My friend Carrie Seidman, the elegant and erstwhile restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Tribune prefaced one restaurant review by saying “sometimes pleasure comes with a price tag.” That pithy aphorism should probably be appended by paraphrasing Luke 12:48: “from those who charge a lot, much will be expected.” Expensive meals come with expectations of intoxicating aromas and tastes, impeccable service and a classy, relaxed milieu in which to bask in the glory of a decadent, memorable meal. Such meals are worth it only if afterwards you consider every dollar well spent. Any regrets and the experience will leave you (and your wallet or purse) empty.
Fortunately for the most penurious and parsimonious among us, there is no absolute correlation of price tag to enjoyment. There is no guarantee that an expensive meal will be a good one…but there is most certainly a correlation between spending a lot of money and the pain and regret you feel afterwards if the meal didn’t achieve lofty expectations. Conversely, some of the very best restaurant meals to be enjoyed are often those that not only provide great value for the money, they serve genuinely good food and provide simple, but very pleasant and rewarding dining experiences you will want to repeat.
The Albuquerque restaurant which might best exemplify the “bang for the buck” idiom is Silvano’s New Mexican Restaurant, an eatery with a long and storied history in the Duke City. The cover of the menu says it best: “Home where it all started, where we love you from the inside out.” “Home where it all started” is a reference to the fact that Silvano’s occupies the original edifice it called home until 1985 when Silvano’s was sold to Frank R. Barela who promptly renamed it Los Cuates in honor of his newborn twins. After sixteen years on the premises, Los Cuates closed its original location and was replaced in 2011 by Silvano’s, a full-circle turn few would have expected.
The “Where we love you from the inside out,” I suspect is an affirmation of the traditional New Mexican dicho “pansa llena, corazon contento” or “full stomach, happy heart.” A meal at Silvano’s will most certainly fill your belly and leave you happy. Portion sizes are prolific and prices are more than reasonable, but what diners will appreciate and remember most is the delicious food. Old timers like me who dined at the original Silvano’s will also appreciate the memories the aromas and flavors will evoke–memories of good times with friends at an old and trusted favorite. Others with better memories (Jim Millington and Tommy) also have memories of a short-lived Silvano’s on San Mateo just south of Menaul.
Few vestiges of the Los Cuates days remain at Silvano’s, a simple, no frills restaurant back home in the time-worn shopping center where it got its start. The closed-in crowdedness of its predecessor is gone. Silvano’s seems more spacious, but that may be illusory considering the lack of diners at the after-after rush hour of my inaugural visit. The restaurant is much longer than it is wide with booth seating against the east and west walls and table seating in between. Diamond-shaped mirrors framed with colorful garland festoon the otherwise unadorned light green walls.
You won’t be seated long before a cheery attendant arrives with a basket of complimentary chips, salsa and con queso. At many other New Mexican restaurants, the price point for chips and salsa approaches that of some entrees so it’s refreshing to find one lavishing its diners with preprandial pleasure. The salsa will be familiar to anyone who’s eaten at Los Cuates. It’s a unique salsa–wholly unlike the traditional New Mexican salsa of tomatoes, onions, garlic and either green chile or jalapenos. It has a mild, rich and almost sweet taste with just a hint of residual bitterness and texturally, it’s tailor-made for dipping more than scooping. It’s an “either you love it or you don’t” type of salsa with plenty of fans and detractors. Count me among those who love its uniqueness.
The complimentary con queso is a temptress (maybe that’s the point) you’ll want more of. It’s redolent with the bouquet of green chile and a Cheddar blend and it’s served warm. The chips are relatively thin, but formidable enough to scoop up a few chips full of the con queso. Alas, some of the chips are too large for the tiny plastic bowl, ergo another reason to order an appetizer-sided con queso. The appetizers menu also includes chile fries (French fries topped with con queso and red or green chile), quesadillas (olives and jalapenos with melted cheese) and nachos.
The menu includes many traditional New Mexican favorites such as chile rellenos, enchiladas, burritos, tacos, fajitas, tamales, carne adovada and huevos rancheros. A vegetarian combination plate (one chile relleno, one bean tostada, one cheese enchilada topped with red or green chile and two sopaipillas) is also available. All entrees are priced south of the ten dollar mark. My friend Andrea Lin of the Albuquerque Journal raves about Silvano’s chile rellenos, one of the entrees for which the restaurant was (and will be) best known.
Chile rellenos are often a hit-and-miss proposition, more often than not featuring an insipid, oversized chile stuffed with vapid, gooey cheese and battered with a thick coating resembling fried stucco. Silvano’s chile rellenos are the opposite of that sorry stereotype. The chile is battered a bit more thickly than most, but as Andrea describes it, it’s a “light almost tempura-like batter that holds a bit of crunch even under a ladle of chile.” This entrees works best with both red and green chile, both of which are quite good, albeit not as incendiary as some fire-eaters might like. As with several entrees, the rellenos are served with beans and Spanish rice. The beans are terrific, as good as they come, but the Spanish rice is….well, it’s Spanish rice, one of those inexplicable anomalies in that most New Mexican restaurants serve it though you’ll never find anyone who says they love Spanish rice. The relleno plate is also accompanied by two large, puffy sopaipillas just beckoning for honey.
Silvano’s New Mexican Restaurant is proof that you can go home again and home can be delicious.
Silvano’s New Mexican Restaurant
5016-B Lomas, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 21 March 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Chile Rellenos, Sopaipillas, Salsa and Chips, Con Queso