Zea Rotisserie & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Zea Rotissserie & Grill, a popular Northeast Heights Dining Establishment

Our first visit to Zea followed the day after it was savaged by an erstwhile Albuquerque Journal restaurant critic, but any trepidation we might have had quickly dissipated when we were greeted enthusiastically at the hostess station by Betty, the luminous former waitress at the incomparable and much missed (to this day, I dream of its timbale tuna) Nouveau Noodles restaurant in Tijeras.

At Nouveau, Betty was a whirling dervish of perpetual motion and the restaurant’s consummate ambassador. As warm and effusive a waitress as you’ll find anywhere, Betty’s unabashed enthusiasm for Nouveau’s cuisine was evident in her flowingly eloquent descriptions of the restaurant’s menu items–polysyllabic descriptions which she peppered with adjectives synonymous with fabulous. We trusted her recommendations and appreciated the personable and attentive service she lavished upon us.

After seating us at Zea, she cautioned against any pre-conceived notions we might have about chain restaurants, indicating this one was was different. She explained that Zea was founded in New Orleans in 1997 and that its founders’ goal is to celebrate the cultural phenomenon that is eating and drinking for the sheer pleasure of it (sounds like my kind of people).

Calamari, lightly breaded and fried until crisp. Served with Zitziki sauce and topped with Feta cheese.

There are currently five Zea locations in the New Orleans area, a tough restaurant market.  Zea also has locations in Lafayette, Covington and Baton Rouge, Louisiana as well as Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama with franchise locations in Plano, Texas, Pensacola, Florida and Albuquerque–all apparently markets  which covet dining and drinking for the sheer pleasure of it.  The Albuquerque restaurant is stylish and modern with Anasazi stonework complementing neutral colors.  It is an attractive venue with good spacing between tables to allow for privacy.

Betty recommended an appetizer called Mediterranean Hummus Supreme, the consorting of sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, roasted garlic, Roma tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and herbs layered on a bed of creamy hummus and served with grilled pita bread and seasoned rotisserie lamb. It was an excellent starter when we first sampled it shortly after Zea opened and it remains an excellent starter years later.  In its annual food and wine issue, Albuquerque The Magazine accorded its prestigious Hot Plate Award to this appetizer.  The magazine indicated it is “impossible to stop dipping, dunking and devouring.”

Following Betty’s recommendation, I had the St Louis ribs prepared Thai style, a half-rack of fall-off-the-bone tender ribs bathed in a sweet and spicy  Thai sauce reminiscent of the chili sauce you might find at a Vietnamese restaurant. The ribs , which are served wet, dry or Thai were good and thankfully not quite as sweet as Betty whom we discovered has legions of fans in the Duke City who appreciate her attentive service and sage recommendations. Alas, Betty left Albuquerque in 2008 and we have yet to find a waitress nearly as attentive.

Mixed Rotisserie and Grill: Half a rack of ribs, half a chicken and a quarter-pound of the rotisserie meat of the day

While Betty may be gone, the remaining wait staff is friendly and attentive, not the sort to hover while you’re trying to hold a conversation or time their visits to when your mouth is full.  In fact, sometimes the best thing that can be said about a wait staff is that it’s not especially noticeable.  Save for Betty, others who have saved us haven’t made a memorable impression, but that’s not a bad thing.

Zea’s concept is based on “inspired American food,” a broad concept describing a melting pot of Mediterranean, Thai, Cajun and New Mexican inspired entrees and appetizers.  Soup du jour selections, in fact, include two featuring green chile.  Salads are inventive and large enough to share, the type of salads which fill you up in the manner of large entrees.  Unless you’re a professional gurgitator, you probably wouldn’t be able to finish a salad and an item from the rotisserie meats and poultry menu.

Items on this menu are served with two sides, all large enough to put a dent on any appetite. The sauteed corn is so heavily buttered, it may put a dent on your waistline, too.  What corn wouldn’t be delicious when swimming in a pool of melted butter.  Other sides include roasted corn grits, Zea potatoes, Thai snap beans, buttered sweet potatoes, red beans, vegetable du jour, French fries and sugar snap beans.

Sauteed corn–sweet, succulent and swimming in butter

The menu is further segmented into grilled entrees, seafood, pasta and sandwiches.  Portions are profuse, most big enough to share.  The Mixed Rotisserie and Grill entree is a veritable meatfest and perhaps the largest entree on the menu: half a rack of ribs, half a chicken and a quarter-pound of the rotisserie meat of the day with two sides.  The chicken has an almost lacquered sheen on the outside and is grilled to perfection so it remains moist on the inside.  The ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and meaty. The rotisserie pork, served with a rosemary roasted garlic glace, is also quite good, albeit heavily salted.

Not quite as appetizing is the twice cooked crispy duck, a Maple Leaf Farms duckling slow-roasted then crisped and served with Asian herbs and a honey soy sauce.  One of my pet peeves is seafood or duck served with either a fruity or cloying sauce that masks the inherent flavors of the duck or seafood item. Zea’s honey soy sauce is cloying, almost dessert-sweet.  This entree’s saving grace is the crispy duck skin–and a few napkins to wipe away some of the sauce.  The duckling is otherwise good–tender, moist and delicious, but that sauce has got to go.

Another item Betty steered me toward is the Asian Tuna Salad, made with enough Romaine lettuce to keep a migrant farmer employed for a week. It is served with marinated and seared sashimi tuna (four strips about half-inch thick), carrots, fried noodles, Asian herbs, sesame seeds and roasted almonds laced with peanut vinaigrette.  The peanut vinaigrette is reminiscent of the peanut sauce often served with satay in Thai restaurants.  It’s a bit on the sweet side, but not overly so.

Shrimp Etouffe with Rice

One item not on my plans for future visits is the shrimp etouffe served with brown rice.  On the sole occasion in which we had this entree, the shrimp, though plentiful, had a mealy texture.  It was enough to detract from the flavorful roux and its otherwise good flavor.

Zea Rotisserie & Grill has the look and feel of a restaurant you visit only on special occasions, but it’s priced reasonably, especially considering the portion size.

Zea Rotisserie & Grill
4800 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 17
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Mediterranean Hummus Supreme, St Louis Ribs Thai Style

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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9 Comments on “Zea Rotisserie & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)”

  1. I asked for, but did not receive any reply or explanation from the former owners of Zea. Their website no longer shows the Albuquerque location. I ate there a few days before the name changed, and no mention was made of their closing. I was a loyal customer for many years, so, I’m kinda miffed. I’ll keep this in mind on my next visit to Louisiana!

  2. Went tp Zea just after they became Coronado Crossing. Tried our usual favorites, Thai rib stack, Asian almond shrimp, and Chicken wings. The ribs were so tough we couldn’t cut the meat with their steak knife. We sent it back and they did not charge for it. The shrimp were good but we were quite unimpressed with the sauce on the chicken wings and will not order them again. We got the calamari to replace the ribs. It would have been OK but it was swiming in a very tasteless marinara suace-tomatoes but no disernable spices. Apart from the chocolate mousse for desert–decadent and delicious– we declared the experience a disaster and vowed never to return.
    Over the next 2 weels CC offered free drive by ribs. We tried them–free is free. They were back to the fall of the bone tenderness that we had come to ecpect at Z.
    So we decided to give CC another try. Had the ribs, shrimp, and calamari–thou this time we asked for the marinara on the side. Every thing was quite good. Lobster bisque was good but nothing to write home about
    and the chocolate mousse was again quite delicious. So not bad.
    The new menu is quite limited compared to what Z offered. There were so few people there on a Saturday afternoon we’ll be surprised if CC survives.

  3. Gil, Zia is now Coronado Crossing. No longer a franchise. The menu is *very* similar to old Zia menu with few tweaks here and there.

  4. Yo Ryan….Good to see ya back. As such, made a repeat that night to this setting that offers an airy, calming setting, sans screeching music, including some nichos for a gathering of family or friends or just being cozy, to explore a variety of offerings! I chose the Tornedos which, while tender with a tasty sauce, could have shown a tad more pink per Medium. Alas, maybe someone can ‘splain why even split a good Filet? Is it easier or more challenging to cook?…LOL. The side of Sauted Corn was tasty, albeit the Sugar Snaps Beans needed a step-up in their natural taste. Margarita and Wait Staff were up to par. An A Plus for being a Journal’s Press Pass participant!

  5. Lunch today was at Zea. Every time I eat there, I openly wonder why I don’t eat there more often. I had the garlic and herb chicken, french onion soup, and collard greens and grits. All were superb. I’ve eaten at Zea probably half a dozen times over the past two or three years and have never had a bad experience there.

    Also, can’t wait to see your updated review of Chez Bob, Gil!

  6. Have been to Zea many times. We usually load up on appetizers and occasionally have a full meal. We are partial to their calamari, Thai rib stack, and Asian almond shrimp. We also used to get their chicken sticks but they are no longer on the menu. Replaced by chicken wings. Tasty enough and lots of them and they are huge. Three or four appetizers and we’re done for the day. Good food, reasonable prices and attentive staff. John L

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