Owned and operated by locals Robert Griego and brother-in-law Chef Ki Quintanilla, Nouveau Noodles is a far cry from most East Mountain restaurants—Ribs, Burger Boy, Chilepeños, Kokopelli's, Cedar Point Grille and others—in that it brings the idea of fine, healthy dining to an area whose cuisine was once defined by Bella Vista's all-you-can-eat chicken and fish. The fact that Nouveau Noodles is quite affordable and arguably (barely so) offers the best service in New Mexico simply furthers the restaurant's appeal.
Griego and Quintanilla opened the restaurant on Sept. 22 of this year to what they describe as a phenomenal response. “It's been fantastic,” says Griego, who was born and raised in Santa Fe and whose professional background is in the hospitality industry. “I've never been involved in another place where the ratio of complaints to compliments has been so huge. Our customers have been really supportive.”
The concept was born of Griego's desire to bring something unique to the East Mountain area. “I wanted to do something different,” he says. “Ki and I were talking at one point and he took it to a whole different level.”
“Robert wanted to do noodles,” says Quintanilla, “and I basically took it from there.”
Quintanilla is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York City and has cooked at Doc Martin's and Lambert's in Taos, as well as at Seasons in Albuquerque.
“I use all kinds of different concepts—Southwestern, Mexican, Italian, Cajun—and then I put them in Asian form, which can be Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, whatever,” he says. “The cuisine is international with an Asian fusion … there are basically no rules.”
The prospect of opening an Asian-fusion restaurant in the East Mountains of Albuquerque might have sent many entrepreneurs running for their lives, but Griego and Quintanilla were confident from the beginning.
“We were looking for a place in or near Albuquerque, so we just drove around and, after another location didn't work out, we eventually saw the sign at this place, checked it out, and here we are,” says Griego. “There's always that risk in opening a restaurant, but what offset that for us is the fact that what we're trying to do is new to everyone, ourselves included. Our feeling is that if you provide great food and great service, people will come regardless of your location. We're hoping to build our reputation that way. We chose this location particularly because it was small enough so we could manage it well.”
For his part, Quintanilla makes it his business to offer variety and high-quality meals for folks who have resigned themselves for years to barbecue, burgers and New Mexican food. “I've always thought that if you use simple ingredients and just take care of them—just that little extra step—it makes food taste better. Every dish I make tastes different. I use several different kinds of noodles, so even that element varies from dish to dish. We want everything to be unique and have its own distinct flavor—different flavors to tempt your senses,” he says.
And to that end, everything but the cheesecake is made fresh on the premises every day. In addition to the lunch and dinner menus, Nouveau Noodles offers soup du jour, daily specials, and there are plans to begin serving fish and other off-the-menu specials in the near future. Quintanilla already boasts 85 items on his kitchen line and promises even more variety to come.
The food at Nouveau Noodles is carefully prepared to each customer's taste, and the service is uncommonly personal, even by big city standards. And while the idea of an Asian-fusion noodle joint might seem a little out of place in the East Mountains, it's actually a breath of fresh air for the area, and for Albuquerque in general. “I always thought that doing something upscale that was also healthy for people would be great,” says Griego. And while the temptation to keep Nouveau Noodles a secret from the rest of chain-choked Albuquerque is difficult to resist, I can't, in good conscience, steer you away.
Nouveau Noodles is located at 12216 North Highway 14 in Cedar Crest, just 15 minutes east of Albuquerque proper. Open for lunch and dinner M-Sa., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fine wine and beer will be available by year's end. Call 286-5886 for reservations.