Bouche Bistro: Astonishing, Mouth-Watering, Gourmet Fare in Old Santa Fe
It is exceedingly rare to find a restaurant with a high-profile chef serving exquisite fare at reasonable prices. This is especially true in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where a dinner tab north of $200 for two is not uncommon. Bouche, a French bistro that opened its doors just a year ago, offers exceptional value in both food and wine
In French, bouche simply means “mouth,” but the glory and richness of French idiomatic expressiveness is revealed in phrases such as une fine bouche, “gourmet,” bouche bée, open-mouthed, astonished,” and J’en ai l’eau à la bouche, “My mouth is watering.” Here, in a single, tantalizingly simple word, so many nuances of thought and feeling are evoked.
Chef Charles Dale brings years of culinary expertise to his latest restaurant creation. Born of American parents in France, Ivy League University graduate Dale worked with many of the finest chefs in the US before opening the widely-acclaimed Renaissance restaurant in Aspen, Colorado. In the span of just a few years, Dale earned every major culinary and wine award in America, authored the Chef’s Guide to America’s Best Restaurants, and launched a line of “stock-in-a-box” products used on cruise lines, hotels and independent restaurants around the country. After developing and opening the new Encantado Resort in Santa Fe, Dale moved on to open his Bouche Bistro in March 2013. Today, this one-time grocery-store-cum-restaurant now seats only 36 patrons, but fills up every night from Tuesday through Saturday, serving from 5 pm to 9:30.
After greeting us with a welcoming glass of champagne, our server informed us of the daily specials. The three guests at the table next to ours had been seated for a brief time before our arrival and began to order. A huge Seafood Platter was brought to them, consisting of Jumbo Prawns, seasonal oysters and market crab. We opted for the same selection and were thrilled we followed their lead. The classic cocktail sauce was a superb counterpart for the prawns. A Dijon Mayonnaise complemented the crab, while a peppercorn Mignonette gave a perky flavor to the oysters. The smaller portion of the two menu selections for this platter was perfect for two persons and the dramatic presentation on a huge tray filled with ice and set majestically on a wire stand was merely a foretaste of glories to come. Our server brought a glass of 2011 Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc (Napa), a clean and crisp accompaniment to the seafood and the first of several suggested pairings for the evening.
Next we ordered the Classic Escargots à la Bourguignonne. Six tasty escargots were served with a blend of garlic, oil, shallots, and parsley. The warm, buttery sauce, inspired from Burgundy, was not the familiar Boef Bourguignonne sauce with red wine, but something akin to it. I remembered having ordered escargots elsewhere and being told there were over 30 spices and herbs used. Not so here where “less is more.” A very lovely 2011 Joseph Drouhin ‘Laforêt’ Chardonnay (Burgundy region) enhanced the savory flavor of the escargots.
Our third course was the Tuna Carpaccio Niçoise, served with Wild Arugula and Lemon Vinaigrette. In addition to the ingredients indicated on the menu, the light salad atop the thinly-sliced tuna featured sliced kalamata olives, sliced hard-boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, and a quartered Yukon Gold potato, served with a slight firmness and exceedingly flavorful. This was served with a 2011 Sutcliff Riesling (Colorado), which, thankfully, was not sweet like some German Rieslings, but turned out to be crisp, light and refreshing
At the suggestion of our server, we tried the Sautéed Sweetbreads served with Brussels Sprouts and Wild Mushroom Jus. The sweetbreads turned out to be a pleasant surprise for someone who wouldn’t ordinarily order this delicacy. Chef Dale informed us later that sweetbreads are now becoming more popular with the result that they are more difficult to obtain locally and, hence, because of the demand, more costly as an ingredient. Our wine pairing for this course was the 2010 Stoller Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills (Oregon), a bold red with hints of black cherry and a whisper of raspberry.
Had we not been sharing each of these plates, the two of us would have been quite “stuffed” at this point. Fortunately, we had room for one more course, the truly delightful Beef Short Ribs, Pot-au-Feu Style, served with a mild Horseradish Crème. (Pot-au-feu, literally “pot on the fire” is a French beef stew, traditionally including a portion of beef cooked with vegetables including carrots, turnips, leeks, celery and onions.) Whereas I may have ordinarily chosen the Steak au Poivre with Pommes Frites (as I noticed many other guests ordered) and my wife would have chosen the Cassoulet Maison with Duck Confit, Pork Belly and Lamb Shank, it turned out that our short ribs were exceedingly tender and enhanced by the light horseradish sauce. Knowing that there are yet many other items on Bouche’s menu we have not sampled means that we will have many remaining options for future visits! The chosen wine selection paired for the short ribs was the 2009 Kermit Lynch, Côtes du Rhone, a flavorful, full-bodied red.
Our server suggested we sample both the Demerara Crème Brulée and the Apple Tarte Tatin. The warm, Crème Brulee was light, soft and airy, with a crispy crust that enhanced this exceptional dish. We couldn’t remember when we tasted one as good as this. The apple tart and scoop of vanilla ice cream were topped with caramel, making for a very sweet and sticky treat. Dessert wines are available on Bouche’s extensive wine menu for those who care to indulge.
Prior to our visit to Bouche, I spoke to St. Francis Hotel’s legendary concierge Inger Boudouris, whose job is, of course, to recommend restaurants, events, piano bars, excursions, etc., to hundreds of Santa Fe visitors throughout the year. With great expressiveness, Inger told me how, on several occasions, she enjoyed sitting on one of the stools at the Chef’s Table which directly overlooks the Open Kitchen, watching the chefs as they prepare each dish. Inger said she normally orders whatever the special is offered for the particular evening. Without letting her know that I already had a reservation, I asked Inger where, out of the hundreds of restaurants found in the greater Santa Fe area, she might place Bouche. Without hesitation, she beamed, “Oh, the top ten, of course!” It was an endorsement with which I would heartily concur.
451 West Alameda St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
Bistro (505) 982-6297
Office (505) 820-9268