Babu: Our specials are tacos, moussaka and franks and beans.
Jerry: Well, what do you recommend my good fellow?
Babu:Oh, the turkey.
~”The Cafe, Seinfeld, Season 3, Episode 7
While perusing the menu at Urban 360 Pizza, Grill and Tap House, my ever-witty friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott commented that the menu reminded him of The Dream, the very eclectic restaurant owned and operated by Pakistan emigrant Babu Bhatt in an uproariously funny episode of Seinfeld. As Jerry Seinfeld observed about The Dream’s menu, “he’s serving Mexican, Italian, Chinese. He’s all over the place.” Urban 360’s menu is similarly diverse, a melange of Asian, American and European dishes splayed temptingly onto three pages. That the menu is so “all over the place” makes great sense in that the term “360” itself represents a complete circle as in the shape of planet Earth itself. Okay, the Earth is actually an oblong spheroid, but that’s close to round.
Unlike The Dream, Urban 360’s menu has a rhyme and reason, a cohesion. Moreover, Urban 360 succeeds a similarly named and similarly eclectic restaurant, the aptly named Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House, a magnificent shooting star which fizzled away much too quickly, but left an indelible impression (and many broken hearts upon its closure). Eclectic Urban Pizzeria was owned and operated by beloved restaurateurs Maxime and Daniela Bouneou whose menu certainly lived up to the “Eclectic” part of its name. Vestiges of the Bouneou’s creative, relaxed and functional restaurant design are readily apparent throughout the edifice. Driving into Urban 360’s parking lot and meeting my friends Ryan Scott and Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver felt eerily like stepping backward in time to 15 April 2017, our first visit together to Eclectic Urban.
So did being greeted cheerily at the door, much the way Daniela used to just a year ago. Urban 360 is owned and helmed by veteran restaurateurs Wei and her family who previously owned two popular Duke City eateries, Big Chow on University Heights and Hello Poke in the Far North Shopping Center off Academy and San Mateo. They sold both their other ventures to devote all their efforts to making Urban 360 a success. For those of you who never had the opportunity to visit Eclectic Urban, Urban 360 is located on Menaul, about three blocks east of University. Because there isn’t a direct turn-in to the restaurant from east-bound Menaul, you’ll have to double back if you take the University exit. And because the pizzeria is a bit recessed from the street, you might miss it if you’re headed west from Carlisle. If you are headed west from Carlisle and you see Twisters, you’ve gone just a bit too far. Though your inaugural effort to find Eclectic might engender increased familiarity with Menaul, you won’t pass it by a second time.
Urban 360 opened its doors in June, 2018 just as the Duke City was beginning the throes of several consecutive 90-degree days. That may explain why during our inaugural visit on a scorching Thursday the expansive dog-friendly patio was as vacant as a New Mexican ghost town. Considering the diversity of the menu, busier days should be forthcoming. That diversity begins with the eight appetizers, a double-take-inspiring mishmash that includes chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, potstickers and New Mexico green chile wontons. Three fresh composed salads, two burgers, two sandwiches and nine entrees are similarly “all over the place” in Seinfeld’s words. Then there’s the artisan New York pizza menu and two calzones. It’s a menu whose most appropriate characterization is certainly “eclectic.”
20 June 2018: In a classic New Mexico meets China feat of eclectic culinary wizardry, Urban 360 offers New Mexico Green Chile Wontons, four crispy star-shaped wontons stuffed with cream cheese and the Land of Enchantment’s official state vegetable. The cream cheese filling is somewhat sweet, reminiscent of the crab Rangoon served throughout the Duke City, but we were all taken aback by the piquancy of the green chile. It’s not as incendiary as say, the green chile at Santa Fe’s Horseman’s Haven, but it’s got more bite than the green chile served at many restaurants which serve New Mexican food. Sadly, however, only four wontons per order meant only one of us could have more than one. Because as a supporter of the Denver Broncos Ryan has enough problems, we let him take the last one.
20 June 2018: Thankfully there were more than four chicken wings on our second appetizer choice. In fact there were ten of them. Chicken wings are available with your choice of Teriyaki, Hot, or Barbecue Sauce. Our choice were the hot wings served extra crispy with a side of Ranch dressing. Captain Tuttle, you’ll be happy to hear Ryan only had to drink half a gallon of tea to quell the heat (during a visit to Taste of the Caribbean, we drank so much water after eating the incendiary Mango Habañero Chicken Wings that the city’s water pressure dropped significantly). Though we would have liked the wings to come from more corpulent chickens, they were nicely prepared with a delightful crispiness and tangy sauce.
20 June 2018: Three Korean dishes have infiltrated the American culinary culture to the extent that they’re considered somewhat mainstream–maybe not to the extent of tacos, egg rolls and pizza, but they’re getting there. The three are kimchi, bulgogi and kalbi. Ryan ordered the bulgogi which, curiously was served over a pile of waffle fries topped with melted shredded cheese. In and of itself, the bulgogi lacked some of the elements we enjoy in bulgogi. Notably it’s not served in a sizzling cast iron hibachi which allows some of the thinly sliced lean beef to achieve a wonderful caramelization. Ryan discerned that the bulgogi actually tasted best in combination with the waffle fries instead of by itself. That’s melding of Korean and American flavors was indeed a nice touch.
20 June 2018: My friend Sr. Plata has long lamented the absence in Albuquerque restaurants of Flintstonian beef ribs, the type of which were so ubiquitous in his old hometown of Los Angeles. What he’s found more commonly available are Korean-style barbecue ribs, known as “galbi or kalbi” in Korea. As with bulgogi, its meaty brethren, kalbi is marinated and grilled slowly. Kalbi is made from flanken-style short ribs, about eight-inches in length, each strip containing at least two rib bones. Gnawing around those bones and extricating the sweet meat is a journey into deliciousness. There really isn’t much meat on each rib, but each meaty morsel if delicious. Though normally served with rice and pico de gallo, Sr. Plata asked for a side salad instead.
Ever since Farina Pizzeria introduced Albuquerque to the notion that “char” (just the gentlest whisper away from burnt) is a flavor, several other pizza purveyors seem to have ratcheted up the temperature of their ovens. Not so at Urban 360 where the pizza is imprinted with a light pinto pony char and just a slight cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza. That’s the way Maxime baked his pizzas. It’s good to see that continuity. There are nine artisan New York pizzas on Urban 360’s pizza menu. Available in personal and large sizes, they’re mostly familiar in terms of toppings: a Hawaiian pizza, one topped with sundry meats, a vegetarian pizza and so forth.
20 June 2018: There are also two pizzas that hint, if not bespeak, of Asia. Those were the pizzas which beckoned loudest to me. One, The Pacific, is adorned with chicken, shredded carrots, green and red onions and Sriracha sauce. The other, the Chashu Pork Belly (Japanese-style pork belly, cabbage, shredded carrots and a wasabi sprout) is topped with one of my favorite proteins Chashu pork belly. Though more commonly associated with ramen, Chashu pork belly is the most melt-in-your-mouth tender pork belly you’ll ever have. It’s typically marinated in soy sauce, sake, and mirin then braised slowly. There wasn’t enough Chashu on the pizza to appease this paramour of porcine products, but what pork belly there was made me very happy. A little acid, maybe a touch of citrus, or more heat from wasabi would have made this pie even better.
18 July 2021: You might find it hard to believe, but there was a time in human history when bacon wasn’t beloved. Nor were pigs always worth their weight in gold. In fact, pigs were historically the cheapest source of meat and were considered “peasant fare.” William Shakespeare’s Henry IV laments “bacon-fed knaves.” Scottish journalist Gavin Esler was more specific about his disdain for bacon: “I’m not anti-American. But I am very strongly anti American bacon – the worst bacon in the world.” What do they know? James Beard, the renowned father of American cuisine, spoke for many of us when he said: “If I had to narrow my choice of meats down to one for the rest of my life, I’m quite certain that meat would be pork.”
If there’s one type of pork that’s making significant inroads toward supplanting bacon as America’s favorite pork product, it’s pork belly. (Maybe that’s because pork belly is one of the areas from which bacon can come.) Urban 360’s appetizer menu offers a rather unique version of pork belly. It’s called sweet and savory pork belly, an apt description for a rather tasty starter. Served on a charcuterie board are about a dozen bite-sized squares of crispy pork belly. It’s akin to pork candy. The pork is first marinated in a mango-based sauce then dusted in brown sugar and served with small pineapple chunks. We were actually surprised at just how much we liked it.
18 July 2021: If you’re a child of the 50s or 60s, the term “fruit salad” might evoke nightmares. Back then, Del Monte and other purveyors of canned fruit and vegetable products called their fruit salads “fruit cocktail.” Fruit cocktail consisted of peaches, pears, grapes, pineapple, cherries, high fructose corn syrup, sugar and corn syrup. It’s much worse than it sounds. Other 50s and 60s era fruit salads were even worse. Just ask my friend Becky about “ambrosia,” a cloying, whipped-cream-based “salad” abundant with soft, mini marshmallows and colorful fruit.
Seeing fruit salad on Urban 360’s salad menu may not have traumatized us, but it did prompt a double-take. This fruit salad isn’t some vestige of the 50s or 60s. It’s a rather refreshing take that just happens to share the name of a dreaded anachronism. Served on a concave bowl, it’s a generous amalgam of mixed greens, strawberries, blue berries, seared watermelon, sunflower seeds, hard-boiled eggs, feta cheese and your choice of dressing (ranch, thousand island, Italian, blue cheese or house dressing). Go for the Oriental dressing which accentuates the fruit, imparting a tart and tangy notes. Delightful as we may have found this salad, it could have been even better with a more generous amount of feta cheese (or maybe that’s just this turophile’s preference).
18 July 2021: Grrr! During my initial review, I noted that “Ever since Farina Pizzeria introduced Albuquerque to the notion that “char” (just the gentlest whisper away from burnt) is a flavor, several other pizza purveyors seem to have ratcheted up the temperature of their ovens. Not so at Urban 360 where the pizza is imprinted with a light pinto pony char.” It’s almost as if the oven overseer read my review and decided “I’ll show him.” Our pizza wasn’t “just the gentlest whisper away from burnt.” It was as if a convention of pyromaniacs got together to test just how much heat the oven could generate. I have friends who insist there’s a special place in Hell for anyone who burns a pizza to that extent.
Of course, some of them insist there’s also a place in Hell for anyone who orders a pizza with pineapple. They’d probably consign my Kim and I to an everlasting inferno (along with Urban 360’s pizza chef) because we ordered the orange chicken pizza. Yes, that’s an orange chicken pizza (chicken, sautéed bell pepper and onion, orange sauce and garlic, green onion) and it’s just like having orange chicken on top of a pizza…or in this case, a burnt facsimile thereof. In all honesty, the orange chicken wasn’t bad. The orange sauce wasn’t overly sweet and the sautéed red and green peppers, onions and even the chicken were palatable. Yes, ironically the stuff on top of the incinerated pie was somehow spared the conflagration’s rage.
Urban 360 is the perfect choice when friends or family can’t all agree on what to have for lunch or dinner. With one of the most diverse menus of any Duke City eatery, you’re sure to find something for everyone in your party. Just make sure to ask for a “light char” if you order a pizza.
Urban 360 Pizza, Grill and Tap House
2119 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 July 2021
1st VISIT: 20 June 2018
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Chashu Pork Belly, Hot Chicken Wings, Bulgogi, New Mexico Green Chile Wonton, Korean Barbecue Ribs