SANTA FE, N.M. — We will put our cards immediately upon the impeccably white tablecloth-covered table. From baisers to bistros, we love French, even if they might not like us all the time. Santa Fe is charmed to be home to a number of French cafés and restaurants, and one of the classiest is Bouche Bistro on West Alameda, tucked back on that cool little stretch of West Water Street near Alpine Builders Supply.
Bouche, opened in 2013, is the latest endeavor of celebrated entrepreneurial chef Charles Dale. In his distinguished career, Dale has worked with such notables as Barry Wine, Georges Mazraff and Daniel Boulud, under whom he served as sous chef at Le Cirque. In 1988, Dale opened Renaissance in Aspen, followed there by Rustique Bistro in 2000 (named “Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire magazine). In 2008, Dale came to Santa Fe with Terra at the new Encantado Resort (one of “20 Best New Restaurants of 2008” according to critic John Mariani).
With its open kitchen greeting one upon entry, a common table, a cozy, intimate space ringed with tables and mirror, Bouche will bring a warm glow to the heart of any Francophile.
If the true test of an Italian restaurant is the minestrone and pasta Bolognese, the true test of a French restaurant is the equivalent approach … onion soup, escargots and coq au vin. And so that is exactly where we began, with the onion soup gratinée ($14), absolutely top drawer and in a generous, yellow ceramic terrine; ditto the classic escargots à la Bourguignonne ($14). You can never be to rich or too thin, or have too much garlic in your escargots, and these confirm the truth of that adage. (Warning: When dining with anyone suffering garlic “issues,” as I was, do not allow them even to look at those little snails swimming in garlic butter.)
Next, the coq au vin classique ($28) is just that and served in a hearty red wine sauce on rich mashed potatoes, with a dash of bacon, lovely little pearl onions and carrots (from Mr. Dale’s own garden, perhaps? See article in the current Trend magazine).
The nightly pasta or risotto du jour this evening, enjoyed by my dinner companion, was a generous dish of prawns on saffron risotto (market price), four sizable white Mexican prawns with peas and sprouts in a rich white wine sauce, topped with generous flakes of parmigiano-reggiano. Rich and still light, the risotto was not TOO saffron and of perfect consistency, firm e un peu al dente.
Thanks to the liberal appetizers and main course servings, we had no immediate desire for dessert. So we lingered a bit before enjoying a pluperfect and immensely refreshing lemon meringue tart ($9), well worth the wait!
Our only complaint, and a common restaurant problem even among the best: hot tea was not properly presented. It should be simple. A small box with a selection; a small ceramic or stainless steel pot with hot water; a warmed, empty teacup on saucer; add teaspoon. Voilà!
Bouche Bistro is now owned by Fine Dining NM LLC, the emeritus of a formidable, ambitious lineup of establishments: Maize, formerly O’Keeffe; A Mano, formerly Galisteo Bistro; and the soon to be resurrected Bobcat Bite out on Old Las Vegas Highway.
Mr. Dale is engaged to oversee menus and concepts for the enterprise, and judging by his notable career and estimable Bouche Bistro, we eagerly await visits to each.