Every year, a jolly, bearded (some might also say fat) gentleman leaves the comforts of his home to celebrate an event that comes only once a year. Throughout the year he’s visited good little mom-and-pop restaurants across the Land of Enchantment and rewarded them with kind reviews wrapped in polysyllabic words and alliterative phrases. On this special day, my Kim’s birthday, the bearded gentleman isn’t quite as jolly for as faithful readers know, once a year I agree to take my cookie-baking bride to the Olive Garden. It’s a deal we have, albeit one that makes me feel like Faust in the Christopher Marlowe play. Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. In my case, the deal is a visit to Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year. I sure got the rotten end of that deal.
On 28 October 2017, my Kim decided to collect my soul, er….have me make good on my promise and take her to the Olive Garden (which she doesn’t like nearly as much as she likes the annoyance it brings me at the mere thought of visiting a chain restaurant). In the traditional deal with the devil motif of literature and cinema, when Satan comes to collect the witless pawn’s immortal soul, the pawn begs, bribes, cajoles and barters to no avail. Unlike the pawn, however, I had one barter up my sleeve. “Rather than the Olive Garden, wouldn’t you rather go to a better chain restaurant, one which purports to serve lobster rolls, ostensibly like the ones with which you fell in love in Maine?,” I pleaded. “If you’re talking about Slapfish, I’m game,” she replied. Phew, a reprieve for at least another year.
As with an increasing number of brick-and-mortar restaurants, Slapfish got its start as a mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck for you, Bob). In 2012, the founding owners hit the brakes on their mobile operation and launched their first sit-down restaurant in Huntington Beach, California. A scant five years later, Slapfish has restaurant locations across California, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and even South Korea and London with plans to open fifty locations in six states (as of 2016). If past performance is a predictor of future success, the sky’s the limit for Slapfish, a fast-casual seafood shack offering a seasonally-driven menu showcasing responsibly sourced, fresh and healthy seafood. Slapfish, by the way, is an onomatopoeia (words that imitate a sound) for the sound fresh fish make while slapping around the dock.
New Mexico’s sole Slapfish location, a 2,000-square-foot space with two dog friendly patios, is located at the Holly Center (also home to newcomer Blaze Pizza, Tamashi Sushi, Tropical Smoothie and Jersey Mike’s) in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. Slapfish celebrated its grand opening on October 7th and boasts of “fresh as coastal seafood” and a “sea-to-table concept.” A second Duke City location is in the planning stage. Though now ensconced in a brick-and-mortar edifice, there’s one hold-over element from Slapfish’s days as a food truck. You have to place your order at a counter, above which a fairly minimalist menu displays featured fare along with specials of the day.
“Must Have” (Slapfish’s term, not necessarily mine) selections headline the menu. These are the appetizers, some of which are rather intriguing. Among the more interesting offerings are the chowder fries (natural-cut fries smothered in creamy clam chowder and bacon) and lobster taquitos drizzled with “awesome sauce.” A “daily fish” is on the menu every day and it served in a salad, as a sandwich or as a bowl (with two sides). Main (and in some cases Maine) entrees are displayed on the “Signatures” menu. The lobster roll isn’t shown online, but it was available on the day of our inaugural visit, albeit at “market price.” Sides include housemade pickles (pickled or fried), some of the best we’ve had in Albuquerque. Fountain drinks are of the Maine Root handcrafted beverages brand.
28 October 2017: In retrospect (and hindsight is always 20/20) we should have had the chowder fries. Instead, we ordered just one component of those chowder fries—the clam chowder—and did so only after verifying that it’s New England style clam chowder, not Manhattan style. There’s a huge difference. An overfilled cup of steaming hot chowder was replete with a generous amount of bacon bits, bite-sized red potatoes and well, not many (if any) clams (perhaps we should have asked Forrest Fenn to organize a treasure hunt to find them). As a bacon chowder, this cup was satisfying, but we didn’t order a bacon chowder. We ordered a clam chowder. Also conspicuous by their absence are the traditional New England style oyster crackers which typically accompany clam chowder throughout New England.
28 October 2017: Much more satisfying were the lobster taquitos drizzled in awesome sauce. Though the term “awesome sauce” has a fingernails on a chalkboard effect on some people, to others it’s become a catchphrase synonymous with “excellent” or “extremely good.” It could be argued that these taquitos (two per order) are more akin to a chimichanga because the tortilla is fried or even closer to an egg roll than a taquito, but what can’t be disputed is that they’re pretty darned good. For under seven dollars, we didn’t expect an engorgement of lobster and our expectations were met. What little lobster there was had a fresh and delicious. The awesome sauce (an orange smoked chile sauce) is a nice touch. It doesn’t have the type of heat a New Mexico chile-based sauce would have, but it’s got a pleasant personality.
28 October 2017: Birthday or not, my Kim always orders first. Indicative of how little I understand women, I thought she’d surely order a lobster roll. After all, she couldn’t get enough of them during our last visit to Maine. Instead, however, she ordered a shrimp ramen burrito. Yep, you read that correctly. A shrimp ramen burrito. She redeemed herself a little by asking for lobster instead of shrimp, a twelve-dollar upcharge. So what exactly is a lobster ramen burrito? Picture a flour tortilla engorged with ramen noodles, spinach and sizeable chunks of lobster meat from the tail and claws. She used her fork to extricate the lobster which she dipped into warm butter and she slurped up the noodles, but basically left the tortilla shell alone. After more than two decades in New Mexico, she still won’t eat “store-bought” tortillas and finds the term “hand-held” not applicable when it comes to burritos.
28 October 2017: Because my Kim didn’t order the lobster roll, it freed me up to be able to do so. At first glance, it did bear a resemblance to the boatsful of lobster rolls I consumed in my years in Massachusetts. Lobster meat from the tail and claws piled atop a split top roll. Alas, there wasn’t much lobster inside the fluffy roll which was grilled and toasted to a lightly crispy exterior. A light, sweet dressing (thankfully not gobs of mayo) and celery salt dress the lobster meat. The lobster, while delicate and sweet, had a slightly stringy texture–discernible to us because we’ve devoured so much lobster. Perhaps, Slapfish is still trying to figure out the nuances of high-altitude cooking.
16 December 2019: It had to happen. In recent years, burgers have come to mean more than beef on a bun. Creative minds (or maybe sadists) have popularized such variations on America’s favorite food as donut burgers, portobello burgers, pizza burgers, vegan burgers and even turtle burgers. With the introduction of the lobster crunch burger, Slapfish hopes to make lobster burgers as mainstream as the Whopper. Save for the named ingredient, the lobster crunch burger has little in common with Slapfish’s lobstah roll. The most obvious difference is the lobster patty, a thick, nicely seasoned breaded amalgam of lobster and filler sharing space between buns with lettuce, tomato and a buttermilk-based dressing with personality. True to its name, there’s plenty of crunch in this burger. Thankfully it’s not the lobster that crunches when you bite into it. There’s also quite a bit of lobster in this burger. The sauce enlivens that lobster in a way drawn butter never can without detracting from its sweet delicious flavor.
In an interview with Forbes, founder Andrew Gruel admitted he “wanted to run the Chipotle of seafood.” Despite some small foibles, it’s much better than Chipotle. It’s inventive seafood the likes of which Albuquerque hasn’t seen before.
6400 Holly Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 December 2019
1st VISIT: 28 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Clam Chowder, Lobster Roll, Lobster Taquitos, Lobster Crunch Burger
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1005
12 thoughts on “Slapfish – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
I was fortunate enough to share a beer with Santa recently at an undisclosed location (for his security and mine.) Let’s just say that the jolly fellow makes a few secret visits to a few NM restaurants around the holidays because – in his own words: “Santa love him some chile!” He says he slightly prefers red, but always takes his Christmas Style for obvious reasons.
About 4 or 5 years ago during his annual visit to NM, his sleigh parked and safely under guard in a hanger at Kirtland AFB, he had some leftover red chile enchiladas and some chile rellenos that were carefully bagged up for the ride back to the North Pole. When he was patting his patient reindeer and thanking them for waiting for him to return, Rudolf caught a whiff of the Chile and got very excited. He begged Santa for just a couple of bites of the enchiladas and and a small strip of a relleno. Now evidently the chile on this food was very hot. Not just hot to the wimps that live in the northern latitudes, but NM Hot, like “Eeee – muy,caliente!” Well Rudie took a big bit of the red enchiladas and his eyes starting steaming and his nose lit up like a welding torch – that bright blue-white light that hurts your eyes. After drinking a large glug of eggnog, he took a whole relleno and chomped down on that bad boy. It seemed impossible but his nose lit up even brighter. They all had to look away, it was so bright and it lit up the inside of the hanger like daylight. A nearby welding helmet grabbed by a soldier barely attenuated the light to a tolerable level. “You could even say it glows.” was a flaccid description of what happened that night. A more accurate accounting would be “You could even say it seared their retinas like the light of a thousand suns.” But this was the best and brightest light for flying anyone had ever seen, so Santa made it a habit each year since. Santa and a few elves come to NM for a few days before Christmas and gather the best and hottest Chile NM has to offer. Then on the big night, they feed Rudolf his fill so our journey is well lit.
The “Portly Red One” shared with me that he is thankful for the gift of New Mexican food and for its availability during the holidays. Evidently, all they eat all year at the North Pole is cookies and candy, and they drink eggnog and milk exclusively – all because “That’s what the elves like.” No wonder Mr. Claus is a type II diabetic who hides an insulin pump under his magnificent Christmas garb.
On the one night each year, Santa Claus flies around the world and visits literally every home and person on the planet. And what do they leave him to eat? Cookies and milk. More Cookies! He told me that just once, JUST ONCE he wishes someone would leave him a cold beer and a pepperoni pizza. But he said that anything with a little NM chile would do – Christmas-style, of course.
Thank you, Santa, and heartfelt thanks and congratulations on having brought so much joy to children of all ages, especially to the children stuck in the hospital during the holidays. I’m sure Rudy and the other reindeer were grateful for all the helicopter flights you took to visit children at hospitals throughout the Albuquerque area. On a personal note, thank you very much for remembering the families of all our veterans deployed overseas. I hope this year brings you not only silver and gold, but lots of red and green.
I’ve got three meeting items on my agenda tonight as I write from cold, foggy Paso Robles, CA. First off, Gil, you are not fat. You are, as Jim Harrison referred to himself, “a tad burly.”
Secondly, I have gone to Olive Garden one time in my life (does it matter which city?) and found my pasta dish quite acceptable. So I am extending an offer to take your Kim to her next Olive Garden visit if you are so viscerally repulsed by the experience.
Lastly, burrito rape. Fashionable fusion these days is to forceably mount any culinary concoction into a burrito without the consent of the burrito: Thai burrito. Sushi burrito. Barbecue burrito. Veggie burrito. You name it. The assaults happen daily in restaurants all of the country and the local authorities do nothing about it.
It has to stop. And it will. Please join me in the #BurritoMeTo movement.
Tom, I’m here to report that my good friend Gil is now three months delinquent in taking Kim to the Olive Garden for her birthday this year. Add the fact that “someone” gave Kim a gift card for the Olive Garden in an effort to do something thoughtful for her as well as to improve her chances of actually getting there because Gil wouldn’t have to pay the freight. Did it have the desired result? Nope. To my disgust, “The Mule” has not budged and Kim has not been granted her annual birthday wish to dine at the Olive Garden. It’s downright cruel .
And now we have Gil’s report of an acceptable “lobster crunch burger” at a chain restaurant – replete with a “nicely seasoned breaded amalgam of lobster and filler”. And Kim ordered a “lobster ramen burrito”? It has clearly been way too iong since Gil and Kim visited Maine. One does not desecrate good lobster – unless, I guess, one is in a landlocked state or suffering from lobster withdrawal to the point of delusion. Poor Gil has officially gone over the edge.
So – I agree with you – enough of burrito rape. And let’s stir the pot some more and add lobster roll rape. The next thing we know, New Mexico will be assaulted by “crunch rolls”, a desecration of Buffalo wings along with two other versions that have committed similar atrocities against Buffalo stuffed banana peppers and all-American mac and cheese. What’s next – “New Mexico Christmas-style sushi”?
Blush…partly due to laziness; the forgetfulness per Los Anos; and magical thinking hoping the Lobster Roll would become ideal if I waited way past Gil’s experience, I dropped by this place with an ambiance of rustic-moderne casual, trimmed with “New England weathered barnwood”…a fun setting. And so, I ordered the Lobster Roll from an enthusiasticly friendly, native Albuquian who confessed she’s never had one in situ*, but hopes to some day. Her and the guy who brings orders from the counter to tableside, were some of the best “fast fooders” in town.
Alas, as Gil implied, my also scant lobster pieces were what I’d describe as chewy. While the special sauce was OK, this is not the “food” for it. Alas, IMHO, Mayo is the proper dressing as being traditional, albeit I don’t remember really IDing it as mayo as a kid. While kudos for being served in a traditional roll with buttery toasted sides http://tinyurl.com/yc5neh9r , it appears the length (based only on memory) may have shrunk. Personally, I prefer my lobster chopped up. Not to single SF out, I think “Market Pricing” is hooey, a scam. (Ok, so this year: http://tinyurl.com/y7xw55ga LOL) Why not have it for a Filet as well? Do you know that at one time, “lowly” workers rebelled because of being served too much lobstaah as a perk…http://tinyurl.com/y7ln99as?
(Despite a recent change from mayo to a buttery oil, I’d choose a seasonal LR from Red Lobster, to this.)
No matter how many times I reminisce, it still boggles my mind how, as a teen, per working for .75/hr min wage after school, I could afford cigarettes, gas, and going on a date to a record hop or drive-in, and still be able to afford 2 Lobster Rolls, Fries, 2 Shakes afterwards for under 8ish bucks.
*Pardon! Despite always thinking ‘in situ’ a bit supercilious for the Assessor to have on a property tax form, I nevertheless, have hoped for years to find someplace to use that in an approximate way! No Regrets! LOL
Darn you Claudia! Now I can’t get rid of an eatworm of Gil’s theme song: https://www.vevo.com/watch/denis-leary/asshole-(uncensored-version)/USUV70501383
You sound like a real jerk! You should take your Kim to Olive Garden whenever she wants to go not just once a year. Then you have the audacity to make it sound like you’re doing her a favor by taking her to a restaurant she likes. You are an a$$hole! It’s men like you who have held women back for years.
Olive Garden is at the top of my Hall of Same.
Wow, just wow.
Claudia, it’s a food blog not a place for utterly misguided opinions on folks you know nothing about. Having been lucky enough to meet Mr and Mrs Garduño I can attest to their Co-equal relationship.
No where in this passage did I get the impression Gil hog-tied his Kim, dragged her by the hair, threw her in the car, and forced her to go to Slapfish. If she really wanted to go to Evil Garden (It really does suck. Too bad you’ve never had decent Italian food to know that.), badly enough he would’ve obliged. Get a grip.
How’s your life and your relationships working out for you? People like you make me feel pity. You really should not form and loudly express negative opinions about people or things you don’t know anything about. If you knew Gil and Kim you would be ashamed.
Went for lunch. I missed it from the photo, but that butter roll is a real New England style hot dog roll, grilled on both sides. I had the shrimp roll. Fried. I think I would have preferred grilled but it was good.