ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One intriguing way to think about the food you will be served at a restaurant is to consider what comes in through the back door.
At Blades’ Bistro in Placitas, that’s where the action is, especially during the growing season when owner/chef Kevin Bladergroen is frequently opening it for his local farmer who lives just down the road.
When Bladergroen and his wife, Anja, opened in March 2009, they knew they wanted to create a European-style bistro.
“True European style is elegant, simple, creative, honest, fresh and price-friendly,” explains Anja. “It should have dark wood tables; good chairs, silverware and glasses; and be a place that gets a bit noisy with people enjoying fresh food, wine and conversation.”
The Bladergroens should know. Kevin, who trained at the acclaimed La Varenne in Paris with Anne Willan, cooked around Europe before he met Anja, who is Dutch, in the Netherlands. Between Kevin’s 40 years of cooking experience, and Anja’s extensive front-of-house and wine expertise, they knew the exact type of atmosphere they wanted to create at Blades’. This is the first restaurant either of them has owned.
The cozy dining room welcomes you, and the classic bistro menu has European staples such as chicken livers, stewed cassoulet, beef bourguignon and paella.
Served alongside or cooked with every cut of meat, chicken or fish are fresh vegetables, of course, and that is where the local farmer at the back door comes in (literally).
Nancy Kellum-Rose and Scott Deuel of Huertas Canyon Farm live just down the road from Blades’ in Placitas. Anja says that one day early on Nancy came to the restaurant and starting giving them vegetables. She told them she and her husband had relocated from Chicago and planned to start farming on their six acres.
“At first it is was just a few squash and some beans, but now (Huertas Canyon) provides us with almost everything – greens, squash, tri-colored carrots, tri-colored beans, onions, okra, leeks, beets, shishito peppers, herbs and more,” says Anja.
“Kevin just tells Nancy his shopping list and she appears at the back door. It’s very simple, and fresh, fresh, fresh.”
While delivery logistics and the cost of locally grown produce can be challenging for many restaurants, the Bladergroens don’t have these obstacles.
Not only does Huertas Canyon Farm deliver, but also payment comes in the form of barter; the husband and wife farming team dine regularly at Blades’ in exchange for the fresh produce they grow.
Blades’ menu changes with the season, and spring brings fresh additions such as a Mixed Kale Salad with Maple Raspberry Vinaigrette and Atlantic Salmon with Asparagus Salsa.
Both dishes are flavorful and filled with texture. The Mixed Kale Salad sings with the combination of fennel, orange and maple.
The Asparagus Salsa is inspired by the classic French “Persillade Garnish” that traditionally consists of chopped garlic, chopped parsley and bread crumbs bound together with olive oil that is often used as crust for roasted veal or lamb chops. But at Blades’, this spunky version is combined with chopped asparagus, roasted red pepper and hard-boiled eggs for a new twist on salsa verde.
The restaurant’s open kitchen and dining room make it easy for patrons to watch Kevin prepare the food. Customers who sit at the counter have a front-row seat.
“They can see their food being prepared from beginning to end,” said Kevin. “When you sit this close to chef, if you have a special request I’ll hear it. And I’ll try to take care of it because that’s just what we do here.”
The Bladergroens also source locally raised beef and many other local ingredients such as mushrooms, apples and goat cheese whenever possible.
Combined with their hand-selected list of boutique wines and mid-week wine specials, this is a European country dining experience that features a fresh bounty of New Mexico foods.
Mixed Kale Salad with Maple Raspberry Vinaigrette
Serves 4 (appetizer portion)
6 ounces shredded kale
3 ounces shredded Brussels sprouts
3 ounces shredded (raw) broccoli stems
2 oranges, peeled & segmented
1 fennel bulb, poached and julienne diced
2 ounces roasted pine nuts
Maple Raspberry Vinaigrette
Makes 12 ounces
1 ounce Bearnaise Gastrique (see below)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup water
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup raspberry preserves (like Heidi’s)
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste
Put all vinaigrette ingredients in topped quart container and “shake it like you mean it.”
Add dressing to Kale Mix. Top each salad with orange segments and poached fennel. Finish with roasted pine nuts.
1 ounce diced shallots
1 ounce dried tarragon
½ cup red wine
½ cup red wine vinegar
Take all above ingredients add to sauté pan and reduce liquid over low flame by half.
1 bunch asparagus, blanched and chopped
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup olive oil
1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup fresh chopped parsley
½ cup fresh chopped dill
¼ cup lemon juice
Optional: 6 anchovies, chopped
Mix all ingredients together, let stand two hours before topping grilled salmon.