Tomme, the new restaurant that has opened on the downtown corner vacated by Louie's Corner Café, makes so much sense that I worry it may be a little ahead of its time.

This happens in Santa Fe: A bar or a clothing store or a band comes to town, and—even though it might represent the style status quo in Portland or New York or Austin—it's just a little too awesome, so we shamefully fail to support it until it disappears. Four or five years down the road, something similar will pop up again, about the time that we're ready to pretend we're on the leading edge of…something.

Fortunately, Tomme has some advantages. It's not relying on vibe or shoes or audience members; it's relying on hungry people, and there are plenty of those. Secondly, the food is very, very good and the prices are very, very fair.

Tomme, the restaurant's namesake, is a kind of generic French cheese, characterized by low-
temperature curds that have been hand-pressed into molds and left to age long enough to develop distinct and intimidating—but edible—bacterial rinds.

The cheese represents the kind of "fine dining for the working class" menu aimed for by partners Maria "Max" Renteria and Mark Connell. Merging common and sophisticated is tough, but anyone who has been to the duo's other restaurant, Max's, has seen Connell, in his capacity as executive chef, perform some unlikely mash-ups with grace and success. Connell remains executive chef at Tomme, and the talented Brian Rood serves as chef de cuisine.

An example of sophistication rearing its head in unlikely areas, Tomme's Southern fried chicken ($14 lunch, $18 dinner) manages to be a refined and Old World-ish dish given the careful preparation of a potato croquette, the velvetiness of a sweet corn purée, and the succulent, playful texture of the chicken without sacrificing the satisfying crunch of the fried skin, the bewildering satisfaction of the bacon-braised greens or the practiced indulgence of a rich, brown gravy.

The burger ($13), a staple on both lunch and dinner menus, is a similar combination of comfort and culinary craft—Wagyu beef
on a house

But Tomme is stuck on translating American classics into upscale alternatives. The mussels in white wine broth with house-made crostini and just-spicy-enough rouille should be evidence enough, but the classic steak frites and the fresh, housemade pasta are convincing backups.

Of course, if you get gastronomically geeky about cultural cuisine collisions, you must try the pozole, a braised pork shoulder and hominy soufflé served with classic New Mexico chile and lots of cilantro. The lunch menu—in addition to including most of the dinner options—offers something affordable for diners of most persuasions, with a classic croque monsieur ($9) on offer alongside a classic reuben ($11). Patrons uncompelled by either have a sandwich version of pizza margherita ($10).

The question is whether or not Santa Fe can readily accept a simple bistro that offers fare beyond the ordinary at prices ranging from
casual comfort food to conspicuously climactic revelry. Tomme seems like the kind of restaurant Santa Fe should have in abundance, yet there's not much like it. It's an exploration, out into the unknown space of difficult-to-quantify Santa Fe.

Tomme is open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Saturday. 229 Galisteo St., 820-2253

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