Trattoria A Mano

Photo by Douglas Merriam

Photo by Douglas Merriam

(Story by Ashley M. Biggers / Photos by Douglas Merriam)
Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini once proclaimed, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” That quote­­—along with several others from fellow bon vivants—hangs in Trattoria A Mano’s entryway, setting the stage for a restaurant that seeks to capture the gaiety that arises over shared food and conversation, whether in a small Italian village or just off the Plaza in Santa Fe. Open since late 2017, the restaurant’s name captures its creed: handmade food executed by professionals who pride themselves on their cuisine’s authenticity.

That team includes Chef Charles Dale, executive director of the New Mexico Fine Dining restaurant group whose flagship is his restaurant, Bouche French Bistro. Along with partners Jim and Jennifer Day, the group has since opened two additional restaurants, Maize and Trattoria A Mano; the reopening of Bobcat Bite is slated for the spring of 2019 at the earliest, Chef Charles says.

Jennifer Day, an interior designer, created the restaurant’s ambiance, giving the intimate space (formerly home to Galisteo Bistro) a lived-in feel with wine bottles lassoed in the front window, rolling pins dangling over the open kitchen, and Tuscan-style ironwork—pulled from the Days’ own San Antonio home. Through the ironwork, Jennifer has hung pictures of Italian street scenes and film stars, as though to transport diners to that countryside.

Photo by Douglas Merriam

Photo by Douglas Merriam

Charles’s upbringing near that landscape inspires the menu. Born in Nice and raised in Monaco, his childhood meals had plenty of Italian influence. The chef’s taste memories lay the groundwork—and his taste buds execute veto power over a dish’s final iteration. The restaurant adheres closely to the canon of Italian recipes, departing only in a few dishes, such as the fettuccine carbonara, where—to Chef Charles’s taste—the traditional milk/egg sauce is deconstructed with a white wine and cream sauce, with a 63-degree egg served on top.

New Mexico Fine Dining’s Andrew MacLauchlan also helped refine the dishes. As NMFD’s culinary director, he shuffles between restaurants, ensuring each executes its vision. Currently, the pastry specialist is preparing the breads and desserts at A Mano. Chef Andrew has been in kitchens since he was 17, washing pots and helping with prep at a farm-to-table restaurant, “before that was a thing,” he says. Early on, he saw that, as pastry was treated as the kitchen’s stepchild, it was also his chance to climb the kitchen ladder if he could succeed in that realm.

He eschewed a classroom culinary education and opted to study on his own and learn from mentors like local-food maven Alice Waters, bread and Italian dessert master Chef Nancy Silverton, and Chicago restaurateur and Chef Charles Trotter, whose kitchen Andrew joined before he was the Charlie Trotter. In that high-pressure environment, Andrew was called upon to show up with passion and drive every day. Although he was the pastry chef, he helped at every station. His ability to switch focus served him as he moved to New Mexico to work with Mark Miller at Coyote Café and later as chef de cuisine for John Sedlar at Eloisa Restaurant.

Andrew’s familiarity with sweet and savory inform his pastry philosophy. “Sugar is not the defining flavor. There should be acidity, sweetness and a little salt. It’s not just about indulgence,” he says. “There should be integrity to what the dish wants to be. You should be able to eat the whole thing and still want another bite.”

Make no mistake though; the desserts at A Mano are indeed indulgent. The chefs called up the all-stars of Italian desserts for the menu, which includes a tiramisu and a ricotta cheesecake. In another dessert, almond panna cotta is stacked upon a bed of chocolate cake and amaretto cookie crumbles. A standard opera cake gets a dash of drama with tableside presentation. The dessert starts with a simple slice of hazelnut/chocolate mousse with a few bits of crunchy hazelnut lending texture. A chocolate dome, reminiscent of the Roman Pantheon, lies over top. At the table, the server pours warm chocolate sauce to slice the dome in half and reveal the rich cake below.

Chef Andrew says, “We’ve had tunnel vision and adhered to solid, classical Italian cooking.” That stands true to for the dinner menu, too.

Chef Steven Haskell is behind the stove every day. Hailing from the East Coast, Steve grew up in a mill town just outside Portland, Maine, and was introduced to the culinary world assisting a chef in preparing lavish meals for a small corporate guesthouse. She soon taught Steve not to hold too tightly to recipes—the availability of ingredients or guests’ tastes might change on a daily basis. Rather, he should feel the food.

Steve carried the lesson with him through his time at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York, and Italian and Mediterranean-style restaurant kitchens for the past 30 years. He has a particular knack for handmade pasta, the mastery of which calls for feeling rather than following a prescribed path. Following his girlfriend, a traveling nurse, to New Mexico in 2016, he found himself in the kitchens at Bouche and, with his delicate touch for fresh pasta, at the helm of Trattoria A Mano.

Photo by Douglas Merriam

Photo by Douglas Merriam

No matter whom you ask, the restaurant’s aim is to have authentic Italian cuisine. “Authentic” is a term that’s bandied about enough it can become deprived of its meaning. Here, though, authenticity is practiced, as—befitting the restaurant’s name—Steve makes the pasta himself, every day. He has an “obsession over the entire process,” he says. While he says some chefs skip soaking the meat for the Bolognese sauce, he ensures it rests in the liquid for a day before its tenderized. The spaghetti Bolognese with beef and veal ragu has become one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, with a thicker-than-usual noodle that holds up to the sauce’s meat-forward flavors. In another pasta dish—the fusilli with artichokes—porcini mushrooms lend the dish earthy flavors that balance the acidic brightness of white truffle oil, leek and the bite of gran cru pecorino. Both are hearty, comfort dishes you could eat every day of the week and never tire of.

Although most dishes are rendered traditionally, the Maine-native couldn’t resist giving the calamari fritti his region’s twist, tossing it in pepperoncini and arugula. He serves it fresh-from-the-fryer with a swirl of spicy lemon aioli around the edge of the plate so diners can drag a crackling bite through the sauce.

While Steve hopes the restaurant is already “respected by anyone who likes good food,” there’s more the chef would like to do, like serving handmade biscotti alongside cappuccinos. As summer heats up, the menu will lighten to feature more preserved meats and fish as they transition from primarily Northern Italian cuisine to that of the southern and coastal regions. The bread basket, which is currently filled with ciabatta and herbaceous bread sticks, will overflow with focaccia instead.

As diners break bread and the wine flows in the Trattoria, the open-kitchen allows Andrew and Steven to be part of the magic of life—and, of course, well-crafted pasta.

 Trattoria A Mano is located at 227 Galisteo St. in Santa Fe, 505.982.3700; trattoriaamano.com.

Planting the Seeds of Change at The Acre

Shawn Weed / Photo by Liz opez

Shawn Weed / Photo by Liz Lopez

(Story by Amy Morton / Photos by Liz Lopez)
Can farm-to-table vegetarian food be accessible to everyone–from foodie omnivores to muscly weight lifters to budget-conscious families with young picky eaters? It may sound like a tall order, but that’s exactly what Chef Shawn Weed and his wife Danielle Reilly Weed are hoping to prove at their new “comfort vegetarian” restaurant The Acre, which opened just before Thanksgiving in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, where the couple lives with their two daughters, ages 5 and 3.

The Weeds’ first restaurant, The Acre caps off a multifaceted culinary journey for the chef, who moved to New Mexico from Indiana as a teenager and landed his first job as a dishwasher at age 15. He later worked in restaurants in San Francisco, Calif., Scotland, San Diego, Calif., and New York City, where he became a private chef for a successful restaurateur. Having had enough of the big city, Shawn convinced Danielle to move with him back to New Mexico. After a decade working as an executive chef for the University of New Mexico’s food supplier and as a food and beverage director at a local casino, he was ready to venture out on his own. “It became time that I needed to do my dream,” the chef says.

Tucked into the Montgomery Crossing shopping center, adjacent to Penzeys Spices and across the parking lot from Natural Grocers, The Acre is not your typical vegetarian restaurant. For starters, its chef is not a vegetarian, but someone who simply believes in eating less meat. If you ask Chef Shawn why, you won’t hear him put forth anything New Age or preachy, but rather a way of thinking that’s steeped in old-school Midwestern values.

“My grandparents in Indiana had a farm, and in the summers we would go to help,” Shawn says. “They called it ‘The Acre.’ After working, we’d put these rickety picnic tables together, and everybody would just sit down. They’d bring out these pitchers of tea, and whatever gets cooked, you’re eating it. A lot of times, it didn’t have meat. It was watermelon and roasted corn and amazing stuff.”

Flash-forward to present day, and “we’re in a culture of people who typically believe you need to have meat at every meal,” Shawn says. “I’m not one to stand on my soapbox against eating meat, but I do think we could all take it down a couple notches. If we scale back demand, it would be a better environment for everyone.” He cites small-scale operations like Estancia’s Old Windmill Dairy––The Acre’s local vendor for goat cheese––as a positive, feel-good environment, one that’s in sharp contrast to modern factory farms, which he describes as “bleak at best.”

His solution is not to oppose these practices, per se, but to champion a shift in appetites, starting in childhood. “I really want to take a stand and say that food is delicious that is not meat,” he says. “You go to McDonald’s and get a kids’ Happy Meal. Is there something you can get that’s not meat? No. So what are we training our kids to think?” For the Weeds, it was imperative that their girls could eat at The Acre. “As much as I love providing for the vegetarian community, I also love providing for local families that go, ‘I can take my kids here, and they’re not eating a bunch of crap. Every other place, they eat chicken nuggets.’’’

As part of his playful appeal to eaters young and old, Chef Shawn has put together a casual, reasonably priced menu of quintessentially American items that feel familiar just as they bump vegetables up from side-dish status to the star of the meal. There’s a Comfort Dog, with a marinated, braised carrot in place of the hot dog, slathered in homemade relish; a Mac ‘N Cheese that uses spiralized local, organic vegetables instead of pasta and can be made vegan upon request; a Meat(less) Loaf made of roasted and milled portabella mushrooms and mashed chickpeas, topped with a spicy habanero ketchup; and a triple-decker Comfort Club sandwich, featuring Chef’s flavorful, crowd-pleasing “carrot bacon.”

How might one make carrots resemble bacon, you ask? “It starts with these giant carrots from a farm in California––like Bugs Bunny, ridiculously big carrots,” Shawn says. “We shave them into planks and put them in a brine of amino acids, Tamari soy sauce, garlic, ginger and liquid hickory smoke. Then we let them sit for about a day. We pull them out, they change color a bit and we cook them off. When they hit the fire again, they pick up some of the smokiness from the cooking.” The idea is not to “clone bacon,” he says, but to make something all-natural that’s “reminiscent of something cured.”

Photo by Liz Lopez

Photo by Liz Lopez

While this may seem like a sleight of hand to some, it should be noted that nowhere on The Acre’s menu will you find any meat substitutes like soy isolate protein. The veggie burger, for example, is made from beets, black beans and quinoa. It’s all about a clever use of vegetables here, which Shawn tries to source locally whenever possible from vendors that include Sol Harvest Farm, Skarsgard Farms and the Downtown Growers’ Market. “We don’t have tofu or any of these machine-made products,” he says. “What we do here is made from scratch with a low industrial footprint.” He plans to change the menu quarterly based on what’s in season, and come summer, he’ll be picking fruit from trees throughout the South Valley, having put together a list of people with trees.

Seemingly, for every new-fangled twist at The Acre, there is an old-fashioned one for balance. Yes, there is a Chicken N’ Waffle dish made with chicken-fried cauliflower, but Shawn also makes his own pickles, just like grandma used to. At any given time, there are 100 pounds of vegetables pickling in the walk-in refrigerator, with the current selection of carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and bell peppers available as part of the simply named “Pickle” appetizer. Soon, that will shift to sweet pickles as well as spicy pickles, once jalapeños come into season.

A similar dichotomy exists in The Acre’s winsome décor. “We tried to straddle the line between modern farmhouse and country cottage,” says Danielle, CEO of the consulting firm Media Tonic, who helped decorate the 50-seat restaurant and also handles marketing, PR and social media. Modern touches include a sky-high ceiling, exposed ductwork and two huge sepia-toned photographic murals, one featuring a wheat field during the golden hour and the other a weathered barn. “It’s a little bit of the bygone era,” she says. While both are stock images due to the resolution requirements, you can see a real 1970s-era aerial image of Shawn’s grandparent’s farm in the hallway by the restrooms.

Photo by Liz Lopez

Photo by Liz Lopez

Grounding these large-scale elements, and imbuing a cozier ambiance, are the mismatched vintage white chairs, grainy shiplap walls, Edison-style pendant light fixtures and cushioned bancos covered in an array of homey pillows. Tableside, there are other retro accents, like white stoneware pitchers and housemade lemonades––the version made with Los Poblanos lavender is the most popular of the five options––served in Mason jars with paper straws.

But the pièce de résistance, as Shawn sees it, is the 16-seat communal table made of reclaimed wood. For him, it’s the embodiment of his grandparents’ picnic tables, bringing people together face-to-face over locally produced food and beverages. (New Mexico craft beers from Marble, La Cumbre, Tractor and Santa Fe Brewing Co. are featured on the drink menu, as are nitro cold-brewed coffee and iced teas from Albuquerque’s Villa Myriam.)

“I see it as akin to people sitting at the bar because they want that engagement. Like, ‘I’m here to be part of this,’” Shawn says. In the seven weeks The Acre has been open, the chef says only two parties have declined to sit at the communal table when there’s been a wait for a private one. As for the makeup of this budding interactive tribe, he estimates there’s a 50/50 split between vegetarians/vegans, and those who are not vegetarian or vegan.

 

Photo by Liz Lopez

Photo by Liz Lopez

“We get a lot of people that aren’t vegetarian but just want to eat healthy,” Shawn says. “People like me. I call myself a flexitarian. I don’t eat that much meat, and I just try to eat as clean as I can.” As for vegans, he reports that roughly 75 percent of the menu is “veganizable,” a fun word he and his staff coined for modifying dishes based on pre-tested approaches that meet his quality standards. Because everything is made to order, they also have the luxury of being able to leave out or replace certain ingredients on the fly. “We never say no” to diner requests, he says. “That isn’t in our belief system. We have to be extremely flexible, because it’s also part of being inclusive.”

Between “taking the burden off” vegans by anticipating their needs, feeding kids unprocessed, plant-based foods they’re predisposed to like and getting carnivorous New Mexicans to admit that, yes, The Acre’s meat- and oil-free “unrolled” enchilada isn’t missing a thing (which is truly the case with his unconventional, crave-worthy rendition), Chef Shawn’s got a lot on his plate. But judging by the full house on a recent Friday night–with everyone from families with kids to a large, multigenerational birthday party in the mix–change may be easier than you think.

The Acre is located at 4410 Wyoming Blvd. in Albuquerque, 505.299.6973, theacrerestaurant.com.

Chef 2 Chef: On the Shelf

Inherent in the recipe is an implicit investment of hope, on our part, that it will deliver on its promise to please. Even before our culinary skills mature, many of us harbor the small desire of wanting the recipe to rescue us (not unlike in our search for meaningful love) from the mundane.

As we begin to know ourselves better as cooks, the selection process is refined, and we begin to understand that recipes are not separate from the cook who risks much in both its selection and execution.

But by now, we can see that the recipe (like advice from a friend), is only a guide, a suggestion, a possibility, and with skill, effort and attention to detail, we breathe life into a set of instructions that, without our willingness to fail, will remain unseen on the page, waiting to be discovered.

Each chef has a different story to tell. We all got to talking. Continue reading

What’s on your plate in 2018?

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A humorous and much-shared posting on Facebook earlier this year poked fun at the popularity of the latest food trends of both kale and coconut oil. Accompanying a photo of wilted kale in a frying pan poised over a garbage can was advice that simply stated, “Remember to always use coconut oil when sautéing kale; it makes it much easier to scrape into the garbage!” I totally connected with the jab; I guess I like kale well enough, but I don’t want it in a smoothie, and there has been some controversy about whether coconut oil is good for you.

I do think, as Americans, we take food trends too far; witness the gluten-free craze, for example. On a positive note though, I think the introduction of new ingredients, cooking techniques and cuisines does keep our eating world stimulating and our chefs on their creative toes, which both engages us and brings us back for more. So as we head into the great culinary unknown of 2018, I thought it would be interesting to contact some local culinarians who are actually involved in setting trends, and one who writes about them in the media, to see what they predict will be the “in thing” for the coming year. I also asked them to reflect on any concepts they thought were headed out of vogue or any they hoped would appear on the edible horizon. I got some provocative answers.

Cookbook author and Galisteo resident Deborah Madison was the first to reply. Her many cookbooks and food writing are proof that her finger’s on the culinary pulse. Famous as the original chef of the groundbreaking Greens Restaurant in San Francisco in 1979 (certainly ahead of its time then), and known for her fondly remembered time at Café Escalera in Santa Fe, Deborah admitted she’s not actually a fan of trends or very good at them. Continue reading

Love, Laughter and Linguini at Joe’s Pasta House

Joe’s Pasta House; Owners KC and Joseph Guzzardi; Linguine with Clams with linguine pasta and combination of sauteed little neck and baby clams in marinara sauce; Bruschetta Pomodoro and House-made Bread

Joe’s Pasta House; Owners KC and Joseph Guzzardi; Linguine with Clams with linguine pasta and combination of sauteed little neck and baby clams in marinara sauce; Bruschetta Pomodoro and House-made Bread

Growing up in a Sicilian family in Queens, New York, Joe Guzzardi vividly remembers going out to eat as a kid in the 1970s. It was a big adventure, with one constant: you would always get to meet the charismatic restaurant owner. It’s no wonder, then, that Joe’s genial, round-the-clock presence looms large at Joe’s Pasta House, spurring a level of care and attentiveness that feels genuinely old-fashioned, not to mention just plain genuine.

From the outside––a former IHOP building in a shopping center in suburban Rio Rancho––you might not guess that Joe’s Pasta House is a throwback in all the best possible ways. Or that it’s an in-the-know foodie mecca that is increasingly drawing diners from Albuquerque, 30 minutes to the south, and beyond. But step inside the soothing interior, and you’ll quickly come to understand. The fine Italian products for sale in the foyer, from cannellini beans to balsamic vinegar, are the first tipoff, followed by the warm greetings, red and white linen tablecloths and soft jazz soundtrack.

“A restaurant, to me, is a gathering place, where a family comes together to offer not only food, but a cultural style,” Joe says. Along with wife and co-owner Kassie, he’s created a personality driven destination that makes everyone feel like they’re part of something special. “We want to welcome people like they’re coming to our home for a traditional Sicilian Sunday dinner,” Kassie says. “We want them to laugh, relax, have good conservation and not be rushed.” Continue reading

Chef 2 Chef with Paulraj Karuppasamy

PaperDosa_DSC5217Paulraj Karuppasamy’s food story doesn’t begin with a sweet or savory memory from childhood that led him into the kitchen, or from dishwasher to a hardboiled apprenticeship in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe. With no plans of becoming a chef or cook, Paulraj’s trajectory from working the line in a cruise ship kitchen to the chef/owner of Paper Dosa in Santa Fe was not by design, but rather the serendipitous happenstance of overhearing the name of a friend from his past spoken in a bar half way around the world.

With humility and grace, the need to survive and help his family, all the while carrying the family’s dream of emigrating to the U.S., Paulraj caught the spice route from India to America. His is a story of courage and survival. We got to talking.

Mark: Living in a foreign country with different ingredients and food customs, how has cooking the foods of your village helped maintain the emotional link to your heritage?

Paulraj: Just eating a food like Rasam, I connect with my mom. I would ask her for some of her recipes when I wanted to cook certain foods I remember from the village.
Once I finish my shift, eating my dinner, whether it is the Pepper Chicken, or it’s a new curry, I’ll be reminded of my friend [from Dosa]. Whenever I eat that food, it reconnects me with family, friends and then memories come. When I started working in San Francisco, I asked my mom how to make Rasam and I just followed her recipe. When I think about those things, not just with my mom’s cooking, I feel connected. Also, some of the dishes I got from her, I put on our specials menu.

Continue reading