Occitania is a cultural region centered on the narrowest part of the Iberian Peninsula. It includes Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, rugged mountains, fertile valleys, and grape terrace-filled hills. This land of figs and fish is mostly French but includes parts of Spain and Italy. The Northern Italian restaurant Torinos’ @ Home, off Jefferson in the Journal Center, is the next best thing to a plane ticket to Occitania’s northeast corner.
Torinos’ is owned by Maxime and Daniela Bouneou, a husband-and-wife team from Nice, France, and Torino, Italy, respectively. The business started with Daniela’s Torino-style lasagna delivery service (hence the name) in Santa Fe. It grew so quickly that they quit their day jobs and opened a six-table restaurant on Don Gaspar. “We started very, very from scratch,” Daniela says.
The same could be said about their food, from pasta to foie gras. Raw ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, provided they’re up to snuff. Maxime, the chef, still has to get his speck and prosciutto from Italy to get the quality he needs, but he’s had better luck finding guanciale, a kind of bacon made from pig jowls, closer to home. The sumptuous pig face comes from Colorado, as does the chicken and beef, via the highly regarded Pinnacle Meats in Santa Fe.
Much of the produce is from ARCA Organics in Corrales, a farm that gives meaningful work to the developmentally disabled. This year ARCA grew a specialty strawberry at Maxime’s request—a big, semi-wild mara. ARCA also supplies greens, leeks, tomatoes, herbs and flowers. Maxime sources from other farmers, too, and hopes to work with still more. He says he loves their variety and freshness. “They tell you what they’ll have this week and we work with it.” Admittedly, he’s yet to source dairy to his satisfaction. To a Frenchman, that’s kind of a big deal, and he hopes to find a solution soon.
Since opening in Albuquerque in early 2010, Torinos’ quickly became a poorly kept secret among workers in the surrounding commercial area, which has almost no full-time residents. The secret to its success has been simple, if not easy: serve breakfast and lunch that blows the doors off of any restaurant in the area. The strategy worked, and now they’re looking to test the riskier waters of dinner service. It began on July 15 with Friday night dinners, and Saturday service will start the weekend after Labor Day.
The house-made pasta at Torinos’ is a living being, like a freshly harvested leaf that’s still conducting photosynthesis. Maxime says his pasta is always served al dente. “Don’t come here looking for spaghetti meatball.”
One pleasant Friday I sat on the patio, which borders a rolling, grassy park with a bridge-straddled creek (actually it’s a storm runoff ditch, but the feeling is real). From the opening aperitif—a raspy Martini Rosso—until dessert, a panna cotta with apricot coulis that I hope never to forget, it was a virtually flawless meal. The early courses were highlighted by the bacalao (salted cod), which had been poached in milk, then mixed with garlic confit and mashed potatoes, and was served on a bed of warm fava beans alongside olive-tapenade-smeared toast. The pappardelle all’Amatriciana—wide linguine tossed in a light tomato sauce with pecorino, chile, olives and guanciale—was a glorious bowl of pasta, and I savored every little chunk of pig face I could find, wishing they were bigger. The fresh, house-made pasta at Torinos’ is a living being, like a freshly harvested leaf that’s still conducting photosynthesis. Maxime says his pasta is always served al dente. “Don’t come here looking for spaghetti meatball.”
In the guilty pleasures department, the foie gras would satisfy the itch of the most jaded addicts. The Muscat-poached fig alongside it was a perfect complement to that delicately flavored, pink and fatty crème, as nibbled on crunchy torchons and drizzled with a balsamic reduction.
It turns out that my favorite entrée, spezzatino, is also Maxime’s favorite dish—something I learned when he and Daniela were interviewed on the “Break the Chain” radio food show (KIVA 1550 AM, Saturdays 4 to 5 p.m., breakthechain.info). Spezzatino is a slowly braised beef brisket. Mine was served with seared polenta cubes, which propped up the rich, succulent meat.
The fragrance of truffle, in the form of a few drops of truffle oil, wafted across my taste buds as I enjoyed a half-melted mallard duck confit and an accompanying cranberry rhubarb compote. The combination made me shake my head in amazement.
Since my visit, the dinner service has changed to a $36, six-course set menu that includes antipasti, pasta, entrée and dessert. Vegetarians and other food restrictions can be accommodated, Maxime says, but it’s best if they call ahead. “Then we can make something special.”
Another option, which might be the best value on the menu, is the “take it home” list. It includes pints of the spezzatino, Gorgonzola sauce and pesto for $15.95, as well as fresh pasta, salad dressing, bread, jam and focaccia. It’s for those nights you want to save a little money, wash your own dishes and eat some Torinos’ @ Home at home.
The changing, prix-fixe dinner menu is full of surprises. Call ahead to find out what’s on special.