Restaurant Review: The MMA Edition
Marsala and mixed martial arts
Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine is a top-ranked cage fighter [see this week’s feature]. He's also an Albuquerque resident and a foodie. And since he named Paisano’s as one of his favorite places, we met there for dinner. Joining us at the Italian restaurant were his girlfriend Jodie Esquibel—also a cage fighter who trains with Jardine at Jackson’s MMA gym—and my girlfriend Shorty, not a cage fighter.
We sat in a corner of the tasteful dining room, adorned with plants and the sound of opera music. Our waiter brought a basket of breads and an olive oil-based dipping sauce with herbs and Parmesan cheese. The combination was tasty enough to just about kill my appetite; the cage fighters, wary of refined carbohydrates, didn’t touch it.
Jardine prefers high-fiber carbs, which release energy slowly and are less likely to be stored as fats. He starts his day with oatmeal. And like most fighters, he consumes plenty of protein, usually as protein powder shakes and lean meat. At Paisano’s, he always orders chicken Parmesan.
The waiter did his job with cool professionalism. He was there when we needed him, gone when we didn’t, respectful but not fawning or chatty. I felt like a mob boss—especially flanked by those two bruisers.
“I hear minestrone is the test of a good Italian restaurant,” said Keith, who went with salad alongside his meal. I tried the minestrone, fairly straightforward but with an abundance vegetables and tender beans.
Pasta at Paisano’s, which accompanies or comprises many of the main courses, is clearly a strong suit. Made on the premises, this pasta nails the sweet spot between supple and firm. And for an extra dollar, you can upgrade from plain semolina to tomato or spinach pasta.
Even the carb-averse cage fighters nibbled their noodles. Shorty tucked into hers, too; they were topped with lightly breaded halibut and a Ligurian-style sauce of olives and capers. The pan-seared scallops on my angel hair pasta were big and juicy, and especially succulent against an herby red pepper sauce. Keith’s chicken Parmesan was tender but well textured. His dish had a slightly tart flavor that cut through the heaviness of the breaded cutlet stacked with fresh tomato sauce and Mozzarella cheese.
I felt like a mob boss—especially flanked by those two bruisers.
Paisano’s house red wine, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, was dangerously drinkable. The warriors enjoyed their share, as neither had a fight scheduled within the next two months: Wine is high in sugar—the No. 1 enemy of a cage-fighting diet—and it messes with your hydration levels. Worst of all, said Jodie, it messes with your mind, making a productive workout the next day difficult.
The dessert menu packs about 10 Italian delicacies. A square of tiramisu was steeped in a strong coffee flavor, while the ricotta-stuffed cannoli had citrus tones. Alongside dessert I sipped perhaps the best cup of coffee I’ve enjoyed in an Albuquerque restaurant.
On my next visit, I sat at the covered patio—airy but weatherproofed, with colorful mosaic tables—and chose an appetizer off the specials menu. The gorgonzola-stuffed grilled figs arrived enfolded in prosciutto and a Port reduction. They disappeared even quicker than they came. A dinner portion of chicken Marsala was also a standout, topped with freshly stewed tomatoes and mushrooms, along with a side of delicate, herbed pasta. Linguine in a clam and white wine sauce bore plenty of clam meat, some of it in shells, and was simple yet satisfying. “Ribs and Rigs,” rib meat on rigatoni, was a bit salty but spoon-tender and none-too lean. It came beneath a blanket of ragout. It was the sort of topping Jardine probably had in mind when he said: “I like the sauce to stay on top of the pasta.”