Your Mediterranean cruise sets sail from Shevek & Co.
in Silver City.
The question you keep asking yourself when dining at Shevek & Co. in Silver City is: How can a restaurant like this exist in a town that barely tops 10,000 people on a good day? It's not just the quality of the food that emerges from chef Shevek's kitchen, which is unfailingly delicious and multilayered in flavor, or the scope and sophistication of the lovingly assembled wine list — more than 90 selections, most available by the glass. (If you order a whole bottle, you'll happily note that Shevek & Co. marks up its wines less than a typical restaurant.)
It's not the setting that sets Shevek & Co. apart, though its corner location on Bullard Street is pleasant enough, with brightly colored walls and a genuine tin ceiling overhead. This could be any charming little bistro in a much bigger city.
Certainly, the unusual approach to dinner-menu pricing and portions raises eyebrows: Everything, from salads to pasta to meat dishes, is available in "Tapa" size ("a satisfying taster"), "Mezze" size ("lighter fare — or as a taster for two to share") or a full "Entree" portion. Even the soups, which always include a seafood bisque or chowder plus a daily soup creation, come in three sizes — cup, bowl or tureen. This portion strategy lets adventurous diners sample multiple choices from Shevek's voluminous menu: You can try the Pheasant Sausage and the Tuna Milanese, without feeling stuffed like a sausage yourself at the end of dinner. Indeed, four "Tapas" make a satisfying, varied meal with room for dessert.
A few such meals and you'll begin to figure it out, what really sets Shevek & Co. apart and makes it so astonishing to find such a place in Silver City: It's the sheer ambition of the offerings, which nightly range across the Mediterranean — from fiery Zarzuela (a Spanish bouillabaisse) to Algerian-spiced Chicken & Fig Tagine, from Portuguese Curried Bay Scallops to Spanakopitta or Lamb Avgolemono from Greece. You can taste Morocco here (Moroccan Crepe of blackened chicken breast topped with harissa aioli) or savor Shevek's sophisticated takes on familiar Italian dishes, from Veal Scaloppine to the nightly varying ravioli and lasagne dishes.
It wouldn't be so surprising for a chef of Shevek's talents to hang out a shingle in a small town and serve a blackboard-chalked menu of maybe a dozen dishes, tops — sort of a semi-retirement. But to offer this eye-popping, daring menu — well, the word that comes to mind is chutzpah.
Perhaps inevitably with such culinary ambition and tastebud-challenging fare, not everyone will like Shevek & Co. This isn't traditional comfort food, and there's not a taco to be had anywhere. A subscriber to the "slow food" movement, Shevek sometimes serves meals more slowly than hurried folks might prefer.
But give it a chance — Shevek and his knowledgeable staff are happy to help with the daunting choices the menu might present. After a brief consultation, Shevek will even choose for you, creating a unique tasting experience for each person at the table. And you'll soon learn to simply put the selection of just the right wine accompaniment entirely in the staff's expert hands.
Make sure that the chef does leave room for dessert, by the way. If you can't be satisfied by something from the lengthy recitation of cakes (including perhaps the world's best carrot cake), pies, tortes, brownies and such, your sweet tooth might need a checkup. And there's always apricot gelato, made exclusively for Shevek by Alotta Gelato.
As you settle up and step out onto Bullard Street, you may find yourself doing a double-take: Yes, you really still are in a small New Mexico town, not midtown Manhattan or someplace sunny along the Mediterranean. Here's how to be sure: The Zarzuela is better in Silver City.
— David A. Fryxell
Shevek & Co., 602 N Bullard St., Silver City, 534-9168, www.silver-eats.com Mon., Tues., Thurs., Sun. 5-8:30 p.m.; Fri., Sat. 5-9 p.m.; closed Weds. Summer hours, beginning April 13: Mon., Tues., Thurs., Sun. 5-9 p.m.; Fri., Sat. 5-9:30 p.m.; closed Weds. Open for brunch on Easter Sunday, May 2, Mother's Day, May 23-25, Father's Day and Sept. 5-7 only. Major credit cards.