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.
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.
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.”
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.