Fresh Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fresh Bistro on Fourth Street

Life is similar to a bus ride.
The journey begins when we board the bus.
We meet people along our way of which some are strangers, some friends and some strangers yet to be friends.”
~Chirag Tulsiani

Perhaps no mobile conveyance in the Land of Enchantment has ferried as many interesting people on as many colorful journeys as the “Road Hog,” the psychedelic bus which shuttled its passengers from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock to Llano Largo, New Mexico. The Road Hog’s 1969 arrival in Llano Largo heralded the start of the “summer of the hippie invasion” as The Taos News called it. There unwashed masses settled into a Utopian agrarian commune they called the Hog Farm. The Road Hog with its familiar duck hood ornament and Grateful Dead-style tie-dyed design became a common sight in Peñasco, my childhood home. Sadly, for want of a part nowhere to be found, the Road Hog is slowly rusting away at its home in Llano Largo.

If the Road Hog represented the counter culture and anti-American bourgeois of the 60s, the KOB TV mobile News bus represented the staid establishment. For years, the classic Fageol Twin Coach (circa 1955), emblazoned with the station’s call letters proudly reminded viewers that KOB TV was the first station across the Land of Enchantment to broadcast in color. Ultimately, more sleek and maneuverable motorized conveyances came along and the KOB TV bus became obsolete. It wound up a rusty, hollowed-out scrap heap in La Hoya, New Mexico where the time-weathered bus seemed fated to fade into oblivion. Unlike the Road Hog, however, the former News bus didn’t remain in the “island of misfit buses.”

Fresh Mobile Bistro, Forty Feet of Fine Dining Excellence

Where others saw an unused, unloved, unwashed motorized mess, Corrales Chef Jon Young and his radiant bride Melissa, saw their opportunity to become a part of the food truck revolution sweeping across the fruited plain. In 2014, they purchased the vintage bus and began the painstaking process of transforming it into a mobile food kitchen where Jon could ply his passion for creative fine dining. The renovation process required the patience of Job. Obsolete parts had to be retooled by hand. In fact, the entire refurbishment process was arduous and manual.  With Jon and Melissa working assiduously, the ugly duckling slowly began blossoming into a graceful swan. Timeworn seats gave way to swanky booths more comfortable and spacious than first class airline seats. A small, but fully functional kitchen was installed at the back of the bus. Kitchen utensils such as a spatula and spoon were converted into door handles.

Alas, sometimes bad things happen to good people. During the restoration project, Melissa was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. Healing became their focus and priority with the conversion project taking a back-burner for a while. Their dream was postponed for about a year. Today, the reservations-only luxury bus themed after the famous Orient Express is home to creative fine dining that comes from the heart of a very determined, very talented chef with a high likeability quotient. Spend just a few minutes with Jon and Melissa and you’ll find yourself rooting for them to succeed in a very tough business.

The Interior of Fresh Mobile Bistro

At an early age, the precocious chef knew he was destined to become a chef. While watching Julia Child prepare omelets on television, he complained to his mom that the revolutionary chef had stolen his idea. By age fourteen, he was slinging pizza dough in his hometown’s beloved Village Pizza. Later on, he took a job as a dishwasher at what was then New Mexico’s finest restaurant, the Casa Vieja, also in Corrales. Renowned chef Jean-Pierre Gozard started Jon at the very bottom—washing dishes. When a busboy left, Jon moved up and continued a steady ascent up the kitchen ranks. Like a sponge, he absorbed as much as he could from the fiery Gozard, acquiring classic French culinary techniques without having to attend a credentialed culinary school.

If Jon has a high likeability quotient, Melissa’s is off the charts. She is a buoyant bundle of energy with smiling eyes. Gracious and kind, she’s the restaurant’s hostess, operations manager and ambassador. A native New Mexican like Jon, Melissa has an entrepreneurial background. She keeps things moving efficiently and steadily with an attention to detail which ensures a smooth operation.  Moreover, she’s got a smile and a kind word for every guest.  Her sweet sister, also an ebullient whirling dervish, was our server during our inaugural visit.  She took very good care of us.

Chef Jon Young

Fresh Bistro, not to be confused with its mobile sibling Fresh Mobile Bistro, is located on Fourth Street in the converted home which previously housed Desert Grows.  Several small and smartly appointed dining rooms evoke a homey feeling.  Modern impressionist portraits festoon the walls while fresh flowers adorn the tables.  Towering deciduous trees and yawning umbrellas shield guests from New Mexico’s dazzling (Hi Deanell) sun in a capacious patio where our dachshund The Dude (he abides) enjoyed the rapt attention of other guests.  A lone troubadour regaled us with easy listing and folk tunes.

Fresh Bistro, the brick-and-mortar restaurant, is actually a spin-off of Fresh Mobile Bistro, the bus, which is parked behind the restaurant.  The full-service restaurant actually spawned because of the popularity of the mobile kitchen.  It was only natural that Chef Young would need a more expansive canvas for his edible art.  Before launching their traditional sit-down restaurant, the Youngs operated much as other mobile food kitchens, albeit one in which diners were embraced by quiet luxury evocative of a small Parisian cafe.  Ironically the mobile Bistro parked often at La Casa Vieja where the chef learned to master French culinary techniques.

Your Hostess Melissa Young

Whether you dine in the restaurant, on the patio or on the bus, you can be assured of a meal prepared from scratch by a very passionate chef who thrives on creating memorable meals that are as much a delight to the eye as they are to taste.  Reservations are required to dine on the bus where you’ll be transported to a timeless and rare elegance and indulgence with seasonal menus that will take you on a gastro-tour of taste.  Jon lovingly prepares each dish to order, imparting sage tidbits along the way.  Chef Young describes very clearly and accurately just where your taste buds will discern various elements of your meal.  Just as he predicted, his barbecue sauce–emboldened with Chimayo chile–imparts a nice heat about four seconds after you’ve tasted it.   The mobile bistro offers six-  and ten-course dinners, all served at an old-world pace to allow guests to fully appreciate each course.

Fresh isn’t solely the name on the marquee.  It’s an operational model and a philosophy.  The Youngs source as many ingredients from local growers so that most of what their guests enjoy is local, in season and, of course, fresh.  Structurally, the menu is similar to the menus at other bistros with appetizers, salads, soups, pastas, entrees and desserts.  Where you’ll notice the differences is in reading the vivid descriptions of each item–tantalizing descriptions punctuated with cooking techniques and premium ingredients.  It’s practically an invitation to drool.

Lavender French Toast

Coincidentally, our inaugural visit (on a Saturday when brunch is featured fare until two o’clock ) was on the day the village of Los Ranchos was celebrating its annual lavender festival. Lavender is a rarity among flowering plants in that it goes as well with savory dishes as it does decadent desserts. It has a penetrating floral and spicy aroma with a flavor profile similar to rosemary and thyme. It’s got a residual bitterness that’s overridden by its flavor and aromatic bouquet. To some, it tastes like soap (the same thing is often said about cilantro). To others, lavender can do no wrong. We were determined to enjoy this versatile, fresh, floral, clean flower in as many dishes as we could find.

French toast are described on the menu as “sourdough bread topped with sweetened mascarpone cheese topped with your choice of fruit and powdered sugar” with fruit choices being bananas, peaches and strawberries. When our savvy server suggested lavender, we jumped at the opportunity. Syrup need not apply for a place on these four golden slices of eggy bread flecked with lavender. Sweetened mascarpone made them sweet enough with the lavender often making its presence felt in tempering any residual sweetness. In the spectrum of sweet that runs from mild to cloying, these French toast were…just right.

Monte Cristo Sandwich with Salad

Similar to French toast, the bistro’s Monte Cristo is lightly dipped in egg batter then grilled. This beauteous sandwich is constructed on sourdough bread and filled with ham and Gruyere cheese. It’s topped with a cherry-brandy reduction. More commonly, a Monte Cristo is topped with a small amount of powdered sugar and traditionally served with a ramekin of raspberry or strawberry jam you can apply yourself. There’s nothing common about this sandwich. The cherry-brandy reduction is a superb complement to the savory elements of the sandwich, working with them instead of overpowering them with sweet notes. Both the rich, nutty Gruyere and the salty ham worked well, too.

It’s a rarity in Albuquerque to find a brunch menu without any number of dishes showcasing the Land of Enchantment’s addictive red or green chile. On Fresh’s brunch menu there are only two. One is eggs Benedict served with carne adovada. The other is a dish created by the inventive chef. It’s called a Frenchilada and it’s a sort of New Mexico meets France featuring layers of crepes filled with chicken breast, green chile, mushrooms and roasted garlic cream sauce with an egg on top. This is a magnificent dish! Chef Young doesn’t shy away from piquant chile and he doesn’t use it sparingly. The foil to the chile’s heat is the mushroom’s earthiness. You’ll want to lick your plate to ensure you don’t leave behind any of the roasted garlic cream sauce.

Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas

Perhaps the piece de resistance of our meal was Chef Young’s lavender bread pudding. It may not be on Larry McGoldrick’s Bread Pudding Hall of Fame, but that’s only because the professor with the perspicacious palate hasn’t yet had it. This is a superb bread pudding, the antithesis of so many cloying versions of a dish whose genesis has been traced back to 13th century England. Sure it’s sweet, but not nearly overly so. It’s light, delicate and spongy, topped with whipped cream and surrounded by a pool of sweet, creamy sauce. The lavender has its desired effect of introducing the elements of flowery freshness to a bread pudding which would have been wonderful without it, but becomes transformative with it.

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp describes his inaugural experience at Fresh (The Mobile Bistro) as “probably my favorite find in Albuquerque over the last year.” Larry McGoldrick tells us on his Yelp review that “Jon is a wizard in the kitchen. He has a passion for good, fresh, excellently prepared food, and that’s precisely what you’ll get here.” If you need further proof that the Fresh Bistro and its mobile sibling are a not-to-be-missed dining destination, read the Yelp reviews. Yelp critics tend to be a tougher crowd than I am and they give Fresh Bistro four-and-a-half stars. It’s a perfect ten in my book.

Lavender Bread Pudding

Fresh Bistro and its mobile sibling may be the culmination of the dreams of a very talented chef and his beautiful bride, but it’s a good bet you may find yourself dreaming about your next meal there.

Fresh Bistro
7319 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)
985-8449
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lavender Bread Pudding, Lavender French Toast, Monte Cristo, Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas

Fresh Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thai Boran – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Boran at Village @ La Orilla on Albuquerque’s West Side

Many of us with a puerile sense of humor can probably recall giggling like silly school kids the first time we visited a Thai restaurant and perused a menu.  We went straight into the gutter the first time we came across such foods as phat prik and fuktong curry.  Even after learning that “phat prik” is actually a stir-fried chili dish and “fuktong curry” is a pumpkin curry, the sophomoric among us couldn’t order these dishes with a straight face.  It gets even worse when we actually learned how to pronounce the names of Thai dishes.  Not even Bob Newhart could order “cow pod guy” (chicken fried rice) or “cow pod moo” (pork fried rice) with his usual deadpan delivery.  That’s probably why so many of us will place our order by number instead of endeavoring to pronounce words we find a bit salacious or humorous. 

Let’s face it, denizens of the fruited plain tend to find the names of some Thai dishes humorous because the way they’re spelled or pronounced is similar to English sexual references or swear words.  Perhaps that’s why Thai restaurateurs tend to use clever word play, typically puns,  to name their eateries.  Instead of christening an eatery for an honored grandmother or treasured daughter whose name is “Porn,” it’s less offensive (or funny) to name a restaurant something like “Thai Tanic,” “Thairanosaurus” or “Thai and Stop Me.”  Instead of naming a restaurant for a beloved son named Poo, wouldn’t it be more inviting to name a restaurant something like “Eye of the Thai-ger” or “Beau Thai?”

Interior of Thai Boran. Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick, the Professor With the Perspicacious Palate

Indulge me for one more paragraph of pithy covfefes.  Song titles and lyrics in particular seem to lend themselves to clever wordplay using Thai names.  From the Beatles, you’ve got “All You Need is Larb” and “Can’t Buy Me Larb.”   Who can every forget Andy Williams’ immortal “Thai to Remember?”  Or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing “Big Girls Don’t Thai?”  Then there’s Hank Williams “I’m So Lonesome I could Thai.”  How about The Temptations “Curry Tomorrow?”  Okay, by now you’re probably thinking “that (Thai word for chili) is probably going to hell for his politically incorrectness.”  What’s the point anyway?

My point is Thai restaurant in the Duke City tend to have rather boring and straight-forward names: Thai Curry, Thai Heritage, Thai, Orchid Thai, Pad Thai, Thai Kitchen, Thai Tip.   Zzz!  The most cleverly named Thai restaurant in town is probably “Hot Pink Thai” and even that’s pretty parochial.  Give me a “Thai Me Up,” “Been There, Thai’d That” or “Tongue Thai’d” anytime.  My friend Schuyler is no doubt paraphrasing a Winston cigarette commercial of the 1970s, “what do you want good punnery or good taste?”  My retort is why can’t we have both?

Thai Toast

Upon learning of a new Thai restaurant launching at Village @ La Orilla, we dared hope a clever pun would grace its marquee.  Alas, the name “Thai Boran” may as well be “Thai Boring” to the punsters among us.  At least I had to look up “Boran” to learn it translates from Thai to “old, ancient or historic.”  Thai Boran is owned by restaurant impresario Kathy Punya, a native of Thailand who’s amassed quite a portfolio of restaurants, among them five Sushi Kings, Crazy Fish, Noodle King and Asian Street Food.   It’s located next door to Albuquerque’s first cinema eatery, the not-so-cleverly-named Flix.

Thai Boran is somewhat on the small side and contrary to any notion of “Thai Boring” I may have had, it’s got a very exciting menu featuring some items heretofore unavailable in the Duke City.  Among the eight uncommon to Albuquerque appetizers are Mee Krob, Sheldon Cooper’s favorite Thai dish and Thai toast.  There are six salads on the menu along with five soups.  Five one-of-a-kind specialty dishes adorn the Chef’s Collection section of the menu.  These include a Thai Boran Beef Steak, grilled and sliced marinated beef steak served with a spicy tomato sauce. Other sections of the menu are dedicated to curry, rice, pan-fried noodles, noodle soups and entrees.  All total there are 53 items on the menu.

Duck Curry

Sometime around 2010, toast become the latest artisanal food craze.  Yes, toast, the most popular of which is probably avocado toast (available at Cafe Bella in Rio Rancho).   The Washington Post believes in fact that “avocado toast has come to define what makes food trends this decade: It’s healthy and yet ever-so-slightly indulgent.”  Thai Toast may be Thailand’s answer to avocado toast, all indications being it’s a relatively new dish.  It’s certainly not a dish you find in other Thai restaurants across the Duke City.  Four small slices sans crust of egg-dipped white bread topped with ground pork, green onions, then deep fried are served with a cucumber salad.  At the very least, it’s a very interesting dish–not as good as other Thai appetizers, but good enough to try more than once. 

The curry section of the menu includes three curry dishes not all that common in Albuquerque: eggplant curry, pineapple curry and duck curry.  Duck curry (red curry, cherry tomato, grapes, bell pepper, basil, and coconut milk) has been among my very favorite curry dishes since first enjoying it at the transformative Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Thai Boran’s version is quite good showcasing tender slices of slow-cooked duck breast with enough fat for rich, unctuous flavor.  The combination of acidic cherry tomatoes and sweet grapes is especially intriguing, but what brings it all together is a rich red curry prepared at Thai hot (not for the faint of heart).  This dish is served with your choice of steamed Jasmine rice or brown rice. 

There aren’t many Thai restaurants in Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side.  Thai Boran is within a mile or so of Thai Cuisine, a long-time favorite.  Boring names not withstanding, both are among the city’s very best restaurants for Thai cuisine.

Thai Boran
3236 La Orilla Road, N.W., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2244
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING:  N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Duck Curry, Thai Toast

Thai Boran Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato