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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Albuquerque: Land of Green Chiles and Me

I turned 28 last week, an age that places me definitively in my late 20s. Am I happy about getting this old? Well, as Daddy Salmon would say: It beats the alternative. I started my birthday week with a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I was born and spent the first five years of my life. I decided to take the trip because I hadn’t seen Lini, my childhood best friend, since my wedding two years ago, or her older sister Torte, since the mid 1990s. As it turned out, it also happened to be a fitting way to commemorate by birth, so many long years ago. Empanada Boy’s Saturday class prevents him from traveling much with me these days, so he stayed home with Percy.

It’s difficult to remember my first five years clearly, but there were two restaurants that immediately came to mind when Lini asked me where I wanted to go: Frontier Restaurant and Model Pharmacy. (It was a given that this three-day trip would be at least half devoted to eating.) I have vivid flashes of memory from both of these restaurants, and I was happy to hear both were going strong— in fact not much seems to have changed at either place since I was five.

We went to Frontier for an early lunch. Walking up to the red-and-yellow-accented, barn-shaped building, I was already anticipating the taste of the fresh-made flour tortillas. It was Friday, so the line was relatively short and devoid of hangover victims. Torte, Lini and I each sidled up to one of the line of cashiers, placed our orders and paid. In return, we were handed numbered receipts. From there, we looked for a table, walking through rooms decked out in cheesy Southwestern artwork and hanging plants, until we settled on the perfect fake-wood paneled booth.

We got our food when our numbers came up and filled up extra cups of salsa from caldrons near the tortilla-making station. I ordered the green chile chicken enchiladas, which turned out to be the ideal reintroduction to New Mexican food: cheesy, spicy, rich and smoky. This year’s green chile crop is extra spicy, which made the whole dish sing. I ate one of my two fresh-made tortillas with my meal and then ate the other for dessert with a packet of honey drizzled across it. Lini ordered soft tacos and Torte had cheesy hashbrowns and rice. There is something truly indulgent about eating New Mexican food. It’s definitely not health food, and while it takes some inspiration from Mexico, it answers only to itself. There is nothing else like it on earth!

It was difficult to think about eating dessert after a meal like that, even a few hours later, but my stomach would just have to submit to a little forced expansion: A trip to Model Pharmacy had to be made.

Model Pharmacy is an operational pharmacy with a gift shop area selling hair barrettes, greeting cards and tchotchkes and a counter with a full soda fountain. The interior of the building truly looked as though I was returning a mere day after my last visit in 1988. The only changes I noticed were that things were started to look a little more dilapidated. Paint looked chipped and the cabinets behind the soda counter were coming apart. We sat at three stools and ordered a chocolate soda with mint chocolate chip ice cream (Torte), a mint chocolate chip sundae with chocolate sauce (Lini) and an espresso milkshake (me). You can be sure the latter wasn’t an option in 1988.

My shake was good, although somehow not as good as I remember. It was a little thinner and less espresso-y than I would have liked. But then, standards always tend to get higher and tastes more sophisticated. In a way, I wish I had ordered something closer to what Torte or Lini picked. Their choices seemed to better embrace the nostalgic, decidedly non-gourmet, spirit of the place.

Either way, I was glad to have visited and eaten ice cream, though my full-to-bursting stomach may have been suggesting otherwise. It was a great first day back in New Mexico, and the eating was just getting started.

Frontier Restaurant
2400 Central SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
505.266.0550

Model Pharmacy
3636 Monte Vista Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
505.255.8686

Frontier Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Model Pharmacy on Urbanspoon

American as Oysters, Grits and Crabcakes

A couple weekends ago, I went down to Washington, D.C. with my friend Melanzane to visit Honey Roasted Peanut who is in grad school there. Having seen many of the D.C. sites, our highest priority was simply visiting with HR Peanut and getting a sense of her life in the nation’s capital. In that spirit, we spent most of our time walking the streets of the city on what turned out to be a gorgeous fall day. As we started to get hungry, we looked for a restaurant for brunch that offered a bit of Chesapeake Bay flair but still allowed us to enjoy the unseasonable warmth. We ended up finding an excellent outdoor table at Hank’s Oyster Bar near DuPont circle.

Hank’s offers oysters raw and fried, along with other regional seafood fare such as lobster bisque and crabcakes. But first thing’s first: Bloody Marys all around! These were nice and spicy and a bit thick, which is just how I like them. Best of all for us New Yorkers used to paying $7 to $9 for such a drink, they were only $5 each! D.C. residents pay have taxation without representation, but at least they don’t have to pay so much for their alcoholic beverages. After that, we got down to ordering. A selection of oysters on the half shell were clearly in order. We got three from the Chesapeake Bay and three from New Jersey. Both ran $2 each and both were excellent—refreshing, briny and fresh. They came with a dipping sauce, but I always feel that clouds the raw flavor, so I went minimalist, with only a squirt of lemon juice to accent the flavor. I think I could eat oysters every day if given the opportunity.

The rest of the brunch menu looked great, but two dishes stood out to us: the crabcake eggs benedict and the shrimp and grits. HR Peanut ordered the crabcake and Melanzane and split the crabcake and the shrimp and grits. We clearly ordered well. The grits had great course texture and were well seasoned. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and came mixed with spinach and little bits of tasty bacon. It was a taste of the Southeast with a slightly gussied up Northeastern inflection. Unlike many disappointing crabcakes I’ve had, this one was made with sweet, fresh meat and without too much non-crab filler. The crisped edges made a nice foil for the poached eggs, and the yolks and Hollandaise added moisture to the cake.

The meal at Hank’s was a good value and a great place opportunity to watch the neighborhood go by from a pleasant, relaxed vantage point. We ended up meandering down to the White House after that. But it really didn’t matter that we never went to the Lincoln Memorial or the National Archives; our quintessentially regional meal was American as it gets.

Hank’s Oyster Bar
1624 Q Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
202.462.HANK (4265)

Hank's Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon