Food critics have their work cut out for them in Albuquerque. With more than 1,000 restaurants, several opening and closing almost daily, just keeping them straight can be hard work. Add in editors (mine’s lovely, of course), deadlines and bathroom scales that refuse to lie, and we’ve got a lot on our plates. On the plus-side, we do eat for free (good food or bad) and even receive an occasional paycheck.
Gil Garduño, a soft-spoken man with an astounding vocabulary, may not have an editor to contend with, and he sets his own deadlines, but he’s dishing on Albuquerque’s eats for free. He even pays his own tab.
Gil’s Thrilling Web Site (nmgastronome.com) chronicles his meals in an easily navigated and thoroughly detailed site that's become an asset to foodies and plain ol’ hungry folk across this city. Though not a writer by trade, he’s a wordsmith in his own right, churning out more exquisitely written reviews in a week than some of us “mainstream” reviewers do in a month. To top it off, he’s incredibly well-informed about everything food-related.
Recently, we broke pita together and discussed all things edible in Burque over falafel and hummus.
So, what’s your real job, and do you blow your whole paycheck eating out?
I’m a project manager at Intel. Intel pays very well.
What was your reaction as your site grew in popularity?
Shock and awe? The raisons d'être for my website were to learn HTML and to track the restaurants my wife and I visited after moving back to Albuquerque—I'm a meticulous creator of lists. Were it not for search engines, no one would know about my website. Now the daily average of unique visitors to the site is around 620—but who's counting?
What earns a good review from you? What's most important? The restaurants I rate highest are those that provide a dining experience I would want to repeat over and over again. For example, every bite of the red chile at Mary and Tito's, the mole at the Nob Hill Bar and Grill, and the burritos at Sophia's leave me lusting for the next bite and eagerly awaiting my next visit. You know a restaurant has a special quality when you dream about it. The most important quality in any restaurant is consistency over time. That's something all but the very best restaurants suffer from.
“You know a restaurant has a special quality when you dream about it.”
Various factors may account for the difference of opinion, and I stress that we're all expressing our opinion. There are more than 1,300 restaurants in Albuquerque and we don't tend to visit them at the same time. In the interim between a visit by one reviewer and a visit by another, a myriad of changes could have taken place—different chef or line cook, different menu, service degradation, etc. We may not try the same menu items. We might visit on a bad day. Ultimately, readers should consult our reviews with the understanding that they're reading a review written about a "point in time" but make up their own minds.
What's your all-time favorite place to eat?
It really depends. Nobody should have just one favorite; everybody should have dozens. Your favorite restaurant should be an epiphany. When you brag about a place so much and take someone there, and it really delivers, when it really wows them, well, it kinda validates my opinion.
What, if anything, would you say Albuquerque’s restaurants in general are missing?
No real identity of their own. And some of those experiential things like Italian beefs.
How do you think our restaurant scene has evolved over the past 10 years?
Ten years ago there wasn’t much diversity. There was a preponderance of Chinese and Mexican restaurants, but there wasn’t even much diversity between them. There was no mariscos, nothing.
What direction is Albuquerque dining going in?
Hopefully more diversity. Something like a Basque restaurant would be great. Santa Fe has a Himalayan restaurant; maybe we’ll get one.
What food trends do you think will achieve longevity in Albuquerque, especially in restaurants?
Hopefully we'll see an upturn in more healthful dining—more reasonable portion control; fresh, homegrown ingredients from the fabulous farmers' markets; and reduced fat content meals. During the past two years, New Mexico ranked as the 42nd fattest state, but the difference between us and Mississippi is only seven percentage points.
Even though many Duke City residents are very broad-minded and open to new and different culinary opportunities, we're outnumbered by culinary xenophobes who won't eat at a restaurant if it doesn't have the Madison Avenue stamp of approval. Far too many wonderful mom and pop restaurants have closed down because they can't compete with the chains. My hope here is that mediums such as the Alibi can help turn the tide toward local restaurants. That's a food trend that would do my heart good.
What food issues are most troubling to you and should be to other diners?
In landlocked New Mexico, we don't have the luxury of just-caught seafood right off the boat. Much of the seafood that makes it to our kitchens and restaurants is imported from China where it is sometimes raised in untreated sewage. To compensate, it's treated by drugs and chemicals, many of which are banned by the Food and Drug Administration. China has become the leading exporter of seafood to the United States in large part by undercutting American seafood providers. We've got to be cognizant that a nation that doesn't respect the civil rights of its own people certainly won't care about our safety and welfare.
I'm also worried about the impact of our economy on mom and pop restaurateurs. With less disposable income, one of the things many Americans will cut out is restaurant visits. The economy has made it doubly difficult for independent restaurants to be competitive because the increased cost of goods is ultimately passed on to the consumer. Mom and pops would be wise to lower food costs by pooling product purchases, a sort of co-op method.
Overall, how is Albuquerque’s restaurant scene faring?
It’s got its marks and blemishes, but there’s so much [that’s] good about it.
See what else Gil has to say about Albuquerque restaurants at www.nmgastronome.com.