It’s 6 on a Friday evening, and Campo, the farm-to-table restaurant at Los Poblanos Inn and Organic Farm in Los Ranchos, is humming with energy.
The dining room is full, its hard walls and latilla-lined ceiling amplifying the hum of conversation. Servers hurry out of the open kitchen at the back, balancing plates of seasonal entrées that cost more than $40.
Those are the kinds of prices you pay for the matchless setting of the farm and the cuisine of Campo’s executive chef, Jonathan Perno, James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest in 2019.
I had visited Campo in the spring for appetizers at the bar, but this time I was there for the full dinner experience. In contrast to the tranquil setting outside, the dining room is cramped and noisy. My chair was bumped about a dozen times by staffers weaving their way past. I’d recommend trying for a booth or a table by the window or eating on the patio outside if weather permits.
The meal started with a complimentary amuse-bouche, French for “mouth-amuser,” consisting of two slices of mini-cucumber topped with blackberries. It’s both a palate cleanser and a creative, welcoming touch. Why doesn’t every high-end restaurant do this?
Campo’s menu changes with the seasons, especially on the appetizer side. The newest arrival is an excellent seafood chowder ($10) made with chunks of Alaskan halibut – “two days out of the water,” the server told us – with sweet corn and green chile. The green chile and the drops of chile oil provide very noticeable and welcome heat, and a lattice of crispy potato sticks adds crunch to the rich, creamy base.
The title characters of another starter, Cucumber & Radish ($11), play only supporting roles to the pile of field greens they’re served in. Streaked across the plate under the salad, the harissa, a North African chili pepper paste flavored with garlic and cumin, felt disconnected from the other elements of the dish.
Shepherd’s lamb ($40), one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, presents two chops crisscrossed over grilled vegetables. It’s sourced from a ranch in northern New Mexico where the sheep graze on wild land. The result is a lean meat with a beefy flavor abetted by a mole rojo whose initial sweetness is quickly ushered away by the heat of the chile. The excellent tamales accompanying the lamb were filled with lamb neck meat, braised slowly and shredded from the bone. The only off note on the plate was the undercooked grilled sweet potato wedges.
Los Poblanos’ most famous flowering plant subtly perfumes its lavender chicken breast ($27), cut in two pieces and served over yellow beans and blue corn polenta. It had great flavor and nice presentation but was served in the dreaded tepid zone. We would have sent it back for additional heating, but by then the server was nowhere to be found.
Campo has a wide selection of cocktails, beers and wines, ranging from a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $3 to French wines costing several hundred dollars a bottle. Scrimshaw Pilsner ($7), a straw-colored German-style Pilsner brewed in California, paired well with the spicier foods.
Our server was very knowledgeable about the menu, but the pace seemed to take a toll on him as the night wore on. It didn’t help that the man at the next table kept cornering him for lengthy dissertations on whatever food he was eating at that moment. Long story short: He didn’t like the cucumber and radish salad but loved the $43 rib-eye.
That’s how it goes at Campo – a feast for your senses and an assault on them too. It’s an ambitious production befitting its fabulous location, even if the choreography needs a little work.