La Boca Celebrates a Delicious Decade

Lynn Cline - September 28, 2016

Ten years of tapas, wine & sherry

On any given night of the week, La Boca is in full swing, serving up more than 30 Spanish tapas, from the signature canelones with scallops, crab and manchego cream to the New Mexico flat iron steak with smoked sea salt caramel; bruschetta with crimini mushrooms, cream, Reggianito, fried eggs and truffle oil; and grilled artichokes with Spanish goat cheese, orange and mint. The crowd is always buzzing, sangria and Spanish sherry flowing and live music fills the air.

La Boca celebrates 10 years this year, and it has been one of Santa Fe's most beloved restaurants ever since it opened, earning instant acclaim from national critics, diners and even celebrity chefs including Giada DiLaurentis, who filmed a segment of her "Giada's Weekend" at the intimate restaurant on Marcy Street, famously enthusing that the canelones "should be illegal, it's so good."

Publications from The New York Times to Travel + Leisure, Esquire and others have praised chef James Campbell Caruso for his inventive tapas and the International Wine and Food Society gave the restaurant its Award of Excellence for its meticulously curated list of Mediterranean and South American offerings.

La Boca is Spanish for “the mouth,” an apt name for this restaurant that pleases the palate with a blend of Spanish and Mediterranean cuisines. The menu changes seasonally and features daily specials, too. Some of the array tapas have become classics, such as Tacos de la Boca, filled with shrimp and morcilla, on corn tortillas with mango-cucumber salad and pimentón agri-dulce; and Tapas Trio, a medley of dips that currently features roasted beet and walnut puree, smoky eggplant puree and carrot-garbanzo hummus, served with grilled yogurt flatbread. Equally delicious, the Gambas Al Ajillo, spicy garlic wild-caught shrimp with white wine and chile de arbol; and chorizo Rioja with a fried egg and pimenton pan fried potatoes. Don't miss Caruso's famous paella, made with black mussels, wild-caught shrimp, chicken, chorizo Rioja and saffron rice (but the ingredients often change seasonally). And the smoked almond gazpacho with white grapes and mint oil served with avocado toast and coriander is a rare find, smokey and sweet and refreshing, too.

For dessert, try the Gateau Basque, with brandied cherries, crème fraiche and vanilla bean tartare, or the PX date shake, made with organic vanilla bean ice cream milk shake rich with dates and Pedro Ximenez sherry and served with a chocolate orange cigar. The Baba de la Boca is superb, a rum-soaked baba with vanilla cream and seasonal strawberries.

La Boca also offers Happy Hour from 3 to 5 pm weekdays, a true Happy Hour with great discounts on food and drink.

It's no surprise to learn that eight-time James Beard nominee Caruso was raised in the Basque region, reflected in the rich, complex flavors of his cuisine. He first caught attention as the executive chef at El Farol, where his Spanish and Mediterranean style won instant raves. When he opened La Boca in 2006, a single dining room in an original storefront, the restaurant instantly became known for its authentic tapas as well as Spanish sherry, transporting diners to Andalusia with each sip of Pedro Ximenez or Fino.

Caruso is the author of "Espana, Exploring the Flavors of Spain" with recipes that reflect the rustic dishes of Spain, including red wine and fig soup with shaves Basque sheep milk; roasted farmers market vegetables and palvarones, or almond cookies. He's also the chef/owner of Taberna and runs MÁS Tapas Y Vino in Albuquerque's Hotel Andaluz. He holds the distinction of being one of four chefs nominated twice to compete in the Sherry Council of America's Copa Jerez International Food and Sherry Pairing Competition.

For a taste of Caruso's delectable cuisine, try this delicious recipe from his cookbook, "Espana."

Salada De Jamon y Alcachofas (Serves 6)
Arugula with Ham, Grilled Artichokes and Aged Sherry Vinegar Reduction.

2 cups aged sherry vinegar
6 artichokes, medium sized
4 cups fresh arugula
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
6 slices of jamón Serrano

In a small sauce pan on high heat, reduce the sherry vinegar down to about 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.

Grill the artichokes.

Toss the arugula with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Prepare six chilled salad plates. Lay a slice of jamón Serrano on each plate. Divide dressed arugula on top of the jamón. Place a grilled artichoke on top of each bed of arugula. Drizzle all plates with a teaspoon of reduced sherry vinegar.