By Lucy Herrman
Salt + Wine is Michael Wagener’s latest addition to Taos’ culinary landscape and is the new sibling restaurant to his popular Aceq restaurant in Arroyo Seco.
Salt + Wine is located in the historic El Torreon Hacienda in El Prado, built in 1847, where the El Meze restaurant was previously located. When El Meze’s owners announced they were closing their doors and retiring to California, Wagener stepped into the void. He saw an opportunity to leverage his personal love and knowledge of wine (he is a master sommelier) and to continue the legacy of high-level service and gourmet food he has established at Aceq.
Wagener wants Salt + Wine to augment the homey neighborhood feeling of Aceq by offering more complex dishes in an upscale setting. The dining rooms are intimate and warm, and beg for conversation and fellowship. The walls have been painted a soothing tuxedo grey and are adorned with large art pieces by noted Taos artist Sasha vom Dorpf, giving a hip and modern look to the classic space. The elegant white-washed tables were made by Wagener’s father, reclaimed from his grandfather’s barn in Wisconsin, just like the rustic tables at Aceq.
But during warm weather, Salt + Wine’s patio is the place to be. Patio diners are rewarded by a view of Pueblo Peak that goes on uninterrupted for miles — a world-class view unduplicated anywhere. And the patio is a perfect place to linger over a glass of wine while perusing the menu. Wagener’s expertise certainly shows in his eclectic and growing wine list. Eventually, he hopes to build up his cellar to house as many as 200 different wines, with the goal of having one of the finest wine lists in New Mexico.
Chef Enoch Montoya trained at the California Culinary Academy and spent years cooking in the Bay Area. But for Montoya, who was born in Northern New Mexico, coming to Taos meant returning home. As the chef, he is encouraged by Wagener to bring his own creativity to the menu and he does not disappoint.
I have been to Salt + Wine several times since its opening and have tasted a wide variety of items from the menu. From the appetizers to the salads to the main dishes, the food is the main event. Each dish offers eclectic combinations of ingredients.
For example, I was served a perfect raw oyster in red-eye gravy flavored with house-cured ham that may have been the best oyster I ever had. The house-cured gravlax with salmon mousse is pure concentrated salmon, accented nicely by crispy pickled cucumbers. Salads are the essence of freshness, each with its own original presentation.
The ambitious entrees are varied and delicious. Seared scallops with frisee, prosciutto and avocado are dressed in a delightful lemon vinaigrette. Authentic Mediterranean braised lamb shank is tender and well seasoned and served with a tasty stew of lentils and shallots. Elk flank with carrot and kale slaw balances the leanness of the game with the tart and contrasting accents of the slaw.
Salt + Wine pleases all the senses from setting to attentiveness from the staff, to its stellar, beautifully presented food. Under Wagener’s watchful eye, Salt + Wine is already becoming an essential part of the Taos dining experience. I highly recommend a visit.
Salt+Wine is located at 1017 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, El Prado. (575) 758-7077; saltandwine.com