Latin American – New Mexican Fusion at its very best
Latest visit: April 11, 2012
First visit: March 9, 2012
Fusion cuisine combines elements of various culinary traditions while not being categorized per any one particular cuisine style, and can pertain to innovations in many contemporary restaurant cuisines since the 1970s.
Another incarnation of fusion cuisine is a more eclectic approach, featuring original dishes using varieties of ingredients from various cuisines and regions and combining them. Such a restaurant might feature a wide variety of dishes inspired by a combination of various regional cuisines with new ideas.
Pasión Latin Fusion is the brainchild of Chef Elvis Bencomo and his lovely wife and co-owner Monica Martell. The name Pasion is especially appropriate here: They take a mix of the cuisines and dishes of many places south of the border (Nicaragua, Peru, Argentina, Mexico,Cuba, and others) and blend in a little bit of New Mexico, stir gently, add some Latin passion, and they get a fusion that shines brilliantly. We first heard of Pasion when ERyan Scott interviewed Elvis and Minica on his Break The Chain radio show, and vowed to try it as soon as we could.
The menu is small, but the dishes are all executed with passion and brilliance. Can you ever remember having Fish and chips with a hint of habañero in the sauce? Bet you can’t. Lots of little surprises lay in wait for us.
We started with two appetizers:
Pasión Guacamole y Salsa Molcajete
Guacamole and mortar grinded [sic] salsa served with garlic tortilla chips. Sure, you’ve had guacamole before, and salsa too, but never like this. Each is served in small molcajetes set among some of the tastiest tortilla chips around. They have the strength to be used as spoons, which is how I get large quantities of stuff into my mouth quickly. Dantiness doesn’t count here. Once you start, you can’t stop. The guacamole and salsa are easily among the very best that I have had. Jane especially loved the salsa. Green with a medium bite.
I first tasted ceviche thirty-five years ago in Peru. It is one of my favorite seafood dishes. This one is different: it is built around high quality raw tuna that is marinated in citrus juices, and served with jalapeños, cucumbers, red onion, and cilantro. The tuna was perfectly done, with smooth texture and an unmistakable fresh taste. Served with those great tirtilla chips. Elvis hit this one out of the park.
And then we had…
Fish and Chips
Fish and chips is standard pub fare, available in many fine pubs all over Albuquerque. Elvis cooks this version perfectly. Slightly crispy not0too0thick batter on the outside, and both flaky but still moist on the inside. The fish is a South African White Fish, similar in taste and texture to Chilean Sea Bass, and is also used in Pasion’s signature Fish Tacos. The sauce is masterful: it has a hint of habañeros in it, but not too much that it burns the palate. Where’s the fusion here? No fried potatos as is customary every place else, but the chips are deftly fried strips of yuca. A welcome change to a dish that in lesser hands can be trite and boring.
This dish was a special of the day. I guess that the tuna truck just rolled into town, because this was my second tuna dish of the evening. Very lightly seared tuna is served atop thin asparagus spears and decorated with jalapeños and pickled red cabbage, and the tuna is smothered with a green chimichurri. Chimichurri is made from finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, white or red vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Additional flavorings such as paprika ), cumin, thyme, lemon, and bay leaf (laurel), and in the red version, tomato and red bell pepper may also be added. It can also be used as a marinade for grilled meat. Chimichurri is available bottled or dehydrated for preparing with oil and water.
This superb dish is served with French fries that tasted like potatos and are perfectly done.
Azteca Bread Pudding
If there is bread pudding on a menu, I am going to try it regardless of how much I had eaten before. My friend Gil Garduñno suggested that Pasion’s bread pudding might just earn a place on my Bread Pudding Hall of Fame. Well, Gil, it did. Number 8.
This bread pudding has a silky smooth texture. It is served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a liberal coating of goat’s milk cajeta (caramel). The real surprise and the reason that this is not too sweet is thae addition of red chile to the pudding itself. I’m beginning to think that red chile should become an integral part of many sweet desserts. This blends beautifully with the rich and smooth cajeta, offsetting its sweetness. A masterful finish to a fine meal.
And then we came back with friends…
We found that Elvis had just started serving his Spring menu which contained sone new dishes as well as many of hos original dishes, such as the signature Fish Tacos. These tacos consist of banana chip breaded white fish with chipotle sauce, pickled cabbage and avocado in a flour tortilla. The fish is the same South African white fish (capensis) that is used in thw wonderful Fish and Chips that jane had a month ago (which is still on the new menu).
Ceviche—Fire and Ice. This is a new menu item, and I found it to be a huge hit. This is white fish (the same capensis) marinated in lime jice and habañeros with cilantro and thin strips of red onion. It is accompanied by strips of habañeros and a dollop of mango sorbet. The combination is exquisite—they sorbet and habañeros dance on tour tongue and create a sensation of, well, fire and ice. Of course. Don’t avoid this appetizer if you think that habañeros are too hot. Threted this way, you will find that those chiles have a delightful taste. Nothing nacho about this dish, just real goodness.
This is the best ceviche that I have had ever since I first tasted it in Lima, Peru, thirty-five years ago.
Ricotta style cheese served with fresh corn tortillas, roasted garlic and peppers. This combination of ingredients is served in a small molcajete and accompanied with some small slices of lightly toasted bread. The cheese is very smooth, the garlic is quite subtle, and the roasted green chiles are soft and have that unmistakable smokiness from roasting. Mild, not too picante. This delightful appetizer is a carryover from the original menu. It is yet another example of fusion at its best.
Pescafo ala Veracruzana.
I discovered Huachinango ala Veracruzans in the early 1980s in Bethesda, Maryland, of all places. Since then I can’t get enough of any seafood dish prepared ala Veracruzana. Elvis put this dish together using tuna that was lightly seared and quite rare on the inside. This is as good as any seafood dish that I have had put before me in New Mexico, and many other places, for that matter.
Elvis knows fish.
This dish, served with Frijoles Charros, is destined for a top sopt on my Best Dishes if 2012 List that I will write hon this blog next January.
Black beans, chorizo, bacon, sausage and fresh jalapeños topped with cotija cheese. This is one of the great side dishes that Elvis prepares.
Sure, you have had black beans before. Black beans and rice (Moros y Cristianos). Black bean soups. Black bean tacos. You might never run across a black bean dish as scrumptious as this one. The meats make this a big-taste dish. If you are at Pasión for a small meal, ask for a large bowl of these beauties and get some bread to dip in them and a bottle of Negra Modelo to add to your enjoyment of this fabulous dish.
Pastel de Queso
Goat cheese style cheesecake with mango caramel Many of my foodie friends have raved about this postre. I have already raved about the Azteca Bread Pudding. Well, duck—here comes yet another rave. The texture of this cheesecake is like no other that I have ever had. It is silky smooth and dense with a richly intense flavor. It is covered with a mango cajeta that appears to be scratch made with piloncillo, a Mexican raw sugar from cane. It is not nearly as sweet as the cajeta on the Azteca Bread Pudding, but more subtle so as bot to mask the flavor of that wonderful goat cheese. This cheesecake trumps my long-standing favorite—Lindy’s of New York (which I also make at home).
Elvis has a delicate and original hand with seafood. His creations are unique. Pasión Latin Fusion is a work of love greated by two newbies—Elvis and Monica—to the restaurant world. I think they have arrived with a smash hit.
Pasión now sweves beer and wine, and there is a happy hour. Try the sangrilla. It’s quite good.
Try to get seated in one of the booths along the east wall. Great places to survey the patrons all smiling with delight. Good people watching, too.
What others are saying
Gil Garduño — New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite
“Pasion is situated in the Lomas edifice which once housed Capo’s, a long time Albuquerque Italian food fixture. Few remnants of its predecessor remain in the striking milieu that is at once both festive and romantic, the former bolstered by upbeat salsa music and the latter facilitated by low light. Appropriately the exterior signage includes a single red rose, a symbol for romantic passion. Fireplaces suspended from the ceiling are both attractive and functional, adding the promise of a crackling flame on a blustery evening. Colorful wall hangings and framed photographs festoon the walls. Two tiered seating includes both booths and tables.
“The menu is an eye-opening melange of Latin fusion with elements of Cuban, Haitian, Mexican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Spanish, Mariscos, Argentinian and even New Mexican ingredients used in sundry and creative ways. As with true fusion, menu items combine those elements–Argentinian chimichurri with Nicaraguan grilled steak, for example. It wouldn’t be a true fusion restaurant if diverse, sometimes disparate culinary traditions, elements and ingredients didn’t form an entirely unique genre. Pasion is a true fusion restaurant, not one which offers menu items from several Latin speaking nations.”
Mina Yamashita in the Weekly Alibi
“Elvis is in the house—Chef Elvis Bencomo, that is. With co-owners Monica (Elvis’ wife) and Orlando (his brother), Pasión Latin Fusion serves up dishes found throughout Latin America with Elvis’ own creative flair. The chef has followed his love of cooking through culinary school at CNM, where an assignment turned his life around—fast. In April, his class was told to create a restaurant complete with a menu. Shortly thereafter, the building at Lomas became available. Pasión opened its doors just one month ago.
“Monica runs the front of the house and her gracious, lively style makes you feel right at home. Some foodie friends were in from Chicago, so I invited them along to check the place out with me. We ate fish tacos crusted in banana, garnished with pickled onions, avocado and sauce. The succulent carnitastacos and George’s pescado à la Veracruzana were spectacular.”
Interview with Elvis and Monica
Pasión Latin Fusion