A few days ago I was in Albuquerque after dropping the kiddos off at the airport (off to Germany, again… the lucky turds) and looking for something to eat. I had a vague idea of what I wanted, Thai or Middle Eastern, and was cruising Central looking hot as hell in my bad ass Batmobile when I spotted the Asian Noodle Bar. Oh, hell yeah, I thought, remembering the article I had read months before and then forgotten about the then year-old restaurant being named one of the five best noodle bars in the US by Bon Appetit magazine.
On the one hand, I tend to dislike any "best of" list as there is no way in hell the author checked every one of anything in most cities, let alone most states, to say nothing of the whole friggin' country, but they did check a lot of places, so if something is listed as one of the "best" you can safely bet that it's at least pretty damned good.
That in mind, I sought out one of those dirt parking lots with one of those box-with-numbered-slots-honor-system boxes (oh, redundancy), parked, deposited my money and walked the half-block back to the small store-front restaurant with the unpretentious sign proclaiming it the Asian Noodle Bar. Seen more exciting labels on a pack of ramen, I think as I walk in past the disheartening Coors neon blazing away in the wrought iron protected window. These, and all other thoughts, are quashed as I enter the dining room; no clichés here, just cool, clean-lined modern Asian décor and a large inviting bar with a view of nothing but the kitchen. As I've said before, if there is a counter, sit at it.
The waiter is prompt, friendly and answers my questions with pride and authority, he knows the menu and the history. The chef, Mimy Singvilay, immigrated to the US, settling in Albuquerque, from Laos with her parents when she was about three years old, she's "self-taught" (parens only because I hate that term because it implies that no one else was a factor in the learning of a skill, even if it was a parent, author, mentor; just because the knowledge wasn't handed down from on high by a degreed professor in some institution of higher learning….okay, I'll stop now…), and this is her first restaurant. She's also drop dead gorgeous, I know that doesn't have anything to do with anything, but I have a thing for Asian women in chef's coats…there, I said it, it's a diagnosed condition, look it up.
My waiter makes his suggestions and I pick Japanese miso soup from the forty or so choices that span most Asian cuisines. I settle in with my Kirin Ichiban beer and watch as the cooks work, one of the two commercial woks putting out around 65,000 btus, compared to my stove's 26,000 and your 18,000. Together, they sound like a jet taking off and the heat can be felt from fifteen feet away. A lone TV, to my left, is tuned to what I think is a Singaporean soap opera (I'm pretty iffy on that one) that seems to exist only so that a woman in a blue dress can sign songs complete with bouncing ball graced subtitles. Directly opposite of me, near the cash register, two small children sit, playful, but restrained, that is until the smallest throws his flip-flop at the waiter.
Reading the label of my beer, I'm a little disappointed to find that my Japanese beer is bottled in California by Anheuser-Busch, the brewer of Budweiser. Then I think that A-B is in a struggle to avoid being bought by InBev, a giant Belgian brewer, that is in turn ran by Brazilians. Gotta love globalization. Oh well, it's still a good beer.
Amid these, and other thoughts (mmmm, chef coat), my soup arrives. It comes in a gigantic bowl, a very generous serving of green onions, seaweed, tofu and soba noodles in miso broth. The smell alone is worth the price and the taste is fantastic; clean and fresh. Less than half way in, I put the fork down and pick up my chop sticks and do a pretty good job of making it to my mouth with the slippery noodles in spite of being years out of practice. A few stools down from me a very happy looking Asian guy is slurping away at a bowl of something spicy, pausing every few bites to mop his bright red, beaded forehead.
I finish with some awesome red bean ice cream I then walk back to my car, passing Knockouts Gentleman's Club, a pastel colored building with no view inside. One of the dancers takes a smoke outside the door, chatting with the bouncer who is setting out a sandwich board with drink specials on it. I wonder who exactly her clients are going to be at 3 o'clock on a Monday afternoon
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