Food is a widespread cultural obsession concerned with a return to place, transforming the locavores' demand for regionally derived ingredients into experimental, sociohistorical experiences on the plate.
With northern New Mexico and its colonial roots as his inspiration, Charles Dale uses the term "modern rustic" to define the cuisine at Terra at Encantado in Tesuque, where he is executive chef.
"The food I cook reflects the bounty of Santa Fe, its history, its culture and the many nuances of its flavors, textures and colors," Dale says.
Terra is one of 60 restaurants tempting residents and out-of-towners with food infatuations for the third annual Restaurant Week. SFR spoke to chefs at one high-end restaurant and one more affordable eatery—based on Restaurant Week's scale of one to four dollar signs—to get an idea of what to expect. Terra's designation is four dollar signs.
Dale describes his menu as meeting the goals of Encantado's California-based parent company, Auberge Resorts, with his own ideology.
"A successful life is lived with balance, and I strive to be the same person I am at work as in my personal life, doing everything I do with passion and heart," he says.
Designed to invoke a sense of balance, place and comfort, Dale's menu also incorporates healthy, seasonal and local ingredients.
His Restaurant Week list includes a diver scallop and pork belly dish, drizzled with an edamame, celery root and green chile puree, and a pomegranate and soy reduction. Popular regional New Mexican flavors pop and fuse with a Japanese essence brewed in Santa Fe since the 1940s.
Dale hopes to entice diners with a sense of adventure. "I want people who love food and aren't afraid to experiment," Dale says.
Terra's Restaurant Week dinner prix fixe costs $40.
Designated with one dollar sign on Restaurant Week's guide, Azur Mediterranean Kitchen also follows a protocol of place for its menu; however, for executive chef Xavier Gremet, that place is France.
In a thick accent, Gremet explains that his menu is crafted to give diners "an authentic French bistro experience like you would find in France, but with other European influences like Moroccan-style trout and our Italian-style risotto."
The expressive chef describes the choucroute garnie as a classic dish from the Alsace region—fermented cabbage, pork sausage, stewed potatoes and carrots. The rest of the menu spells decadence with wonderful French specialties like escargot, onion soup gratinée, red-wine-braised beef, coq au vin.
Gremet expects to draw a younger crowd of diners to Azur, more adventurous than those who might patronize Ristra, his high-end New Mexican restaurant.
Azur's Restaurant Week dinner prix fixe costs $20.
Restaurant Week founders Michele Ostrove and Lucien Bonnafoux, of Wings Media Network and parent company Grapevine Publications, say they started the event to showcase New Mexico as one of the world's premier dining destinations.
Several restaurants offer side classes or events exploring food's role in culture, such as Epazote's dinner and a movie, with Like Water for Chocolate, for $55. Also on the table are incredible-sounding lunch offerings, such as Osteria d'Assisi's entrée and dessert for $10.
After spending March 4-11 in Santa Fe, Wings takes Restaurant Week to Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Taos.
“Restaurant Week is a little like speed dating; it provides a one-week opportunity for diners to be introduced to new restaurant prospects at low prices, and it’s up to the restaurants to impress diners with their best food and service so they’ll hopefully win them over and turn them into regular patrons,” Ostrove says.
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