To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
Not that very long ago, a “seasonal palate” meant humankind consumed foods only during the season in which they were grown. Today, we can walk down the aisles of our neighborhood grocery stores in January and find a veritable horn of plenty overflowing with the same kinds of fruits and vegetables we were enjoying when they were “in season” back in June. That’s what progress–refrigeration, preservatives, processed foods and a worldwide distribution system–has wrought. Alas, that “progress” may have come at the expense and delusion of our taste buds.
While genetic engineering has fooled our eyes by making those “out-of-season” fruits and vegetables appear fresh, ripe and delicious, our taste buds are more honest, discerning those fruits and vegetables to be flat, bland and uninspiring. They may look good, but the real proof is in the eating. Aside from discerning seasonally optimum flavors with our olfactory senses and taste buds, our memories tend to associate fruits and vegetables harvested and eaten in-season with seasonal events and holidays. Consider the sweet, luscious watermelon. Doesn’t it taste oh so much better when paired with picnics and fireworks than with Christmas dinner?
In the 1970s, the Paul Masson Winery employed celebrated actor Orson Welles as the voice of its wines. In television commercials made famous (or infamous) for drunken outtakes, Welles promised for Masson: “We will sell no wine before its time.” As with wine before its time, when you find a restaurant serving fruits and vegetables that are past their time, expect to be disappointed. No amount of preservatives, refrigeration and processing can keep foods at their optimum of freshness and deliciousness beyond the season in which nature intended for them to be harvested and eaten.
The concepts of farm-to-table, organic and local go hand-in-hand with a seasonal palate. When you eat foods grown locally by trusted farms, you’re likely eating foods that are in season. In doing so, you’re undoubtedly enjoying them at their optimum freshness and peak of flavor. That promise is more than implied at the aptly named Seasonal Palate Restaurant at the Journal Center’s Market Place. With a motto proudly declaring “artful, simple, clean,” Seasonal Palate honors fresh, local ingredients and changes its menu seasonally.
Before the Seasonal Palate restaurant became a brick-and-mortar operation in the summer of 2015, it was one of the most highly regarded food trucks operating in the Duke City area (usually parked on Highway 165 in Placitas). Chef Kimberly Calvo, a 1999 graduate of the “real” CIA (that’s Culinary Institute of America) doesn’t miss the cold winds that often buffeted her food truck from 2011 through 2013, but she does miss having the Sandias as a backdrop for her kitchen. The Seasonal Palate is ensconced in a 2,000 square-foot storefront offering seating much more comfortable seating than patrons of her food truck found in their vehicles. The storefront also serves as the base for the Chef’s catering and supper club events.
When she operated her food truck, Chef Calvo frequented the Talin Market parking lot where food truck pods continue to welcome teeming masses every Wednesday. Competition was keen among the motorized conveyances of assorted deliciousness. At the Market Place at Journal Center, her neighbors include Torinos @ Home a restaurant par excellence. Chef Calvo’s menu gives the lunch crowds another wonderful option. Of the half-dozen or so restaurants at the Market Place, my friends at the nearby UpRight MRI of New Mexico were most effusive about Seasonal Palate. I had to find out why.
27 October 2019: What my upright and upstanding friends were most enthusiastic about was the buffalo green chile cheeseburger and while that indeed is a tempting option, Chef Calvo is so enthusiastic about her menu and the day’s specials that you just might order something else. Only seven entrees were listed on the menu, not that a limited number will make it any easier to decide what to order. There are easily seven entrees you’ll want to order. During my inaugural visit, the entrees included such temptresses as a falafel sandwich, shrimp po’ boy, fresh cod and chips (applauded during the 2015 balloon fiesta by visitors from across the pond) and a spicy Asian chicken salad. Several house-baked desserts, samples of which are generously provided, are also available.
Out of loyalty to the exceptional folks at UpRight MRI, my introduction to The Seasonal Palate was in the form of a buffalo green chile cheeseburger served with fries and a pickle spear. A toasted brioche bun is the canvas for this behemoth burger: four-ounces of fresh, lean and flavorful buffalo meat; your choice of cheese (Cheddar, Swiss or Provolone), chipotle mayo and organic buns. The roasted green chile and chipotle mayo impart a three-alarm degree of piquancy coupled with intense deliciousness. While buffalo doesn’t have the fatty flavor of beef, it’s sweeter and more tender than its hoofed bovine counterpart. This is a burger worthy of inclusion in the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.
6 November 2019: When he worked in the Journal Center area, my friend Bruce Jefferson became far better acquainted with every restaurant in the area than your friendly neighborhood blogger is. He raved so much about the freshness of the fresh cod and chips (fresh cod fillets fried crispy in a light tempura batter, served with a side of spicy tartar sauce, malt vinegar and fries) at Seasonal Palate that I wondered if he owned stock in the restaurant. Moreover, I wondered about the adjective “fresh” prefacing cod on the menu. This is the landlocked Land of Enchantment after all.
It turns out “fresh” isn’t just a label for the fried cod. Seasonal Palate has cod flown in daily from Seattle. The freshness is very telling Two lightly battered golden fillets could have been prepared in the Emerald City (no, not the one in Oz). Each fillet was robust with meaty, flaky cod so fresh and delicious it was almost criminal to drench them in malt vinegar or dip them into the (quite terrific) spicy tartar sauce. Not that they were wasted. The malt vinegar enlivened the chips very nicely.
6 November 2019: At the other end of the flavor profile spectrum is Seasonal Palate’s Spicy Asian Chicken Salad (spicy glazed chicken thighs marinated in soy, Sambal and maple syrup served warm atop organic greens, edamame, shredded carrots, cucumbers and crispy wonton ribbons with soy-ginger vinaigrette. This is a salad replete with surprises, not the least of which is the edamame, a vastly underutilized salad ingredient. The combination of soy, sambal (a spicy chili-based Asian paste) and maple syrup had us take notice, too with a nice balance of complementary flavors. The soy-ginger vinaigrette reminiscent of Japanese restaurants imparted its own invigorating freshness to a memorable salad.
6 November 2019: Also memorable are the desserts, all baked in-house. If Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney were “ebony and ivory,” my Kim and I are chocolate and lemon. Few desserts are as satisfying to me as a double chocolate brownie replete with walnuts, the more the better. This was a dense, moist brownie. More importantly, it wasn’t cloying as some brownies tend to be. My Kim’s lemon pound cake was moist and rich with not quite lip-pursing lemon flavors.
The Seasonal Palate is open for breakfast, too, offering a half-dozen best reasons to wake up. If freshness, flavor and being in harmony with the rhythms of the season are important to you, you’ll love The Seasonal Palate!
The Seasonal Palate
7600 Jefferson Street, N.E. #2
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 6 November 2019
1st VISIT: 27 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Buffalo Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Fresh Cod and Chips, Spicy Asian Chicken Salad, Lemon Pound Cake, Double Chocolate Brownie