Carne + Asada + Fries
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Behold, asada fries!
The Last Call
On a steep Nob Hill side street behind Imbibe is a tiny hole-in-the-wall kitchen, clad mostly in stainless steel. It’s called The Last Call, or TLC, and its proximity to Albuquerque’s nightlife weighs heavily on the short, funky menu. There are pickup lines attached to the taco dishes, each of which contain three tacos, or “threesomes.” The slider plate promises a “couple.”
The attention to quirky humor doesn’t appear to undermine the food. Dishes are simple but not boring, and each has its own special pizzazz factor—dill aioli on the sliders, Japanese peanut salsa on the vegetarian tacos and every single topping on the asada fries.
The asada fries.
The fries and meat are topped with a glutton’s row of condiments: tangy Mexican cream, sweet and hot habanero salsa, chipotle aioli, lots of cilantro leaves, melted cheese, squeezes of lime, and crushed peppercorns.
It’s entirely appropriate for a late-night eatery that caters to the party crowd to serve not only tasty snacks but at least one decent beer sponge. The asada fries are that, and they very well may be breaking new ground in the emerging field of french-fry-based dishes.
The trail was blazed by poutine, a legendary beer sponge from Quebec that covers fries in cheese curds and gravy. The fact that such a bizarre dish has become so popular could be interpreted in a number of ways. And sure, that particular combination of toppings might say something about French Canadians. But one clear takeaway is that if you put greasy stuff on fries, people will eat it.
This formula has been successfully applied in San Diego, where carne asada fries are a fixture in many Mexican eateries. The sadly defunct Carolina’s Mexican Food brought a version of them to Albuquerque, where they developed a cult following. Indeed, they were tasty, if simple: fries smothered in carnitas, bright red enchilada sauce and cheese.
The asada fries at TLC, by contrast, are about as simple as the grand finale of a fireworks display.
There’s so much going on with those fries, it’s hard to keep track. But one thing that doesn't get lost in the shuffle is the meat, on which the chef does not skimp—nicely seasoned pieces find their way into nearly every mouthful. The fries and meat are topped with a glutton’s row of condiments: tangy Mexican cream, sweet and hot habanero salsa, chipotle aioli, lots of cilantro leaves, melted cheese, squeezes of lime, and crushed peppercorns. The interlocking fries beneath it all create a matrix of flavor in which every bite is different.
Those fries are an exiting ride—sort of like a bachelorette party that oscillates between the club and a Humvee stretch limo parked outside. Sitting on one of the chairs set up on the sidewalk outside TLC, in fact, I wonder why the words "Humvee stretch limo" and "bachelorette party" aren't another in-joke embedded in the menu. Done with my deep thoughts for the moment, I cram more asada fries into my mouth.