A new place to Whet your appetite - Albuquerque Journal

A new place to Whet your appetite

Co-owners/chefs of Whet 1324, the restaurant at Hollow Spirits Distillery, from left, Josh Kennon, with Korean style short ribs, Dominic Valenzuela, with 15-hour braised beef tongue, and Marco A. Espinoza, with garlic chile shrimp. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Whet 1324’s name is as unique as its cuisine.

Both its name and its menu are up for interpretation, but any way you define it translates to something mouth-watering.

“We sharpen our knives on what’s called a whetstone,” explained co-owner Dominic Valenzuela. “It’s a clay stone. You have to wet it, literally, and you use water as a lubricant to sharpen your knife. It’s about honing your blade. So you have the chef element there. Whet also means ‘whet your appetite,’ or ‘whet your palate,’ so stimulate your appetite, that’s the second definition, which worked perfectly with our name.”

Menu items are a creative fusion of ideas from three chefs who have made their mark in the local culinary scene. Owners Marco A. Espinoza, Josh Kennon, and Valenzuela have culinary endeavors outside of Whet 1324. Kennon owns Fork & Fig, Valenzuela is a co-owner of Tako Ten, and Espinoza is the chef at the Hilton Garden Inn Albuquerque Downtown.

“Most people have one creative chef within a building, within walls, and now we have three different creative minds creating a concept,” Kennon said. “All different backgrounds of the food world and we’re coming together to create a menu.”

Valenzuela describes Whet 1324’s cuisine as “chef-inspired street food,” made with high quality meats and locally-sourced produce. A grand opening celebration will be held Saturday, April 22, at its location inside Hollow Spirits Distillery, 1324 First St. NW. Red Light Cameras will perform from 7 to 10 p.m. The restaurant’s hours of operation will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Samantha Giovenco makes a “So Fresh and So Green” Odelia gin, kiwi, cucumber, sage and champagne at Whet 1324. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

“I feel like the fusion is more of taking all these little bits and techniques that other cuisines are good in and combining them in a different way,” Valenzuela said. “Kind of using those tools and then using them in a different way to come up with something completely unique and completely where you can’t put a stamp on it, you know, it’s our stamp.”

Its menu will change seasonally. Some standouts include its Chicken Bark, which is crispy chicken skins that are seasoned and served with lime and a red chile caldo, as well as its Elote Mac and Cheese made with cavatappi pasta, roasted green chile cheese sauce, roasted corn, queso fresco, lime crema and a house hot sauce. A full menu is available at hollowspirits.com.

“We’re doing a version of an esquite, so kind of like a Mexican-style street corn,” Espinoza said. “It’s gonna have the mac and cheese on the bottom with the corn and crema, cotija, and all the stuff on top of it.”

The goal is to keep menu items approachable and unpretentious.

“We’ve got to be playful with it, but at the same time not try to chef it up too much,” Espinoza explained.

A particularly fun item is the Steak Sandwich made with grilled New York strip pressed between lush brioche with smoked Gouda, caramelized onions and a dill chimichurri.

“It looks like a waffle,” Espinoza said of the sandwich. “Josh got a press from an old Dairy Queen that his parents used to own. So we press the sandwich in it so it looks like a waffle.”

Being located inside Hollow Spirits Distillery opens the door to using some of the distillery’s spirits as ingredients. Plans also are in the works for pairing dinners featuring Hollow Spirits products.

“A mussels dish that’s going to be on the menu is going to highlight the añejo,” Espinoza said. “It’s going to have some smoked bacon and some Spanish chorizo in there. It’s just awesome.”

The kitchen inside Hollow Spirits also doubles as a catering business, Fresco Catering Co., which is owned and run by the trio behind Whet 1324. Frank Holloway, co-owner of Hollow Spirits, approached Valenzuela regarding leasing the kitchen. In turn, Valenzuela spoke with Kennon and Espinoza about using the space for a restaurant and catering business.

Marco Espinoza, co-owner of Whet 1324, the restaurant at Hollow Spirits Distillery, plates garlic chile shrimp with bamboo rice. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

“I approached Josh and Marco with a new theme, being new co-owners together, business partners,” Valenzuela said. “(I asked) what did they think about having a project seven days a week here as well as a catering company and utilizing this opportunity to have money coming in seven days a week. They loved it.”

Fresco Catering Co. allows the trio free reign to be creative and construct something memorable. It is able to not only provide food service but also rent out event space inside the distillery as well as offer bartending service as part of a “bigger, better package.” Catering services can be obtained by calling 505-750-2341 or emailing frescocateringco@gmail.com.

“Catering is really one of those things where a lot of times we have an open canvas,” Valenzuela said. “Sometimes we’ll have some guidelines but then other than that the guest usually gives us the green light to just create an amazing experience for them.”

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