Second Helpings

Julia Blackbird's

Back in the day (June 2004, to be specific), I hated Julia Blackbird's with a rare and fiery passion. I hated it for its knock-off New Mexican cuisine, for its terrible earth-tone decor, for its cheap, up-from-frozen appetizers and the people who ordered them — smiling blissfully as they shoveled them into their chomping maws. I hated it because I'd recently been released from the smothering embrace of the Land of Enchantment, and if there was one thing about Albuquerque I'd loved, it was the food. "This restaurant's interpretation of New Mexico is not the New Mexico I knew and loved and lived in," I wrote of Julia Blackbird's. "It offers little more than a nickel tour through a sightseer's paradise and all the flavors you'd get from licking a tour-bus window." I was pretty rough.

But that was then, and I don't know whether I've mellowed over the years or Julia Blackbird's owner, Julia Siegfried-Garrison, and her kitchen have gotten significantly better, but after a long lunch there last week, I must confess that I like this place a lot more than I once did.

For starters, the posole — once a teasing, weak and forgettable mess of soggy pork and red chile — was now a powerful and delicious riff on the classic New Mexican comfort food, a strong mix of tender hominy, braised pork and savory red chile with a flamethrower lick of heat. And my shrimp burrito was a model of simplicity: big shrimp, crumbled Mexican cheese, fresh avocado and nothing else but a cup of green chile on the side. Oddly, the one thing on the Julia Blackbird's menu that's gotten worse since I last reviewed the place was the green chile — which has gone from a passable imitation of good Chimayo verde to a thick and sticky Colorado version that's an insult to all this chile's forebears.

The menu still includes calabacitas, as well as grilled elote, fideo and rellenos (fried hard, not eggy) — all the touchstones of New Mexican food. I still don't understand the potatoes in the Navajo stew, and I'm pissed about the $3 that the house charges for chips and salsa without warning. But aside from that, I'm glad to report that sometime over the past three years, Julia Blackbird's has pulled itself together and started serving a cuisine at least within hollering distance of the area from which it takes its inspiration.