Boxing Bear Brewing Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Boxing Bear Brewing Company in Albuquerque

In the 2008 Will Ferrell comedy Semi-Pro which centers on a fictional professional basketball team, there’s a scene in which Ferrell’s character wrestles with a grizzly bear at halftime of a game. While young viewers might find this scene preposterous, if not unbelievable, some of the more geriatrically advanced among us might remember when such promotions actually took place–usually at rural county fairs where members of the audience were offered money if they could last a few minutes with a wrestling or boxing bear.

Bears who were forced into pugilism or grappling were typically de-clawed, de-fanged, fitted with a muzzle and often even drugged.  Despite these disadvantages, the 600- to 800-pound Ursidae could easily defeat anyone who stood before them.  Most matches lasted less than a minute (longer than George Costanza lasted in the Festivus Day feats of strength wrestling match with his dad).  Although enthusiasm for bear wrestling and boxing has waned with the rise of animal rights, a barbaric subculture still exists which gets its jollies from watching animals fight.

The Capacious Dog-Friendly Patio

Boxing Bear Brewing Company’s logo-slash-mascot depicts a bear walking on all fours, a red boxing glove covering its right front paw.  Both the brewery’s motto–beer with a punch–and several beers–Hairy Mit, Ambear Ale, Paw Swipe Pale Ale, Uppercut, Red Glove Red Ale, Barril de Oso–are thematic.   If the Boxing Bear Brewing Company continues to earn accolades, the New Mexico state legislature may add a red glove to the image of our state animal, the American black bear.  In 2017, the Brewery won third place for Best Brewpub in USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice national poll.  In 2016–in only its second year of competition-it was named Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year at the Festival.

Boxing Bear launched in 2014 at the capacious 8,200-square-foot complex which previously housed Elliot’s and before that The Cooperage West. It’s situated on the northeast corner of the Alameda and Corrales intersection. Although not part of its name, Boxing Bear is also a winery, producing and serving local varietals all made locally. This sets it apart from most traditional brew pubs in the Duke City. Another people-pleasing aspect that sets it apart is its use of the great outdoors. Nestled beneath towering shade-providing trees and flanked by shrubs and flowers is a sprawling dog-friendly patio. Blaring speakers mean your conversational volume has to go up just a bit.

Nachos

While several brew pubs (Bosque Brewing Company and Starr Brothers Brewery come to mind) across the Duke City have embraced the gastropub spirit of serving high-end, high-quality food with their libations, Boxing Bear’s menu is rather Spartan. Essentially, everything on the menu can be prepared on a panini press or crock pot. Boxing Bear’s focus is clearly on its award-winning beer and wine. Its culinary fare won’t win any awards, but it’s good, basic beer accompaniment. The menu lists five items “to share,” six grilled paninis and three hot dogs. That’s it.

For us, the big culinary draw were the nachos. Dancing Bear’s “to share” menu promised “a pile of chips served with your choice of Ambear-infused Korean BBQ pulled pork or Texas chile topped with house-made beer-infused queso, pickled jalapenos and a dollop of sour cream.” They had us at “Korean BBQ pulled pork.” Alas, whatever beer-infusion process was used on the queso was rather ineffectual; the cheese was reminiscent of the gloppy, canned cheese often used on ballpark nachos. Worse, the “Korean BBQ pulled pork” was more akin to Kansas City barbecue pulled pork than to the bulgogi barbecue we were expecting. Still, to cover that pulled pork with the cheese is near criminal.

Grilled Club

The terms “panini” and “grilled club” are mutually incompatible. When you think of a “club” sandwich, your mind’s eye conjures images of layered sandwiches—often double- or triple-deckers–piled high with meats and vegetables. Some restaurants pride themselves on the skyscraper-high size of their clubs. Panini, on the other hand, calls to mind pressed (and compressed) sandwiches smooshed down to maybe one layer of a Dagwood sandwich. Panini and grilled club are antithetical! Boxing Bear’s grilled club (turkey, roasted pork, bacon, Swiss cheese, spinach and cream cheese) may not be a two-fisted behemoth, but it packs a very satisfying flavor with fresh ingredients that work very well together. Because the Bear uses telera bread (a flat, crusty white bread often used on tortas), you also don’t have to worry about the panini’s rough texture beating up the roof of your mouth.

Also quite good is the Al’BEAR’querque Turkey (turkey, bacon, mozzarella cheese, green chile, chile mayo, spinach and cream cheese). Though it’s been a pet peeve of mine that far too many restaurants seem to believe every turkey sandwich should be called an “Albuquerque Turkey,” at least this one takes a creative twist. What works best on this sandwich is the combination of delicate turkey and green chile. Even though the Boxing Bear’s chile has a pronounced bite, there’s enough turkey in this sandwich so that it doesn’t get overwhelmed. The combination of mozzarella and cream cheese, two very distinct cheeses, also works very well.

Al’BEAR’querque Turkey

Boxing Bear may not ever become a dining destination, but for savvy cerevisaphiles, it’s become a popular Albearquerque draw.

Boxing Bear Brewing Co.
10200 Corrales Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-2327
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Al’BEAR’querque Turkey, Grilled Club, Nachos

Boxing Bear Brewing Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Amerasia & Sumo Sushi – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Amerasia and Sumo Sushi on Third Avenue

Carpe Diem Sum–“seize the dim sum” at AmerAsia, the Alibi’s perennial selection for best dim sum in the city honors (diem sum, as spelled on AmerAsia’s menu is also a correct spelling). Dim sum, a Cantonese word that can be translated to “a little bit of heart,” “point of heart” and “touch the heart” has its genesis in the Chinese tea houses of the Silk Road.  Weary sojourners would stop at tea houses for tea and a light snack (ergo, touch the heart).  Over time, the popularity of the tasty little treasures offered at these tea houses led to larger restaurants serving dim sum meals until mid-afternoon, after which other Cantonese cuisine was made available.  Today, dim sum buffets are a popular offering throughout the United States.  Albuquerque’s most venerable practitioner of the traditional culinary art of dim sum is AmerAsia which has been serving Albuquerque since 1978.

Though AmerAsia has been around for nearly thirty years,  out of blind loyalty to Ming Dynasty we avoided trying it, reasoning  there is no way anyone could serve dim sum quite as good as the popular Cantonese restaurant.  Thankfully AmerAsia’s diem sum captured the unfettered affections of a Chowhound poster from Phoenix who calls herself “Tattud Girl.” For years, the Tattud Girl has been telling one and all about AmerAsia’s delicious treasures. In April, 2006, her posting included photographs of those delights. While one picture may be worth a thousand words, her photographs appealed to all ten thousand of my taste buds and prompted our first of soon to be many visits. The diem sum photos on this review are, in fact, courtesy of the lovely and talented Tattud Girl (who, as it turns out is quite the world traveler, also going by the sobriquet “Wanderer 2005.”

Hyangmi Yi delivers diem sum treasures to eager diners

Hyangmi Yi delivers diem sum treasures to eager diners

At the very least, AmerAsia proved that Albuquerque has room for two popular dim sum restaurants. At the very most, some say it’s every bit as good as Ming Dynasty when it comes to delicious diem sum…although Ming Dynasty serves more than twice as many dim sum items, including a huge array of seafood). For that all Duke City diners should be thrilled. AmerAsia serves diem sum for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 2PM and for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30PM. It is the perfect dining destination when one entree just won’t do and you want a multi-course meal that tantalizes your taste buds with varied sensations (including sweet, piquant, savory and sour).

The heart and soul of AmerAsia is Korean born proprietor Hyangmi Yi who enthusiastically greets all patrons and flits around the restaurant’s dining rooms pushing her tiny treasure filled cart. Hyangmi actually worked at AmerAsia for 24 years (she hardly looks any older than 24 years old herself) before buying the restaurant. She is part waitress, part greeter and full-time ambassador for the tiny restaurant and the craft she obviously loves. You can see the diners’ eyes light up as she approaches. Many appear to be seasoned veterans of diem sum dining and know exactly what they want. Most of the items are small (or at least served in small plates), giving the impression that you can try everything on the 22-item menu and still have room left over. We tried that and were able to sample fewer than half of the heart pleasing treats. Budget conscious diners beware because your bill of fare is tallied by adding up the number of plates on your table.

Pork buns and more (courtesy of Kathy Perea)

While many of Ming Dynasty’s dim sum offerings are so authentic (such as chicken feet and shark fin soup) that many Americans shy away, AmerAsia’s diem sum is more innocuous, totally non-threatening to unacculturated diners. By no means does that imply AmerAsia’s diem sum is Americanized. You definitely won’t find heavily breaded and candied sweet and sour meats doused liberally with offensive sauces. Instead, you’ll find perfectly seasoned palate pleasing treats you’ll absolutely love, such as:

Sichuan Salad, a refreshing salad comprised of thick noodles and julienne carrots and celery in a slightly sweet vinegar dressing. The noodles are served cold and like many Asian noodles, can be eight to twelve inches per strand. They’re thick and delicious. This is an excellent way to start your meal.

Some of the very best diem sum anywhere! Photo courtesy of Kathy Perea.

Some of the very best diem sum in Albuquerque! Photo courtesy of Kathy Perea.

Beef Noodles, a very spicy beef served over soft noodles with a broth nearly as piquant as the chili sauce on each table.

Chicken and Peanuts, steamed dumplings with julienne chicken, water chestnuts and peanuts. These dumplings might be reminiscent of something you’d have at a Thai restaurant.

Curry Pastry, a flaky pastry stuffed with curry pork and onion. The pastry is as flaky as you might find on a chicken pot pie flaky while the curry is sweet and pungent.

Beef Jiao Tzu, a dumpling stuffed with beef and garlic then deep fried. The breath-wrecking garlic and beef combination leaves a definite impression on your taste buds. This was the only item we ordered two portions of (more a consequence of being full than of preference).

Bao Zi, a steamed, white raised dough stuffed with Chinese barbecue pork. We’ve had steamed buns at several Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants but we’ve never had any as pork filled and delicious as these.

Sesame balls for dessert (Picture courtesy of Kathy Perea)

Scallion pancakes, delicious layered pancakes flecked with sweet scallions.

Chinese Spare Ribs, spareribs in a relatively mild Sichuan hot sauce. We actually expected something akin to the lacquered in sweet syrup Chinese barbecue spare ribs served at inferior restaurants. Amerasia’s spare ribs definitely were not of that ilk.

Crispies, crispy wonton skins covered in powdered sugar and cinnamon, somewhat reminiscent of beignets. These are a perfect way to end a wonderful meal.

In 2007, a second Amerasia was launched in a converted antique filling station on Third Street just north of Lomas.  For a while, Hyangami kept the original restaurant open, but eventually she closed the long-familiar Cornell restaurant which, though very charming, was quite space constrained and a bit “seasoned.”

Sumo Sushi

Sumo Sushi’s Sushi Bar

Not only does the reborn 3,500 square-foot Amerasia have a well-appointed, stylish and expansive new home (150 guest capacity), Hyangami partnered with her brother Woo Youn in sharing the sprawling edifice’s space to house Sumo Sushi, a highly regarded 2007 entrant into the Duke City dining scene.  Sumo Sushi is an attractive milieu, starting with a semi-circular sushi bar on which a large ceramic sumo wrestler squats pensively as if to oversee the operation.  The sushi is, as reputed, some of the very best in town and the Japanese menu includes other traditional Japanese dishes such as tempura, teriyaki and udon noodles. 

Seating for al fresco dining faces Slate Street and isn’t shaded so at the height of the day, it can get rather warm.  Worse, there isn’t anything to shield you from New Mexico’s spring winds which buffet everything in their path.  Our kind server did set up an umbrella for our sushi venture in May, 2017, but ferocious winds tipped the table over and the umbrella came crashing down on us.  Fortunately the temperature was only in the mid-70s so our daring dachshund Dude (he abides) didn’t get too warm.  Interestingly, dim sum isn’t offered to al fresco diners, but sushi is.

Spicy Tuna Roll and Green Chile Roll

27 May 2017: The green chile roll has a pronounced roasted green chile flavor which some New Mexican restaurants fail to capture.  It’s also got a pleasant piquancy, but it’s nothing New Mexicans shouldn’t be able to handle–even if you use up the entire dollop of “American” wasabi (a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food coloring).  Endowed with even more bite is the spicy tuna roll, an incendiary composition made from raw tuna, mayo, and chili sauce.  Neither the green chile roll or the spicy tuna roll benefit much from a dip in soy sauce and “American” wasabi.  They’re excellent sans amelioration.

Tarantula Roll

27 May 2017: Though there are hundreds of sushi restaurants across the fruited plain, there isn’t a great deal of standardization in how they construct sushi rolls.  You’re likely to find same-named sushi rolls throughout your travels across the states. That doesn’t mean a “tarantula roll” in Seattle, for example, will be constructed of the same ingredients as one in Albuquerque.  We’ve seen tarantula rolls elsewhere topped with shaved bonito designed to resemble a spider’s web.  The tarantula roll at Sumo Sushi is far less scary.  A single fried shrimp constitutes the “head” of this caterpillar-like tarantula.  The topping for this roll is avocado drizzled with a sweet unagi-type sauce.  Inside the roll you’ll find crab and cucumber.  It’s all good.

Crunch Roll

27 May 2017: The crunchy roll is coated on the outside with panko (light, crispy Japanese bread crumbs) crumbs that give it a delightful crunch (hence the name) the inside is refulgent with cooked shrimp, cucumber and other complementary ingredients.  It’s drizzled with a sweet unagi-like sauce that provides a nice contrast to the soy-wasabi dip.

Unagi (Freshwater Eel)

27 May 2017: My favorite is the grilled unagi (freshwater eel), a nigiri style (a slice of raw fish over pressed vinegared rice) sushi, which is said to have stamina-giving properties. Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, unagi is believed to heighten men’s sexual drive. Japanese wives would prepare unagi for dinner to suggest to their husbands that they want an intimate night. After waddling out Sumo Sushi door after a boatload of sushi, intimacy is the last thing on our minds.

Big Night Roll

27 May 2017:  When we asked our server, an affable Mexican gentleman who prepares all of Sumo Sushi’s sauces, which sushi roll was his favorite, he didn’t hesitate to sing the praises of the Big Night Roll, a beauteous, multi-colored roll with two sauces–a chile oil and the delightful eel sauce we enjoy so much on the unagi.  The Big Night Roll is engorged with crab and cucumber and is topped with a gloriously red strip of salmon.  It became our favorite.

AmerAsia has definitely captured the heart of many Duke City diners, giving every indication that even without a full Chinese menu, it is one of the four or five best Chinese restaurants in the city.

Diem Sum Images Courtesy of Kathy “Wanderer 2005” Perea

Amerasia & Sumo Sushi
800 3rd St NW
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 246-1615
Web Site | Facebook Page
1ST VISIT: 21 October 2006
LATEST VISIT: 28 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 20
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Sichuan Salad, Beef Jiao Tzu, Golden Dumplings, Curry Pastry, Chicken and Peanuts, Tarantula Roll, Big Night Roll, Green Chile Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Crunch Roll, Unagi

AmerAsia - Sumo Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

IKrave Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

iKrave Cafe for Albuquerque’s very best Vietnamese Sandwiches

Please say it isn’t so!  According to Nations Restaurant News, a highly respected trade publication “a new crop of restaurant chain entrepreneurs” believes “American diners will soon embrace the Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich as the next burrito or taco.”  The notion of corporate chain megaliths setting their sights on the humble banh mi should send shudders down the spine of everyone who frequents the mom-and-pop nature of the banh mi restaurants we’ve come to know and love. Imagine a phalanx of Subway-like sandwich shops creating and selling banh mi. The notion isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.

One of the first chains vying to expand the presence of banh mi in the mainstream is Chipotle whose Asian-themed offshoot “ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen” features banh mi as the menu’s cornerstone. If Chipotle does for the banh mi what it did for burritos and what Olive Garden did for Italian food, there will be generations of American diners who may never experience the real thing–an authentic banh mi prepared in the traditional manner by Vietnamese weaned on banh mi. Worse, slick Madison Avenue advertisers might convince them they prefer the faux food.

iKrave’s energetic, customer oriented owner Hien

It’s a small consolation that it will probably take a while before the heavily bankrolled chain interlopers reach Albuquerque (think about how long it took before Chipotle invaded).  That gives the Duke City’s  three established independent purveyors of peerless banh mi the opportunity to win over even more converts.  It should take only one visit!

Until just a few years ago, you had to visit larger cosmopolitan areas such as San Francisco to find banh mi.  Eventually such banh mi pioneers as May Café, May Hong and Cafe Dalat, all full-service Vietnamese restaurants, began offering “Vietnamese Sandwiches” on their appetizer menus.  Before long, almost every other Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City followed suit.  In 2010, Banh Mi Coda became the Duke City’s first full-fledged banh mi shop.  It took three more years before Sai Gon Sandwich launched, becoming the second restaurant in Albuquerque dedicated solely to banh mi.

#4 Grilled Pork Banh Mi

The third banh mi restaurant–the one about which you may not yet have heard–is called iKrave.  The name means exactly what it sounds it should mean as in “I crave” banh mi. iKrave opened its doors in August, 2014. Being ensconced in a rather nondescript strip mall on Juan Tabo (just north of Constitution) and without a prominent eye-catching storefront, much of its business has come from the Vietnamese community and nearby residents. You wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep secret what is one of New Mexico’s best sandwich shops of any genre. Indeed, much of the restaurant’s traffic comes from word-of-mouth. That’s truly the best advertising you can get.

iKrave exemplifies the axioms “big things come in small packages” and “small place, huge flavors.” This Lilliputian lair has room for only a couple of small tables, a free-standing beverage refrigerator and a bamboo counter where you place your order. The man behind the counter is owner-chef Hien who not only constructs the banh mi (it’s a thing of beauty), he cures, marinades, cuts and otherwise imparts preternatural deliciousness on all the meats which grace the banh me he serves. He also slices, dices and juliennes all the fresh vegetables adorning each banh mi.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

To say the banh mi is a sacrosanct sandwich is an understatement. So is calling it merely delicious or utterly wonderful. During a 2009 visit to Vietnam for his award-winning “No Reservations” show, Anthony Bourdain described banh mi as “a symphony in a sandwich.” It’s an apt description for the effect this superb sandwich has on your taste buds. You can almost picture all ten-thousand taste buds dancing, enrapt in the melodious harmony of flavors

Bourdain elaborated further: “The baguette alone is something of a miracle. How do they stay so crunchy, crisp and fresh on the outside, so airy, so perfect on the inside?” In truth, this statement is much more applicable to the baguettes in Vietnam than the bread used by banh mi purveyors throughout the Duke City. Hien procures his baguettes from a local baker whose classic preparation techniques are very close to those used in Vietnam. Unlike American sandwiches whose bread can lull taste buds to sleep, Vietnamese baguettes are really the vessel that coalesces all the flavors of the banh mi.

#1 Special Combination Banh Mi

With your first bite, you’ll notice the difference and with each subsequent bite, your appreciation will grow for this delicious duality of light and airy, crisp and soft, fresh and flavorful bread. It’s the perfect canvass for any one of the eight sandwiches on the iKrave banh mi menu.  Before he creates your sandwich, Hien brushes the baguette with a rather expensive French butter then heats it.  It’s one of several touches he employs to ensure the most moist and meticulously crafted banh mi in town.  It’s sandwich artistry at its finest and most delicious.

16 April 2015: Combination #1 is the mother lode, the bahn mi with the most. It’s an unheated sandwich (the Vietnamese version of a “cold cut” sandwich, but infinitely better) constructed with barbecue pork, pork roll and cured pork pate along with the classic banh mi condiments: Vietnamese mayo (cut with butter for moistness and nuttiness), fresh herbs (cilantro, scallions), pickled (julienne daikon and carrots) and unpickled vegetables (jalapeños).  Note: For the fire-eaters among you, ask Hien to replace the jalapeños with Thai bird peppers which are far more incendiary and delicious.   The sandwich is further moistened by sauce Hien uses on the barbecue pork.  Every element in this sandwich is as fresh and delicious as it can be. Together they coalesce to create my very favorite banh mi in New Mexico.

Grilled Chicken and Pork Banh Mi

23 July 2016: if your preference is for a heated sandwich, iKrave has several wonderful options.  Savvy diners who frequent Vietnamese restaurants are familiar with grilled pork, porcine perfection marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  Imagine a banh mi created with this incomparably delicious pork.  It’s better than your imagination.  So is the grilled chicken banh mi.  If you can’t make up your mind between grilled pork and grilled chicken, the ever-accommodating Hien will build a combination grilled pork and chicken banh mi for you.  It’s my new favorite among the grilled banh mi. 

24 May 2017: In modern vernacular, the term “size doesn’t matter” has implications of double entendre.  In the culinary world, only the Food Network and Travel Channel would have you believe meatballs should be the size of basketballs.  Vietnamese purveyors of meatball banh mi know better and the proof is in the eating.  iKrave’s meatballs are about the size of the tiny meatballs once found on Chef Boyardee’s spaghetti and meatballs.  Size truly doesn’t matter when the flavor of these tender pork meatballs will make you swoon.  The meatballs are impregnated with seasonings that complement the fresh, crispy vegetable “slaw” made with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, sliced jalapeños, cucumber slices and fresh cilantro in a baguette canvas.  This is one of the very best banh mi in the city.

Meatball Banh Mi

16 April 2015: You’ll want to wash down your banh mi with sugar cane juice made on the premises by Hien himself.  Take a gander at the beverage refrigerator where you’ll see bundles of sugar cane stalks from which Hien extracts the juice.  Organic Lifestyle Magazine lists sugar cane juice  (which has a relatively low glycemic index of 43), as a healthy alternative to table sugar when used in moderation. It contains fructose and glucose, which, unlike sucrose-based sugars, do not require insulin for metabolism.  Moreover, it’s absolutely delicious! Alternatively, iKrave serves what Hien believes to be some of the strongest iced coffee in town.  It’s excellent!  

One of the most  common, albeit more than a little bit Americanized, nicknames for Vietnam is “Nam,” obviously a diminutive of its full name.  In honor of the banh mi, perhaps its nickname should be “num num.”  iKrave is home to banh mi which will have you uttering “num num” and more.

iKrave Cafe
1331 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E., Suite 1P
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-6625
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 April 2015
1st VISIT: 16 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Special Combination Banh Mi, Sugar Cane Juice, Coconut Macaroons, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

Ikrave Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Teahouse – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Teahouse on Canyon Road in Santa Fe

When I suggested to my Kim that our next al-fresco culinary adventure with our dachshund Dude (he abides) should be at the Teahouse in Santa Fe, she shot a glance at me that seemed to suggest advanced mental deterioration had caught up with me. She reminded me that every time we had tea and scones on the banks of the River Windrush in Bourton on the Water (England), I guzzled my tea and tossed bits of my scones at hungry ducks floating on the water. “It was the only way,” I argued “to enjoy high tea without actually being high.” As with most men, the notion of high tea conjures images of women in frilly outfits and flowery hats sipping tea from cups much too small for our sausage fingers and eating finger sandwiches that wouldn’t feed a famished mosquito. It’s right out of a Jane Austen novel.

Our XY chromosome pairing seems to have predisposed men to hate the idea of high tea. We’re just not civilized enough to enjoy it though perhaps if the tea house had a dozen large flat screen televisions tuned to the NFL game of the week, we’d certainly enjoy the experience more. Of course, the tea house would have to do supersize those dainty finger sandwiches and make those delicate scones the size of personal pan pizza  Instead of clotted cream (doesn’t that sound awful), some of us would enjoy a spot of brandy with (preferably without) our tea. As for those confoundingly tiny tea cups and their half ounce capacity, they’d have to be replaced by mammoth mugs or better yet, beer steins.

Spicy Santa Fe Mocha

When she contended that the only tea party men have ever enjoyed occurred in Boston back in 1773, I retorted that if Chuck Norris doesn’t go to tea parties, no real man should either though I was making this great personal sacrifice just to make her happy. I didn’t tell her that tea ceremonies (probably another term for high tea) have long been an important part of samurai culture. Nor did I tell her that tea is the preferred beverage of 007 paragons of manliness Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Had she already known these facts, I would have argued that everyone knows samurais and spies (who probably prefer their tea shaken, not stirred) are sissies compared to Chuck Norris.

There are other things about Santa Fe’s Teahouse I withheld from Kim. She had pictured some elegant high-brow Victorian manor with lace doilies and delicate china. She thought we’d have to “dress up” (which for me means long pants). There’s no way, she believed, we’d be able to take our Dude. Indeed, the Teahouse belies all the stereotypes her mind’s eye painted about the tea house experience. For one thing, it’s set in a venerable converted home (circa 1839) at the terminus of Canyon Road’s art galleries. Behind a rickety wooden fence, a beautiful garden patio spreads out beneath a canopy of deciduous trees. It’s where cultured canines go to enjoy high tea. Though it wasn’t what Kim had pictured, she enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Two things got me most excited about a visit to the Teahouse.  The first, of course, was the opportunity to enjoy a meal with The Dude, who sports a tail but would never wear a top hat.  The second was the menu.  It’s wholly unlike the finger sandwich and canape (another French word for hors d’œuvres) menus at those pretentious high-brow tea places.  Most men rank a “meal” at a tea house with watching The View, dinner with our in-laws and visiting a proctologist as things we least like to do.  The Teahouse menu is akin to a menu at a real restaurant and all food is made to order.   It’s not all perfect, however.  Egg-based breakfast dishes are served only through noon while dishes such as oatmeal (which should be served only to horses) are available all day long.

A lunch menu is served from noon to five and dinner is available from five to nine though there are several cross-overs between the lunch and dinner menus.  The lunch menu lists about a dozen salads, but they’re not the dainty little salads you might expect.  We watched several salads being ferried over to other diners and those salads were quite bountiful.  So were the panini and sandwiches, the antithesis of the tiny watercress finger sandwiches men dread.  Entrees include a panoply of entrees such as lasagna Bolognese, Italian style meatloaf and a “slow cooked dish of the day.”  Sides (or appetizers if you prefer) include all those vegetables our mothers couldn’t get us to eat: artichokes, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and more.  Then there are the desserts, an impressive array of sweet things.

Burrata and Balsamic Roasted Beets

The beverage menu is impressive, especially if you love tea.  My perusal, however, went only as far as the “espresso, coffee, hot chocolate” section where the Spicy Santa Fe Mocha (two shots of espresso, dark chocolate, Chimayo red chile, cinnamon, vanilla and milk) is listed.  Now, this is a the type of coffee to which we should all awaken.  It’s bold and brash with more red chile flavor than you’ll find on the burritos at some restaurants.  On the teas section of the menu you’ll find dozens of options: matcha, chai, tea lattes, flowering tea, teahouse select (“our finest teas”), white teas, Chinese green tea, Japanese green tea, flavored green tea, oolong, black tea, pu erh, flavored black tea, mate, rooibos, caffeine free infusions and Ayurvedic/wellness teas.  Only a true connoisseur would know there are so many different types of teas.

Named America’s “most hated vegetable” in a 2008 survey conducted by Heinz, Brussels sprouts are almost universally reviled. Many diners–adults and children alike–hate them without ever having tried them (probably because they heard someone else express their disdain for this villainous vegetable).  As a child, Brussels sprouts ranked right up there with homework and medicine as things I hated most.  Today, my rancor is reserved for menus which misspell Brussels sprouts.  It’s “Brussels” as in the capital of Belgium not “Brussel!”  Okay, so the Teahouse misspelled Brussels, but they prepared them well–roasted with a Balsamic glaze.  With a flavor that’s akin to a cross between broccoli and cabbage, Brussels sprouts are never going to win a popularity contest, but every once in a while, you’ll find a version you’ll enjoy.  The Teahouse’s Brussels sprouts are among those.

Slow Cooked Dish of the Day – Butternut Squash Stew

Somewhat less unpopular than Brussels sprouts are beets, perhaps the only sweet thing kids of all ages don’t like.  That includes former President Barack Obama who once proclaimed “I always avoid eating them.”  It’s no wonder they weren’t in Michelle’s White House garden.  To their detractors, beets taste like dirt while those of us who love them prefer the euphemism “earthy.”  Even the former would appreciate the Teahouse’s Burrata and Balsamic Roasted Beets, four quarter-inch thick discs topped with a creamy, milky slice of Burrata drizzled with Balsamic.  The beet-haters can extricate the Burrata and leave the beets for the “Beetniks.”  That’ll keep both haters and lovers at peace.

The entree about which our server was most excited is the Teahouse’s “slow cooked dish of the day,” described on the menu as “heart warming stew or braised dish served with polenta and crusty bread for dunking.”  Though “heart-warming stews” are often constructed with vegetables hated by kids of all ages, they can also evoke memories of cold winter days and the comfort of mom’s kitchen.  Great fortune smiled upon us because the deliciousness of the day was a stew constructed with butternut squash and some of the most tender and flavorful stew meat (probably ribeye) anywhere in a well-seasoned beef broth.  If ever a dish deserved to be served to swimming pool proportions as Vietnamese pho tends to be served, it would be this magnificent dish!

Salad: Chicken, Apple, Bacon, Irish Cheddar, Mixed Greens and Avocado

Unlike so many restaurants, the Teahouse doesn’t christen its salads with names as descriptive as those given racehorses.  Instead, the ingredients for each salad are listed.  My Kim’s choice was constructed from mixed greens, chicken, apple, bacon, Irish cheddar and avocado.  With as many mixed greens as filled her plate, I would have preferred a breath-wrecking barrel of bleu cheese.  Instead, a simple and lightly drizzled Balsamic vinegar dressing was the only thing between her and the various greens.  The Dude and I enjoyed as much of the Irish Cheddar and bacon as we could coax out of her.

The menu has both a “Desserts” section and a section dedicated to “Pastries & Sides.”  Unfortunately the actual menus have far fewer desserts than those listed on the Teahouse Web site.  Not listed on the paper menu, for example, was the Santa Fe chocolate cake (dark chocolate cinnamon cake topped with dark chocolate and Chimayo red chile ganache).  We settled for pastries instead.  The almond twist is hardly a consolation prize.   They’re not only light-as-air accompaniments to tea.  Two (or five) of them will sate a hungry man, too.

Almond Twist

Santa Fe’s Teahouse is the tea house for people who hate tea houses.  It’s the antithesis of all the stereotypes men have about tea houses.

The Teahouse
821 Canyon Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 992-0972
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Butternut Squash Stew, Spicy Santa Fe Mocha, Burrata and Balsamic Roasted Beets, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Almond Twist, Coconut-Raspberry Muffin

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

The Farmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Farmacy on the Corner of Mountain and Road

In this age of “fake news,” biased media slants and unabashed tell-alls, the one recent headline which has  pleased me most comes from Bloomberg.  Splashed in bold typeface was the eye-catching lead “Mom-and-Pop Joints Are Trouncing America’s Big Restaurant Chains.”  Elaborating on this contention, the first paragraph reads:  “Americans are rejecting the consistency of national restaurant chains after decades of dominance in favor of the authenticity of locally owned eateries, with their daily specials and Mom’s watercolors decorating the walls.”  The numbers bear this out–“annual revenue for independents will grow about 5 percent through 2020, while the growth for chains will be about 3 percent.”

Fittingly, I read this article during my inaugural visit to The Farmacy, a Lilliputian lair of luscious food on the southeast corner of the Mountain Road-Eighth Street intersection. If big restaurant chains and their well-heeled operations are the proverbial muscle-bound beach bullies who kick sand in the face of scrawny kids, The Farmacy embodies the small underdog who fights back with the only weapons at its disposal: great food and friendly service at an affordable price. The Farmacy is David to the Philistine’s Goliath, the plodding tortoise to the overly confident hare, unknown journeyman Rocky Balboa to the world champion Apollo Creed. It’s the little engine that could…and does.

Cozy Interior

On my way out the door, I ran into Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp. The Bloomberg article I had just read credited “free-marketing websites such as Yelp” with boosting “the fortunes of independents in the age of McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Olive Garden…” Perhaps no one in Albuquerque does as much to evangelize for mom-and-pops than Howie. It was his Yelp review, in fact, that prompted my visit to The Farmacy. The catalyst for his own inaugural visit was Yelp reviewers having accorded The Farmacy a perfect rating: “5 stars at 50-plus reviews!”   (Naturally as soon as Howie noted this, a nay-sayer gave The Farmacy a rating of “4.”)

Howie is the Duke City dining scene’s version of The Pied Piper. When he sings the praises of a restaurant, savvy readers beat the path to its doors. His prose is poetic, his rhetoric rhapsodic. Here’s what he wrote that lured me to The Farmacy. “The reuben is indeed what you’re looking forward to in a dinosaur-esque luncheon, you’re just kind of clawing, mawing and ultimately grabbing various business cards with square edges to dislodge pastrami from your teeth, it’s a damn fine sammie, on par with one of my faves at Bocadillos .” Frankly, he had me at dinosaur-esque, but the clincher was his comparison of The Farmacy’s Reuben to Bocadillo’s.

Rail Runner Reuben with Coleslaw

The Farmacy may well be the archetypal neighborhood mom-and-pop restaurant. Situated in the historical Sawmill District, it’s ensconced in a residential neighborhood which means you’ll be parking in front of someone’s home (so tread lightly). A home is exactly what The Farmacy once was, albeit a very small home. Today it’s a very small restaurant with seating (on two-top tables) for about a dozen guests. Weather permitting, another dozen or so guests can enjoy al fresco dining with their four-legged children.

Not only is the dining room small, so is the kitchen…and by default, the menu, a one-pager. Coffee and tea are listed first. Though the listed coffees include latte, cappuccino, mocha, cortado, macchiato, espresso, Americano and drip coffee, my inaugural visit was on a hot chocolate kind of day. You know the type—the New Mexico sun shining brightly while angry winds blow as if seeking revenge. Eight items festoon the breakfast section of the menu while lunch is comprised of six items, not counting daily specials. Befitting the small kitchen, the lunch menu is dedicated to sandwiches. Breakfast features both New Mexican favorites (such as a breakfast burrito and savory empanada) as well as inventive takes on American specialties (such as the “Not McMuffin”).

Large Hot Chocolate

19 May 2017: It goes without saying that the Rail Runner Reuben was destined for my table. Aside from its dinosaur-esque proportions, what stands out best and most about this Reuben are the terms “house made corned beef” and “house made sauerkraut.” You can certainly taste the difference between corned beef that’s been lovingly made in small batches and the mass quantities produced by corporate delis (and served by the chains). The Farmacy’s corned beef is imbued with a moist, tender texture. It pulls apart easily. (Some corporate delis produce corned beef with the texture of rigor-mortis.) Deep flavors bursting with subtle seasonings (it may sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t) are the hallmark of The Farmacy’s corned beef. It’s not at all salty and when you discern notes of cloves, you may shut your eyes in appreciation. The sauerkraut has a slight tang, but it’s not of the lip-pursing variety that defeats all other flavors. The canvas for this sandwich masterpiece is fresh marble rye.

20 May 2017: One of the few telltale signs that you’ve reached The Farmacy is a wooden sign depicting an anatomical diagram of a pig, essentially showing where all the porcine deliciousness can be found. Think of that sign as a precursor to a terrific sandwich constructed of two terrific pork-based cold-cuts. Even the sandwich’s name hints of pork. It’s the Porcellino (ham, Capocollo, olive tapenade, Provolone, picked red onion and greens on focaccia) and it’s a memorable masterpiece. Aside from the ham and Capocollo, the olive tapenade and picked red onion are notable. So is the accompanying housemade mojo slaw which has a nice tang and none of the cloying creaminess of so many slaws.

Savory Empanada

20 May 2017: If Delish is to be believed, the “most-searched food” in New Mexico—what New Mexicans want most to know how to make–is empanadas. You need not search any further than The Farmacy for a superb empanada. It’s a made-from-scratch-daily savory empanada and if our inaugural experience is any indication, you’ll want the recipe. Our savory empanada was stuffed with sweet potatoes, green chile, bacon and walnuts). Despite the sweet potatoes, it was indeed savory with a melding of ingredients that just sang. The crust is especially memorable.

20 May 2017: Though not listed on the menu, you’ll want to peruse the counter for such pastries as muffins and cinnamon rolls. This cinnamon roll isn’t a behemoth brick with troweled-on icing. It’s a knotty, twisty, tender, doughy roll with cinnamon in every crevice. It’s glazed with an angelic icing, but it’s not overly sweet. This is not a cinnamon roll meant to be shared, not that you’d want to. It’s a cinnamon roll you (and any dining companions you may have brought with you) will want for yourself and themselves. 

Cinnamon Roll

20 May 2017:  Much as I enjoyed the Reuben, after two visits my very favorite item on the menu is the migas (a scramble of corn tortilla, bacon, egg, red and green chile, Cheddar, tomato and cilantro). Very few restaurants we’ve frequented prepare migas you’ll want to experience a second time. The Farmacy’s migas are some of the very best in Albuquerque, if not the state. The corn tortillas are crispy yet light and all ingredients are in perfect proportion to each other. The highlight is the chile—green mixed in with the other ingredients all encircled by a fiery ring of red. This is chile that bites you back, an endorphin-generating chile you’ll love.

Chef-owner Jacob Elliot is a peripatetic presence at the restaurant. Though filling orders occupies much of his time, he meets-and-greets when the opportunity presents itself. He’s passionate about his locally sustainable operation and is bullish on Albuquerque, a city he believes has many of the same qualities as Portland, a city in which he once lived and worked. It’s Albuquerque’s gain.

Migas

The Farmacy is the antithesis of the behemoth chain restaurants. If you love fresh, made-from-scratch, locally sourced deliciousness at very reasonable prices, this is a restaurant for you. It exemplifies the reasons mom-and-pop are finally starting to gain ground.

The Farmacy
724 Mountain Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 227-0330
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 May 2017
1st VISIT: 19 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Migas, Rail Runner Reuben, Porcellino, Cinnamon Roll, Hot Chocolate, Coleslaw, Savory Empanada

The Farmacy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Flying Star – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Flying Star on Albuquerque's burgeoning northwest side.

The Flying Star Cafe at the crossroads of Corrales, Albuquerque and Alameda

In the ancient Chinese art and science of Feng Shui, flying stars are used to assess the quality of the energy flow (qi) in a given place at a given time.  The positive and negative auras of a building are charted using precise mathematical formulas to determine the wealth, academic, career, success, relationships and health of a building’s inhabitant.  By understanding the course of harmful and beneficial flying stars, appropriate Feng Shui cures can be employed to mitigate the effects of those harmful stars while enhancing the positive effects of the beneficial stars. 

While owners Jean and Mark Bernstein may not have renamed their successful local restaurant chain for the Feng Shui principles of flying stars, there’s no denying the qi (energy flow) at Flying Star is  active, vibrant and positive.  It’s been that way from the very beginning, even before their restaurant was rechristened Flying Star (likely for its meteoric rise in popularity).  The Flying Star chain got its auspicious start in 1987 when the Bernsteins launched a high-energy restaurant named Double Rainbow in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district.  A franchisee of a San Francisco ice cream store of the same name, Double Rainbow was an immediate hit.  It was renamed Flying Star in the millennial year when the restaurant struck out on its own.  A quarter-century later, it remains one of New Mexico’s most popular and successful independent restaurants.

Mexican Latte and Chocolate Croissant

Mexican Latte and Chocolate Croissant

The Flying Star is a ubiquitous presence–some would say institution–in the Duke City with six locations situated seemingly not too far from every neighborhood.   It seems the only area in which Flying Star has not been successful is in fulfilling the first part of its mission statement–“to fly below the radar of the larger chains and to cook where no one has cooked before.”  Flying Star is on everyone’s radar–restaurant chains, singles and families, blue- and white-collar workers, hipsters and nerds, doctors, lawyers and probably even a few Indian chiefs. 

From its onset,  Flying Star has been a welcome departure from the ubiquitous gobble-and-go fast food franchises.  It’s an inviting milieu, a haven from the mundane and a hangout for huddled masses.  It’s as unpretentious as restaurants of its high quality come with absolutely no tablecloths, reservations or waitstaff.  Over the years its menu has expanded from its core offerings of sandwiches, soups and salads to pastas, rice dishes, a variety of blue plates and regional specialties, serving food that’s “not fancy, but really delicious and plentiful.” The Flying Star’s bakery makes some of the best artisan bread in the city and its desserts continue to earn accolades a plenty. 

Morning Sundae: Organic vanilla yogurt, Fresh and dried fruits, Walnuts, House made granola Honey

Morning Sundae

In 2008 Albuquerque The Magazine readers voted the Flying Star Albuquerque’s “Best Place to Overindulge,” indicative perhaps of the profuse portions American diners have come to expect.  Ironically, much of the feedback from readers who frequent the restaurant more frequently than I do has two themes: the Flying Star’s portions are increasingly parsimonious and its prices are increasing.  Two September, 2013 visits in three days certainly bore witness to the second contention–a burger which was nine dollars the last time I had it in 2009 is now nearly thirteen dollars.  I don’t visit the Flying Star often enough to validate the shrinking portion sizes, but had to smoosh the oversized burger down to be able to put it in my mouth. 

As savvy restaurateurs are well-advised to do, the Bernsteins took to heart their customers input and re-engineered Flying Star’s menu, offering lower-priced items and new desserts without compromising its high standards.  While a value-priced menu helped allay perceptions that Flying Star was a bit on the pricey side, several economic factors contributed to the restaurant’s descent.  By 2014 the Flying Star Cafe filed for a Chapter 11 business reorganization and closed under-performing restaurants in Santa Fe and Bernalillo as well as Albuquerque downtown.  In January, 2017, Flying Star remunerated unsecured creditors, effectively removing the restaurant from bankruptcy and allowing the cafes to continue operating under the Bernsteins.

Ranch Breakfast: Two Eggs,Home fries, Bagel, Turkey green chile sausage patties

Ranch Breakfast

In September, 2002, Bon Appetit magazine named The Flying Star one of the “ten favorite places for breakfast in America.”  That’s an incredible honor considering the tens of thousands of restaurants across the fruited plain that serve breakfast.  Best of all, every item on the menu is available all day long.  You can have the Flying Star’s amazing French toast for dinner and you can have the rosemary chicken with couscous risotto for breakfast and the counter staff won’t look at you quizzically. It’s the best of both worlds, a perpetual brunch for diners who can’t decide what to have.

15 September 2013: Because of the menu’s “everything all day long” approach, you could easily plan to start off your morning wanting breakfast, but changing your mind as you peruse many options on display over the counter.  Any meal goes well with the Flying Star’s coffee which earned “best coffee or espresso” accolades from Alibi readers in 2009.  An invigorating option is the Mexican latte (Espresso, steamed milk, cocoa powder, sugar and cinnamon) Grande-sized.  A little chile would make it even better.  The Mexican latte pairs very well with a chocolate croissant, made in-house.  It’s flaky, buttery deliciousness laced with dark chocolate.

The New Mexico Burger With French Fries

The Green Chile Cheeseburger Burger With French Fries

15 September 2013:  If the Mexican latte doesn’t wake you up, perhaps the Morning Sundae will.  Served in a glass goblet, it’s a rejuvenating elixir served slightly chilled.  The goblet is brimming with organic vanilla yogurt, fresh and dried fruits, walnuts, house-made granola and honey.  It offers an amazing world of contrasts in flavor (sweet, sour, tangy) and texture (nutty crunchiness, chilled firmness of the fruit).  More importantly, it’s as delicious a yogurt dish as you’ll find in the Duke City. 

15 September 2013: The Ranch is a more conventional American breakfast offering with an optional New Mexico touch you’ve got to have.  That option is turkey green chile sausage patties, one of the very few proteins good enough for diners to eschew an excellent smoked bacon.  Green chile doesn’t just make a cameo appearance on the sausage.  It’s very prominent in the flavor profile of a sausage which would still be quite good without it.  The Ranch also includes two eggs prepared any way you want them as well as your choice of a bagel or whole grain toast and home fries.  The home fries would be exceptional were they not in need of desalinization.

The ABC Patty Melt

The Patty Melt with French Fries

13 September 2013: If you’re craving a moist and juicy green chile cheeseburger, the Flying Star’s Green Chile Cheese, served on a potato brioche bun, is an excellent option. The green chile, an autumn roast blend is only slightly piquant, but the accompanying red onion, lettuce and tomato are garden fresh and the melted Cheddar cheese tops a perfectly seasoned slab of hamburger to form an excellent rendition of New Mexico’s favorite burger. Meatatarians will also appreciate the ABC Patty Melt–“A” as in avocado, “B” as in smoked bacon and “C” as in Jack cheese all served on grilled rye. It’s a beautiful sandwich when ordered medium done with a pinkish hue that would be the envy of many a blushing bride.  In 2009, the ABC Patty Melt was accorded the city’s “best burger” honors by Albuquerque The Magazine readers.

Sandwiches and burgers come with your choice of French fries, homemade potato salad, coleslaw or a fresh fruit salad. For a mere pittance you can also substitute a little greens salad or soup. While the fries are actually pretty good (crispy on the outside and soft on the inside), a refreshing alternative is a unique coleslaw flecked with red and green peppers as well as red onion. It’s not overly sweet or creamy and its component parts are invariably fresh and crunchy. Most coleslaw in Albuquerque is boring, but not at the Flying Star.  If you’re having a burger or sandwich, make sure your meal also includes a chocolate shake. It’s served cold and thick with what doesn’t fit in the glass served to you in a steely vessel. The chocolate isn’t teeth-decaying sweet as so many chocolate shakes tend to be.

The Miami Shrimp Stack

The Miami Shrimp Stack

The Flying Star’s menu provides food raised with a conscience.   The Bernstein were among the first Duke City restaurateurs to establish relationships with producers and growers of sustainable and humanely farmed meats, dairy and eggs. Burgers are crafted with 100% fresh and drug-free beef raised by seven New Mexican ranches while the chicken is cage-free, veg-fed and drug-free. Health conscious diners will appreciate the wide variety of inventive fresh salads; the menu showcases 45 freshly cut vegetables and fruits. All dressings are even made from scratch in the restaurant’s kitchen: Ranch, Bleu Cheese, Caesar, Spicy Sesame or House Vinaigrette.

5 May 2007: One of my favorite salads anywhere is the Miami Shrimp Stack (no longer on the menu), a timbale of seasoned shrimp, black beans and fresh avocado chunks drizzled with Ancho BBQ sauce. This salad is served with freshly made blue corn tortilla chips and a crunchy little salad (cucumber, carrots, jicama and green onion). Its pretty as a picture plating resembles an expensive fusion dish and the high quality of ingredients belie the price (under ten dollars). Despite the seemingly disparate ingredients, flavors coalesce to create a happy harmony on your taste buds.  Hopefully the Flying Star will someday resurrect this happiness generating salad.

Papas Got a Brand New Mac

26 October 2008: The Flying Star’s inventiveness is often best expressed in taking comfort food favorites and giving them a personality, an unconventional twist.  Sometimes this creativity works and sometimes it doesn’t.  When the latter occurs, it actually comes as a surprise. Such was the case when the restaurant’s Mac & Cheese, a 2008 “best in the city” honoree by Albuquerque The Magazine readers “morphed” into “Papa’s Gotta Brand New Mac  The Papa dish was more of the same…with a twist. That would be the addition of sauteed crimini mushrooms, green onions and crispy chicken breast to the Curly Q cavatappi and creamy cheese sauce. The highlight of this macaroni and cheese is resoundingly the crispy chicken breast which is tender and delicious. The low point is letting Velveeta anywhere near the dish.  

15 September 2013:  One of the more interesting menu items to hit the Flying Star menu in quite a while is a risotto not made with arborio rice, but with couscous, a coarsely ground semolina paste.  Somewhat similar to rice in color, texture and shape, couscous is often used in dishes just as rice would be.  Despite being more filling than rice, it’s actually a bit lighter and more airy.  By itself couscous is a bit on the boring side, but the Flying Star prepares it with an herbed, grilled chicken breast, asparagus, fresh peas and feta crumbles with plenty of rosemary.  It’s an excellent entree with more creaminess and flavor diversity than you might expect.

Rosemary chicken with couscous risotto

Rosemary chicken with couscous risotto

16 May 2017:  If the notion of “Asian comfort food” leaves you salivating, Flying Star’s Buddha Bowl may evoke lusty thoughts.  Picture fresh veggies and the protein (chicken, organic tofu, shrimp) of your choice flash sautéed in a ginger-lemongrass sauce over warm, organic brown or Jasmine rice.  The simplicity of this dish belies a complexity of rich, deep flavors.  Vegetables (carrots, pea pods, broccoli, edamame) are crisp and fresh and the chicken is delicate and delicious, but what really enlivens this dish is the ginger-lemongrass sauce which has personality to spare with a sharp, spicy, sweet flavors.  This dish will win over even those of us who think we don’t like vegetables.

16 May 2017: Even better, more comforting and delicious is the Thai Steak Salad (marinated, char-grilled steak strips, fresh ramen noodles tossed with glazed pineapple, crisp Thai veggies, fresh basil, mint, cilantro, sesame seeds and peanuts in a sesame coconut dressing).  In spirit and execution, it’s as “Thai true” as any such salad you’d find at a Thai restaurant.  There’s a lot going on in this dish with a multitude of complementary flavors competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds.  There, for example, is the sweet-tangy-juiciness of pineapple and the fresh, invigorating mint and Thai basil.  Texturally, there are plenty of captivating contrasts.  Your fork may well spear crisp vegetables and the crunchy peanuts with soft, tender noodles.   This is a fun, delish dish.

Buddha Bowl

16 May 2017:  The seasonal menu for spring, 2017 includes what my Kim touted as “the best Cubano I’ve ever had.”  Because my mouth was full and my mood buoyant with enjoyment of the Torta Cubana (roasted pork loin, toasted till crunchy bolillo roll, punchy pickled veggies and spicy brown mustard) it was impossible to argue.  The canvas for most Cubanos made in the Duke City is panini pressed bread resplendent with grill marks.  Not so for the Flying Star’s rendition.  The bolillo is less grating on the roof of your mouth than panini-pressed bread tends to be.  It’s an excellent canvas for the delicately roasted pork loin.  What really brings this sandwich to life are the punchy pickled vegetables and spicy brown mustard.  Those pickled vegetables are indeed punchy and lively.  So is the spicy brown mustard.  This is truly a Cubano self-actualized, as good as you’ll find in Miami.

Thai Steak Salad

As the Double Rainbo, this powerhouse restaurant was named in Southwest Airlines’ Spirit magazine as one of the best places in their routes for the most important meal of the day–dessert. The dessert offerings are lavish indeed, including the ice cream which is sinfully rich and creamy. In its Food and Wine issue (May 2007), Albuquerque The Magazine (ATM) accorded a “Hot Plate” award to the restaurant’s Raspberry Blackout, a decadent dessert worthy of adulation. A display case showcases some of the best looking desserts you’ll see anywhere. They’re so “pretty as a picture” perfect you might think they’re wax imitations of the real thing. Thankfully they don’t taste waxy. 

Singling out one dessert at Flying Star is akin to singling out a single star from a Northern New Mexico night sky. It’s a daunting task sure to invite deliciously contentious debate. One choice, especially on a hot summer day is the turtle sundae, still the very best in Albuquerque by a mile or more.  Perpetually on display under glass are some of the most mouth-watering baked desserts, baked fresh daily in the old-fashioned, hand-crafted manner of yore.  The Flying Star is one of New Mexico’s most lauded and lionized artisinal bakers.  Some of its decadent desserts are works of art in the form of irresistible post-prandial deliciousness.

Torta Cubana

You can almost imagine Mary Ann in her tight, skimpy shorts serving you the coconut cream pie, which like the one served on Gilligan’s Island isn’t overpoweringly sweet as some of its genre tend to be. The caramel apple pie topped with sumptuous vanilla ice cream is “mom worthy.” Still, my vote might go to a gigantic wedge of bread pudding cake, served with a luscious caramel sauce. The adjective decadent has nothing on this oh so rich dessert. It’s so rich you’ll have to share it with a dining companion.

Being the proud “dad” of the most handsome dachshund (The Dude) ever conceived, I also appreciate the Flying Star Cafe’s commitment to our four-legged children who sometimes eat from the floor. The restaurant is helping the Animal Humane Association of New Mexico build a low-cost or free medical treatment center for pets. The center will help families who can’t afford to provide even basic medical care for their beloved pets. How can you not love this altruism?

Turtle Cheesecake

As one of Albuquerque’s very favorite fun places to dine, Duke City diners agree the Flying Star really is in orbit around the city with its six palate-pleasing restaurants.

The Flying Star
3416 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-6633
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 16 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 16
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Turtle Sundae, Machacado, Baked Bread, New Mexico Burger, Coleslaw, Raspberry Blackout, Bread Pudding, ABC Patty Melt, Miami Shrimp Stack, Morning Sundae, Mexican Latte, Ranch Breakfast, Rosemary Chicken With Couscous Risotto, Buddha Bowl, Thai Steak Salad, Torta Cubana

Flying Star Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Original Garcia's on Juan Tabo, N.E.

The Original Garcia’s on Juan Tabo, N.E.

One of the central themes of William Faulkner’s magnus opus Absalom, Absalom! is that no two people experience the same thing. Of the four characters who narrate the story, none of them is completely reliable because each has a personal bias, a unique frame of reference based on personal experiences to call upon. Readers are left to determine those biases and how they affect the telling of the story. With the passage of time, one of the characters experiences the memory of the events differently than she experienced the events when they happened. 

Similarly, no two diners experience the same meal.  Sure, they may partake of the very same entrees, but how they perceive their dining experience may be tainted or enhanced by personal bias and past experiences.  This is painfully obvious in reading the comments following my review of Garcia’s Kitchen.  Some readers took umbrage at my having reviled a restaurant they love while others agreed with my assessment and readily piled on.  My friend John L. sagely suggested “they (Garcia’s) need to work on consistency among the various branches,” the implication being I should try Garcia’s at other locations as he had.

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

The caricature of Andy Garcia can be found throughout the restaurant

There are seven Original Garcia’s restaurants across the Duke City.  Though one might expect a consistent experience and standardization across the seven, John’s comments and reviews published on Yelp indicate a lack of consistency among the seven Garcia’s.  To paraphrase Faulkner’s observation, perhaps “no two kitchens prepare the same food” and “no two restaurants provide the same service”–even if those restaurants are of the same family and bear the same name.  The review I published and with which some readers took umbrage was based on a visit in 2007 to the Garcia’s on Juan Tabo.  It was a visit that tarnished my opinion of the restaurant. 

When my friend Nader Khalil recommended we visit Garcia’s Kitchen on 4th Street (just north of Mountain Road), my initial response was hardly enthusiastic, but Nader has never led me astray when it comes to restaurants.  He once worked as a chef in Phoenix and truly understands the nuances of ingredients, seasoning, preparation and the multitudinous factors which play into a great meal.  Garcia’s, he assured me, would redeem itself.  He boasted especially of the restaurant’s menudo, a welcome repast on the rainy, windy day in which we visited.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

External signage at some of the Garcia’s restaurants includes the subtitle “The Original.”  Obviously this doesn’t mean the first one of the seven Garcia’s Kitchen restaurants.  I surmise the designation “The Original” might have something to do with a short-lived interloper named Garcia’s of Scottsdale which opened and closed in the early 1980s in the uptown area.  The bona fide Original Garcia’s Kitchen has been serving Albuquerque diners since 1973.  That’s nearly 45 years of people pleasing that says it’s doing many things right.

Some of Garcia’s familiarity can be credited to a caricature of Andy Garcia, the restaurant’s owner.  That caricature depicts a sombrero wearing Andy with a cherubic smile holding a plateful of tacos on one hand and a towel on the other.  It is prevalent throughout his restaurants; you can find it on colorful paintings, the menus and even on napkins.  Every one of the seven restaurants is brightly and festively decorated with an ambiance tailored to the specific neighborhood it is serving.   One of the many things that makes Garcia’s so popular is its breakfast at any time option.  Likely because of political correctness, the menu no longer includes a separate section called “Gringo Breakfast” which listed entrees without chile.

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

Enchilada plate with a fried egg atop

Make that “chili” or at least that’s the way it’s spelled on the menu.  It’s one of several menu malapropisms the purist in me finds hard to accept as cutesy.  Other liberties taken on the menu include the spelling “Karnitas” and the listing of fajitas under the New Mexican food (fajitas originated in Texas).  Yeah, I know.  What do I want–good grammar or good taste?  Obviously there’s nothing as important as great tasting New Mexican food and that’s where Garcia’s has won over legions of fans.  If my visit with Nader is any indication, you may soon count me among them.

20 October 2007 (Juan Tabo location):  Modern technology has made possible the desalinization of ocean water.  It shouldn’t be that difficult to desalinate chips (or to find vendors who proffer chips that aren’t quite so salty).    Unfortunately, the chips at Garcia’s are almost too salty to enjoy.  That’s entirely too bad considering they’re served with an excellent, rich red salsa with the piquant bite purists crave.  With better chips, it’s a two bowl minimum pre-meal salsa.

Menudo

20 October 2007 (Juan Tabo location):  Another culinary transgression no restaurant should ever commit is serving its food at a  lukewarm temperature.  To me that’s a near criminal offense.  New Mexican food should be served piping hot.  Diners would rather hear the warning, “be careful, the plate’s hot”  than to have to request their meal be reheated (never ask for it to be “nuked” because microwaves commit felony-level crimes on foods they reheat).  During this visit, I did have to ask for my enchilada plate to be reheated. That, more than the flavor of the plate, is what remained on my memory.

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location): My friend Nader is a bona fide volcano-eater, an intrepid diner with an asbestos-lined mouth.  Even more than me, he enjoys food that bites back.  The fact that Garcia’s menudo earned his respect, admiration and utterances of “that’s hot!” should be a calling card for diners who enjoy a “pain is a flavor” dining experience.  Available in large and extra large sizes, the menudo is served with hominy (not called posole on the menu).  As New Mexicans know, menudo is made from cow’s honeycomb-structured offal.  Unless prepared correctly, menudo’s off-putting, appetite-suppressing odor will deter even the most intrepid of diners.  Garcia’s prepares it well, serving it with an incendiary red chile that bites back.  Menudo is not for everyone, but if you’re an aficionado, Garcia’s version is one you’ll enjoy.

Green Chile Stew

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location):You’ll also enjoy Garcia’s green chile stew, especially on cold, blustery days–even in mid-May when New Mexico’s weather makes liars out of media meteorologists.  Available with or without beans, it’s served piping hot–just as it should be when cold weather will chill you to the bone.  From both the perspective of temperature and piquancy, it’s a “hot” green chile stew with a pleasant bite.  It’s also very well balanced with plenty of ground beef and chile, not an excess of potatoes.  If your preference is to enjoy it with beans, you’ll appreciate these frijoles, whole beans with a terrific flavor. 

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location):  The burritos menu is prefaced with the boast “the best in town.”  There are thirteen burritos on the menu and they’re available with chile on the inside or smothered with chile and cheese on top.  You can have your burrito ala carte or in the form of a plate (refried or whole beans, rice or papas).  Nader’s favorite is the aforementioned fajitas burrito (grilled beef stripped, grilled onions and green peppers with guacamole and pico de gallo inside).  You’ll maximize your chile apportionment by having your burrito smothered.  Ask for red and green, too.  Both the red and green chile have a pleasant piquancy.  There’s no false advertising with the fajitas burrito.  It does indeed taste like chile smothered fajitas.  Very good fajitas!

Fajitas Burrito

15 May 2017 (1113 4th location): Garcia’s sopaipillas are also quite good–and they are served steamy hot.  They’re not quite pillowy as at other restaurants, but they always feel and taste freshly made and delicious.  Moreover, they’re not at all greasy and have a pleasant “mouth feel.”  Instead of being served with real honey, they’re accompanied by a “honey-flavored syrup.”  It’s not quite the same.

Garcia’s also serves excellent biscochitos.  The official New Mexico state cookie, the best biscochitos are topped with plenty of anise for sweetness and flavor.  These are some of the best!

Sopaipillas

It’s always been my contention that the true mark of a great restaurant is consistency (great food, great service) over time.  For restaurants with more than one presence in a city or state, that consistency should apply across all locations.  If diners know exactly what they can expect at McDonald’s, shouldn’t they also know what to expect at the seven Garcia’s restaurants across the Duke City?  It will be interesting to visit other locations throughout the city to see the degree of consistency at each of the seven.

Garcia’s Kitchen
3601 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-5812
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Biscochitos, Salsa, Menudo, Green Chile Stew, Fajitas Burrito

Garcia's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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