In the heart of Albuquerque’s historic Old Town, we tuck in to a memorable meal and take home some equally memorable recipes.
Before we get to the food, a note about the place: Level 5, the restaurant atop Hotel Chaco in Albuquerque, takes its name from Chaco Canyon’s Pueblo Bonito, the famous five-level great house in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, about three hours west/northwest from where I sit about to tuck in. The mysterious Pueblo culture that inhabited the remote 10-mile canyon thrived from A.D. 850 to 1250 and the remarkable traces of their history remain there in a collection of ruins and sacred sites.
So it’s not surprising that Chaco Canyon would provide inspiration for the space where I find myself and the food I’m about to eat. The restaurant’s rock-and-beam design is meant to evoke the canyon’s protected feeling through Level 5’s carefully framed views. So says the website, and I believe it. It feels downright cozy, in an upscale way the Ancestral Puebloans certainly wouldn’t recognize.
More important at the moment, though, is the decision about what to order. Chef Christian Monchâtre was born and raised in Paris and has worked in California, Italy, Germany, and Mexico, and his menu reflects his career. It comes at you from all directions. He blends cultural, seasonal, and regional dishes and infuses them with international flair. It also reflects the restaurant’s emphasis on native New Mexican fare — and ingredients that are responsibly sourced, often in support of community cooperatives.
The Level 5 menu is like nothing I’ve ever seen. “New Mexico ‘Milagro Old Church Zinfandel’ Risotto” and “Watermelon-Guava BBQ Glazed Chicken Breast” strike me as combinations of words I’ve never heard before.Seated adjacent to a glass partition separating the dining room from the patio, I look outside, far into the distance at the twinkling lights of Sandia Peak. I was there just an hour ago, when I rode the tram to the top and looked down on all the city lights I’m now a part of.
If the view of the distance is beautiful, the view up close is no less so. The clientele is as eclectic as the menu. At the bar to my left are a half-dozen 20-somethings dressed as if for photo shoots, and there’s a family apparently celebrating an engagement — a special-occasion kind of place.
But it’s the people on the outside patio that I can’t take my eyes off of. They’re wearing expensive suits and sleek dresses, high heels and wing tips, cowboy boots and cowboy hats. I’ve covered enough business and politics to know that these are movers and shakers. I half-want to go out there and eavesdrop and grab a spot near the blazing fire pits, where the couples among them have wrapped themselves in blankets and snuggled close to each other. I have to admit I’m a little jealous, and not just because they’re Beautiful People. They’re out in the fresh New Mexico air, under the starry New Mexico night sky.
But then my food arrives — a perfectly roasted pork loin with caramelized apples and a sharp mustard sauce.
Trade places with the Beautiful People? Maybe. Trade plates? No way.
Drinks For Toasting Chaco Culture
Sun Dagger Cocktail
“First discovered at Chaco Canyon in 1977 the ‘dagger of light’ was an important tool in telling time. Many different sun daggers throughout Chaco Canyon mark the winter solstice and equinoxes.”
Shake and pour in martini glass. Rim with red-chile salt. Garnish with orange twist flag (folded and perched on the edge of glass).
1½ ounces Knob Creek Heritage Select rye
¾ ounce blackberry purée
¾ ounce lemon juice
¾ ounce honey syrup
Shake. Pour into rocks glass. Garnish with lemon crescent peel around a blackberry.
Food For New Mexico Thought
“These dishes are ideal for a nice warm evening. Giving hints of the Southwest, they’re perfect for sharing with friends and family.”
Add all ingredients in a blender and pulse until well-combined. Top with fresh sliced strawberries and cilantro.
Parmesan & Nopales Dip
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook/whisk for 20 – 30 seconds. Whisk in the milk little by little until you get a creamy white sauce. Add the diced Nopales cactus. Add the Parmesan cheese to finish and season to taste. Serve with a variety of tortilla chips and pita chips.
Recipes: (Cocktails) courtesy Patrick Hendricks, Regional Food and Beverage Director, Heritage Hotels & Resorts, (Food) courtesy Chef Christian Monchâtre, Level 5, Hotel Chaco