M’TUCCI’S MARKET & PIZZERIA – Albuquerque, New Mexico

M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria

Greek mythology recounts the story of Tantalus, progeny of a divine parent (Zeus himself) and a mortal one.  Uniquely favored among mortals by being invited to share the food of the gods, Tantalus abused that privilege by slaying his own son and feeding him to the gods as a test of their omniscience.  The gods immediately figured out what Tantalus had done and in their rage condemned him to the deepest portion of the underworld where he would be forever “tantalized” with hunger and thirst.  Though immersed up to his neck in water, when Tantalus bent to drink, it all drained away.  When he reached for the luscious fruit hanging on trees above him, winds blew the branches beyond his reach.

For years, Duke City diners have been tantalized by the promise of signage beckoning us to visit “delis” only to realize, much like the gods of Olympus, that all is not as it appears.  A sign does not a deli make nor do products from peripatetic distributors.  As with Tantalus, we’re left to pine for the authenticity of a true deli, the type of which Albuquerque has not seen since the bygone days of Deli Mart.  Savvy diners may not be able to vanquish the ersatz delis to the underworld, but we can banish these pretenders to the realm of chain restaurants we choose not to frequent.

Huge Flavors Come out of This Small Space

By strict definition a “deli,” an abbreviated form of delicatessen, is a term meaning “delicacies,” “fine foods” or “delicious things to eat.”   Over time delicatessen and its diminutive form came to represent the store, restaurant or combination thereof in which these delicacies, fine foods and delicious things to eat are sold, either for take-out or eat-in.    For many of us who have lived in large cities, the term deli is synonymous with Jewish deli while for others a deli proffers specialty foods indigenous to Italy, Poland (see Red Rock Deli) or other European nation. 

The hard-liners among us will never accept  that Schlotzky’s, Jason’s, McAlister’s and others of that ilk are delis despite what their signage may say.  Nor will we ever be duped by the deception of diners daring to call themselves delis.  It goes without saying that we don’t believe a deli should  feature products burnishing the labels of Oscar Mayer, Hormel, Kirkland, Butterball or even the ubiquitous Boar’s Head.  An authentic deli should preferably cure, salt, dry and cut its own meats and make at least some of its cheeses–and if it doesn’t do that, it should procure and sell only the finest, most authentic meats and cheeses available.

Italian Charcuterie Board

With the December, 2014 launch of M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli, Albuquerque once again has an authentic Italian deli in the tradition of delis for which hard-core deli aficionados have pined for far too long.  It’s a deli in which I’d proudly break bread with Dave Hurayt, Bruce Schor, Bob Sherwood and Gary Feaster with whom I’ve commiserated about the absence of an authentic deli in Albuquerque.  Best of all, it’s a deli with a pedigree that promises authenticity and deliciousness. 

Trust the ownership triumvirate of John Haas, Katie Gardner and Jeff Spiegel to do for their Italian market and deli what they’ve done for their restaurant. The trio launched M’Tucci’s Kitchina in 2013 and accolades quickly piled on (including “Best New Restaurant” honors from Albuquerque The Magazine readers and being named one of the top 100 neighborhood restaurants in the US by Open Table).  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli is located about 150 feet away from its elder sibling in the Montaño Plaza shopping center.

Pickled Board

Ensconced within Lilliputian digs, M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli embodies the axiom “little place, huge flavors.”  Add huge aromas and you might feel you’ve been transported to a small corner New York City Italian deli.    You’ll be amazed at just how much is crammed into such a small space.  Seating for about ten guests is to your immediate left and right as you walk in.  Because of space constraints, the deli’s take-out business will be a robust part of the operation.  The rest of the space is devoted to mouth-watering Italian products, many of which are created on the premises. 

In fact, the talented staff at M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli bakes its own breads (sourdough, rye, whole wheat, baguette, ciabatta, foccacia), makes its pastas and sausages, cures many of its own meats (prosciutto, cotto, sopressata, mortadella, etc.) and makes its cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, burrata, etc.).  What isn’t made on the premises is procured from trusted, high-quality sources.  On the shelves you’ll also espy jars of fresh herbs (basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.) while refrigerated deli cases showcase pickled goods (eggplant, sweet or spicy cucumbers, cardamom carrots, giardinera, Sicilian green olives, Macedonian peppers and more).  Your taste buds might go into sensory overload, not to mention involuntary salivation.

Muffaletta with Farro Salad

Optimally, you’ll be able to score one of the four tables for a unique eat-in experience that will allow you to browse and sample as you wait for your meal which, by the way, is so much more than sandwiches.  First on the menu are three Italian charcuterie boards, all of which are accompanied by house-made artisan bread.  After you peruse the four enticing appetizers and three scrumptious salads, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose from among seven featured sandwiches, including a build-your-own option and all served with one side.  You can opt instead for one of three pastas.  Either way, you might not have room left for one of the three luscious desserts.

If, like me, you believe Italian delis start and end with meats and cheeses, you’ve got to try one of the three Charcuterie Boards (Salumi Board, Pickled Board, Cheese Board).  In America, the ancient European culinary art of charcuterie has recently started to become a highly revered and well-practiced art.   Charcuterie refers to the products made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie. The operative word here is “made” as in butchering, cutting, salting, curing, slicing, storing and preparing such meat products such as bacon, sausage, ham, pates, and more.  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli not only offers charcuterie, it is a charcuterie!

Pastrami

14 December 2014: The Salumi Board offers three options: pick two, pick three or pick four from among the meats.  An outstanding option is the spicy coppa (short for capicolla), a traditional, rustic Italian cured meat with a taste and texture similar to prosciutto.   If you’re a Sopranos fan, you might recognize capicolla by its slang name “gabagool.” By any name it’s delicious.   Speck, which is cured with such spices as juniper berries, nutmeg, garlic and bay leaves before being cold-smoked, is another terrific option.  It wouldn’t be a salumi (Italian cold cuts) board without Toscano salami, a dry, salami with large bits of fat, garlic and black peppercorns surrounded by leaner meat which provides a robust, distinctive but not overpowering flavor.  It goes without saying you’ll also want prosciutto on your board.  Accompanying these meats are slices of Italian bread, an addictive onion jam, house-made mustard, tomato relish and probably the very best spicy pickles you’ll ever have.

12 April 2015: M’Tucci’s pickled board is the very best we’ve had in New Mexico though there aren’t that many to compare with.  Available in quantities of two, three or four pickled vegetables, it’s essentially a vegetable plate even vegetable-haters will love.  Usually served with a local goat cheese, we lucked out during our April, 2015.  Because the deli had run out of what is undoubtedly an outstanding goat cheese, a Bucherondin de Chevre, a luscious and creamy French goat cheese was substituted.  Pierce the Bucherondin’s rind and you’ll enjoy a near-buttery soft, creamy and mild goat cheese that complements pickled vegetables very well.  Our pickled board included sweet and hot pickles, carrots and eggplant, all of which were oh, so delicious with distinctive notes in each.  Those pickles are absolutely addictive!

BLT

14 December 2014: The sandwich menu includes several familiar favorites such as the Cubano, BLT, Pastrami and Muffaletta, but while M’Tucci’s pays homage to traditions which spawned these sacrosanct sandwiches, it does not attempt to duplicate them.  The muffaletta, for example, is not an exact replica of the muffaletta you might have at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, but it’s an outstanding Italian inspired sandwich in its own right.  The canvas for this superb sandwich is housemade ciabatta which is generously topped with housemade capicola, mortadella, salami, an olive tapenade and house-smoked mozzarella. It takes two hands and a wide-open mouth to handle this mighty, meaty, magnificent sandwich.  The yin to the muffaletta is a ferro salad  (fresh grape tomatoes, walnuts, Tucumcari feta, pickled red onions on a lettuce leaf), one of the four available sides.

14 December 2014: Pastrami paramours often consider it heretical for pastrami sandwiches to be topped only with a good deli mustard with a dill pickle on the side.  Before they become apoplectic at learning M’Tucci’s pastrami (made on the premises) sandwich is made with herbed goat cheese, fresh red onions, a housemade mustard on housemade rye, they had darned well better try it.  It’s unlike any pastrami this aficionado has ever had and it’s a bit lean (fat is flavor) for my tastes, but it’s still a pretty good sandwich with that herbed goat cheese really standing out.  This sandwich pairs well with oven-roasted herbed potatoes, red potatoes seasoned with rosemary, thyme and fresh garlic. 

Carbonara

12 April 2015: For years, the benchmark against which I’ve measured all BLTs in New Mexico has been the TBL, a Gecko’s Bar & Tapas original stacked in triplicate with applewood smoked bacon, green leaf lettuce and ripe tomatoes on wheatberry bread.  It took more than a decade to find a BLT that’s better.  Like the TBL, M’Tucci Market’s version is also an original.  In its standard form, it, too, is made with applewood smoked bacon though for a mere pittance, you can substitute bourbon-glazed bacon.  Splurge!  It’s the best bacon we’ve had in New Mexico, better even than the red chile-honey glazed bacon at the Gold Street Caffe.  The BLT (butter leaf lettuce, fresh tomato, blue cheese aioli and wheat bread made on the premises) is all a sandwich should be though the hard-crusted bread scrapes against the roof of your mouth just a bit.  The blue cheese aioli is rather mild which is perfectly fine because it lets the bacon shine.  The lentil salad (pickled onion, carrot, zucchini, rosemary, sage, thyme and Tucumcari gouda) is an excellent accompaniment.

12 April 2015: While judging the Taste of Rio Rancho in February, 2015, my friend Mario D’Elia, the uber-talented executive chef for the Albuquerque Isotopes, commiserated that guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks) isn’t that widely used in Albuquerque restaurants, Chef Maxime Bouneou, formerly of  Torinos @ Home being one of the few to use it.  Add M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli to what will hopefully become a trend.  M’Tucci’s makes its own guanciale and it’s terrific.  The guanciale is perhaps my favorite ingredient in a Carbonara dish constructed of superb ingredients (housemade cured egg yolk, Pecorino, sage, pepperoncini flakes, shallots and tagliatelle made on the premises).  The tagliatelle (long, flat pasta ribbons) is fortified with an unctuous, but not overly excessive, sauce.   The portion size is relatively modest, but being so rich, Carbonara isn’t a pasta dish on which many diners can over-indulge.  This is a great one!

Italian Mac & Cheese

7 June 2016:  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, has (as of this writing) visited MTucci’s Italian Market & Deli some 48 times.  It’s easy to see why he loves this restaurant so much–as well as why your humble sesquipedalian blogger needs to increase the frequency of his visits.  The Italian Mac & Cheese (Rosemary ham, Morbier Mornay, handmade penne, fresh Mozzarella, Aleppo pepper bread crumbs) warrants a visit or ten all by itself.  After one forkful Larry declared it the best mac and cheese he’s ever had.  High praise indeed.  There’s a lot to love about this skilletful of deliciousness and inventiveness.  Instead of the usual half-and-half mixture of Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, the Mornay sauce is made with Morbier, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese which, interestingly, is fashioned with a black layer of tasteless ash.  The Morbier not only coalesces the penne, some of it melts into a delightfully oily pool at the bottom of the skillet.   Chunks of Rosemary ham imparts resinous, savory and sweet qualities that blend magnificently with other ingredients while the Aleppo peppers (about 10,000 on the Scoville scale) lends a pleasant piquancy.

7 June 2016:  When she hangs out with Larry and me, Dazzling Deanell  is like a delicate flower among two wilted weeds.  She not only graces our table with beauty, wit and charm, she always seems to order the right things.  Take for example, the Market Reuben (fresh market-cured corned beef, homemade sauerkraut, red chile mostarda on rye bread) she ordered during our June 7th visit.  Even as she ordered it, she declared the Reuben at O‘Hare’s Grille and Pub in Rio Rancho to be her favorite Reuben then conceded that M’Tucci’s version will probably be even better.  She has the gift of prophecy!  This is a fantastic Reuben, one she paired with a glorious beet salad.  The housemade rye is the perfect canvas for the other components.  The red chile mostarda (which has nothing to do with mustard and more closely resembles a relish) is a magnificent blend of fruity sweetness, piquancy and tanginess.  As we enjoyed the sandwich, we discerned a flavor similar to cloves (or perhaps crushed lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread spice cookies), but weren’t quite sure what its genesis was.  We surmise it may have come from the roasting of the corned beef itself.  The corned beef is even better than M’Tucci’s pastrami and that’s saying something.

Market Reuben (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

11 December 2016:  There appears to be no limit to the talents of Shawn Cronin and Cory Gray, the uber-talented chefs who “bake, cook, age, and cure their way to creative culinary bliss.”    In November, 2016, the dynamic duo transformed M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli  into M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Pizzeria.  It’s not just a change in concept or solely an exercise in re-branding, but rather an ambitious expansion that reflects the addition of 12 pizzas into an already outstanding menu.  When you think about it, it just makes sense.  They were already hawking some of the best cheese, meat and bread in the city.  Why not put them all together?  And, if you’re thinking to yourself, there’s already a top tier pizza at M’Tucci’s Kitchina, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria has one-upped its elder sibling.  In fact, in our estimation, the only pizza in the Duke City that’s even in the same zip code is at the Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House. 

Custom-made ovens that heat to 800-degrees will ensure your pie is baked quickly and evenly.  You’ll find plenty of char on each pie, a hallmark of the pizza at Farina  where Shawn and Cory cut their teeth.  If char is not a flavor you like much, you can ask for light char.  The menu indicates “Our pizza dough uses wild sourdough starter instead of yeast, giving a better flavor and texture. We cook it until a deep caramelization occurs. We source the best ingredients, either house made, local, or imported.”  Ten years ago you wouldn’t have found a pizza menu like this one.  Instead of last decade’s sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives and the like, this menu lists such ingredients as orange-herb gremolata, baby kale, smoked buffalo mozzarella and caramelized onion coulis.  The result will make a believer out of you!

Caprese Trio

11 December 2016:  Mike Greenberg, the metrosexual nerd who pairs with the brutish former NFL player Mike Golic to host the morning sports talk show Mike & Mike (on Albuquerque’s ESPN 101.7 The Team) contrasts the difference in their personalities by condescendingly pointing out he enjoys Caprese salads while his endomorphic partner prefers donuts.  The implication here is that the Caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction and olive oil) is enjoyed by worldly sophisticates while donuts are an opiate for the hoi polloi.  In truth, Caprese salads are a favorite of all of us who enjoy salads. 

Though listed in the Insalata (salad) section of the menu, the “Caprese Trio” is unlike any composed Caprese salad you’ve ever seen.  Served on a slate board is a treasure trove of deliciousness: fresh mozzarella, Balsamic roasted tomato, fresh basil, smoked mozzarella, house Italian tomato jam, pesto, Burrata, fresh tomatoes, basil oil, ten-year old Balsamic vinegar and wedges of lightly toasted bread.  It’s sheer genius to compile such individually delicious ingredients into a cohesive array of complementary, harmonious magnificence.  Every single component is a shining star.  Our favorite may have been the burrata, an unnaturally soft and moist fresh Italian cheese made from cream and mozzarella.  Translated to “buttered,” it bears a strong resemblance to mozzarella, but is much softer and when penetrated by a knife or fork, has an interior that spills out, revealing unctuous, stringy curd and fresh cream.   The smoked mozzarella is absolutely amazing and the tomato jam is addictive!

Carbonara Pizza

11 December 2016:  Ordering the Carbonara pizza brought a broad smile to our server’s face.  She said it was her favorite pizza.  It’s easy to see why.   M’Tucci’s pizzaiolos nonpariel have taken Carbonara to the nth degree, actualizing its potential and fashioning a pizza as good as it can possibly be.  Not since Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach, California have we found a pizza that amazed us as much as this one did (Jim Millington, are you reading this?).  This fourteen-inch masterpiece redolent with char is topped with house-cured and smoked Guanciale, caramelized onion coulis, sauteed spinach, Tallegio cheese and Rosemary cured egg yolk.  The caramelized onion coulis imparts sweet notes while the Tallegio cheese provides an unusually fruity tang.  Our favorite ingredient, however, is the guanciale (about which I rave above).  The Neapolitan crust is light and chewy with the distinctive flavor of sourdough in evidence.

11 December 2016:  While the Margherita may be the forerunner of all pizzas, it’s never been one of my favorites.  It’s just too basic and unadorned to suit my “more is better” tastes.  M’Tucci Market & Pizzeria has made a convert out of me with its Buffalo Margherita (smoked buffalo mozzarella, basil-infused olive oil, tomato jam and roasted garlic).  Buffalo mozzarella, made from the milk of domestic Italian water buffalo, is a difference-maker.  With a high butterfat content, it’s got a seductive tang you just don’t get from mozzarella made from cow’s milk.  Then there’s the tomato jam with its rich, sweet-savory notes. It’s wholly unlike the savory acidity of the tomato sauce which typically graces pizza. Every Margherita should be this good!

Margherita Pizza

25 June 2017:  My friend Larry McGoldrick writes on his blog, “For my last dozen or so visits, I don’t even look at the menu. Cory and Shawn know what I like and what is healthy for me, and automatically start a custom meal as soon as I walk in the door.”  You, too, can eat like Larry and not just vicariously.   All you’ve got to do is roll the dice.  A small placard over the door reads, “Don’t know what to eat?  Roll the dice and let us decide with Chef Roulette.”  Yeah, it requires a high level of trust and not every chef warrants such trust.  Cory and Shawn do!

What is most amazing about the Chef Roulette concept is that the dish tailor-made for you may not be made exactly the same for the next intrepid diner who decides to roll the dice.  I wouldn’t change a thing about the mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin, two thick tenderloins stuffed with mushrooms and local-roasted leeks over roasted potatoes, cannellini beans, piñon and scallions over a roasted tomato cream sauce.  Along with Forghedaboudit‘s transformative pepperoni and sausage pizza and magnificent meatballs, this is the best dish I’ve enjoyed in 2017.  The roasted tomato cream sauce has an element of piquancy that pairs perfectly with the sweet-tanginess of the roasted tomatoes.  There is a complexity to this dish that extends far beyond its ingredients.  This is a dish which will enrapt your taste buds.  Knowing it may never again cross my lips is almost painful to contemplate.

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

14 December 2014: There are only three desserts on the menu and if they’re all as good as the two we chose, you’re sure to sate, if not titillate, your sweet tooth. The molded cheesecake topped with a fig jam renewed my faith in cheesecakes which of late have all been plagued by a boring sameness.  The crostata, a delicate Italian tart enveloping buttery butternut squash infused with sage is nearly as good.  Somewhat small by contemporary dessert size standards, they’re not to be missed.

12 April 2015: Not that long ago you could practically count on one hand, the number of Italian restaurants offering cannoli as a dessert option.  For the most part, it’s been pretty standard–tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta and often, mascarpone.  “Radical” versions sometimes included chocolate toppings.  Yawn!  During our visit in April, 2015, M’Tucci’s served a cannoli pila (an Italian term meaning “stacked” or “piled”) that was essentially a deconstructed cannoli.  Instead of the standard stuffed shell, bits of shell were topped with a mascarpone-ricotta mix topped with a cherry-walnut compote.  It’s a deliciously different way to enjoy one of the most popular of Italian desserts.

Italian Bread Pudding (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

7 June 2016:  When Larry first tried M’Tucci’s Italian bread pudding, it immediately rocketed to the coveted number one spot on his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  It was so good that both he and Deanell regretted not having ordered one each instead of sharing a portion.  One of my life’s greatest regrets is not having driven over immediately as soon as they told me (months ago) how fabulous this bread pudding is.  There are several reasons it’s so good.  First, the bread isn’t the mushy, squishy mess so often used on bread pudding.  It’s a housemade foccacia.  Secondly, it’s not cloying as bread pudding is oft to be.  Third, it’s made with premium ingredients.  The version to which I was introduced included blueberries and piñon and was topped with a seasonal melt-in-your-mouth gelato.  This is transformative stuff!

Pop culture enthusiasts will remember the scene from the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally in which Meg Ryan experienced delirious joy from her sandwich at New York City’s revered Katz’s Deli. Similar reactions at M’Tucci’s are sure to be repeated and when they are, you can tell your server “I’ll have what she’s having.”

M’TUCCI’S  MARKET & PIZZERIA 
6001 Winter Haven Road,  N.W., Suite G
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7327
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 June 2017
1st VISIT: 14 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Italian Charcuterie Board, Pickled Board, Pastrami Sandwich, BLT, Muffaletta, Carbonara, Farro Salad, Lentil Salad, Oven-Roasted Herbed Potatoes, Cheesecake with Fig, Crostata with Butternut Squash, Cannoli Pila, Italian Mac and Cheese, Market Reuben, Italian Bread Pudding, Carbonara Pizza, Buffalo Margherita Pizza, Caprese Trio, Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

M'Tucci's Market and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fork & Fig – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fork & Fig, a Modern Eatery on Menaul Just East of Louisiana

Listen to Billy Joel’s 1983 doo wop hit Uptown Girl and you’ll probably get the impression that uptown is synonymous with uppity or at least upscale.  The lyrics describe a working-class downtown man (ostensibly Joel himself who’s originally from blue-collar Long Island) trying to win the heart of a wealthy, white bred uptown girl (Joel’s future wife Christie Brinkley). The perception of uptown’s haughtiness were reenforced in “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld in which John F. Kennedy, Jr. lived in trendy uptown.  When they finally came into money, the Jefferson’s moved on up, too.

Until just a few years ago, the Albuquerque neighborhoods around which conversations typically centered were Old Town, downtown, Nob Hill and even EDo (East Downtown).  Uptown was solely where the Coronado and Winrock Malls were.  With the closure of the Winrock Mall and subsequent launch of ABQ Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly, open-air lifestyle center, Albuquerque’s uptown area seemingly became “the heart of the city’s modern shopping and business district.”

The dining room with open kitchen at Fork & Fig

Though it may appear national chains such as the Elephant Bar, Dave & Buster’s, Bonefish Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill dominate the uptown culinary landscape, actually only 45 percent of the uptown area’s 75 restaurants are national chains.  Local mom-and-pop restaurants continue to thrive against the onslaught of deep-pocketed corporate competition.  Enter into the fray Fork & Fig, a modern eatery which opened its doors just before the calendar flipped to February, 2015. 

Fork & Fig is an exemplar of locally owned and operated.  After having worked as a personal chef in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, decided to try his hand at owning and operating his own restaurant.  Though Fork & Fig specializes in gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads, you can also get more substantial offerings (such as steak) on a take-out basis.  The restaurant, which has neither a freezer or a fryer, emphasizes fresh, local ingredients. 

Citrus Salad

Compared with some of the megalithic chains in the area, Fork & Fig is practically Lilliputian, seating only 40 patrons in its 1,500 square-foot space. Diminutive, however, doesn’t mean dull and drab.  Fork & Fig is a hip and happening venue sure to excite both even the most discerning palates.  Seating is in personal space proximity (which means you have a good view of what’s being delivered to your neighbors’ tables) with bar-like seating overlooking an exhibition prep kitchen and, when they’re not swamped, you can even interact with the chefs.  

In Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” peoples’ choice poll for 2015, Fork & Fig was named “Best New Restaurant.”  That’s quite an honor considering the high quality of new restaurants launched in 2015.  In January, 2017, Fork & Fig was one of a handful of Duke City eateries highlighted by Young Professionals of Albuquerque for inclusion in list naming “5 Eateries Perfect For Your Lunch Break.”  Since its launch, Fork & Fig has remained a consistent presence on Yelp’s list of “best restaurants in Albuquerque.”  It’s certainly a restaurant going places.

Sesame Salad

If there’s one thing a smallish restaurant with no freezer and no fryer can’t do, it’s be all things to all people.  It makes better sense to focus on a select few items and prepare them exceptionally well.  The few, the proud, the delicious at Fork & Fig is comprised of eight sandwiches (Sammys), five burgers (Burgs), three wraps, three greens (salads), five sides, a sour du jour and a dessert du jour as well.  With the Sammys, Burgs and Wraps, you also receive one side (Cotija corn, grilled zucchini, potato gnocchi, cherry tomato salad, green chile slaw).  Please note that because of menu rotation, some of the items described below may not be available when you visit.

8 February 2015: It’s probably not polite to drool when servers deliver a meal to your neighbors, but such is the hazard of close proximity seating.  The burgers, in particular, are drool-worthy.  They’re skyscraper tall with thick beef patties topped with sundry ingredients and imagination.  Sometimes, however, you feel like a burger and sometimes you don’t.  In the rare latter event, it’s nice to know you can find something as good as the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich (four cheeses, tomato fig relish and bacon on Hawaiian bread).  This magnificent melange of sweet, unctuous and smoky deliciousness is indeed an all grown up version of the sandwich we all loved as children.  The Cotija corn, a grilled ear of corn topped with shredded Cotija cheese) is a terrific foil.

The Fig with a Cool Watermelon Gazpacho

8 February 2015: Save for the sacrosanct green chile Philly at Philly’s N’ Fries, I’m at a loss to recall a single transformative or even memorable steak sandwich in the Duke City. Fork & Fig’s Ribeye Sammy (ribeye, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and creamy chimichurri on a ciabatta bun) aims to change my thinking. The ribeye is on the thin side (similar to a Mexican steak), but it’s tender and nary fat nor sinew rear their yucky presence. The chimichurri is indeed creamy, but a bit more of it would have been nice. The green chile slaw doesn’t have much personality or piquancy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the Ribeye Sammy.

8 February 2015: Uber chef Marcus Samuelsson believes “Salad can get a bad rap.  People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, far from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”  It’s with this approach that Fork & Fig creates the four salads on its Greens menu.  You’ve probably had a salad similar to The Citrus (berries and orange supremes, mixed greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette), but you’ll probably enjoy The Citrus more.  The blood orange vinaigrette should be bottled and sold. 

Cubano

24 June 2017: Humorist Fran Lebowitz once remarked “A salad is not a meal.  It’s a style.”  Most of us will agree with at least the first part of that quote.  Salad is definitely not a meal!  That said, salad can be a very enjoyable first course, a precursor to something less spartan.  Much as we might enjoy Fork & Fig’s The Sesame, we’re happy in the realization that something more substantial will follow–not that this salad is small by any means.  The sesame (greens, avocado, candied ginger, heirloom carrots, orange supremes, pickled red onion and sesame vinaigrette) is an excellent salad, one in which the combination of sesame seeds and sesame vinaigrette impart a discernible nutty flavor, something akin to sunflower seeds.  The sesame flavor is a perfect complement to the peppery arugula while the orange supremes and especially the candied ginger add a delightful contrast.

24 June 2017:  While mathematicians may get their jollies in contemplating the golden ratio (a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part), burgerphiles would rather contemplate ratios which make a perfect burger: the ratio of meat to fat and the ratio of beef to bun to ingredients.  Fork & Fig got the first ratio (meat to fat) just right on the eponymous Fig (beef, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, fungi, truffle fig aioli, bacon, greens, crispy onion and tomato on a brioche bun).  The beef, prepared a medium degree of doneness, is moist, juicy and very flavorful, about as flavorful as some very good steaks.  Alas, the ratio of bun to beef to ingredients was a bit askew.  Before we had consumed even half the burger, the bun had crumpled under the moistness and volume of the beef and accompanying ingredients.  We had to finish the burger with a fork.  By definition (at least mine), it’s no longer a burger when a fork has to be used.

Opera Cakes

24 June 2017:  Virtually every sandwich purveyor in the Duke City, it seems, offers its rendition of a Cubano.  Virtually all of them are formulaic copies of the other, most often served panini style.  Kudos to Fork & Fig for employing a buttery croissant as the canvas for its Cubano (sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, aioli grain mustard, kosher pickle). Two things stand out about this Cubano: the aioli grain mustard and kosher pickle.  Two things are in short supply: pulled pork and sliced ham.  Had more substantial portions of these proteins been piled on, this sandwich would be in contention for “best in the city.”

24 June 2017:  Fork & Fig offers a dessert du jour.  Good fortune smiled upon us when opera cakes were the delight of the day.  Essentially petit fours, a French term which literally translates as “small oven,” the opera cakes are bite-sized pastries.  Nine different cakes are available, but only five to an order are ferried over to your table and you don’t get to choose which five of the nine you’ll get.  Live dangerously.  If the five–apple crumble cake, pistachio, tiramisu, raspberry and lemon tart–which graced our table are any indication, you can’t go wrong with any of the five.  They’re small slices of decadent deliciousness.

Albuquerque’s Uptown area is far from the uppity and exclusive neighborhood so often stereotyped in song and literature.  In restaurants such as Fork & Fig, all are welcome no matter your neighborhood.

Fork & Fig
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881.5293
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2017
1st VISIT: 8 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grown-up Grilled Cheese, Cotija Corn, Ribeye Sandwich, Green Chile Coleslaw, The Fig, Cubano, Watermelon Gazpacho, Opera Cakes

Fork and Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pop-Up Dumpling House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pop-Up Dumpling House Within the Talin Market

 “And her dumplings were so light they would float in the air and you’d have to catch ’em to eat ’em.”
~Author: Fannie Flagg

Think you know dumplings? Believe you’ve tried almost every type of dumpling there is? That’s what I thought until discovering a Wikipedia page called “List of dumplings” which essentially opened up a large world of ne’er sampled dumplings. For the glass-is-half-full types among us, this list is a challenge…an opportunity to broaden our dumpling horizons. Alas, such a horizon (and waist) broadening experience will mean crossing many borders.  Not surprisingly, not every dumpling type is to be found in the Duke City, although you just might be surprised at just how many types of dumplings you can find within our little slice of heaven on Earth.

Your veritable “around the world in fifty dumplings” tour should start at Ming Dynasty where the dim sum menu showcases such Chinese dumpling treasures as crab Rangoon, har gow (shrimp dumplings), shumai (steamed dumplings stuffed with prawns), sausage buns, steamed barbecue pork buns, shrimp stuffed bean curd and several others prepared so authentically and so well you might swear you’re in Hong Kong. For a dumpling tour of Japan you need go no further than Magokoro where some of the best gyoza (a mix of chicken and pork potstickers) is to be found. For the best dumplings in the exotic Indian sub-continent, track down the Karibu Cafe’s mobile kitchen where the samosas are sumptuous. Better yet, visit the Cafe on Eubank. There’s no need to meet in the mountains of Nepal to enjoy momos, steamed or fried vegetable and meat dumplings with flavors as impressive as Mount Everest.   Visit Namaste for these momentous momos.  One of the Duke City’s best kept secrets is the Arirang Oriental Market where you’ll find the best Mandu (Korean potstickers) in New Mexico

Susan Creates some of the Best Dumplings in New Mexico

Enthusiasm in Europe runs high for dumplings. At the Red Rock Deli, you’ll want to play Russian roulette with the restaurant’s incomparable sweet and savory pierogi and nalesniki. Even if you can’t pronounce them, you’ll also want to order pyzy, grated Polish potato dumplings. For the best fruit filled empanadas (blueberry is the bomb) in town, a trip to the Golden Crown Panaderia is in order while savory empanadas are made incomparably well at The Farmacy.  If you’re one of the few Duke City diners who hasn’t visited El Modelo for their fabulous tamales, your around-the-world tour should be reason enough to drop everything you’re doing.  These are arguably the best tamales in New Mexico.  Several metropolitan restaurants offer delicious versions of Italian dumplings, one exemplar being Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho where you can enjoy mouth-watering gnocchi, ravioli and tortellini. If Southern-style chicken and dumplings are more your style, Bucket Headz is your hook-up.

“”What’s this?” you ask. “Empanadas and tamales are a type of dumpling?” “Ravioli, too?” According to Wikipedia and several dictionaries, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Not only are empanadas, tamales and ravioli a type of dumpling, but so are matzo balls, wontons and even Yorkshire pudding. Most dictionaries are rather noncommittal in firming up a definition for the term “dumpling,” though most seem to agree dumplings include a portion of dough or batter that is usually steamed or boiled…though they can be baked or fried. The Kitchen Project goes a bit further: “It can be a batter or dough rolled out that is cooked by itself or filled with anything from meat to fruit. It can be a main dish, side dish or dessert.”

Hot and Sour Soup

The term “dumpling” is even used as a descriptor for people and animals, the context being “something soft and rounded like a dumpling, especially a short fat person or animal.” Thankfully at 6’1” that sobriquet probably won’t ever be used to describe me. With such versatility and universality, we can probably agree that the dumpling is practically a food group in itself. There isn’t a culture on planet Earth that doesn’t enjoy dumplings in one form or another, finding extraordinary satisfaction in biting into a filled or unfilled, crescent-shaped or not, fried, steamed, boiled, sweet or savory, main course or dessert…culinary conundrum.

Unless you consider Chef Boyardee’s “Raviolios” a type of dumpling, my sole experience with dumplings was with empanadas and tamales–until the Air Force sent me to Massachusetts.  There this unacculturated, bumpkinly hayseed from Peñasco discovered Italian dumplings at such paragons of dumpling deliciousness as Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Lexington.  Later when my friends frequented the “Combat Zone,” Boston’s notorious red light district, for adult “entertainment,” I walked the streets of Chinatown in pursuit of dumplings in the area’s dumpling houses.  Despite the name, dumplings weren’t the exclusive offering at these dens of dumpling deliciousness; they also offered an extensive array of Chinese delicacies.

Hot and Spicy Cucumbers

Albuquerque’s very first dumpling house launched in September, 2014 within the sprawling confines of the Talin Market.  The curious appellation Pop-Up Dumpling House implies it’s a mini-restaurant not tied to one brick-and-mortar edifice that doesn’t function as a full-time restaurant.  True enough this Pop-Up enterprise is open only on Fridays and Saturdays in Albuquerque and on Mondays in Santa Fe.  Step into Albuquerque’s commodious Talin Market and the aromas emanating from the dumpling house don’t just pop up; they lure you in like an irresistible siren’s call.  It’s a delicious detour you’ll want to repeat over and over again.

A small menu belies the huge flavors you’ll encounter at the Pop-Up Dumpling House.  Aside from dumplings, the menu offers a number of noodle dishes including an addictive beef noodle soup, beef chow fun and dan dan noodles.  Two mini sandwiches–a “duckwich” and a braised pork belly sandwich–what many of us would consider “finger foods” are also available as are appetizer sized bowls of spicy steamed eggplant and hot and spicy cucumbers.  As at sushi restaurants everywhere, you place your order on a paper menu you can mark up with your lunch or dinner choices.  Your meal will be delivered minutes later with the dumplings likely being the last item you receive as they’re prepared to order.  That’s right!  They don’t sit under some heat lamp until someone orders them.

Beef Noodle Soup

True to the name on the marquee (if the pop-up restaurant had one), the big draw at this Pop-Up is dumplings–delicious, delectable, overstuffed delights–which are handmade by a friendly Sichuan family. Watching Susan at work is a real treat. She handcrafts each and every dumpling, paying meticulous attention to her work. The dumplings are engorged (not an exaggeration) with your choice of lamb, rib eye, shrimp, traditional (pork), vegetarian, wild coho salmon and (on occasion) lobster. Eight plump dumplings comprise an order (or you can split an order into four dumplings of two different types) along with your choice of hot and sour or egg drop soup. Your choice from among three dipping sauces–traditional, spicy or Sichuan-style–completes your order and frankly, that may be more than enough.

15 July 2016: During our first three visits we’ve enjoyed three different dumplings: traditional pork, rib eye and lobster.  These dumplings aren’t exactly standard in size or shape, but the telltale hand-pinched seal that keeps the filling in place is readily apparent.  It’s a Tupperware-like seal that prevents the filling from spilling out while the dumplings are immersed in a boiling bath which renders them soft, but chewy.  Bite into them and you expose the minced protein with which the dumplings are stuffed.  Tiny bits of carrot and scallions punctuate the pork and lamb.  Though most familiar to anyone who frequents Chinese restaurants, the traditional pork dumplings may be the most satisfying.  From the lamb-filled dumplings, we just didn’t get much of the gaminess that characterizes lamb.  With the sweet, briny flavor of lobster, the lobster dumplings transported us to the coast of Maine where even locals would enjoy them immensely.

Ribeye Dumplings

Though the dumplings need absolutely no amelioration, the dipping sauces provide an additional level of flavor and interest.  For New Mexicans used to piquant flavors, neither the spicy or even spicier Sichuan-style sauces will be much of a challenge, but they do boost the flavor profile.  Both the spicy sauce and the Sichuan-style sauce are redolent with aromatic, herbaceous notes  inherent from a unique peppercorn-like spice we’ve experienced at a few Asian restaurants.  In any case, with or without sauces, the dumplings warrant a return visit on their own.

23 June 2017: Hot and sour soup and egg drop soup have become such de rigueur options at Chinese restaurants that it’s a surprise when something else is offered.  It’s even a greater surprise when either soup is more than just passable.  The Pop-Up Dumpling House’s hot and sour soup borders on greatness.  No!  Make that this hot and sour soup is great!…as in among the very best in the city great.  This intensely flavored elixir actually lives up to its name, imparting a vinegar sweetness and Sichuan and black pepper heat.  It’s also served hot.  The steamy, nasal-clearing heat rises up to cure whatever may be ailing you.  My friend Bill Resnik, he of the encyclopedic culinary knowledge and a far better cook than I, did point out that the hot and sour soup didn’t have two of his favorite ingredients, wood ear mushrooms and lotus petals.  I hadn’t missed them until he pointed out their absence.  Ingredients not withstanding, you’ll enjoy this soup.

Beef Chow Fun

9 July 2016: You can easily fill up with even a half order (four) of dumplings and a bowl of hot and sour soup.  Don’t let that sway you against ordering yet another outstanding soup.  The beef noodle soup, a swimming pool-sized bowl redolent with the olfactory-arousing aroma of star anise and rich with mildly astringent bak choy is fabulous!  Long, thick noodles swim in the coffee-colored broth where larger than bite-sized chunks of beef are submerged.  This is the type of soup which tastes just as good, if not better, the next day.  It’s not likely you’ll finish it during your visit unless you forego having dumplings and that would be a shame.

9 July 2016: Hot and spicy cucumbers are a perfect foil for the beef noodle soup, providing the type of contrast which goes oh so well with the rich, sweet-savory broth.  Thin-sliced cucumbers cut diagonally are seasoned with oil, red chile flakes and Sichuan pepper, rendering them deliciously piquant and reminiscent of the cucumber pickles often served at Korean restaurants with banchan (side dishes) offerings.  The hot and spicy cucumbers are delightfully crunchy and positively addictive and if you like the hot and spicy flavor profile, the hot and spicy soup is a palate-pleasing pairing.

Duckwich

9 July 2016:  When she was a young child, one of my nieces referred to Beef Chow Fun as “fun chow.” From the mouth of babes oft emanates great wisdom. Beef Chow Fun can indeed be fun chow. The term “Chow Fun” applies to both a type of noodle and a popular stir-fried dish with meat and vegetables. Only very wide noodles, usually made from ground rice, qualify as chow fun. At a minimum, they’re usually about an inch-wide and can range in length from six to twelve inches. At the Pop-Up Dumpling restaurant, the noodles are stir-fried with bak choy, carrots, white onions and celery. While the addition of vegetables may sound healthy, chow fun shouldn’t be considered a health food as it’s fairly oily and calorific though so delicious, it’s hard to show much restraint.

15 July 2016: If you’ve got just a little room left after polishing off an order of dumplings and soup, one of the two sandwiches on the menu may be a nice option. Neither sandwich comes close to breaking the bank, each setting you back south of four dollars. The duckwich is a thing of great beauty—tender tendrils of moist, cold duck, thin slices of green apple and a smear of Hoison nestled in the same dough from which dumplings are made. Providing only five or six bites, let’s face it, this is finger food, but it’s duck and it’s delicious. The contrast of rich duck and tangy green apple slices is particularly pleasing. If duck isn’t what your heart desires, there’s also a braised pork belly sandwich with the inimitable flavor of smoked bacon with a fatty texture.

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys the Eggplant

15 July 2016: One of the most irrefutable truths in the Albuquerque culinary world is that no restaurant prepares eggplant quite as well as Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. It’s eggplant the way the culinary gods intended eggplant to be made. Despite his undying devotion to Joe’s stuffed eggplant, my friend Sr. Plata isn’t eggplant monogamous. He’ll try eggplant anywhere and any way its prepared. The Pop-Up Dumpling House’s version, spicy steamed eggplant is the antithesis of Joe’s in that it’s assertive and piquant, very reminiscent to a version you might have at a Korean restaurant. Silky eggplant is made hot and spicy courtesy of chili and Sichuan sauces. Much like tofu, eggplant absorbs and complements flavors very well. It’s an excellent canvas for the piquant pepper based sauce.

23 June 2017:  Some of my more seasoned readers probably remember an American line of canned Chinese food products bearing the Chun King label.  In the early 1960s, Chun King was bringing in $30 million in annual revenue and accounted for half of all U.S. sales of prepared Chinese food.  Chun King wasn’t exactly authentic, having been created by a company which specialized in pizza rolls and frozen pizza.  Seeing “Chongquing Noodles” on the Dumpling House rekindled memories of the Chun King products of yore.  There’s no way, of course, the Dumpling House would serve anything as inauthentic as Chun King’s canned food.  Chongquing Noodles have been described as “spicy and numbing noodle.”  That description had me at “spicy.”  The first thing you’ll notice about the Dumpling House’s Chongquing Noodles is its brownish-reddish color, a bit reminiscent of the contents of a spittoon.  That color is courtesy of Szechuan style red oil,  a red oil made with red pepper powder and other Chinese spices.  For this fire-eating native New Mexican, the level of heat on this noodle dish barely registered, but more prevalent was its saltiness.  A bit of desalinization would have helped what would otherwise have been a very nice, warming and comforting dish.

Chongquing Noodles

Popping in to the Pop-Up Dumpling House will enhance your appreciation for the humble and incomparably delicious dumpling.  It’s a great place to start your own “around the world in 50 dumplings” tour.

Pop-Up Dumpling House
Talin World Food Market
88 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-0206
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 June 2017
1st VISIT: 9 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Beef Noodle Soup, Pork Dumplings, Ribeye Dumplings, Lobster Dumplings Hot & Sour Soup, Beef Chow Fun, Hot & Spicy Cucumbers, Dan Dan Noodles, Chongquing Noodles, Spicy Steamed Eggplant, Duckwich

Pop-Up Dumpling House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pad Thai Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pad Thai Cafe Thai Cuisine

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain likened his first experience tasting Thai food to “like discovering a color I never knew existed before. A whole new crayon box full of colors.” With so many vibrant colors available, most people don’t settle for one fairly basic color (let’s say black) in a box full of crayons. Unfortunately, settling is precisely what many diners tend to do when eating at Thai restaurants. Although the menu may be replete with dozens of exotic options, many diners focus exclusively on ordering that one Thai dish with which they’re familiar, that ubiquitous dish more innocuous than bold, the dish which provides flavor without venturing outside the safe comfort zone that bespeaks of the unknown. For many diners, that one dish is Pad Thai.

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp, is the type of guy who has explored every crayon in the box and played with every color combination imaginable. He’s the kaleidoscopic, polychromatic, tie-dye guy who’s too whimsical and creative to remain in a monogamous relationship with any one basic color. Howie long ago gave up on Pad Thai because he wanted to explore the myriad of other options available at Thai restaurants. Here’s how he describes the basic black equivalent in a menu full of vibrant colors: “Pad Thai is “essentially the spaghetti ‘n meatballs of Thai food,”…”the starter dish,”…”the sweet, sorta hum-drum intro.”…”Pad Thai is so user friendly: noodles, chicken, lime, peanuts. Yummy stuff but pedestrian.” It’s a sentiment we share.

The Cozy Confines of Pad Thai Cafe

Howie doesn’t denounce Pad Thai as an inedible or bad dish. He just doesn’t find it as interesting or delicious as other options available at Thai restaurants. We also share in that opinion. So, when Howie recently proclaimed he’d experienced “the best darn Pad Thai I’ve ever had” at a Duke City Thai restaurant, my curiosity was piqued.  Fittingly that restaurant is the Pad Thai Cafe.  He reasoned that “when you’re ordering from a place called the Pad Thai Café, you have to try the flagship.” That made great sense to me. Pad Thai (the restaurant as well as the dish) is located at the sprawling Talin Market on Louisiana just north of Central.

As to why Pad Thai is so popular that some diners never deviate from ordering it, attribute that, at least in part, to more savvy diners who, when introducing less worldly friends to Thai food, steer them toward Pad Thai. Perhaps, they reason, Pad Thai is less exotic and intimidating than other dishes on the menu and it resembles Chinese stir-fried dishes with which the neophytes might be familiar. As with many other Thai dishes, Pad Thai does offer an intricate balance of textures and flavors—salty, sour, sweet and piquant (added to taste in the form of chilies). Bean sprouts and peanuts add a subtle though desirable crunch, a foil for the soft rice noodles and protein of your choice. Finding Pad Thai’s combination of spices and seasonings appealing and its flavors mild and easy on the palate, many diners never “graduate” beyond Pad Thai and don’t ever try anything else on the menu.

Egg Rolls

As of 2007, there were at least 11,600 Thai restaurants operating across the globe, many of them bearing the name Pad Thai. It’s a good bet that almost–if not all–those 11,600 Thai restaurants offer Pad Thai on their menus. Every one of Albuquerque’s two dozen or so Thai restaurants certainly does. In 2014, Andrea Lin, erstwhile restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal, published a primer on finding Pad Thai in the metropolitan area. She sampled Pad Thai at six Thai restaurants, finding desirable qualities in each and shortcomings in some. Her observations didn’t include much hyperbole or exaltation. That’s typically how it goes with Pad Thai. Even its most ardent aficionados don’t describe it in terms reserved for more transformative dishes.

Having fewer than a dozen tables in a rather Lilliputian space benefits the Pad Thai Café greatly in that the wonderful aromas emanating from the kitchen aren’t distributed beyond the relatively confined space. You’ll imbibe those aromas with alacrity even as they increase your appetite and cause involuntary salivation. Those enticing aromas preface a dining experience sure to be memorable. The menu is familiar though not quite the compendium larger restaurants offer. Still, you’ll find most of the dishes with which you’ve fallen in love at other Thai restaurants—and a Pad Thai dish that may well be the best in the city. But, I digress.

Chicken Satay

As is human nature, once you’re comfortably seated you’ll take a gander at the restaurant’s thematic trappings. More than at any Thai restaurant we’ve visited in Albuquerque, the Pad Thai Café’s walls are festooned with framed photographs of Thailand’s royal family. Thankfully (for the sake of your appetite) you won’t have much time to ponder restaurant walls adorned with the smiling countenances of The Donald or Hillary because a complimentary pair of egg rolls will soon capture your focus. The golden-hued, mostly vegetable egg rolls are served with a bright red sweet and sour sauce. They’re quite good, a portend of appealing appetizers soon to follow.

19 March 2016: Make one of them the chicken satay. Satay is Thailand’s version of shish kebab, a savory meat Popsicle constructed from skewered strips of beef, chicken or lamb and designed to be dipped in a traditional peanut sauce or cucumber sauce. In Thailand, satay is one of the more popular street foods, commonly purchased directly from food stalls (so why isn’t there at least one food truck in Albuquerque dedicated to the proliferation of satay?). The satay at Pad Thai Café is terrific, lightly coated in a yellow curry and imbued with a pronounced grilled flavor. Six satay are served per order and they’re so good, you may order a second batch.

Tod Mun Pla

19 March 2016: Though the satay stands out on its own, the two dipping sauces elevate the skewers to perhaps best in town quality. Unlike far too many peanut sauce concoctions in the Duke City, the Pad Thai Café’s version isn’t as cloying as a Reese’s peanut butter cup. It’s got a nice balance of savory and sweet flavors. Texturally, the sauce is more ground peanuts than peanut butter. Even better is the cucumber sauce, a delicious dish of chopped cucumbers, peanuts, red peppers and red onions in a tangy-vinegary sauce. The cucumber sauce provides a pleasant balance of sweet, sour, savory and piquant with no one overly dominant flavor.

19 March 2016: Thai fish cakes (tod mun pla) are not to be missed at the Pad Thai Café. Sold on many a street corner in Thailand, this street food favorite makes for a wonderful appetizer at sit-down restaurants, too. Although ten fish cakes constitute an order, some of the fish cakes are barely bite-sized (though their flavors are much larger). Infused with a red curry which imparts a pungent flavor, the fish cakes are lightly battered and wok-fried to a golden-hue. The consistency of each is firm, but “bouncy,” meaning they have a nice “give” when you bite down on them. The cucumber sauce is a perfect foil for the fish cakes.

Pot Stickers

31 March 2016: Pot stickers are an extremely important part of the Chinese New Year’s feast which is celebrated throughout Asian countries such as Thailand with a significant Chinese population. Not only are pot stickers believed to bring wealth, it is said that as they cook, they recover family wishes of generations past. Whether or not the Pad Thai Café’s pot stickers bring you fortune, you will believe yourself fortunate to have them on your plate. These golden-hued dumplings are more crispy than any other deep-fried pot stickers in Albuquerque. They’re also served with the best dipping sauce. While most dipping sauces tend to be a rather humdrum derivative of soy sauce, this sauce is an amalgam of pepper, garlic, soy, chili and perhaps other seasonings. It’s a lively sauce with a balance of heat, savoriness and sweetness. Eight pot stickers are served per order.

Papaya Salad

2 June 2017: The most popular dish among women in Thailand is papaya salad.  Even if it means admitting I’m very much in touch with my feminine side, I’ll gladly admit to loving papaya salad.  Along with curry, it’s the one Thai dish that serves as my benchmark for how good a Thai restaurant is.  The papaya salad at Pad Thai is right up there with the transcendent papaya salad at An Hy Quan.  That’s rarefied “best in the city” air.   Crisp strips of unripened papaya, crunchy raw green beans and a piquant mix of chiles, garlic, tomatoes fish sauce and lime juice make it the perfect cooling summer starter.  Pad Thai’s version is very balanced with delicious, healthful elements throughout. 

Massaman Curry

19 March 2016: The massaman curry is superb though you’re well cautioned to spoon on the accompanying rice in moderation. Too much rice and you risk a curry dish that isn’t as moist as you might like and won’t be as piquant as fire-eaters enjoy. Prepared to your exacting specifications for heat (Thai spice for me), the curry is counterbalanced with coconut milk, potatoes and crushed peanuts. This spicy yet sweet concoction provides a pleasing layer of flavor to your protein choice (pork works very well) and the potatoes. It’s a massaman curry with a wonderfully balanced flavor profile.

If you’ve noticed my use of the adjective “balanced” throughout this review, that’s by design. Perhaps more than at any other Thai eatery in Albuquerque, the Pad Thai Café is successful at creating and serving dishes with the balance of flavors that is truly the heart of Thai cooking. Every Thai chef should strive to imbue every dish with at least two of the five major flavors (sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter), a sort of yin and yang balance. In my estimation, too many of Albuquerque’s Thai restaurants forego balance and serve dishes which are overwhelmingly sweet (some would say “Americanized”).

Pad Thai

19 March 2016: One of the biggest culprits is Pad Thai (the dish, not the restaurant). Sure you can squeeze some lime to give it a slight sour bite or sprinkle on chilies to give it piquancy, but often the results are more like an adulterated dessert than a savory, balanced dish. I suspect Howie discerned the balance of flavors in the Pad Thai Café’s signature dish. That balance allows you to appreciate the savory flat rice noodles and crushed peanuts, the pleasant funkiness of the fish sauce and slight sourness from tamarind (which accounts for the dish’s reddish hue) without worrying about tooth decay from a cloying dish. Howie may have undersold how good this Pad Thai dish is…and it’s even better when you heat it up the next day because you probably won’t finish the generous portion on your plate.

31 March 2016: You might think that a dish called drunken noodles would be made with copious amounts of alcohol, but that’s typically not the case. Several theories abound as to the unique name. One posits that the dish was devised by someone who came home drunk and created the dish from available ingredients (why then isn’t it called “drunkard’s noodles?).” Still another origin theory attributes the name to the dish’s sloppy, drunken appearance. This theory has little credibility unless you really care about the aesthetic qualities of the dish. Most of us are interested only in its deliciousness. The Pad Thai Café’s version is the best I’ve ever had—stir-fried wide rice noodles with fish sauce, chili, garlic, basil, baby corn, carrots and broccoli and your choice of protein (beef, chicken, pork or shrimp). The concoction is stir-fried with chili added to your exacting degree of piquancy (still another theory as to this dish’s name has to do with how much beer you’ll drink to combat its heat). There are many elements on this dish that make it a star: velvety rice noodles impregnated with sauce, a balance of flavors that appeal to different taste buds and the addictive properties of capsaicin from the chilies.

Drunken Noodles

31 March 2016: Several years ago, I visited a sandwich shop in Charleston, South Carolina which had recently been named one of the best 21 sandwich shops in America. In a head-scratching moment as inexplicable as the popularity of Justin Bieber, this restaurant essayist visited one of America’s most heralded best sandwich shops and ordered…hold on to your seats…laab. Yes, laab. Gasp! Laab is a very popular “cooked salad” typically found on the menu at Thai and Lao restaurants, not sandwich shops.

Laab is essentially a minced meat (pork, chicken or beef) dish with healthful elements of a salad. The Pad Thai Café’s version is made with grilled minced pork, lime juice, fish sauce, chili powder, roasted rice powder, shallots, green onions, Kafir lime leaves, cilantro and mint. There are few salads as refreshing courtesy of fresh sprigs of Kafir lime, cilantro and mint which counterbalance the heat and pungency of the fish sauce and chili powder. This is not a boring composed salad; it’s an adventure in complementary and disparate flavors working very well together.

Laab

31 March 2016: When you discover a restaurant as amazing as the Pad Thai Cafe, you’ve got to share it with your friends.  For the most part that means sharing my observations on this blog.  Among my cherished readers are three of my very best friends, fellow foodies who’ll drop what they’re doing to join me for a meal to validate the veracity of the claims on my blog. My second visit to the Pad Thai Cafe was with Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott: Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate; and the dazzling Deanell.  They were all surprised at the diversity, explosiveness and balance of flavors in every dish we enjoyed.  By meal’s end, there was near unanimous consensus that the Pad Thai Cafe is the Duke City’s very best Thai restaurant. 

2 June 2017:  My friend Bill Resnik expressed similar sentiment when I introduced him to Pad Thai.  We had actually intended to visit the Pop-Up Dumpling House within Talin, but it was closed.  Pad Thai Cafe is no consolation prize.  More than any Thai restaurant in the Duke City, it emphasizes a balance of flavors…and more than at any other Thai restaurant in town, even fire-eaters may have to be cautious about the degree of piquancy in the dishes.  “Medium” heat at Pad Thai is easily the equivalent of “Hot” at other Thai restaurants while the “Hot” should be reserved solely for those of us with asbestos-lined tongues.  Bill is one such masochist.  He adds prik nam pla (a ubiquitous condiment made with incendiary bird peppers) to even the most piquant of Thai dishes.

Yum Woon Sen

12 June 2017:  Pad Thai is the only Thai restaurant in the Duke City in which I don’t regret not having ordered a curry dish.  That’s because everything else on the menu is absolutely fantastic.  As is characteristic of adventurous diners, I often order dishes heretofore unknown to me.  Invariably that means discovering wonderful new options such as the Yum Woon Sen, a bean thread noodles salad.  While that may not sound particularly exciting, it encapsulates much of what aficionados love about Thai cuisine:  the invigorating freshness of just-squeezed limes; the distinctive herbal-licorice flavor of Thai basil,  a balance of crunchy and chewy ingredients, the pungency of the fish sauce, and just enough piquancy to set your tongue tingling.  Pad Thai’s version is constructed with pork, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms topped with fish sauce, sugar, carrot, onions, cilantro and Thai chilis a plenty.  This is a new favorite. 

16 June 2017:  The translation of Thai dishes is often surprising.  Yam Nuea Nam Tok, for example translates to waterfall beef or beef waterfall, but it also translates to grilled beef salad.  The terms waterfall beef or beef waterfall are appropriate from the standpoint that you’ll be deluged with flavors with every bite of this savory-sweet-piquant-tangy dish constructed with lime, fish sauce, chili powder, roasted rice powder, sugar, green onion, cilantro, lemongrass, shallots and mint.  Legend has it, however, that the term waterfall beef comes from the sound the steak makes once the beef begins to hiss from the sizzling juices.  Grilled steak, lean and flavorful, is the main ingredient, a terrific compliment to fresh, aromatic ingredients Americans don’t usually serve with steak–even as a side salad.  This salad has it all: tart and tangy sour notes from the lime, aromatic freshness from the herbs, crunchy and crispiness from the veggies, vibrancy and heat from the chillies and complete satisfaction afterwards.

Yam Nuea Nam Tok, a wondrous beef salad

2 June 2017:  With the exception of the transcendent Chinese sausage fried rice at Ming Dynasty,  most fried rice is of the take it or leave it variety.  It’s just not very exciting, but it’s generally better than the simple white rice served with many Asian dishes.  The Pad Thai Cafe offers two fried rice alternatives to plain white rice.  Don’t miss out on the green curry fried rice (green curry, rice, fish sauce, sugar, green peas and basil) with your choice of protein.  It’s fried rice at its self-actualized best, as good as fried rice can possibly get.  The green curry permeates each rice kernel, imparting its pungent piquancy courtesy of fresh, young green chilis which tend to make green curry more potent than other curries.

Green Curry Fried Rice

19 March 2016: Our inaugural visit transpired when mangoes weren’t in season so we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy our favorite mangoes and sticky rice dessert. Sensing our disappointment, our server offered to put together a dish she promised we’d enjoy. It was a magnificent masterpiece, a dessert worthy of a place in the pantheon of great Duke City desserts. Picture a scoop of mango ice cream (replete with chunks of mango) and a scoop of coconut ice cream atop layers of sticky rice and coconut milk with shaved almonds tossed in for balance. This dessert should be a permanent fixture on the menu.

Mango and Coconut Ice Cream with Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk

2 June 2017: Most Thai restaurants offer sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and fresh, ripe mango in season. Out of season, the best restaurants will advise you not to order this dessert when the mangoes aren’t perfectly ripe. That’s advice one and all should heed. When in season, mangoes with sweet sticky rice make a refreshing dessert contrasting the sweet tanginess of mangoes and the near cloying flavor of coconut with the neutral to sweet flavor of sticky rice. The very best mangoes and sticky rice dish I’ve ever had comes from Albuquerque’s Thai Cuisine.  If that dessert is a perfect Bo Derek “ten,” the mangoes with sticky rice at Pad Thai is a nine.  Quite simply, it’s a must-have.

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

Named for a dish that had never before “wowed” me, the Pad Thai Café would be a restaurant we’d have on our regular rotation if we had a regular rotation. It’s one of the very best Thai restaurants in the Duke City.

Pad Thai Cafe
110 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-0567
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 June 2017
1st VISIT: 19 March 2016
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicken Satay, Tod Mun Pla, Massaman Curry, Pad Thai, Mango Ice Cream with Sticky Rice, Egg Rolls, Laab, Drunken Noodles, Potstickers, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Green Curry Fried Rice, Yum Woon Sen, Yam Nuea Nam Tok

Pad Thai Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

May Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Paul Bunyan Leaving His Favorite Vietnamese Restaurant

There are perhaps thousands of examples throughout the Duke City of immigrants whose path to the American dream involved rising above humble origins and surmounting extraordinary circumstances to achieve success.  Those challenges are exacerbated by the fact that many of them arrived in America as refugees from war-torn nations with nary a modicum of English. 

One such example is Liem Nguyen, who along with wife Kim founded the May Cafe in 1992, a scant nine years after arriving in Albuquerque through a church resettlement program.  Speaking almost no English, Liem, then 22 years old, enrolled in Highland High School as a ninth-grader.  He didn’t know how to drive, shop at the supermarket or even catch a bus.  He slept in a closet in a tiny apartment he shared with several other immigrants.

Grilled Onion Beef

Grilled Onion Beef

Among the city’s very first Vietnamese restaurants, May Cafe wasn’t an immediate success save within the tight-knit Vietnamese community craving the tastes of home and among the servicemen at Kirtland Air Force Base who had been stationed in Vietnam and fell in love with the cuisine.  It took a while before the widespread acceptance by a trepidatious general public of the alluring and theretofore mysterious flavors of Vietnam.  It helped tremendously when in its annual restaurant issue, the long-defunct Abq Magazine listed the May Cafe as a handful of second-tier restaurants just below the magazine’s anointed ten best.

The May Cafe is situated on Louisiana just south of Central.  The most conspicuous sign that you’ve arrived is a 27-foot tall fiberglass statue of Paul Bunyan just behind the restaurant.  Weighing more than 2,000 pounds and wielding an axe as long as a compact car, the giant lumberman has been perched on a customized steel beam 25 feet above the ground for more than four decades.  Anywhere but in Albuquerque the behemoth statue might seem out-of-place, but here it’s become a beloved local landmark.

MayCafe03

Vietnamese Sandwich (Banh Mi)

Beloved local landmark is also an apt description for the May Cafe which has earned every peoples’ choice and “best of” award possible during its twenty plus years of serving the Duke City.  Most recently, in 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine bestowed a “Hot Plate” award on the restaurant’s popular pork chop dish, signifying its selection as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Despite competition from more than thirty Vietnamese restaurants strewn throughout the metropolitan area, the May Cafe remains one of the most highly regarded and popular independent restaurants of any genre.

The menu reads like a compendium of all that is delicious and wonderful about Vietnamese cuisine.  The menu boasts “our food is made from the best ingredients, freshest vegetables and meats.”  The proof is in the tasting and that’s where the May Cafe shines.  You’re not likely to find any appetizer or entree that doesn’t elicit exclamations of “wow!” or “yummo” if you’re a Rachael Ray clone!

MayCafe04

Spicy Beef Stew

9 February 2013: One of the Cafe’s most popular starters is the grilled onion beef, a specialty available as an entree at SaiGon Restaurant.  An order features five cigar-shaped “beef rolls” encasing slightly caramelized grilled spring onions then topped with ground peanuts and diced green onion.  Vietnamese grilling imparts a slight smoky char imprint on beef with a fragrance promising deliciousness in every morsel.  The deliciousness comes from a melding of such spices as star anise and cinnamon which prove a perfect foil for the full-flavored onions.  The grilled onion beef is served with the Cafe’s renowned fish sauce which adds sweet-savory-tangy notes to the beef.

9 February 2013: Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi) are almost antithetical to their American counterparts.  On the latter, sandwich aficionados want ingredients, particularly meat, piled high and spilling over.  With banh mi, it’s all about a balance of delicate, complimentary flavors.  You’ll probably never find a Dagwood-sized banh mi and if you did, it probably wouldn’t be very good.  May Cafe’s banh mi combines barbecue pork, beef or chicken with daikon, jalapeño, cilantro, julienne carrots, cucumber slivers in an airy baguette.  The baguette is key.  It can’t be dense and thick or it might dominate the flavor profile.  In perfect combination with the ingredients it cocoons, the baguette is a repository for the perfect sandwich. 

Egg Rolls

14 June 2017:  The history of Vietnam is one of colonization by conquering nations.  Centuries of colonization fashioned what ultimately evolved into Vietnamese cuisine, distinctly different from the cuisine of any intervening conquerors.  Vietnamese egg rolls are on example.  While they bear some resemblance to their Chinese progenitors, preparation and flavor are entirely different from the Chinese version.  Vietnamese egg rolls are smaller and more crispy, wrapped and lightly fried in rice paper and filled with seasoned bits of vegetables and served with the ubiquitous nuoc mam sauce. Nuoc mam is considered the Vietnamese alternative to soy sauce, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a distilled and fermented fish extract used to season many dishes. Both the egg rolls and nuoc man sauce at the May Cafe are terrific.

9 February 2013: When fellow Vietnamese cuisine aficionados often ask what my favorite pho in the Albuquerque area is, I’m almost unqualified to answer.  Rather than pho, if a Vietnamese restaurant offers a spicy beef stew, that’s what I’ll order.   There are three Duke City restaurants which offer phenomenal spicy beef stew: Cafe Dalat, May Hong and the May Cafe.  Aside from the fact that the proprietors of each are related, the common element among the three spicy beef stews is intense flavor–not intense spiciness if your definition of such is piquancy, but the spiciness born of spice combinations redolent with flavor.  May Cafe’s version is the color of brackish water and can be prepared with your choice of noodles: rice, egg or vermicelli.  What singles out this spicy beef stew from among its brethren is the beef which is carne adovada tender and absolutely delicious. The broth is replete with flavor so good it might make you swoon.

MayCafe05

Singapore Noodles

9 February 2013: My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, calls the May Cafe’s Singapore Noodles “perhaps the best I have ever had.”  I beg to disagree with my esteemed friend.  The word “perhaps” doesn’t belong in the sentence.  This is the very best bowl of Singapore Noodles I’ve ever had.  With a make-your-mouth-happy level of piquancy, the curry-based dish with tangles of vermicelli noodles and ultra-fresh vegetables is one of those rare dishes so good it would be the only thing you’ll ever order.  That is if the menu wasn’t already replete with other dishes that good.

14 June 2017:  Ginger or Mary Ann?  Oops, wrong ginger.  In this case, ginger definitely wins.  The May Cafe’s version of ginger catfish (crispy catfish in ginger sauce is one of the most surprising dishes you’ll find in Albuquerque.  Fish, for all that is said about them, have a rather “blandish” flavor profile while ginger is an assertive, peppery spice that will wake up your taste buds.  Fish and ginger go wonderfully together.  The ginger sauce is the color of luminous, fluorescent Day-Glo or maybe French dressing, but it has a flavor you won’t soon forget.  That’s because it imprints itself on your taste buds with piquant, savory, sweet and just slightly sour sensations.  Surprisingly it is a perfect complement to the meaty catfish which is fried to perfection.  Though the catfish skin is crispy, the fish is light and flaky and not “fishy” in the least.

Ginger Catfish

As with many of Albuquerque’s Vietnamese restaurants, the May Cafe provides excellent value, proving gourmet quality cuisine doesn’t have to be expensive in order to be very good.

May Cafe
111 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-4448
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 June 2017
# OF VISITS:  5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Onion Beef, Vietnamese Sandwich, Singapore Noodles, Spicy Beef Stew, Ginger Catfish, Egg Rolls

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

La Lecheria New Mexico Craft Ice Cream – Santa Fe, New Mexico

La Lecheria New Mexico Craft Ice Cream in Santa Fe

Joey: What are you talking about? “One woman. That’s like saying there’s only one flavor of ice cream for you. Let me tell you something, Ross. There’s lots of flavors out there. There’s Rocky Road, and Cookie Dough, and Bing Cherry Vanilla. You could get ’em with Jimmies, or nuts, or whipped cream! This is the best thing that ever happened to you! You got married, you were, like, what, eight? Welcome back to the world! Grab a spoon!
Ross: I honestly don’t know if I’m hungry or horny.
Chandler: Then stay out of my freezer.

In that episode of Friends,  Joey Tribbiani obviously considered the concept of one woman “monotony, not monogamy.”   While the most uxorious among us might not be able to relate to the concept of polygamy, we can certainly relate to the nightmarish prospect of going  through life partaking solely of one ice cream flavor–even if it’s a flavor we love.  How boring would that be?  There was a time, not too very long ago, in fact, in which three ice cream flavors–vanilla, chocolate and strawberry–dominated the market.  That might explain why even today when dairy diversity reigns, vanilla remains the most popular flavor of ice cream with more than a third of total sales (chocolate is a distant second).

Flavors of the Day

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, Americans consume almost 22 pounds of ice cream per year, the world’s highest per capita consumption.  The vast majority of ice cream and frozen dessert manufacturers across the fruited plain have been in business for more than fifty years (New Mexico-based Creamland has been in business since 1937) and many are still family-owned businesses.  Similar to the recent influx of the craft beer industry, independent mom-and-pop craft ice cream makers have begun to make significant inroads into the ice cream market–both in terms of profitability and creativity.  Increasingly, consumers are demonstrating that they are willing to pay more for more adventurous and unique flavors.

More adventurous and unique flavors are the bailiwick of La Lecheria New Mexico Craft Ice Cream which in June, 2017 was named by Thrillist as the best ice cream shop in the Land of Enchantment–despite being in business for less than a full year.  Thrillist noted that “this being New Mexico, you better believe there are chilis occasionally involved, as brown sugar red chili and (of course) green chile both figure into the seasonal flavor rotation alongside menu stalwarts like sea salt chocolate. So it’s possible your palate will be feeling a little heat, but it’ll be so blissfully pleased you won’t mind a bit.”  Only months prior, La Lecheria was named by Best Things New Mexico as one of the ten best ice cream parlors in New Mexico.

Two scoops–Rosemary and Chocolate-Sea Salt

In August, 2016, the Santa Fe New Mexican described La Lecheria as the city’s “newest, shiniest and probably tiniest ice cream parlor.” Though it’s ensconced in Lilliputian digs on Lena Street (just off-the-beaten-path) savvy foodies will go slightly out of their way to enjoy ice cream made preservative-free from all-natural and for the most part, locally sourced ingredients. The milk and cream are sourced from Albuquerque’s Rasband Dairy while fruit and eggs come from local farmers. The imagination comes from Chef Joel Coleman for whom creativity and culinary inventiveness aren’t enough.

If you’ve religiously followed the Food Network’s Iron Chef America series, you know that when a chef decides to use the secret ingredient to make ice cream, failure is inevitable. Invariably, even the most intrepid of judges tend to look askance at any chef who dares serve them bass- (or Andouille sausage-, cow’s cheek-, asparagus-, giant eel- or any of several other secret ingredients) flavored ice cream. Secret ingredient-based ice cream has been the death knell of many an Iron Chef competitor. So, why would any chef wanting to engender enthusiastic approval serve ice cream with an exotic (to put it mildly) flavor profile?

Two Scoops: Green Chile and Red Chile-Apricot

Chef Coleman’s goal is to take exotic and unique flavor profiles and make them delicious. The apparent secret is to tame but not obfuscate savory elements; to accentuate the elements which make ice cream a sweet rather than savory confection without masking those savory elements. After sampling just four of the many ice cream flavors he’s concocted, we’re willing to bet this ingenious chef can make even bass-flavored ice cream delicious. Chef Coleman developed his passion for creating ice cream in adventurous flavors while running his popular Santa Fe gastropub Fire & Hops.

For this unabashedly proud native New Mexican, the siren’s call at any restaurant is chile in both its red and green instantiations. There’s nothing more disappointing than when a restaurant fails to accentuate both chile’s incendiary properties and its incomparable roasted flavor. La Lecheria doesn’t disappoint in either aspect—not in the least. In fact, both the brown sugar red chile and the green chile flavored ice cream have more back-of-the-throat pleasing piquancy than the enchiladas at some New Mexican food restaurants. Both are creamy and rich with a nice mouth-feel and just enough sugar. More importantly, they’re delicious exemplars of the fact that chile improves everything with which it comes into contact.

Unfortunately buttered popcorn flavored ice cream wasn’t available during our inaugural visit, but there’s no way you could call my Kim’s choices—chocolate-sea salt and a Rosemary-accented vanilla ice cream. She loved the boldness of the chocolate-sea salt pairing, a terrific departure from the de rigueur caramel-sea salt combination. Though most assuredly dark chocolate, the sea salt’s influence is teasingly, tantalizingly balanced; it’s just enough. When fragrant, herbaceous notes meet ice cream, one of two things can happen. The first is that the herbs can overwhelm the ice cream. The second is a bright, fragrant and fresh marriage made in heaven. Such was the case with La Lecheria’s rosemary accented ice cream. What a wonderful revelation!

La Lecheria features a few flavors that’ll have a consistent presence on the menu, but adventurous diners will frequent this outstanding purveyor of imaginative ice cream for those unique and special flavors. At La Lecheria, every flavor will be your favorite.

La Lecheria New Mexico Craft Ice Cream
1708 Lena Street Suite 101
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 205-1595
Web Site | Facebook Page 
LATEST VISIT: 10 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Chile, Red Chile-Apricot, Chocolate-Sea Salt, Rosemary

La Lecheria New Mexico Craft Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TerraCotta Wine Bistro – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The TerraCotta Wine Bistro in Santa Fe

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
~Benjamin Franklin

In the 1960s, denizens of the fruited plain weren’t nearly as savvy about the fruit of the vin as they are today. Impressionable youth who tuned in every Sunday for Championship Wrestling from Albuquerque’s Civic Auditorium, for example, had the impression from Roma Wine commercials that all wine was served in large jugs. It really wasn’t far from the truth. Back then, a significant portion of wine production across the fruited plain was indeed destined for a jug. Another high percentage of wine would earn the ignominious distinction of being called “bum wine.” Sporting such brand names as Thunderbird, Mad Dog 20/20 and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, bum wines were considered “bottom of the barrel.” Consumers (quite often dipsomaniacs or teenagers) often shielded their bum wine purchases from the “decent public” in brown paper bags.

Fast forward five decades and America has become a nation of oenophiles—lovers and connoisseurs of wine–surpassing France as the world’s largest market for wine every year since 2013 (although on a per capita basis, the average French person still consumes about five times more wine than the average American). According to Wine Enthusiast, the preferred wines of contemporary America are no longer poured from a jug, but served in a glass as an accompaniment to a dinner meal. Not only are higher-end aficionados of wine dining out more often, statistics indicate they are spending around 25-percent more on wine when they do.

Front Dining Room

In 2014, Business Insider published statistics depicting wine consumption across the United States. The Land of Enchantment ranked 30th with an annual per capita consumption of 6.9 liters (about 1.82 gallons) while the nation’s capital was found to be the most prolific at 25.7 liters per capita. What is significant and surprising about New Mexico’s middle-of-the-road ranking is that the very first grapes planted for wine in the new world’s soil were sown and reaped at an Indian pueblo just south of modern day Socorro. Even more surprisingly, those grapes were planted in defiance of Spanish Law which, to protect the Spanish agriculture industry, forbade the exportation of Spanish grape vines.

Before grape vines were planted in New Mexico, Franciscan monks had wine shipped from Spain, a costly expenditure considering the nearest supply was several months distant. Central to the daily mass was wine which monks transformed into the blood of Christ. New Mexico State’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences describes the sacramental wine as “light pink in color” with a “sherry-like taste.” The wine was “18% alcohol and 10% sugar.” Ironically, like many wines of the 1960s, Spanish wines of colonial times was transported in jugs. Unlike wines of the 1960s, the jugs were sealed with a glaze that contained lead which leaked into the wine.

Back Patio is very Dog Friendly

Today, according to Wine Country New Mexico, “New Mexico remains a vibrant wine region containing an incredible variety of vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms amidst the low and high-desert vistas of the state.” Many of the high-quality wines produced in the Land of Enchantment have not only earned acclaim from top critics, the state’s wineries have an annual economic impact approaching $100 million. Having earned many prestigious accolades, New Mexico’s wines continue their meteoric rise on the national and international wine stages.  With a burgeoning craft beer industry and a thriving wine industry, New Mexicans who consider themselves both oenophiles and cerevisaphiles are indeed blessed.

Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “wine is bottled poetry.” Be that the case, the jugged wine of yore is the type of poem which may have begun “There once was a lady from Nantucket…” Finding a poem which fits contemporary wines is a greater challenge because just as every wine has its own unique flavor profile, each of us is a unique, inimitable individual whose own memories and senses of taste and smell influence our opinion of a wine. Rare and privileged are individuals whose palates are able to discern subtle nuances in the aromas and flavors of a wine—those, for example, who can detect notes of oak, fig, fresh roses and crushed berries.

Sage Bakehouse Rolls

Not only does wine delight oenophiles with olfactory, gustatory and trigeminal sensations, wine offers several surprising health benefits as chronicled by blogger extraordinaire Jen Miller in her fun feature 15 health benefits of wine according to science.  Jen points out that while “popping open the cork while the velvety oaked aroma fills the air and flowing effervescent liquid comes out from the bottle gives excitement to everyone,”  wine supports longevity of life, heart health, diabetes reduction, anti-cancer effects and more.  Wine truly offers a panacea for what ails us.

Having progressed from the days in which most wine was served in jugs or kept hidden in brown paper bags, a kinder, gentler and more gentrified America now enjoys wine in more sophisticated milieus. Among the Land of Enchantment’s most noteworthy is Santa Fe’s TerraCotta Wine Bistro which offers the largest selection of wines by the glass in the City Different. With an ambiance aptly described on the bistro’s Web site as “inviting, informal, up-beat, and just plain fun,” it’s “great for intimate or large gatherings.”  TerraCotta features globally -inspired food that is contemporary, eclectic and exciting, utilizing local and regional foods. The bistro prides itself on using high quality ingredients in creative combinations that change seasonally.

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Garlic Aioli

TerraCotta is located in Santa Fe’s historic downtown district and is housed in a charming 19th century adobe building not too far from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the world-famous Plaza.  Previous occupants of the charming edifice include Trattoria Nostrani, once named by Gourmet Magazine as one of the fifty best restaurants in the country.  TerraCotta has been named one of Santa Fe’s ten “most romantic restaurants” and boasts of one of the city’s “top ten wine bars” according to USA Today’s local expert Billie Frank.  Just as important to parents of indulged four-legged fur babies, TerraCotta has received a rating of 5.0 out of 5 bones by dog owners on BringFido.  Our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) enjoys TerraCotta’s covered porch.

As you contemplate TerraCotta’s expansive menu, you’ll enjoy the complimentary Sage Bakehouse bread rolls.  There are many reasons the Sage Bakehouse (an artisinal French bakery, pastry shop and cafe) reminds us so much of our favorite bakery in Lechlade, England.  Both old-world bakeries honor traditional bread-making practices.  The quality shows.  These simple yeasty rolls release a waft of fragrant steam when you cut them open to spread on butter.  It’s simplicity itself, but simplicity as delicious as it can be.

Grilled Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad

Sometimes local pride gets in the way of enjoying something we might otherwise find absolutely delicious.  Friends of mine refuse to ever try shishito peppers because they’re not “real chiles” (they’re Japanese).  In truth, when you roast these three- to four-inch peppers, they inherit the olfactory-arousing aroma of green chile.  Terracotta flash-fries them until their skin is lightly blistered though unlike green chile, shishitos aren’t peeled.  They’re served with a garlic aioli and chopped red peppers.  From a flavor perspective, shishitos are only mild on any piquancy scale, but they’re a joy to eat.

TerraCotta offers several salads, any of which would make a wonderful shared appetizer.  Our favorite salads tend to have multifaceted flavors (complementary and contrasting) and textures.  Fitting that bill perfectly is TerraCotta’s grilled pear, blue cheese and walnut salad.  We’ve had similar salads at other restaurants many times, but TerraCotta’s stands out.  The sweet, juicy pears are caramelized to the point that the fruit’s natural sugars congregate on the pear’s outer skin, rendering these pears absolutely addictive.  The pears contrast well with the sharp, fetid blue cheese crumbles and the walnuts (which thankfully aren’t candied).  A pomegranate vinaigrette with its tangy-sweet notes is an excellent foil for both the sweet and savory flavors.

Grilled Flank Steak

Selecting our entrees proved a significant challenge.  The menu offers so many tempting options (which is why return visits were invented).  At our server’s recommendation, I opted for the grilled flank steak (New Mexico beef marinated in coffee and cola, basil and olive oil topped with blue cheese compound butter accompanied by roasted potatoes and farmer’s market vegetables).  Sliced into quarter-inch strips similar to a roast beef, this steak is perfectly seasoned and only hints at its marinade.  We should, however, have asked for more of the blue cheese compound butter, so good we wanted to spread it over everything on the plate.  The potatoes are perfectly roasted with a crisp outer shell and soft, tender potato inside.

Much more generously sauced is  Beeler’s grilled tenderloin medallions (Riesling, red onion and apricot gastrique served with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and market vegetables).  The gastrique (a sauce base using a reduction of sugar and vinegar caramelized over low heat combined with a light stock) seems to heighten the sweet-tart-juicy qualities of apricot we enjoy so much.  A generous portion of medallions is virtually covered over by the gastrique, a technique which  sometimes leads to a protein being lost, but not in this case.  If anything, the gastrique brings out the grilled tenderloin flavors.  There’s delicious alchemy in its preparation.

Beeler’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions

Even teetotalers will find much to love at the TerraCotta, a wine bistro in which the kitchen knows what it’s doing and the wait staff will treat you like royalty.

TerraCotta Wine Bistro
304 Johnson Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 989-1166
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions; Grilled Flank Steak; Blistered Shishito Peppers; Grilled Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad;

TerraCotta Wine Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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