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Albuquerque, NM - Chef Rob Connoley Pop-Up (review)

ninrn | Mar 15, 201503:42 PM

I went to an extremely interesting and enjoyable pop-up dinner in January, and have wanted to post here about it since then; I've just had trouble knowing how to write about it.

When I said this to my sister, who went with me, she said, "You should write that we sat down at a big table with eight other people, and, fifteen minutes in, we were all licking our plates and talking like we'd known each other for years. Something about this guy, his food, and the way he described and prepared it, made that happen." I think she hit the nail on the head.

So let me try to describe the dinner itself. It was a 10-course modernist tasting menu designed and prepared by Chef Rob Connoley, an occasional poster on these boards and chef/owner of The Curious Kumquat in Silver City.

The meal was made from lots of local ingredients, many foraged or hunted by the chef himself. Many dishes were prepared using molecular gastronomy techniques. Each course was about 1 - 2 tablespoons in size, and they were served with what seemed to me like pretty smart wine pairings.

The small portion size greatly distressed two people at another table, but there were ten courses, and I felt what the chef was doing in making the courses this size was giving you just enough that you would really think about and fully experience every bit of every course. When you got to the point where the next taste might have been familiar, or when another bite might have blurred the memory of the preceding course, there wasn't any more. You moved on to the next thing. While a couple more mouthfuls in each course might have been welcome, I remember every single flavor in that meal two and a half months later, something I don’t know I could say about any other meal I’ve had.

Some components that stand out in my memory are these:
• Croquettes made of acorns gathered, I think, in the Gila -- maybe the most accessible and addictive thing served all night.
• An elk heart tartare, which I'd heard would be on the menu and was sort of dreading, but which turned out to be sublime.
• A quail egg cooked by the injection of a hot liquid into the yolk so that it was soft-cooked from within (again, gorgeous).
• And a fried local moss garnish that made me want to put fried local moss on everything from now on.

The chef came out before each course, explained what would be served, and told the story behind it. He seemed to have only one kitchen assistant working with him, so it was very much an auteur meal, a completely personal expression of Chef Connoley. He’s smart, weird, good-hearted, and spends a lot of his time in the wild. We tasted those things in every course.

While the dishes may not have been as polished and intricate as the molecularly gastronomized local food meals they serve at certain well-known restaurants in big cities, I think it’s a rare and special thing when one can experience any work that is at once so purely personal an expression of its maker, and, at the same time, a jovial shared experience that gives you happy insights into nature, cooking, and your companions.

It was a treat, and I hope any of you who are adventurous eaters will have a chance to try this guy’s food some time soon.

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