Chef Rob ConneleyThis Month’s Featured Restaurant
Curious Kumquat

“Top in the State for ‘Foodies’!”
by Jean Eisenhower

The restaurant known as “a destination for folks with adventurous tastes” is headed by Chef Rob Conneley, who hikes into the Gila Forest each week, about 30 miles from home, to harvest twenty pounds or more of a wide variety of wild foods to add distinction to his menu creations.

Imagine a forest-harvested crawfish croquette crusted in peanut and wasabi, served with banana polenta and cherries. Or Szechuan-style cattail, local mushrooms, and salt-cured agave blossoms garnished in citrus cattail ash.

Quick note!  If these items sound too exotic for you, then come for lunch!  The noon menu features “good, fresh, affordable” and more conventional meals, such as Rob’s “Silver Philly” with house-cured pastrami, mozzarella, and sautéed green chiles, red bell peppers, and onions.

dessert at Curious KumquatFor dessert, imagine the “Passionfruit Chocolate Crunch Cake” – rich, dark chocolate layer crunch cake filled with tangy passionfruit curd and covered with fluffy, dark chocolate mousse.

Food writers around the state include this local gem with the state’s finest restaurants.  Those around the nation (Conde Nast Traveler and the James Beard Foundation, for instance) have also put “the Kumquat” on their lists.  And it was the traveling New York City writer Andrea Lynn who deemed the restaurant “top in New Mexico for foodies.”

“Foodies,” Rob explains, are not gourmets who’ve refined their tastes over decades, but “hobbyists” who enjoy novelty and learning about new cooking techniques; for example, the samosa of cherry smoke-infused, forest-foraged crawfish, served with pistachio foam and pickled wild green grapes, or learning that pastrami can be slow-cooked under pressure for several days – or even weeks!

Foodies spread the word far and wide. Virtually every night, says Rob, a diner or two announce that they came from Tucson, Germany, Italy, or somewhere else to Silver City specifically because a friend had told them they must dine at the Curious Kumquat.

Rob might explain to diners why he chose a particular salt for a particular meat, why he uses rice bran oil whenever oil will be heated, or how the Cypress flake salt accents the salad with not only favor but unique texture.

Rob will also recommend the perfect libation from their list of over fifty beers and nearly fifty wines to compliment one’s meal.
 

Beyond his training with a few luminaries in the pastry world (Stéphane Tréand and Jean Marie Auboine), Rob was mentored by renowned local herbalist and food harvester, Doug Simons, who lived entirely off the land for two years and now teaches sustainable, ethical, and healthful food harvesting.

Throughout the year, Rob is likely to harvest cattails or their pollen, wild sorrel, watercress, acorns, walnuts, black currants, hackberry, oyster mushrooms, wild grapes, agave blossoms, salt bush, and crawfish – all sustainably, of course.

Depending on the season, foraged foods may be a major ingredient or may be used in smaller quantities to accent conventional, highest-quality ingredients for meals most diners rate as “excellent” and call “amazing” or “fabulous!”

Dinners range from $10 to $38. Lunches average $7.50.

The small restaurant is lodged in an historic home at the north end of Bullard Street at 111 East College Avenue.  Reservations are recommended:  575-534-0337.

Jean EisenhowerJean Eisenhower is an award-winning author and journalist who writes only on subjects she cares about – and fine restaurants in her community fit the bill! jeaneisenhower.com

Photo of Rob by Wick Beavers, Restaurant photos and video by Tyler Bingham