If you are looking for an elegant and delicious way to warm up, stop by Donabe Asian Kitchen in downtown Taos. The curries and other delights are spicy and sweet enough to heat up the body and soul on a cold winter night. Located in an historic abode, Donabe is one of the newest additions to the Taos restaurant scene, taking Asian cuisine to a new level of freshness and sophistication.
The word “Donabe” means earthenware pot in Japanese. Donabe chef and managing partner Marshall Thompson founded Marshall’s Great Noodle Stand at the John Dunn House Shops 11 years ago. He has carried favorites from the noodle stand into the new brick and mortar restaurant and expanded into new types of cuisine. “We were looking at the style of food we wanted to do, and all three partners, including Chris Bogden and James Gerken, picked up on the interest in hot pot meals. At our noodle stand, we did more Thai-type stir fries but at the restaurant, we are focused on Japanese/Korean. We rely on local potters from Paseo Pottery to provide us with beautiful pots that enhance the beauty of the food.”
Donabe is committed to using every local resource possible, including pottery and locally grown food. Because some of their authentic food ingredients come from far away, like the rice noodles from Thailand, the restaurant owners are always looking for ways to offset their carbon footprint.
Cooking in earthenware pots connects the restaurant to the history of local food. Thompson explains that ceramics have always been important here as a tool of cooking. Historical approaches are appropriate as Donabe is located in one of the oldest surviving buildings in Taos. It was built by Arthur Manby, a notorious figure in Taos’s history of the late 1800s who met a gruesome end. “There might be a ghost floating around,” says Thompson. “Some of the staff have noticed things that seem unexplainable.”
The historic adobe with its thickly plastered adobe walls offers the perfect backdrop to present some of the oldest cuisine in the world. The wood floors add atmosphere to the restaurant that opens to two outdoor patios used for warmer weather dining and connect the restaurant to the Stables Gallery and Taos Center for the Arts. The space continues to evolve with gorgeous art on the walls. Just like the food ingredients the art is local, representing prolific local artists from the collection of Gerken.
On a recent visit, the red curry was pleasantly spicy with complex layers of flavor. Like many of the dishes, it can be made gluten free using rice noodles. The spring rolls with shrimp were fresh and served with chile sauce for dipping. There are savory sandwiches like the tender pork loin (pork bánh mì) that come with fries and spicy sambal sauce.
The staff is polite and professional; our bartender came by to see if the mojito made with sake and champagne was to our liking.
Unique in the Taos food scene
Since opening a year ago, Donabe has gained a reputation for offering local, creative Asian-inspired food. Everything is made to order using local ingredients from sources like Salazar Meats, Mendez and Copper Pot Farms. “Eleven years ago, I went shopping at the Taos Farmer’s Market for ingredients for the noodle stand,” says Thompson. “I tried the locally grown carrots and was blown away by how much better they tasted having been harvested fresh from a nearby farm. We started using local ingredients and the menu grew organically.”
That commitment to use local ingredients has blossomed at Donabe, and almost all of the food is made from scratch. The appetizers and meals often include a local twist, using not only Thai red chiles but also local green chiles and jalapeños from the farmers market. “That is what elevates the food at Donabe beyond the typical Asian food choices,” says Thompson. “Fresh local ingredients create elegant and interesting dishes.”
Some people say that the chicken wings are the best in town. Another local favorite is the build-your-own bowl, allowing you to customize your meal to include your favorites — a generous portion is presented in a pottery bowl. The foundation of the bowl is a choice of noodles or rice, which is topped with a choice of coconut, beef pho, chicken or vegetarian broth. Next is the protein with chicken, pork, shrimp, beef, soft boiled egg or tofu. The dish is finished with roasted veggies, steamed greens, cucumber kimchi or a variety of other veggie and nut toppings or a chicken gyoza dumpling.
The menu changes seasonally, featuring a new dinnertime ramen as the year moves from winter to spring. Look for new choices including a local yak steak.
Community support for the journey
“It’s been a journey from the noodle cart to creating a full restaurant,” says Thompson. “People have really responded to our local choices and our commitment to make food from scratch.”
This is Thompson’s 16th winter in Taos. Since he showed up with two suitcases and little more, the community has embraced him and his exploration into creating unique and delicious food in Taos. Thompson has worked hard and brought everything he’s learned to the journey and is grateful that the community has responded with love and support.