Thursday, November 24, 2011

Any Visit to Albuquerque…

means one trip (at least) to Asian Noodle Bar.

Logan Greely at Local iQ says: “I have always had an affinity for Asian Noodle Bar since its opening…Perhaps it’s because of the restaurant’s wide open kitchen, where diners can sit and stare at their food being made in giant woks that make that unmistak-able giant wok sound. Add to that comforting kitchen clamor the bustling, busy sound of diners slurping away at deep noodle bowls—the place is usually packed during lunch and dinner service—and the fact that the restaurant is located in the cradle of Downtown, and it just seems like a big-city eatery. It feels like a restaurant should feel. It’s a vibrancy not found often in Albuquerque, and it endeared me to Asian Noodle Bar immediately….Like many Asian restaurants, Asian Noodle Bar features dishes that span the breadth of the Asian continent. From Vietnamese Pho to Japanese Miso to Pad Thai, Asian Noodle Bar touches on each culture without going too far overboard to where the menu reads like the short version of Siddhartha. Rather, the culinary minds at work here take a minimal approach and deliver it in a very straight-forward, down-to-earth and friendly manner.”

It’s a given that we will get two orders of the Asian shrimp. And these are usually accompanied by an order of Gyoza (Japanese deep fried dumplings) and either the Yakitori (Japanese chicken skewers with bell peppers and onions and topped with teriyaki sauce and sesame) or the Vegetable Spring Rolls. We especially enjoy the savory salty taste of the gyoza as a contrast to the shrimp.

But the name of the restaurant is Asian NOODLE Bar and shouldn’t we be eating noodles? As we deliberated, Kitty Humbug–-this being his first foray into an Asian restaurant—pondered the proper use of chopsticks. Or is he saying he wants a cup of sake?

O.K. We have a plan. Two orders of the Asian Shrimp and a shared order Spicy Sesame Noodles.

Chuck maintains that the Asian Shrimp appetizer is his favorite restaurant dish anywhere. While I might not go that far, I will concede that these are special. You start with impeccably fresh large shrimp. Then coat them with a delicate batter and fry until the coating is almost brittle. Place on a bed of shredded lettuce and crispy rice noodles and then apply just the right amount of sweet chile sauce and almond slices. What’s the right amount of sauce? The coating on the shrimp doesn’t get soggy. And the lettuce and rice noodles? To some this may just be a garnish. To us, it is an integral part of the dish.

I had been eyeing the Spicy Basil (flat rice noodles, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms in chili basil sauce over shredded lettuce as our noodle dish), but Chuck saw the picture on the menu for the Spicy Sesame Noodles with chicken (udon noodles, carrots, onions, broccoli, mushrooms in spicy sesame sauce). Am I glad he did. This was extraor-dinary. Udon are a wheat noodle that are round like spaghetti but much thicker. These are cooked soft. No al dente noodles in the Asian kitchen. The soft noodles paired with the soft chicken were balanced by the just barely cooked veggies. Again, we have the contrast in textures that make Asian food one of my favorites.

The sauce wasn’t combustible, but was spicy enough to make my mouth very happy. This is a keeper for future visits.

Just as we had finished our meal, one of the managers—Mike—came to the table and inquired if we had enjoyed our meal. He said that the minute he saw the order for two Asian Shrimp, he knew who had placed the order. “But where are the gyoza?" he thought. "They always order the gyoza with the Asian Shrimp.”

Now it had been a year since our last visit to Albuquerque and Asian Noodle and for Mike to remember appetizers that we usually order but did not order this time...well, we were left speechless.

And here is one of the pleasures of traveling. During our extended conversation, we learned Mike’s parents had owned restaurants when he was a child and that he had later spent twelve years in the tire business.

And then somehow we got talking about winning a Powerball jackpot. Mike’s first order of business would be to buy a home on Nantucket—he is a big Red Sox and Celtics fan. I said mine would be to buy a high rise condo overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Now Mike has lived in Oakland, Ca and during our conversation he mentioned Emeryville, which lies next to Oakland. “Emeryville!” I exclaimed. “I wanted to go to the market in Emeryville while we were staying in Napa, but time (and truck trouble) didn’t allow.”

The purpose of this visit would be to see the Emerybay Public Market, a collection of over twenty food retailers representing the diversity of the Bay area. We learned about the market on an episode of United Tastes of America where the host—Jeffrey Saad*--visited a number of food stands.

“My mother has a Thai restaurant at the market,” Mike said.

“They featured a Thai restaurant on the program” was my response.

“That’s my mother’s,” answered Mike with a look of pride on his face. (Another instance of the "It's a small world" adage.)

And what was Kitty Humbug doing while we were talking? He was at the sushi bar trying to determine the best method for breaking into the fish case.

Asian Noodle Bar just gets better with every visit and maintains its 5.0 Addie rating.

*Ed. Note: I wanted Jeffrey Saad to win Season Five of the Next Food Network Star. He came in second to an annoying and perpetually perky and smiling blond who wants to be the next Sandra Lee.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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