Chente’s Restaurant Brings Incomparable Tastes to Laramie
Describing food is nearly impossible without some sort of comparison.
“Oh, you’ll love this new pizza place, their crust tastes a lot like…” or, “You should check out this new bar and grill, the selection is just like…”
How then shall I describe a place like Chente’s, with incomparable tastes and selections to any other restaurant in Laramie?
With no comparisons, the words I use to describe my experience at Chente’s will be many, yet still might remain insufficient. To put it simply, where the words lack at Chente’s, the tastes fill in the blank.
Unique was the first word that came to mind on my to Chente’s. Without sampling the cuisine, how else would one describe a restaurant that bills itself as New Mexican Food AND New England Fish & Chips? The concept is one that I greeted with a healthy amount of skepticism (I don’t think I’m alone on this); but the intrigue was enough to get me through the door (I don’t think I’m alone on this one either).
Apprehension was the word on my mind when I did venture through the door, not knowing what to expect in this curious culinary collision called Chente’s. That however was swiftly put to rest when I was greeted by Mike Geier, one of three partners in the management of the establishment, which opened its doors at 305 17th Street in Laramie on March 7.
Inside the restaurant, the walls are lined with dream catchers and though there is a very evident newness to the place, but there is an inviting charm to it as well. The restaurant is two-sectioned, and when you walk in, you will find the restaurant feeling much like a café, with scattered tables and a counter to order in or take-out. To the left is a larger area with padded seats lining the walls; this section is very open, well lit, and yet also very ambient. In its entirety, Chente’s feels clean, not yet broken in, but also cozy and welcoming.
Mike guided me to a booth in the corner of the smaller, café-feeling section and proceeded to tell me all about Chente’s.
The story begins with a man Mike calls Mr. Gill, a developer responsible for the construction of some 50 restaurants in the mountain west area, including Laramie’s Passage to India (now, Flavor of India). Being contractors, Mike and his working partner Ernesto Romero had done a number of jobs for Mr. Gill, and he contracted them to build his newest venture, a fish & chips restaurant in Laramie.
As Mike describes it, the idea seemed less of an epiphany and more of a “Hey, why don’t we…” when Ernesto suggested that they manage the restaurant they were building, and add tastes from his native New Mexico home to the menu.
In my mind, there must have been more that went into the idea than that, but Mike recalls it simply: “I thought it was a good idea, Mr. Gill thought it was a good idea, so we went ahead with it.”
The ‘we’ he speaks of is now a team; managed as I mentioned with the partnership of Mike, Ernesto, and Christie Guthrie. Additionally, there are three full-time employees (not counting Mike, because he doesn’t count himself) and there are three part-time employees at Chente’s.
Along with the innovative combination of New England and New Mexican foods, the name, Chente’s, is another prominent feature of this new restaurant that came from Ernesto. The name Chente’s was inspired by Ernesto’s younger brother Vicente, nicknamed, you guessed it, Chente. Much as the word nacho comes as a common Spanish nickname from Ignacio, Chente is the Spanish nickname for Vicente, and despite my presumption, it is pronounced shen-tay, NOT chen-tay.
Having yet to taste the food, Mike and I continued talking, finally on the topic of the menu. Item by item, Mike took me through the options, evidently proud of the value and variety. Like a kid at show and tell, he had a hard time hiding the grin.
As he talked, he would be interrupted every so often by patrons walking through the door. Let me clarify that statement, they would not interrupt him so much as he eagerly greeted every one of them with the same enthusiasm with which he had welcomed me.
About half of the people walking through the doors had dined there before, and Mike recognized them and would make sure they all shook my hand and told me what it was about Chente’s that already had them coming back for more. The words of recommendation came earnestly and simply: “It’s the best in town,” “It’s a great value,” “It’s fantastic,” “…this is a special place.”
The sincerity in these statements was astonishing. Also astonishing was the fact that an establishment that had been open about a month and a half would already have regulars.
Having heard all the recommendations, I now eagerly awaited a taste of this food. Requesting whatever came with the highest recommendation, I was told I would be eating some fish & chips along with the #2 New Mexican Combination Plate. Mike brought this order to the kitchen and it wasn’t long before one of the three full-time employees, a chef named Paul Martinez brought out two plates with far more food than any one person should ever justifiably consume in a single sitting. Thankfully, a set of silverware was delivered to Mike as well, and the meal was underway.
We began with the fish & chips, a sort of basket with two pieces of cod on top of French fries made in house. They already go through about 50 pounds of potatoes each day at Chente’s, and the light, simple and delectable nature of the fries makes it easy to see why. Light, simple and delectable are also fitting words to describe the fish, which boasts a modest crunch and a very soft inside. The breading was not excessive; fish is the featured aspect, not the fact that it is fried. The soft nature of the well-prepared New England staple was well served alongside a very sweet tartar sauce, and in what felt like two bites, I had finished my piece of fish. I was about to point out how easily my piece of cod went down when Mike smiled and said, “See the thing about the fish is that it’s really light- I bet you felt like you haven’t eaten anything yet.” My thoughts exactly.
A few more French fries gently drizzled with vinegar and we were onto the combination plate.
Previously in my visit, I had been told that the difference between New Mexican cuisine and the Mexican food that I’m more familiar with is the type of chile used and the prevalence of that chile. In a bold demonstration of that chile prevalence, Mike advised me to begin the combination plate by sampling the enchilada.
In the menu, it is called a cheese enchilada, and while it was very cheesy, the overwhelming flavor was from a chile unique to my relatively untraveled palate. It felt warm and rich, Mike called it “robust” and I could not disagree. There was a tingle in my mouth upon initial consumption, a curious sensation that felt like the heat would increase as the chile set in my mouth, however, rather than increase in hotness, it was a feeling of comfort, a flavor-filled warmth from a chile I’d never before experienced.
Chiles continued to abound as I progressed in the meal to the chile relleno, lightly breaded and fried, and despite preconceptions about a crunchiness to this chile, it was a smooth texture; thick, moist, soft and complex as the breading, chile and pepper jack cheese lining the inside made for a nearly addictive texture that I devoured with nearly as little effort as the fish.
Another fascinating texture greeted me as I went on to the pork tamale. Many times I’ve found tamales moist to the point of borderline sogginess, yet the tamale at Chente’s was heartier than most. As with everything at Chente’s, this tamale was very light, easily consumed, but dense and full of substance.
About two bites into the tamale, Mike had Paul bring out some extra green chiles from the kitchen. Much like those from the enchilada, they were a great addition to the beans and rice sitting almost untouched on my plate. Paul also brought out a hot red sauce for some added kick to the tamale. I was encouraged also to sample the red sauce on the taco, which also came on the combination plate.
Having liberally sampled everything on the plate, I came to the impressive realization that everything on the plate enhanced everything else on the plate. The hot red sauce somehow worked well with a forkful of green chile enchilada and refried beans. More red sauce and green chiles along with some Spanish rice, chile relleno and pork tamale made for a large bite, that still worked tremendously.
Upon a moment of reflection, I realized at this point that what was most astonishing to me, was that I had consumed a vast array of New Mexican cuisine and New England fish & chips, and somehow, all of these vastly differing flavors were sitting well in my stomach. When brought to mind, the flavors and smells of New Mexico and New England are thought of as being very bold and perhaps overpowering, and while the tastes I had experienced at Chente’s were bold, they were by no means overpowering.
Having eaten enough in one sitting to last me an entire day, I had to laugh when Mike asked if I wanted to try the fried ice cream. I was completely full, but I had to try more, and Mike told me that I reminded him of an instance a few days earlier, when a man had proclaimed (with his mouth full), “I’m not hungry, but I can’t stop eating!”
I felt incredibly relaxed and was ready for a nap as another plate appeared with the fried ice cream sitting on top of a stuffed sopapilla carefully adorned with raspberry and chocolate syrups. Again the deep fried parts to the plate had just enough breading to get a crunch, but not too much; particularly the sopapilla which maintained an almost angel cake level of warm fluffiness on the inside. Not holding back his spoon from the heaping dessert plate, Mike recalled one person’s description of the desserts as being “Sinfully Good,” and he thought it was a good summary for the sweet conclusion to the meal.
My entire time eating at Chente’s, I was hurrying to get to the next bite, anxiously awaiting each taste, wondering what flavor might be next. But upon conclusion of my meal, I was in no hurry to do anything.
There was a calm and contentment that overcame me as I sat and continued to talk with Mike and two other chefs who showed up to work the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, Alex Custard and Justin Miller.
I had at this point been inside Chente’s for about an hour and a half, yet these people were my friends. These foods, many of them completely new eating experiences for me, felt familiar as if I had been eating them my entire life.
I cannot fully explain how perfect my afternoon at Chente’s felt, nor why I seemed to reach this state of euphoria (though the large quantity of recently consumed food must have had something to do with it), but in the easy mood my dining had left me in, I was left only to agree with the words I had been hearing all afternoon from the other patrons. Chente’s is fantastic, it is different than anything else in Laramie, and it truly is a special place. I recommend you go to Chente’s; I recommend you try everything; and I’m sure you’ll find the words lacking as well.
Make sure to take a look at our other stories on new Laramie businesses as well to get the low-down on the latest in restaurants, shopping, and more!