Notes from the Field: Food Festivals and Restaurant Report

Gourmet Girl - March 19, 2014

Romancing The Compound, Pizza Centro hits the Southside & more

Weekend Food Festivals

If you've been hankering for Japanese food, don't miss the Matsuri 2014–a Japanese Cultural Festival–this Saturday, March 22, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. A tea ceremony begins at 11 a.m., where you'll sample Japanese tea and learn about its history and the art of preparing and serving it. There's also a schedule full of events and performances: from Taiko drumming to Japanese classic and folk dance, a silent auction and more.

The theme of this year's festival is "sho, chiku, bai" (pine, bamboo and plum), which are good luck symbols for an array of celebrations in Japan. So the food will feature these ingredients in bento boxes, traditional Japanese lunch boxes, filled with plum-shaped rice treats, salmon, chicken or tofu, cucumber seaweed salad, bamboo shoots and other vegetables. Desserts will include mochi and other Japanese sweets. You can also savor sushi from Shohko Cafe. Click here for more info.

This weekend also brings the 4th Annual Southwest Coffee & Chocolate Fest Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily at the Expo New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque. Participate in a Guittard chocolate baking contest, a chocolate pie-eating contest or a chocolate sculpture contest. Watch cooking demos and seminars, enjoy live music, and eat your way through the treats offered by more than 100 vendors, including: The ChocolateSmith, Iconik Coffee Roasters, the Santa Fe Culinary Academy, Kakawa Chocolate House, Señor Murphy Candymaker, Silver City's The Curious Kumquat (the chef there is up for a Best Chef Southwest Award from the James Beard Foundation this year).

The two-day schedule is full of activities, including seminars on craft chocolate and coffee, cooking demos from the Santa Fe Culinary Academy, live cow-milking demos and music from a slew of bands as well as musicians from the New Mexico Philharmonic. Click here for more details.

Restaurant News

There's a lot going on at Mark Kiffin's The Compound, which was just named one of America's Top Ten Most Romantic Restaurant by The James Beard award-winning restaurant has just reopened after a renovation of the interior adobe walls that included diamond plaster. And a new chef is at the helm, Michael Frank, who cooked at Scottsdale's Phoenician. Check out the winter dinner menu—shrimp and grits, seared diver scallops with cauliflower, red raisin emulsion, frisee and pistachio, and wild mushroom and organic stone ground polenta with black truffle relish, shaved parmesan and organic arugula. Click here for more info.

Jason and Nathan Aufrichtig, the duo behind Pizza Centro, are opening a third branch of their popular pizza eatery on Santa Fe's Southside, in the space formerly occupied by Lucci's. The new location will offer beer and wine as well as an outdoor patio. Jason, chef and owner of Counter Culture, and his brother have been serving up hand-tossed pizza, calzones, pacchetto (sandwiches), salads and more for a few years now at the Pizza Centro locations in the Design Center downtown and in the Eldorado Agora Shopping Plaza, so this should be a welcome addition to the Southside.

Pizza Centro is known for its gluten-free crusts and gourmet pizzas, including the Alphabet City, topped with flash-fried eggplant, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, spinach, sundried tomato, garlic, roasted red pepper, balsamic glaze, marinara and mozzarella; the Chinatown, topped with prosciutto, pineapple, green peppers, onion, balsamic glaze, marinara and whole milk mozzarella; and the Hudson, with bacon, mushrooms, onions, ranch dressing and whole milk mozzarella.

To see the full menu, click here.

There's a new coffeehouse in town where the focus is on the craft of coffee. Arroyo Coffeebar, next to The Pinkoyote on East Water Street, offers small plates for breakfast and lunch, from herbed scrambled egg & tavern ham sandwiches and muesli to chicken and brie sandwiches with mango red chile spread, cucumber veggie wraps with Japanese edamame spread, Madras curry chicken salad and daily soups and specials. For more info, click here.

Restaurant Week @ Izamami

Speaking of Japanese food, my Restaurant Week choice this year was Izanami, a Japanese gastropub specializing in small plates. Nestled in the Sangres at Ten Thousand Waves, the restaurant offers stupendous mountain views and food that is just as spectacular. This was my first visit to Izanami and the three-course prix fixe Restaurant Week menu offered the perfect introduction to Kim Muller's inventive, flavorful food.

We began with two openers—yaki onigiri, grilled rice balls with a delicate texture served with flavorful pickled radish, shiso, sesame seed and miso glaze; and delectable crispy brussels sprouts with lemon, chili, mint and puffed rice. We also savored nasu dengaku, thick tranches of delicious eggplant in a sweet miso sauce and ton katsu, a hearty panko-breaded heritage pork loin cutlet with hot mustard cabbage and miso katsu sauce. For dessert, we had green tea ice cream paired with a fried banana.

It's easy to see why Izanami is a semifinalist in the 2014 James Beard award competition for Best New Restaurant, even though it opened just a few months ago. And best new restaurant it is, with a gorgeous minimalist décor and food that's well worth the drive.