Alibi V.25 No.45 • Nov 10-16, 2016 

Restaurant Review

A Still Place

Aura's aura of calm

Sometimes, you just need quiet. Like when you've made it all the way to your car, and you spill apple cider vinegar kombucha all over your pants—even though you swore last time that you'd never touch the shifty, smelly stuff ever again. You're already late, but you have to go back inside and change, or risk smelling like a butthole's armpit.

The day goes downhill from there. And after you've dragged your aching, tense carcass across the hours of the morning, through the clinging afternoon and into the rushing evening, all you can think of is peace. Peace from this clanging, iris-destroying world and all its horrors.

I found Peace relaxing casually on a bar stool in Aura European and Mediterranean Restaurant, a fairly new restaurant on San Mateo and Academy. It looked at me as I stomped in, obviously noting the aggressive clip-clop of my shoes in the cool, dim lighting. My wife sighed audibly, and we sidled over to the bar, a few seats down from Peace, who coolly watched us sit down and order a Blue Moon each.

The low lights and beer were having an effect, smoothing out the wrinkles of the day. The dining room was empty, which I'm sure was unpleasant for the owners, but great for us. I really let it hang out, as it were, slumping on my stool, singing to the instrumental smooth jazz renditions of R&B classics playing over the stereo, dropping “witty” comments on our server.

There were tables, but we stayed at the bar—which seemed like its own island nation, peacefully sitting in the midst of the raging waves of Albuquerque evening traffic. We ordered an appetizer plate of dolmas ($5), grape leaves stuffed with rice and beef, served hot with a garlic yogurt dipping sauce. The leaves were tender (there's nothing worse than trying to gnaw through a tough, fibrous grape leaf) and the stuffing was savory and delicious. They also offer an entree version of the dolmas ($11.50), which comes with one extra dolma and served with a Greek salad, which would have easily satisfied me.

Instead, we had pork tenderloin shashlik ($12) and chicken asparagus roll-ups ($13.50). Shashlik means “skewered meat.” This one was a kabob made of perfect, tender, grilled pork and pineapple rings. The tenderloin fell apart in my mouth like butter, and the pineapple really gave it an extra pop that wouldn't have been there otherwise.

Pork Tenderloin Shashlik
Pork Tenderloin Shashlik

The chicken asparagus rolls were the scene-stealers, though. Soft asparagus spears were wrapped in two chicken breasts and dowsed in a creamy mushroom sauce that's decadent enough to make you feel guilty for a week. “This sauce is boss!” I said to my wife through a mouthful of the rich, smoky liquid. She must not have heard me, because instead of laughing, she closed her eyes and slowly chewed a dripping chunk of chicken. Peace overheard and nodded politely in recognition of the hilarious and completely spontaneous wordplay.

To make sure that she'd heard, I repeated myself a little louder. “This sauce … is boss!” Nothing.

Chicken Asparagus Roll-Up
Chicken Asparagus Roll-Up

I forked more asparagus into my mouth after rolling it around in the heavenly boss sauce. In the now quiet room, the television hummed with muted voices and the cool jazz continued. My belly was full. My eyes were unfocused, my jaw slack. I felt like I could sit there forever, like a bloated Buddha examining the many-petaled lotus of overindulgence.

But every trip must end, and I grudgingly rolled off the bar stool to slump toward the front door. Outside, the wail of traffic picked up, dashing the serene flutter in my chest against the rocks of reality. As the door slid closed behind me, I heard Peace hiss through his teeth.

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Far North Shopping Center
6300 San Mateo NE
(505) 508-3224
http://auraabq.com/
Hours: Tue-Thur 11am-2:30pm, 4:30-8pm; Fri 11am-9:30pm; Sat 12-9:30pm; Sun 12-7pm
Vibe: Relaxed and chill
Alibi Recommends: Chicken asparagus roll-ups, dolmas, baklava