Corner Office at El Conejo offers wines, plates and plenty of simple sophistication
By Will Hooper & Photos By Mike Hawkins
Less than a block south of Taos Plaza, and up a set of stairs, lies Taos’ Corner Office, a new restaurant serving up award-winning food and natural wine. With a patio for lounging, counter service and a cozy indoor vibe, Corner Office at El Conejo offers something new to locals and visitors alike.
Located at 122 Paseo del Pueblo Sur Suite C, just above Muerte Tattoo, the venue is a reinvigorated version of the former El Conejo, owned by local entrepreneur Marcos Aragon. After the restaurant was forced to close due to a roof leak, he offered the revitalized space to a couple who have flipped the concept, bringing natural wine and James Beard Award-winning food to Taos.
From New York to Taos
Jori Emde and Zakary Pelaccio relocated from New York to Taos during the pandemic, but they were already familiar with the area. Emde said they first began coming to Taos for winter in 2014. Pelaccio has been skiing in Taos since the mid-90s. After years of work in New York City and the Hudson Valley, the couple chose to bring their food and wine expertise to Taos full-time.
The couple ran several establishments in New York over the years, with Pelaccio winning a James Beard Award for food at their restaurant Fish & Game. The restaurant’s wine list was also recognized for five straight years by Wine Spectator Magazine in its compilation of the top 50 wine lists.
Along with their immense knowledge of food and wine, Emde maintains a focus on fermentation, running Lady Jayne’s Alchemy, a fermentation school. She plans to bring her fermentation and extractions to the restaurant in the coming months.
The pandemic helped the couple realize they wanted to slow down and look for a way to bring their passion for fine food and wine to Taos. After talking with Aragon, he offered them the space, and Corner Office at El Conejo was born.
“Literally, we threw this together in just a couple months,” said Emde. But it is unlikely any patron would know, given the cozy, curated atmosphere and fresh color scheme. “The space has got great bones. We feel lucky.”
The main focus of the establishment is Emde and Pelaccio’s handpicked selection of natural wines, which Emde explained, don’t contain sulfites or any other unnatural ingredients. “When you put a ton of chemicals in it — when you blow a ton of sulfites in it so that it stabilizes — you’re killing the microbes that are in it,” she said. “At the end of the day, and in the most layman’s terms, [natural wine] is a wine that’s still alive.”
“It’s just like food, right? You want to buy well-tended-to, localized foods that aren’t sprayed with pesticides and herbicides to where the flavor is hybridized out,” Pelaccio added. “Food should speak of a place and wine as a food product. The only way that it can tell a story of the place where it’s grown is if it’s not really messed with all that much.”
Emde said that natural wines also have a different effect. “It makes a difference in how you feel. You’ll hear a lot of people say, ‘I quit drinking wine because I always got a headache, but my friend told me about natural wine and now I don’t get headaches,’ and it’s true,” she said.
The natural wines come from all over the world, and many of the ones on their shelf are the only bottles of that kind available in the entire state.
Working with several different distributors, including PM Wine Distribution out of Santa Fe, they have curated a list of over 100 wines. A numbered system organized by Emde makes picking the right bottle a little easier.
Emde said wine can be intimidating to some people, and hopes her system will make it more accessible. “I’m intimidated by the French language, in particular, just because I’m not bilingual and [it] just isn’t intuitive for me” she noted. “I like breaking that barrier where you have no inhibitions. All you have to do is tell me what number you want.” From there, Emde can explain the wine in greater detail.
“We’re not here to isolate or make people feel uncomfortable. I love educating people,” she said.
While wine is a major focus for their restaurant, the food is just as critical. Prepared by Pelaccio, the menu contains a list of items that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in Taos. Plates like the elk carpaccio and wagyu brisket au jus use locally-sourced ingredients.
Emde said she wouldn’t classify Corner Office at El Conejo as a wine bar “because I think a wine bar communicates later hours and stuff like nuts and cheese boards,” she said. “We have a little bit more robust food to offer, but it’s still small and shareable. The idea is to sort-of get playful, but satiate the tummies so that you can drink the wine.”
Pelaccio said the menu will evolve with seasonal ingredients. “We’ll see what happens after the frost comes in. Local products are on the wane and we’ll see how we shift our menu,” he said. “Right now, we have farmers coming on Wednesday and Thursday for drop-off, and then we roll over to the market on Saturday.”
Pelaccio said their goal wasn’t necessarily to pair specific wine with specific food. “We’re not designing the menu to go with the wine list, or the wine list to go with the menu. It’s just what we think is tasty. It’s not a formal experience at all,” he said. “Our preference would be to see more people coming in pre-dinner, and having a bottle of wine and then going out and patronizing one of the other places in town.”
“You can come and just drink, you can come and just eat, or you can come and do both,” he added.
Settling into the space
Corner Office at El Conejo served guests Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 4-9 p.m. when it opened.
“We’re keeping the weekends right now because it really is just the two of us,” Emde said. “Even though the hours are three days a week, we’re still here Wednesday and Thursday prepping and preparing. We moved here so that we can enjoy life and not work 80-hour weeks like we used to. So I think that it’ll always be limited.” However, they haven’t thrown out the idea of opening on Thursdays in the future.
Emde also plans to bring more of her fermentation and extraction work into the business. “Eventually, I’ll bring my fermentations and my herbal equipment and stuff here so I can kind-of have a whole creative space all in one area,” she said, describing the “Corner Office” of the establishment, which is separated from the rest of the business by shelves full of books on everything from cooking to beer to travel.
Overall, the business is a place for Emde and Pelaccio to explore, create and bring their vision to Taos. “It’s kind of like our food studio — if you will,” Emde said. “We’re just kind of here throwing some things together and we just want to share it with the town.”
Corner Office at El Conejo 122 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Suite C cornerofficetaos.com