We refuse to break the [food] chain!So we tapped into the taste buds of four more local chefs to find out where they eat when they hang up their aprons.

Christian Pontiggia

Just as Nirvana upended the conventions of mainstream rock, modernist cuisine has torn through the confines of the culinary arts. Borrowing procedures from the laboratory, chefs have been experimenting with molecular gastronomy in restaurants around the world. Enter Christian Pontiggia, executive chef at the reputable Osteria D'assisi (58 S Federal Place, 986- 5858). While working in Italy, Pontiggia made gelato tableside with liquid nitrogen. The results? Exceptionally smooth textures, lots of smoke, and "people grinning like little kids." Says Pontiggia of modernist cuisine, "It's fun for the chef and it's fun for the guests. It's something everyone should experience. But although culinary innovation is important, some things are best left untouched." Honoring culinary traditions is necessary, he insists. That's why, to reproduce pizza that his grandmother would be proud, he imports ingredients straight from the Boot. That's also why, when he desires authentic Spanish cuisine, he goes to Taberna/La Boca. "I've worked around the world and have great memories of Spain," he says. "The food at La Boca is truly reminiscent of the food I ate everyday there. It takes me back." That's because the plates at Taberna/La Boca are a fusion of regional fundamentals imported from Spain (like the chorizo Bilbao used in their paella clásica) and other local ingredients, creating the perfect blend for an experience that just screams ¡buen provecho!

James Campbell Caruso 

Although fashionable, tapas aren't exactly a new trend. "Chef James," owner and executive chef of both Taberna (125 Lincoln Ave., 988-7102) and SFR's "Restaurant of the Year" La Boca (72 W Marcy St., 982- 3433) explains that they're more of a "revolution" of small savory Spanish dishes.

Available since the 1800s, tapas will probably be around for centuries to come. But that may not be the case for "fine dining." According to Caruso, "The trend of fine dining has died." He continues, "In most cases, the food doesn't live up to the white linen table cloth." So when he's not in the kitchen, Caruso satisfies his craving for "haute cuisine" at Plaza Café Southside. From the short ribs and crispy fish tacos to the genuinely friendly staff who serves them, "the lines between a diner and fine dining are blurred…your mind is blown because you're not expecting it."

Jose Rodriguez 

Beginning his career as a dishwasher, Jose Rodriguez triumphantly ascended through the ranks of the Santa Fe culinary community. Now executive chef at Plaza Café Southside (3466 Zafarano Drive, 424-0755), Rodriguez humbly credits his success to those who gave him confidence and motivation. In return, he supports those who supported him. "I go to Coyote Café and the Compound," Rodriguez says. "I respect the quality of their ingredients, the quality of their plate presentation, and the quality of how they treat their employees." He also respects Martín Rios, owner and executive chef at Restaurant Martín. With seemingly parallel culinary journeys, Rios, too, worked his way up from the bottom. But more than that, Rodriguez dines at Restaurant Martín for the fresh, colorful ingredients that fill each plate. "Each plate coming out of the kitchen is, like, a piece of art; everything looks so beautiful and tastes so fresh."

Martín Rios 

With an extensive résumé that includes being featured in Bon Appétit's cover story, "The American Restaurant: Our Favorite Places," and the title "Chef of the Year" by the City of Santa Fe, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Martín Rios, owner and chef at Restaurant Martín (526 Galisteo St., 820-0919) has garnered a stellar reputation in the Santa Fe culinary community.

But despite his meticulously arranged plates of innovative food combinations, Rios' tastes are anything but fussy. In fact, Rios says, "I like to relax and mellow out at Andiamo!; they serve humble, rustic, simple Italian cuisine." Frequenting the neighborhood trattoria is what Cheers was for Norm: a place where everybody knows his name. But it's also a place where he can eat timeless classics with a twist, like his favorite, redbird chicken parm: melted fontina, roasted tomato sauce, sautéed spinach, and spaghetti.

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