French peasant food at its best
First visit: February 3, 2012
Chez Axel is a charming French restaurant that was launched in 1996. Owner-chef is Stefan Springer. Axel is the child of the previous owner. Stefan acquired the restaurant in 2004 from his very good friend Christophe Vasero and kept the name because Axel was very close to Stefan as well.
In 2010, Chef Springer was named Chef of the Year by the New Mexico Restaurant Association, a huge recognition. Rightfully so, and I will tell you why.
Chez Axel is a smallish and thoroughly charming place. Decorations are subdued, there are wine bottles displayed on some of the walls, and the lighting is utterly romantic. There was a talented piano player performing softly and gently when we were there. He played a piano adaptation of the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, Andante (“Elvira Madigan“). This is a double barreled beauty: the Mozart is among my favorite movements, and the movie Elvira Madigan is one of the most beautiful ever filmed—the cinematography and co;or are spectacular. And then he broke into the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Sets the mood for a beautiful and serene evening. The food and service is the equal of the music: beautiful.
Chez Axel’s menu is classic French countryside bistro stuff: Frog’s legs, Cassoulet, Beef Bourguignon a l’orange, Fillet grilee, Red snapper in Saffron, Salmon cooked in Roasted Garlic:, and much more. Soups are excellent, as are the desserts. Each meal starts with a basket of delicious French bread with lightly herbed butter. Resist the temptation to overdo the bread: Save room for the entrées and the desserts.
Onion soup with beef juice, red wine, herbs, croutons, Swiss cheese, tomato, garlic, fresh herbs. Onion soups have been popular at least as far back as Roman times. They were, throughout history, seen as food for poor people, as onions were plentiful and easy to grow. The modern version of this soup originates in France in the 18th century made from beef broth, and caramelized onions. It is often finished by being placed under a grill in a ramekin traditionally with croutons and gruyère melted on top. The crouton on top is reminiscent of ancient soups (see History of Soup).
Chef Springer’s version is the best I have had in New Mexico. Rich and flavorful, and the chese strings down from your spoon as you dip it out of the bowl.
Creamy with shallots and coriander (hot or cold). There are as many ways to make carrot soup as there are cooks. Not all of them succeed, because there is a temptation to add unnecessary ingredients. In its simplest (and best) form, it is made from sweet carrots, a stock, and some aromatic spices. The version that Jane had here was the cold soup, gently puréed, and prepared with coriander. The carrot and coriander play together to balance the sweetness of carrots with the aromatic pungency of the coriander. This thick soup is, to me, a prizewinner. Maybe Chef Springer should enter it in the 2013 Souper Bowl. It might just get very high marks.
Fresh King Ruby red trout filet, sautéed in clarified butter with lemon and parsley, served with roasted almonds. Ruby Red looks almost identical to regular rainbows. You couldn’t really tell any difference until you fillet one. The flesh of this trout is reddish orange similar to salmons because they were fed special diets. The meat is more tender than regular rainbows due to higher fat content and they are very tasty.
This is one of Jane’s favorite dishes anywhere. She had not found it durigt the 3¾ years that we have been in ABQ, and was delighted to find it here. She loved it. Accompanied with baby carrots with tiny broccoli buds and lightly grilled and diced potatos, it is a sheer delight.
Sautéed Tilapia wtith a lemon-caper cream sauce
This is an easy fish to mess up. It was a chef’s special, and I chose it over all the other seafood dishes that were on the menu. Good choice. This piece of fish was expertly prepared. Lightly sautéed, it had a hint of crispiness without turning the inside dry. The sauce was sublime: simple, creamy, and very tasty, it complemented the flavor of the fish without dominating the plate. Brussels sprouts and aromatic long-grain rice completed the plate. The rice was especially good: buttery with some gently aromatic spices. This rice should be famous. I ate it all even though my diet forbids anything white. So much for Dr. Dukan.
Profiterole and vanilla cream
Puffed pastry filled with cream and drizzled with hot chocolate syrup.
A profiterole, cream puff (US) or choux à la crème is a choux pastry ball filled with whipped cream, pastry cream, or ice cream. The puffs may be decorated or left plain or garnished with chocolate sauce, caramel, or a dusting of powdered sugar. The term profiterole is traditionally used for small versions filled with whipped ice cream and topped with chocolate although the usage varies and can include other fillings. This was Jane’s desert, and she assures me that the calories were worth it. Every bite. I concur.
Banana Flambéed au Rum
Banana sautéed in butter and sugar and flambéed with brown rum. Served with whipped cream and almonds.
Bananas, brown sugar, rum, and sometimes a hint of brandy male this an incredibly rich dessert when it is served with ice cream. I think ice cream in this dish is overkill, and the version here gas sweet whipped cream. Just enough richness.
The wine selection is well chosen and generally quite reasonable. The whites that we had really added to tour enjoyment of the meal, and in particular, the Vouvray was perfect with Jane’s trout. I had this dessert with eiswein . Ice wine (or icewine; German Eiswein) is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. With ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterwards. This is an excellent dessert wine that helps to subdute the richness of some desserts that are oer the top.
Nothing at Chez Axel is over the top. Everything is well thought out, and perfectly preppared. Jane wants to return as often as our waistlines will allow. I agree. Next time, we will probably go for the meat dishes. Cassoulet and Beef Bourguignon a l’orange beckon.
What others are saying
“The dinner menu shines even more brightly with an appetizer menu which includes Snails a l’Aixoise and frog legs as well as salads and soups. A pageful of meat offerings is even more luminescent. All meats come from the Adkins Ranch whose animals are “naturally raised” and are guaranteed high in protein, vitamins and minerals and low in fat and cholesterol. All seafood (sole, trout, salmon, shrimp and scallops) come from Whole Food Market. The desserts are made on the premises and are guaranteed absolutely delicious.
“Chez Axel’s rendition of Beef Bourguignon has that deep, rich flavor made possible only when it is carefully prepared in a slow and loving manner and with excellent ingredients and good wine. It’s a version which might even be better the next day when the flavors have melded even more fully. It’s a deep, rich flavor combining slowly braised, fork-tender beef with a very good wine and fresh, perfectly prepared carrots. The entree is served with two sides, chef’s discretion. Count your blessings if it’s the peppery snap pea pods and the buttery long-grained rice.”