Career paths do not always unfold as stereotypes might dictate. Heavily recruited out of Mission, Texas, a high school football hotbed, Frans Dinklemann, a 6’6″ 241-pound defensive end, signed with the University of New Mexico where his Lobo teammates included perennial National Football League (NFL) All-Pro Brian Urlacher. By his senior year, Frans had grown to 6’7″ and 270 pounds and moved to the offensive line where he set the team weight room record for offensive linemen with a 33-inch vertical leap.
The stereotype of the offensive lineman is of a brutish behemoth heavy on brawn and light on brain, a misanthrope with very little personality or charisma. In his inimitable manner, Hall of Fame NFL coach and longtime television analyst John Madden stereotypes the offensive lineman as a “big ol’ mean and nasty guy who tries to knock the snot out of the guy across from him.” With these stereotypes, you might surmise that after his Lobo career ended, Frans Dinklemann would become a nightclub bouncer or pursue some other similar profession requiring muscle and mass.
Coach Madden, however, also pointed out that offensive linemen tend to be neat and precise, to be polite and have well-ordered lockers. This fits with their job of carrying out precise assignments in connection with each play the quarterback directs the team to execute. Those traits–neatness, precision, politeness and orderliness–seem to defy stereotypes and are actually more often associated with a chef than with an offensive lineman. As Frans Dinklemann, offensive lineman turned chef, proves every day, if you’ve got the passion and determination, you can follow your dreams no matter what they might be.
Frans Dinklemann is realizing his dreams. While toiling at another Duke City restaurant, he and the restaurant’s manager Dolores Welk-Jack frequently fantasized about striking out on their own. For years they shared ideas and planned for an eventuality that took years to culminate. Chef Dinklemann and Dolores launched Bouche on October 26, 2013 in a Lilliputian space nestled within the La Bella Spa Salon complex on Coors just south of Alameda.
To see the beautiful plating coming out of the kitchen is to experience esthetically pleasing, appetite arousing, edible art. Chef Dinkleman obviously recognizes that great cuisine may be eaten with the mouth but it’s with the eyes that the first impression and sense of appreciation are formed. Everything is where it should be for optimum harmony, balance and appearance, a sort of plate syzygy. The balance of color, texture and appearance makes diners give pause to reflect on how great everything looks before their taste buds confirm what their eyes already know. If you still believe in stereotypes, you might ask yourself “an offensive lineman did that?”.
If Chef Dinklemann is the proverbial ex-jock with hidden talents, Dolores is the gracious lady hostess, the heart and soul of the operation. Dolores runs the “front of the house” which means she’s the restaurant’s public face, the person with whom guests will interact. The hospitality and personal, attentive service guests receive from Dolores ensures they’ll be back. In fact, as of this writing, Bouche has a 100% “like it” rating on Urbanspoon whose readers can be very persnickety and obstinate. Urbanspoon readers rave as much about the service at Bouche as they do the amazing cuisine.
It’s pretty obvious Dolores prefers the restaurant’s intimacy. Because Bouche has only thirteen seats, she’s able to provide that personal touch so endearing to her guests. Dolores is an effusive and warm person, the type of whom makes a great best friend. Aside from her people skills, she’s the mastermind behind the restaurant’s fabulous desserts, bakery-quality deliciousness with which to finish a perfect meal. Oh, and she may not be a certified sommelier, but her wine-pairing recommendations are savant.
If you like the predictability of menus you can practically recite, Bouche will throw you a real curve ball. There is no formal menu, the only predictability being the knowledge that everything you order will be fabulous. The selections of the day–typically two or three entrees, appetizers, a soup, a salad, and dessert–are scrawled on a chalkboard. Don’t get used to today’s selection because tomorrow they may not be there. Everything is prepared based on what quality local organic produce can be found on the market. Despite the appellation “Bouche,” which translates from French to “mouth,” featured fare is “new American” prepared with French techniques.
It’s only fitting that my inaugural visit to Bouche was with my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate. For months Larry had raved about Bouche and to me, he’s like E.F. Hutton in that when Larry speaks, Gil listens. We were accompanied by my much better half Kim and the dazzling Deanell. In a stormy night replete with surprises, perhaps the biggest surprise is that Bouche didn’t have an overflow crowd. Dolores explained that reservations have become absolutely necessary for Friday and Saturday night seating and that lunch crowds abound, but some evenings are surprisingly light. That meant more single-focused attention from the delightful Dolores for us.
Even though it’s not complimentary, make sure to order the bread. It’s a terrific French bread and on the night of our inaugural visit, it was served with a superb herb-garlic butter resplendent with clove halves. The bread is fresh and delicious with a crusty exterior and soft interior. The herb-garlic butter is a more than welcome respite from the ad infinitum parade of olive oil amalgams too many restaurants serve.
For decades, photographers who want their subjects to smile have instructed them to “say cheese.” Saying “cheese” causes the mouth to form into a semblance of a smile-like shape. Savvy diners will do well to order the cheese plate when it’s on the menu. It’ll make you smile for sure. Now, the concept of the cheese plate sometimes seems foreign in New Mexico and if you do find one it’s typically rather austere and unimaginative. At Bouche, the cheese plate is both an objec d’art and a misnomer. The “plate” is an artistic array of toasted Brazil and hazel nuts; fresh blackberries, strawberries and raspberries; crackers; slices of Jarlsberg cheese; and in the center of a cutting board, a herbaceous goat cheese ball made from the Old Windmill Dairy‘s finest. The handle of the cutting board is drizzled with honey and bee pollen. Sitting on a heated stone are slices of Brie which continue their molten transformation until you extricate them from the hot stone. It’s the very best cheese plate we’ve found in New Mexico. No other is even close.
Offensive linemen are more often associated with all-you-can-eat buffets than with salads, especially “pretty” salads. Bouche’s melon salad is the antithesis of the boring, haphazardly strewn-together salad you might find at a football team’s training table. It’s esculent esthetics, a melange of summery colors and ingredients which look like a painting and taste even better than they look. The melon triumvirate for which the salad is named includes honeydew melon, cantaloupe and watermelon. Aside from the fresh, crisp greens, other ingredients from which this salad is constructed include shaved almonds and mozzarella drizzled with a strawberry vinaigrette. If you love the bounty and freshness of summer, you’ll love this salad.
Wheel of Fortune star Vanna White once quipped “When I was having that alphabet soup, I never thought that it would pay off.” Having served several times as judges for the Roadrunner Food Bank’s annual Souperbowl has paid off for Larry and me as we’ve garnered expertise in soup we might not otherwise have. Bouche’s potato and bacon soup is absolutely souperb with much more flavor complexity than its name might imply. It’s also rather uniquely plated. A lightly fried corn tortilla shell with three cut-out circular “windows” reveals three of the ingredients used to construct the soup. One window showcases finely chopped bacon, another scallions and the third gives you a voyeur’s view of unctuous melted butter. This is one of the most inventive and delicious soups you’ll find in the Duke City. If the melon salad invokes a summery feel, the soup is perfect for rainy and cold nights.
On most restaurant menus bone-in pork chop is as descriptive as you’re going to see on the plate. At Bouche, bone-in pork chop fails miserably to describe its presentation. A two-inch thick bone-in pork chop arrives under a tight-fitting, fogged up plastic dome. When Dolores removes the dome, smoky vapors waft upward revealing a fragrant bouquet of hard woods melded with porcine deliciousness. The tender pork practically melts in your mouth imparting the flavors of sweet, savory, and smoke on your tongue and taste buds. The pork chop is served with fresh, buttery corn and French-style snap peas, both prepared as well as vegetables can be prepared. These are carnivore converting quality vegetables.
Similar to the bone-in-pork chop, the two-inch thick ribeye (which resembles a small roast) arrives under its own foggy dome. You’ve got to experience the wood smoke fragrance as it escapes the dome. The smoke pervades the entire dining room, prompting prying eyes and very aroused nostrils to seek its origin and let the smoke envelop them, too. At medium, the ribeye has a nice band of light pink through the middle. Sides are rich brown in color. The steak is firm to the touch with just a bit of play in the middle. It’s absolutely delicious, as good as any steak we’ve had in New Mexico. Garnished with micro-greens and served with sweet snap peas, it’s steak the way it should be prepared and served.
You might think that with all we enjoyed, we’d be too full for dessert and while that may have been the case, sugary lust superseded satiety. Desserts, Larry assured us, are as fantastic as everything else at Bouche. Our first dessert was a vanilla spice cake, far surpassing the simplicity of its name. This wonderful cake featured three separate slabs drizzled with a raspberry topping and laying on a decorative pool of goat cheese cream. The other dessert was a berry cobbler topped with an addictive sweet goat cheese cream and lots of loose berries on the plate. Both desserts included pulled sugar twill.
Among savvy diners in the know, Bouche is already regarded as one of the Duke City’s very best dining establishments, a diminutive and non-traditional gem with a brilliant chef who coaxes optimal flavors from each and every ingredient and an ambassadorial manager who’ll win you over with her charm and wit.
10126 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Ribeye, Bone-In Pork Chop, Potato and Bacon Soup, Melon Salad, Vanilla Spice Cake, Cheese Plate, Berry Cobbler