As the end of an year draws near, the inclination to reflect on the closing year seems natural. Auld lang syne practically resonates from the pages of most periodicals as they reflect on the year that was with writers providing their year-end retrospectives. Quite naturally my favorite reflections are of New Mexico’s continuously evolving, culturally vibrant and deliciously diverse culinary scene. Several of my favorite writers–and readers–provided an year-end snapshot of the very best dishes they had during 2011. You can read the latter starting here.
There’s generally a wide diversity of opinion among restaurant critics and diners as to what constitutes the “best dishes,” so it behooves us all to pay attention when consensus or near consensus is achieved by any one dish at a restaurant. Most of my astute readers who contributed their top ten dishes of the year agree on the greatness of Blade’s Bistro, Mary & Tito’s, Budai Gourmet Chinese, Torinos @ Home, San Pedro Middle East Restaurant and Jennifer James 101. These are all easily among my favorite restaurants and shouldn’t be missed.
When two of my very favorite food writers in New Mexico (or anywhere else, for that matter) waxed poetic about the best dishes they had during 2011, my interest was more than piqued because two of their anointed dishes came from a relatively new restaurant in Santa Fe. Because those writers are so highly credentialed and have national profiles, their opinions warranted not only my attention, but a visit to the restaurants they declared as having some of the very best dishes they sampled during 2011.
My friend, the scintillating author and four-time James Beard award-winner Cheryl Jamison reflected on her favorite dishes in the Tasting NM blog she debuted in November, 2011. One of her favorite dishes for 2011 was the “pozole” at Tomme in Santa Fe, a late-comer to the Santa Fe dining scene which launched in September, 2011. She lauded the “mini-souffle of hominy in a light sauce sparked by red chile and topped with a tangle of pulled pork,” rhapsodizing on how Chef Brian Rood “took a beloved everyday dish and delighted diners with a witty new play on it.”
In the December, 2011 – January, 2012 edition of Local Flavor Magazine, renowned chef and writer Johnny Vee put together his list of dishes which wowed him during the year. One of them was the fried chicken with braised greens, potato croquette and brown gravy at Tomme (pronounced Tum). He described the “down-home classic” as “anything but rustic with impossibly crunchy poultry.” He had me at fried chicken. Any fried chicken sufficiently worthy of making it to such an acclaimed writer’s “best of” list is a fried chicken we had to try. Not even in the Deep South (which we called home for eight years) did we encounter fried chicken worthy of such an accolade.
Tomme, named for a fairly generic class of cheeses produced in France, is anything but generic. It’s a modern bistro offering a melange of sophisticated dishes at very reasonable prices. It’s high-end quality with affordable prices. The menu is relatively small–a handful of appetizers plus a soup of the day, fewer than a dozen entrees and a small number of desserts. One promised constant is the restaurant’s playful take on Southern fried chicken. Situated on the southeast corner of Galisteo and West Alameda, scant blocks away from the famed Santa Fe Plaza, Tomme is attractive in a sort of minimalist way with nothing to distract you from the cuisine. That’s the way it should be.
With your focus squarely on the menu and not on a distracting milieu, contemplating your dining options is sheer pleasure. You may ponder how, or if, a restaurant can successfully execute such a mishmash of upscale and fusty dishes or how the moderate price point will translate in terms of quality. Mostly, however, you’ll probably deliberate the place of fried chicken on other than a fast food menu. Despite the small number of options on the menu, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide which to have and which to hold off until a future visit. Our decision not to have pozole during our inaugural visit was based on the fact that we were all “posoled” out from the Christmas season, but we look forward to sample it next time.
Our inaugural appetizer choice was slow-braised short rib gougeres (a French style of savory pastry made from choux pastry and some type of cheese). The cheese used is Point Reyes blue cheese, a creamy, pungent, full-flavored blue cheese. The short ribs are shredded into tender tendrils of moist, thoroughly delicious beef. The shredded beef is sandwiched in between the choux pastry puffs and topped with an apricot gremolata, a sweet-tangy garnish. Served three per order, the gougeres may resemble roast beef sliders, but one bite confirms this is an elegant and sophisticated starter. The melding of strong blue cheese and unctuous shredded short ribs is particularly notable.
The Southern fried chicken also manages a surprising level of sophistication and not just because the comforting crunch has its genesis in a wondrous panko breading though that’s a refreshing difference. Tomme serves a three-piece boneless, all white array of pulchritudinous poultry truly befitting of consideration for anyone’s top ten list. It’s juicy and tender without being greasy. Reflective of an evolving menu, our chicken was served not with a potato croquette as was Johnny Vee’s, but with hand-mashed potatoes and bacon-braised kale. The kale is not nearly as “iron” bitter tasting as some kale. Attribute that to the transformative nature of bacon which improves everything with which it comes into contact. The mashed potatoes are creamy.
A more conventional bistro offering, steak frites, is very well executed, a pan-seared strip loin served with pommes frites (French fries), haricot verts and a housemade tamarind sauce. Prepared at a perfect medium, the strip loin is tender, juicy and tasty. The housemade tamarind sauce proves a perfect complement for the steak, blending the sweet-tangy-sour flavors of tamarind with the savoriness of a great steak sauce. The haricot verts (very small and slender green beans) are crispy and fresh. The pommes frites are among the very best in New Mexico with a twice-fried texture and perfect level of saltiness. Ketchup need not rear its presence anywhere near these fries.
Though the fried chicken may not make my top ten list, there is one item on the Tomme menu which just might supplant one of my choices. It’s the poached pear dessert pairing a smoked chevre (goat cheese) ice cream atop an orange chutney with sliced pears over a tarragon syrup. The pears are poached in wine and honey, a combination which bring out the natural sweetness of the pears while imbuing them with richness and sophistication. The chevre ice cream lends a savory tanginess to the sweetness of the vanilla while the orange chutney adds a punchy zest.
Tomme is an exciting change of pace from the highly regarded, high-end genre which dominates the Santa Fe dining scene. With its whimsical menu touches and working class prices, it promises to go far–undoubtedly to many more top ten lists.
229 Galisteo Street at West Alameda
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Slow Braised Short Rib Gougeres, Southern Fried Chicken, Steak Frites, Poached Pear