Third visit: January 2, 2014
First visit: November 15, 2013
On October 26, 2013, Chef Frans Dinkelmann and General Manager Dolores Welk-Jack opened their tiny new restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Ulla and Mogens Hansen’s le Cafe Miche Bistro (the Hansens are now doing their thing on Taos).
This is a tiny place with six tables inside and four on a patio. There is no formal menu. All selections are written on a chalkboard, and change often, sometimes daily, depending on what fresh and organic goodies they find at the markets. It is hard to classify the cuisines — the Facebook page lists American (Traditional), Barbeque, Brunch, Diners, French, Greek and Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican, Seafood, Soul Food, and Vegan as possible choices. You might not know what’s up on any day until you walk in the door. Don’t worry — it’s all fantastic.
So. What came up on the wheel for our initial visit?
Roasted vegetable stew
This is a hearty stew that will more than satisfy you on a Fall or Winter day. It contains root vegetables: carrots, turnips, celery root, parsnips, and onions in a hearty broth that is superbly herbed. The veggies are roasted individually because each one requires different roasting times. The chef’s attention to such details as this are his hallmark.
You say you don’t like root vegetables? Try this and it will change your mind forever.
Bison short ribs
Bison meat is less fatty than most other ribs. These ribs are falling-off-the-bone tender and covered with a rich and complex reduction. They are served with a cake of polenta that is lightly crisped on the outside and not soggy on the inside. And here come the roasted vegetables: golden beets. I usually avoid beets. But I will come back here specifically for these. Incredibly good taste and texture. This plate contains an almost perfect choice of ingredients.
Smoked pork tenderloin
I often cook pork tenderloins at home, and yeah, I can smoke them. But not like Frans. This dish is brought to the table under a tight-fitting clear plastic dome. When Dorothy removed the dome, the smoky vapors set this plate apart from anything like it. Aromas are an essential component of any dish, and this one was a winner from the very start. The pork was tender, juicy, and just past the juicy pink stage. Perfect.
And then, as usual, there were the vegetables. Brussels sprouts done the way I do them at home (I pan-roast them halved with a hint of garlic) and medallions of sweet potato completed the dish. What an amazing blend of tastes and aromas. This dish has made its way onto my Best Dishes of 2013 list.
The fish with redundant names is usually tasteless and needs some real punching up. Well, that’s what it gets here. This lightly grilled fish sits atop a bed oh fennel and seaweed (yeah!), and is covered with a delicate beurre blanc. Deanell eschewed the rice, as would i. Deanell ate the whole thing and threatened to lick the plate clean. Ir was fabulous and cooked perfectly.
Wagyu Beef Brisket
Brisket is one of my favorite cuts—and Wagyu brisket is the hands-down, best brisket I have ever had. This popular cut, taken from the breast, lends itself to a wide variety of uses from braising to smoking to curing for corned beef.
Traditionally, brisket is cooked long and slow to ensure the tenderness of the finished dish. Lower-grade briskets have rather lean meat and a cap of fat that can vary in thickness. Wagyu brisket has abundant marbling that bastes the meat from the inside as it cooks and a substantial fat cap that bastes the meat from the top down throughout the entire cooking process. Texans barbecue this cut, and that seems criminal to me.
Frans served me a huge heap of some of the tenderest and tastiest meat that I have had in New Mexico. Falling apart tender and juicy. It is served atop a bed of perfectly cooked fresh green beans (hard to find at this time of the year) and a bottom layer of russet potatos. The potatos are twice cooked. First, boiled with skins on and then roasted to crisp the skins. The boiling cooks the inside uniformly, and the potatos are mandolined to about 1/4-inch thick. This is a beautiful treatment for the lowly potato. Even though I am not supposed to eat white stuff, I fully intend to cheat when Frans dies this again. I glt too full to finish the potatos, but notice that there is no meat or beans left on the plate.
Wow. This dish is a masterpiece. But I have come to expect this treatment from this highly skilled chef.
Chocolate Ryan cake
We didn’t think we would need dessert. Wrong. Dolores told us of this chocolate cake that she had made especially for a regular patron named Ryan. Many chocolate cakes are too rich and moist, almost to be near the texture of heavy paste. Delores’ cake was light and airy, a delightful surprise. A few fresh orange segments and some candied nuts (with a hint of cinnamon) completed the dish. If Dolores has made this cake when you are there, get it. Please.
So, what’s the verdict?
An outstanding dining experience is not just about the food (the food here is outstanding), bit must include the atmosphere, service, and a sense of joie de vivre. From the moment we walked through the door, we felt as if we were part of a growing family. Every one coming in was known to Frans and Dolores. And we all talked with each other. They all knew each other, and now we know all of them. The place, being small, encourages such friendliness.
I intend to be a regular.
BTW, the bill for two of us with four dishes was about $42. It is evident that managing a small and ever-changing menu can keep prices down. What a bargain.
But wait — there’s more
We found out about Bouche when we called La Bella Vino Winery, a winery, wine shop, and tasting room that is just next door. We asked if they served food, and they explained that they have a symbiotic relationship with Bouche. Taste away, and if you get hungry, they will call over to Bouche and have what you want brought over. And when dining in Bouche, they will get wine for you from La Bella. Can’t beat that.
Bouche is now #7 on my Top Ten List.