The advent of 2014 is nigh. It’s with great fondness and more than a little (blush) salivation that I bid adieu to auld lang syne and the most memorable dishes of 2013. These are the dishes which are most indelibly imprinted on my memory engrams…the first dishes that come to mind when I close my eyes and reflect on the past year in eating.
- “But this is New Mexico,” you might exclaim after you read that eight of the very best dishes I enjoyed in 2013 were seafood dishes. That’s not supposed to happen in a high desert state. Chez Bob must not have heard this is a landlocked state because the Diver Scallops with a Buerre Blanc Sauce are as good as you’ll find along the coast.
- Chef, proprietor, barista, ambassador. That’s Michael Gonzales who’s not only unabashedly passionate about his Cafe Bella, but a civic-minded promoter of the City of Vision. His slow-roasted, locally smoked carne panini featured succulent pork, baby field greens, mozzarella and a mayo-based sauce. Each bite is an absolute joy and an adventure in deliciousness.
- Four sandwiches made my “best of 2013” list. Tia Betty Blue’s, a rollicking, quirky and all-around fun restaurant creates the most piquant of the quadrumvirate. The New Mexico Po’ Boy (housemade carne adovada, cheese, onions, lettuce, Fritos and pickled jalapeños) is a delicious exemplar of creativity meets unconventional.
- “More burritos than you can shake your maracas” is the motto at Papa Nachos, but burritos alone don’t a great restaurant make. Visit after 3PM and treat yourself to the Shrimp Quesadilla (a large tortilla speckled the color of a pinto pony engorged with shrimp, melted white cheese, onions and cilantro). It’s addictive.
- If Maxime Bouneou isn’t on your short list of Albuquerque’s best chefs, it’s either because you haven’t been to Torinos @ Home or your Italian food repertoire doesn’t extend beyond Chef Boyardee. Grouper al Cartoccio (grouper filet baked in a crispy wrap with Swiss chard, mussels and clams) is several orders of magnitude better than the very best spaghetti you’ve ever had.
- Sadly, the Rabbit Brasolo al Barolo isn’t on the everyday menu at Torinos @ Home because it’s the most memorable and delicious food any restaurant served me in 2013. The special occasion in which this ambrosial masterpiece was served was Daniela’s 42nd birthday celebration. Here’s hoping and praying it’ll be served on her 43rd birthday, too.
- At La Cantina at Casa Sena, the wait staff will regale you with jazz and musical revues of the best of Broadway, but you’ll be tempted to sing lustily about the Aztec Dusted Salmon (pan-seared filet with spiced mocha crust and yellow mole. It’s amazing how well the assertive pairing of spiced mocha and yellow mole complement such a delicate fish.
- The black cod with a miso glaze at Blades’ Bistro is so good, I had to return a week later to confirm what my taste buds were telling me–this is the very best seafood dish I had in 2013, maybe one of the very best ever. Frankly you can’t go wrong with anything on Chef Kevin’s menu, but this dish beckons for return visits.
- Santa Fe without the perpetually smiling countenance of Bonnie Eckre and the cast iron grill mastery of her husband John would be just another “city same.” After a hiatus of two months, the Bobcat Bite was reborn as Santa Fe Bite. By any name, The Bite’s green chile cheeseburger is still the very best in the universe!
- With the launch of the Down N Dirty Seafood Boil restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexicans no longer need to travel to the coast for the seafood boil experience. Scallops, potatoes and corn prepared in a magical elixir that transports you seaside are just two of the reasons. Most of your favorite seafood entrees can be found here.
- It strikes people funny when I declare Malaysian cuisine as my very favorite of all Asian foods. Unfortunately the Duke City hasn’t had many opportunities for diners to discover Malaysian treasures for themselves. That is until Street Food Asia opened and started serving the absolutely fantastic Kuala Lumpur Street Malay Curry Laksa as well as other Malay favorites.
- In my year-end retrospective, I likened Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine to a magnificent shooting star which faded away much too quickly but left an indelible afterglow. Among the memorable culinary treasures conceived by the brilliant Paco Aceves were the sautéed Mussels with potatoes and leeks in a smooth coconut milk and chipotle broth served with grilled bread.
- Until Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives aired a segment showcasing Bocadillos Slow Roasted: A Sandwich Shop, few diners were aware of this diminutive eatery with huge flavors (unless they read this blog). The Duke City Ruben (sic) may be the city’s very best Ruben, one about which the effusive Fieri couldn’t say enough.
- If you haven’t heard of or been to Elaine’s yet, it’s only a matter of time before this extraordinary fine-dining milieu becomes “the place to be” in Nob Hill. One of the reasons is Elaine’s Blue crab and cauliflower soup, quite simply one of the very best exemplars of comfort food deliciousness in the Duke City.
- The Giovanni Special (six cheese stuffed ravioli, three meatballs, two sausages topped with homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella) isn’t on the menu at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho, but long-time visitors order it anyway and the veteran wait staff knows exactly what they’re talking about. The homemade tomato sauce is heavenly!
Over the years Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has become a community in which readers freely share their opinions. I invite all my dear readers to share your favorites by replying to this post.