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Gioco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gioco Sports Bar in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District

Archaeologists in Spain have unearthed the original man cave.  What is most remarkable about this finding is how very similar Neanderthal man and contemporary man are.  Men, it seems, have not evolved much.  Neanderthals were hairy and brutish in appearance, much like the New York Giants.  They spoke in guttural grunts, similar to today’s politicians.  Neanderthals scrawled their art on cave walls; contemporary man expresses himself artistically on bridges, underpasses and walls.  Neanderthal man used tools: hammers and axes; contemporary man uses tools: television remote controls and iPhones. 

Cultural anthropologists (and Barbara Streisand) have long posited that throughout evolutionary history, man has had an inherent need for belonging to a social group.  We are driven to form and maintain at least a few lasting, positive and significant interpersonal relationships.  For many men, one of the most powerful bonding agents is sports.  We derive a sense of belonging through our affiliation with the sports teams we like–to the extent that we wear team apparel which encases us like engorged sausages.  We like to get together to cheer our teams and express our contempt and ridicule for teams we dislike (think UNLV Rutting Rebels and other miscreants of that ilk).

Gioco Offers a 130-Inch Television and 15 Smaller Ones

Our man cave away from home is the ubiquitous sports bar.  It’s our refuge from the interminable “honey do’s”  our significant others don’t remember until five minutes before kick-off.  It’s our sanctuary where, like a pride of male lions, we can kick back, tell a few lies and be waited upon as we enjoy our favorite team (everyone’s a Lobo! woof, woof, woof) conquer a hapless foe.  Nothing makes a man cave more appealing than copious quantities of food and televisions the size of drive-in movie screens.  For many Duke City residents who sport the XY-chromosome pairing, Gioco Sports Bar has become the man cave of which used to only dream. 

Boasting a 130-inch television and fifteen “smaller” televisions (most larger than a Smart car), it’s a man cave in tribal proportion, accommodating more than 100 avid sports fans (spelling bee watchers need not visit).  The menu is replete with such man favorite entrees as artisinal pizza, pressed panini sandwiches, nachos and chicken wings, all of which are baked (nothing on the premises is fried save for some of the patrons).  Adult beverages flow freely.  It’s no wonder sports fans plant their gluts on a chair as soon as Gioco opens and remain until closing time, standing only when nature calls or the visually impaired officials blow a call against our team.  Look for some Duke City sports fans to try homesteading at Giaco soon.

Korean Pork Ribs

Gioco opened its doors on September 1st, preceding the National Football League’s 2014 kickoff by a week.  Translating from Italian to “game,” Gioco is the brainchild of the good folks who brought us O’Niell’s, a popular venue despite the fact that 130-inch televisions don’t grace its walls.  Gioco, in fact, occupies the space next door to O’Niell’s on Central Avenue, sitting on an adjacent 3,000-square-foot space that used to be O’Niell’s special events area. 

Whether you enter through the Central Avenue door or through the rear entrance by the capacious parking lot, the minute you walk in your eyes will be captured by the sheer masculinity of the venue.  Only when Chuck Norris dines alone will there be so much testosterone in one place. Dark colors and subdued lighting are punctuated by televisions with sports on every channel. The menu is pretty manly, too, even though it lists five salads (albeit loaded with meats and cheeses).

Right: Salumeria-Pepperoni, Genoa salami, spicy capicola, Parmesan and mozzarella and a classic pizza sauce. Left: Pepperoni and green chile

Manly sports fans will love the descriptions behind every menu item.  The stuffed mushrooms, for example, are described thusly: “Not since Wilt denied Kareem twice has anything been so righteously stuffed, with cream feta and Parmesan.”  Some of us who can’t recite the preamble (or don’t know what a preamble is) to the Constitution of the United States can tell you exactly why The Italian sandwich description reads “Joe DiMaggio would order 56 of these.”   Sports trivia is something at which we excel. 

There are more appetizers (ten) on the menu than there are of anything else.  If so inclined, we can order two or three…or ten appetizers and call it lunch.  Among the more intriguing starters are the Korean Pork Ribs (described as “We’ve used our most flavorful Taekwondo to attack these ribs. Now shiu! At ease! Enjoy your half rack.”).  They don’t resemble any Korean pork ribs I’ve ever had (perhaps they were adopted).  As with several similar starters offered throughout the Duke City, these ribs were almost cloying with a lacquered on sauce.  Their sole redeeming quality is how meaty they are.

Build Your Own Pizza: Garlic Oil Sauce, Sausage, Cheese

Pizza, which occupies the top of the manly sports fan food pyramid, is among the featured fare at Gioco.  Never mind that it’s “artisinal” pizza, it’s still pretty darned good.  Better still, you can customize it the way you want it.  If you want half of one of the menu’s standard pizzas on one side and half of another pizza on the other side, tell your server and it’ll be done.  Each pizza is about ten-inches around, not one of those puny “personal pan” sized pizzas which leave you hungry.  The menu describes the crust very well: Our Sweet Spot crust hammers it home by finding the sweet spot of thickness, keeping it light while keeping the bite.”  It is indeed a very good crust. 

The crust is a perfect canvas for the “have it my way” custom pizza I ordered.  The Salumeria (pepperoni, Genoa salami, spicy capicola, Parmesan and Mozzarella with a classic pizza sauce) occupied half the pizza.  The other half was pepperoni and green chile.  This is a perfect combination!   Not unexpectedly considering the salted cured meats from which it is constructed, the Salumeria is a bit on the salty side, but those meats (especially the spicy capicola) are plentiful and they’re macho meats.  Alas, the green chile was a bit on the insipid (like Eli Manning) side, lacking the eye-watering, tongue-blistering heat men (at least New Mexican men) love.

Limoncello Cake

Though not a sports fan (save for a drive-by interest in the Chicago Bears…when they’re winning), my Kim didn’t feel completely out of place at Gioco though she didn’t understand why our server wouldn’t change the channel to the Food Network (isn’t Iron Chef a sport?).  We were both lamenting the fact that we hadn’t had a good pizza in four months (not even in California) so she ignored all the football games on the televisions.  Her  “build your own” pizza was constructed with a garlic oil sauce, sausage and cheese.  It was a bit rich for me and the garlic sauce was powerful enough to ward off a family of vampires (or any amorous prospects), but it just right for her. 

There are only three desserts on the menu, none made on the premises.  Frankly, most manly sports fans would just as soon have chicken wings and call them dessert.  The Limoncello cake is probably the least sweet among the three desserts, offering tangy (albeit not lip-puckering) notes to offset the sweetness.  After one bite I cursed myself for not having ordered the nachos instead. 

As a purveyor of pizza, Gioco is a people-pleasing place. As a man cave, it may have no equal in the Duke City.

Gioco
4310 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-2177
Web Site
LATEST VISIT:  25 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Build Your Own Pizza, Salumeria Pizza, Green Chile and Pepperoni Pizza

Gioco on Urbanspoon

Anasazi Restaurant – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Anasazi Restaurant & Bar at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

As you gaze in awe and wonder at the luxurious trappings surrounding you everywhere you turn at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, you can’t help but contemplate the irony.  Inn of the Anasazi?  Throughout their existence the Anasazi never knew luxury or leisure, focusing solely and at all times on survival.  Shelter, food and water were of paramount concern in the Four Corners area of the Southwest, a desolate environment which was often brutal and unforgiving.  Amidst the ravages of climatic extremes, the Anasazi scratched out an existence and an lasting legacy.

While the subsistence living of the Anasazi civilization and the opulence of the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi are at polar extremes, even stodgy historians might appreciate that this intimate world-class retreat “celebrates the enduring creative spirit and traditions of the regions early Native American.”  This boutique gem also embraces Santa Fe’s rich cultural heritage and ongoing legacy as an artist colony.  An extensive art collection is a vivid blend of Native, Hispanic and Anglo influences.

The stylish Anasazi Dining Room

In the Anasazi Restaurant and Bar luxury travelers have a restaurant worthy of the stunning three-story Inn.  Richly appointed with the tricultural art of New Mexico, the restaurant is decidedly rich, tasteful and masculine in its furnishings.  Meals are as artistic as the ambiance with a healthful salute to the rich bounty of New Mexico’s farms from where fresh produce is sourced at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market.  Through a Santa Fe purveyor, the Anasazi procures elk from the Rocky Mountains and lamb from northern New Mexico.  The quality is very much in evidence.

In Matthew 4:4, Jesus declared “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone.” For the most part, this man wouldn’t want to, but some breads are so good, it might be tempting to try. The bread at the Anasazi is among the best offered at any restaurant in Santa Fe.  Fresh, yeasty baguettes and a red chile impregnated lavosh offer textural and flavor contrasts.  Both are so good you’ll be tempted to order a second bread basket though you’d risk filling up on bread alone.

Bread Basket

Contrary to what some restaurants might have you believe, bottled Caesar salad dressing does not a true Caesar salad make.  There’s a richness of embarrassment propagated against the dining public when this “faux” Caesar is offered.  The Anasazi prepares, albeit not table-side, a true Caesar salad then it takes a few liberties with the ingredients and calls it a “South of the Border Caesar Salad.”  There’s just a bit of irony there because the salad’s “inventor” Caesar Cardini actually created the very first Caesar salad in Tijuana, Mexico on July 4th 1924. 

The South of the Border Caesar Salad is everything there is to like about the Caesar salad and more.  It’s constructed with Romaine lettuce, tapioca green chile croutons, crispy Serrano ham and a lemon-anchovy dressing with a white anchovy thrown in for good measure.  Every ingredient on this salad is first rate.  The crispy Serrano ham is as thin as carpaccio and as crispy as a potato chip with the unmistakably wonderful flavor of cured, salted pork.  The tapioca green chile crouton has an almost doughy texture and appearance, but inside it you’ll discern the irresistible flavor of roasted chile. The lemon-anchovy dressing is as good as we’ve ever had.

South of the Border Caesar Salad

Even though the quality of seafood–some shipped daily to New Mexico’s restaurants–has improved greatly over the years, all too often we’re reminded that one of the few enchantments with which we’re not blessed is proximity to the ocean.  That’s often the case even at high-end fine-dining establishments such as the Anasazi.  A lobster quesadilla would not have cut it in Maine; it shouldn’t cut it in New Mexico either. 

Even though our quesadillas were brimming with prized knuckle and claw meat (as well as Asadero cheese, chipotle mayonnaise and mango dressing), the lobster was chewy (typically a sign it’s been overcooked).  Served with the quesadilla were the usual quesadilla suspects: sour cream, pico de gallo and guacamole, none of which would probably be served with lobster in Maine.  While we liked the notion of a lobster quesadilla, we found the execution of the concept lacking.  To paraphrase Marlon Brando from On The Waterfront, “it could have been a contender.”

Anasazi Lobster Quesadilla

Argentina is widely regarded as the beef capital of the world, the domicile of succulent cuts of mouth-watering, premium steaks.  One of the favorite preparation styles is Bife Asado, literally grilled beef.  At the Anasazi Restaurant, Bife Asado is a flat iron steak grilled to your exacting specifications (medium-rare is just about perfect), sliced into half-inch slices and served with fingerling potatoes, calabacitas and usually a Serrano chile Chimichurri sauce which my Kim rebuked  because one of its ingredients is cumin in favor of a mango salsa. 

Flat iron steaks are a value-priced cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak. The Anasazi Restaurant exploits these qualities to their utmost, grilling a fork-tender steak that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy.  The fingerling potatoes, which include purple Peruvian potatoes, are worthy accompaniment while the mango salsa, though no Chimichurri, is so good you might eat it right out of the ramekin and not use it on the beef.

Bife Asado

The Anasazi Restaurant menu claims to “celebrate American cuisine, in particular New Mexico cuisine.”  What passes today for “New Mexican cuisine” at the Anasazi would probably be unrecognizable to abuelitas of yesteryear.  It would be interesting to study Anasazi’s avant-garde approach to  interpreting New Mexican cuisine with my own grandmother, but frankly there are very few dishes on the dinner menu which would pass for anything approaching traditional New Mexican cuisine as she knew it.  The duck enchilada mole is hardly traditional. 

Fortunately, the menu does offer New Mexico lamb chops, long a staple in Northern New Mexico.  My abuelita never prepared lamb chops as tender, meaty and delicious as those found at the Anasazi.  My own memories of Northern New Mexican lamb is of a tough, sinewy and gamey meat, albeit one with a delicious grass-fed flavor.  We certainly didn’t adorn our lamb chops with anything as rich and deeply-flavorful as the mint demi-glace which flows copiously on the plate.  Nor did we ever enjoy broccolini and smashed fingerling potatoes with our lamb.  Though my grandmother would probably have found the Anasazi’s preparation heretically inauthentic, she would probably have enjoyed them.  We sure did.

New Mexico Lamb Chops

Desserts share space on the menu with postprandial digestifs (alcoholic beverage served after a meal, in theory to aid digestion) such as cognac, brandy, grappa and sherry.  The Anasazi Restaurant, by the way, boasts a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list and in 2013, was named by Wine Enthusiast as one of America’s 100 best wine restaurants in recognition of its 300 bottles of Old and New World wines.  Those wines form the backdrop for private candlelight dinners at the restaurant’s intimate wine cellar which accommodates up to twelve guests.

A housemade daily selection of sorbets or ice creams may seem somewhat pedestrian compared with the other sophisticated desserts offerings on the menu, but when made well you can’t beat a good ice cream. At Anasazi, you’ll get three scoops per order, a tantalizing triumvirate of cold deliciousness served atop fruit (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe) pieces.  By happenstance, the flavors of the day during one unseasonably warm October day were vanilla, dulce de leche and chocolate.  The dulce de leche, which translates literally from the Spanish as “sweet of milk,” has a wonderful caramel-like flavor while the chocolate is intensely chocolate, boasting the adult chocolate flavor aficionados love.

Ice Cream Trio: Chocolate, Dulce De Leche, Vanilla

In a city replete with posh, elegant and refined lodging and dining opportunities, the spectacular Anasazi Restaurant at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is among the most highly regarded.

Anasazi Restaurant
113 Washington Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 988-3236
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: New Mexico Lamb Chops, Lobster Quesadilla, Bife Asado, Bread

Anasazi Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Five & Dime General Store – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe’s famous Five & Dime General Store

The late Fray Angelico Chavez, New Mexico’s preeminent historian once wrote about Santa Fe’s growth, “The only threat to her own distinctive glory, and something to guard against these days, is the kind of hurried “progress” which has, not history or humanity, but only money as its sole aim and purpose.”  Perhaps nowhere in Santa Fe has that hurried progress been more in evidence than in the world-famous Santa Fe Plaza which has seen significant changes over the years. One of the bastions against progress had been the Woolworth’s department store, in place for several generations, but which finally gave up the ghost just before the turn of the 21st century.

In its place stands the Five & Dime General Store which retains much of the charm that made Woolworth’s a throwback to better times.  Best of all, the Five & Dime retained the lunch counter in which the Frito Pie was invented by Teresa Hernandez in the 1960s–nearly 60 years ago. Few, if any, do it better. The Frito Pie is served the old fashioned way, in an open bag of Fritos smothered with meaty red chile and shredded cheese.

The snack bar where dozens of Frito Pies are served

While filming “Parts Unknown” for CNN celebrity glitterati Anthony Bourdain rankled the feathers of proud New Mexicans who have loved the Five & Dime’s Frito pies for generations.  Bourdain claimed the dish was made with canned Hormel chili and a “DayGlo orange cheese-like substance.”   Worse, the acerbic one claimed the Frito pie is a Texas creation, adding that “New Mexico, you have many wonderful things.  I think, let Texas have this one.” Within days after the program’s airing, Bourdain issued a retraction. 

UPDATE:  In 2011, Kaleta Doolin wrote Fritos Pie, Stories, Recipes and More where she dismissed any claims about Santa Fe’s Woolworth’s having been the inventor of the Frito Pie. What gives Doolin credibility is the fact that she was the daughter of the founder of Frito Lays so she had access to company records. Her research found that the “Fritos chili pie” was first served in 1949, more than a decade before Teresa Hernandez “invented it” in the 1960s at the Santa Fe Woolworth’s.

The world-famous Frito Pie

In 1962, the recipe for “Frito pie” appeared on millions of bags of chips: “Heat can of chili, pour into bag of Fritos, and sprinkle with grated cheese, and chopped onions.” That could well have been from where Teresa Hernandez found the recipe…but she most assuredly used New Mexican “chile” and not some dreadful Texas “chili” in concocting her version. For that she should be canonized.

So, while Anthony Bourdain was right about Frito pie having been invented in Texas,  he was wrong in calling it a “warm crap in a bag” and “colostomy pie.”   It’s for his scatological description that New Mexicans have not forgiven him.  Despite his criticism, Bourdain claims to have enjoyed the Five And Dime’s Frito pie.

The Food Network’s popular “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” program gave New Mexico much more love. The premise of this show is that restaurateurs and chefs know where to eat. It answers the question “where do food stars and chefs eat in their free time–when they’re paying.”  Chef Rahm Fama returned to his hometown of Santa Fe for a “Best Thing…” episode entitled “Childhood Favorites.”  In the episode, he recalled the joys of noshing on Frito pie from the original Five & Dime General Store.

The menu includes several other items, but you rarely see anyone order anything but the Frito Pie which made Woolworth’s a Santa Fe institution. The lunch counter doesn’t have much counter space and there are very few tables, so you just might have to walk around the plaza with your Frito Pie in hand, but you might never have a better one. 

Five & Dime General Store
58 E. San Francisco
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 992-1800
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Frito Pie

Five and Dime on Urbanspoon