Continued from Part 1.
A few years back, reverting to your typical girly-girlihood in the throes of heartbreak & loneliness, I fled Boston for ABQ to spend the holidays with my daddy, who whisked me to what was then the city’s Place to Be, Ambrozia, for a New Year’s Eve blowout. It was a feast to remember, so when I saw chef-owner Sam Etheridge’s name crop up again following Ambrozia’s closing in connection with a new, far more casual venture called Nob Hill Bar & Grill, I put it at the top of my to-go list.
By the time I got there, however, for reasons that remain a mystery (at least to Google), he had left, all trace of his role erased from the website. So if it was someplace special to begin with—as a blog I trust suggests it was—it’s now a reliably enjoyable contemporary American joint, nothing more, nothing less.
Emphasis on “nothing less,” really. My initial wariness about the semi-sleek, clubby vibe—though somewhat justified here & here—eww—melted away with the arrival of the “frizzled fried green beans with black bean sauce & Sriracha queso.”
If the description was a bit overdone—frizzled & fried, both? What, like a pothead with a perm?—its referent was just right, the beans still fresh-&-garden-green-tasting in their hot, greaseless, seasoned shells & accompanied by Mex-seeming but Asian-leaning dips—the creamy queso gone fiery with its namesake Thai hot sauce, the black bean sauce not refritos but the funky fermented stuff of Chinese cuisines, a little bit sweet & a lot bit hot.
Along similar lines, the veggie burger was the most savory I’ve had in recent memory.
Okay, I haven’t had any in recent memory, but there’s a fair reason for that—the patties on most veggie burgers, even the rare housemade ones, are as gritty as packed sand. Not so Nob Hill’s. Thick & moist with edamame & mushrooms; topped with soy-browned onions, avocado & pretty sprouts; & served on a nutty whole wheat bun smeared with ginger-lime mayo, it, like the green beans, showed enough freshly imagined (& smoothly executed) touches to reawaken the dead-tired cliché of comfort food with a gourmet twist!, at least for the length of the meal.
Same went for the meatloaf stuffed with mozzarella and bacon, both smoked.
And that’s just the half-portion!
Soothingly rich if not as full of surprises, it came with respectable caramelized shallot gravy & garlic mashed, plus a perfectly retro little bundle of buttered aspargus & baby carrots. When you can see the individual grains of S&P on each glistening vegetable, you can rest assured the cook is in the zone (&, of course, that he’s using kosher or sea salt & freshly cracked pepper. The voice of Chef Stephan telling my class that iodized salt was for lawn care still rings in my ears sometimes).
I’ve said before I order dessert under only 2 circumstances: 1) a meal so satisfying I don’t want it to end, be it at a roadside or a 4-star; 2) a meal so unsatisfying I’m going all in on the off-chance of salvaging something from the experience. It was the former scenario, then, that led to a faceful of flourless chocolate cake, a sweet I loathe on principle as the fad that would not fade (what’s it been, 10 years?) but, admittedly, like all right on contact, especially when it’s basically a pair of fudge squares under an alias. And they were only part of the Irish Car Bomb,
the rare dessert inspired by a cocktail rather than the other way around. It came together—or, I guess, blew apart—with a scoop of not only Guinness ice cream but also smooooth Bailey’s mousse & a drizzle of Irish whiskey caramel, forming a little playground (heady heap of rubble, if you must) of possible combos.
Still, if Nob Hill is a place to go, Flying Star Café is a place to stay (or rather, since it’s a local franchise, several places to stay), not because the food is better—it’s not, although Albuquerqueans consistently vote its bakery tops in city polls—but because each branch offers free WiFi & an excellently eclectic magazine selection (hooray, Found!) in a colorful, vaguely retro setting. Since my dad’s house offers none of the above, I wind up at Flying Star a lot when I’m visiting—which is a lot lately, so that’s a lot times a lot. In fact, I gave its housemade English muffins a nod a while back; they constitute a large part of my ABQ diet, along with sides of greasy-good green chile–turkey sausage. An order consists of 2 sizzling 3-inch patties, together about as big as a small burger—which is what you’ve got if you put them on the muffin & slather it with butter. I do like a slapdash breakfast burger now & then.
The muffin also comes with the Spanish omelet.
Per the menu, this should be “big & fat.”
Whipped with garlic & layered with sliced potatoes, Swiss & scallions, it’s a thin version of tortilla española in every sense, being too dry, but the flavor’s good, & the smoked chipotle salsa adds moisture (although, as is the case with many of the parsimoniously portioned condiments at Flying Star, you’ll have to ask 1 of the friendly, constantly circulating floor staffers for extra).
Actually, my father’s complaint about Flying Star is that they overemphasize the house baked goods, so that the hummus plate, say, becomes a rye bread plate with some dip.
In this particular case I agree with him—I ordered the hummus plate for the hummus, so I’d rather the decent, if a bit coarse, namesake had been front & center, not least since it was supposed to come with pita, not rye. But the loaves really are the franchise’s forté, along with desserts. It also graces the otherwise severely plain tuna melt, whose Swiss was scarce, & coleslaw.
Of Flying Star’s 8 salads (including the hummus plate above), the ridiculous Greek Goddess is my fave,
what with batter-fried feta tots—a cheap ploy that works, dammit—& tangy avocado vinaigrette (plus always appreciated slices of lemon).
But after all my visits to Flying Star, I’ve yet to have either a wildly wonderful or a totally miserable meal—so I’ve never bothered to try any of the celebrated desserts, in keeping with my general rule. Guess I should break it just to see what all the fuss is about. Until then…happy holidays, all.
UPDATE: Um, yeah, back at Flying Star again. Just polished off a damn good plate of fresh-baked biscuit, singular, & Cinderella-right gravy with the aforementioned kicky green chile–turkey sausage. It was so good, in fact, that that dessert might finally be in order as we speak…