If you’re on any kind of schedule, you should probably avoid Ben Michael’s restaurant on even a half-busy evening. The slow-moving spectacle that often passes for service will be frustrating if there’s some other place you need to be. But if you aren’t in a hurry, that same chaos could pass as entertainment. And if you show up during a quiet lunch hour and you’re the only one there, expect to be treated like royalty.
The newest food truck to cruise through Albuquerque is also the freshest: The Harvest Truck is an enticing prepared foods project from Skarsgard Farms (née Los Poblanos Organics) CSA, offering a weekly changing lineup of burritos, salads, sandwiches and smoothies—in some cases, made with ingredients pulled from the ground that very morning. For now, the Harvest happens at Los Ranchos Growers’ Market on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A food truck, like a restaurant, is a logical vehicle for a farmer to add value to his or her product. It seems like an obvious idea, but until the Skarsgard Farms’ Harvest Truck got on the road, no area farms had stepped up to that plate. Now a month into this endeavor, farm/truck owner Monte Skarsgard has a contract with UNM to sell food at the Duck Pond five days a week starting in August. He says he already has plans for a fleet of trucks.
More and more, hamburgers are treated as high art. And Holy Cow is among Albuquerque’s vanguard of upscale burger parlors. The outdoor patio—on Central where Bob’s Fish and Chips used to be—is protected by a corrugated roof. Inside, you can dine on hamburgers at a table or the bar. The feeling is rowdy and friendly. A portrait of a single word, “burgers,” hangs from an otherwise bare wall.
Café Lush is like a daydream of the way things might be in some future hybrid of Europe and Albuquerque. It’s an urban café on a quiet street corner, with a small menu of simple yet well-crafted dishes and a pledge to use local, seasonal and organic ingredients whenever possible. But unlike in Europe, the red and green chile won’t disappoint—unless you’re a member of the New Mexico anticumin coalition.
If you had to pick a single Albuquerque street on which to dine for the rest of your life, you could do worse than Fourth. The diversity of restaurants on this North Valley artery is matched by a uniform unpretentiousness, as if by some silent but Spanglish-speaking truce. Dennis Apodaca has built a restaurant empire on a single half-mile stretch of that pavement. First came Sophia’s Place, named after his daughter. Then came Ezra’s Place, named after his son. And finally Jo’s Place, named after his mom, joined the block party in March.
Meat, of all the ingredients a restaurant serves, is arguably the most deserving of care in how it is sourced. Unless, perhaps, the name of the restaurant in question is Cafe Green. At the three-year-old Downtown breakfast and lunch joint, the greens of both the salad and the chile persuasions are local. And some of the meat on the menu is too, if you consider Pueblo, Colo, to be local. (We do.)
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My baby mama spends about $5,000 a year on salad makings: lettuce, escarole, radicchio, kale, celery and parsley, as well as olive oil, cider vinegar, soy sauce and whatever we run out of from the root cellar. So far we’re good on garlic, almost out of carrots, out of onions, and our beets sucked last year, so she buys those, too.
Commercial salads these days seem designed for people who don't like salad. They're essentially meat entrées served on a bed of leaves, minus the baked potato. And if you watch a server removing plates from the table, you'll see they usually aren't empty. The cold cuts, cheese, croutons, shrimp and/or chicken are gone, but the greenery is left behind like an abandoned garnish. The very fact that the proteins and fat are presented on top, rather than mixed in, seems to ensure an errant leaf won’t be inadvertently consumed.
Oh beets, with your vivid, royal coloring, the shock of hot pink spiraling through you like Mother Nature’s own blacklight poster. I am so in love, I clicked on a NYT recipe for a salad of shredded you. My eyes juiced your image, regarded only briefly the measurements and directions, and then returned to you, a root the color of guts in my dreams.
Follow the recipe or throw caution to the wind as I did and trust your own gut as it resonates with the most bewitching of vegetable forms. (How could I have ever scoffed at still lifes?)
Let the juices stain your fingers as you shred the mighty beet with your common cheese grater. Squeeze in half a lemon after scornfully discarding the seeds. Taste. Another half a lemon, then, or not. Do the same with oranges.
Drizzle just the slightest bit of olive oil. Tip your palm cupping just a touch of salt. Stir. Taste.
Make a lot. Over days in your fridge, the flavors commingle and mellow. The citrus, less bright. The beet, less earthy.
Like ĺkaros, my ambition spurred me to dig up yet more roots for grating. The passé carrot found new life with sesame oil. Since I posses no mixing bowl and own only, instead, a purple Kool Aid pitcher, I shoveled my pile of three shredded carrots into this container. Sesame oil goes far, flavor-wise, so a few drops was all this dish required. Next, peeled tomatoes, chopped and strained, were added as a second layer. A touch of sweet Mirin and rice vinegar spilled onto those.
A little salt goes a long way in this dish, too. A couple of hearty stirs dispersed the tomatoes and carrots. (Not too many, or the delicate flesh of the tomato may be pulverized.) Once served, top with unadorned avocado.
Stepping into the pragmatically named Thai Cuisine II is like taking a 15-hour plane ride in the blink of an eye. While it’s not exactly Thailand inside, the dining room is a pleasant sanctuary, warmly painted in earthy red and sunset orange, and hung with near-florescent paintings of colorful, idyllic scenes. You quickly forget that you just walked into a red metal roofed A-frame that looks like an old Dairy Queen.
We're nearing the end of the stone fruit season (apricots, peaches, nectarines and the like), and tomatoes are really rocking, so why not throw them together? Just like throwing a little salt on your dessert, these two fruits offer flavors and textures that complement and contrast each other; both are acidic, both are (or should be) sweet and both have a lusty, oozy nature that prompts slurping and licking. It was only a matter of time before they ended up on the cutting board together. Are peach soups and tomato cobblers in the not-so-distant future?