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 V.23 No.16 | April 17 - 23, 2014

Restaurant Review

Ouvrez La Bouche

French-American bliss on the Westside

Cheese plate
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Cheese plate
French-New Mexican fusion is not something you see very often. There may be a reason for that, what with the herb-and-pastry-dough-and-butter-and-wine-and-mysterious-entrail base of French food and the corn-and-beans-and-hot-pepper base of New Mexican food. These are ingredients that a classic French cook wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

But Dolores Welk-Jack and Frans Dinkelmann, owners of Bouche restaurant, aren’t French, and so they aren’t impaired by certain prejudices. Hence the French onion soup spiked with green chile and the all-local wine list. In any case, it’s not French-New Mexican fusion so much as French-American food with a local twist, “local” meaning mostly locally sourced.

But Dolores Welk-Jack and Frans Dinkelmann, owners of Bouche restaurant, aren’t French, and so they aren’t impaired by certain prejudices. Hence the French onion soup spiked with green chile and the all-local wine list.

That’s how everything works at Bouche—a small sourcing radius, small menu, small staff, small dining room. The adage about good things coming in small packages applies.

Bouche is a keyhole of a restaurant, seating 14 people indoors (with more room on the patio). In other words, don’t be eyeing it up for a corporate dinner, and phone ahead.

Also: Forget menus. It’s such a short list that all of the day’s offerings can be writ in long hand on a single chalkboard. Nor will you find high-budget décor; all of the real investment seems to be sunk into the spectacular food. One wall of the room is outfitted with a kitchen counter, dishwasher and sink as if someone converted their condo into a restaurant. No matter; the atmosphere conjured from hanging pendant lamps, emerald draperies and fresh flowers works just well enough to not stab the food in the back.

New York strip
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
New York strip
Let us leave the backstabbing for our forks and our teeth and our gaping maws because, wow, this is some rich and tasty grub at an incredible value. Beginning with the cheese plate ($9), “cheese plate” being an understatement for what is actually a queen’s-picnic assortment of double-creamed brie drizzled with honey and toasted almonds, meadow-soft goat cheese balls festooned with fresh herbs; Toscano; Jarlsberg; cashews; pecans; crackers; and jewel-box fruits like kumquats, kiwi berries and strawberries. This lavish spread is ideal for three people minimum as an appetizer or two as a mid-afternoon snack.

Bouche gives the same royal treatment to their large, green salads ($6)—summery stacks all skimpily dressed in a light vinaigrette and garnished with things like toasted almonds, chevre, fresh fruit, granola, oranges, roasted pineapple or roasted fennel.

As for the French onion soup ($6), it’s a rich caramelized dish that smacks of laurel and stone-fruit (and which may or may not contain green chile depending on the day). I invited a real, live, actual Parisian to come along with me, and I have him on record saying it is “very good.”

He also said that onion soup is known as a hangover cure in France, but more for our parent’s generation. So now you know how to party like a drunken, middle-aged Parisian. Thank you, François.

Each of the main courses, from the local New York strip, carrots, kale and truffle potatoes ($15); to the roasted chicken with golden beets, truffled potatoes and wilted greens were solidly upscale and delicious.

My favorite dish was the PEI Mussels ($15 for 18 count). Evading the traditional side of fries, Bouche simmers their mussels with shallots in butter and white wine and rings them around a gorgeous mound of orzo, roasted bell peppers and asparagus. The rich and savory decadence of this dish would be over-the-top if Bouche didn’t also plunk down a bowl of salt-cutting tomato broth on the side.

My only criticism with any of the food was the occasional brush with dryness around the edges of some of the meat dishes. So slight, though.

My friend’s only criticism is that the portions are too big—a charge that makes no sense whatsoever. (But, yeah, don’t go hogwild on starters.) My theory is that large portions are what happens when you have an ex-Lobo football player turned chef in the kitchen (that would be Dinkelmann). It’s called a doggie bag. Thank God for athletic appetites.

Bouche is a word-of-mouth type place (and, yes, “Bouche” means mouth in French). It’s not something you’re going to stumble onto unless you’re next door at La Bella Spa & Salon getting your face powdered or hair curled (or whatever happens in those places).

I learned about it from local food writer Larry McGoldrick in the Roadrunner Food Bank Souper Bowl judges’ room where he divulged his latest find before the soup-slurping orgy began. I can tell you that the best word-of-mouth comes from city-combing gourmands like McGoldrick.

Bouche is like that freakish truffle uprooted by a wayward pig on the wrong side of the tracks. The food is fantastic, the portions Napoleonic and the vibe lovely.

So now you know.

You can find it across from Cottonwood Mall on Le Westside.

View in Alibi Chowtown calendar

Bouche

890-8101
10126 Coors NW
facebook.com/AlbuquerqueBouche
Hours: 11am-8pm every day except Tuesday
Price:$15-$17 for main dishes
Vegetarian Options: Not as main dish
Vibe: Dinner guest (but no need to dress up)

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