Going to France without Leaving Santa Fe

Chef at Chef’s Table

With my hometown Dallas being such a great restaurant destination, it is hard to find something elsewhere you can’t duplicate here. But on a recent trip to Santa Fe, N.M., I stumbled upon one such place that is worth a special visit, the Bouche Bistro. This is an authentic French restaurant that maintains the feel of a small country place in a rustic French town, along with its authentic French cooking. If you like French food and culture, you can duplicate it here … unlike anywhere in Dallas.

If the concierge in my hotel hadn’t suggested this place, I could easily have walked right by it without even noticing it as a restaurant. It’s a little off the beaten trail, away from the main center of activity, on the outskirts of the central city. The restaurant occupies a small and unassuming building, next to a gravel parking lot, with a non-distinctive paint color, one block behind the Hilton Hotel at 451 W. Alameda St.

Each night the restaurant puts out a new menu with the dishes for the day. It’s a small selection. When I stopped in to check out the place around 3 p.m., they were getting organized, putting out the menu for the evening.

The seating space is small, no bigger than a medium-sized bedroom in most houses in Dallas. So, I knew that arriving without a reservation might be a problem. But I was traveling alone which I assumed would help, and the restaurant has a “community chef’s table” in the tiny bar area facing directly into the open kitchen, where people can share space with strangers (as they do in France) and watch the restaurant magic happen.

When I arrived around 6 p.m., there were still tables available in the bar. I snatched one up. What followed was a delicious meal.

Bouche means mouth in French, and the dishes at Bouche Bistro make your mouth dance. All authentic French cuisine, the prices are in the mid-range. The menu is divided into appetizers, small plates for sharing, salads, main dishes and sides. A separate dessert menu is worth a look if you have room in your stomach. The wine list is extensive and impressive.

Pick anything to start and chances are you won’t be disappointed. On the day I visited, a charcuterie plank included prosciutto, saucisson, rillettes maison and mortadella, with an optional terrine of foie gras. Other choices included crispy sweetbreads with English peas, spring onion and glazed carrots. I had a hard time deciding among the main dishes which included a goat cheese ravioli, calf’s liver, braised lamb shank with French lentils, a Wagyu Hanger Steak “au poivre” with pommes frites, and a truffle-stuffed pheasant breast. I chose the bouillabaisse risotto which was outstanding.

A little research on Bouche Bistro revealed that the restaurant is the creation of Charles Dale, a Princeton University graduate with a degree in Romance Languages and Art History. He honed his skills with some of America’s best chefs, leaving a position as Sous-Chef at le Cirque in New York City in 1988 to open his own highly acclaimed restaurant in Aspen, Colo., widely regarded as its most luxurious and refined among many great eateries there.

After several projects, including a book, and other high-profile ventures, Dale opened Bouche Bistro in 2013. The restaurant was voted one of the ten best French restaurants in America by Travel and Leisure Magazine in 2014. According to its own publicity, it is “currently the only restaurant in Santa Fe to hold a coveted four-chile rating,” although, truthfully, I could not figure out what that actually means.

If you are in or near Santa Fe and love French cuisine, by all means find this scrumptious place! My mouth waters thinking about the next time I can visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *