Chipotle Takes Albuquerque by Storm…
Chipotle (/t??’po?tle?/ chi-poht-lay; Spanish: [t?i’potle]), or chilpotle, which comes from the Nahuatl word chilpoktli meaning “smoked chili pepper” is a smoke-dried jalapeño that tends to be brown and shriveled. It is a chili used primarily in Mexican and Mexican-inspired cuisines, such as Mexican-American and Tex-Mex.
Chipotle opened its long-awaited first Albuquerque location on Tuesday December 6, 2011.at Menaul and Louisiana. There soon will be more, starting with a possible location near Paseo del Norte NE and slightly east of Trader Joe’s, and another location near UNM is under consideration.
In what follows, I need to make it clear that while I was invited to a tasting as a known reviewer/blogger, the opinions that appear here have not been influenced or colored in any way by the circumstances of the visit. They reflect solely my judgement of the quality and taste of the food served there.
I was invited by Chipolte’s management to have a line tasting on the morning after they opened, and met Alex Sanchez (from the Denver Headquarters) at ten AM, an hour before they opened for customers. By 10:30, the waiting line extended halfway around the building. Indeed, on opening day, the waiting line started forming at 9:00. I had been wondering for months whether or not Chipolte would be heartily welcomed here, where there are Mexican/New Mexican restaurants seemingly every few blocke.
I needn’t have worried: Alex told me that they did $16,000 in business on opening day, and the place was packed without letup from opening to closing. That’s somewhere in excess of 2,000 customers on the first day. Some curious; some long-time fans who knew Chipotle from other cities. I was stunned. So was Alex.
For this visit, Alex showed Jane and me around the facility to let us see how the worker bees had started preparing the days food. Chopping cilantro. Slicing bell peppers and onions. Frying the fresh-made tortilla chips. Grilling the meats. Preparing the fresh salsas.
We then sat at a counter out of the way of the workers and were brought a large tray with chips, several salsas, some guacamole, and four kinds of meat. We sampled:
- Chicken. Marinated overnight in our smoky, spicy chipotle pepper adobo, then grilled. The char marks impart a subtle caramelized flavor.
- Steak. Lean steak marinated for hours in our smoky, spicy chipotle pepper adobo, then grilled to a juicy, medium-rare.
Barbacoa. Spicy, shredded beef, slowly braised for hours in a blend of chipotle pepper adobo, cumin, cloves, garlic and oregano until tender and moist. Too much cumin.
- Carnitas. Naturally raised pork seasoned with thyme, bay, juniper berries and cracked black pepper. Braised until meltingly tender.
- Fresh Tomato Salsa. Chopped red, ripe sweet tomatoes, mixed with red onions, jalapeño peppers and freshly chopped cilantro for a mildly tangy, refreshing taste. Mild.
- Tomatillo-Green Chili Salsa. A distinctive combination of tomatillos, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, red onions, freshly chopped cilantro and several spices. Medium.Best of the lot.
- Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa. This salsa of puréed chiles de arbol, tomatillos and spices is smooth, full-bodied and a rich, rusty red color. Hot.
- Guacamole. Hand mashed, ripe Hass avocados, mixed with freshly chopped cilantro, red onions, jalapeño peppers, citrus juice, salt and selected spices until silky, sexy and delicious. Needs garlic and more heat.
Any or many of these ingredients can be combined (your call) in burritos, burrito bowls, tacos, salads, and kid’s plates. Kids love this—they get to play with their food.
My favorites are the steak and the grilled chicken, both marinated in an adobo marinade (with chipotles, naturally). Juicy, tender, and perfectly cooked. The chicken is slightly charred, and never soggy (like poached chicken would be). And the green tomatillo salsa is very fine.
Ingredients are fresh, local and organic (whenever possible), and nutritious. There is a nutrition chart on the Web site; the worst offender is the tortilla chips (as usual). Use the chips as do I and my friend Gil Garduño do: shovels to get the salsas into your mouth (no chip dipping by us).
Food with Integrity…
means that they support and sustain family farmers who respect the land and the animals in their care. It means that whenever possible they use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones. Chipotle is ev=nviroment friendly. They will also prepare gluten0free meals.
You can follow a Duke City Fix forum discussion on the arrival of Chipotle, and join with me in overcoming my skepticism about some chains. This one is good, and I will probably return when the crowds fade a bit. But maybe they won’t, and we really needed a Chipotle here.
Please remember that Chipotle will never replace my favorite mom-and-pop Mexican places. Nor should it: they can coexist harmoniously.
Thanks for the invitation and tour, Alex.
Chipotle Mexican Grill