Globeater - Grubbing around the Globe

Big Apple/Beantown Dispatch Final 4: Bon Chon, Da Gennaro, Meritage & Taranta

I’ve been home for nearly a week; Denveater, however, seems to be suffering from jet lag. I’m thinking the cure’s a whirlwind trip down memory block (lanes being few & far between in the big bad city), just oohing & aahing & drooling at all the highlights.

***

Bon Chon’s 1 of the 2 New York chains that has put Korean fried chicken smack in the eye of the urban culinary map over the past couple of years. The 2nd-story space on 5th Ave. is suspiciously louche—primarily a lounge, it may look sleek in the dark, but by day it looks like a lawn-furniture floor show, not least for the fact that our server clearly could have been a part-time model.

Then again, the signature spicy chicken looks like just the snack for kicking it poolside. Tasted like it, too—moist, greasy, slow-burning, with chilled daikon on the tongue like an ice cube to the brow.

BCchix

***

Small plates are generally the stuff of the casually convivial—your tapas bars, your enoteche, your izakaya. Opening as an extension of the Boston Wine Festival in the Boston Harbor Hotel a few years back, ultramodern Meritage is an exception among elegant exceptions, with what amounts to a DIY pairing menu composed of small plates categorized by the types of wine they’d go best with (e.g., light whites, robust reds, etc.).

In short, it’s not the kind of place you’re supposed to lean back in your chair, thump your gut & bark, “Man, I’m backed up.” But after 3 courses each featuring the likes of foie gras, ostrich & sweetbreads, plus

Meritageamuse2 Meritagesweets2

an amuse bouche of exquisite wild mushroom broth with a diamond touch of truffle oil, plus also an array of sweets like this caramel-filled chocolate cup with the check,

what would you say? Exactly. (In fact, you’d say something even coarser—I know you! Come on, you can tell me.)

Picking a highlight’s a toughie, but I find myself oddly leaning toward a dish I wouldn’t have ordered had it not come recommended: the pan-seared diver scallops with corn & chardonnay cream—a sweet, sweet field-&-sea-breezy surprise.

Meritagescallops2

***

Without marvelous chef & consummate host José Duarte in the house (he was off leading a culinary tour of his native Peru) to ply us with off-menu nibbles & knock back a little wine with us & pick the Director up off the floor & swing him around (José’s a long tall guy), Taranta just wasn’t the same. Moodwise, that is—foodwise, it was as stellar as ever. Since the Director called shotgun on my eternal fave, the signature yuca gnocchi in green lamb ragù spiked with chicha de jora (Peruvian corn cider),

Tgnocchi

I more than made do with a special of porcini ravioli with, um, smoked pancetta in parmesan cream?

Travioli

I kinda don’t remember, having been well into our 2nd bottle of wine as I was. I just remember it was amazingly delicate & precise for being so rich & messy—a nifty, typically Duartean paradox.

***

From Boston’s Little Italy (i.e., the North End, my old nabe) to New York’s: it was nearly 1am, cold & drizzling when the Director & I, stumbling starved in the dark streets surrounding our Soho hotel after making an obligatory appearance at a midtown work event, accidentally landed on the doorstep of Da Gennaro, the only place through whose lit windows we could still see diners lingering. (Maybe the city that never sleeps finally OD’d on Restalex?)

As we approached to ask if they’d serve us, we caught a glimpse of the cooks & servers all digging into their staff meal & almost turned away. But the owner beckoned us in, & though we caught the flicker of dismay in one dark young gent’s eyes, it vanished as he smiled kindly, waited on us calmly & even encouraged us to take our time when we assured him we were trying to hurry.

For that grace-imbued reason alone, the whole meal couldn’t have tasted better. Though stereotypically ginormous (trust me, perspective aside, it was twice the size of Taranta’s counterpart above), our gnocchi with pesto

DGgnocchi

was atypically painstaking—sparkling to mine eye like unto

2871_big

shards of a malachite geode,

each dumpling—chunkling—actually wafted upward to the bite. They were so light they’re actually still floating around my brain cavity, I think.

But the ultimate find was the dipping oil that came with the bread.

DGbreaddip

I’d have loved to see the seething vat in back—the line cooks must be high 24/7 from the sheer everlasting stench of years of batches of garlic, parmesan & red pepper–clogged olive oil. If that sounds pejorative, it ain’t. Hell, I’d have loved to skinny-dip in that vat. I’d love to have never come up for air. (Meanwhile, of course, parsley smoothed it all out a little.)

We were so heartened by our intimate little experience that we returned the next, our last, night in town. Was it that good, objectively speaking? No. Were we fully aware it wasn’t that good, objectively speaking? Sure. Would we go so far as to call it a tourist trap? Not me; I wouldn’t. In my book, tourist traps manufacture hospitality while spitting out edible formulas people with gullets where their palates & senses of poetry should be can regurgitate. This place was suffused with genuine heart—not a perfectly calibrated hand, to be sure, but genuine heart. If I’m wrong, then I’m a staunch sucker.

On that note, fuck highlights, here are the lesser but still lovable dishes we downed:

DGmozzincarozza

Mozzarella in carozza (we ordered spiedini, but this is what we got, it was halfway to dawn, they were technically closed, who were we to complain, especially about accidentally getting fried cheese with olives?)

DGpepper

Peperoni ripieni

DGlasagna

Lasagna

DGantipastodimare

Antipasto di mare—so garlicky it was almost bitter, so lemony it was downright sour, both in the best way

Ciao, Signore Gennaro. Fino a quando si ritorna.

***

And ciao to you, too, MC Slim JB, who led us so debonairly through downtown’s secret catacombs; Kimberly, with the giggle that never ceases to cheer me; Honor, who chose brain freeze over leaving half the contents of her chilled cocktail glass (that’s my girl!); Beth, who led me down the righteous path of high-noon debauchery; & so on. I’ll see you soon.

Da Gennaro on Urbanspoon

Big Apple/Beantown Dispatch 1: MOMA, The Half-King, Han Bat

They say you only see what you want to see, but returning to the right coast with freshly high-desert-scrubbed eyes, I’m struck by how completely food-obsessed New York & Boston are, from their nicknames to their artistic traditions. The Northeast Corridor is just 1 big stocked pantry the city slickers frolic in!

Youthinks me doth project too much? Behold but a handful of morsels from the MOMA’s current collection:

MOMA1

Martin Kippenberger, The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s Amerika

At the heart of this Kafka-inspired installation enacting the madness of the modern office is this sort of life-sized, reverse Lazy Susan whereby 2 umbrella-topped chairs revolve on a track around a table shaped like a fried egg. Dreaming of cocktails circling egg’s edge that we’d snatch & sip as we glided by, the Director & I got hellbent right then on building our very own someday.

MOMA2 MOMA3

Dieter Roth, Big Landscape; Big Sunset

Apparently Roth did a lot of what he called “squashings” in the late 60s. The central stain in the 1 on the left is cheese; on the right is sausage. 40-year-old foodstains = major art works. Suddenly my whole life has meaning.

MOMA4

Joseph Beuys, Painting Version 1–90

Beuys slathered butter over his canvas to get those discolorations to the left & below the hole. Replace “canvas” with “body” & it totally sounds like my kind of beauty ritual!

MOMA5

Ed Ruscha, Stains

From a gorgeous series of abstract-ish splashings & dribblings on paper—urine, nail polish, apple juice etc.—comes this splotch of Chateau Latour 1962, which is probably about as close as I’ll ever get to a sip.

MOMA6

Forgot to get the name of the designer—sorry, dead German guy—of this Art Deco–era champagne flute (according to the placard, despite the shape). Still, if you ask me, a house containing Kippenberger’s contraption, a set of these & nothing else would be a home richly furnished with love.

***

Speaking of love, The Half-King in Chelsea is where I fell in it, after a long long-distance friendship, with the Director over hot buttered rums a few years back—so though it’s almost always absurdly crowded & loud, we have to make the sentimental journey for a nibble from time to time.

The Thai-spiced meatballs, an app special, were way better than they looked—to wit, like hell.

HKmeatballs

Believe it or not, these ringers for petrified dung pellets were actually fresh, moist, funky, indeed gamy nuggets of ground lamb & buffalo with pinenuts & golden raisins; the spicy dipping sauce itself dripped with nam pla.

Actual Asian goodies, as opposed to gastropubby takes thereon, got gobbled the next night at Han Bat, a 24-hour midtown Korean joint we took a chance on mostly to get out of the rain, & were damned glad we did. Above all, it offered relief for the jones for ddeokbokki I developed by gnocchi-association at Denver’s Locanda del Borgo a while back.

HDddeokbokki

Listed here as duk bok gi (there are countless other spellings as well), they’re cylindrical glutinous rice cakes that taste like nothing so much as their own texture—soft, soft, soft—with just a hint of natural starch sweetness echoed by the spicy chili sauce.

I expect to have fully digested them by around late 2012. Too bad I couldn’t have shared some of my stash with Dieter Roth; they’d have made great squashings.

Dispatch from Albuquirky: Charlie’s Front Door, Gecko’s, Flying Star Cafe

I wish I’d coined that nickname, but no, the appellation comes naturally to a town best-known as Bugs Bunny’s bugaboo. Wherever my 1st home was—& it’s been all over in the course of my 30-plus (or more accurately 40-minus) years—Albuquerque, as the address at any given time of at least 1 immediate relative, has always been my 2nd, all the more so now that the Director’s brother has gone & sired an adorable lass & tied the knot in the presence of the King (in roughly that order) with the equally adorable local he impregnated:

D&J

Since we had yet to lay eyes on our new niece, it was only too fitting that my own happily broken family move its Thanksgiving bash (of which more here) from Oklahoma to New Mexico this year. & am I glad we did, not only because little infant Zuzu’s (her real, if not her legal, name) utter wailing horror at every glimpse she got of her old Uncle Director was supremely hilarious like this

Grimance_narrowweb__200x225

but also because if I don’t go to Charlie’s, Front Door or Back, every so often I positively wilt like a Southern belle awaiting smelling salts on a magnolia-redolent veranda in the gloaming, only far less lovely & more rotten. (At this point, if my penchant for mayhem were greater than my capacity for shame, & I’m somewhat surprised to find it isn’t, I’d be hyperlinking the word “rotten” to its namesake website with nary a warning. As it is, just think of me as your own personal furry old Grover,

250px-The_Monster_at_the_End_of_This_Book_Starring_Lovable,_Furry_Old_Grover

begging you not to turn said virtual page, difference being that in this case there really is something to be afraid of—there really is a monster at the end of Rotten.com, & at the beginning, & all the way through. Really, don’t go there unless you’re sure you’ve got no more innocence left to lose & only darkness to gain. But if you do, check out the photo of the weightlifter with the prolapsed bowels.)

I’ve waxed mad about Charlie’s before; it’s a no-frills—or rather, 1 frill, at least in the front: a square sunken bar in the middle of the room; whoever first dreamt of a bar that would be accessible from all sides is a goddamn unsung interior-design hero—but way friendly little New Mexican joint with 1 of the funkier menus you ever will see. Even the Director’s color-blind iPhone can’t obscure the yum of the house specialty, sour cream enchiladas with chicken & green chile—which kicks pretty hard, but only after the eponymous ingredient & shredded iceberg block the impact in cooling, soothing measure:

Charliesenchilada

I got the Como Se Llama,

Charliespolishsausage

which is exactly what it is, a whatchamacallit, combining green chile & refritos & cheese with Polish sausage & a tortilla so thick & fluffy it’s more like pita. I’m not even sure the color’s off there—it did sort of glow & burble & whatnot like the blob Stephen King as Jordy Verrill unleashes in

Creepshow_ver1 ,

especially the day after, on the inside. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have joined the Director in polishing off the entire basket of sopaipillas, which we soaked in honey like we were warlords & it was gasoline & they were hostages we were going to set on fire but wound up cannibalizing instead, but I didn’t (know), so I did (polish).

Charliessopaipillas

Gecko’s the so-called gastropub & tapas bar [sic] I’m less keen on.

1st of all, & if I’ve said this once I’ve said it 1000 times without really knowing what that expression means, tapas are Spanish. If the ingredients aren’t Spanish, the small plates aren’t tapas. They’re meze, or cicchetti (chi-KETT-ee), or zakuski, or whatever they are, even just plain old small plates, but not tapas. Here, the menu places something of an emphasis on Mexican ingredients, but given its simultaneous counteremphasis on the frighteningly fused likes of “breaded slab o’ meunster with sweet yellow curry tomato chutney” & smoked kielbasa in a tawny port reduction, it isn’t strong enough to warrant a label like bocaditos. Now, that’s no black mark against the kitchen per se, but it does suggest someone at the management level who has some influence thereover either doesn’t care about ethnoculinary accuracy or isn’t interested in catering to customers who do. Neither’s a good sign.

2nd of all, & if I’ve said this once I’ve said it 1000 times without really knowing what that expression means, a gastropub is a gastropub. It has the vaguest amount to do with a changing of the culinary guard in the UK. It has absolutely nothing to do with just any old college bar in Albquerque that breads eggplant in panko, parmesan & tarregon [sic], pours green-chile honey over cambozala [sic], & serves lobster & golf [sic] shrimp ceviche with fried pita wedges for no apparent reason other than that it’s not technically illegal to do so. & it has even less than nothing to do with a college bar in Albuquerque that also calls itself a tapas bar but isn’t. Jesus H.

But even all that isn’t a black mark against the kitchen per se. The students working there way through UNM back there are doing OK with what they’ve got. So the green-chile cheese fries were gloppy, but they were also curly, & salty, & greasy, & so served their alcohol-absorbing function with sufficient charm.

Geckosfries

A layer of black bean–pepperoni puree under the nachos was at once too ridiculous to even think about & too interesting not to unthinkingly keep swiping tastes of.

Geckosnachos

The Director’s tough sirloin tacos with gluey, flavorless roasted pablano [sic] crema, however, weren’t interesting at all. I was bored just typing that.

Geckostacos

As for the Flying Star Cafe, it’s neither here nor there culinarily, but it’s everywhere geographically, & has free wifi, so I find myself at 1 branch or another whenever I’m in town, & don’t generally mind a bit sticking something in my mouth, be it this burly beefy chili

FSchili

or that most civilized of all baked goods,*** a housemade English muffin,

FSenglishmuffin

or decent huevos rancheros with especially saucy pintos & home fries.

FShuevos

Thus did I return to Denver a little fatter & mostly happier.

***Nope, it’s not brioche; too decadent. Nope, not the baguette; too working class. Crumpets perhaps. Write-in candidates welcome.

Dispatch: The Other Boston Marathon, continued

To pick up where we left off here: Actually, I wish they’d mixed crumbled bacon into the yolk mixture instead, though yumyum’s comment does endear them to me more. Otherwise they just seemed like fairly straightforward deviled eggs, not that that’s a bad thing. But the owners are cool, so I’m glad the place is beloved among people I belove, especially now that
I’ve read the justification for its goofy christening on the website. Next time I’ll have to have the warm tongue canapé.

But this time, I held that tongue, awaiting an imminent rendezvous with the reigning offal master: Jamie Bissonnette, chef at another of Oringer’s outposts, KO Prime. There we hit the variety-meat jackpot, tripe coiling into the coin return.

I’d never had bone marrow and it was really, really good. At least I remember these lovely bones standing end-up.

KOmarrow

Mostly, though, I remember that the bartender [the awesome Asher] reminded me of Andrew Novick, aka Karen Carpenter K-Sum, aka KC Kasum, and I spent probably way too much precious drinking time explaining the Warlock Pinchers to you.

Yes, thanks to your rambling, I know Novick now owns Denver Japanese novelty shop Gimme Gimme Pillow Toast—and speaking of toast, the marrow comes with some, atop dollops of oxtail marmalade.
Preposterously rich as that pairing may sound, marrow’s flavor’s always much
gentler, subtler than I’m expecting it to be—especially when it’s coming from
a big bad tattooed young gun who once told me he was just a redneck punk
rocker—but who’s in fact as thoughtful a chef as he is brazen, much like the
aforeworshipped Nevins. Mind you, this Bissonnette is a man who once served beef-heart
sliders to the swells at the grand opening of a jewelry store. We also had—among many, many other things (I’ll compose a photographic ode to this meal in a subsequent post)—the brains piperade, which tasted so like butter. Butter that was thinking. Butter that was thinking of iron flowers.

KObrains

So after KO Prime we tilted toward home and sleep. Immediately upon waking,
though, we wandered over to Scampo, which I think is in an old prison, no?

Um,
actually, after KO Prime we had a nightcap at No. 9 Park, where you killed some more people and painted their corpses. But then, yes, Scampo’s in the Liberty Hotel, which
was once the Charles Street Jail—hence the names of the bars on the premises, Alibi
and Clink. What a clever inside joke to make ex-cons feel welcome.

Well, they’d have felt comfortable with the service, all “here, we’ll throw you this tomato soup but you can’t have a spoon.” The burrata BLT was pretty damn good though;

Scampoblt1

I’d actually forgotten “wicked awesome” was a useful descriptor until speaking with the bartender.

Useful or just used? She meant well though, in fact we got a kick out of her snark, & the sandwich was lovely, as was my basil oil–speckled salade Niçoise—all I could stomach at this point. After all, we’re just offering the tiniest taste of all we tasted, a drop of what we sipped. Here’s a complete list:

Best Little Restaurant: the remainder of 3 family-style dishes plus our very own order of squab, 2–3 glasses of wine
Avenue One: 2 drinks each
Neptune Oyster: 2 glasses of wine each, 8 oysters split, 1 entree each. Oh, & a bowl of oyster crackers
banQ: 1 cocktail each, 2 appetizers split
Toro: 1 cocktail each, 1 small plate split
Kingston Station: 2 cocktails each, 1 sandwich each
dante: 4 cocktails each, 5 if you count the granitas (of which there were 3 to an order, so I guess that’s really 7);

Dantegranitas

3 entrees split


UpStairs on the Square
: 5 cocktails split. Had to show the Director the interior wackiness that is this Harvard Square fixture:

UpStairs1

UpStairs2

Hungry Mother: 1 cocktail each, 2 appetizers & 1 entree split. Oh, & those terrific little preacher cookies that come with the check—uncooked cubes of cocoa, oatmeal & ¡peanut butter!:

HMcookies

KO Prime: X drinks, X dishes—we lost count. Suffice it to say my original post title was a conservative estimate. (What’s more, I completely forgot until this moment that we were there 2 nights in a row, the 1st just for 1 cocktail each)
No. 9 Park: 1 cocktail each
Scampo: 1 cocktail each, 1 entree each
Then we went to that wedding where the barbecue was piled high & the booze flowed, followed by a send-off brunch. None of this counted in the estimate

& then there was Legal Sea Foods.

As a Bostonian, I could take or leave this sprawling local chain. It didn’t suck, in fact it had its merits—including a way-better-than-it-had-to-be wine list, thanks to its beverage czar, Wine Master Sandy Block—but it never felt special like my funky indie seafod faves. As a nostalgic Denverite, however, I found myself sheepishly thrilled to belly, oh so painfully literally, up to the Legal bar in Terminal B at Logan & order 1 last glass of wine (okay, 3)—

a lovely way to slant our way out of town

& 1 more kettle of fish, namely the really rather refreshing seafood antipasto with grilled shrimp & calamari, marinated clams & mussels, rolled slices of provolone & greens in a tomato vinaigrette. Does anyone ever describe tomato vinaigrette as anything but zesty? Not this one, I bet, & that’s a compliment.

Legalsalad

& that’s a wrap. Thanks to all who kept us going—9lives, yumyum, gini, niblet, MichaelB, heathermb, lissy, striperguy, Alcachofa, Francine, Honor, Kimberly, Tamara & Brock, Scott et al.

Dispatch: 3 days, 14 restaurants, 28 dishes, 32 cocktails, precious little memory (Boston)

Since neither of us remember much of our whirlwind tour through my old hometown, we’re knocking our heads together to shake out the bits & pieces. Meet, finally, the Director.

Ooof.

A man of few words but much insight. Unless he’s too drunk to see straight. Last night I woke up splayed, fully clothed in a silk sheath, across a hotel bed in Providence (the original purpose of our visit was the Rhode Island wedding of a dear friend & awesome mag editor) & looked around to find the Director conked out completely naked & upright in an armchair, remote control in hand.

Yes, well, that’s because I left Denveater for a tad to go tobacco hunting downtown and ended up wandering for a while around some late-night festival where the locals light the river that runs through town on fire. Eventually I got back to the room and knocked…and knocked…and knocked until the door opened, but not our door, the neighbors’ door, with a sleepy/cranky/crazy woman telling me to shut up, so I had to go back down to the reception desk and convince the clerks to give me another key to the room. When D says “across a hotel bed” what she really means is “leaving no room for the Director in bed who therefore must sleep in a chair.”

Whatever. So you’ve already gotten a small taste of Best Little Restaurant (ex-Ho Yuen Ting) the eve we arrived & a bigger taste of Neptune Oyster the morning after. Between the 2 were cocktails at Avenue One, a hotel bar boasting rather attractive arrangements of foliage—bamboo stalks & something that looked like a broccoli-Chia Pet hybrid & so on—but the opposite-of-boasting an enclosed patio that gini had heard might be kinda private, & was, insofar as “private” can be a euphemism for “no one wants to come here because it’s some chairs surrounded by cement.” Anyway, after that, the 1st place we hit was the unfortunately named but gorgeously appointed banQ in the South End (the Boston equivalent of the Highlands).

Let the debauchery begin. We had been told the night before not to expect too much, but I really liked this place, from the beautifully curved ceilings to the beautifully curved company. There was food, too.

Banq

Baby! It’s true, I have a mesmerizing parabola of a gut. Anyway, the eats were surprisingly fine, among them an appetizer from the seasonal Spice Menu, any order off of which is accompanied by take-home packets of spices. Delicately fried squash blossoms were stuffed with scallop mousse & perched atop cylinders of sundried-tomato pesto spiked with miso & cumin that, for all its punchiness, didn’t upstage the starring item; neither did dollops of sambal paste.

Banqsquash

From here we moved on to Toro, which I’m told is one of the favorites in the Ken Oringer empire. It’s a small-plates place with a not-small wait, unless you’re willing to shove yourself into a corner and fight the bar crowd.

Sadly, the absence of the freakishly talented former chef de cuisine John Critchley was palpable; these chicken wings, supposedly finished with rosemary brown butter, seemed mostly just smothered in duck sauce mixed with catsup or something. It was partly my fault, as I wanted to try something new instead of introducing the Director to neoclassics like the salt-cod fritters with fried lemon rings & grilled corn with squiggled aioli & crumbled cojita.

Torowings

They were the low point of the trip, I’ll admit. All the better reason to head on over to Kingston Station for a drink I’d never had.

That drink would be absinthe, done right with a sugar cube & a water back.

KSabsinthe

Yeah, and it was good, but I liked it more for the processes involved than the taste: lighting the sugar on fire and waiting for it to melt into the drink, slowly pouring water over the remaining sugar and ice until the drink turns a cloudy, pale green. I was really hoping that I’d go instantly crazy and kill someone or paint something cool but neither happened so I switched to scotch.

Actually, you did both. You painted the corpse of the sucker you blasted while I picked at my tuna burger, underseasoned & hence, even despite a smear of wasabi mayo, unfortunately lost between the halves of its oversized bun like one of those skinny fellows getting squeezed between 2 fat ladies in red dresses & hats with daisies sticking up until his spectacles pop off in an old cartoon.

KStuna

Good, crispy, salty hand-cut chips though. Anyway, you came to the next day over lunch at the lovely dante,

Dante

where we had a steak the size & shape of a Sasquatch footprint.

Dantesteak

Ah, yes, but before that arrived we had alcoholic slushies and no fewer than four cocktails. Per person. Four.

So we did. (Which reminds me, in case anyone’s wondering how that diet I mentioned a few weeks back is going—not so well.) The steak was proper, charred on the surface & pink within, but the best part was the veggies it came with—spinach and chanterelles sauteed to a golden-green shimmer in olive oil and accompanied by gorgonzola cream, so you could mix and match all these earthy flavors and textures.

Dantemushrooms

At this point things started to get fuzzy for me, which was bad because it was only about 1:30 in the afternoon. We next headed to a place called Hungry Mother whose deviled eggs I had heard about and desperately wanted. They were delish, with little sails of bacon poking up in the middle. I could have eaten a dozen (the Whistler understands). “Sails” is the menu’s description, not mine. I didn’t think it looked like a sail at all, just like bacon sticking up.

HMeggs

Bacon sticking up always makes for a good stopping place.

***TO BE CONTINUED***

Dispatch: Albuquerqueating

Besides the swanky, spanking-new Second Home I just found out about, I have an old, ramshackle second home: Albuquerque. The whole town’s a bit of an adobe-covered dive, sprawling and haphazard, aglow in Route 66 neon—and eating here is at its best gritty, grubby, greasy. At least it has always seemed that way from my admittedly non-native perspective; while I’m sure a fancy capital-E establishment or 2’s in operation somewhere in the city at any given time, it’s the holes, the joints, the mom-&-pop kitchens that for me define the dining scene.

My first stop is almost always Charlie’s Front Door or Back Door, in a strip mall with a great old better-living-through-chemistry-era sign reading HOFFMANTOWN SHOPPING CENTER in turquoise letters. The Front Door’s got that deep-orange aura all post-mid-twentieth century eateries have, mysteriously, I think, since it’s not actually lined with those sort of wrought-iron-&-amber-bulbed lighting concoctions I remember from, like, der Dutchman & such. The Back Door looks like this:

Blackinterior

Charlie’s has mighty fine calabacitas—kind of like Mexican succotash—and something I’ve never seen anywhere else, a sort of red-chile egg-drop soup, that once didn’t just clear my decidedly English friend Bob’s sinuses but I think ripped his nose hairs out by the roots before banging his head against the table over & over. While most places charge, Charlie’s delivers baskets of hot, bubble-crusted, oddly light sopaipillas free with the purchase of entrees. We were too lazy to take pictures in ABQ—that’s right, we couldn’t be bothered to point & click; sometimes I don’t know where we get the energy to lift forks all the way to our mouths—but thanks to Gil Garduño & his undoubtedly copyrighted website (which actually is quite informative & makes me think he’s surely a stand-up guy who’ll forgive my pic theft as long as I give him full credit & undying thanks), I can still give you a little eye-taste:

Charlie05

But you’d do yourself a disservice to go to Charlie’s & not get the signature sour-cream enchiladas with chicken & green chile, just like me & Gil (sure hope all this talk about Gil doesn’t make the Director jealous—but then, that would be pretty hypocritical seeing as how he’s got this hot thing going with Florence):

Charlie04

The green chile’s got killer instincts, but the sour cream & shredded lettuce help it keep its cool.

Then there’s Garcia’s Kitchen downtown,

Garcias2

where the tortillas are thick as pancakes & the carnitas are nice & saucy, even if the owner appears to be more a Jersey mobster complete with gold chains & white loafers than an honest old huarache-shod caballero.

Welcomelogo

And finally (for now) there’s everybody’s beloved Frontier:

Frontier

The yellow-roofed, three-crammed-roomed, eyeball-bleeding-oil-painting-filled terror of all things holy to anyone over the age of 24 &/or past the irony phase of postmillennial human development is nonetheless a must, if for nothing other than the shockingly fresh & buttery sticky buns (pic swiped from here):

Frontierstickybun

There’ll be more where this came from next time we head down to Sandialand, unless we get even super-luckier & the Director’s brother’s fiancee’s brother has us over for a pig roast, a thought that gets me all flushed pink & squealy every time I think it, which I hope won’t confuse anybody come time to load the spit over the fire.