you have to narrow it down to Tuscan, Sicilian, and so on.”
~ Lee Child, Author
“You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend; you want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend.” That tried and proven sports adage applies in every walk-of-life. Indeed, if you’re the person who has to succeed a beloved living legend, you’ll invariably hear about the gigantic shoes you have to fill. Your every move will be scrutinized and your every failure magnified until you prove yourself worthy of breathing the same rarefied air as the icon you’re replacing. It’s not a challenge the faint-hearted should attempt and it will test the mettle of even the most accomplished.
Confident people have another perspective on following a legend. They relish the challenge of living up to exceedingly high standards and fully expect to succeed. There’s no exit strategy for them…unless it’s to move on to a loftier challenge. They revel in the scrutiny, seeing it as another opportunity to prove themselves. Confident people aren’t reluctant to chart a different course, to do things just a bit differently than their predecessors. They’re risk-takers with an intrinsic believe that it is possible to improve on perfection.
So just how to you balance the need for respectful deference to your predecessor with the desire to stamp your own imprint on success? Daniel and Jenna John are doing it the right way. In February, 2016, they purchased Torinos @ Home, one of New Mexico’s most revered and highly acclaimed restaurants. In doing so, they succeeded Maxime and Daniela Bouneou, two of the most beloved and highly respected restaurateurs in the state. Rather than rebranding an established and highly successful restaurant, Daniel and Jenna decided to keep the name Torinos’ @ Home and to continue showcasing the Northern Italian cuisine inspired with French and Spanish influences.
Where the new owners will make Torinos @ Home truly their own is in bringing more local ingredients and indeed, Torinos’ has established local partnerships with several local farms, wineries and breweries. The couple also plans to incorporate new items into the menu and introduce wine happy hour events. One significant “attitudinal” difference is Daniel’s concession that Torinos @ Home offers a “fine dining experience with a casual atmosphere.” Maxime would not—even on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives—declare Torinos’ to be a fine-dining restaurant.
Stepping into Torinos’ @ Home still felt like coming back home even though we weren’t greeted effusively by Daniela. Also gone is the little store in which Italian goodies—such as Maxime’s olive oil, biscotti, chocolate croissants, homemade jams and a veritable treasure trove of other exciting and interesting items—were once proffered. In its place is a welcoming lounge where you can indulge in your favorite Italian coffee. For my Kim, the most noticeable absence (aside from the Bouneous) was her favorite lavender scented soaps in the ladies room.
Other, more important, facets of a Torinos’ dining experience remain unchanged. Service is still first-rate with attentive servers tending to your every need, such as delivering and later replenishing a colander of olive and Italian bread. The accompanying 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 remains comfortably familiar with many of our favorite dishes still available. Dishes we had not previously sampled are interspersed among the familiar favorites. The Antipasti menu includes both a cheese board and an antipasto platter as well as five other inviting starters. Six salads, several of them Torinos’ standards, beckon. A section of the menu is dedicated to Pasta and Risotto, two of life’s enduring pleasures. Two (beef cheek manicotti and squid ink pasta) of the ten dishes on this section were showcased on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Because diners can’t live on pasta and risotto alone, other sections of the menu are devoted to offerings from the Sea and from the Farm. You can add such favorites as homemade sausage, prosciutto and sweet potato fries to any dish. Then there’s the desserts, as decadent and enticing as ever.
20 August 2016: Turophiles everywhere will delight in Torinos’ cheese board, literally a paddle-sized wooden board strewn from top to bottom with cheeses: biaco sardo (sheep’s milk), pichin (raw cow’s milk), Aged Montegrappa (cow’s milk), Nocetto Di Cabra (goat’s milk) and Gorgonzola Picante (cow’s milk) as well as Nicoise olives and walnuts. As with all good cheese boards, the cheeses run the taste gamut—from mild to sharp with degrees of variation in between. Cheeses should be eaten from mildest to strongest so you don’t miss the nuance of a mild cheese after eating a stinging, astringent blue. Because the olfactory senses contribute so much to a cheese-tasting experience, you should always imbibe the aroma of your cheeses before eating them. There is only one thing wrong with the Torinos’ cheese plate. Understandably, what’s missing is more cheese—as in large wheels or blocks of the stuff.
We’d be hard-pressed to name a favorite cheese from among the five. We loved the bianco sardo and the way its creamy mouthfeel contrasted with its firm, dry texture. We could have eaten an entire wheel of the Pichin, an earthy, acidic, semi-firm cheese. Montegrappa, probably the most expensive cheese on the board, is dense and crumbly with a subdued flavor that nonetheless leaves a lactic aftertaste. Predictably, the Nocetta di Cabra, a creamy, tart cheese was my Kim’s favorite while mine was the Gorgonzola Picante, a veiny blue cheese with piquant notes. Make sure you ask for a side of the positively addictive Cipolline onions (saucer-shaped Italian pearl onions with a uniquely sweet and mild flavor), a nice foil for the cheeses.
20 August 2016: If Risotto Fruit Di Mare had been on the Torinos @ Home menu when the Maxime performed his magic in the kitchen, we must have missed it. More likely it’s one of the new items on the menu introduced by Chef John. Don’t dare miss it! The arrival of the dish (al dente Arborio rice with shrimp, little neck clams, calamari, mussels, clam juice and star anise) is preceded by an aroma one normally encounters only at Vietnamese restaurants. It’s the inimitable, alluring aroma of star anise, an aroma that permeates each grain of rice with its subtle licorice-like flavor. The risotto with its very clean, very fresh flavors and the slight and subtle undertones of anise, is a perfect complement to the fresh, almost off-the-boat flavors of the seafood. Several years ago, I lamented the scarcity of good risotto in New Mexico. Since then a number of restaurants have risen to the challenge and now serve very good to outstanding risotto dishes. Mark Torinos’ as one of the latter.
During my inaugural visit to Torinos’ @ Home way back in 2009, the menu showcased a “ravioli of the day” special. It was a novel concept which introduced Santa Fe diners to the infinite possibilities of ravioli, an Italian dumpling composed of sundry fillings sealed between two layers of thin pasta dough. For those of us who once believed ravioli came from a can labeled Chef Boyardee, Torinos’ ravioli was a godsend. Thinking back on our naiveté, we’re now inclined to share the perspective of Canadian novelist Doug Coupland who put it so aptly: “I know it’s not cat food, but what exactly is it that they put inside of tinned ravioli?”
20 August 2016: The ravioli of the day concept may not have been long-lived, but it certainly had an enduring effect on diners. The challenge for my Kim was whether to have the roasted beet ravioli (beets, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses stuffed in a ravioli, topped with golden raisins, walnuts, poppy seeds and more Parmesan cheese drizzled in light butter sauce) or the Porcini Ravioli (white truffle, porcini mushrooms, cream and Parmesan cheese), a vegetarian offering. It was a very good choice. Earthy, rich-flavored porcini mushrooms impart a pungent, woodsy flavor to the ravioli. The white truffle lends similar qualities. If you love full-flavored fungi, this is the dish for you.
14 April 2018: Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp believes Daniel and Jenna have “made the dining adventure even more swoon-worthy than it was a few years ago.” TripAdvisor and Yelp communities strongly agree. In the two plus years since they bought Torinos @ Home, they’ve truly made it their own. During our April visit, we had a brief opportunity to meet Jenna who’s even more attractive in person than online. She has an effervescent personality and easy smile even when she’s assiduously preparing for a unique event such as the “Technology Dinner” Torinos was hosting that evening. With Saturday morning brunch and interesting themed events, Torinos continues to evolve and improve.
14 April 2018: If you’re tired of reading about Gil’s charcuterie adventures, rest easy. Torinos @ Home doesn’t serve charcuterie. Charcuterie is French. Salumi is Italian. What’s the difference, you ask. Paul Balisteri, the award-winning salumi maestro and Executive Chef of Tender Greens in San Diego, explains: “salumi is an Italian term for sausage-making, cured and smoked meats, as charcuterie is in French. He also explains that “the difference between salumi and salami is, salami is one of the many items that fall under the umbrella of salumi.” If it sounds as if your humble blogger is getting hung up over semantics, you’re probably right. By any name, the cured meats served at Torinos are exemplary.
14 April 2018: A good salumi plate should offer a diverse flavor profile–a well thought-out melody of flavors and textures. Careful consideration is in evidence with Torinos’ salumi platter which was comprised of three different salamis as well as sopressata and the house-cured duck along with an eye-opening, taste bud awakening, house-made mustard. Finocchiona, a traditional Italian pork salami from the Tuscany region is one of the most popular of all Italian salamis. It’s easy to see why. Named for the Italian word for fennel, its chief flavor component, this coarse-ground salami is distinctly sweet and delicate. Its polar opposite is the Calabrese which has a discernible piquancy thanks to a generous addition of red pepper flakes. Coppa, a dry cured capicolla, is somewhere in the middle, neither sweet nor piquant, but earthy and delicate with notes of pepper, ground cinnamon, cloves, bay seeds and nutmeg.
Our salumi soiree also included two painfully thin sliced slivers of fatty, delicate, salty prosciutto, the Italian equivalent of ham (though prosciutto is as similar to American ham as Hans Solo is to Jabba the Hutt). With a buttery texture and melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness, it’s one of the saltiest of all Italian cured meats. It’s also one of the very best. Torinos’ duck is without peer in the Duke City. An outer layer of unctuous fat borders a delicate pink meat flecked with marbling. You’ll want to make sure you’ve got bread on hand with your salumi plate—not to make sandwiches, but to give the house-made mustard a platform. The mustard has a reddish hue, courtesy of what I believe to be a Turkish Aleppo pepper which has more heat than an ancho chile. It imparts an incendiary quality all mustard aficionados will love.
14 April 2018: The Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten calls grilled cheese and tomato soup “the ultimate comfort meal.” She certainly wasn’t talking about Campbell’s condensed tomato soup which goes better on Andy Warhol’s 1968 painting than it does on any kitchen table. She was talking about the delicious cure-all for whatever ails you, a tomato soup with the flavor of vine-ripened tomatoes. A great tomato soup embraces you like a warm hug. A superior tomato soup also includes basil, an invigorating, fragrant variety that lends oomph to any Italian dish. Torinos’ tomato basil soup is studded with pinon which lends just a bit of piny freshness. This soup takes the chill out of winter.
14 April 2018: Contemporary wisdom is that if you want a dish to be perceived as appetizing, you give it a name that makes it sound delicious, like something you’d crave. Such wisdom has apparently been lost on Italians who have long christened their culinary fare, especially pasta, with rather unique names—some humorous, some irreverent, some even ribald, but always interesting. Not even the most innocuous of Italian dishes are spared. Vermicelli pasta, for example means “little worms” in Italian. Spaghetti alla puttanesca’ translates literally as “spaghetti in the style of whore’s.” Orecchiette, a flat, disk-shaped pasta translates to “little ears,” not the most inviting of names for any dish. Chicken Scarpariello or “shoemaker’s chicken” is named because of the way chicken bones protrude from your mouth as you eat the dish much like a shoemaker holding tacks in his mouth as he works
14 April 2018: My favorite quaintly named Italian pasta dish is strozzapreti, a term which translates to “priest stranglers.” There are several myths regarding the etymology of the term, the most popular being that gluttonous priests (who apparently didn’t know about fasting and abstaining disciplines) used to gorge themselves on it until some of them, quite literally, choked to death. A more humdrum origin story suggests that the pasta’s twisted shape simply resembles a priest’s collar. Alas, it’s not on Torinos’ daily menu, but it was the special of the day on the breezy Saturday in which we visited. Torinos’ version is among the best we’ve ever had, a very rich dish with varying flavor profiles and delightfully diverse textures: a creamy Parmesan cheese sauce, woodsy pine nuts, earthy mushrooms, leafy spinach, grilled chicken and of course, the priest strangling pasta. Whether cautious because of the legends as to how the pasta acquired its name or because we wanted to savor each and every bite, we ate slowly, several swoons of appreciation escaping our lips. This was a wonderful dish!
Whenever my mom chided me for not liking some traditional Northern New Mexican dish (boiled turnips, anyone), I had a two word retort—“goat cheese.” As do many people, she finds goat cheese off-putting in both aroma and flavor. That’s not surprising. Goat cheese has as many detractors as it does proponents. Count my Kim and I among the latter. We count goat cheese among our favorite frommages. Torinos’ goat cheese salad (spinach, Nicoise olives, red onion and candied pecans drizzled with a sweet Balsamic dressing and served with two crostinis topped with honey goat cheese) gave us another way to enjoy it. Our favorite component of an excellent salad was, of course, the honey goat cheese. The combination of tart, slightly sour goat cheese with the liquid gold sweetness of honey blew us away. It’s possible even my mom would have liked it, but if not, that just means more for us.
14 April 2018: Though several dessert options beckoned, we opted for the Biscotto Jar (Biscotto (caramel cookie), chocolate hazelnut mousse, homemade whipped cream, drizzled with caramel) which was even better than described on the menu. Perhaps inspired by gianduja, a chocolate-hazelnut paste created in Turin, Italy a couple of centuries ago, the chocolate-hazelnut pairing on the rich, creamy mousse is absolutely addictive. Surely some divinity also inspired the addition of caramel. This is three great tastes that taste even better together. For textural contrast as well as another element of deliciousness, the biscotto proved a worthy component. Only one thing would have made this dessert better—instead of a biscotto jar, a biscotto barrel.
While diners throughout New Mexico believed only Maxime and Daniela were synonymous with Torinos @ Home, Daniel and Jenna John have, in short order, proven worthy successors. Torinos @ Home remains in good hands!
Note: You can read my previous review of Torinos @ Home here.
Torinos’ @ Home
7600 Jefferson Street, Suite 21
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 April 2018
1st VISIT: 20 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Porcini Ravioli, Risotto Fruit Di Mare, Cheese Board, Salami Plate, Strozzapreti, Biscotto Jar, Goat Cheese Salad, Tomato Basil Soup