Thai Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Kitchen on the Intersection of Alameda and Corrales

There is no good meat that their stupid cooks do not spoil with the sauce they make. They mix with all their stews a certain paste made of rotten prawns…which has such a pungent smell that it nauseates anyone not accustomed to it.”  No, that’s not a review published by a disgruntled diner on Zomato or Yelp.  Nor is it Gil describing a chile dish to which liberal amounts of cumin were added.  This scathing indictment was written in 1688 by Gervaise, a Catholic missionary from France.  It was his tactless way of describing a Siamese meal at a diplomatic function he attended.

Much has changed since Gervaise disparaged and insulted the cuisine of what is today Thailand, the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by a European power.  Gervaise, who would probably attribute the failure to conquer Thailand to the food, was probably not the first and he certainly wasn’t the only person to have criticized Thai food, but few have expressed it with such derision.

My friends Bill Resnik and Bruce

My friends Bill Resnik and Sr. Plata enjoying the last of their beverages after an excellent meal

Gervaise would no doubt be very surprised to discover how popular Thai food has become in the three centuries since his unsavory encounter.  Thai food ranked sixth in a recent survey designed to gauge the popularity of international foods across the world.  What’s most amazing about its popularity is that before the 1960s, Thai food wasn’t widely available outside Thailand’s borders.  That changed during the Vietnamese War when a large number of foreigners came to Thailand and were exposed to Thai food and culture. 

To accommodate pockets of Thai immigrants to America missing their beloved cuisine, small Thai restaurants began opening up in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.   By the early 1900s, there were more than 200 Thai restaurants in Los Angeles alone.   When my Kim and I moved back to New Mexico in 1995, we could count on one hand all the Thai restaurants in Albuquerque.  Today the Duke City boasts of some 23 restaurants serving Thai cuisine.  Among the elder statesmen, established in 1995, is Siam Cafe which, going into its second decade, remains one of the city’s most popular Thai restaurants.

Tod Mun Plar (Fish Cakes)

May, 2014, saw the launch of Thai Kitchen on the northwest corner of the Alameda and Corrales intersection. The opening of a new Thai restaurant is reason enough for celebration, but even more so when the new Thai restaurant is the younger sibling of Siam Cafe, progenitor of some of the most enticing fragrances in town.   Thai cuisine aficionados will recognize the familiar smiling face of Art, the long-time host at Siam Cafe.  While his sister continues to own and operate Siam Cafe, Art is bringing the family operation to the burgeoning west side.

The Thai Kitchen is located at the former site of the Saffron Tiger Express, a popular Indian fast casual restaurant.  The most striking exterior feature of the Thai Kitchen is the steeple-shaped letter “A” on the word “Thai.”  It’s very representative of Thai architecture.  The restaurant’s interior may be the most beautiful of any Thai restaurant in town, a melange of soft, bright colors and dark masculine woods.  A statue of Buddha is poised on the capacious bar facing the seating area, a mix of booths and tables with good spacing.

Chicken Satay

Thai Kitchen’s menu is replete with many of the same items featured at Siam Cafe.  Alas, Art and his staff apparently don’t watch the Big Bang Theory because the menu doesn’t include mee krob, the favorite Thai dish of wunderkind Sheldon Cooper.   Because of the Big Bang Theory’s popularity, mee krob has become one of the most heavily requested items at Thai restaurants.  So has another Sheldon favorite, chicken satay with extra peanut sauce which can be found on the Thai Kitchen’s menu.

30 May 2014: You won’t lament the absence of mee krob for very long because there’s so much else to enjoy.  Start with Tod Mun Plar, one of the most popular appetizers in Thailand.  A deep-fried fishcake (tilapia) mixed with curry paste and fresh herbs, it’s served with a sweet-tangy cucumber salad, a surprisingly effective foil for the strong flavors of the thinly pounded fishcake. Tod mun plar seems to be an acquired taste among many diners. Though it’s among my favorite Thai appetizers, very few of my dining companions enjoy it so I end up being “stuck” with finishing it all (choruses of “awwww” here).

Tod Mun Plar (Fish Cakes)

Green Curry with Beef

22 August 2014: Shelton Cooper’s beloved chicken satay with extra peanut sauce is on the Thai Kitchen.  After a marinade in Thai spices and coconut cream, thinly-sliced chicken breasts are grilled on wooden skewers in a shish kebab fashion.  Four skewers of golden-hued chicken “Popsicles” are served with a traditional Thai peanut dipping sauce and a cucumber salad.  The contrast between the pungent, smoky satay and the sweet peanut sauce provides a nice balance of flavor though you should exercise restraint with the peanut sauce as too much will make the satay dessert sweet.  The cucumber salad is even sweeter. For better results, try the satay sans sauce.

30 May 2014: During an April, 2014 visit to Butcher & Bee in Charleston, South Carolina, this avowed Dagwood clone eschewed  a sandwich in favor of larb at one of the highest rated sandwich shops in America. Made well, Larb, the very popular “cooked salad” typically found on the menu at Thai and Lao restaurants, is better than almost anything.  Larb is essentially a meat dish, most often made with minced or ground beef, pork or chicken with healthful elements of a salad.  The Thai Kitchen’s larb is made with grilled chopped chicken, mint, cilantro, Thai chiles, greens, lime juice and fish sauce.  It’s a very refreshing salad with qualities that’ll make your mouth tingle with appreciation.

Larb

Larb

30 May 2014: During my inaugural visit to any Thai restaurant it doesn’t matter what the acknowledged specialty of the house is, I’m going to order a curry dish. Thai curry offers some of the most olfactory-arousing fragrances of any dish.   Prepared well, its flavors deliver on the promises made by the fragrances which precede it.  Thai Kitchen’s green curry certainly delivers on its aromatic promises, but not as much on the renowned Thai heat.  At “Thai hot” as I ordered it, the curry should have been the overpowering taste sensation.  Instead, the green curry delivered on yet another promise of Thai cuisine–that of balance.  With a harmony of flavors, the green curry was sweet, sour, spicy, salty and pungent, not in equal measures, but with good balance.  It’s a very good green curry. 

22 August 2014: The one curry which tends to appeal even to avowed curry haters is Massaman curry which, unless otherwise requested, is milder than other curries.  It’s also sweeter thanks to the influx of coconut milk, cardamom, cinnamon and sugar.  Xenophobes might be interested to know that one spelling of this curry is derived from an ancient form of the word “Muslim” and in fact, this dish is often referred to as “Muslim curry” in some areas.  It was indeed Muslim traders who brought the spices used in the dish from India and the Middle East to the southern portion of modern day Thailand.  Thai Kitchen’s version includes potatoes, tomatoes and your choice of pork, chicken, beef, tofu or vegetables.  The fragrance emanating from a bowl of Massaman curry is equal to the tongue-titillating flavors of this excellent elixir.

Spicy Jungle Noodle

21 April 2018: In his first four visits to Thai Kitchen, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver was so besotted by the spicy jungle noodle dish that he had yet to order any other entree.  It’s a dish as exotic as its name and even more delicious: flat noodles, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and your choice of chicken, beef or pork infused with Thai spices which impart sweet, savory and piquant taste sensations.  The wide, flat noodles are absolutely perfectly prepared and the vegetables are al dente and fresh. As with the aforementioned green curry, “hot” is discernible, but at this Thai restaurant, pain is not a flavor.  Even my Kim who eschews fiery foods is able to handle the heat on this delicious dish.

21 April 2018: The very first time I saw Pad Krapow on a Thai restaurant menu, my mind conjured recollections of the campy 1960s Batman television series in which the Batman character had less muscular definition as Joe Average.  “Kapow” was one of the animated sound effects used when Batman punched an evildoer.   Since then it’s become my go-to Thai dish on the rare occasion in which curry cravings aren’t calling.  Pad Krapow, a magnificent dish which translates to “wok fried” (Pad) “holy basil” (Krapow) is one of the most fragrant of all dishes in a culinary culture in which virtually all dishes are fragrant.  “Holy basil,” a versatile herb with medicinal properties, isn’t used on Thai Kitchen’s version, but it is made with traditional stir-fried hot basil, sweet basil, bell peppers, chili, garlic, yellow onions, green onions, mushrooms and your choice of protein (chicken, beef, pork, tofu and vegetables).   The fragrant bouquet of this wok-fried classic envelops you from the moment it arrives at your table until you enjoy the last morsel.  Fresh mushrooms are another highlight.

Pad Krapow

21 April 2018: As happy as the prospect of wonderful savory Thai dishes made us, a small sign on the window announcing mangoes with sweet rice made us frenzied with excitement.  We should have ordered this seasonal dessert as an appetizer or at the very least, ordered one each of this outstanding dessert.  Mangoes with sweet rice drizzled with coconut milk is quite simply one of the best desserts in the world especially when the mangoes are at their peak of freshness as they were during our visit.  Flecked between the white sticky rice are long grains of Thai purple rice which has a sweet profile. 

Sweet Rice and Mango

Gervaise would probably have found a myriad of things not to like about the Thai Kitchen (you can’t please some people), but most Duke City diners will thoroughly enjoy the Thai Kitchen, especially if they also love Siam Cafe.

Thai Kitchen
1071 Corrales Road, N.W., Suite 23
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-0059
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 April 2018
1st VISIT: 30 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Noodle Jungle, Tod Mun Plar, Green Curry, Larb, Massaman Curry, Pork Satay, Penang Curry, Pad Krapow, Sweet Rice and Mango

Thai Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine Includes Albuquerque’s First-Ever Burmese Cuisine

No lady likes to snuggle and dine accompanied by a porcupine.”
He lit a match to check gas tank.  They call him skinless Frank.”
A man, a miss, a car, a curve.  He kissed the miss and missed the curve.”
Within this vale of toil and sin, your head goes bald but not your chin.”
Henry the Eighth sure had trouble.  Short-term wives, long-term stubble.”

Some of the more seasoned among us might remember that one of the best ways to break up the drudgery of traveling long distances on monotonous two-lane highways was to look for Burma Shave billboards.  Humorous five-line poems adorned red signs one line at a time, each line in white capitalized blocked letters about 100-feet apart.  The last line of each poem was the much anticipated punchline followed by a sign bearing the obligatory name of the then-popular shaving cream.   New Mexico was one of a handful of states not to benefit from this highly visible and very successful advertising medium.  Apparently our highways and byways were deemed to have insufficient road traffic to warrant the billboards.

As a precocious child yet to revel in hours-long explorations of the family encyclopedias, my limited knowledge of “Burma” came from my dad, the smartest man I’ve ever been blessed to know.  Even he couldn’t tell me if the shaving cream he himself used was actually developed in Burma.  In fact, he knew very little about the Southeast Asian country bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand.  No one in my then limited circle knew much about Burma either (remember this was long before the internet was a glimmer in Al Gore’s eyes, back when the only “Google” was spelled “googol” and represented the number one followed by a hundred zeroes.

Lilliputian in Size, Huge in Flavors

Over the years, of course, my knowledge of Burma (much like my waistline) has increased.  Burma was on the world stage in 1989 when a ruling and violent military regime changed its name from Burma to Myanmar and its capital city from Rangoon to Yangon.  Though the United Nations officially recognized the name change, the United States and the United Kingdom still have not (although during his 2012 visit President Obama did refer to the country as Myanmar on at least one occasion).  While the despotic military junta was dissolved and a nominally civilian government was formed in 2010, a large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign triggered a massive human rights and humanitarian crisis in 2017.

My culinary knowledge of Burmese cuisine, however, has long been lacking.  I’ve always assumed that Burmese cuisine is similar to the cuisine of its bordering nations, perhaps with some country-specific nuances thrown in.  Immediately obvious from the time my culinary explanations began in earnest (circa 1977 Massachusetts), was that Crab Rangoon (despite its name) was not created in the Burmese capital.  So, despite having consumed a fair share of Crab Rangoon over the years, until my inaugural visit to 528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine on 4th Street (thank you Beth Porter), my taste buds were strangers to the diverse and flavorful foods of the storied nation.

Myanmar Style Pork and Pickled Mango Curry

528 Sushi & Asian Food is (to my knowledge) the first Duke City restaurant to offer even a modicum of Burmese food.  Some of that can be attributed to the country’s long seclusion from the world community (film maker Robert Liebermanhe once described Burma as the “second most isolated country in the world after North Korea.)”  As its name declares, the restaurant serves both sushi and Asian food.  The latter is a rather broad umbrella, but it’s readily apparent from scanning the menu over the counter that the umbrella includes Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and of course, Japanese sushi. My eyes targeted dishes prefaced with “Myanmar style.”

You’ve probably surmised that the name “528”  has nothing to do with Highway 528 which runs through Rio Rancho.  The significance of the number 528 is borne from Buddha’s teachings of “metta” or loving-kindness.  “528” is used to symbolize the love within a family while the number “ 1500”  symbolizes love between partners.   That’s the way a very friendly, very shy young lady behind the counter explained it to me.  She also did her best to explain the Burmese dishes on the menu, going so far as warning me that not everyone likes the strong Indian curry used in the first dish that caught my fancy.

Spicy Vegetables Stuffed Fish Cake

13 April 2018: That would be the Myanmar style pork and pickled mango curry.  Perhaps the last dish to surprise me as much because of its sheer uniqueness was the Tortillas Florales with Indian Butter from Eloisa in Santa Fe.  Talk about a pleasant surprise!  After recently being subjected to a cavalcade of cloying curry dishes, I’d expected pretty much the same.  Instead, this was the most unique curry dish I’ve had in years, a melding of culinary cultures and techniques: pungent Indian curry, piquant Asian red chili, aromatic cilantro, potatoes reminiscent of those on Mussaman curry and of course, the sweet and mostly sour mango, all served with rice.  Every element was complementary, every bite delicious.

13 April 2018: Just as unique is the Myanmar style spicy vegetables stuffed fish cake appetizer, another theretofore new to me surprise.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Surprises abounded, starting from the piquant-citrus fragrance wafting from the dish, a bouquet very reminiscent of my favorite papaya salad from An Hy Quan.  The fish cakes were the color of scallops and were split in half butterfly style.  They weren’t so much stuffed as “vegetables” (mostly julienne carrots, cabbage and cilantro)  inserted into the butterflied center of each fish cake and tossed with a piquant citrus sauce.  Texturally, the fish cakes somewhere between marshmallow soft and chewy.  Altogether, this is a terrific dish, one which must be experienced to be appreciated.

Samosas

18 April 2018:  It’s always thrilling to run into culinary kindred spirits at restaurants you recommend.  John and Zelma Baldwin, globetrotters and gastronomes who have actually set food in Burma, not only visited 528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine because they read about it on Gil’s Thrilling…, they actually ordered what I recommended.   It made me very happy to see them enjoy dishes new to them and even moreso watching them study the menu as they planned what to order their next visit or five.  528 is the type of restaurant which inspires return visits.  One visit is certainly not enough when the menu is as diverse and delicious as this one.

18 April 2018: My introduction to the many of the foods of the exotic Indian subcontinent actually took place in England where our discoveries included chicken tiki masala (a dish actually invented in Scotland) and samosas.  Samosas are so beloved in England that one of the wealthiest women in the country got her start making and selling samosas from her home.  We contributed greatly to her wealth.  Samosas, triangular pastries stuffed with sundry items, are wonderful hand-held appetizers offered at many an Indian and East African restaurant.  528’s rendition is stuffed with potatoes, onions and cilantro served with a sweet-piquant chili sauce.  At five to an order, you’ll delight in biting through the crisp pastry to get to the soft potatoes-onions.

Myanmar Style Coconut Soup with Noodles

18 April 2018: After recently experiencing a cloying Thai curry dish redolent with coconut milk made even sweeter thanks to the probable addition of a spoonful or ten of sugar, 528’s Myanmar-style coconut soup with noodles (chicken, fish cake, egg, onion, coconut cream, noodles, crunchy noodles) redeemed my faith in savory coconut dishes.  Even without the curry of my cravings, this is a fabulous soup, reminiscent in some respect of ramen soups (courtesy of the hard-boiled eggs and slurp-worthy noodles).  While coconut milk is the basis for Thai curries, this Myanmar-style paragon of deliciousness is made with coconut curry which is much thicker and richer.  Sweet notes did emanate from the soup, but not dessert-sweet as some Thai curries tend to be.

20 April 2018:  Beth Porter describes the egg drop soup with noodle as “one of the best dishes in a long time. Ultimate Comfort food with great flavor.”  After prompting my first, second and third visits, Beth could recommend a brackish bowl of muddy water and I’d try it.  Thankfully the spicy and sour egg drop soup is much better than muddy water.  It’s better, in fact, than every variation of hot and soup soup in New Mexico save for perhaps the one served at the Pop-Up Dumpling House.  Served piping hot and redolent with sour notes, it’s a superb soup.  It’s also a rarity in that it combines  delicate, subtle egg drop with assertive, in-your-face spicy-and-sour and it works well.  528 offers everything from egg drop soup to Tom Yum Soup, all priced well south of a ten-spot.

Spicy and Sour Egg Drop Soup

20 April 2018:  Perhaps the only lamentable aspect of my visits to 528 has been seeing all the menu items crossed off the menu because they’re just weren’t moving.  The ten item appetizer section of the menu includes several items bearing Malcom’s last name (X).  One of the remaining items is pork balls (not pictured), eight pork meatballs served with a piquant sauce.  Each about the size of a small jawbreaker candy, they’re tinged with five spice, perhaps the most harmonious quitumvirate of spices available with notes of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and Szechwan peppercorns.

20 April 2018:  Save for the Chinese sausage fried rice at  Ming Dynasty, I long ago gave up on finding great fried rice in the Duke City area. Fortunately my friend Bill Resnik doesn’t give up as easily. With Marco Polo-like passion, he persists in his search for a fabulous fried rice. He found two at 528: the Indian-style fried rice and the spicy fried rice.  The latter is in rarefied air, right up there with Ming Dynasty’s transformative Chinese sausage fried rice.  It’s got most of the same components (rice, egg, onion, garlic, tomato, bok-choy, carrot, green peas, pepper) of other fried rice dishes we’ve had, but unlike others, it’s not clumpy, gummy and starchy.  Every grain is impregnated with stir-fried deliciousness, every ingredient in perfect proportion to the others.  You’ll want to eat a mountain of this stuff!

Spicy Fried Rice

20 April 2018: 528’s inventory of Myanmar-style dishes is fairly limited and not all of them are prefaced with the term “Myanmar-style” so it pays to ask.  The quaintly named Ka-Chin Style Spicy Chicken may trigger recollections of the sound of a mechanical cash register when an amount is rung up popularized in Wayne’s World, but Ka-Chin is actually the northernmost state of Myanmar, a region inhabited by a confederation of ethnic groups.  If all their cuisine is as delicious as 528’s Ka Chin-style spicy chicken, I may just have to move there.  My friend Bill described this dish best–“intensely flavored.”  In this case “spicy” doesn’t mean “piquant” though there’s a bit of heat in this dish.  There are also savory, tart, pungent and sweet notes with the tart-pungent combination taking it to the nth degree.  This beauteous dish is made with tender, thin slices of chicken breast, red pepper, jalapeño, Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander and tamarind and it’s served with rice which takes some of the oomph out of its flavor bombardment qualities.

Ka-Chin Style Spicy Chicken

20 April 2018: If you want a dish that’s not nearly as intensive and every bit as delicious as the Ka-Chin style spicy chicken, 528’s spicy chicken basil (chicken, onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, green beans, baby corn, Thai basil) is your hook-up.  Thai basil (horapa) adds a subtle anise-licorice flavor and perfume to every dish in which it’s used.  Those qualities are exemplified on this absolutely mouth-watering dish.  You’ll appreciate the crisp, fresh vegetables as much as you will the thin ribbons of breast meat chicken.  You’ll want to bathe every morsel of rice in the sweet-savory sauce.  Heck, you might want to dab a little of it on the back of your neck to hold onto it a bit longer.

Spicy Chicken Basil

20 April 2018: The affable owner (and shame on me for not knowing his name after three visits) learned how to make sushi in Pennsylvania and honed his skills in Oregon.  He’s been living in Albuquerque for twelve years now and believes he’ll stay.  He actually rented the space which currently houses his restaurant so he’d have the kitchen space to prepare sushi for his clients.  For year’s he had the sushi concession at Kirtland AFB’s commissary and now prepares sushi for the cafes at UNM’s north campus.  He operates 528 with his wife and father-in-law, allowing him to keep his prices ridiculously (and I do mean ridiculously) low.  Sushi at 528 will cost you about half what you’d pay at other sushi restaurants in the city–and it’s good stuff! 

At his recommendation, my first uramaki roll at 528 was the New Mexico roll (green chile, cucumber, avocado).  As often seems to be the case, Bill and I wondered how sushi restaurants manage to prepare green chile better than so many New Mexican restaurants do.  528’s green chile has the alluring roasted flavor aficionados love and enough piquancy so that you won’t need wasabi.  The vinegared rice wrap lends a sweet contrast to the piquancy of the green chile.  At ten individual pieces of sushi for under six dollars, this value-priced sushi is better than sushi twice its price.

New Mexico Roll

Sadly, my inquiry as to which of the listed desserts to try was met with the disappointing news that all were discontinued because they weren’t being ordered by guests. If they were as surprisingly delicious as the entree and appetizer, they would have been glorious.  528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine is set in a Lilliputian storefront with seating for no more than four people.  This little gem is too good to remain a hidden secret!

528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine
5312 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-2104
LATEST VISIT: 20 April 2018
1st VISIT: 13 April 2018
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Vegetables Stuffed Fish Cake, Myanmar Style Pork and Pickled Mango Curry, Samosas, Myanmar Style Coconut Soup with Noodles
REVIEW #1037

528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Torinos’ @ Home – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Torinos @ Home in the Journal Center

I love Italian food but that’s too generic a term for what’s available now:
you have to narrow it down to Tuscan, Sicilian, and so on.”
~ Lee Child, Author

“You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend; you want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend.” That tried and proven sports adage applies in every walk-of-life. Indeed, if you’re the person who has to succeed a beloved living legend, you’ll invariably hear about the gigantic shoes you have to fill. Your every move will be scrutinized and your every failure magnified until you prove yourself worthy of breathing the same rarefied air as the icon you’re replacing. It’s not a challenge the faint-hearted should attempt and it will test the mettle of even the most accomplished.

Confident people have another perspective on following a legend. They relish the challenge of living up to exceedingly high standards and fully expect to succeed. There’s no exit strategy for them…unless it’s to move on to a loftier challenge. They revel in the scrutiny, seeing it as another opportunity to prove themselves. Confident people aren’t reluctant to chart a different course, to do things just a bit differently than their predecessors. They’re risk-takers with an intrinsic believe that it is possible to improve on perfection.

The bright, sunny dining room

So just how to you balance the need for respectful deference to your predecessor with the desire to stamp your own imprint on success? Daniel and Jenna John are doing it the right way. In February, 2016, they purchased Torinos @ Home, one of New Mexico’s most revered and highly acclaimed restaurants. In doing so, they succeeded Maxime and Daniela Bouneou, two of the most beloved and highly respected restaurateurs in the state. Rather than rebranding an established and highly successful restaurant, Daniel and Jenna decided to keep the name Torinos’ @ Home and to continue showcasing the Northern Italian cuisine inspired with French and Spanish influences.

Where the new owners will make Torinos @ Home truly their own is in bringing more local ingredients and indeed, Torinos’ has established local partnerships with several local farms, wineries and breweries. The couple also plans to incorporate new items into the menu and introduce wine happy hour events. One significant “attitudinal” difference is Daniel’s concession that Torinos @ Home offers a “fine dining experience with a casual atmosphere.” Maxime would not—even on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives—declare Torinos’ to be a fine-dining restaurant.

Torinos’ lounge

Stepping into Torinos’ @ Home still felt like coming back home even though we weren’t greeted effusively by Daniela. Also gone is the little store in which Italian goodies—such as Maxime’s olive oil, biscotti, chocolate croissants, homemade jams and a veritable treasure trove of other exciting and interesting items—were once proffered. In its place is a welcoming lounge where you can indulge in your favorite Italian coffee. For my Kim, the most noticeable absence (aside from the Bouneous) was her favorite lavender scented soaps in the ladies room.

Other, more important, facets of a Torinos’ dining experience remain unchanged. Service is still first-rate with attentive servers tending to your every need, such as delivering and later replenishing a colander of olive and Italian bread. The accompanying olive oil is resplendent with the herbaceous freshness of a complementary blend of herbs swimming in the decanter. where they are joined by thin ancho chiles. You’ll also want to save a couple slices for dredging up whatever may be left over of the sauce you select for your entree…and you’ll definitely want to purchase a decanter of this olive oil before you leave. It’s world class stuff!

Bread

The menu remains comfortably familiar with many of our favorite dishes still available. Dishes we had not previously sampled are interspersed among the familiar favorites. The Antipasti menu includes both a cheese board and an antipasto platter as well as five other inviting starters. Six salads, several of them Torinos’ standards, beckon. A section of the menu is dedicated to Pasta and Risotto, two of life’s enduring pleasures. Two (beef cheek manicotti and squid ink pasta) of the ten dishes on this section were showcased on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Because diners can’t live on pasta and risotto alone, other sections of the menu are devoted to offerings from the Sea and from the Farm. You can add such favorites as homemade sausage, prosciutto and sweet potato fries to any dish. Then there’s the desserts, as decadent and enticing as ever.

20 August 2016: Turophiles everywhere will delight in Torinos’ cheese board, literally a paddle-sized wooden board strewn from top to bottom with cheeses: biaco sardo (sheep’s milk), pichin (raw cow’s milk), Aged Montegrappa (cow’s milk), Nocetto Di Cabra (goat’s milk) and Gorgonzola Picante (cow’s milk) as well as Nicoise olives and walnuts. As with all good cheese boards, the cheeses run the taste gamut—from mild to sharp with degrees of variation in between. Cheeses should be eaten from mildest to strongest so you don’t miss the nuance of a mild cheese after eating a stinging, astringent blue. Because the olfactory senses contribute so much to a cheese-tasting experience, you should always imbibe the aroma of your cheeses before eating them. There is only one thing wrong with the Torinos’ cheese plate. Understandably, what’s missing is more cheese—as in large wheels or blocks of the stuff.

Cheese Board

We’d be hard-pressed to name a favorite cheese from among the five. We loved the bianco sardo and the way its creamy mouthfeel contrasted with its firm, dry texture. We could have eaten an entire wheel of the Pichin, an earthy, acidic, semi-firm cheese. Montegrappa, probably the most expensive cheese on the board, is dense and crumbly with a subdued flavor that nonetheless leaves a lactic aftertaste. Predictably, the Nocetta di Cabra, a creamy, tart cheese was my Kim’s favorite while mine was the Gorgonzola Picante, a veiny blue cheese with piquant notes. Make sure you ask for a side of the positively addictive Cipolline onions (saucer-shaped Italian pearl onions with a uniquely sweet and mild flavor), a nice foil for the cheeses.

20 August 2016: If Risotto Fruit Di Mare had been on the Torinos @ Home menu when the Maxime performed his magic in the kitchen, we must have missed it.  More likely it’s one of the new items on the menu introduced by Chef John.  Don’t dare miss it!  The arrival of the dish (al dente Arborio rice with shrimp, little neck clams, calamari, mussels, clam juice and star anise) is preceded by an aroma one normally encounters only at Vietnamese restaurants.  It’s the inimitable, alluring aroma of star anise, an aroma that permeates each grain of rice with its subtle licorice-like flavor.  The risotto with its very clean, very fresh flavors and the slight and subtle undertones of anise, is a perfect complement to the fresh, almost off-the-boat flavors of the seafood.  Several years ago, I lamented the scarcity of good risotto in New Mexico.  Since then a number of restaurants have risen to the challenge and now serve very good to outstanding risotto dishes.  Mark Torinos’ as one of the latter.

Risotto Fruit Di Mare

During my inaugural visit to Torinos’ @ Home way back in 2009, the menu showcased a “ravioli of the day” special. It was a novel concept which introduced Santa Fe diners to the infinite possibilities of ravioli, an Italian dumpling composed of sundry fillings sealed between two layers of thin pasta dough. For those of us who once believed ravioli came from a can labeled Chef Boyardee, Torinos’ ravioli was a godsend. Thinking back on our naiveté, we’re now inclined to share the perspective of Canadian novelist Doug Coupland who put it so aptly: “I know it’s not cat food, but what exactly is it that they put inside of tinned ravioli?”

20 August 2016: The ravioli of the day concept may not have been long-lived, but it certainly had an enduring effect on diners. The challenge for my Kim was whether to have the roasted beet ravioli (beets, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses stuffed in a ravioli, topped with golden raisins, walnuts, poppy seeds and more Parmesan cheese drizzled in light butter sauce) or the Porcini Ravioli (white truffle, porcini mushrooms, cream and Parmesan cheese), a vegetarian offering.  It was a very good choice.  Earthy, rich-flavored porcini mushrooms impart a pungent, woodsy flavor to the ravioli.  The white truffle lends similar qualities.  If you love full-flavored fungi, this is the dish for you.

Porcini Ravioli

14 April 2018: Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp believes Daniel and Jenna have “made the dining adventure even more swoon-worthy than it was a few years ago.”  TripAdvisor and Yelp communities strongly agree.  In the two plus years since they bought Torinos @ Home, they’ve truly made it their own.  During our April visit, we had a brief opportunity to meet Jenna who’s even more attractive in person than online.  She has an effervescent personality and easy smile even when she’s assiduously preparing for a unique event such as the “Technology Dinner” Torinos was hosting that evening.  With Saturday morning brunch and interesting themed events, Torinos continues to evolve and improve.

14 April 2018: If you’re tired of reading about Gil’s charcuterie adventures, rest easy.  Torinos @ Home doesn’t serve charcuterie.  Charcuterie is French.  Salumi is Italian.  What’s the difference, you ask.  Paul Balisteri, the award-winning salumi maestro and Executive Chef of Tender Greens in San Diego, explains: “salumi is an Italian term for sausage-making, cured and smoked meats, as charcuterie is in French. He also explains that “the difference between salumi and salami is, salami is one of the many items that fall under the umbrella of salumi.”   If it sounds as if your humble blogger is getting hung up over semantics, you’re probably right. By any name, the cured meats served at Torinos are exemplary.

Salumi Plate

14 April 2018: A good salumi plate should offer a diverse flavor profile–a well thought-out melody of flavors and textures.  Careful consideration is in evidence with Torinos’ salumi platter which was comprised of three different salamis as well as sopressata and the house-cured duck along with an eye-opening, taste bud awakening, house-made mustard.   Finocchiona, a traditional Italian pork salami from the Tuscany region is one of the most popular of all Italian salamis.  It’s easy to see why.  Named for the Italian word for fennel, its chief flavor component, this coarse-ground salami is distinctly sweet and delicate.  Its polar opposite is the Calabrese which has a discernible piquancy thanks to a generous addition of red pepper flakes.  Coppa, a dry cured capicolla, is somewhere in the middle, neither sweet nor piquant, but earthy and delicate with notes of pepper, ground cinnamon, cloves, bay seeds and nutmeg.

Our salumi soiree also included two painfully thin sliced slivers of fatty, delicate, salty prosciutto, the Italian equivalent of ham (though prosciutto is as similar to American ham as Hans Solo is to Jabba the Hutt). With a buttery texture and melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness, it’s one of the saltiest of all Italian cured meats. It’s also one of the very best. Torinos’ duck is without peer in the Duke City. An outer layer of unctuous fat borders a delicate pink meat flecked with marbling. You’ll want to make sure you’ve got bread on hand with your salumi plate—not to make sandwiches, but to give the house-made mustard a platform. The mustard has a reddish hue, courtesy of what I believe to be a Turkish Aleppo pepper which has more heat than an ancho chile. It imparts an incendiary quality all mustard aficionados will love.

Tomato Basil Soup

14 April 2018: The Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten calls grilled cheese and tomato soup “the ultimate comfort meal.” She certainly wasn’t talking about Campbell’s condensed tomato soup which goes better on Andy Warhol’s 1968 painting than it does on any kitchen table. She was talking about the delicious cure-all for whatever ails you, a tomato soup with the flavor of vine-ripened tomatoes. A great tomato soup embraces you like a warm hug. A superior tomato soup also includes basil, an invigorating, fragrant variety that lends oomph to any Italian dish. Torinos’ tomato basil soup is studded with pinon which lends just a bit of piny freshness. This soup takes the chill out of winter.

14 April 2018: Contemporary wisdom is that if you want a dish to be perceived as appetizing, you give it a name that makes it sound delicious, like something you’d crave. Such wisdom has apparently been lost on Italians who have long christened their culinary fare, especially pasta, with rather unique names—some humorous, some irreverent, some even ribald, but always interesting. Not even the most innocuous of Italian dishes are spared. Vermicelli pasta, for example means “little worms” in Italian. Spaghetti alla puttanesca’ translates literally as “spaghetti in the style of whore’s.” Orecchiette, a flat, disk-shaped pasta translates to “little ears,” not the most inviting of names for any dish. Chicken Scarpariello or “shoemaker’s chicken” is named because of the way chicken bones protrude from your mouth as you eat the dish much like a shoemaker holding tacks in his mouth as he works

Strozzapreti

14 April 2018: My favorite quaintly named Italian pasta dish is strozzapreti, a term which translates to “priest stranglers.” There are several myths regarding the etymology of the term, the most popular being that gluttonous priests (who apparently didn’t know about fasting and abstaining disciplines) used to gorge themselves on it until some of them, quite literally, choked to death. A more humdrum origin story suggests that the pasta’s twisted shape simply resembles a priest’s collar. Alas, it’s not on Torinos’ daily menu, but it was the special of the day on the breezy Saturday in which we visited. Torinos’ version is among the best we’ve ever had, a very rich dish with varying flavor profiles and delightfully diverse textures: a creamy Parmesan cheese sauce, woodsy pine nuts, earthy mushrooms, leafy spinach, grilled chicken and of course, the priest strangling pasta. Whether cautious because of the legends as to how the pasta acquired its name or because we wanted to savor each and every bite, we ate slowly, several swoons of appreciation escaping our lips. This was a wonderful dish!

Whenever my mom chided me for not liking some traditional Northern New Mexican dish (boiled turnips, anyone), I had a two word retort—“goat cheese.” As do many people, she finds goat cheese off-putting in both aroma and flavor. That’s not surprising. Goat cheese has as many detractors as it does proponents. Count my Kim and I among the latter. We count goat cheese among our favorite frommages. Torinos’ goat cheese salad (spinach, Nicoise olives, red onion and candied pecans drizzled with a sweet Balsamic dressing and served with two crostinis topped with honey goat cheese) gave us another way to enjoy it. Our favorite component of an excellent salad was, of course, the honey goat cheese. The combination of tart, slightly sour goat cheese with the liquid gold sweetness of honey blew us away. It’s possible even my mom would have liked it, but if not, that just means more for us.

Goat Cheese Salad with Chicken

14 April 2018: Though several dessert options beckoned, we opted for the Biscotto Jar (Biscotto (caramel cookie), chocolate hazelnut mousse, homemade whipped cream, drizzled with caramel) which was even better than described on the menu. Perhaps inspired by gianduja, a chocolate-hazelnut paste created in Turin, Italy a couple of centuries ago, the chocolate-hazelnut pairing on the rich, creamy mousse is absolutely addictive. Surely some divinity also inspired the addition of caramel. This is three great tastes that taste even better together. For textural contrast as well as another element of deliciousness, the biscotto proved a worthy component. Only one thing would have made this dessert better—instead of a biscotto jar, a biscotto barrel.

Biscotto Jar

While diners throughout New Mexico believed only Maxime and Daniela were synonymous with Torinos @ Home, Daniel and Jenna John have, in short order, proven worthy successors.  Torinos @ Home remains in good hands! 

Note: You can read my previous review of Torinos @ Home here.

Torinos’ @ Home
7600 Jefferson Street, Suite 21
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 797-4491
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 April 2018
1st VISIT:  20 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Porcini Ravioli, Risotto Fruit Di Mare, Cheese Board, Salami Plate, Strozzapreti, Biscotto Jar, Goat Cheese Salad, Tomato Basil Soup

Torinos' @ Home Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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