Sunday, January 9, 2011

In a Quandary

We are back in Albuquerque for a couple of weeks, and I have my list of “must revisit” restaurants. Will there be enough time to enjoy old favorites and investigate Albuquerque’s ever-interesting food scene? Time will tell.

One thing we knew. Our first meal would be at a perennial favorite—Asian Noodle Bar. “Asian Noodle Bar specializes in fresh-cooked noodle and rice dishes, ranging from traditional favorites to fusion creations. Our eclectic pan-Asian menu, which includes vegetarian options for most dishes, offers something to suit every taste. Among our menu favorites are our Pad Thai, our Spicy Sesame stir-fry, our Vietnamese Pho, and our fresh spring rolls” (from the restaurant’s web site).

We aren’t the only ones impressed by Asian Noodle: “In its January, 2008 edition, Bon Appetit magazine, a gastronomic bible with worldwide acclaim, fêted five Tokyo-style noodle bars in America. Among those singled out was a trendy downtown noodle bar founded only a year previously. It’s not many Duke City restaurants that make a splash on the world’s culinary scene, much less a restaurant which celebrated its one-year anniversary within weeks after the magazine was published” (Gil’s Thrilling [And Filling] Blog).

One of these days, we’ll go there and actually order noodles. But we always return to the appetizers, where we find some of the best “grazing” anywhere. This visit was no different.

Over large glasses of green iced tea (refills free), we debated our choices. Rather, we debated what we would have along with two orders of the Asian Shrimp. I have become particularly fond of spring rolls, and so suggested we share a three-piece order of the vegetable version which were filled with vermicelli noodles, cabbage, cucumbers, and lots and lots of cilantro. They were served almost, but not quite, ice cold, which retained the fresh, crunchy texture of the vegetables. These were served with a thin dipping sauce that was both sweet and tart and that I augmented with a few glugs of sriracha. I so enjoyed these that I ate more than my share.

Our second appetizer was another of our constant choices—the Gyoza, or Japanese deep fried dumplings. I think these are the ideal counterbalance to the shrimp. The kitchen is not shy about adding garlic and ginger to the ground pork filling, and the soy and sesame dipping sauce offset the sweet chile sauce on the shrimp.

And now for the main event—the Asian Shrimp. There is a program on the Food Network called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” On it, Food Network personalities, chefs, and food writers describe the best they have eaten in a specific food category, i.e. hamburger, pizza, pie, french fries. As Chuck bit into the first of his shrimp, he looked at me and said: “If I were on that Food Network show, I would say that this is the Best Appetizer I Ever Ate.” And he could well be right. These have the lightest and crispiest batter we have ever had. And under this thin coating sit sweet, slightly briny shrimp that are cooked to the ideal level of tooth “snap.” They come on a plate of shredded lettuce and fried rice noodles, are lightly covered with a sweet and sour chile glaze, and finally topped with sliced almonds.

There is a program on the Travel Channel, Man v. Food, where the host (Adam Richman) takes on food eating challenges. Chuck has decided that he wants to take on the Asian Shrimp Challenge and see how many plates of these he can eat in an hour. I wouldn’t bet against him.

As I said earlier, someday we’ll order noodles. For now we’ll stick with the 5.0 Addie appetizers.


It wouldn’t be a trip to Albuquerque if we didn’t line up outside of Sophia’s Place waiting for the doors to open. Even when it is cold as it was this morning.

And it wasn't necessary to study the chalkboard menu; I go for one thing only—the Breakfast Burrito. Not just any Breakfast Burrito, the Holy Grail of Breakfast Burritos. Two eggs are scrambled with a large portion of Sophia’s breakfast potatoes (see the potatoes on Chuck’s Breakfast Sandwich plate), and then you have your choice of adding steak, chicken, pork carnitas, or veggies. Usually I chose the steak. Today I chose the veggies—a mélange of red cabbage, greens, carrots, zucchini, green peppers, and chopped tomatoes.

And in a further break from tradition, I ordered it smothered Christmas-style rather than just smothered in green chile. Sophia’s chiles are not for the faint of heart. The red was nose-running hot and so good. But the green was even better. In my opinion, no one makes better green chile with the same fresh brilliant flavor. The essence of fresh chiles shines through.

Chuck took a difference tack on this visit. First, he ordered the Breakfast Sandwich—eggs, crisp smoky bacon, tomatoes, and lettuce on wonderful, toasted Sage Bakehouse (bakery in Santa Fe) bread. This bore no resemblance to a fast food breakfast sandwich on a bad English muffin. This was like a great B.L.T. with an egg added. And with this came a side of Sophia’s thin sliced, seasoned, and fried potatoes.

But he wasn’t through yet. To this, he added the half order of blue corn pancakes that came with Sophia’s homemade pinon butter, mixed berries, and warm maple syrup. When I say homemade piñon butter, I’m not describing the process of mixing some piñon nuts into commercially made butter. The kitchen MAKES THE BUTTER. How many restaurants that you know do that? I don’t know of anywhere else.

As Chuck described it, the use of blue corn meal takes pancakes to a higher power. They have body and substance and a flavor that ordinary buttermilk pancakes can’t match.

Tomorrow, we begin our exploration of new foodie hangouts fueled by our two 5.0 Addie favorites.

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