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Cool Water Fusion Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Cool Water Fusion Restaurant in the Wyoming Mall Shopping Center

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

The Sons of the Pioneers

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

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

The interior of Cool Water Fusion Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cioppino

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

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

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

Bread pudding a la mode with caramel

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

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

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

Cobbler of the day a la mode

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

Cool Water Fusion Restaurant
2010 Wyoming, N.E., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 332-COOL (2665)
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 26 June 2011
1st VISIT: December 30, 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Red Chile Braised Pork, Cajun Chicken Sandwich, Cuban Sandwich, Cobbler of the Day, Bread Pudding, Blue Corn Crusted Onion Rings, Cioppino, Blue Corn Crusted Fried Chicken

Cool Water Fusion on Urbanspoon

  • Larry McGoldrick says:

    Did I hear Bread Pudding?

    I’ll check it out as soon as I can get there.

    BTW, last night while enjoying a fantastic New Year’s Eve dinner, I told Peter Martin, the owner of the new (and fabulous) Desert Fish in Nob, that he needs to add BP to an otherwise excellent menu. I *think* he agreed.

    January 1, 2011 at 4:45 PM
  • JDub says:

    Hate to make a correction on culinary origins on an otherwise wonderful review, but regarding the “blue corn crusted onion rings served with green chile ranch dipping sauce”, the more correct attribution would be: blue corn and green chile (Native American), Onions (Asia/Middle East), buttermilk or sour cream bovine diary component (European), and perhaps mayonnaise, which, interestingly, is likely Spanish in origin, not French.

    January 1, 2011 at 7:10 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      I stand corrected and thank you for the excellent culinary history. My reference, however, was about onion rings and not to onions themselves. The great etymologist Barry Popik was my source for the origin of onion rings themselves. He credits Fannie M. Farmer with publishing a recipe for onion rings in 1908. I absolutely concede that Native Americans were using green chile far in advance of the Spanish.

      January 1, 2011 at 10:29 PM
  • rpl says:

    I won’t make a culinary comment until I have eaten at the restaurant (which sounds interesting), but as far as musical history goes, the song Cool Water was written by Bob Nolan in 1936, and recorded by the group Sons of the Pioneers at least as early as 1941. I don’t doubt that Marty Robbins covered it, but the song should not be attributed to him. It will always be a Sons of the Pioneers standard, one of their best.

    January 1, 2011 at 10:55 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      The song “Cool Water” was indeed first recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers. It’s been recorded a number of times (by such notable artists as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell and The Muppets). The attribution was not intended as a credit for first having recorded the song. Marty Robbins’ version is my favorite so consider my mis-attribution (mal-attribution?) a bit of license on my part. My update gives credit where credit is due.

      January 2, 2011 at 1:35 AM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Ok Pardnahz…let’s git that leg up n ovah and git a hitch in yer git-a-longs
    http://tinyurl.com/23njq6w You go Marty

    For others who like something more “forceful”, you rock Frankie
    http://tinyurl.com/28ar6en

    And fer those of yaz who hanker fer pure New Mexican…at least Galisteo transplants like Burl http://tinyurl.com/yl9n2ps

    Me? I lift yaz a a Coooool, Green Margarita!!!! Yipee Ki Yi Yeah!!!

    January 2, 2011 at 7:55 PM
  • rpl says:

    I have been unable to make a visit to this restaurant during dinner hours (scheduling conflict with family work schedule and they close early at 8 PM), but my wife and I were there Sunday for brunch and had their french toast. The waitress told us it was made from the same bread as is their bread pudding. It was a delicious brunch and the bread for the french toast seemed like it would make an excellent bread pudding. Though the restaurant is not large, most tables were not occupied while we were there, so I hope that others give the place a try soon and report their experiences on this blog. I think the restaurant is very promising with a unique menu, and I hope that business rapidly improves for them. Or perhaps it is only Sunday brunch that has not yet caught on?

    January 12, 2011 at 10:35 AM
  • Ken says:

    Just ate here this past weekend and had a fairly good experience. The red chile braised pork served over a corn cake and topped with an egg was awesome. The short ribs were excellent as was the green chile onion rings. That said, all of the other items we had were good but nothing you would drive 50 miles to try. The desserts were a huge disappointment. The bread pudding was overcooked, dry and tough. Not words usually associated with bread pudding. The cobbler was a mound of dough with three peach slices baked inside. Again, not my idea of cobbler.

    Cool Water had music while we were there. It was WAY too loud. Not a concert at Shea Stadium but the musician obviously thought it was. A little background music would have been nice but music so loud that we could hear ourselves or the waitress talk wasn’t. Won’t go back if this is a regular feature of dining there.

    March 14, 2011 at 1:39 PM
  • Jim Millington says:

    We finally got around to Cool Water Fusion tonight. I had been a little nervous because of the mixture of “loved it” and “hated it” reviews scattered about the web. I now understand as everything seems different from haw it would be prepared elsewhere. This always brings out a pile of “haters.”

    We had the salmon cake appetizer, very good, but at my advanced old age I should have learned several thousand times that an appetizer is not to whet your appetite- but to fill you up. Child Bride had the blue corn crusted fried chicken and shocked me. She is always squarely in the doesn’t like anything different cheering section but loved this. I had the crab stuffed, bvacon wrapped rainbow trout and am now firmly into the loved it camp.

    The place was deserted at 7pm but, unusually for Albuquerque, filling at 8.

    June 24, 2011 at 8:42 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    Had dinner there this evening.
    We quickly decided on splitting the Special Bruschetta, a pulled pork with corn and salsa. The wives had salad and gazpacho as starters.
    Looked over the menu and was trying to choose between the Blue Corn Fried Chicken or the boneless short ribs. Either would have made me happy so I figured it was a win win situation. When the waitperson came back to take the rest of the order she announced it was 86 on the Fried Chicken AND the boneless short ribs.
    Ouch.
    An opinion about the pulled pork bruschetta, shoulda been sliders not bruschetta.
    I had the same reaction when I saw pineapple pizza.

    Had a decent bolognese pasta, my wife loved her steelhead trout, our friends enjoyed their meals too.
    At least there was strawberry cheesecake for dessert.
    That is until the waitperson 86’d the cheesecake too.
    The peach cobbler was just passable. Just.
    Reading the review and comments, I feel I missed out on two of the best dishes, the Fried Chicken and the Short Ribs.
    The food was just good but my opinion could be tempered by the disappointment of
    not being able to get either of the dishes that first jumped out at me and the disappointment of not getting to taste another version of my second favorite cheesecake.
    Blueberry is by far my favorite.

    I’ll try lunch just to try their Cuban.

    August 3, 2011 at 10:56 PM
  • Shar says:

    Had brunch there on Sunday. The Cuban was very greasy, we had to ask for paper napkins to sop up all of the grease. The housemade chips weren’t crispy but were greasy as well. The Eggs Benedict was okay but came with some potatoes that were overly seasoned and salty. I ate only a few. The hightlight was the coffee. In addition, going there in the day is hard on the eyes. There are blue lights hanging overhead that are way to bright if you look up. Migraine waiting to happen.

    August 5, 2011 at 2:51 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    CoolWater Fusion was cited by Local Flavor for their Blue Corn Crusted Fried Chicken being on of ABQs Top Ten dishes of 2011.
    I finally tried it last week at dinner. Yes, the flavor was good and crunchy.
    Too bad it didn’t adhere to the skinless chicken breast to which it was supposed to cling.
    I understand the economics of the restaurant biz but frankly Fried Chicken IMHO
    needs to be pieces of chicken not a chicken breast.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:16 AM

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