Archive for Reviews

Tasting The Symphony – The India Kitchen

by John Weckerle

Back in the 1990s, your editor and a band of Indian food enthusiast friends with whom he worked were once or twice weekly lunch regulars at a small Albuquerque restaurant called the India Kitchen.  We were regulars for all the right reasons: excellent food, excellent service, wonderfully friendly owners, and excellent atmosphere.  Sadly – at least for us – the owners made a decision to move to a dinner-only strategy.  Not much later, your editor changed jobs, and subsequently moved to the “other side of the mountains.”  Being the only resident of New Mexico Central headquarters who enjoys Indian cuisine, he doesn’t get back to the India Kitchen as often as he would like.  So it was a delight to receive a call from one of the old crowd, and a continuing co-attendee at the restaurant, inquiring as to whether tonight would be a good time to pop back in, as it had been several months.

Of course it was.  When isn’t?

The India Kitchen is a relatively small enterprise located on Montgomery Boulevard, on the south side just west of Louisiana.  Nestled in the corner back away from the road, it’s not immediately obvious to the casual drivers-by.  The restaurant has a dozen or so tables, and is decorated in a tasteful Indian theme.  One of the owners often greets customers as they arrive, and the service remains as friendly as it was decades ago – small wonder, as the owners have been there for as long as we have been going.  The ambiance, cordial welcome, and attentive service combine to create an intimate and positive atmosphere that make dining at the restaurant a good experience that starts when one walks in the door.  Prices are reasonable, especially considering the quality of the food.

The meal began with samosa and pakora, which were outstanding, as always.  We followed this with mulligatawny – shrimp for me, and lamb for my meat-eating friend.  The mulligatawny was, in typical fashion for the India Kitchen, delightfully flavored and had just the right amount of “heat” (a 3 – enough to feel the heat but not enough to hurt).  Next, it was time for vindaloo, with my friend selecting chicken while I once gain elected to go with shrimp.  The India Kitchen’s vindaloos are wonderful – as with everything they cook, the heat is as advertised (6 for me, and 7 for my friend), and the spicing is done masterfully. The vindaloo was accompanied by delicately flavored rice and the restaurant’s delicious garlic naan (ordered separately).

This, perhaps, is the India Kitchen’s great strength.  The spices in all their food are skillfully combined, with the flavors clearly indicative of the style ordered (for instance, the vindaloo tastes like vindaloo), but without overpowering the other spices in the dish.  The result is always a flavor that is well-defined yet intricate and subtle and, in our experience, rare.  The friend I dined with this evening arrived early and mentioned this to the owner, who indicated that he worked to achieve “a symphony of flavors.”  And achieve that the India Kitchen has, time and again, for decades.

To the owners we say: Play on, Maestros!  And to our readers we say: Go to the India Kitchen; it’s time to enjoy a culinary concert.

On The Road Again

by John Weckerle

We join our readers today from not-so-sunny New Hampshire, from whence we will be returning tomorrow. We have a few short reviews for the probably small percentage of readers who find themselves traveling to this neck of the woods.

On the way out, we changed planes in th Baltimore airport. Standing in stark comparison to the Kansas City airport, whose most redeeming feature would appear to be the departing flights, the Baltimore Airport is clean, modern, and well appointed with eating establishments. We selected the Silver Diner, which purports to take classic American recipes and give them a different (and healthier) flair. Your editor chose the chipotle shrimp tacos, and Senior Fish and Chips Correspondent Lucy ordered the obvious. Neither of us was disappointed; the tacos were delightfully flavored, and the fish and chips, while very different from the traditional treatment, were very tasty.

We enjoyed breakfast twice at the DW Diner in Merrimack, where your editor enjoyed the vegetarian omelette and the Californian Benedict, and Senior Breakfast Correspondent Lucy had the hash and eggs one day and steak and eggs the other. All were very tasty, and the veggie omelette was more flavorful than most. The home fries had a great flavor, but we note that they are of the moist rather than the crispy variety, which was not to the liking of Senior Potato Consultant Trina but which – in your editor’s opinion – still outdoes the deep-fried potato cubes that all too many restaurants are calling “home fries.”

We ate dinner twice at The Lobster Boat in Merrimack, where your editor had the Medley, consisting of baked lobster, shrimp, and scallops. While the lobster was a bit overcooked, the shrimp and scallops were spot on, and the overall impression was very positive. The baked haddock was also very good.

Saturday night found our little band of travelers tired, so we had pizza delivered to the hotel. This was from Merrimack’s Pizza Roma. The pizza was very good, and arrived as hot as any pizza we have received. With six diners in attendance and three large pizzas to deal with, enthusiasm was so high that there was, tragically, no cold pizza for breakfast the following morning; this, however, was remedied by the aforementioned Californian Benedict.

Keeping Warm Is A Bit Easier…

by John Weckerle

We find ourselves basking in the glow of a new (to us) brand of pellets in the stove this year.  Tiny T’embers premium pellets are a product of Wood You Recycle (aka Mount Taylor Manufacturing of Albuquerque), the makers of the already-known Calientitos super-premium pellets.  Having burnt a number of bags, we find ourselves very happy to have discovered them.  Without any real experimentation to make us sure, we do think we’re getting a little more bang for our bags – and for our buck, as these have been the lowest-priced pellets we’ve seen this year ($3.72 per bag at the Eubank Costco; they’re in the back, just around the corner behind the vegetable cooler).  While we haven’t done measurements, there seems to be substantially less ash per bag as well.

The product is manufactured in New Mexico, by New Mexico residents, using – you guessed it – recycled wood and clean wood waste from forest projects in New Mexico.  This is a very good product at a very good price, and it’s additionally satisfying to support an in-State business.  We’ve stocked up for this year, and are pleased to note that the manufacturers sell to the public, so if Costco doesn’t carry it next year, we know where to find them!

What Birds Don’t Fly On Friday?

by John Weckerle


Or, more correctly, Pelican’s (with an apostrophe), which is the name of a steak and seafood restaurant in Albuquerque.  The denizens of New Mexico Central have dined there many times in the past, although less frequently in recent years after a hike in prices some years back.  We were in the neighborhood, though, felt like having some seafood, and stopped in.

We arrived at 5:15, and the place was already packed.  We put our names in for a table, and were told that the wait was about 30 minutes – about what one would expect for that time on a Friday.  All the bar tables were taken, so we began watching for one to open up.  One eventually did, and we were told that it was “reserved.”

After 30 minutes, your editor checked to see how much longer the wait would be, and was unable to get a firm answer – the only response the hostess had was “we’re waiting for people to leave the tables.”  I noticed at that time that very few names had been crossed off the list.  We attempted to get another table in the bar, and were told that one was reserved as well.  A few minutes later, we heard the hostess telling people that the bar was “open seating.”

After 50 minutes of waiting, I checked back again.  No additional names had been crossed off the list, although a number of people had been seated (there is apparently a separate list for reservations).  At this point they couldn’t be sure, but threw out 15 minutes as a guess, saying that it was “beyond their control.”  At this point, both the people in our party had had enough, and since the manager was nowhere to be seen, we left.  We saw the manager on the way out, standing outside and watching the traffic in the parking lot, but since there was no way we were going back in, we decided not to interrupt his reverie.  We continued on our way to Los Cuates, where we were told it would take 25 minutes, were seated in 10, and had our food far more quickly than would likely have been the case if we’d stuck with Pelican’s – and probably spent half as much.

Now, we don’t have a big problem with waiting a bit for a table on a Friday night.  Neither do we have an issue with things taking a few extra minutes.  However, we do feel that establishments have a responsibility to reasonably estimate wait times.  Saying it will take 30 minutes and having it take 40 is annoying but not too much so.  Having it go over an hour is another story.  People make decisions based on these estimates, and some of these may have health implications.  We’ve been out to dinner – at Pelican’s, a few years back, actually – where this became an issue with respect to a friend’s diabetes.

Put simply, Pelican’s needs to learn how to manage its customer flow better.  The restaurant was clearly over-booked with reservations, leaving no leeway for walk-ins, and while we understand that people with reservations deserve to be seated on time, those who come in spontaneously should be given honest wait time estimates rather than being treated like standby passengers at an airport.  The bar should not be used as a de facto second dining room, especially given that the establishment’s web site specifically markets happy hour.  Nobody makes happy hour reservations.

Will we return to Pelican’s?  Possibly, though probably not any time soon.  We tend to be a little spontaneous in our dinner choices, and we’re not typically interested in hanging around in restaurants and not eating.  There are other seafood choices in Albuquerque, and plenty of restaurants equal to or surpassing Pelican’s in terms of food quality and value – and as our readers know, we do enjoy a good meal!

We’ve Got Some ‘Round The Back

by John Weckerle

Last Friday, we decided to give the Backside Alehouse in Sandia Park a try.  Located in the A-frame structure at the intersection of NM 14, Frost Road, and the road to Sandia Peak, the restaurant and pub represents the latest enterprise to occupy a space that has held a variety of restaurants and other businesses.

We entered the establishment and were promptly seated.  The decor was eclectic, with relatively warm colors, and seats were comfortable.  One of our party thought the music was just a bit loud, but two of us did not; with the predominance of hard surfaces, it seems likely that the sounds of conversation would fill the space if the music were not there, and the music was enjoyable enough not to get in the way of discourse at the table.  Your editor ordered the carrot-ginger soup (attempting to order a cup but, alas, it comes only in bowls) and shared it with the rest of the party because, quite frankly, that is one darned big bowl of soup.  It is also one darned good bowl of soup, and that may be understating the case substantially; the Backside’s carrot ginger soup is one of the best we’ve had.  Your editor ordered the cedar plank salmon, and the other diners ordered fish and chips, chicken tenders, and fries.

Let’s start with the cedar plank salmon.  It is not clear why the dish is so named – if somebody said “I’m making cedar plank salmon,” I wouldn’t expect what I got at the Backside.  While it may have been cedar-plank grilled, there was much more to it than that.  The salmon is prepared with a delightful glaze and served atop a bed of creamy polenta with a side of vegetables, in this case green beans that were perfectly done and nicely seasoned.  The name “cedar plank salmon,” and to some extent the description in the menu, just don’t do justice to the dish.

Those of us who have been eating fish and chips for a very long time have  a certain understanding of what fish and chips are supposed to be.  In this day and age, many establishments wrap their fish in a superfluity of batter, obscuring the taste (and perhaps the size) of the fillets.  Not the Backside Alehouse.  The batter was traditional and very tasty – thick enough to be an integral part of the dish but thin enough not to overwhelm the fish.  Neither was the batter greasy.

Your editor is not usually given to commenting on French fries, but these were worth mentioning: just the right blend of crispy outside, soft-but-not-mushy inside, and again, not greasy.  I did not partake of the chicken tenders, but they were very well received by those who did.

About the only suggestion we have to offer the Backside is this: offer the soup in a cup.  You might have actually sold us a dessert if the soup had been smaller.


The Greenside Cafe and the Hounds of Hello

by John Weckerle

Yesterday evening was one of surprises.  The population of New Mexico Central headquarters dropped to one as the primates in the group headed out for dinner at the Greenside Cafe in Cedar Crest.  After an incredibly slow drive along Frost Road (we really do need to install photon torpedoes in the vehicle), we arrived at the Greenside a bit before 6 p.m.  We were seated immediately, and our drink order was taken.  As we waited (not very long) for the beverages, I made casual mention to the other folks at the table of the fact that there seemed to be more people than one might normally expect at that time on a Thursday.  The drinks came, and we placed our order, and chatted as more people entered the restaurant.  Our server, Susan, described the specials in full detail.  The others in the group were unpersuaded.  They knew what they wanted when they walked in the door – a favorite is, after all, a favorite – and ordered the small version of the meatloaf (we have to wonder how many cows it takes to make the large portion).  Your editor, who was persuaded, ordered the Thursday Steamers (clams in a white sauce over pasta) and a cup of the vegetarian soup du jour, a roasted tomato basil soup.  The soup came along, as did more people through the door.  The soup was delicious – a little thicker than some tomato soups, hearty, and properly proportioned.  What we mean by “properly proportioned” is that a cup of soup was ordered, and it came in something that was approximately the size of a cup.  We understand that some restaurants try to be generous with the soup, providing a vat of it when a cup is ordered – but when many of us order a cup of soup before a meal, it’s often because we want a bit of soup before the meal.  Bring a vat when we order a bowl, and that is fine, but a cup is a cup.  We appreciated that the Greenside understands this.

»» The Greenside Cafe and the Hounds of Hello

Setting The Standard

by John Weckerle

Once in a while, now matter how much we like our own local scenery, we need a change of it.  With that in mind, last Friday we set out for a spot of dinner in Albuquerque, and decided on the Standard Diner as our destination.

The Standard Diner was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drives, and Drive-Ins last year, and the video is available on the restaurant’s web site.  Located at 320 Central Ave SE, the Standard Diner is located “just east of Downtown Albuquerque” and just a bit west of I-40.  The building was originally a Texaco station built in 1938, and was converted to the current restaurant in 2006.  Little, if anything, remains to suggest that the structure was originally a service station.  The decor manages to convey a certain elegance while retaining some reminders of the “old diner experience,” and the combination of booths and appropriately-spaced tables allows diners to enjoy their meals without living in each others laps.  From the acoustic standpoint, another common issue, the Standard does not disappoint; it is possible to have a quiet conversation in which all participants can hear the others speak. The establishment sports plenty of windows, providing natural light and, in some cases, a look out at a relatively attractive street scene.  The menu provides plenty of vegetarian and seafood selections – enough to make it difficult for non-meat eaters to make a decision.  Meat eaters have nothing to worry about, either; there’s plenty on the menu, and of course the Standard’s Bourbon Butter Burger was specifically featured on the food network.

»» Setting The Standard

Pete’s Mexican Cantina Shows Promise, But The Jury’s Still Out

by John Weckerle

This evening, the NM-Central staff (minus Chief Staying Home For Dinner Correspondent Wilson) took the evening off and went out for our evening meal.  Our first choice for the evening was going to be Sandia Crust Pizza, which serves a noteworthy eggplant rollatini, but after a neighbor asked us if Pete’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina – Home of the Halfbreed – had opened yet, we decided to take a peek and see if they had started operations.

Boy, had they.  Your editor dropped the rest of the party off at the door and ended up parking on the shoulder of North 14.  We were seated immediately, despite the fact that the parking lot was completely full.

The prospect of once again being able to have a margarita (or, for that matter, any mixed drink) before or with dinner was apparently a draw; there were a lot of people in the place, and a lot of margarita glasses on the tables.  Unfortunately, after waiting more than 10 minutes for our drink order, our waiter returned to tell us that they did not have the tequila we requested (the very popular Jose Cuervo 1800 Silver).  Now, there are those who will say that it doesn’t matter what kind of tequila one puts in a margarita.  Such people are not to be trusted, voted for or, for that matter, allowed to vote.  Or reproduce.  Under such circumstances, one expects the waiter to suggest another middle-shelf tequila.  He didn’t.  We got regular Cuervo Gold instead.  Strike one.

Chips and salsa were on the table before the drinks.  That is to say, some very tasty salsa and some whole chips on top of a bunch of smashed ones.  This is the sort of thing that does not go over well in other states, but in New Mexico, it’s nigh unto treason.  Strike two.

The menu at Pete’s contains a mix of regular favorites – New Mexican foods, steaks (Lucy says they need to add an 8-ounce steak; 12 ounces is too big for a lot of people), and so on – and other things we don’t see in some restaurants.  Shrimp Veracruz is one of the selections, and shrimp fajitas are another.  A green chile pasta dish was also featured, and that could be ordered with shrimp. Your editor was delighted to be able to get something with some protein that didn’t involve meat or poultry.  With great enthusiasm, I ordered the pasta with shrimp – and at almost exactly 5:45 in the afternoon, the waiter replied, “We’re out of shrimp.”

Strike three.

»» Pete’s Mexican Cantina Shows Promise, But The Jury’s Still Out

Got Yogurt?

by John Weckerle

Vegetarian and looking for some good-tasting, non-fat or lowfat yogurt? These days, it seems a difficult task; for some reason, the people at the mega-corporations that produce Dannon, Yoplait, and other widely available brands feel compelled to take a perfectly good substance like yogurt and add gelatin to it, effectively placing it off-limits to non-meat eaters and those whose whose religious beliefs prohibit mixing meat products with dairy.  We have, however, identified a few products that might be of interest to those who don’t want gelatin in their snacks.

Top of the list is the Chobani Non-fat Greek Yogurt 12-pack currently available at Costco in Albuquerque, a collection of three fruit-in-the-bottom flavors – blueberry, peach, and strawberry – all of which are extremely tasty.  Greek yogurt tends to be thicker and creamier than other types. It also has the advantage of having about twice the protein of other, more common styles, making it a great dietary choice for those who take a pass on other sources of protein.

Breyers has a series of fruit-flavored yogurts with a little serving of granola in a separate compartment on the top.  This is a nifty little presentation, and of course the granola is optional; you can always save a few of them up for later.  We have only seen this one in Walmart (Smith’s does not carry any vegetarian-friendly snack-size yogurts that we know of). The yogurt itself is tasty and has a good consistency.

Sunflower Markets in Albuquerque carry several brands of vegetarian-edible yogurt.  We’ve recently been visiting Sunflower occasionally and have found them to be a very good and very reasonable source of things like the yogurt as well as proteins, cheeses, and various dry goods that are not always available in more conventional stores.

All things considered, though, we consider the Chobani yogurt to be the front-runner in the vegetarian yogurt race, and encourage everybody to give it a try.

No Soup For You! Well, Okay, Soup For You…And Definitely For Me

by John Weckerle

Your editor has been (and remains) a longtime fan and customer of the May Café in Albuquerque.  However, there is one thing that may not be the May’s strong suit, and that is vegetarian soups.  They’re actually pretty honest about this, if one asks; the vegetarian soups are not as flavorful as their meat-based varieties.

Enter Café Trang, which is located just south of Louisiana Blvd. and Central Avenue in the former location of the Arirang Asian market (just south of the market’s current location, and diagonally across from the May).   When I’m in the mood for a bowl of spicy vegetarian lemongrass soup, this is where I go to satisfy the craving.  The soup is hearty and flavorful, with an excellent balance of vegetables, tofu, and noodles – and the vegetables are cooked just to my taste, with just the right degree of crispiness.  I usually pair it with an order of vegetarian spring rolls, which comes with a serving of Thai peanut sauce for dipping.  Service has typically been excellent and friendly, and prices are reasonable.

One warning about the soup: I always specify a small bowl, which is not that small; ordering anything bigger threatens to trigger the “never eat anything bigger than your head” rule, especially when combined with the spring rolls.  Of course, ordering a medium or large bowl means you get to have it again the next day.

Leapin’ To The Lizard

by John Weckerle

Yesterday evening, we decided enough cabin fever was enough and headed out to the Lazy Lizard Grill in Cedar Crest, on NM 14 just south of Frost Road.  The Lazy Lizard serves beer, wine, and a variety of meals and appetizers.  Your editor ordered the Ringneck Pizza (fresh tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, olives, and mozzarella) with extra cheese, and others ordered the Mud Puppy (a French dip-style sandwich) and the Chicken Caesar Wrap.  The very tasty pizza sported appropriately fresh ingredients and went very well with the glass of oatmeal stout I ordered.  Leftover slices made an excellent breakfast this morning.  High compliments were afforded to the Mud Puppy as well, and the Chicken Caesar – half of which came home because it was huge – also received kudos from the consumer. In the past, your editor has also enjoyed the Sandia Park calzone, the Horned Lizard sandwich, the Lizard Bread appetizer, and several of the salads.  Prices are reasonable, especially in light of the generous portions provided. »» Leapin’ To The Lizard

Sadie’s Rides Again

by John Weckerle

As we were driving north on Eubank Blvd. in Albuquerque last Friday, my wife happened to glance at a building behind the Owl Cafe just north of I-40, and note that there was a sign we hadn’t seen before.  The sign identified the establishment contained therein as “Sadies.”

We completed the errand we were running, returned and – sure enough – it was a new branch of THE Sadie’s – the New Mexican restaurant that once called a bowling alley home in the North Valley (the main location moved out of the bowling alley into its own stand-alone structure years ago).  Our server informed us that the new location opened up about five weeks ago.  We recommend that they get a bigger sign or one closer to the road, although business certainly seems to be going very well – there was a good line waiting for tables when we left.

Sure enough, it’s the same Sadie’s salsa, margaritas, and vegetarian green chile (they also offer green and red chile prepared with meat).  We both had bean burritos a la carte, which came with sopapillas, and they were just as we remembered them from the main locations.  Most of us need to go to Albuquerque from time to time, and it’s nice to see that there’s another New Mexican food alternative near the highway.

On The Road Again – After A Few Bumps

by John Weckerle

As our readers know, your editor suffered a rear-end collision about two and a half weeks ago, which among other things resulted in the total loss of my 1996 Jeep Cherokee. I am still experiencing some neck, shoulder, and back pain, and trying to schedule a follow-up with my doctor, assuming he can see me relatively soon.  But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today – we’re here to talk about the search for a new vehicle.

We’d like to thank Sharon of Prudential InterMountain, her friend Mark Wiggins (owner of Casa Chevrolet, Casa Jeep/Chrysler, etc.), the folks at Rich Ford in Edgewood, and those at the Kia dealership on Lomas; while we didn’t end up buying a car from any of them, they were all friendly, very helpful, and exerted no pressure.  We’d also like to thank Russ Hayes at Prudential for his help. »» On The Road Again – After A Few Bumps

Passing on Pep Boys

by John Weckerle

This seems to be our week for panning businesses – perhaps because the experience of a car accident and subsequent flat tire on the remaining family car at an inopportune time can push one to  do business with enterprises whose services are not part of the everyday need.  As previously mentioned, we ended up with a flat tire at the Wildlife West Music Festival late afternoon Saturday.  It was too late to bring the tire anywhere local, and most places are closed on Sunday.  Given that we had to go car-almost-shopping Sunday, and we didn’t want to wait until Monday to get the tire fixed, we decided to take the tire along and drop it off at Pep Boys to see if it could be repaired or, if necessary, replaced.

A little background: We’ve been having our work done locally since we moved here, but when we lived in Albuquerque, we at one point took our cars to the Firestone on Juan Tabo for pretty much everything.  After a while, under the leadership of a manager named Al, things went downhill.  Typically, we would drop a car off, get an estimated time that it would be ready, come back somewhat later than the estimated time, and find that the car had not even been looked at yet.  This got to the point where we decided never to do business with the Juan Tabo Firestone again. »» Passing on Pep Boys

Bypassing The Buford

by John Weckerle

Last Friday, our intrepid band of restaurant-testers decided, on a whim, to give the “reinvented” Buford Restaurant a try.  The Buford, located on Highway 41 just north of I-40 in Moriarty, closed for a number of months for remodeling, and opened amidst fanfare regarding a new look and new menu earlier this year.

We were a little concerned when we pulled into the parking lot at lunch time on a Friday and saw only one car parked there.  It was perhaps even more ominous that, when we entered the establishment, there appeared to be nobody eating.  We waited patiently for our server to finish some paperwork at the front desk before taking our drink order, reviewing the menu.  Then we left and drove to the East Mountain Grill in Edgewood. »» Bypassing The Buford