C3’s Bistro – Corrales, New Mexico

C3’s Bistro, Bringing the French Quarter to Corrales

A case could be made that “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” the name of a 1977 hit by Santa Esmeralda, could well be a lament about New Mexican cuisine (in addition to being the background music during the classic sword fight between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu in Kill Bill I).  As frequently chronicled on Red or Green: New Mexico’s Food Scene is on Fire, national print, online and onscreen media continue to refer to the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct cuisine as “Mexican food.”  The same media talking heads also insist on spelling our state’s official state vegetable as “chili.”  Maybe it’s not fake news, but it’s pretty darn lazy journalism.

Right about now, denizens of the Bayou State (that’s Louisiana for you Yankees) are saying “you think you’ve got it bad.”  For decades, most of us–laypeople and media alike–don’t recognize that Louisiana actually has two nationally renowned regional cuisines: Cajun and Creole.  And if we know about Louisiana’s two distinct and prominent cuisines, most of us can’t tell you the difference between one and the other.  Yeah, that does sound a bit like not recognizing the difference between New Mexican and Mexican cuisines.  Maybe we can commiserate with our boudin-loving buddies over sopaipillas and beignets (which, as you’ll find out, are remarkably similar).

A Festive Ambiance

A few years ago, Thrillist broke down the myths and truths about Louisiana’s distinct cuisine, first addressing the myth that Cajun and Creole cuisine are the same thing. As Thrillist explained: “Cajun and Creole is more than just cuisine, it’s two different cultures, developed about 70 miles apart. While there is some crossover of ingredients, Cajuns were basically the rural folks, while Creoles were the urban city slickers, and that’s reflected in their foods. Cajun is comfort food of the “stick to your ribs” variety and heavily utilizes ingredients found in the local swampland. These are normally simple meals, cooked in a cast iron pot, served with rice and beans.”

Creoles, meanwhile, looked for ways to incorporate European ingredients into their diet while using what was available in Louisiana. So they would import some ingredients, like squashes and eggplant, then turn out multi-course, opulent meals featuring complicated dishes.”  Sounds easy enough, but nothing is black and white in Louisiana, whether you’re talking food, Zydeco music, the Saints or voodoo.  We lived just over an hour outside New Orleans for eight years and I’m not sure we can always tell you with absolute certainty which dish is Creole and which is Cajun.    It’s not always easy to remember the differentiators: country style versus city-style, rustic and hearty fare versus rich, sophisticated preparation, a little bit country versus a little bit rock and roll.

Colorful Tapestry Depicting French Quarter

During our time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we discovered early on that many restaurants proffered both Creole and Cajun cuisine.  Restaurants purporting to offer only Creole cuisine tended to be more expensive which makes good sense considering the part of Thrillist’s aforementioned criteria for Creole food lists “multi-course, opulent meals featuring complicated dishes.”  When 3C’s Bistro opened its doors in September, 2020,  it didn’t take much deduction to figure out the three Cs are “Corrales,” “Cajun” and “Creole,” not necessarily in that order.

Peruse the menu and you will indeed find dishes showcasing both Creole and Cajun cuisine.  You’ll also find an engaging staff which is very passionate about the restaurant’s cuisine.  Owners Aaron Hundley and Chef Julian Maestas are from Michigan and New Mexico respectively, but they don’t take lightly the challenge of interpreting cuisine with which they didn’t grow up.  Both have spent much of their professional careers in one capacity or another of the food service industry and know what it takes to succeed.

Alligator Bites with Creole Aioli Sauce

Moreover, they’re uncompromising about quality just as no savvy diner should ever compromise on quality.  So when we see menu items priced a bit higher than we’re used to, that’s the price we should all be happy to pay for seafood flown in daily from Louisiana and Florida.  You just can’t get good alligator from the Rio Grande or fresh oysters from the diversion channel and from what a source has told me, blackened German brown trout just doesn’t taste as good as blackened catfish.

3C’s Bistro is located in the edifice which previously housed Las Ristras Restaurant and before that The Spot.  3C’s certainly hopes to buck the trend of Cajun and Creole restaurants not having longevity in the metropolitan area (although K’Lynn’s in Rio Rancho appears to have staying power).  It certainly has the elements a restaurant needs to succeed: committed ownership, a talented chef, accommodating waitstaff, plenty of seating, an expansive dog-friendly patio and a menu that could have come right out of New Orleans.  We also appreciated that the ambiance didn’t shout mardi gras stereotypes (purple, green and gold.

Shrimp Gumbo

Though not specifically called out as such, the first items on the menu represent appetizers: crab au gratin, Cajun boudin, fried alligator and more.  There’s only one item on what would be the “soup” section of the menu, but when you’ve got shrimp gumbo, you don’t need anything else.  Five salads precede five po’ boys (what Louisianans call a sandwich).  Then come the entrees, the first few of which are Creole: rock Cornish game hen, duck Myrtille and roast Louisiana quail Elzey.  The rest of the menu is a mix of Creole and Cajun dishes, most of which are familiar.  We were very happy to see a breakfast menu.

During our time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I couldn’t convince my Kim to try alligator.  Telling her “it tastes like chicken” only prompted the response “then let’s go to Popeye’s.”  So what does alligator taste like?  Steaks and Game.com does a better job explaining it than your humble blogger would: “Did you know the lean, mean alligator is know in the Bayou as the chicken of the swamp? Who knew? Apparently, lots of folk, and especially those who love their Cajun and Creole cooking. Turns out, alligator is the other white meat!”  The feature goes on to explain the flavor and texture of the meat varies depending on what part of this swamp beast you’re eating.  It’s a great read.

Bayou Seafood Salad

17 September 2020: 3C’s offers an appetizer sized fried alligator (which our server called “alligator bites”) served with a Creole aioli sauce.  After begrudgingly acquiescing to trying the “overgrown water lizard,” my Kim’s next utterance was “I sure wish there was more” followed by “it doesn’t taste at all like chicken.”   It’s likely the alligator bites served us come from the tail section which is used for making the ubiquitous fried alligator bites and gator on a stick.  That section of the alligator offers white meat and is surprisingly tender and flavorful–like turtle, if you’ve ever had turtle (which also doesn’t taste like chicken).  The Creole aioli, tinged with a hint of Cayenne adds personality to an otherwise creamy sauce slash dip.

17 September 2020: When we ordered the shrimp gumbo bowl, we expected maybe twelve-ounces, about a cup and a half.  Instead, the bowl was roughly the size of a bowl of pho which, as aficionados of Vietnamese cuisine know, is about the size of a swimming pool.  Had we known the bowl was so large, we might not have ordered two entrees.  As we always have, we pondered the color of roux (flour that’s browned in fat (like oil or butter) to thicken and flavor gumbo), the foundation for the entire dish.  Gumbo aficionados often argue that for the richest flavor, a proper gumbo roux should be chocolate brown.  3C’s roux was more the color of peanut butter.  Roux color not withstanding, this was one hearty, rich and delicious roux with a netful of fresh shrimp and smoky Andouille sausage.  We were grateful for the French bread which we used to sop up the very last remnants of a very good gumbo.

Oyster Po’ Boy

17 September 2020: For some inexplicable reason, my Kim was hankering (that’s Southern for itching for something) for a salad. Yes, a salad at a Creole-Cajun restaurant.  No, I didn’t hide my head in shame when she ordered it, but The Dude, our debonair dachshund, may have.  As salads go, the Bayou Seafood Salad (lump crabmeat and boiled shrimp on a bed of mixed greens with tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red onion, cucumber, sweet corn, Cheddar and Pecorino-Romano) is a good one, every ingredient working in concert on our taste buds.  The deliciousness of large shrimp with a snap of freshness and sweet crab meat weren’t a surprise, but the sweet corn niblets and their roasted flavor were.  So were the artichoke hearts and their mild, light and bright flavor which were a nice counterbalance for the Pecorino-Romano and its salty, nutty flavor.

17 September 2020: To paraphrase Doc Holliday from the movie Tombstone, “it appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”  Earlier in this essay, I harped about “the price we should all be happy to pay for seafood flown in daily from Louisiana.”  My happiness stopped when my oyster po’ boy arrived at our table.  Instead of po’ boy, it should have been named “broke boy.”  It was a little more than half the size of the boatloads of oyster po’ boys I devoured in New Orleans where, according to nola.com the average size of an oyster po’ boy in 2016 was 8.83-inches and its price about $1.68 per inch.  Okay, so C3’s oysters were fresh, impeccably prepared and delicious, but that just served to make me want more, more, more. 

Beignets

17 September 2020: During our eight years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the availability of beignets softened the blow of missing New Mexico’s sacrosanct sopaipillas.  Now, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as drizzling honey into the pockets of a puffy sopaipilla, but the liberal dusting of powdered sugar on top of a beignet is right up there, too.  The biggest difference between sopaipillas and beignets is that the latter are made with yeast dough while sopaipillas are made from all-purpose flour.  3C’s offers beignets for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  At three per order, these delightful housemade deep-fried fritters are terrific–with or without chicory coffee.

17 September 2020: Bread pudding used to be a household staple and not only because it served the practical purpose of using up stale bread. Today it’s considered an anachronism, something that belongs in an earlier time.  For some of us, bread pudding evokes feelings of nostalgia.  It remains a favorite dessert, the transformation of dry husks into pure deliciousness.  3C’s version not only includes rib-sticking bread pudding flavored with warming spices, but a bourbon sauce that elevates a magnificent dessert for which you’ll happily let a few loaves of bread go stale.

Bourbon Bread Pudding

30 September 2020:  Many of our sojourns into The Big Easy were early morning foraging forays for breakfast.  Throughout the French Quarter and outlying areas, we discovered a number of restaurants specializing in the most important meal of the day.  New Orleanians love breakfast (and brunch, too, but that’s another story)–whether it be luxuriating over a steaming mug of chicory coffee and two (or five) beignets at Cafe Du Monde or splurging for eggs Hussarde at Brennan’s.

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver would love the breakfast culture of New Orleans.  He’s a breakfast guy from way back and 3C’s has a menu to sate his early morning appetite.  The menu lists seven “French style” omelets though in practice they’re not exactly “French style” (which means just eggs and butter with no filling).   What they are is delicious: fluffy folded eggs wrapped around meats and vegetables.  Sr Plata enjoyed a mushroom omelet sans bacon while your humble blogger sought to relive early mornings in the Deep South with an omelet crawfish Creole (French-style omelet with crawfish, bell pepper, tomatoes and Swiss cheese).  Fresh, sweet, succulent crawfish cut up into tiny pieces were an almost every bite treat.  With a little imagination, the omelet conjured up breakfast in New Orleans without the humidity.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” with a Mushroom Omelet with a Side of Grits and two cups of Chicory Coffee

30 September 2020:  Culinary historians believe that, unlike French fries, French toast actually did originate in France.  Most ascribe its origin to “pain perdu” or “lost bread” which was brought to the spacious skies in the early 19th century by cooks who settled in Louisiana.  Cajun humorist and chef Justin Wilson explained the dish this way: “it’s called “lost bread” because it’s made with stale bread which otherwise would be thrown away.” 

3C’s Bourbon Street French toast (Southern-style made with French bread and dusted with cinnamon sugar served with fruit and maple syrup) is made from two thick (at least an inch) slices of French bread that may or may not follow in the lost bread tradition.  We couldn’t tell, but what we did quickly realize is that through some process of alchemy or New Orleans voodoo, no additional maple syrup was needed to keep the French toast sweet and warm.  Sure, the cinnamon sugar helped with the sweet part, but both Sr. Plata and I are used to drenching French toast with syrup.

Bourbon French Toast

30 September 2020:  Long before America became infatuated with chicken and waffles, the Mississippi Gulf Coast area was doing chicken and waffles one better.  The chicken was “Cajun style” which usually meant pan-fried, buttermilk-dredged chicken imbued with a fiery personality from cayenne and other Cajun seasonings.  A city with as much personality as New Orleans needs fried chicken with personality to match.   Cajun-style chicken is an any time of day treat we’ve really missed. 

While 3C’s doesn’t have Cajun-style chicken on its menu, front and center on the breakfast menu, you will find a Pecan Waffle (Belgian-style waffle with pecans served with fruit and maple syrup).  The pecans are finely chopped so that texturally they’re like a strussel.  As with the French toast, very little syrup is applied yet the waffle loses none of its sweetness and because there is so little syrup, the waffle doesn’t become mushy.  Fresh strawberries and blueberries provide a nice contrast to the sweet waffle.

Pecan Waffle

Expect “laissez les bon temp rouler,” a Cajun saying which translates to “let the good times roll” resound from Corrales rooftops as locals discover a restaurant which celebrates the food, music and culture of the small towns and along the bayous of south Louisiana.

C3’s Bistro
4940 Corrales Road, Suite 400
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 398-9449
Website| Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 September 2020
1st VISIT: 17 September 2020
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Fried Alligator, Shrimp Gumbo, Bayou Seafood Salad, Oyster Po’ Boy, Bourbon Bread Pudding, Beignets, Omelet Crawfish Creole, Bourbon Street French Toast, Pecan Waffle
REVIEW #1182

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, more than 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,200 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.

View all posts by Gil Garduno →

23 Comments on “C3’s Bistro – Corrales, New Mexico”

  1. My second visit to C3’s today, my further impressions:

    I’ve always been hesitant to order raw oysters in NM, but these from today were the best I’ve had here. You could really ‘taste the ocean’, as you do in good oysters. Yes they were more expensive than NOLA oysters, but it is cheaper than going there. Also had the shrimp gumbo, a little too highly spiced for my taste but a good base and several large shrimp in to. Entree was blackened catfish with crawfish etouffee, it was wonderful, truly NOLA worthy. My wife had the grilled founder stuffed with crab, it was on the dry side. Fattier fish do better with grilling.

  2. Fascinating Conversations I read in the roll call of C3 Bistro.

    Before I talk about the delicious breakfast I had with Sensei, this is Corrales, New Mexico that has many Intelians and others that can pay more $$ in order to have high quality amazingly delicious food that is not a common here in New Mexico. And when I walk out of Flying Star, no matter what I get, there is always a hefty bill. An egg McMuffin is reasonably priced and edible when I am in the middle of nowhere USA.

    So, gang lets get past the $$ there but I think we pay for what we receive and note breakfast will always be less than the Alligator Ribs at Dinner.

    Now, our breakfast was extremely reasonably priced and both Gil and I were extremely happy for what we ate and tried out as I am about to embark on 2 weeks of Low Carb. This is the place for really really good french toast, pecan waffles (they were not drenched in syrup, very tasty but I am personally not a waffle person like my parents were and found great places in L.A. for them. It seemed the chef knew exactly how much syrup to drizzle on all of it as for me it was the perfect amount, not too little where I have to ask for more and not flooded. I enjoyed the bread used for french toast, nice an thick, something the chef might consider is trying out thick Challah Bread which is made with a lot of egg yolk for richness, my favorite french toast found in parts of California. My Omelet was Delicious, a lot of good cheese and I really wanted mushrooms so it completed for me a vegetable omelet. They offer a lot of shellfish omelets, I am sure they are good but as many know I don’t do shellfish, pig, etc. (thanks for future comments on this in advance). Also, I don’t really know the difference between Creole or Cajun, but for me it doesn’t matter, I happen to really enjoy this style of breakfast and think Corrales could be a good home for it.

      1. Hi Bruce, I tried the Chicory and am Not a Fan. It had an oily after taste and for my born and bred Los Sf Nielsen tongue, it was odd. I did suggest to our server to add Splenda to the sugar and stevia mix to broaden the sweetener base. They might want to use coffee from their neighboring coffee company with a coffee of the week special…

  3. This is the most surprising new restaurant for years. I have always been indifferent towards Cajun and Creole cuisine. That changed today. My wife had the jambalaya and was very pleased. She was especially enthused by the quality of the shrimp (she has had a lackluster relationship with shrimp for all the decades I’ve known her). It is less of a surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed the veal medallions. We both have a list of menu items that we wish to try and are looking forward to our next visit.

  4. Mexican vs. New Mexican is one thing, but how about Northern New Mexican vs. New Mexican vs. Southern New Mexican?

    1. Good Captain, you’re a day late and a dollar short. There was a spirited debate on the question of Northern New Mexican versus Southern new Mexican cuisine. It all began with Tom Molitor’s question: https://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=53800#comment-1148082 with several of us weighing in. Here’s a portion of my last take:

      The truth is, the two cuisines probably don’t differ enough to warrant a heated debate. There is as much to love in New Mexican cuisine in the North as there is in the South. Moreover, the distinction between the two isn’t usually determined broadly by geographical location, but at a more finite level–by kitchen. In every kitchen across the Land of Enchantment, New Mexicans prepare our beloved cuisine differently…just as they have for generations. Discerning diners should shout “Viva La Differencia” with mucho gusto. What could be more fun than exploring the subtleties of New Mexican cuisine prepared with just a delicate gradation of difference?

      One culinary commonality, of course, is the love both Norteños and residents of Southern New Mexico have for chile. There’s a reason it’s the Land of Enchantment’s official state vegetable. When it comes to piquancy, however, it’s been my experience that some New Mexicans–irrespective of region–like their chile hot and some don’t. Neither region’s denizens can claim superior tolerance to chiles with a high concentration of capsaicinoids. And while Norteños can boast of the superiority of Chimayo red, there’s just not enough of it produced to sate us all. Most of the chiles used throughout the state do come from the state’s lower half–Hatch, of course, but also Lemitar, Socorro, Deming, Jarales and other fecund areas.

      1. That is one complaint I’ve had with this site from the very beginning…the comments only go back so far (it’s a set number), so if you don’t visit the site in a few days, you might miss out on some good conversation. I wish there was a way too see more comments…

      2. I have two words for you:

        borrego
        chicos

        🙂

        Also, my comment was more in regards lumping creole and cajun together as lumping northern NM with southern NM cuisine…

  5. I wish we had something like this in the capital city … I spent time in the Cajun country as a child (Opelousas) and truly miss that cuisine. Boudin as an appetizer sounds a little strange. We used to buy huge links of it and that was DINNER, ha ha ha. The color of the gumbo (according to Paul Prudhomme , Alex Patout, etc more cookbook wars Gil!!! 🙂 ) varies according to the type of protein … so you’re right, for a shrimp gumbo (or fish in general) you want a dark chocolate or something approaching black. Shrimp gumbo in the Cajun country is almost always near black. For chicken gumbo you might see something more like the color in your picture. In the Cajun country, I never heard of an oyster po’boy … it was always an oyster loaf … pretty much the same thing. My personal favorite always was a SHRIMP AND OYSTER PO’BOY … there’s absolutely nothing better than that. That oyster po’boy in your photo does look pretty anemic … kudos to the restaurant though for flying in Gulf Coast seafood!

  6. Gil, I think your review is very kind given the photos of the food served at C3’s and the related pricing on their menu. I get it that good seafood has to be brought into landlocked New Mexico but how much more expensive can it be than the same products commonly shipped to other states (most of which is frozen these days regardless of destination)? With the exception of the shrimp gumbo, the portions – as shown in your photos – are positively diminutive – also corroborated by your very polite commentary. No self-respecting Louisiana Cajun or Creole restaurant would risk insulting a guest with such scanty plates accompanied by those inflated price tags. I’d venture to guess that K’Lynn’s need not fear much competition here. Maybe Tom Molitar will pay C3’s a visit and provide his opinion?

    1. I haven’t been to CJ’s yet but knowing both menus it sounds like it is creole vs. K’Lynn cajun. I’ve eaten quite a bit in NOLA, for the finer dining places it isn’t cheap, and they don’t necessarily serve big portions. I get NM is all about big portions. I suspect CJ’s has more fresh seafood, K’Lynns not so much. Pappadeaux, or Pappadon’t as I believe Gil calls it, isn’t any cheaper than CJ’s.

    2. Yes, Becky, I want to try C3’s, but I am waiting to hear from my bank on a home equity loan to fund the lunch. The prices appear more expensive than a share of Amazon stock.

      For example, from its menu, if you’re “hankering,” as Gil puts it, for a taste of catfish and crawfish étouffée, you’ll have to order the blackened catfish dish ($25) and a bowl of crawfish étouffée ($20) running up a $45 charge.

      Two summers ago, I spent a month in Louisiana and my favorite dish was catfish perdue. Huge oval plate sporting three pieces of cornmeal-fried catfish smothered with crawfish étouffée for $18.75. I got a taste of catfish and crawfish for less than half the cost of C3’s.

      But I am willing to give C3’s a try just as soon as the loan comes through. To your point about Gil being kind. I noticed. And I have a theory. If a restaurant is “dog-friendly,” Gil is more forgiving in his reviews than Jesus on the cross.

      1. Tom, you outdid yourself – that is a hilarious post! Fingers crossed that your home equity loan comes through soon.

        Perhaps the owners of C3’s Bistro conducted a little market research and chose their location based upon the average cost of homes and the average income of homeowners in Corrales – statistics that would indicate locals could afford their fine dining options. Based upon Gil’s review, they haven’t compromised on quality so I guess they voluntarily took a hit on serving portions in order to meet profit projections. I suspect that Gil’s dog, The Dude, was the real loser since there likely wouldn’t have been any scraps coming his way. That kind of negates “pet friendly”. 

  7. Great review, will definitely be trying this place. Truly good seafood is always welcome in NM. FYI, the ‘Menu’ link goes to the menu for a Corrales Bistro, not C3’s.

      1. Went to C3’s Bistro today, overall I thought it pretty good, will be going back. We had a crayfish cake with a crayfish cream sauce, Petit Filet Lafitte, and flounder stuffed with crab, both entrees came with Brabant Potatoes and vegetable, the Petit Filet came with fried oysters on top. The crayfish cake was sort of a cornmeal pancake, but you could definitely taste the crayfish and the sauce was very good. The 6 oz. filet came with Creole Sauce Robert (also great) and the oysters were good but a bit too much batter for my taste, but that seems to usually be the case. They were out of raw oysters but will be getting more on Tuesday if anybody is interested. The flounder was very fresh tasting and came with a butter/parsley sauce. It is definitely a Creole, not Cajon restaurant, as you’d find in NOLA restaurants like Commander’s Palace, Antoine’s, and Galatoire’s. Not saying C3’s is their equal (we aren’t exactly adjacent to the kind of ingredients they have available), but it is our new favorite finer-dining type place here in the Paradise Hills area of Albuquerque. Sorry M’tucci’s.

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