Seared – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Seared on San Pasqual in Albuquerque’s Old Town

While you might not be able to judge a book by its cover, sometimes a book title will resonate deeply and you know you’re going to enjoy reading it very much. That’s especially true when a book title warmly reminds you of nostalgic memories long buried in your past. Such was the case when I espied Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood by award-winning raconteur Regi Carpenter. That title aptly described daily life for the long suffering Peraltas, our childhood neighbors in Peñasco. Mama Peralta, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, was such a scatterbrained cook that she used the smoke alarm as a timer. She didn’t sear meat, she cremated it. Even the cockroaches at the Peralta home ate out. So did her children who had more meals at our kitchen table than they did at home.

“Wait,” you ask, “isn’t searing a technique practiced by great chefs?” In the hands of the right person, searing is indeed a culinary technique used to build deep savory flavors. Searing meats, chicken, fish and other proteins at high heat caramelizes their surfaces, imparting a deep-brown crust, especially on thick cuts. Searing crisps the skin on fish and imbues pork chops and other animal proteins a deep layer of flavor in a short amount of time. Alas, Mama Peralta’s idea of searing meat involved heat that was much too low (which allowed her to focus on the marathon phone call sessions in which she engaged at around meal prep time). As a result, the inside of the meat cooked at the same rate as the outside, resulting in very little browning, a zombie-gray pallor, ”carne seca” texture and a perpetually disappointed (and hungry) family.

The Dining Room at Seared

For entirely different reasons, a visit to Seared, a high-end American bistro on San Pasquale Avenue in Albuquerque’s Old Town, also reminded me of our deliciousness-deprived neighbors. At Seared we experienced the type of deliciousness our neighbors never enjoyed when Mama Peralta practiced her unique brand of meat mummification and her family prayed after they ate. Perhaps divine intervention would have occurred had the Peraltas lived on a street named for the patron saint of cooks and kitchens. Then again, Mama Peralto often used the San Pasqual retablo hanging on her kitchen wall as a place to drape dish towels (we could never understand why she needed dish towels when all meals she prepared were served on paper plates).

Seared is located on southwest side of the weirdly confusing, labryinthic Old Town intersection in which Lomas Boulevard meets Central Avenue and San Pasquale crosses both. Getting there is a challenge, but your patience will be rewarded—just as it was more than a decade ago when Jennifer James–then a relative newcomer to the Duke City–plied her craft at the then occupant, Chef DuJour. More recently, the “plain Jane” edifice has been the home of Cheese & Coffee, a popular purveyor of specialty sandwiches, made-from-scratch soups and crisp, fresh salads. Habitues of Cheese & Coffee can still get their favorite sandwiches at the tried, true and trusted San Pasquale location. They just won’t be able to get them after 3PM.

Fried Asparagus with Green Chile Ranch Dressing

Since late-August, 2017, at precisely 3PM, the 2,100-square-foot space begins its daily transformation from simple sandwich shop to Seared, an upscale American bistro “with a French and Italian twist.” The metamorphosis takes an hour during which white linen tablecloths are draped over dining room tables, silverware is laid out meticulously, moveable walls are rearranged and even the art is changed out. The art, by the way, includes colorful portraits of some of your favorite characters from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Signage is also changed out, a relatively easy feat considering there’s no flashy neon or LED involved.

Seared is the brainchild of Jan Barringer-Tenchipe and her husband and business partner Alejandro. Jan has owned the San Pasquale location of Cheese & Coffee for seven years, but with the notorious Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project having proven deleterious to business, she decided to offer Duke City diners another reason to visit the beleaguered Old Town area. Besides that, she and Alejandro had wanted to work together for a while. Seared aptly describes Alejandro’s cooking style, a style he honed in upscale and fine-dining restaurants throughout the city. During our inaugural visit, both Jan and Alejandro checked up on us several times. Their hospitality and commitment to great food and impeccable service is genuine and one of many reasons we’ll be back.

Salmon Crudo

Another reason, of course, is the menu, a compelling bill-of-fare that defies ordering quickly. You’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to order. Everything listed is appealing. Should you visit on Sunday for brunch, you’ll have two equally enticing menus from which to choose–an intriguing brunch menu and the sumptuous daily menu.  We opted for the daily menu, reasoning that we now have an excuse to return on a lazy, brunchy Sunday afternoon.  Another excuse, not that one is needed, is a pleasant dog-friendly patio with plenty of shade behind the restaurant.  You’ll want to peruse the herb garden where such fresh ameliorants as rosemary, basil, parsley and more can be found.

What surprised us most about the menu is how relatively inexpensive each entree is considering the generous portion size and quality of preparation.  This is fine-dining at near cheap-eats prices.  The appetizer menu ranges from salmon crudo to encrusted brie and a cheese platter offering a diversity of local and imported fromage.  The soup and salad menu includes one of the best described chopped salads we’ve seen on any menu.  If it tastes as good as it reads, it’ll be a hit among Duke City diners.  Entrees showcase all your favorite proteins: pork, beef, chicken and fish.  There’s also a vegetarian entree which just might convert some of us carnivores.

French-Cut Pork Chop

17 September 2017: It took us nearly ten minutes to decide which appetizer to request. Our choice, the fried asparagus served with a green chile ranch is a winner.  Lightly coated in a tempura batter, the half-dozen asparagus spears are firm and crisp with none of the stringiness you find in poorly fried asparagus (Mama Peralta).  Though addictive on their own, the housemade green chile ranch dressing elevates the fried asparagus to the “must have” appetizer level.  The green chile ranch isn’t as piquant as the one now offered at Dion’s, but it, too, is so good it should be bottled and sold.  Seeing a generous portion of the green chile ranch remaining after we had polished off the asparagus made it easy to decide what dressing would be gracing the salad accompanying my entree.  The salad, an old-fashioned dinner salad with fresh, crisp greens, croutons, cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots is terrific. 

28 January 2018: In Japan, until some three decades ago salmon was eaten only cooked or grilled.  That meant no salmon sashimi, salmon sushi or salmon crudo.  Wait, aren’t salmon sashimi and salmon crudo the same thing?  Both involve mastering the art of raw fish, but that’s where the similarities stop.  Sashimi is about appreciating the purity of masterfully sliced fish while crudo, an Italian term, is very ingredient-driven.  Seared’s appetizer menu includes a salmon crudo (citrus-cured salmon, pickled onions, carrot salad, wasabi aioli and soy ginger sauce) dish that’s not only beautiful, but is constructed from ingredients which work so very well together.  The mild-flavored, pink-fleshed salmon is neither too rich or oily and it sings neath the wasabi aioli and soy ginger sauce.  It’s meant to be eaten with the carrot salad which is garden-fresh and lively under the same saucy influences.  Together this starter is a great way to start a meal at Seared.

House Cut Loin Steak

17 September 2017: Often when unable to choose from two equally evocative entrees, I ask our server to surprise me, always assuring him or her that either choice will make me happy.  The slow-braised French-cut pork chop made me very happy indeed.   As with proteins which are “Frenched,” the meat is cut away from the end of the chop so that part of the bone is exposed, essentially giving it a built-in “handle” which makes it easy to pick up and eat.  Another portion of the pork chop is roughly six-ounces of artfully prepared, absolutely delicious porcine perfection.  The chop is positioned atop a creamy, delectable grain mustard sauce that’s been tempered a bit so as not to obfuscate the delicate flavor of the pork.   The chop is served with a mound of rich potatoes au gratin and a fennel apple salad that rings with freshness. This chop competes with the bone-in pork chop at Mykonos Cafe for “best in town” honors.

17 September 2017: My Kim’s house cut loin steak proved equally formidable, reminding us of the many times we enjoyed loin steak in England.  Though usually basted with chimichurri sauce, Kim asked that it be served on the side.  No sauce was needed.  Sliced thinly into medium-rare visions of pink pulchritude, the loin steak was fulsome and flavorful with a rich beefy flavor.  The herbaceous notes imparted by the chimichurri appealed to me, but my Kim is much more a purist than I when it comes to the flavor of beef.  Accompaniment for this terrific steak came in the form of roasted red potatoes and calabasitas (a substitute for broccolini).  Both are equal to the task of sharing space on a plate with that magnificent loin steak. 

Grand Slam Chicken

28 January 2018: When used in the context of  food, the term “grand slam” may inadvertently trigger thoughts of Denny’s grand slam breakfasts, a pick your favorite four-item array of breakfast favorites.  Visit Seared for Sunday brunch and you’ll never again associate grand slam with Denny’s.  Seared’s Grand Slam Chicken (thick chicken fried chicken nestled in two fluffy, homemade buttermilk biscuits along with a molten blanket of Cheddar, crispy sliced bacon all topped country sausage gravy) will forever be your favorite grand slam breakfast.  This sumptuous sandwich reminds your humble blogger of the Charleston Nasty Breakfast from the Hominy Grill in South Carolina and if you read my review, you’ll see just how highly I think of that sandwich.  Served alongside the grand slam chicken are some of the best roasted red potatoes in town.  Not only are they perfectly roasted, they’re flecked with rosemary which imparts invigorating freshness.

28 January 2018: When Chef Alejandro ferried the Filet De Boeuf (an eight-ounces of local, grass-fed beef, roasted red skin potatoes and red onions, asparagus, red wine demi-glaze reduction and roasted garlic butter)  destined for my Kim’s side of our table, I almost reached up to intercept it.  The Chef’s mastery of meats and complementary sauces is in rarefied air.   An artistic stacked food plate on a white background is how professionals do it, but a pretty meal doesn’t always translate to a delicious one.  This one is both beautiful and delicious.  Prepared at medium-rare, the filet is tender, juicy and tasty as well as devoid of any extraneous fat and sinew.  The red wine demi-glaze is superb, so good you’ll be tempted to lick the plate so as not to leave any.  The roasted red skin potatoes  and red onions are worthy accompaniment as are the asparagus spears.  This is the most expensive item on the menu, but it’s well worth the price.

Filet De Boeuf

17 September 2017: Jan is the baker in the family though Alejandro wishes she prepared her German Chocolate Cake more often at home.  It’s simply the best German chocolate cake I’ve ever had at any restaurant, equal to the version made by my not-at-all Teutonic mom.  One of the things we appreciated in this cake is that it is served at room temperature, not obviously thawed to order.  The coconut-pecan frosting is slathered on generously, but not so much that it overwhelms the delicate chocolate cake itself.  Another surprise we enjoyed is the sweet-tart raspberry jam spread atop the frosting.  It’s goodness on top of goodness.  The portion size is very lavish.  Call it a sizeable slab of sumptuousness.

17 September 2017: For my Kim, the perusal of a dessert menu stops and ends when she espies sorbet.  Her excitement is in triplicate when a sorbet trio is available.  Seared’s sorbet trio features three of her favorites: mango, lemon and raspberry.  All three flavors are fresh, lively and delicious with the icy coolness you appreciate most when temperatures are unseasonably warm.

German Chocolate Cake

Seared is one of the very best reasons to make your way to the Downtown area.  Jan and Alejandro aim to please and their aim is certainly true. 

Seared
119 San Pasqual, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 999-8414
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 January 2018
1st VISIT: 17 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Fried Asparagus, French-Cut Pork Chop, House Cut Loin Steak, German Chocolate Cake, Sorbet Trio, Filet De Boeuf, Grand Slam Chicken, Salmon Crudo
REVIEW #999

Seared Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Agave – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Rio Rancho’s Lujan Plaza

“Why, this here sauce is made in New York City!”
“New York City? Git a rope!”

No matter how broad-minded we may perceive ourselves to be, most of us are burdened by covert biases and prejudices that reveal themselves at inopportune times.  One of mine was divulged during my inaugural visit to El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Rio Rancho.  After being greeted warmly by effusive hostess Lilly Venegas (who could not possibly have been nicer), I began my usual “twenty questions” routine to learn everything I could about the restaurant.  Beaming with pride, she told me her brother-in-law had owned and operated two Mexican restaurants for more than twenty years in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

North Carolina!  North Carolina!  My mind raced to the circa 1980s Pace Picante Sauce commercial in which several hungry cowboys threatened to string up the cook for serving a “foreign” salsa (translation: not made in Texas).  To be fair, my ridiculous notion that good Mexican food couldn’t possibly be prepared in North Carolina was based on having lived and traveled in the Deep South for eight years.  During those octennial years of Mexican food deprivation, we found only one restaurant in Dixie which served good Mexican food.  We didn’t find any good Mexican food in New Orleans, Atlanta or Nashville.  We should have visited Raleigh!

Chipotle Salsa and Chips, both Housemade

For nearly two decades, Hector Venegas and his family owned and operated Los Tres Magueyes, winning over Raleigh with their delightful array of authentic Mexican dishes.  The Venegas family didn’t “dumb” down their Mexican food as so many restaurants in the Deep South tended to do when we dwelled in Dixie.  Confident that the more savvy citizenry of New Mexico would love the authenticity and deliciousness of their fare, they left the menu completely intact–even retaining the leather-bound menu cover emblazoned with the name of their restaurants in North Carolina.

As in Raleigh, the Venegas family owns and operates two Mexican restaurants.  Both are christened El Agave.  The original operates in Santa Fe in the famous Burro Alley.  It’s been pleasing palates since 2015 and is owned by elder scion Hector Vinegas.  His brother Carlos and lovely bride Lilly launched the second instantiation of El Agave in Rio Rancho in October, 2017.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver was there three days later and loved it.  He was confident I would, too.

Left: Mole Ranchero | Right: Camarones A La Crema

If you haven’t seen El Agave during your travels through the City of Vision, it’s probably because its storefront doesn’t face heavily trafficked Rio Rancho Boulevard. Instead, it’s set back on the northeast corner of the timeworn Lujan Plaza shopping center which also houses Namaste and Stack House Barbecue. The same obfuscated corner where El Agave is situated was once home to such short-lived eateries as immediate predecessor El Maguey in addition to Ahh Sushi, Relish (although the original in Albuquerque remains a city favorite), Pastrami & Things and other restaurants. It’s a tough location in which to succeed.

Carlos and Lilly are in it for the long haul.  They recognize the challenges of operating a restaurant just a bit off the well beaten-and-eaten path.  Moreover, they realize they have to cultivate customer loyalty one guest at a time, that they have to prove themselves with every  single dish they prepare and serve.  With a menu featuring virtually every familiar Mexican dish as well as some unique specialties, El Agave has a great chance to succeed.  All it needs is to be discovered.  Visit once and it’s a certainty you’ll return time and again.

Refried Beans and Spanish Rice with Corn Tortillas

As you peruse the menu, Lilly will ferry over a basket of chips and plastic molcajete of salsa to your table.  Both are made on the premises first thing in the morning as are the terrific corn tortillas accompanying many entrees.  The chips and salsa are first rate, among the very best in the metro.  What distinguishes this salsa from so many others is that it’s made with chipotles, the smoky dried jalapeño.  With a depth of flavor and kick of piquancy, this salsa is addictive–and it’s as good as the exemplar chipotle-based salsa served at the Plaza Cafe South Side in Santa Fe. To think Raleigh had such a delightful salsa before Rio Rancho did gave me hope the rest of the menu would deliver, too.

Unable to decide between the Mole Ranchero and Camarones A La Crema, I asked Lilly to surprise me.  The surprise was the Carlos was willing to prepare a half portion of both.  Now that’s the type of service that cultivates loyalty.  This pleasurable combination was served with refried beans topped with melted white cheese, Spanish rice and four hot corn tortillas.   The Mole Ranchero, reputedly one of the easiest moles to prepare (though still very complex) with fewer ingredients than other moles, was a delicious and pleasant surprise in that it wasn’t overly sweet as some mole tends to be.  That mole covered a moist, tender sliced chicken breast. 

Even better than the Mole Ranchero was the Camarones A La Crema (grilled shrimp topped with a savory cream sauce concocted from chipotles, sour cream and spices).  The grilled shrimp had a snap of freshness with a delicate flavor tinged with the smokiness of the grilling process.  It’s a perfect foil for the rich cream sauce with its faint smokiness and sour-savory notes.  You’ll be grateful for the steamy corn tortillas with which you’ll sop up every bit of that delicious sauce. 

If like me, your initial inclination is to dismiss a Mexican food restaurant that came from North Carolina, El Agave will quickly change your mind.  It’s a very good, very authentic and absolutely delightful little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that’s as Mexican as a Mexican restaurant can be.

El Agave Mexican Restaurant
1520 Deborah Road
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-8006
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
BEST BET: Camarones A La Crema, Horchata, Chipotle Salsa and Chips, Mole Ranchero
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1022

El Agave Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fire Grill on Osuna

The book of Genesis in the Old Testament explains that after the great flood, God commanded humankind to “increase in number and fill the Earth” (be fruitful and multiply, if you prefer). Instead, humanity decided to do the exact opposite–to build a city with a tower reaching to the heavens where all the population could live so as not to be scattered over the face of the Earth. In response, God “confused” the languages of humanity so they could no longer communicate with each other. As a result, people who spoke the same languages departed and settled other parts of the world…just as God wanted.

You might assume that those of us who served in the armed forces would all share a common lexicon.  Sure, we have a common military alphabet (alpha, bravo, Charlie, etc.) and subscribe to military time (about which Colonel Henry Blake lamented on the television comedy MASH “I wish the Army would tell time like everybody else!”).  Alas, like the gibberish-speaking people of the Tower of Babel, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all have their own jargon. We don’t always understand what our comrades in arms are talking about. That’s especially true among the Air Force veterans among us who “flew a desk.”

Imported Meats, Cheeses, Olives and Almonds Basket

When my friend Jack, a retired Army grunt (an Army and Marine Corps acronym which stands for “General Replaceable Untrained”), recently told me about “pop smoke,” I immediately assumed he was using an Army term this desk pilot doesn’t understand. The term was made doubly confusing because he used it in the context of describing beer and grilling, which I immediately suspected was another Army term. As it turns out “pop smoke” is indeed an Army term. It’s used to describe when troops use smoke to signal an incoming helicopter. Beer and grilling, on the other hand, has no Army connotation other than some of my retired Army friends consume both in mass quantities.

Jack’s association of pop smoke with beer and grilling has nothing to do with his nostalgia for the good old Army days. He was trying to tell me about a recently launched (December, 2017) wood-fired grill and draft house called Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill. Devon is the name of owner Jeremy Dow’s year-old son. Pop Smoke, as you might have surmised, is a reference to the Army term, but more in a peacetime connotation than when used in under hostile conditions. When not under fire, the term “pop smoke” means “let’s get out of here and grab a beer” or “let’s go somewhere to relax.” What do you know? All my years in the Air Force I was popping smoke and didn’t even know it.

Spicy Wild Game Gumbo

The curiously named Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill is located in a suite within a former 28,000 square-foot warehouse-office space on Osuna immediately west of Monroe’s. That entire space is being retrofitted into a lifestyle and restaurant development property. Already such tenants as Breve Coffee and Crepes have moved in with several other eateries slated to open their doors soon. A capacious, dog-friendly patio prefaces the south-facing entry. Step inside and the siren’s call of a wood-fired grill will envelop you. The best seat in the house, in fact, just may be in front of the grill where you can watch the kitchen staff master the flames to concoct something delicious. Alternatively, you can sit in a larger dining room or relax in the upstairs lounge.

Devon’s menu is rather small, but very interesting with some offerings unique to the Duke City. Your eyes will probably gravitate to the red wattle sandwiches on the menu (more on these later). Red wattle hogs are large, red swine with a fleshy, decorative, wattle attached to each side of their necks. These hogs are raised at the Dow family ranch in Chilili and are butchered in-house at Devon’s. The menu also includes some wild game entrees including albondigas with elk, venison and boar. A bevy of adult beverages is available to slake your thirst, but if you have yet to reach adultery, Rocky Mountain sodas (brewed in small batches with love) out of Denver are a very nice option.

Red Wattle Pork Sandwich with Porcini Fries

Devon’s is a rarity among restaurants throughout New Mexico in that it doesn’t offer an appetizer of chips and salsa.  The closest thing to a salsa is a housemade romesco sauce our server called “Spanish ketchup.”  If you’re craving a starter sans sauce, you can’t go wrong with Devon’s imported meats, cheeses, olives and almonds basket (Brie, smoked Gouda, sopressata, wine and lavender roasted olives, rosemary and sea salt roasted almonds, crostini).  The almonds are of the Spanish Marcona variety, a sweeter, plumper almond than most.  The olives are Italian as is the sopressata, a dry salami.  Turophiles will love the textural and flavor contrasts between the smoked Gouda and Brie.  This basket is a winner.

An entree sure to comfort Duke City diners on blustery days is Devon’s spicy wild game gumbo (elk, venison, boar and red wattle with rice and beer bread) made with La Cumbre’s Noche and Bosque’s lager.  For my Kim, this gumbo didn’t have enough file powder (a seasoning made from the ground, dried leaves of the sassafras tree), but in my estimation, the spiciness more than made up for it.  This gumbo has more heat that many bowls of chile served throughout the Duke City.  The elk, venison, boar and red wattle are plentiful and each has a own unique texture and flavor profile (I say this because of past experiences with wild game meats that all tasted the same).

My Kim ordered one of the two sandwiches on the menu in which red wattle pork was the featured protein.  Her red wattle pork sandwich and fries (sliced red wattle pork with grilled pineapple and caramelized onions) entree actually turned out to be two sandwiches.  More specifically, two slider-sized sandwiches.  Though having the circumference of a slider, each sandwich included a skyscraper tall portion of shredded pork with a generous toss of caramelized onions and grilled pineapple.  Devon’s gives you three French fry options from which to choose: garlic fries, salt fries or porcini fries. 

You might not remember the full name of Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill, but you’ll probably find yourself popping smoke to get there. Say “hi” to Jack if you see him there. He likes it so much, he plans on moving in.

Devon’s Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill
6001 Osuna, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-2829
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Red Wattle Pork Sandwich; Porcini Fries; Spicy Wild Game Gumbo; Imported Meats, Cheeses, Olives and Almonds Basket
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1021

Devon's Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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