“The smell of good bread baking,
like the sound of lightly flowing water,
is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.”
~ M.F.K. Fischer
A colleague who was recently struck with a second bout of the Cabrona virus confided that while he could tolerate the malaise, coughing and body aches, what bothered him most was temporarily losing his sense of smell and taste. He shared that he couldn’t live with not being able to imbibe the aroma of freshly baked bread right out of the oven. That aroma is almost universally loved. For many of us, it promotes a Pavlovian response and catapults us back to very specific points in our formative years. These “odor-cued” memories may take place at a subconscious level, but they’re extremely powerful.
A survey of 1,000 people which accompanied a Institute of Food and Health at the University College of Dublin revealed that 89-percent of their respondents indicated that the smell of bread made them happy with 63-percent saying it evoked happy memories. Respondents were asked for a word they associate with those memories. 29-percent listed the word “mom” or “mother” while 20-percent associated aroma-triggered memories of bread to the word “childhood.” The Institute was able to detect over 540 distinct volatile compounds in a typical loaf of bread, 20 of which were catalysts in generating its captivating aroma.
My inaugural visit to Ihatov Bread and Coffee wasn’t to confirm the findings of a scientific study, but to immerse myself in the aromas of bread emanating from a bakery listed on The New York Times as one of “25 Restaurant Dishes We Can’t Stop Thinking About.” Whether or not you believe the Times’ slogan “All The News That’s Fit to Print,” you’ve got to be happy for an Albuquerque bakery making such a prestigious list. Considering Albuquerque specifically and New Mexico in general aren’t particularly known for the quality of baked goods, such recognition is very cool.
Before sharing my observations, let me share what the New York Times had to say about Ihatov’s buttermilk biscuit: “It’s hard not to love an enormous buttermilk biscuit. It’s even harder not to love an enormous buttermilk biscuit with a crunchy, sugared bottom and an inside that’s as soft as air.” If you think New Mexico isn’t highly regarded for its bread, you’d be even more hard-pressed to find national acclaim for the Land of Enchantment’s biscuits. I had intended to dig into one of these fabled treasures during my inaugural visit, but so many other temptations beckoned. Next time…
Predictably, the aromas of freshly baked bread did greet me at the door. So did the fragrant bouquet of strong coffee being brewed. This combination is doubly olfactory-arousing. I wondered if this is what Heaven must smell like. Seriously! If there’s a better one-two good morning waker-upper than baked goods and coffee, I’d like to know about it. A trip to Ihatov just may be the best part of waking up (add bacon and that trine would certainly be Heaven). The aromas that welcome you are immediately followed by a visually delightful glass pastry case that is remarkable in that it isn’t covered by drool and tongue marks. Museums showcasing masterpieces aren’t nearly as appealing as that pastry case.
My initial inclination in learning about Ihatov was to believe Ihatov was a Hebrew term for something to do with bread. I was to learn that the name has its genesis in Japanese poetry and represents an idealized dreamland, perhaps like the “Land of Harmonious” referenced on the bakery’s website. Bakers Nobutoshi “Nobu” Mizushima and his wife Yuko Kawashiwo launched Ihatov in March, 2020–just days before the Cabrona virus nearly shut down the world. Mizushima established his reputation at Santa Fe’s Cloud Cliff Bakery, but cemented it with frequent trips to the Albuquerque Rail Yards where Duke City paniphiles fell in love with the staff of life. The acclaim they received convinced the couple to pursue their dream of launching their own bakery.
Lacking the capital to fund start-up costs for their dream, Mizushima and Kawashiwo launched a Kickstarter campaign. Ardent aficionados came through with more than $16,000, an amount that allowed the bakery to open in a Nob Hill location that formerly housed a Starbucks and before that an Arby’s. With the Cabrona virus raging, Ihatov became reliant on a brisk takeout business. Not only did Ihatov survive the viruses onslaught, in 2022 Mizushima and his bride were named semi-finalists in the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Baker” category. Still think you can’t find great bread and pastries in New Mexico?
Like a kid in a candy store, I ogled the bounty of deliciousness in front of me before picking out a few items my Kim would enjoy. Perhaps overwhelmed by olfactory and visual stimulation, I forgot to pick up chocolate babka, the sweet, braided bread filled with swirls of semi-sweet chocolate. Like Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine Benes in a memorable episode of Seinfeld, we would be out of luck. Despite having missed out on the superior babka, what I did pick up was superb. For the ride home (I’m safe in writing that because my Kim doesn’t read anything I write), I had pain au chocolate (that’s chocolate croissant to you, Bob). Thin layers impart a crispy and gossamery texture before giving way to soft, slightly doughy bread that sheathes a chocolate center. A light buttery texture means they practically melt in your mouth. With apologies to La Quiche Parisienne, these are now my favorite pain au chocolat in Albuquerque.
For my Chicago born-and-bred bride Kim, if a bakery can’t make good cinnamon rolls she’d just as soon not ever visit again. That’s a consequence of having been weaned on Ann Sather’s legendary breakfasts, the star of which are cinnamon rolls as big as a semi-truck tire. Cinnamon rolls at Ihatov aren’t quite that big, but they’re big where it counts most–in flavor. Layers and layers of cinnamon rolled into a buttery dough flecked with pecan bits place these cinnamon rolls in rarefied air with the oven cinnamon raisin croissants at Coda Bakery as the very best pastry in town. Best of all, these cinnamon rolls aren’t dripping with the sweet vanilla glaze that often overwhelms cinnamon rolls. There’s just cinnamon and lots of it.
Eight varieties of bread made from sourdough makes the true San Francisco treat a must. On his review of Ihatov, Albuquerque Journal critic Richard S. Dargan described Ihatov’s bread as “like a work of sculptural art, the crusts split on top and mottled in various shades of brown from the heat of the oven.” Indeed. Unlike a sculpture you would never desecrate, you’ll want to rush home to slice a thick slab of the crusty bread and slather it with lots of real butter and (or) jam. The rustic sourdough is the perfect canvas for both. It absorbs soft butter and retains it within its thick layers. The exterior is crusty, the interior soft but not pillowy. You won’t find better bread for toast in the Albuquerque area. It’s a toast so good, you might finish an entire loaf before constructing a sandwich on it.
In an interview with Edible New Mexico, Mizushima declared “Making bread is like art. Your emotions affect the bread, so I try to keep calm to influence the bread and be like water. Water always changes and adapts, and if there is a log in the way, it finds a way around.” There’s one emotion you’ll probably experience most strongly at Ihatov. That’s happiness, the joy of being surrounded by aromas and flavors that trigger only great memories.
Ihatov Bread and Coffee
3400 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 17 December 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Rustic Sourdough, Cinnamon Rolls, Pain Au Chocolat