Flavors and beauty from the wilderness are at the center of every dish at Level 5, the restaurant and lounge at Hotel Chaco in Albuquerque.
Hotel Chaco Executive Chef Gilbert Aragon says guests will be presented with powerful, layered flavors created by cooking over wood and by using wild ingredients.
“I’m really trying to hone in on wild natural flavors,” he said. “And by that I mean pulling wild flavors that are around us and surround us naturally.”
The Modern American cuisine at Level 5 is a collaboration between Aragon and the legendary Chef Mark Miller, of the iconic Coyote Café (Santa Fe), Red Sage restaurant (Washington, D.C.) and Wildfire restaurant (Sydney, Australia).
Hotel Chaco is a Heritage Hotels & Resorts property inspired by the mystique and grandeur of Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chaco Canyon was a major center of Pueblo and Native American culture for thousands of years with its height of activity between roughly 900 and 1150 AD. It is Albuquerque’s newest luxury hotel, located where historic Old Town meets the burgeoning Sawmill District.
Level 5 is named for the largest pueblo at Chaco Canyon, the five-story high Pueblo Bonito. It will occupy the hotel’s fifth – and top – floor and offer indoor and outdoor dining in a chic setting with spectacular views. Aragon will serve as the executive chef of both Hotel Chaco and the adjacent Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, where he has lead the culinary team since 2014.
The menu at Level 5 is completely seasonal with ingredients and products coming from a number of local and regional farmers and ranchers. It will also symbolically represent all cultures, Aragon says.
Spring menus will feature seasonal vegetables and stone fruits. Summer dishes will provide diners with energy but will also cool them down, he says. Fall – harvest time – will showcase the bounty of fall flavors. And winter’s flavors will bring warmth and comfort.
“We will naturally adjust menus using the cycles of the seasons and Mother Nature,” Aragon says.
He says: “People want good, healthy food, but they also want some excitement to what they’re eating and they also want to know that there’s a wonderful story behind it and there’s an idea and there’s a reason why it came out that way.”
The restaurant’s signature dish is the Chuska Gravlax, named for the Chuska Mountains near Chaco Canyon. Aragon’s take on the Nordic dish of cured salmon features wild venison (cured for several days first in sugar and salt and then in a blend of rosemary, sage, pine, dried green chile, fennel seed and coriander), a wild herb salad (parsley flowers, fennel fronds, nettles, red amaranth and wild arugula with a long pepper vinaigrette), dried wild mushrooms, sun dried wild berries and a sweet and tangy mustard made with juniper berries.
The idea for the garnishes for the “melt-in-your-mouth” venison came from the plants that would have grown where the deer had lived. Another dish will present quail brined with pine, toasted seeds, and wild herbs – all natural ingredients a wild quail would have been eating.
A dish representing the Pacific North Coast presents squid marinated in Meyer lemon, lime and orange, then grilled over pecan wood and served with stewed lentils and served with a parsley salsa verde made of parsley, capers and roasted anchovies .
And, a Quince Verde (or 15 Greens) soup combines 15 greens from zucchini to dandelion greens (“and everything in between”) blanched in salt water and finished with avocado (for some fat) and lemon oil and wildflowers. The result is a soup described as “silky” and “luxurious.”
“These are experiential flavors,” Aragon says with a laugh. “Yes, they might be unique, and, yes, they might be a little different. But there is a lot of thought and a lot of development behind each dish we are doing.”