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Moroccan breeze
Friday, 11 November 2011
Photos by Wes Naman
Saffron, ginger, cinnamon … the unique flavors at Santa Fe eatery Azur send diners on a North African adventure 
By Paul Lehman
Santa Fe has scored a win with the new Azur Bistro & Wine Bar, which was recently opened by the owners of Ristra, featuring the considerable talents of French Chef Xavier Grenet, who divides his time between the two eateries. Grenet has created an innovative menu consisting of over a dozen “small plates,” or tapas-like starters, several salads and pasta dishes, plus a selection of unique entrees incorporating some of his Moroccan-style cooking techniques.
With comfortable seating for over 60 diners, the décor includes a series of table-focused spotlights, attractive glass-topped tables covered by gleaming mesh place mats and serene wall sculptures and art. My dining companion and I had visited this same location in the past, when different restaurants made their home at the site, but we agreed that this version seems the most successful yet. 

ImageWe chose two small plates to begin with. The Eggplant with Tahini and Oregano ($9) was superb, combining sautéed and tender eggplant with what amounted to a plain chickpea hummus. The combination of two textures and flavors was very successful. Our second choice was Sardine Rillettes with Black Olive Toast ($12), which consisted of a delicious crushed sardine paste spread on the savory bread. Again, the result was a tempting appetizer.

For our entrees, we chose two small size selections (from seven choices, two were offered in regular and small size). The Daube de Boeuf a la Nicoise consisted of red-wine braised beef, lemon and orange zest, tomato, dried Porcini mushrooms and sweet corn polenta ($13). The beef was both soft and fully tasteful, and the polenta was creamy and toothsome — another successful combination of textures and flavors.

For our second choice, we selected the Plum Lamb Tagine ($14), which included slow-roasted lamb shoulder with saffron, ginger and cinnamon almonds and green couscous. Here the chef’s Moroccan influence was evidenced in the couscous and the spicing of the tender chunks of lamb. Once again, outstanding flavor in another satisfying and creative dish.

ImageAmong the small plates we could have selected were Sweet and Sour Baby Artichoke, Sauteed Calamari with Chimichurri Sauce, Salt Cod Cake with Smoked Yellow Pepper, Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Pork Belly and Blue Cheese Crema, or Carmelized Endive with Serrano Ham, which we sampled and enjoyed immensely.

Among the entrees, we could have selected Grilled Salmon Costa Brava with mussels, saffron rice, fennel, haricot verts and red bell pepper coulis, Foie de Veau Provencale with calf liver, capers, black olives, tomatoes and potato gratin, Grilled Black Angus Ribeye with frites, asparagus and shallot red wine sauce, Hout Mamar North African Style Stuffed Trout with calamari, spices and red chard, or Roasted Natural Chicken Breast with sumac, pine nuts, tomato provencale and sweet potato gratin.

A large selection of wines by the glass and bottle are available ($7 to $11.50/glass, $29 to $105/bottle). We enjoyed a glass of the Lunetta Prosecco ($8) and the Ramon Bilbao Tempranillo ($9.50). For dessert we shared the Almond and Orange Flower Briout ($8), which is a Moroccan specialty made of thin puff pastry filled with almond paste, orange blossom and honey — it was excellent and made a perfect finishing touch to a highly enjoyable meal.

Azur Bistro & Wine Bar
428 Agua Fria, 505.992.2897
5:30p to close, Tue.–Sun.
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