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Gil’s Best of the Best For 2012

Chef Paddy Rawal presides over OM Fine Dining in Albuquerque, one of the best restaurants to launch in 2012

Chef Paddy Rawal presides over OM Fine Dining in Albuquerque, one of the best restaurants to launch in 2012

Over the years Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has become a community in which readers freely share their opinions. I invite all my dear readers to share your favorites by replying to this email…and if, like me, you love “best of” lists, I invite you to check out Cheryl Jamison’s The Ten Best Things I Ate In New Mexico This Year. Cheryl, the elegant and scintillating James Beard Award Winning Author, is the New Mexican I trust most for culinary recommendations so it’s a sure bet I’m going to try as many as possible of the dishes she enjoyed during 2012.

While my travels throughout the Central California Coast, Chicago and Kansas City in 2012 introduced me to some transformative dishes, be it ever so humble, there is nothing quite as wonderful as the food served throughout New Mexico. The dishes listed below–Gil’s Best of the Best for 2012–are my baker’s dozen plus two list of the best foods I had in New Mexico. They still linger on my taste buds and remain imprinted on my fondest memories. My favorites are listed in chronological order.

  • Ironically, some of the most sumptuous seafood in landlocked New Mexico, is served in a three-legged cooking and serving vessel made from pure volcanic basalt. It’s the Molcajete Sinaloense from Albuquerque’s El Zarandeado. The deep-pucked cauldron includes three types of shrimp along with two butterflied fish filets and ringlets of octopus served in a mildly piquant green salsa served almost bubbling.
  • Jambo Cafe is so exciting, enticing and exotic that any number of dishes on its menu could rank among the best of the best for any year. The Coconut Peanut Chicken Kebabs with Curry Coleslaw is such a dish. It’s an appetizer with a grown-up peanut curry flavor. It’s a melding of textures, colors and tastes in such harmonious relationship to each other that the recipe could have been written by Mozart.
  • Neither sweet nor made of bread, sweetbreads are the ultimate organ meat, highly coveted by skilled chefs and daring connoisseurs alike for their mild yet exotic flavor and velvety texture. Chef Kevin Bladergroen at Blades’ Bistro in Placitas prepares the most rich and delicious veal sweetbreads I have ever had. It’s worth enduring a bout or two with gout for this offal deliciousness.
  • In Africa there is nothing more festive than sharing foods. Villagers near and far are called to such festivities by “talking drums.” It’s only appropriate that the Duke City’s first and only African restaurant be named Talking Drums for the method of communication which calls people to eat. One of the dishes which calls loudest is jerk chicken, an assertively piquant poultry dish that, as Emile Lagasse might say, “pops.”
  • From Chef Jean-Pierre Gozard’s eponymous Cafe Jean-Pierre in Albuquerque come some of the very best oysters these lips have ever tasted–pearlescent beauties with pronounced flavors of savory-sweet brininess. Having lived outside of New Orleans for almost eight years and having consumed boatloads of oysters should give me a modicum of credibility.
  • Cynics and critics alike decry pork belly as “so yesterday.” It’s fortunate, therefore, that Albuquerque tends to be a bit behind the times and trends because in 2012, the Duke City fell in love and lust with the pork belly with butterscotch miso sauce at the Farm & Table restaurant. It’s bacon in its purest and most delicious form, three petite pieces of porcine perfection provide a textural and flavor experience few foods can hope to match.
  • If you believe Albuquerque’s Ming Dynasty is solely a dim sum restaurant and haven’t ordered from the day-to-day menu in a while, you owe yourself a visit. Tell Ming you want the shredded duck entree. It’s laden with crisp, fresh vegetables and rich, succulent duck doused in a beauteous brown sauce that has discernible notes of piquancy. It’s one of my very favorite duck dishes in New Mexico or anywhere.
  • If you think Jennifer James 101 is an unlikely choice as my top 2012 choice for Mexican-New Mexican inspired cuisine, you haven’t indulged in her fresh corn smut tamale served with a chipotle cream and a roasted corn salsa. Corn smut is, of course, the gnarly, slimy, sometimes gooey, ink-black corn fungus long savored in Mexico. It’s a rare delicacy in New Mexico, but it’s catching on. This tamale is one of the reasons why.
  • In its December, 2012 edition Bon Appetit Magazine named the Cemita sandwich one of the top 25 food trends for 2013. There’s only one place in Albuquerque where you can get the Cemita–Chile Rio Mexican Grill. Better yet, Chile Rio offers two variations on the sandwich often called Mexico’s Big Mac or Mexico’s Dagwood Sandwich. Available with Yucatan Chicken or Slow-Roasted Pork Carnitas, I just call it one of my favorites.
  • In August, 2008, during a filming of his No Reservations show, the Travel Channel’s indefatigable host Anthony Bourdain proclaimed the enchiladas at the Pepper Pot in Hatch “the best red enchiladas of his life.” It was the green chile enchiladas which ensnared my affections. Now who are you going to trust–me or the best-selling author, culinary adventurer and self-proclaimed hedonist.
  • One of my very favorite culinary finds for 2012 is Rey’s Place for whom the terms “hole-in-the-wall” and “mom and pop” truly apply. So do the terms “made-from-scratch” and any synonym for delicious you can think of. Grandma Gloria’s Tacos are among the many Rey’s specialties which captured my heart and expanded my belt line during the year. When Rey’s is no longer a well-kept secret and becomes so crowded you can’t find a seat, you’ll regret you didn’t visit earlier or more often.
  • It wouldn’t be an authentic favorites list for me if it didn’t include at least one Vietnamese soup (which dominate my Favorite Soups list). In 2012, the best soup of any genre I slurped to my heart’s content may well be the Pho Sate Kim Long from Kim Long Asian Cuisine. Think bold flavors, soul-warming comfort and uncommon deliciousness. It’s served in a swimming pool-sized bowl. A swimming pool of this pho might not be enough.
  • As a snot-nosed kid, I wasn’t as culinarily adventurous as I am now and would turn up my nose at such delicacies as chicken liver. It’s too bad I wasn’t exposed sooner to the sauteed chicken livers “Agre Dolce” with pine nuts, raisins, caramelized onions, vinegar and mashed potatoes from Santa Fe’s Il Piatto. You haven’t lived until you’ve had liver this good.
  • Few new restaurants arrived with the fanfare and reputation of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining which launched in November in the Duke City. If anything, this restaurant exceeded expectations. Even its buffet has earned accolades–not for portion opportunities, but for its high quality. Forgo the buffet and try the Seafood Korma (Scallops, Shrimp, Mahi Mahi, Cashew Cream Sauce). It’s the catch of the day–any day in 2012.
  • Quick! What’s New Mexico’s best sandwich? If your answer is “the green chile cheeseburger,” you’re like many New Mexicans who haven’t been sufficiently impressed by any sandwich. You’ll be more than impressed if you visit Mucho Gourmet Sandwich Shop in Santa Fe and order the Southwest Grilled Cheese Sandwich. The Food Network believes it’s our state’s best sandwich. You probably will, too.

You’ll notice that some of my very favorite restaurants–Budai Gourmet Chinese, Mary & Tito’s, Torinos @ Home, Joe’s Pasta House,  and The Bobcat Bite aren’t represented on this list even though I did visit every one of them (some several times) in 2012. Those are my stand-bys and they serve some of my favorite dishes of any year. It would have been too easy to name my favorite dishes from these fabulous eateries.

Category: Announcements
  • Bruce Schor says:

    I am happy to oblige and provide the my list of memorable dishes eaten this past year.

    I have read Gil’s list as well as Ms. Jamison’s and there are a few duplications in both exact dishes and restaurants that dish them up.

    Sweet Breads at Blades Bistro. I decided to try different foods I missed in my first 67 – 68 years and Sweet Breads was one of them. I shouldn’t have waited. I make one request, Please do not ask me how my thalamus gland was prepared, let’s just stick with sweet breads, OK? It’s rich, creamy, delicious and should be tried by everyone.

    Naan (any naan) at Paddy Rawal’s OM. First let me say that I feel peculiar just picking naan but this is really good naan among many very good food from India. Try razmalie for a terrific dessert. And any dish selected at OM will fill out dinner perfectly well.

    The Cubano at Babalus. Very authentic with house made mojo. Tasty Cuban food. Made me think of the perhaps hundreds of Cubanos I consumed in my 18 years working in Union City NJ, Americas second largest Cuban emigre community after Miami. And a Lucy Ricardo lookalike dressed as Carmen Miranda, you can’t find that anywhere else.

    Bahn Mi at Cafe Du Lat. More flavor packed into a small hoagie roll than I could imagine. Meat (your choice), crunchy veggies, hot peppers, sprouts, cilantro. I’ve had it on several occasions and I can’t wait for my next one.Period.

    Country Pate at Cafe Jean Pierre. Outstanding from both pates, the diced onions, the cornichons, the grainy, hardy mustard, the bread to schmear it on. Enough for at least two. Everything was excellent, but the pate was my first dish at CJP, and like risers it was memorable.

    Bacalao at Torino’s. The bacalao at Torinos was like Scotch Whiskey, the first sip (taste) was bracing, too intense, but but the second taste and the third, etc., became a wonderful eating experience.

    December 27, 2012 at 11:59 PM
  • Schuyler says:

    Gil, as one of your biggest shills, I eat what you tell me to eat so my list would be an almost exact copy of your list. Instead, as I did last year, my list is for Suzie Queue, a “woman?” with a palate unlike that of any gourmet I know.

    Suzie, I have some suggestions you should try. I predict they will make your “best of” list for 2013:

    (1) Orgasmically grown ratishes from Farmed Table.

    (2) Roast beast with ow juice from Arby’s.

    (3) Muscles Rockfort from P’Teat Lewie.

    (4) Dreamcycle Dognuts from Rebol Dognuts.

    (5) A bowel of chilly from Marry & Tit’s

    (6) Chockolet moose desert from Le Crape Michelle

    (7) Girled salmon on a bed of mescaline from Seesons Girl

    (8) Petite flaming young from Monty Carol Stakehouse

    (9) Wild bore from Marchalows Stakehouse

    (10) Chichken Nougets with dripping sauce from McDunalds

    December 28, 2012 at 10:04 AM
  • Kelly Koepke says:

    All your choices seem superb, Gil. I’d add the Cobb salad at Vinaigrette. It’s not the usual composed Cobb with gloppy dressing that most restaurants serve. Instead, it’s a chopped, tossed Cobb with the perfect amount of tangy dressing. Best. Cobb. Ever.

    December 28, 2012 at 10:37 AM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Hi Kelly

      Thank you so much for recommending Vinaigrette’s Cobb salad. It rekindled my affections for a salad I had long ago given up on because it’s usually so poorly prepared. Vinaigrette’s version is a true antithesis to the shameful “usual suspect” to which diners are subjected. I believe it would make my “best of the best” for 2012.

      Gil

      January 5, 2013 at 1:06 PM
  • Bruce says:

    My personal favorites in no particular order…

    Albondigas Soup from Papa Nacho’s. A winter friday lunch special I look forward to every year.

    Il Manchego Salad and just about any pasta or pizza item from Nicky V’s.

    Roasted Fresh Beets appetizer and a bowl of the Paella from Blades Bistro.

    Saturday morning breakfast (when the weather cooperates)on the patio at Hannah and Nates in Corrales.

    My next visit to OM.

    December 28, 2012 at 1:31 PM
  • Foodie Star says:

    I laughed till my cheeks hurt when I read Schuyler’s list for Suzie Queue. It made me think that perhaps Schuyler and Miss Queue might be one in the same? Anyway, thanks for the laugh!

    December 28, 2012 at 1:54 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Foodie Star

      “Schuyler” (pronounced Skyler) is an airframe and powerplant (A&P) friend of mine from my days at Kirtland. He swears he’s not Suzie Queue and I’m inclined to believe him.

      I’m not of the camp who believes Suzie Queue is a nome de plume, but if Suzie Queue isn’t a real person, she would have to be someone with a wicked sense of humor who really knows food–perhaps someone like Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott. After all, he did “out” Andrea Lin as a 6’7″ 450-pound black woman…and when I suggested he interview Suzie on his radio show, he hemmed and hawed about not being able to get in touch with her.

      Since I do believe she’s a real person, I’m very concerned about her health. Her list of the top ten things she enjoyed during 2011 was replete with huge portions of fatty, grease-laden, high-calorie foods. She’s already had one heart attack (that we know of). Suzie, if you’re out there, please let us help you.

      Gil

      December 29, 2012 at 9:34 AM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    1) Aah, The Schuyler: isn’t there a reg that s/he must present a monthly listing of at least ‘3 Best o the Month’ lest Sue ZQ has not presented any comment?

    2) Victoria: I’m confused…are you relocating “to live” in Canton permanently? If so, will you be keeping PornPickles stocked at Corrales’ Phillips 66, The Range, etc. nevertheless?

    3)Except for a Lady Lobos game at The Pit on occassion, I’m only tangentially into BB. Did however tune into the men’s game with 8th ranked Cincinnati last night hoping to espy Jennifer of WKRP! Lacking that,I must give a “Woof Woof” to the Lobo guyz in keeping pace throughout and pulling off a great win against an 8th ranked team!!! Alford must be pinching himself not only for his last second coaching strategy, but pulling it off in his “home” environs while Bobby Knight did color commentary on ESPN’s sidelines. (Relevance? Eye-candy reference!!!)

    4) Nice to see The Kelly K drop in to bring at least a tad of her observations from a “former life” to the fore where she oft readily separated the wheat from the chaff!

    5)After reviewing Gil’s and Commentators lists, I realize I need to get out more to take Brooklyn Bruce’s lead to explore…maybe make a New Year’s resolution to make a Bucket Tasting List, if you will.
    Alas, that has proved most rewarding so far re Paddy Rawal’s OM and exploring Unidishes of “pasta” at Nicky V’s! For the past year, must continue to give Kudos to Scalo’s Filetto topped with cambozola on a bed of mushroom Risotto with nebbiolo wine sauce lurking about…per its satiating size, tenderness, preparation as requested…and especially given the comparative price…even before the generous Press Pass accommodation!

    6) Trivia: Idaho=Potato; Maine=Lobster; GA=Vidahlia or Peach or even Jimmy’s Peanuts; NM=Chile; NJ=Oh well. Is there a state that’s hot into growing asparagus? Is it being made synthetically? What’s with everyone serving asparagus the past couple of years?

    December 28, 2012 at 5:57 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    BOTVOLR,
    New Jersey tomatoes are considered among the best around.
    Jersey farm stands are legendary in that part of the country.
    But please BOTVOLR don’t call me Jersey Bruce. Brooklyn, sure.
    Jersey, it’s an acquired taste I never really acquired.
    Well, except for its Cuban sandwiches and tomatoes.

    December 28, 2012 at 9:24 PM
  • Larry McGoldrick says:

    Read the details on my blog:
    http://www.abqtopten.com/blog/best-dishes-2012/

    Stuffed Poblano — Paddy Rawal’s OM
    Chicharones — Aceq (Arroyo Seco)
    Sweet Corn Soup — Aceq (Arroyo Seco)
    Osso Buco (Ossobuco) — Torinos’ @ Home
    Capirotada — Cecilia’s Cafe (Nob Hill)
    Bibimbap — Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery(Taos)
    Guinness Beef Boxty — Two Fools Tavern
    Pizza Salsiccia — Farina Pizzeria
    Meatballs al Forno — Farina Pizzeria
    Green Chile Chicken Curry — Namaste
    Slow Smoked Carne Panini — Cafe Bella Coffee
    Singapore Noodles — May Cafe
    Braised Lamb Shank — Seasons Rotisserie & Grill
    Chicago Hot Dog — The Chicago Dog

    December 30, 2012 at 2:28 PM
  • Sr Plata says:

    In No Particular Order, here are the special places Sensei has introduced Sr Plata to:

    Geronimo (Santa Fe) – Loved it, Senorena loved it, 1st time having Elk, food and ambiance amazing!

    El Pollo Real (ABQ) – Unbelievable Columbian Chicken that can satiate the trio of Sensei and Boomer. Arupa’s are amazing, fried masa is the best.

    Corrales Phillips 66 (Corrales) – Gotta have Pickles! Where else can you find Pickles Extraordinare, Gelato, local Honey and More…

    ITSA Italian Ice (ABQ) – Exceptional CheeseSteaks when one is in Need.

    Pasion Latin Fusion (ABQ) – Fish Tacos and Special Bread Pudding; need to bring Senorena very quaint.

    Juniors Deli (Los Angeles) – Made it one day before final closing, no more Blintzes, Kreplach Soup, general Jewish Food. Makes you wonder, why no Jewish Deli in the Land of Enchantment (maybe my good friends here know some hidden gems…)

    Oasis Dessert Bistro (Corrales) – Really good Green Chili Cheese Burgers, so close, a must try by all.

    Cafe Pasquales (Santa Fe) – Your Hippie Dippie Green Drink is waiting, really a great, Kale Salad out of this world, and then there is the Mole.

    Route 66 Malt Shop (ABQ) – Fresh Brewed Root Beer anyone???

    Korean Fried Chicken – The best KFC I experienced in my mind. Sorry, not here but wish, will experience when I get to Sunnyvale. We need a one here, who is game to open one, let google do the walking??

    This was a strange past year, I saw so many restaurants close and seems like the economy has taken the big bite. I work in live near Rio Rancho and I hope this year brings expansion of ‘Real’ Restaurants here. I still wonder where people eat. The Smokehouse is for sell, anybody know of any BarBQuers from other states who want to delight us, let them know. Happy New Years to all my New Mexican Compadres who like to EAT and have shared Gil’s love of brinking clarity to Where to Go in the Land of Enchantment!!!

    January 2, 2013 at 4:28 PM
  • Mchael "Rey" says:

    Thank you Gil for inclucing us….we really appreciate the fact that you know your food. I know it’s hard to mention all the great places to eat in Albuquerque. I see you have people helping you to extend your list. I speak from the heart when I say, “I really appreciate what you’ve done for my tiny little hole in the wall restaurant.” Your words truly speak a million words.
    Who’s this Larry McGoldrick? Invite him to our place if you can.
    Again, Thanks to your blog, many people now know the difference between fast food & slooooowed homestyle food.
    You and your wife are welcome anytime.

    Michael “Rey”

    February 2, 2013 at 12:26 PM

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