By Dan Silvius
When I first started enjoying M’tucci’s, I fell in love with the concept. “We not only serve great food, but we take pride in making it ourselves.” This is my review of M’tucci’s Bar Roma the latest location to open in Nob Hill!
Pt. 1 Introduction
I have a long history in the restaurant business, and I tend to spend a lot of time researching and shuffling through a montage of bad critics and “foodie” reviews when most of those critics have never worked in a kitchen. Throughout my history, I have spent hours washing dishes, prepping food, creating cocktail lists, tasting wines from all over the world, and managing over 20 servers and bartenders in addition to over 400 patrons. What better way to tell the world about my passion for food than to write it down on paper for a review? Nevertheless, for this first review, I was overwhelmed. What should I discuss? What restaurants should I review? Do I have to choose between Red or Green? I moved to Albuquerque a little over three years ago. It just so happened that M’tucci’s Bar Roma’s grand opening coincided with my first article. I was ecstatic. Luckily, I moved three minutes away from M’tucci’s Moderno in Rio Rancho.
My typical, somewhat snobby tradition is simple. Read menu online, observe atmosphere, review collection of spirits and wine list, order 3-5 appetizers, and taste accordingly. Rinse and repeat. M’tucci’s Moderno passed with flying colors, and this is where I met John and Austin. I pummeled them with questions nonstop until, perhaps forcibly, we became friends.
It is pretty essential to know where your food comes from. M’tucci’s takes it one step further. Want to know where your beef comes from? Tuscan Cattle Company in El Paso. Pork? Sackett Farms in Iowa. It’s easy to read a box, but M’tucci’s goes above and beyond. They know the farmers. They have gone to Italy. In the building right behind Bar Roma, they make the bread, pasta, and pizza doughs with a natural sourdough starter. They have pride in their work because they know where it comes from.
What more can a restaurant do? From a profit and loss standpoint, running a restaurant is pretty cut and dry. To strive for perfection is another thing altogether. Although perfection is unattainable, why not strive for it? Why settle for mediocrity when you can become something great.
I have had the exciting opportunity of watching M’tucci’s Bar Roma come to life. I saw it six months ago as a rundown remnant of an old popular hangout. I had never had the pleasure of stepping into Kelly’s Brew Pub, but I often hear the same thing, “the patio was great.” I can assure you that the inside of the new M’tucci’s Bar Roma will not only be a reason to come to Nob Hill, but that the whole experience will be completely transformed. The patio will be full, but so will the inside.
Covid has done a number on Nob Hill and Albuquerque in general. Still, I can already feel the energy being brought back, and that’s only from seeing it in an empty restaurant, not to mention what it will be like it at its 300+ capacity. It almost brings chills thinking about it.
With “provisions”, the production center of M’tucci’s positioned in the building behind, the new heart of M’tuccis has landed. All of them have their own unique identity, with great chefs creating new and innovative dishes at each individual location. You can see the future is beginning to come to fruition for what truly is M’tucci’s. With sausage production, cured meats, and much more to be created behind what will be the new hang out for M’tucci’s lovers. I am pretty certain that longtime patrons will venture down for a scene that will offer them a unique restaurant experience and expand their knowledge to a greater extent than before.
I am pleased to say that I am friends with the hard-working group that is M’tucci’s staff. I wish I could list every person I know, but the list would continue from Chefs to partners to hostesses, servers, and bartenders. I am truly honored to say that I am your friend and commend you all for your hard work, perseverance, and effort you have all put in to create new and lasting energy in Nob Hill.
P2. The Review
I went to M’tucci’s Bar Roma for my review on opening day. Although I knew going to any restaurant on opening day would be the worst possible day to see what it had to offer, I had faith. I believed wholeheartedly in what they were planning to showcase that they would deliver. I wrote in the first part of my review that I believed the new Bar Roma was going to elevate M’tucci’s cuisine to a new level. It did with a flavor combination of deep-seated in old Roman profiles and techniques that would impress any palate.
While I didn’t get a chance to describe the interior of the restaurant very much, typically, great food can supersede any need for a beautiful dining room. M’tucci’s has gone to great lengths to provide both. You feel as if you have been transplanted into an upscale but still casual Italian eatery. The walls are adorned with professional black and white photos of M’tucci’s trip to Italy. A large black granite bar and beautiful light fixtures balanced with soft greys and blue make the whole experience incredibly inviting.
M’tucci’s Bar Roma has brought the kitchen to the dining room. They passed out a limited menu—various options from salumis and cheeses to Roman classics. True to form, I ordered every single item listed under the “Cichetti” section, a Venetian term for “snacks” or, quite literally, small plates. The small dishes were all cooked at a “charcuterie” bar positioned nearly in the middle of the dining room. They even have seats available to enjoy excellent wine and cocktails while going through the various small plates and watching as they are prepared. It was nice to be there early enough in the day, so when I ordered “One of each Cichetti” to the server, she seemed surprised, but the kitchen crew jumped at the opportunity as the ticket rolled in.
The plates came out, and I knew which one I would start with—the confit octopus. As the chef/owner of my restaurant and experience cooking, this would be a good test. I know it was opening day, but why not? If you don’t know, octopus needs to be cooked very low and slow, which is why confit octopus is an excellent option. For those that don’t know, “confit” is typically a French method of cooking meat with its own fat typically to preserve. Octopus has a minimal amount of at, so I am sure some type of oil is used, and the octopus would be salted and slowly simmered with herbs. This is done for two reasons, tenderizing the very rubbery texture of octopus and absorbing some flavor from the medium. The octopus served was near perfect.
After I moved on to a series of housemade flatbreads and crackers topped with various cheese, candied pancetta, and cured salmon, it was a wide variety of techniques and old school methods of cooking that all came together incredibly. Each plate was indeed a demonstration of balancing salt, fat, acid, and heat. I would dare add sweetness to the level of complexity of the dishes with such ingredients as candied pancetta and preserved raisins.
I ordered the housemade bread to go with the small plates. I didn’t read the menu under the description, but they are now offering some housemade butter to go alongside the fresh bread. My taste testing partner is a huge fan of garlic, so we ordered the garlic butter, and I went with the Colonnata butter. It was described as “pork fat” butter to me. I immediately dove into the “Pork Fat” butter, and I knew what it was that I was eating, Lardo. From my cooking days in Denver, I remember us curing pork fat in salt, herbs, spices, and garlic in large cambro’s covered with black plastic bags.
This is a technique the crew picked up from none only than Dario Cecchini, the famous butcher of Italy, and from season six of probably the best food-related television show and my favorite learning experience, “Chef’s Table .”
This technique takes a minimum of six months to cure properly. On this subject alone, I can write an entire article. Colonnata Butter, written as an option under the “House Bread” menu item, is worth a standing ovation. This process dates to the Roman times and is now being presented to you, Albuquerque, in the most unassuming way. Please try this. I know the difficulty of making this wonderful, cured spread, and it is done perfectly for you.
I continued my tasting with the beautifully balanced soups and a perfectly cooked piece of Pork Belly. M’tucci’s didn’t just meet my expectations; they blew it away. From what I had today, everyone who knows anything about good food will be visiting M’tucci’s Bar Roma as soon as possible. They have not only elevated the level of cuisine that M’tucci’s has already established but have introduced a new level for the people of this town to taste and learn. I believe this has been M’tucci’s plan from the beginning. Start with something people love, educate, elevate and evolve.
I love going to Italian, almost 2-3 times per week. I always order the clams; this started right before Thanksgiving. Chef Cory has continued to evolve and perfect this dish since then. If this is day one for M’tucci’s Bar Roma, I can not imagine how the food will be within six months, 12 months, or years? Executive Chef Damian has already hit a home run. How much can you continue? Where are you going, M’tucci’s? I, for one, am delighted with the possibilities.
Photography by: Michael Lewis
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