20 APRIL 2013: In more than a decade and a half of chronicling my visits to mom-and-pop restaurants across the Land of Enchantment, my appreciation, respect and admiration continues to grow for the restaurateurs and chefs who pour their hearts and souls into what they do. New Mexico is blessed to have some of the country’s most passionate and dedicated restaurateurs and chefs plying their craft within its borders. Some of them toil for fifteen to eighteen hours a day for profit margins that aren’t nearly as high as you might think.
So what keeps these stalwart souls soldiering on? The great ones such as Chef Maxime and Daniela Bouneou at Torinos @ Home are absolutely passionate about what they do. They have a sincere desire to please their patrons with the very best food they can prepare and they strive to present it as a work of edible art. They relish the challenge of knowing that they have to win over each guest one meal at a time and recognize they can never have an “off” night. Their greatest pleasure is in seeing the smiling faces of very contented guests.
How can you not smile when the beauteous Daniela greets you with great alacrity and proceeds to treat you like a much-welcome guest at her home? How can you not smile when a veritable cavalcade of deliciousness prepared by one of New Mexico’s very best chefs reaches your table? A visit to Torinos @ Home is an escape, a temporary respite to a better place, where you’re waited on and treated like royalty.
When you’re dining on culinary excellence, it’s easy to forget your cares. All you want to do is indulge in the luxuriant flavors of cuisine prepared by a chef who once worked in Michelin two- and three-star restaurants in his native France. Maxime certainly has the chops and experience to wow his guests, even those with the most sophisticated palates. On her wonderful Tasting New Mexico blog, the scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison called Torinos @ Home the “best destination dining in New Mexico.”
Cheryl is especially besotted with Torinos’ Baccalao appetizer. In chronicling The 10 Best Things I Ate in New Mexico This Year for 2012, Cheryl described the Baccalao as “the ultimate salt cod preparation.” It certainly is a fabulous composition: salted cod fish and Yukon Gold potatoes mashed together with a sweet confit garlic cream. What makes this dish special is how it blends into one dish, familiar yet seemingly disparate flavors. The Yukon Gold potatoes are a perfect foil for the pleasantly “fishy” flavor of the cod. The sweet confit garlic cream lends just enough moistness to prevent the dish from being dry. The dish is served with a crostini topped with a terrific olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes.
While the Baccalao is probably an acquired taste (my Kim didn’t like it), most diners will appreciate an appetizer quadrumvirate of figs marinated in Marsala, Prosciutto di Parma, Arugula salad, and a goat cheese crostini. This is an appetizer that will excite all 10,000 taste buds while challenging them to discern each of the five recognized taste sensations (salty, sweet, butter, sour and unami). It’s served on a wooden cutting board. Each component is magnificent. Together they create an adventure in flavor.
Prosciutto di Parma, one of the best known varieties of Italian uncooked ham, is an intensely flavored (courtesy of dry-aging), thinly sliced ham with a nice fat content. Whether by design or by accident, a generous helping at Torinos is shaped like a rosette on the cutting board. The goat cheese, spritzed with just a bit of honey, is fantastic. It spreads easily on the crostini and is a wonderful counterpoint to the figs marinated in Marsala, a wine frequently used in cooking. The arugula salad is drizzled with the house Vinaigrette which melds magnificently with the peppery greens.
Having worked in a fishing village, Maxime is a stickler for freshness. He has cultivated a network of sources which ensure next-day delivery of fresh, just-caught fish. It makes a difference. His preparation of Grouper al Cartoccio is tres magnifique. The grouper is stuffed with Swiss chard, sealed in a crispy filo-like parchment then sautéed and served in a bowl surrounded by steamed clams and mussels. The entrée is then drizzled with a light Pomodoro sauce. It’s already got a spot reserved on my “best of 2013” list.
It’s not every Italian restaurant that offers steak on its menu, much less excels in its preparation and delivery. In Torinos’ Bistecca Alla Griglia (grilled steak), we enjoyed a better steak than we’ve had at many a steakhouse. Maxime pioneered the flat iron cut long before it became a popular offering. Until they became so popular flat iron steaks were a much more value-priced cut. It’s a cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak. Maxime exploits these qualities to their utmost, serving a fork-tender steak all carnivores will thoroughly enjoy. It is served with a roasted vine tomato and fagioli, the delicious white beans often found on soup.
Never has the adage “Everyone’s a critic” been more true than since the advent of the Internet. The blogosphere is a tailor-made venue for the general public to express itself openly, honestly and directly—and openly, honestly and directly the public does. The anonymity of writing online reviews has emboldened in the American culture, a mean-spiritedness equaled only in the vicious, in-the-gutter squalor of politics. At least that’s the outward appearance.
Researchers have discovered that when consumers write online reviews, they are more likely to confer positive ratings than negative ones. On a scale of one to five stars, the average online review grade bestowed to products and services as diverse as hotels, dog food and restaurants is about 4.3. The average rating for YouTube videos, according to Google, Inc. is even higher at 4.6 stars.
Respondents to TripAdvisor’s online review and rating service accorded Torinos @ Home a perfect rating of five. A perfect rating–that’s as much an anomaly as Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s perfect ten during the 1976 summer Olympics. It’s akin to Bo Derek’s pulchritude. Out of 85 respondents (as of December 23rd, 2009), 75 rated Torinos “Excellent,” 9 rated it “Very Good” and one sole dissenter said it was only “Average.” There’s a nay-sayer in every crowd.
Americans, it would seem are softies, an Oprahesque culture prone to puffery. At least that’s the impression I gleaned by reading TripAdvisor, source of the self-professed “world’s most trusted travel advice.” TripAdvisor, which allows consumers to review and rate all aspects of the travel experience (hotels, flights, restaurants), listed as the number one restaurant in Santa Fe, a humble, rustic little Italian restaurant named Torinos @ Home. Considering that among the City Different’s 327 restaurants are some of the most highly regarded restaurants under America’s spacious skies, is it possible that a restaurant whose name sounds more like an e-mail address than that of a restaurant is that good?
Burbling comments on TripAdvisor unabashedly supported the rating with such accolades as “best food in Santa Fe” and “best I’ve ever had” uttered with unfettered enthusiasm. A veritable love-fest for all aspects of the Torinos experience seemed almost too good to be true. The comments would have you believe that at Torinos, heaping portions of ambrosia are served on gilded platters by beautiful maidens. That last line is hyperbole, but not by much.
Me, I’m from Missouri…or at least the part of me that says “show me” is. When Daniela Bouneou, one of the restaurant’s owners, invited me to visit her restaurant, she indicated she would be honored to have Torinos @ Home listed on my index of Santa Fe restaurants. She said nothing about Torinos being rated the number one restaurant in Santa Fe or about the outstanding reputation it has garnered since launching in 2006. Obviously she wanted me to find out for myself.
As much as TripAdvisor respondents like Torinos @ Home, they love Daniela even more. From the descriptions on TripAdvisor, I pictured an apron-wearing signora with Monica Bellucci’s sultry beauty and the culture and refinement to mesmerize all guests with her graciousness and hospitality–a veritable Italian kitchen siren. Daniela is as wonderful as advertised!
It took less than six months for Torinos @ Home to achieve in Albuquerque what it achieved in Santa Fe. It is the highest rated restaurant on Travel Advisor from over 900 Duke City restaurants rated. More than 90 percent of the respondents participating in the online review rated it “Excellent.” Your eyes are not deceiving you! Torinos’ @ Home, by at least one account the highest rated restaurant In Santa Fe is, as of May 24, 2010, now in Albuquerque. In February, 2010, Torinos @ Home closed its doors in Santa Fe and relocated to the Duke City. Truly Santa Fe’s loss is Albuquerque’s gain. Among aficionados it has achieved near cult status.
In its annual food and wine issue for 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Torinos’ @ Home a “Hot Plate Award,” for “Hot Restaurateurs.” The Hot Plate Award is the magazine’s highest honor signifying appetizers, dishes, desserts, drinks and restaurants “that we can’t live without.” What a tribute to Torinos’ that Duke City diners can’t live without this gem of a restaurant. Some critics I trust consider it the only truly great Italian restaurant in Albuquerque with its nearest competition rating a very distant second. On her wonderful Tasting New Mexico blog, my friend, the scintillating author Cheryl Alters Jamison calls Torinos @ Home the “best destination dining in New Mexico.”
Raised in Torino (Turin to most Americans), the capital of Northern Italy’s Piedmont region for which her restaurant is named, Daniela attended culinary school at the precocious age of 14, but opted instead to pursue a career path in the “front of the house” for which her buoyant personality is best-suited. While working as maitre d’ at a four-star hotel in Nice, France, she met and married Maxime Bouneou, the hotel’s promising sous-chef. They moved to Santa Fe shortly thereafter.
Their Santa Fe restaurant ventures were initially in the employ of some of the city’s most prominent dining establishments. Maxime served as the Executive Chef at Fuego at La Posada de Santa Fe, a high-profile Four Diamond Award-winning restaurant. Daniela managed The Chocolate Maven for five years. Friends inspired the couple to open up their own restaurant after being completely blown away by the traditional Italian dishes they served during dinner parties at their home.
Torinos @ Home was ensconced in the venerable Santa Fe Village, a shopping center with an old west charm just a couple blocks south of the Plaza. For capturing the essence of Santa Fe, few shopping centers can match the Santa Fe Village with its unique local retail stores. Charm and essence are nice, but the truth is, the restaurant didn’t have a storefront presence and its square footage wasn’t much more spacious than a couple of office cubicles. Newcomers relied on smallish exterior signage and a slate board listing the day’s specials to point them in the restaurant’s general direction.
Worse, Torinos’ was tucked away in a corner hallway which got awfully crowded during peak hours as hungry patrons queued up for the limited number of tables or lined up to place an order. Though the brightly painted walls–the color of Santa Fe sunlight on one of New Mexico’s more than 300 days of sunshine annually–had a welcoming effect, when you’re hungry, you don’t want to wait no matter how great the food may be.
On February 16, 2010, the Bouneous sold their restaurant’s assets and the right to lease their charming spot so they could relocate to Albuquerque where Maxime’s family resides. Aside from familial reasons, Daniela and Maxime wanted a location which could provide the amenities all successful restaurants need (in addition to great food): a reasonable lease, plentiful parking, patio seating and spacious accommodations (the very antithesis of their crowded space at the Santa Fe Village center).
They found everything they sought in the Journal Center off Jefferson Street at the former home of Voila. Torinos @ Home has made itself at home in comfortable new digs, launching its Albuquerque operation on May 24th, 2010. Torinos stopped serving breakfast on Saturday, February 9th and is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11AM to 5:30PM and dinner from 5:00PM to 9:00PM. Reservations are suggested for dinner.
The menu remains a memorable–maybe magical–tribute to outstanding Italian cuisine with a deliciousness heretofore not experienced in Albuquerque. It’s hardly a compendium of all things Italian and it is certainly not a “red sauce” Italian restaurant. Instead, it serves a limited number of items prepared exceptionally well.
A larger kitchen also means an expanded lunch menu which now includes Grigliata Di Pesce, a selection of fresh fish—grouper filets, swordfish and scampi– all grilled and prepared with a hint of extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon and a whole roasted tomato. The antipasti, salads and soups section has also grown and now includes an antipasti platter for two that might elicit involuntary salivation, first when you read its component ingredients on the menu and next when it’s headed to your table. Though the menu section may be entitled “Just A Panini,” Torinos’s sandwiches hardly warrant the limiting descriptor of “just.” These are superb sandwiches!
The familiar pasta favorites are all still on the menu. Now significantly more than the half-dozen they could offer in Santa Fe, these pasta dishes would be reason enough to visit Torinos’. Fortunately, diners aren’t limited. The “Torinos Entrees” section of the menu features chicken piccat and Bucatini pasta, Spezzatino and Rigatoni Pasta, Anitra Al Forno (duck leg slowly confit for ten hours) and more. The dessert menu demonstrates Maxime’s versatility with a sweets menu perhaps inspired by his lovely wife: Daniela’s tiramisu, Maxime’s brownie, Affogato All Amarena, Affogato Al Cafe and my very favorite Zabaglione, fresh fruit gratin with a light custard.
Duke City diners will quickly discover Daniela is a peripatetic presence–an indefatigable whirling dervish, flitting from table to table with a boundless energy and enthusiasm. In New Mexico only the dearly departed former Governor Bruce King ever worked a crowd as well as Daniela does. She has the amazing ability to make everyone feel not just welcome, but special–all while simultaneously serving as hostess, waitress, cashier and the restaurant’s ambassador nonpareil.
Though often hurried, the beauteous Daniela is never harried. Her enthusiasm is infectious, her smile a radiant beacon and her charm absolutely beguiling. It’s no wonder TripAdvisor readers love her. Teenage daughter Marion is cut from the same cloth, helping out with alacrity when not at school. While service at some Santa Fe restaurants can be haughty at best, service at Torinos is par excellence.
Though I studied the menu at length prior to my inaugural visit in Santa Fe, the challenge of deciding what to have proved too much. Ostensibly, any and every dish at the highest rated restaurant in Santa Fe should be wonderful. Ultimately what I ended up doing was placing myself in Daniela’s capable hands, instructing her to bring me whatever she wanted. Telling her I like everything made her task easier. (My first visit, by the way, was like most of my visits–completely anonymous–as I want all restaurants I review to treat me exactly as they do any other diner.) If you’re also decision-challenged, place yourself in Daniela’s lovely and capable hands.
A basket of Italian bread and a decanter of herb-infused olive oil will help diffuse your hunger and stave off involuntary salivation while aromatically enticing entrees are delivered to nearby tables. Italian bread is characterized by a crispy crust and a chewy texture and Torinos’ rendition of the staff of life will not disappoint. Until late 2010, the bread came from the world-famous La Brea Bakery in California which boasts of an artisan’s passion, skill and dedication in every loaf. The bread was shipped to the restaurant where the baking process was finished. Thanks to a more expansive space, Maxime now bakes the restaurant’s focaccia and it’s fabulous–better even than the world-famous artisan staff-of-life from La Brea.
The olive oil is superb as well. You won’t need any of the sprinkled-on seasonings other restaurants serve. The olive oil is resplendent with the herbaceous freshness of a complementary blend of herbs swimming in the decanter. where they are joined by thin ancho chiles. You’ll also want to save a couple slices for dredging up whatever may be left over of the sauce you select for your entree…and you’ll definitely want to purchase a decanter of this olive oil before you leave. It’s world class stuff!
The menu describes the soup of the day as “heart warming.” That’s an understatement! Like mans’ best friend and favorite four-legged companion, a great soup loves you unconditionally. It provides hearty substance and warms the cockles of your heart. It’s equally at home on your sick bed as it is at a sumptuous feast. Torinos’ zucchini cilantro soup is such a soup! Four oversized croutons (perfect for crostini toppings) soak up the well-seasoned elixir while you bask in the liquid love as it slides down your throat.
Better still is Torino’s rendition of pasta fagioli, an Italian peasant soup which translates to “pasta and beans” (typically cannellini beans). As with many family dishes, the recipe for pasta fagioli varies greatly. Quite often it is made with a stewed tomato or tomato paste base. Torino’s variation is not made with tomatoes, but it is no less fragrant than its red sauced counterpart. Unlike some pasta fagioli, its broth is thick and soul-warming with pasta and beans in perfect proportion to sundry vegetables. My sister-in-law Lola DeVivo Laws, a proud Italian loved Torino’s pasta fagioli so much, every bite brought tears of joy to her eyes.
In its annual food and wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine named Torinos’ duck confit sandwich one of the yummiest sandwiches in the city. It’s one of the yummiest in the state! The canvas for this gem is focaccia bread from La Quiche Parisienne which is layered with a herbaceous (fresh thyme and cilantro) goat cheese spread, duck which has been confit in its own fat for ten hours, and grilled zucchini. This is a magnificent sandwich! The duck is moist, tender and absolutely delicious while the goat cheese spread lends a savory-slightly tart counterpoint.
Heartier appetizer seekers will gravitate toward the Antipasti Platter for two. While other restaurants in town serve an Antipasti Platter, only Torinos’ has truly amazed me. It’s a bounteous treasure that includes Prosciutto di Parma (sweet-tasting prosciutto, not as salty as the characteristic Italian bacon, and it’s bright and save for the white, flavorful fatty edges, is uniform in its rosiness), spek (a smoked and salted bacon), Pollo-Carciofini (chicken breast sauteed with artichoke hearts, garlic and basil in a white wine lemon sauce), goat cheese (creamy and fresh with just a tang) croutons, grilled eggplant (exceptional), artichoke hearts and grapes. Talk about utter deliciousness in a platter!
Three of the aforementioned antipasti meats are also featured on the “Just a Panini” section of the menu: the Piemontese (Spek, Fontina, Grilled Eggplant, Red Onion, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper), the Prosciutto “Just Like in Italy” (Prosciutto de Parma, Juicy Tomato Slices, Fresh Mozzarella, Pesto, Salt and Pepper); and the Pollo & Carciofini (poached chicken, artichoke hearts, capers, parsley, fresh mozzarella, Torinos’ vinaigrette, salt and pepper). All three are fabulous! They’re neither overstuffed nor overly large, but they’re seasoned exceptionally well with high-quality fresh meats, cheeses and condiments. You can have them baked in the oven or served cold.
The ravioli of the day (a concept finally made available in Albuquerque) is what Daniela chose for my introductory meal at Torinos. On this day, the ravioli was stuffed with ricotta and spinach and drizzled lightly with a three-herb (dill, tarragon, chives) butter sauce. I have never had better ravioli! In fact, compared to this ravioli, almost all other ravioli I’ve ever had is on par with the dreaded canned Chef Boyardee variety.
The three herb commingling imparted heretofore not experienced fresh herbaceous qualities to the rich buttery sauce: the divine fennel- and anise-like pleasantness of tarragon; the clean and subtle tangy balance of sweet and savory that is dill; and the sweet, mild onion-like versatility of chives. Each of the dozen raviolis on my plate were perfectly prepared and uniform in size. The texture was neither too al dente nor mushy in the least. The ricotta was not dominantly rich as some Italian restaurants serve it, but subtly rich in a manner that complements other ingredients. A generous sprinkle of fresh parmesan topped this fabulous entree.
Possessing a heart of gold as well as an amazing memory, Daniela remembered just how much I loved this dish and emailed me when Maxime prepared it with a decadent goat cheese cream sauce. Wow! Who says you can’t improve on perfection! Who says you can’t have too much of a good thing! This dish is the epitome of rich deliciousness.
It’s not quite as rich, however, as Torinos’ Spaghetti alla Carbonara, perfectly al dente pasta tossed with pancetta (Italian bacon), cream, egg, caramelized onion, garlic and parmigiano. It’s one of those rare dishes that is so rich you know you shouldn’t finish it all, but so good you can’t stop eating it. Calvin Trillin, one of the best food writers in America once suggested that instead of turkey, Americans should gather around the table for pasta carbonara. I’d gladly forgo turkey for Maxime’s spaghetti alla carbonara.
Surprises abound with every visit. You can literally expect the unexpected, a twist here and there to any preconceived notions you might have about Italian food. If you thought all pasta fagioli, for example, should look and taste like the Olive Garden’s version, Torino’s will break that paradigm quickly. If you think calamari should be cut into ringlets, breaded, deep-fried and served as an appetizer with some sort of dipping sauce, you’re in for a treat should you order Torino’s calamari entree.
Instead of thinly sliced ringlets, the calamari actually resemble large pasta shells. That’s because Torino’s serves them in their natural state minus the tentacles. Maxime stuffs each calamari with pancetta, garlic, fresh herbs and ricotta cheese and serves them with a tomatoes concasse (essentially peeled, seeded and crushed tomatoes) and a tart Balsamic reduction. The texture may be a bit off-putting to some as it’s almost rubbery, but it’s also replete with flavor. It’s a unique way to enjoy succulent squid.
Torinos’ pasta dishes include one aptly named “Tagiatelle Gorgonzola “For You Blue Cheese Haters,” though for this fan of fetid fromage, it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking stinky cheese, the more rancid and blue the better. I suspect Daniela and Maxime are having the last laugh because gorgonzola is itself a blue cheese, a veined Italian blue cheese, in fact. Like other blue cheeses, it can be crumbly and salty with a pronounced bite. On tagliatelle, this cheese finds a receptive canvas. The tagliatelle, a long, flat ribbon-like pasta similar in shape to fettuccine, is perfectly prepared; the sauce is surprisingly subdued, a rich, buttery, but not overwhelming sauce.
From the “Torinos Entrees” section of the menu, it’s hard to pass up Anitra al Forno, a duck leg slowly confit for ten hours served with seared polenta and fresh vegetables sauteed with extra virgin olive oil. After your first bite, you’ll lament that so many restaurants seem to believe duck should be fruity-tasting. The flavorful fat from the confit process imbues the duck with flavor through and through as well as a crust that seals in juices. This is a very moist and tender duck leg.
Torinos does a bustling take-out business, the best way to curb the inevitable cravings you’ll experience after a meal at what became, after only one visit, my favorite and highest rated Italian restaurant in New Mexico. Anything on the menu is available for carry-out. Dinner from Torinos, even if you have to warm it up yourself, is the next best thing to dinner at Torinos. Also available is a little store adjacent to the restaurant in which Italian goodies are sold. You’ll want to stock up on Maxime’s olive oil, biscotti, chocolate croissants (more on these later), homemade jams and a veritable treasure trove of other exciting and interesting items. Daniela introduced us to her favorite candies growing up in Italy. They’re wrapped similarly to saltwater toffee, but are wholly unlike saltwater toffee in texture. Best of all, they’re available in various flavors (pear, anise, mint, apricot and more.
Daniela ensured me that Torinos’ entrees reheat well–even on a microwave–especially the ravioli. That proved prophetically true. A ricotta and spinach stuffed ravioli entree with an Amatriciana sauce (tomato sauce with bacon, nicoises, olives, onion, garlic and white wine) was as good at home as it might have been at the restaurant, although there’s a lot to be said for the experiential factor of having Daniela serve it. The sauce is lightly applied, just enough to cover the ravioli. The explosive, complementary flavors belie the relative sparsity of the sauce. It’s a wonderful sauce in which the ingredients absolutely sing.
Another entree which reheats well is one of Torinos’ signature items: Spezzatino (braised brisket) and polenta. Torinos slowly braises cubes of beef brisket for five hours with carrots, celery, onion, garlic, cognac and red wine. If this sounds like the makings of a comforting stew, that’s essentially what it is, a Tuscan beef stew, or rather, a deconstructed beef stew. Instead of potatoes, Torinos serves the braised beef with polenta. Instead of the more conventional coarse or finely ground polenta, Torinos shapes its polenta into cubes. Though by itself polenta’s taste resembles what it is, corn grits, when it absorbs the braising liquids, it makes for a wondrous dish. Cut into bite-sized pieces, the beef is as tender as a mother’s love and more flavorful than you can imagine braised brisket can be.
As refined a lady as Daniela is, it’s always a joy to share a laugh with her when the topic at hand is so unladylike–such as when we discussed the etymology of the popular Italian dish Buccatini Puttanesca. The literal translation of this delicious dish is “whore’s spaghetti.” The origin of the term is in dispute, but what can’t be disputed is just how wonderful this dish is at the hands of a master chef like Maxime. Buccatini Puttanesca is a lively entree–pleasantly piquant, a bit salty, tantalizingly tangy and wholly delicious. At Torinos, its construction includes anchovies, olives, capers and other complementary ingredients. The anchovies are discernible, but not so much that the anti-anchovy crowd will disdain this wondrous dish.
Letting Daniela select my inaugural meal also meant she could pick whatever dessert she thought I might like. It turned out to be a fruit cobbler poached in red wine syrup and warm spices served with ice cream and whipped cream. Made with very tart and refreshing rhubarb spiced with cardamom and other of the chef’s special spice mix, it is wholly unlike the cloying fruit cobbler typically served in barbecue restaurants. A light, delicate and buttery crust cuts into the rhubarb’s tartness while the ice cream and whipped cream provide a rich, delicious and cold contrast to the warm cobbler.
Legend has it that when needing a “pick me up” in between amorous trysts, the courtesans of Venice would consume Tiramisu (the literal translation of which is “pick me up) to boost their stamina. An addictive, rich and ethereally light Italian dessert, when made right it will leave an indelible impression on you. The very best tiramisu I’ve had in the Albuquerque area has been from Blades’ Bistro in Placitas and Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria in the Duke City. That is, those were the best until I sampled Daniela’s Tiramisu at Torinos’ @ Home. It’s also the most authentic tiramisu I’ve had, wholly unlike the “cake” type tiramisu inferior restaurants serve. That’s pseudo tiramisu. Daniela’s rendition is served in a concave bowl, the discernible melding of spirits, espresso and cocoa defying convention by being both whisper light and having body and texture.
Torinos @ Home For Dinner
On Friday night, June 15, 2011, Torinos @ Home began opening for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights from 5:30 to 9:00PM. It quickly became THE place to be in Albuquerque for dinner. In addition to its fabulous seasonal menu and fantastic specials, the dinner menu includes wine and beer. Reservations are definitely recommended. If you think Maxime’s talent nonpareil is showcased during breakfast and lunch, you’ll be blown away by what he does for dinner when in addition to Northern Italian standards, he expands the menu offerings to include a limited number of French items.
During our inaugural dinner visit, one of the two featured appetizers was Foie Gras Au Torchon served with applewood smoked duck and fig preserve. Foie Gras, which translates from French as “fat liver” is a highly-coveted, incomparably rich and delicious duck liver that’s been fattened specifically to give it a silken texture and unctuous flavor. This luscious, delicate “meat butter” dish is a foodie favorite and bane of vegetarians everywhere. France is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of foie gras which is at its very best during the autumn and fall seasons when quite naturally, ducks accumulate most fat, particularly on their livers.
Torchon, which means “dish towel” in French refers to the way the foie gras is often prepared. It’s truly a delicious irony that the most craved and coveted portion of the canard, a culinary luxury, is traditionally wrapped in humble and lowly dish towels and poached for as long as three days. The results are an eyes rolling back in the head, swoon inducing foodgasm. Torinos’ foie gras is among the best we’ve ever had, heightened by the addition of whisper-thin slivers of applewood smoke duck and a thin fig preserve “trail” that’s dragged on the plate to give you just a sensation of sweetness without overwhelming the make you weak in the knees flavor of the duck.
In season, one of the most overdone ingredients on restaurant menus is butternut squash. Unfortunately more often than not, restaurants tend to prepare it to a near-dessert level of sweetness. Instead of letting its natural sweetness shine forth, chefs tend to add sweetening spices to its creamy beige flesh. At Torinos, Maxime pairs the butternut squash with fresh ricotta and stuffs them into hand-made ravioli then tops the ravioli with a fresh sage (a vastly underutilized spice) and garlic sauce, shaved almonds and shaved slivers of parmigiano. It’s some of the best ravioli you’ll ever have times five, the pairings of ingredients heightening the best in each other.
Dinner might mean something unexpected such as a featured special of roasted prime rib au jus served with a potato gratin and vichyssoise carrots. The prime rib is a slab of wonderfully roasted (Lowry’s quality) just-off-the-bone prime rib with a perfectly pink hue redolent with a peppercorn enhanced au jus. It’s nearly fork-tender and as juicy as any prime rib you’ll ever have. The potato gratin is a beauteous brick of thinly sliced and layered potatoes and cream seasoned with garlic. The top layer is beautifully browned and each layer underneath perfectly prepared. While the term vichyssoise is most often associated with a cold French soup, the term actually means “from Vichy” a city in France. Torinos’ vichyssoise carrots have a sweet (but not overly so) flavor and a crisp texture (a boon for those of us who don’t want mushy carrots).
Some diners might not brave a dessert which translates from French to “half cooked,” but then they’d be missing the rich deliciousness of Torinos’ chocolate mi-cuit. Similar to the molten centered chocolate cakes served in highly regarded restaurants such as Roy Yamaguchi’s eponymous Roy’s, this is a chocolate cake so decadent it can only be finished if shared. Torinos’ rendition is topped with vanilla ice cream and served with amarena cherries. Amarena cherries, grown mostly in Bologna and Modena, Italy, start off as slightly sour cherries, but they’re preserved in a rich, sweet syrup that makes them nearly cloying. The vanilla cuts the sweetness nicely as does the adult chocolate.
If you’re in the mood for something not quite as rich or decadent, the pistachio square is the dessert for you. Pistachios are a versatile nut that can serve not only as a snack food, but in entrees and desserts. They lend a savory quality to desserts that are would otherwise be cloying– such as baklava at Yasmine’s Cafe. The pistachio square is a tarte in which finely chopped pistachios are the star and creme Anglaise is a counterpoint of sweet richness. The tarte is dense and moist with an excellent crust.
Outstanding food, reasonable prices and portions, exceptional service…not to mention the fabulous Daniela. Torinos @ Home is as much about the experience as it is about the food. Was it Santa Fe’s best restaurant? A phalanx of restaurant critics say it was. Will it be Albuquerque’s highest rated restaurant? Daniela invites you to find out for yourself.
Torinos @ Home
7600 Jefferson Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 20 April 2013
1st VISIT: 22 December 2009
# OF VISITS: 9
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Ravioli of the Day, Spezzatino, Fruit Cobbler, Soup of the Day, Antipasti Platter, Prosciutto “Just Like Italy” Panini, Pollo & Carciofini Panini, Taliatelle Gorgonzola “For You Blue Cheese Haters,” Anitra Al Forno, Spaghetti Puttanesca, The Latino, Calamari, Pasta Fagioli, Duck Confit Sandwich, Spaghetti Carbonara, Baccalao, Grouper al Cartoccio,