With an extensive wine selection and unique house-made specialties, ACEQ has been called “a hidden gem in Arroyo Seco” by a number of patrons. The restaurant has outstanding reviews in Yelp and other online guides.
Owner and Sommelier Michael Wagener and Chef Johnny Treasaigh have teamed up to create a wide selection of entrees. Their collaboration resulted in a menu that features their own interpretation of comfort food.
“Johnny is the main creator of our menu,” Wagener said. “We have a shared vision about keeping the restaurant locally sourced, changing dishes often and having fun with traditional fare.”
A Wisconsin native, Wagener graduated from the University of Minnesota in Duluth and moved to Taos nine years ago, beckoned by Taos Ski Valley. Treasaigh grew up in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area and has been in Taos for around eight years.
They shared similar paths, having worked at El Monte Sagrado — Wagener running its food and beverage program and Treasaigh as a sous chef — and at El Meze, under Chef Fred Muller.
“I also worked for the beautiful young couple who started ACEQ,” Wagener said. “I was a waiter and also handled their beers and wines, as this had been my background in other places. After a year and a half, I was ready to take over the restaurant and they were happy because family responsibilities didn’t allow them to continue running it. Then I brought Johnny in.”
Wagener began remodeling the space in the spring. By the end of June, ACEQ had gotten “a new vibe.”
“We went back to making everything in-house,” Wagener said. “We are also big on recycling and keeping the restaurant eco-friendly.”
Treasaigh comes from a family where cooking together was a daily occurrence. He has always enjoyed being in the kitchen, bringing flavors to life.
“I put my heart and soul into a plate,” he said. “Some may call me standoffish, but when it comes to food, I want to show people who I really am. Some of our dishes are my personal interpretation of old classics while others are kind of wild.”
So what exactly is a “wild dish”?
“Both Johnny and I spent a lot of time in Minneapolis-Saint Paul,” Wagener explains. “Well, the area is known for a Juicy Lucy — a cheese-stuffed burger. We turned it into a fun and wild plate when we stuffed the burger with Wisconsin cheddar and Hatch green chile, to bring together the Midwest and the Southwest in a tasty and eclectic dish.”
Both Treasaigh and Wagener follow the five-ingredient rule. “If you are going to cook salmon, then let the salmon shine,” Treasaigh said. “Don’t overdo it with spices and sauces.”
“We want the food to speak for itself,” Wagener said. “Less is more.”
They also agree that changing the menu as often as possible — weekly is the norm — is a great way so to keep their patrons intrigued and surprised.
“I don’t like the idea of a restaurant where everything looks the same day after day,” Treasaigh said. “You can get that at Burger King or Taco Bell. I believe that when people go out to eat they deserve to enjoy a culinary experience, instead of a dish they can prepare at home or get it precooked in the grocery store.”
Wagener is a sommelier with the American Court of Master Sommeliers. Finding the right wine or beer to pair with the food is one of his passions.
“When you take a perfectly flavored and seasoned dish and complement it with a great wine, magic occurs,” he said.
There were only six wines when he started working at ACEQ. Now, there are 48.
“They are all unique, esoteric selections that fit well with our entrees,” he said. “We have wines from all over the world, and locally. We also have craft beers, and many of them are local too.”
Wagener and Treasaigh know the names of most the people who grow their produce and meat.
“This personal connection is a very important part of what we are doing,” Wagener said. “The farm-table approach is the core of our menu: we use the absolute best products, and always local when available.”
Orange Creme Brulee
In a saucepan, bring cream, zest and vanilla to a boil and remove from heat. Let stand for 15 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, lightly cream eggs and sugar with a whisk.
After 15 minutes, remove vanilla bean and strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Place in custard cups and bake in a water bath for 45-50 minutes at 325 degrees until the custard is set up.
Chill for at least 2 hours.
Top with a tablespoon of superfine sugar and evenly cover it.
Carefully, with a torch, melt and brown the sugar.
Chill for 10 minutes before serving.
Never touch melted or hot sugar! It will burn you severely and does not come off. Use extreme caution with this recipe.
Charred Tomato Vinaigrette
Cut tomatoes in half and season with salt and pepper. Heat large sauté pan on high until it just starts to smoke.
Carefully put tomatoes, cut side down, in the pan with NO oil. Once you have all the tomatoes in the pan, turn down the heat to medium high till the tomatoes are soft and you can easily push your finger in them.
Once you're at this point, take a spatula or the back of a large spoon and press them down. (Be careful for the pan is extremely hot and the juices can splatter and burn you).
Add the olive blend. The olive oil will deglaze the pan and lift all the charred tomato from the pan. Use your spatula or spoon to scrape the pan as it deglazes. Put in blender when cooled and puree it.
Mince the shallot and put it in a mixing bowl. Add sugar and salt and mix, this will macerate the shallot and create a liquid.
Let sit for about 5 minutes to get it to macerate. Add pepper, sherry vinegar and tomato puree and mix.
Next, slowly whisk in extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste.
Use hearty greens for this dressing, local when possible.