the magazine profiled the “world’s friendliest restaurant” serving breakfast, lunch and hugs. Harris, likely the only person in the United States with Down Syndrome to own and operate his own restaurant has given more than 18,000 hugs to customers according to the “official hug counter” in the dining room that tallies each hug.

New Mexicans tend to shy away from lists because of the notoriety the Land of Enchantment seems to garner in many quality of life lists. In June, National Geographic published its “Top 10 Best of Everything” book that includes lists of magnificent museums, stylish ski runs, superb cigars and the ten best hamburgers under the spacious skies. Blake’s Lotaburger was named America’s fourth best burger. Serving New Mexico for six decades and now with 75 restaurants, Lotaburger’s motto is “if you are what you eat, you’re awesome.” Who can argue with that?

Lamb enchiladas with an ancho chile-peach sauce, a unique Ezra’s Place offering

Just before Fathers’ Day in June, Tim Harris was profiled in a CBS News “On the Road” segment. As the only person in America with Down’s Syndrome to own his own restaurant, Tim is the architect of the “family feel” concept behind the popular Tim’s Place. CBS cited hugs as the restaurant’s measure of success, pointing out that Tim was nearing the 19,000 hug plateau as of the program’s airing.

Starting July 1st, the Land of Enchantment enacted a law that protects chile farmers from pepper pretenders. The New Mexico Chile Advertising Act declares that chile can only be labeled New Mexico chile if it is actually grown in New Mexico soil. Nefarious producers have for years marketed charlatan chile as “Grown in New Mexico” even though it is brought in from China, India and maybe even New York City. The law prohibits vendors from claiming such products as salsa and enchilada sauce contain New Mexico chile unless the chile was actually grown in the state. Violators will be forced to stop selling chile products (and should probably be subjected to eating the faux fiery stuff).

EggStravaganza 2012, the largest fund-raiser for New Mexico’s Meals on Wheels

In July, USA Today named Giovanni’s Pizzeria the very best purveyor of pizza in the Land of Enchantment, the second time in two years Giovanni’s was accorded that honor by the daily periodical. USA Today indicated: “This is New York style thin-crust pizza crispy with a blackened spot or two and a good, yeasty taste. But being New Mexico, green chile shows up frequently as a topping.”

On July 25th, the Travel Channel aired “Best of the Road,” an hour-long program honoring small towns in the categories of best food, most beautiful, most fun, most patriotic and most friendly in a competition created by Rand McNally, USA Today and The Travel Channel. Online voting determine the finalists before each town was visited by a two-person team of judges, one team for each category. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Santa Fe was selected as the small city with the Best Food in the country. The judges were treated to some of the best Santa Fe had to offer: breakfast at Tia Sophia’s, dinner at the Coyote Cafe, pizza and beer at the Marble Brewery, margaritas at Maria’s and more.

Arepas from El Pollo Real Colombiano in Albuquerque’s International District

In July, Conde Naste Traveler, the world’s premier travel magazine, named 10 Food Trails Worth the Flight (and the Calories), ten places around the world where it’s easy to sample the local specialty. New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was one of the trails selected. A few highlights from the 66 restaurants and 100 locations that made the cut included the Buckhorn Tavern, Blake’s Lotaburger and The Owl Bar & Cafe.

A Hamburger Today, a weblog about America’s national dish, was in Albuquerque in July to sample the green chile cheeseburger at Q Burger, a Central Avenue burger restaurant previously called bRgR. The blog mentioned that “the menu features more run-of-the-mill, fancy-pants burger offerings,” such as kangaroo burgers and Wagyu beef burgers with Kaseri cheese, but it was the iconic green chile cheeseburger which the writer cited as “one of the better green chile cheeseburgers I’ve had in state.”

Carne Adovada Plate from Rey’s Place, one of my very favorite discoveries in 2012

Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque hosted its eleventh annual Breakfast Egg Stravaganza on Saturday, July 14th, 2012. The breakfast is an all-you-can-eat plethora of deliciousness that includes freshly made pancakes, build-your-own omelets, made to order waffles, a fresh fruit bar and much more. Thanks to the generosity of civic minded (and hungry) Duke City citizens more than 500 people attended the event and Meals on Wheels raised over $20,000! That is BY FAR their best year ever! Thank you, my dear readers, for supporting this most worthwhile cause.

In July, Edward Sung, a long time friend of this blog, and his lovely better half Hannah Walraven launched a delightful blog called Once Again We Have Eaten Well. Once Again…is a delightful change of pace from the mundanity of most food blogs (and food writing in general). The blog employs a novel conversational approach so entertaining and realistic, you’ll find yourself transported to the table with Edward and Hannah. It’s almost as good as being there with them.

The Not-cha-mama’s family displaying the very best gourmet pickles in New Mexico (the secret: Hatch chile)

In July, two New Mexico restaurants were recognized for providing meals with a view–incomparable views. OpenTable, an online real-time reservation site took the pulse of more than five-million restaurant reviews in which “scenic view” was highlighted and compiled a list of the top 100 restaurants with a scenic view. The two enchanting restaurants were the High Finance at the top of the Sandia Peak Tramway and Sandiago’s Mexican Grill at the Tramway’s bottom.

Taking input from its readers, Zagat published an article in August hailing “superlative out-of-town patties that might actually be worth a road trip.” The “Destination Burgers: 10 Patties Worth a Trip” included the Bobcat Bite’s legendary burger. Zagat credited the Bobcat Bite‘s “secret-recipe green chile sauce” for giving the burger its “addictive that has fans making the trek out to the joint off the Old Las Vegas Highway year after year.

Thanksgiving Turkey Sandwich from Torinos @ Home

In August, Pacific Standard asked the question “Is New Mexico Hoarding All the Good Chile, or Just Really Bad at Selling It?” Acknowledging that “Mass roasting of the smokey-yet-sweet-yet-piquant nightshade will make Albuquerque the best-smelling city in America for the rest of the summer,” the blog waxed pondered why “New Mexico’s singular crop has never earned the national fame that Maine lobsters, Idaho potatoes or Midwest sweetcorn enjoy, though anyone who tries them tends to find his or her life improved, in a minor but permanent way. Ultimately, Pacific Standard surmised that “It would appear the New Mexicans are quietly content keeping their best stuff to themselves. A test: try asking one about sopapillas.”

American Profile magazine celebrated Hatch as the ““chile capital of the world” in a flattering profile published in August. Shayne Franzoy of Hatch’s “first family of chile acknowledged that “everyone [in Hatch] eats chile at least once a day,” but it was a chile devotee from Little Rock, Arkansas who best expressed the sentiment of many New Mexicans: “It’s almost like having salt and pepper on the table.”

Pumpkin bisque with creme Fraiche at Il Piatto Italian Farmhouse Kitchen

While the Land of Enchantment has achieved international acclaim for our incomparable green chile cheeseburgers, New Mexico is not known for our sandwiches. There is no one sandwich we can point to and proclaim it our definitive sandwich. Maybe there is. In the September, 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine, an article entitled “50 States, 50 Sandwiches” listed one sandwich for every state, ostensibly the state’s very best feast between bread. At first browse, a grilled cheese sandwich may not seem especially noteworthy, but add Cheddar cheese slices, tomatoes, green chile and crunchy bacon and you’ve got something special. New Mexico’s best sandwich comes from Mucho Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe in Santa Fe.

The 2012 New Mexico State Fair, in association with the New Mexico Tourism Department and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, hosted the Green Chile Cheeseburger Centennial Challenge at the State Fair on Tuesday, September 18th. Twelve competitors vied for the honor of being named New Mexico’s very best and earning a trophy which, in an example of delicious irony, misspelled New Mexico’s official state vegetable as “chili.” Despite the sacrilege, none of the competing burgers actually served a “chili” cheeseburger, “chili” being a Texan creation. The winner of the event was BZ Rockin’ Burgers, a newcomer from Alamagordo whose “build your own burgers” are made with fresh ground chuck. “

Food Lovers’ Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Taos: The Best Restaurants,, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings

James Beard award-winning blog Serious Eats had no problem spelling “chile” correctly in a feature entitled “Snapshots from New Mexico: Obsessed With Chile.” In a sixteen photo slideshow published in October, the writer enjoyed chile rellenos at La Placita Dining Rooms, green chile enchiladas at El Pinto, a green chile omelet from Daily Grind Coffee, green chile cheese bread from the Golden Crown Panaderia, green chile with polenta and a green chile BLT from Cafe Pasqual, green chile mac and cheese from the Standard Diner, green chile apple pie from Cecilia’s Cafe, fried sopaipilla bread from El Parasol and chocolate red “chili” fudge from the Candy Lady. It wasn’t the writer who committed the spelling faux pas, but the candy maker who in 2012 gained notoriety for is selling what it calls “meth candy,” rock candy dyed blue to resemble the much-coveted blue meth made on “Breaking Bad.”

In October, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, the most prolific commenter on this blog mentioned a new culinary find he described as “the porn of pickles!!!…the enrapture of Sweet & Hot!!!” He was talking, of course, about Not Cha Mama’s gourmet pickles which are every bit as wonderful as he described them. Other readers who tried the Hatch chile-infused pickles chimed in and eventually so did Victoria Smith, the sweet lady who puts lots of love (and a little magic) in each jar of her pulchritudinous pickles. If you haven’t already tried them, make it a New Year’s resolution to do so.

Rio Rancho really knows how to celebrate diversity

October saw the launch of Food Lovers’ Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Taos: The Best Restaurants,, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings by Andrea Feucht. You’ll be well advised to keep one copy in your vehicle and one in your kitchen. That way you consult the guide to help you decide where your next meal should come from as well as consulting it for recipes Andrea charmed some of New Mexico’s best culinary minds into sharing. Andrea is one of the most tenacious food writers in the Land of Enchantment and keeps the pulse of the local dining scene.

A New Mexico institution of higher learning got a failing grade from The Daily Meal which revealed the worst college food in America in a November 15 post. The cafeteria at St. John’s College in Santa Fe didn’t endear itself to its diners by offering such culinary curiosities as vegan loaf with pineapple salsa or even by offering pizza for Sunday brunch. Despite all the wonderful New Mexican food throughout the Land of Enchantment, no New Mexico school made The Daily Meal’s 52 best colleges for food in America.

Sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and fresh ripe mango (Seasonal)

Sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and fresh ripe mango (Seasonal) from Thai Cuisine in Albuquerque

Santa Fe obtained some level of redemption in December when MSN named the Kakawa Chocolate House as one of the “ten most luxurious places in the world to drink hot chocolate.” Kakawa (an ancient Olmec word for chocolate and the cacao tree) features chocolate prepared from traditional, time-honored recipes. In the tradition of the Meso-American chocolate pioneers, most of Kakawa’s chocolate drinks are made with water. A few contain restrained amounts of milk, rice milk or almond milk. This allows the purity of cacao to shine through while preserving its healthful qualities in ways that are lost when milk is added.

In the “Headlines” segment of the December 3rd episode of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno shared a laugh with the audience over a newspaper clipping for a Rio Rancho Oktoberfest event. The clipping showed the extent to which Rio Rancho celebrates its diversity: Oktoberfest, culturally diverse version of this traditionally German celebration includes music by Norio Hayakawa, Rio Rancho’s Japanese country and western singer, 6-11 p.m. Saturday at the Italian American Association Hall.

Lunch Special at the Banana Leaf in Rio Rancho: Green Curry, Egg Roll and Steamed Rice

Lunch Special at the Banana Leaf in Rio Rancho: Green Curry, Egg Roll and Steamed Rice

In December, Santa Fe’s fabulous Geronimo was the sole New Mexico restaurant earning a much-coveted place on OpenTable’s Top 100 Best Restaurants in the U.S. More than five million diner reviews were reviewed for more than 15,000 restaurants in all 50 states. If Geronimo isn’t New Mexico’s very best restaurant, it’s on a very short list of restaurants which can lay claim to that distinction.

In December, Zagat, a guidebook America has been trusting for ratings and reviews for restaurants, nightlife, hotels and more, named its 20 Awesome Winter Foodie Destinations. The terrific twenty included such exotic locations as Tulum, Mexico; Prague, Czech Republic; Montreal, Canada; West End, Anguilla; Grand Cayman Islands and…Albuquerque, New Mexico. You thought I was going to say Santa Fe, didn’t you? The feature lauded Los Poblanos, “a historic inn and farm that’s perfect for a foodie getaway.”

Beef Tongue

Beef Tongue from Budai Gourmet Chinese

Albuquerque was also highlighted in Fodor’s Travel GuideGo List” for 2013 as one of the “25 trips to book right now.” Visitors were encouraged to visit Farina Pizzeria for “some of the best pizza you will find anywhere.” No matter when you go, Fodor’s recommends a visit to the Candy Lady for a bag of “Blue Ice” candy, the stand-in for Breaking Bad’s signature Blue Sky crystal meth.

Every year in December, Saveur magazine publishes its Saveur 100 Travel edition, a celebration of its greatest gustatory discoveries over the year. New Mexico was represented among the elite 100 by Silver City’s The Curious Kumquat. Saveur described The Kumquat’s offerings as “most far-flung modernist cuisine.” Chef Connoley incorporates elements of molecular gastronomy with locally foraged ingredients to create a menu unlike any in New Mexico…or possibly anywhere. Visiting the Curious Kumquat has been a New Years Resolution for several years now. Maybe 2013 will finally be the year in which it actually happens.

Sadly this is the fate of many restaurants

Drive through Corrales during harvest time in autumn and you’ll see roadside signs for “gourmet hay.” Historically even horses and cattle have eaten well in Corrales, however, its human inhabitants won’t eat quite as well hereafter because two of the villages restaurant gems, El Rancho de Corrales and La Casa Vieja, closed. 2012 was a tough year for New Mexico restaurants with nearly 30 restaurants reviewed on this blog closing. As much as those restaurants will be missed, we will miss T.C. Perea even more. T.C., the much beloved proprietor of Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant, passed away in July. He left a legacy of hospitality and family that touched every guest who has dined at his restaurant.

2011 was another banner year for readers of Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog who put up with more than two months of inconsistent page launches as the site was under constant attack from malicious hackers. There are now more than 4,350 reader comments on my 725 reviews. I value your comments immensely and appreciate that you thought enough of my blog this year to have voted me as one of the Duke City’s five best bloggers for 2012 in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual “best of the city” issue.

Special thanks to my friend Paul “Boomer” Lilly for the magnificent photos which grace the banner of this blog and for his annual photo of the “friends who feast” at the top of this article.

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