What's New in ABQ

 New Mexico Magazine - April 2014

Set on the edge of the Río Grande bosque on the Westside, M’Tucci’s Kitchina serves savory Northern Italian dishes. Restaurateurs Katie Gardner and Jeff Spiegel and Chef John Hass opened the living-room-comfortable, highly convivial eatery last summer, and it has consistently earned rave reviews. This spring, the menu gets a reboot, retaining customer favorites such as the grilled Caesar salad and adding dozens of new menu items, such as arancini (fried rice balls) and four daily specials, including risotto, braised meats, seafood, and a rotisserie item. The sipping selection has also expanded, with 10 new wines on the list, to go with a creative cocktail menu anchored by an extraordinary cucumber-basil gimlet.
— Ashley M. Biggers, Writer, New Mexico Magazine
 

Spring Dining Issue

 Local IQ  - April 2014

Whether it’s a matter of distance or avoiding the dreaded westbound traffic, the Westside doesn’t seem to come up as a dining option for those on the Eastside. Back in August 2013, a new reason to make the trip to the Westside emerged in the form of M’Tucci’s Kitchina.

The modern Italian cuisine at M’Tucci’s goes beyond the confines of spaghetti and meatballs to introduce the Duke City to the finer side of Italian cooking. Chef John Haas’ creative hand guides diners through a menu of rich dishes like Pan Seared Duck Breast ($19) with creamy polenta, braised kale, caramelized onions and a cherry balsamic reduction. You can still find Italian tradition in the form of dishes like Gnocchi di Verdure ($14) with grilled veggies, tomato, spicy marinara and pecorino.

M’Tucci’s isn’t just about the dimly-lit romantics of Italian dining. If you head in for lunch, you’ll find yourself poring over a menu of panini like the Al-Bq Italian Beef ($10) — a twist on the popular Italian beef sandwich in Chicago that has roasted beef, giardinera, au jus and green chile. Or you could just post up at the wine bar and leisurely snack on some Bruschetta ($5).

Still can’t get over the distance? M’Tucci’s owner, Jeff Spiegel’s Facebook post says otherwise. “I just got to M’Tucci’s Kitchina. It took me 15 minutes door to door from Uptown.” There you have it. M’Tucci’s is closer than it seems, so get in there!
— Justin De La Rosa, Writer _ Local IQ

Tasting New Mexico

New Mexico Magazine - October 2014

I’ve found myself recently at 3 very different but exciting more-or-less Italian restaurants. You need to check each of these out. All are open for lunch through dinner, which gives you plenty of options about when to visit, even when the city’s as bustling as it will be over the next couple of weeks.

M’Tucci’s Kitchina. The newest of the 3 and the most varied in its dishes, this friendly place is off to a smoking start. Settle in with a plate of the Polenta Grigliata and you may never leave. Perfectly textured polenta gets a crusty searing on the grill, then comes to the table loaded with goat cheese, a red chile-kissed marinara, and a shower of fresh basil. And speaking of perfect texture, the eggplant parmesan here gets it totally right. The eggplant rounds are divinely crispy outside and melting in the middle. Pizza crusts come out of the wood-fired oven as they should too. You can order the expected combos, as well as an Italian Christmas with red and green chile. Unless you’re adverse to high quality fresh anchovies, though, check out the Bianca, a white pizza with ricotta, arugula, marinated red peppers, and those briny little fish.

Owners and active hosts Jeff and Katie Spiegel operated restaurants in New York some years ago, before moving to the Duke City, where Jeff grew up. They just couldn’t stay away from the business and we are luckier for that. They set a fun and casual tone, and plan to keep the prices family-friendly. Jeff and Katie chose young ball-of-fire John Haas as their chef. John hails from the middle of the Midwest, just like I do. We talked pork and sausage and plenty about real barbecue. No surprise then that Chef John serves up a hefty wine-braised Kurobuta pork shank with a ragout of borlotti beans and vegetables. At least share the “Twinkie,” a zeppelin size fantasy of sponge cake with a cream-and-white-chocolate center under candied pecans and a caramel drizzle.

M’Tucci’s offers a full bar, with a Cucumber Basil Vodka Gimlet to swoon over. I’m not usually one for martini spin-offs but once I spied the burgundy-topped Kitchini, I had to try it too. A splash of Malbec floats over a blend of raspberry vodka with a little lime juice. Perfectly balanced.
— Cheryl Jamison, Food Writer - New Mexico Magazine

Gils Thrilling (and Filling) Blog

www.nmgastronome.com

Step into the expansive dining room and the playfulness hinted by the restaurant’s name continues. Our immediate impression was “Laissez les bon temps roulette” (let the good times roll) as in New Orleans Mardi Gras. That impression was gleaned from the colorful Mardi Gras-like masks on several walls and a life-sized alligator on another. Then there’s the pergola–large enough to accommodate a table for seven–with an ominous lizard crawling down the roof. There’s something to pique your interest everywhere you turn.

The colorful masks (which are easily mistaken for those widely seen in New Orleans) are Venetian, a staple of the Carnival of Venice. The alligator…well, he’s there because co-owners Jeff Spiegel and Katie Gardner like him. The chandeliered pergola is designated for feting guests celebrating a special occasion. When we commented on the restaurant’s “wildly eclectic ambiance” Katie explained that she’s a wildly eclectic person. A very active Facebook presence and (mostly) glowing reviews by print and online media (including Cheryl Alters Jamison for (New Mexico Magazine) have helped tremendously, but word-of-mouth from satisfied guests (especially those returning) is a major catalyst for drawing new guests. In October, 2013, scant months of its July launch, M’Tucci’s finished as runner-up in the Alibi’s Best of Burque Restaurants as the “best restaurant on the west side.”

While the ambiance bespeaks of fun and whimsy, the menu includes some seriously good dining options, some heretofore unseen in the Duke City. It’s impossible to pigeonhole this modern contemporary Italian restaurant which offers playful takes on classic dishes as well as a bit of local flavor (it’s virtually impossible to have a menu in New Mexico without red and green chile). Six Neapolitan-style pizzas are prepared in a wood-burning pizza oven. The bar menu, which varies daily, includes tapas-style small plates.

19 April 2014: One of the most exquisite appetizers on the M’Tucci’s menu is the fried brie. Call it a finely choreographed symphony of simple flavors which go so well together. A wedge of soft brie is sheathed beneath a crisp, light, golden crust. It’s intended to be spread onto thinly sliced, pomegranate glazed grilled baguette. From there you’re on your own. You can then add crisp apple slices, strawberries and even mixed greens, a brie sandwich of sorts. The warm silkiness of the brie amplifies the tanginess of the apples and strawberries and the bitterness of the greens.

5 October 2013: Much as we admire the monogamy of ducks, it’s hard to resist the beautiful feathered waterfowl when it’s on the plate and it looks so inviting. The pan-seared duck breast with creamy polenta, braised kale, caramelized onions and a cherry Balsamic reduction is so good, it’ll mitigate any guilt we might feel. The duck breast is perfectly prepared and sliced thinly. The end pieces are slightly crispy. The polenta, often a “take it or leave it” dish is definitely a “take it” at M’Tucci’s. It’s creamy, light and fluffy and it inherits additional flavor from the braised kale and caramelized onions which blanket the polenta.

19 April 2014: One of the most ambitious items on the menu is the Risotto Del Giorno, a daily risotto special featuring seasonal ingredients. Even the most intrepid of chefs avoid risotto because it’s easy to make simple mistakes that ruin the dish. You’ve got to admire Chef Hass’s gumption. He doesn’t just prepare risotto on special occasions, he’s got the temerity to offer it every day. The triumvirate of mahi mahi, shrimp and mussels in a sumptuous and rich saffron sauce was absolutely perfect. The saffron imparts the color of a sunny disposition and a uniquely umami quality. The seafood is fresh and delicious. The rice is a smidgeon past al dente, a textural success.

10 October 2013: Of the six pizzas offered at M’Tucci’s, only two of them are made with tomato sauce. The Alla Campagna starts with a beauteous golden brown crust topped with goat cheese, caramelized onions, rosemary, pancetta and Balsamic glaze. The crust is a little thicker than some Neapolitan-style pizzas, especially the cornicione (an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza) which is thick, soft and chewy. It’s also delicious with the flavor of freshly baked bread. The Alla Campagna’s ingredients provide wonderful taste contrasts which not only make it an interesting pizza, but a delicious one.

5 October 2013: Desserts aren’t only spectacular, they’re inventive–some of the Duke City’s most unique and uniquely delicious pastries. The most inventive might be the Twinkie L’Italia which Cheryl Alters Jamison described as “zeppelin size fantasy of sponge cake with a cream-and-white-chocolate center under candied pecans and a caramel drizzle.” Fantasy is right! This is a terrific dessert. So is the Cannoli Di Sicilia (crispy cannoli shell, sweet ricotta filling, chocolate chips) with tantalizing citrus notes.

10 October 2013: Another transformative dessert is the Crostada De Limone, a lip-pursing lemon tart as artistic and beautiful to ogle as it is to eat. It’s one of few lemon tarts in the Duke City that’s actually made well in that it doesn’t reek of artificial ingredients and flavors. The lemon is actually allowed to taste like lemon, not artificial in the least. It’s the type of lemon dessert you might find in Florida. Desserts at this fantastic new Italian restaurant are fantastic. That’s courtesy of pastry chef Eric Moshier who was named America’s best new chef in 2000 by Food& Wine. With that type of pedigree you know the desserts are going to be spectacular.

You can never have too many good Italian restaurants in town. It’s a bit early to tell, but with a formula that includes great food and great fun, M’Tucci’s Kitchina has the right stuff needed to succeed in a tough market.
— Gil Black