This edition of the Food Chain is sponsored by the letters L, I, N, K, the number six, and the words inspiration, palate, trend and guilty.
Inspiration: noun A person, place or experience that moves someone to want to create something like love, joy, passion or purpose. Some find inspiration in nature. Some find it online. And few, like Eric DiStefano, owner and chef of the Coyote Café (132 W Water St., 983-1615), find it in the grocery store. "My biggest culinary inspirations come from walking through Whole Foods or the farmers market," DiStefano says. Just seeing the fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices; imported and local cheeses; and choice cuts of meat sparks creative combinations for inventive neoteric dishes. But when DiStefano wants to experience someone else's creations of "love, joy, passion, and purpose," he goes to 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar. Serving classically prepared French cuisine with a contemporary twist, DiStefano is often inspired to order the oysters. While you wouldn't think fresh oysters would be a menu item highlight in the desert, fried, baked or raw, "at 315," according to DiStefano, "they're always top notch no matter how they're prepared."
Palate: noun A person's appreciation of taste and flavor, especially when sophisticated and discriminating. Within Santa Fe's tight culinary community, there's a modicum of chefs with intelligent, mindful palates, a strength that's appreciated by Louis Moskow, owner and executive chef at 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar (315 Old Santa Fe Trail, 986-9190). Able to precisely distinguish the flavors of each dish to its subtlest components, Moskow, too, is a flavor connoisseur with a discernable palate. But when he goes to Izanami, he chooses to turn it off, so he can just enjoy his izakaya dining experience the way it is meant to be—casually, with a beer. "Japanese isn't a cuisine I'm ever going to cook, so I let it go." Always starting with the kinpira gobo (burdock root, carrots and sesame soy dressing), Moskow also orders the nasu dengaku (eggplant and miso sauce) and the Lone Mountain Ranch Wagyu tri-tip because "who doesn't like Kobe beef sliced thinly with sea salt?" Moskow continues, "The entire menu's interesting, and there's a nice selection from which to choose."
Trend: noun A general direction in which something is developing or changing. "I can do without foam," says Kim Müeller, executive chef at Izanami (3451 Hyde Park Rd., 428-6390) when discussing her view of molecular gastronomy. "It doesn't mean it shouldn't exist," she continues, "but I'm old and I'm old school, so in my opinion, flavor and balance are more important than funky tricks and trends. It's OK to cook out of the box, but it needs to be done with solid technique." So, when Müeller's not in her kitchen engineering the elements of taste for dishes with perfect balance, she's at Café Fina for some good ol' conventional fare. "Their straightforward menu is a refreshing break from all that's trending. Plus, I'm addicted to their bacon date scone; it's the perfect blend of sweet and savory," Müeller says. "But all their baked goods are delicious."
Guilty: adjective Justly chargeable with a particular fault. Murphy O'Brien admits to being guilty of three things: having an affinity for "simple comfort foods with simple flavors," serving straightforward dishes from a consistent menu at his restaurant Café Fina (624 Old Las Vegas Hwy., 466-3886) and invariably ordering the same menu items when he eats out. "At La Choza, for example, I'm guilty of playing it safe by always ordering the beef enchiladas with green chile. It's an uncomplicated comfort food that's consistently good," O'Brien admits. "But when I eat at Joseph's Culinary Pub, I don't allow myself to do that." Why not? Chef Joseph Wrede thinks outside the proverbial box. His unique ability to envision similarities in flavors and ingredients that typically would be considered oddball pairings somehow produces dishes that pique O'Brien's interest. "The strange pairings often make me skeptical and I wonder how the ingredients will work together. But I'm always pleasantly surprised. They always end up complimenting each other," he says. "A distinct dining experience in a charming space, I treat Joe's as a place where I can branch out more…it's my guilty pleasure!"