Food, heart and soul

ACEQ delivers on the fine tastes and hearty passions of restauranteur Michael Wagener

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ACEQ is a flourishing and popular restaurant in Arroyo Seco. With such a sterling reputation for excellent cuisine and charming ambience, you might think the restaurant rests on its laurels. Instead, owner Michael Wagener and his team work hard every day to make it a new experience.

“I’m a sommelier,” says Wagener. “Here at ACEQ, I have a vision for the type of fare: it’s hyper-local. We change the menu all the time and source the produce locally when we can, using the best proteins we can find. For example, we use Above Sea Level in Santa Fe that flies in our seafood and delivers it to us daily.”

With a whole lot of energy, ACEQ’s menu is a powerful collaboration among Wagener, his experienced chef Andrew Horton, and cook David Ortega. “We are a small but busy operation. ‘Fun dining at its finest’ –– that’s our mantra. We deliver super, high-quality food and a lively, hip atmosphere.”

From Sunday to Thursday, devotees flock to ACEQ for their trademark chicken and waffle. On Friday night, the menu offers a fish fry with fresh Alaskan King Cod fish and chips. Weekend diners can find a prime rib dinner on Fridays and Saturdays.

The menu is a panoply of regional favorites and international delights. As of press time, the menu included:

· Chimayo red chile bison tacos, fresh masa tortillas

· Lamb ribs, tzatziki, lentils, flat bread

· Ma-po tofu, jasmine rice, squash, Szechuan, ginger, peanuts

Some of the farms Wagener sources from are Llanobilly Ranch, Chef’s Edition, Mer-Girl Gardens, Organic Lamb, and Living Light Farm –– as well as the Taos Farmers Market. He serves local brew favorites from Taos Mesa Brewing.

Wagener is accustomed to working hard. Since taking over ACEQ from its previous owners in 2015, his LinkedIn profile notes his role as “Head Dishwasher.” And rather than a buttoned-up, tie-and-jacket profile photo, Wagener is pictured on his mountain bike riding a single track.

Acknowledging his dynamic reputation as a skier and mountain bike racer, Wagener says with a chuckle, “I’ve been fortunate to win and hold the records for all the events up at Taos Ski Valley. And I am slightly kind of infamous for some antics.”

Wagener pours his athleticism and passion for life into making his diners’ experiences as first-rate as can be. He also physically renovated the place.

“We opened up the kitchen and busted out some walls. In the inner room, it’s like a ‘dinner and a show.’ You can see the chef’s counter and the dishwasher is on display. There’s no hiding anywhere in my restaurant.”

The vibe of the place resonates. ACEQ seats 60 and they can add seat more by moving tables around.

“All of my tables –– my father made with reclaimed from my grandfather’s granary in Wisconsin where I grew up. We use a number of local potters, such as Logan Wannamaker who hand-threw and hand-signed all of our plates. We also have Scott Rutherford of Rottenstone and Scott Carlson. I am big fans of these people and their work.”

Wagener acknowledges that one-of-a-kind plates is not cost-effective. “But it’s an art, and an organic expression.”

Wagener arrived in Taos 11 years ago to assume the position of food and beverage director at El Monte Sagrado hotel. But Wagener’s culinary career dates back to his early youth when he was waiting tables at a local country club, while working on earning his business and communications degree from the University of Minnesota in Duluth.

When asked how his path in life led him from the Midwest to the high mountains in the Southwest, Wagener says it’s like how buying ACEQ just naturally worked out. “The universe ebbs and flows and just guides you. I had always wanted to live in the mountains. Owning and working restaurants –– it’s just become my life.”

The restaurant is named ACEQ –– as a shorthand for the word “acequia,” which is a traditional irrigation ditch dating back for millennia in Taos.

“The acequias –– that’s what grows all of our food and feeds all of our animal. That’s the root of everything in the Southwest,” says Wagener.

Wagener is a member of the esteemed Court of Mater Sommeliers – Americas. “Our wine list and beers –– I say this with a big push of pride and love –– is probably hands down the most esoteric on a number of levels. It is small craft and most of the wines are basically all sustainable and bio-dynamically farmed. They change quite often. There is always something new and fun.”

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