That’s how I’ll describe the food at CAMP Modern American Eatery. The restaurant may bill itself as “modern American,” yet that’s a rather vague term and doesn’t do justice to the global diversity of sparkling colors, flavors and textures found on its menu. Their logo resembles a stylized canvas tent with an open flap that invites patrons in, but doesn’t do justice to the layers of thoughtful design, exquisite lighting and sense of feng shui that awaits diners.
On my most recent visit I was delighted with a trio of Filipino-style dumplings filled with a mixture of freshly ground pork and shrimp, topped with a savory Mexican-style salsa macha of crushed peanuts, chili peppers, garlic, oil and onion. These dumplings were not round but rather neat little squares, folded with as much care as a Christmas present from Tiffany’s. They were not steamed as one might expect, but rather seared, like a Chinese pot sticker. Topped with a tablespoon of that savory Salsa Macha and a few strands of micro cilantro, this is a dish with a chef’s sense of place that offers a cartographer’s riddle to an exquisite bite of food.
Consider the tuna tostada. Two handmade miniature tortillas, thick enough to support a generous helping of carefully diced yellowfin tuna tossed with a maple ponzu vinaigrette, julienne of watermelon radish, shaved red radish and thinly sliced serrano chilies followed by a garnish of bachelor’s buttons and Johnny jump-ups. The chilies, the radishes, the ponzu all offer up different layers of what we consider “spice.” The sweetness of the maple, the crunch of the corn, and the softness of the tuna flesh all equal an incredibly satisfying detour from our town’s many iterations of shrimp and grits.
The beautiful vegetables throughout CAMP’s menu looked suspiciously familiar, so I asked sous-chef John Flynn.
“Nathan Vanette, Growing Greens Farm,” he answered. “That guy is instrumental in the complexity of our menu. We talk to him several times a week and he helps us keep up with what we’re going to see in the coming weeks. His produce is spectacular and that steers our menu toward these dishes.”
Complexity: That is the essence of CAMP. While the experience of dining at CAMP may be far removed from that of a few hours inside an old canvas tent, it is the mystery of its menu that beckons. Even those who are regular diners at CAMP are continually surprised. The couple next to me stated as much when I asked them why they call themselves regulars.
I offered up my own answer. “What will I find tonight inside these doors? It’s like an escape room, only with a great meal as the exit strategy.”
A sly smile from chef Flynn was my answer.