at Blue Adobe Grille is straightforward -- and spicy.
A recent survey, conducted extensively among people on my
speed-dial list, has uncovered a startling finding. The entire
state of New Mexico is nothing without its chiles.
A half-dozen people answering the phone can't be wrong.
When asked what the cuisine of New Mexico is comprised of, all
my study subjects quickly answered, "green chiles."
The response was unanimous, except for the control subject
dozing next to my desk, who thought the answer was
My scientific conclusion: No other geographic area is so
uniformly identified by a single edible product than the
fertile valley of the Rio Grande.
This limited view of an entire region's cuisine is a unique
phenomenon, but one that's justified. The area has been flying
a chile as its state flag ever since the average consumer
discovered that Mexican food has many more nuances than found
at Taco Bell. All Mexican food generally contains chiles,
sure, but no chiles so revered as the special fruits
propagated in the Albuquerque area.
It's a worthy reverence. Southern New Mexico, in fact,
grows more green chiles than any other area of the world, and
of an unparalleled quality. Hatch Valley is so fruitful that
it's called the chile capital of the world, and also the chile
belt. More than a dozen varieties are cultivated here, ranging
from mild tam jalapeños to medium Mexi-bells to sandia.
Serranos are even hotter, and then there are the
hotter-than-hell barkers and Santa Fe grandes. Supposedly, the
sun-soaked fields, the mild climate and the abundant water
from the Rio Grande make these chiles the most flavorful to be
All of which lead us to the food served at the
six-month-old Blue Adobe Grille in Mesa. The siren song of New
Mexican chiles was enough to seduce Adobe Grille's owners,
Paul Bigelow and Jose Leyva, to give up long-standing careers
with the Valley's Hops! Bistro & Brewery and embark on a
specialty restaurant in Mesa -- an area of town more used to
steak and potatoes than Tucumcari tenderloin. Bigelow, after
living in New Mexico for several years, became convinced that
the cravings he developed for Hatch chiles would bring him a
Valley following rivaling the Pied Piper.
The risk appears to have paid off. On any given day, Blue
Adobe Grille is buzzing with the feel-good sounds of a
clientele pleased to have discovered quality food, comfortable
ambiance and a neighborhood place with a kick-back attitude.
Over several visits, I notice a clutch of what must be
regulars, tossing back appetizers and beer, or a glass of wine
from Blue Adobe's impressive-for-its-digs wine list.
A former Italian restaurant, the space has been converted
to a casual, Saltillo-tile-strewn cafe centered around a bar
and dotted with Spanish antiques. It's dark, no matter the
time of day, the windows hung with earth-toned wool blankets
against brick walls. How dark? No kidding, at lunch one day, a
woman enters with a seeing eye dog, and she has to drag the
pup past the hostess podium before its eyes can adjust from
the bright sun outside.
The hostess assists, of course, helping the woman with her
baby, bundled in a car seat, and getting the trio settled into
a table. But it's not overly special treatment, I find,
because on later visits, I see that most Adobe diners seem to
receive above-average attention. It doesn't hurt that staffers
turn our heads by complimenting me on my jewelry, my dining
companion on his hairstyle; and on another visit, me on my
sweat shirt, my companion on his sense of humor. Dinner and
all the fawning we can swallow? And at prices averaging about
10 bucks for an entree? Oh, yeah, we can eat that up.
It works because it all seems sincere, as honest as the
straightforward food served here. This isn't the often amazing
New Mexican cuisine found at Los Dos Molinos or Carlsbad
Tavern, but it's a welcome change from everyday burritos.
Bigelow admits his and Leyva's is a loose definition of
traditional New Mexican, blending the cuisine with flavors of
the Southwest, including Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and
California. This means, with a few exceptions, flavors aren't
the searing, pepper-flamed blowtorches we might expect -- and
be frightened by. Chipotle, a medium-spicy green variety,
arrives more frequently than blistering red chili, and even
when dishes are hot, they're still easy to eat. For this
neighborhood, this is a good thing.
Carne adovada is the hottest dish we sample, with pork
simmered in nuclear red chili. The typically torrid-tasting
tempter is high range without being hurtful, and best when
subdued by soupy whole pinto beans and large-grain rice, all
wrapped in tears of flour tortilla. Posole is another
spice-of-life dish, simmering chunked pork roast with potatoes
and hominy (dried corn) in a spicy, thin broth. The soup is
topped with shredded cabbage and lime chunks, to be dunked
with flour tortillas.
Blue Adobe's signature potato dish celebrates fiery New
Mexican chiles in arresting form. This stuff is feisty,
tucking twice-baked potato in a bottom-blackened green chile,
the spuds spiked with red pepper, fluted and browned on top.
It comes as a side dish, but is also offered à la carte -- a
great bar snack at just $2. For another take on the hotter
chile, try the tenderloin relleno, lightly filled with beef
and gooey with cheese, thinly battered for crunch and served
with red sauce.
I like that Blue Adobe offers a variety of sampler plates
-- lots of flavor opportunities. The New Mexican platter is a
satisfying presentation of tenderloin relleno, pork tamale,
cheese enchilada, rice and beans, and a choice of red or green
chile sauce. The puffy tamale is much improved over the
dry-as-socks version I sampled when Blue Adobe first opened,
topped with moist chopped jalapeños and stuffed with lots of
shredded pork. Want it all? The Land of Enchantment combo
brings a team of tender marinated tenderloins, a trio of
good-size pecan-grilled shrimp glazed in chipotle, a chicken
enchilada, green chile potato and vegetables. I could eat this
chicken enchilada endlessly -- there's none of that often
scary, shredded, vaguely poultry product I find, but real
chicken breast that's done time on the grill.
Chef Leyva gives us the bird with the corn chowder, too.
This is comfort food to the max, blending a thick
cream-of-corn base with smoked chicken chunks, roasted kernel
corn and mild Hatch chiles. As an entree, a breast comes
split, grilled and stuffed with softly spiced chorizo, poblano
peppers and cheese. A lot more chorizo is needed, but an
amaretto mushroom sauce wins raves for its intriguing sweet,
creamy, complex character. This is a dish I never would have
ordered off job duty, with the weird-sounding sauce, but holy
cow, it's delicious, spiked with fresh mushroom slices.
Sauce also surprises with the Tucumcari tenderloin, named
after a New Mexican city. Jalapeño béarnaise isn't
necessarily classic, lacking its distinctive egg yolk finish
as far as I can tell, but it dresses up the meat nicely. A
side of pasta is even better, thanks to its creamy,
orange-colored chipotle cloak. I only wish the meat itself
were better -- on one visit, the beef is mushy and geriatric
tasting; on another, it's just okay. The plate sure looks
pretty, though, served atop a crisp tortilla with green chile
potato and julienne veggies.
Adobe salad looks good, too, with dots of goat cheese mixed
among field greens, roasted red peppers and tortilla frizzles,
but lacks oomph due to a weak orange chipotle dressing. I even
order more dressing on the side, dipping each leaf, but taste
little more than oil.
There's no mistaking the green chile sauce served on the
side of a fish taco plate, however. Big chunks of chile are
suspended in a thin base dotted with cilantro, and are oh so
good drizzled on marinated pecan-grilled ahi tuna. The
cooked-through fish chunks are stuffed in doubled-up corn
tortillas, stuffed with cabbage, crème, jalapeños, little
bits of blue tortilla frizzles, cilantro and tomato chunks,
then scooped with dry rice and whole, soupy beans. Red chile
sauce is also an option, but stick with the green -- the thin,
one-dimensional blend works better with beef or pork than
While Blue Adobe doesn't offer many culinary surprises,
there is one dish I'd gladly drive across town for: a
new-to-the-menu lobster queso. I simply can't stop spooning
the glutinous clump of hot spinach, chopped onion, scallion
and parmesan, splayed with a sunbeam pattern of dynamite
For dessert, there's a warm chocolate chip cookie topped
with ice cream. If there's jalapeño in the raspberry sauce,
as advertised, I can't tell.
There is a final sting when the bill comes and we're
charged for chips and salsa. It's no hardship paying $1.75 for
tri-colored (not really, just blue and yellow, each time we
visit) chips and murky orange-brown chipotle salsa, yet free
chips are an Arizona institution. I bet we'll see that menu
policy change soon.
While Blue Adobe Grille isn't the roller-coaster ride of
heat and spices we've come to know and love with New Mexican
food, it is a very welcome addition to the Valley's growing
collection of Hatch chile halls. And just as Bigelow
predicted, he's already got a loyal following. Behold the
power of chiles.
phoenixnewtimes.com | Originally published on 12/21/2000