A fabulous Bistro in Placitas
- A small European-style restaurant.
- A small bar or pub.
A bistro is, in its original Parisian incarnation, a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting. Bistros are defined mostly by the foods they serve. Home cooking with robust earthy dishes, and slow-cooked foods like cassoulet are typical.
Bistros likely developed out of the basement kitchens of Parisian apartments where tenants paid for both room and board. Landlords could supplement their income by opening their kitchen to the paying public. Menus were built around foods that were simple, could be prepared in quantity and would keep over time. Wine and coffee were also served. The limited space for diners in these cramped corners prompted the tradition of adding table service to the footpath. As the idea caught hold, architecture and menus both became more specific.
The origins of the word bistro are uncertain. Some say that it may derive from the Russian bystro (быстро), “quickly”. According to an urban legend, it entered the French language during the Russian occupation of Paris in 1815. Russian cossacks who wanted to be served quickly would shout “bystro.” However, this etymology is not accepted by several French linguists as there is, notably, no occurrence of this word until the end of the 19th century. Others say the name comes from a type of aperitif, called a bistrouille (or liqueur coffee), served in some reasonably priced restaurants.
Urbanspoon lists 23 currently open dining places in the Duke City area with bistroin their names. Several of my favorites are on this list: Corrales Bistro Brewery, St. Clair Winery & Bistro, and le Cafe Miche Bistro. These are places that I would eat and drink in anytime.
Add Blade’s Bistro to this short list, and it is by far the best of these place s that I have found.
Our first visit to Blade’s was last Friday to celebrate my burthday. I quickly found that
- Blade’s serves the best sweetbreads that I have had since ithe late ’60s when I had then every other week for six months straight at La Grenouille on Clark Street in Chicago,
- The bread pudding cracked my top five list,
- Julia Child’s traditions are alive and living in Placitas, and
- Blade’s Bistro cracked my Albuquerque Top Ten List. Easily.
But I get ahead of myself.
Blades’ Bistro in beautiful and historic Placitas with its warm atmosphere offers uncomplicated, unpretentious food and daily specials that keep you coming back often. Bistro cuisine is a mix of European and American influence. This is all done with high quality ingredients, “the melting pot of taste”. A little of this and a little of that make rustic food so inviting. This is all brought together country side in a classical Bistro setting.
Classically trained Chef Kevin Bladergroen was born in Rochester, New York, raised in a military family traveling all over the US and Europe. He developed a passion for food at his mother’s table and from the earliest days he was always asking his mother “what’s for dinner”. Coming from a big family, the dinner table was a major place in his life and it still is. He started his professional career in 1975 at Casa Vieja, a small restaurant in Corrales, New Mexico. This experience motivated him in 1978 to move to Paris, France to attend the well-known cooking school “La Varenne.”
After an extended period managing a restaurant/bistro near Maastricht in the Netherlands, Kevin returned to the US with wife Anja in 2002 and commenced a professional odyssey by motor home through the US working in various restaurants with chefs he admired, to learn different cooking techniques and widen his professional and culinary knowledge. This journey included a small coastal resort town in Maine, the mountains of Aspen, Colorado and Pebble Beach, California—to mention a few. At each one of these stops he had the privilege to work under and along side highly dedicated inspired chefs and cooks, restaurant owners and managers (sometime all-in-one), who have provided him invaluable insights into the drive, passion, and organizational talent that establishes and sustains top quality restaurants.
His menu at Blades´ Bistro is a culinary journey from the last 30 years. His cooking philosophy involves using quality ingredients and keeping it simple. His cooking is also inspired by his surroundings; with Blades´ Bistro he will have plenty of inspiration.
For this special occasion, Jane and I decided to blow off our diet for an evening. We were rewarded with one of the finest meals that we have had anywhere in oue 3-1/2 years in Corrales. As we entered, we were greeted by a sweet hostess who apologized for not having Larry as our server that evening—he took the day off. We were seated at a small table next to another small table next to another small table (and so it goes here) by our friendly and accomplished server Marina. She expertly and tenderly explained the evening’s specials to us, and I nearly swooned when she announced Ris de Veau. So we ordered a feast of Bistro Salad, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Ris de Veau with finishers of Bread Pudding (I, along with my friend Gil Garduño—New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite— am a bread pudding freak) and Chocolate Chili [sic] Pot.
Grilled salmon, shrimp and pancetta, mixed greens w/house vinaigrette. The salmon and the shrimp had that smoky taste imparted from the hot grill surfaces without being dried out or bitter. The pancetta was cooked as it should be—firm, and neither crispy nor oily. Greens were crisp and gently covered with a slightly acidic vinaigrette that complemented toe tastes of the main ingredients. The serving, while not huge, would be quite suitable for a lunch meal with some fresh bread. Fine start.
Ris de Veau
Sweetbreads or ris are culinary names for the thymus (throat, gullet, or neck sweetbread) or the pancreas (heart, stomach, or belly sweetbread) especially of the calf (ris de veau) and lamb (ris d’agneau) (although beef and pork sweetbreads are also eaten). Various other glands used as food are also called ‘sweetbreads’, including the parotid gland (“cheek” or “ear” sweetbread), the sublingual glands (“tongue” sweetbreads or “throat bread”), and testicles (cf.Rocky Mountain oyster). The “heart” sweetbreads are more spherical in shape, and surrounded symmetrically by the “throat” sweetbreads, which are more cylindrical in shape.
One common preparation of sweetbreads involves soaking in salt water, then poaching in milk, after which the outer membrane is removed. Once dried and chilled, they are often breaded and fried. They are also used for stuffing or in pâtés. They are grilled in many Latin American cuisines, such as in the Argentine asado, and served in bread in Turkish cuisine.
The word “sweetbread” is first attested in the 16th century, but the logic behind the name is unclear. “Sweet” is perhaps used since the thymus is sweet and rich tasting, as opposed to savory tasting muscle flesh. “Bread” may come from brede ‘roasted meat’.
There are many ways to cook sweetbreads, and you should read some of the sewwtbread recipes. Kevin’s version is done in a rich and complex cream sauce with bits of apple that have softened during the cooking. Served with whipped potatos, carrots, and red cabbage, I could have sworn that I had been transported to the French countryside. This is an outstanding French peasant dish that you need to try after you get over the notion that you are eating the pancreas of a veal.
In 1961 when I was a poor (but not starving) graduate student, the culinary world was shaken by the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1:Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck (Knopf, 1961),. This is the book that put fine French cooking within the reach of most Americans. When I read the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe from Child’s I (as it became known), my perception of stews (a grad student staple) was forever changed.
Of course Kevin prepares a version of Boeuf Bourguignon else the place would not live up to its heritage as a European-style bistro. This is comfort food of the highest caliber. His version is rich and complex with an unbelievable blending of meat and vegetable tastes. Is this the best Boeuf Bourguignon I have ever had? It is impossible to answer that question because the best Boeuf Bourguignon you are likely to have is the one on the plate before you no matter where you are. Kevin’s is great. But so was the first one I ever made a half0century ago.
The bread pudding I encountered as a lad growing up in Baltimore was always made with stale old bread, and usually had a nasty texture. In the capable hands of Kevin, this dish achieves its rightful place among the food of the Olympian gods. This version has an impeccable texture—neither too dense nor too creamy, but just right. The bread is larded with chocolate that softened and intensified when heated, and it is served with a perfectly created caramel sauce that has that slight caramelized sugar flavor that I love in mu flans. This bread pudding is so extraordinary that it broke into my top five bread pudding list [are you listening, Gil?].
Chocolate Chili Pot
Pot de crème , is a loose French dessert custarddating to the 17th Century. The name means “pot of custard” or “pot of creme”, which also refers to the porcelain cups in which the dessert is served. It is usually looser than other custards, flans, or crème caramel. Pot de crème is made with eggs, egg yolks, cream, milk, and a flavor, often vanilla or chocolate. The milk and cream are heated and flavored, then mixed into the whisked eggs and egg yolks. The mixture is strained and poured into cups, which are then baked in a water bath at low heat.
The version served at Blade’s is made with dark chocolate and Chimayó red chile with lime juice. The initial taste has a hint of acidity from the lime, then the chocolate kicks in with a vengence, and finally the back of the mouth says, “Whoa. There’s some Chimayó red in here.” The taste and mouth feel of this dessert is amazing, and not to be missed.
I had a hard time selecting our menu for this visit because there are at least six of my favorite dishes on the menu and several more were on the evening’s special list. Things like rabbit stew. I guess we will need to return here often, which will not be a problem. Was this a perfect meal? Nearly so. I was not sitting by a roaring fire. It was surely among the very best I have ever had in New Mexico.
Read the menu. Drool. Blade’s is not to be missed.
What others are saying…
“Blades’ Bistro, which opened on March 19th, 2009, has greatly narrowed the distance to fine-dining for Placitas residents while rekindling fond memories of fabulous gourmet experiences at the long defunct Cafe De Las Placitas. For diners who frequent the former, comparisons to the latter will be inevitable–and they will be favorable. In fact, Blades’ Bistro might soon be a standard by which restaurant greatness will be measured–not just in Placitas, but throughout northern New Mexico. It’s that good!”
By Jim Hammond
“Blades Bistro is located in Placitas on Highway 165, a road that climbs the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. The bistro is in a small cluster of shops, and it was warm and welcoming on a cold December evening. The bar area occupies one wall, with dark wood shelves reaching to the high ceiling. A divider separates the bar patrons from the diners. The dining area is cozy rather than crowded, and the exhibition kitchen is classy. This night the conversation level was moderate but excited, and I knew why.
Top Ten List Ranking: #6
221 State Highway 165 #L
Placitas, NM 87043
Yo! What a great ‘painting’ of Blades!
Whoa! My late Vieja used to grab my ears and say “Ya…you listen, BUT you don’t hear!!” Finally, while I’m sure you’ve looked at other blatherings about Blade’s, now you’ve finally seen!!! LOL
I just hope your excellent review doesn’t make it so that the “dinner hour” is now moved earlier whereby I can’t slip in sans a reservation on a weekend.
Pardon if I may Larry, but just to clarify for a reader as I myself am fluorophobic when dining: the first pic above is toward “la cuisine qui est ouverte”, which does have limited seating for observationing. As shot, the photo may suggest the place is bathed in fluorescent lighting! Indeed, the lighting is subdued reflecting the ambiance of a fine dining experience.
Need an excuse to drive “way out there”? Consider spending some time Christmas shopping at the 30th Annual Placitas Holiday Arts & Crafts sale just a bit up the road http://www.placitasholidaysale.com/
(Psst: Just for The Larry as a cyber acquaintance: If you haven’t signed up for their Friday email of Especials, go here
http://www.bladesbistro.com/join.htm so ya don’t miss out on a periodic Beef Wellington or Filet of Oscar etc. Shhh!)
So you like Blade’s, right Bob?
I’m listening Larry…and lusting lasciviously over your description of the bread pudding. If it cracked your top five, it’s got to be food for the gods, indeed. We don’t get up to Placitas often enough even though it’s practically next door. Thanks for motivating me to visit Blades Bistro soon.
BTW, we’ve got to work on our colleague Ari LaVaux who doesn’t have the same high opinion of Blades you and I share. I suspect he’s been off the lactose for too long.
Ari lives in Placitas, too.
Blade’s really blew my mind. Holy whatchamacallit…
I have to say, more people disagree with my Blades assessment than almost any other review I’ve written.
Part of my underwhelmed takeaway was based on the pork chop I was served, which was as raw in the middle as a piece of seared ahi tuna. I realize this may have been a freak mistake, but when, as a food critic, someone serves you a raw pork chop you’re duty bound to mention that in the review. The replacement chop, which was adequately cooked (and stealthily cut into just to make sure), tasted overwhelmingly of salt.
Indeed, part of my distaste was a personal rejection of the Blade’s “Euro Tourist” style of food, which I found too buttery and salty – both of which are shortcuts that can obscure real flavor. Unlike many, I don’t consider French food to be the pinnacle of culinary evolution – at least, not the kind that’s widely served in restaurants, which seems to be pining for long-lost buttery glory. While I had some outstanding meals there, I had to work to find them, and still returned home constipated. I prefer my Boeuf Bourguignon without all the butter and flour, and would happily submit mine for judgement against Julia Child’s 42-step tap dance.
Nor am I a fan of salads that come weighted down with protein and cheese. But I have to admit that as I looked around the room at dinners happily plucking the shrimp off their salads and leaving the greens behind, I had to wonder if I’m in such a minority that I should just keep my mouth shut. If everyone else likes it, then what’s the point of complaining about it? I tried, at least, to describe their salads in a way that wouldn’t turn off those who like their salads engineered for people who don’t like leaves.
That said, I’ve returned a few times to sit at the bar and eat one of those chocolate Chimayo chile pots de creme, which I did praise in my review, lactose notwithstanding. To me, this was an example of what Blades could be if it tried harder to fuze European and New Mexican styles. And I really liked the ambiance of the place, and the bartender’s hair. But other than the occasional snack attack I’ve been spending my money elsewhere. That said, I might re-review it at some point, as the bistro had barely been open a month when I first visited. Hopefully the sweetbreads will still be on the menu.
“Tried harder to fuze European and New Mexican”!!??
Shortly after moving here a neighbor responded “Trombino’s” to my question “what’s the best Italian” restaurant in ALB I quickly learned about that fusion when their basic red sauce was laced with NM red chiles.
If that’s the ‘fuze” that Mr. LeVaux is missing at Blade’s he’ll always be disappointed, except seemingly in their outstanding Chimayo pots de creme. Doh!
He should stick to Trombino’s with their chile laced marinara and their hit and miss consistency.
Well said, Bruce.
I have yet to go to Trombino’s, and I suspect that I never will.
Why bother when Torinos’ @ Home is around. And Nicky V’s. And Luigi’s (yeah, really). Even Paisano for the GF folks.
I have tried to find Buccatini alla Amatriciana for about 6 years since reading about it in a NY Times food article.
The authentic recipe calls for smoked pig jowls (guanciale) and most eateries use pancetta or bacon in its stead.
Torino’s is the first restaurant I’ve been that made it in the traditional manner.
The food is terrific and I will be there on a regular basis and expect it confirm and reconfirm my opinion that restaurants with a combo of husband cooking and a wife running the front of the house is a winning combo.
And Torino’s makes a fabulous Pasta Fagioli, the white based version.
My first visit was a study in decision making.
I really appreciate it when my decisions are difficult but always result in a winner.