By Molly Cerreta Smith
Lou Malnati’s, the famed Chicago pizza brand, announces its third and largest Arizona location opening at 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, September 11 on Scottsdale Road and Chauncey Lane. This location features nearly 10,000 square feet of dining, with indoor, outdoor and group private seating options as well as a dedicated carryout area. Designed uniquely to match its location, Lou Malnati’s in Scottsdale is adorned with palm trees inside and out, and features a modern desert-style décor.
During a recent media lunch, we had the opportunity to taste some of the new location’s offerings, which boast some unique items not found on the regular menus in Chicago, such as the Buffalo Chicken Salad with watermelon as well as some of the restaurant’s time-honored family recipes and mainstays, including scratch-made pizza dough, Wisconsin cheese from the same small farm that has supplied Lou Malnati’s for more than 40 years, and California-grown tomatoes for the restaurant’s exclusive sauce
Bruschetta is one of my go-to favorite appetizers and Lou Malnati’s classic version, piled high with fresh roma tomatoes and basil, olive oil and shaved parmesan on toasted garlic rounds, did not disappoint.
As mentioned above, the Buffalo Chicken Salad features a surprisingly sweet bite with cubes of fresh watermelon that balance the spicy buffalo chicken and tangy gorgonzola cheese. I would certainly order this again.
Though pizza is the main event at Lou Malnati’s we also tried some pasta — the Penne Ala Malnati, penne noodles with cream and romano cheeses, meat sauce, and topped with mozzarella then baked to perfection.
And true to its reputation for excellent deep dish Chicago-style pizza, the Malnati Chicago Classic featuring sausage, extra cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce on their Malnati family’s famed buttercrust, was well worth every calorie.
If you’ve saved room for dessert, I applaud you… What a feat! Though we were full beyond compare, we ordered the Tre Dolci, a sampling of the restaurant’s three signature desserts — Key Lime Pie, Tiramisu, and Chocolate Chip Pizza with ice cream and a cherry on top, of course! This is a great way to try them all and share with the table. My personal favorite was the Key Lime Pie thanks to the scrumptiously light graham cracker crust.
It’s no surprise that Chicago-born restaurants keep making their way to the Valley of the Sun — and it’s not just because of all the Illinois transplants that take up residence here. Chicago and greater Phoenix seem to have similar food scenes and culinary prowess, making this the perfect place to expand beyond the mid-west. We can thank Chicago for their latest segue into Scottsdale with Lou Malnati’s!
By Molly Cerreta Smith
As most restaurateurs in the valley already know, the dining business here meets stiff competition. So it’s always heart-warming to hear the stories of local “mom and pop” restaurants that have stood the test of time and are thriving to boot. With that, we raise our (freshly-made) margarita glasses to Macayo’s in their 72nd year!
During a recent dinner at Macayo’s Mexican Table in Mesa, we were invited to make our own guacamole with a variety of ingredients that the original Macayo’s recipe includes to combine at our own whimsy, and tasted some of the restaurants most popular dishes. Following the DIY guacamole, we enjoyed the Macayo’s Famous Cheese Crisp topped with spicy shredded Chicken Tinga, cilantro, onion and queso fresco. The chicken had the perfect amount of heat and the cheese crisp remained crispy, despite its ooey-gooey toppings.
Next, we were treated to Fried Avocado Wedges. Trying to remain polite while secretly wanting to devour this entire dish was a true challenge. Not to brag, but I’m pretty proud of the restraint I displayed. My tablemates can thank me later. I could easily (and happily!) down my own plate of these as a meal… and may consider this as a future option.
Macayo’s Mexican Corn is essentially deconstructed elotes, but creamier and topped with queso fresco and Pepe’s Picante Salsa. This is a perfect dip for chips if you’ve finished your guacamole from earlier and have some lonely chips left behind.
Next,we tried the grilled chicken rolled tacos drizzled with the famous baja sauce that has put Macayo’s on the map. We may or may not have had a discussion about the addictive properties of this sauce.
To cap off the night, we sampled the homemade Mud Pie. This menu item is special to Macayo’s CEO/President Sharisse Johnson, the daughter of original owners Woody and Victoria Johnson, as she recalls making this decadent dessert with her dad when she was a young girl. This sweet story may have added to the heart-melting flavor of this dessert... Or it might have been the chocolate cookie crust, creamy filling and thick layer of fudge on top – it’s tough to say. Either way, it was delectable.
In their 72nd year of business, Macayo’s is celebrating in several ways that benefit local diners and aspiring mixologists. The Patron Cocktail Workshop is being held on September 29 featuring a Patron brand ambassador that will be instructing “students” on how to make classic tequila cocktails paired with a four-course meal including Fried Avocado, Mercado Chopped Salad, Green Chile Meatloaf and Baja Poblano Mashed Potatoes and a Margarita Cheesecake.
And until Monday, October 29, some of Woody’s as well as diners favorite dishes over the past seven decades have returned to the menu including Fried Zucchini, Tostada del Mundo, “Woody’s Favorite” combo, Chicken Maximilian, Enchiladas Suizas and homemade Mud Pie. Guests can learn more and register for the class at www.macayo.com.
While summer months bring steamy temps, one thing doesn't change - the panoramic Sonoran Desert views at our acclaimed restaurants. Different Pointe of View at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs takes advantage of the season by featuring some of the best dining specials in the Valley, and this year, it coincides with the introduction of a new drink list.
As I've mentioned previously (such as here, here, and here), DPOV with Executive Chef Anthony DeMuro is a personal favorite. Last month, nine new specialty cocktails debuted and these colorful libations are the perfect way to begin your evening. You might try the Last Haboob, a refreshing blend of Bombay Gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo Cherry Liqueur, and lime juice, or linger over The Good, The Bad, & The Old Fashioned, a union of Makers 46, smoked maple syrup, orange, Luxardo cherry liqueur, a splash of soda and two types of bitters - chocolate and Angostura.
Order The Mirage, and you'll enjoy a summer sipper made with Belvedere Vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate liqueur, Cardamaro, lemon juice, and an effervescent splash of Banfi Rosa Regale sparkling wine.
More clever monikers representing our Southwestern surroundings arrive with a Desert Oasis mixing Bulleit Bourbon, Aperol, lemon juice, and Amaro Nonino (an Italian grappa-based spirit), and the Sandstorm, a lovely libation combining Casamigos Añejo tequila, agave syrup, Shrub & Co. Yucatán Honey Shrub, and a hint of heat with chipotle simple syrup.
Prickly pear syrup adds a hint of sweetness and a beautiful hue to the Cactus Kicker, which also includes Patron Silver tequila, Luxardo, and a touch of smoky mezcal. Be sure to spend some time exploring these signature sippers while you peruse the menu.
Through Labor Day, take advantage of a delicious three-course summer menu for $44 at this AAA Four-Diamond restaurant. Offering you a choice from select appetizers, entrees, and any of the desserts, it's just another reason to visit this special restaurant perched on North Mountain.
Chef DeMuro's rich and velvety Lobster Bisque is my favorite rendition in Phoenix (I first wrote about it in this AZ Wine Lifestyle magazine 2011 feature), so I was VERY happy to see it's one of the highlighted choices, garnished with a dollop of piquillo pepper cream.
There are two other options, however, that are just as delightful. For a lighter starter, try the fresh and bright Bibb and Heirloom Cucumber Salad embellished with fennel, juicy tomatoes, crumbles of sheep’s milk feta cheese, basil-fennel purée, and a zesty lemon-basil vinaigrette. Want something heartier? Order the Merguez with Israeli Couscous, a mouth-watering pasta dish of plump pearl couscous soaking up a saffron-accented broth studded with juicy disks of North African spiced lamb sausage, tomatoes, and feta cheese.
Four entree choices will tempt you, including the Chef's Daily Feature, which one day may be rosy slices of Muscovy Duck with boursin cheese polenta, carrot puree, and dried blueberry compote, or the next, short rib ravioli topped with basil-garlic shrimp, spinach pesto, and a tomato beurre blanc. Tip: Follow DPOV on Facebook, where Chef DeMuro posts pictures of his dish of the day.
I lean towards seafood, so naturally I loved the Seared Mediterranean Meagre. This delivered a crispy-skinned, perfectly cooked fillet of fish similar to a European seabass balanced on a crispy leek-parmesan risotto cake, topped with a tangle of leek pesto, and surrounded by florets of Romanesco cauliflower, rock shrimp, and puddles of buttery shrimp and chervil herb sauce (edited: since my visit, meagre has been replaced with California white seabass).
Meat lovers will opt for Grilled Marinated Bistro Steak, which is given the Southwestern treatment with partners of smoky black beans with manchego cheese, pico de gallo, baby pattypan squash, and a guajillo chile-spiked demi-glace.
Tender, juicy Achiote Grilled Pork Tenderloin likewise receives an Arizona flair, rubbed with a Mexican spiced annatto paste before being grilled to perfection and paired with a green chile and cheddar polenta cake, pickled pepper and cilantro tapenade, baby zucchini, and finished with prickly pear syrup and lemon zest reduction.
Be sure to save room for dessert, because at Different Pointe of View, you have your pick from five indulgences for your dinner finale.
Whiskey Pecan Praline with chocolate sponge cake and brown sugar blond chocolate cream
Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Banana with chocolate-peanut butter mousse and caramelized banana ice cream
Margarita Gelato with key lime curd, rice brittle and vanilla sugar strawberries
Caramel Brownie with milk chocolate and honey, white chocolate square and a scoop of Caramelia chocolate ice cream
Tahitian Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with fresh raspberries and blueberries
Can't choose? Well, maybe these pictures can help you decide.
Of course, you're welcome to stray from the summer prix-fixe and order a la carte. If that's your plan, file away these two new additions to the menu we tried on our recent visit (thank you to Ian Cahill for his expert menu guidance and wine pairings!)
Lobster Rice Paper Rolls stuffed with chunks of lobster, pickled enoki mushrooms, cucumbers, and sprouts, accompanied by Napa Cabbage, soy foam and a swath of spicy mango sauce.
A splurge-worthy (and gluten-free) entree of Lobster and Scallops starring sweet poached Maine lobster, seared diver scallops, honey griddle cakes, asparagus, and an aromatic lemongrass beurre blanc.
Different Pointe of View is an award-winning mountaintop restaurant located inside the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort at 11111 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85020. Take advantage of the special 3-course $44 prix-fixe through September 1. It is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and reservations can be made by calling (602) 866-6350.
I received a complimentary media invitation.
On Wednesday, July 25, Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine Chef Brett Vibber, his kitchen staff, Chef Tamara Stanger (formerly of Helio Basin Brewing Company and soon to be at the helm of Cotton & Copper) and Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine (who really needs no introduction), collaborated on An Evening of Arizona Cuisine. This multi-course dinner was built upon food solely foraged from the unique terrain of the Grand Canyon State.
Much like a writer uses words to tell her tale and an artist his palette, the chefs and winemaker used local and indigenous ingredients to share their stories in each beautifully-presented plate and accompanying glass. In a true team effort, according to Vibber himself, each chef was given an opportunity to reveal a few pages of their own stories, told through food.
Our meal began with a simple yet tasty amuse — a creamy, firm base of polenta topped with a bright red Rhiba Farms tomato, a sliver of foraged horse mushrooms, and a rind of local goat cheese.
This was paired with a crisp rosé from Pillsbury Wine and Vineyard, which produces only local Arizona-grown wines – naturally.
Sam paired this with his Wild Child White, a blend of three European aromatics (German, French and Italian).
Tamara Stanger revealed her chapter in this story of Arizona Cuisine, bestowing upon us her Navajo Kneel Down Bread wrapped in a Rhiba Farms banana leaf with a juicy backyard-picked plum and local flowers. Hearty with a hint of spice, yet still delicate, this is a dish for the history books.
The Jeweled Cactus course was a playful and visually stunning course featuring Saguaro and Barrel cactus honeys, date cream, saguaro pâte de fruit and cactus seeds paired with Pillsbury Chardonnay, which recently won a Gold Medal from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Chef Vibber credited Cave Creek’s The Meat Market (just down the road from Cartwright’s) for the Chiricahua pasture-raised pork sausage in the next dish. Topped with local wildflower pollens that the kitchen staff has been collecting, including fennel, chamomile and wild onion from Arizona’s Rim Country, the sausage was perfectly balanced with an artistic “swoosh” of wolfberry jam and Mountain Sky Farms honey.
The cheese course followed, featuring soft-ripened goat milk cheese aged for three-and-a-half weeks and made by Cartwright’s own Chef Geoff Greiner, with Malaysian kumquat and juniper emulsion, strawberry jam and a semolina crisp.
This was the ideal “palate cleanser” to prepare for the next dish — Chef Jaren Bates’ interpretation of “chicken and waffles” taken to the next level.
A nine-hour smoked duck leg breaded with cornmeal and mesquite flour and served with a blue corn waffle, pickled okra, cactus seed butter and cactus syrup. Sam paired this with another San Francisco Chronicle Gold Medal Winner – a 2016 Viogner, featuring Southern Rhone aromatics grown right here in Arizona.
One of the most interesting parts of this dinner was the introduction that each chef gave as their guests were being served. It made each bite even that much more flavorful, more delicious, knowing that, for example, the watercress pesto was made from watercress foraged just twenty minutes from the restaurant. It gave insight to the secrets that our desert, riparian and forest landscapes are holding so sacred – just waiting to share. Each plate truly held the passions of these hardworking chefs, and you could taste it.
That said, Chef Vibber went “rogue” from the Arizona-only menu for just one item — that local watercress pesto was topped with a piece of Alaska Wild Sockeye that chef caught himself on a recent trip. Just knowing that this was perhaps not locally foraged, but chef foraged, wove in yet another thread to the tapestry of the evening, giving such significance to the meal.
Next, a perfect “one bite” of Chiricahua pasture-raised lamb with a glaze that subtly hinted of maple was served with smoked cayenne and lavender and paired with Sam’s carefully-selected Petite Sirah featuring aromatics of the Rhone variety.
And while I truly hate to pick a favorite, let’s just say the grilled buffalo rib-eye with blackberry and onion and served with a scrumptious chickpea fritter falls into the “last but certainly not least” category.
To cap off a truly unforgettable meal, the dessert was a fantastic interpretation of a classic ice cream sandwich. However, this version was all Arizonan — sweet corn ice cream sandwiched between crumbly blue corn shortbread and sweetened with Mountain Sky Farms honey and agave, jalapeno-infused whipped cream and a blackberry-sumac jam with fresh strawberries and dried sweet corn for a perfect crunch.
This dinner shared the story of Arizona food, but also revealed that much of the tale is yet to be told. Chef Vibber and Stanger share the passion and belief that there is so much more to be discovered when it comes to defining what “Arizona cuisine” really is… and I’m certainly ready for the next chapter.
Cartwright's Modern Cuisine is located at 6710 E Cave Creek Rd, Cave Creek, AZ 85331. It is open daily for dinner and reservations can be made at (480) 488-8031.
This writer received a complimentary media invitation.
Each season introduces a wonderful debut of dishes at one of my favorite restaurants - Artizen at The Camby Hotel. As I've previously spotlighted here and here, I'm a huge fan of Executive Chef Dushyant Singh and his globally-inspired dishes. A collaboration with his talented Chef de Cuisine Michael Winneker, the current menu is divided into Snack (small plates), Soil (vegetable dishes), Artizen Entrees, and Butcher's Block (steaks and chops), and I've had the delicious pleasure over two visits - once with the lovely ladies of Know Tribe, and more recently a hosted chef's tasting - to explore the new additions.
But while you're here, there's another new menu you need to pay attention to - Lead Bartender Justin Arellano's excellent cocktails. Justin brings to Phoenix the knowledge and experience taken from his time spent in New York City working with some of the cocktail greats, such as Sasha Petraske, founder of renowned Milk & Honey. You'll learn more about Justin in my upcoming cocktail article in the September issue of Phoenix Home and Garden, and can cheer him on when he competes in Bar Brawl at the Sanctuary Resort on July 29.
To celebrate Negroni Week, Justin created an outstanding limited-edition variation called the Nopal Negroni, made with Campari, hibiscus-infused-gin, Antica Carpano vermouth, prickly pear reduction, and a pinch of salt to heighten flavor, and garnished with dried hibiscus and orange zest.
On his list, you'll find classic and creative drinks such as those I have most recently tried - the Corpse Reviver #2, Painkiller, Bin & Gitters, and Dry Heat. If I had to pick a favorite, it might be the Skinny Dip, a finely-tuned union of mezcal, lime juice, and Punt e Mes accented with maple and pineapple.
His cocktails are the perfect precursor before diving into your meal, and with Executive Chef Singh and Chef de Cuisine Winneker in the kitchen, I predict you'll be as impressed as I am. Here is a photo recap of some of the fabulous dishes you can expect to enjoy.
A light and bright starter perfect for our hot summer months was a Crab Salad stacking sweet and delicate Dungeness crab tossed with lemon, tarragon, and chives and colorfully complemented with pepperonata, sorrel, and mint oil.
Might I suggest a surf and turf combo? The Yellowtail Crudo delivered melt-in-your-mouth slices glistening with chile oil and a tangy yuzu vinaigrette with pickled Fresno chili, ginger, yuzu gelee, garlic chips, and ice lettuce, a leafy lemony succulent, while tender Crispy Baby Back Ribs were glazed in an umami-rich BBQ sauce of French Banyuls vinegar and Chinese Hoisin sauce.
Parisian Gnocchi are made with a pâte à choux base (the dough used for eclairs and profiteroles) versus Italian potato gnocchi. This means that they are light and airy and were absolutely fantastic paired with crispy sweetbreads, corn velouté enhanced with smoked butter, and bedecked with thinly-sliced green grapes and micro cilantro.
I think more people should be talking about the superlative vegetable dishes on the menu at Artizen, which can be ordered as sides or as a course. They are guaranteed to please vegetarians and entice carnivores, and I could easily have a glass of wine and not stray from this section of the menu. Depending on what is in season, you may find options such as cauliflower with date jam and curried shallots or baby carrots with cherry-cardamom chutney, and perhaps these four delicious plates:
- Crispy Brussels Sprouts drizzled with Caesar dressing and adorned with chives, Pecorino Romano cheese and brown butter breadcrumbs
- Asparagus blanched, grilled and tossed in a pistachio vinaigrette, nestled in a creamy black garlic aioli, and dressed up with charred shiitake mushrooms, pumpernickel croutons, cured egg yolk, and celery leaves
- Crispy Potatoes tricked out with nuggets of bacon, fermented Fresno chiles, Taleggio cheese sauce, and a dusting of blue cheese powder
- Velvety Potato Puree with creme fraiche and an oozy center of melted Comté cheese.
Happily for me, my favorite from last season has stayed, and that is the Sunchokes. Also called Jerusalem artichokes, they're a nutty root vegetable which at Artizen are confited and seared, draped in a beurre blanc spiked with Amaretto, and showered with Marcona almonds.
ARTIZEN ENTREES AND BUTCHERS BLOCK
I highly recommend following chef's suggestion for sharing the Lamb Bucatini as a pasta course. Lamb necks are smoked before being braised to tender richness and combined with a smoky charred tomato sauce studded with sultanas. Bucatini, a fat tubular spaghetti, is tossed with this savory sugo, and finished with finely grated cheese and garlic flowers.
A steak for my husband and fish for me is our usual restaurant MO and at Artizen, we were extra happy, feasting on a juicy, perfect medium-rare 8-oz New York Strip with the optional decadence of foie gras butter, and a beautiful filet of Poached Snapper with fennel pollen, tomatoes, and patty pan squash in an aromatic Thai basil and coconut broth. Surprisingly, as chef explained, no butter or oil was used in this light but extremely flavorful dish.
I must also give a shout-out to our gracious server on both visits, Jeff Menzer. Be sure to let him guide you with wine pairings and suggestions!
Longtime pastry chef Julie Emiliano has been baking indulgences at this hotel since its days as the Ritz-Carlton and through its transformation to The Camby. If you've planned well and left room for dessert, try her Goat Cheese Cheesecake with its tangy creaminess topped with a tropical fruit glaze and paired with fresh berries and pistachio cream.
Artizen at The Camby never disappoints and I think my husband summed it up best when I asked him what he thought of our latest visit - "There should be a line out the door." I agree.
I've been a longtime fan of Lon's at the Hermosa Inn with its idyllic setting and the culinary talents of executive chef Jeremy Pacheco. And I'm not the only one, as can be seen by the many accolades for this property, such as Travel and Leisure's "Top 500 Hotels in the World," Condé Nast Traveler's "Awards for Excellence, Trip Advisor's "Best Al Fresco Dining," and Zagat's "Top Hotel Restaurants." For more on the history of the Hermosa Inn, visit my article in AZ Wine Lifestyle, "Lon's - A Taste of History."
I was recently extended a media invitation to experience Chef Jeremy Pacheco's new spring menu and I think it's the best iteration yet! The farm-to-table movement is not new to this talented chef - it's part of his family's heritage and their working farm. At Lon's, he not only uses his family's durum wheat when creating dishes, but is committed to supporting the many Arizona artisans, ranchers, and growers, and sourcing local whenever possible. Did you know that Gila Bend, Arizona is home to Desert Sweet Shrimp? Lon's at the Hermosa Inn is one of only two restaurants sourcing these fresh crustaceans. You'll find them on the menu in a fantastic creamy risotto studded with mushrooms and scented with lemon and fennel. And look for Rovey Dairy and their new partnership with the Hermosa Inn. When the owners came in talking cheese, they left convinced by Chef to also supply him with lamb and beef raised on their dairy farm in Glendale, Arizona. Chef Pacheco proudly shared that Lon's is the only restaurant currently using these products from this family-owned dairy ranch.
Start with excellent cocktails from a list created by Bill Parker, Beverage Manager of the Hermosa Inn. You'll also find a large selection of local craft beer, including a collaboration between Chef Pacheco and Sonoran Brew Company, Arizona wine on draft, house bottled cocktails, libations made with locally distilled spirits including the Hermosa Inn's exclusive Del Bac whiskey from Tempe, in addition to seasonal cocktails. I absolutely loved the Negroni de Mûre, a Negroni variation complemented with Crème de Mûre, a fragrant blackberry liqueur.
It was the perfect aperitif for our spring feast:
Silky slices of beet-cured hamachi graced with Meyer lemon, smoked salmon caviar, and fennel.
Rovey Dairy Wagyu beef tartare with black garlic crème frâiche, crispy parmesan crisps, capers, pickled mushrooms, and house-made saltine crackers.
Porcini mushroom soup with wild mushrooms, Noble Bread crouton, and truffle cream.
Housemade prosciutto with local McClendon asparagus, Crow’s Dairy cheese curds, Arizona citrus, and blood orange vinaigrette.
Desert Sweet shrimp risotto with fennel and Meyer lemon.
Alaskan halibut with colorful roasted cauliflower, purple potatoes and a velvety clam chowder sauce.
Rovey Dairy lamb featuring fennel-rubbed lamb chop, T- bone steak, lamb belly bacon, and braised lamb shank cake over local farro with an olive and tomato tapenade and rich lamb jus (TIP: I've been told the lamb burger on the lunch menu is a must-order).
We were treated to a preview of a signature brunch dish (now on the menu) - thick slices of housemade peppered bacon with an addictive sweet and tangy maple syrup-late harvest vinegar glaze.
If Rovey Dairy Wagyu steaks are a special the night you dine, it is worth the splurge! (video below):
Truffle mac ‘n cheese with truffled goat cheese and Hayden Mills pasta made with locally-grown and harvested heritage wheat was a perfect side dish.
Decadent desserts change seasonally, such as a pistachio cake with pistachio gelato and kumquat compote, or the S’mores bar layered with milk chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, and marshmallows on a mesquite graham cracker.
Lon's at the Hermosa Inn is truly a special spot. Spend some time ensconced in Arizona history at this beautiful property and see for yourself.
I received a complimentary media invitation.
Executive chef Jason McGrath of Kaiyo is recognized in valley food circles not only for his pedigree (his father is James Beard award-winning chef Robert McGrath), but for his own culinary merits. Although I didn't have a chance to enjoy his menu during his stint at Second Story Liquor Bar, I've been impressed by his cooking in my role as a judge for the annual Dish it Out chef competition, including this winning dish which earned him the title of 2017 champion.
At J's Kaiyo Sushi and Bar, you'll find a menu encompassing well-crafted cocktails, nigiri, maki, and sashimi at the hands of head sushi chef Todd Register, and chef McGrath's inventive globally-influenced dishes. I suggest starting with the Zen Garden, a refreshing cocktail combining Hendrick's gin, Bol's elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, ginger, and cucumber, with a shiso leaf garnish.
It's especially nice as a pairing for a starter of sushi such as the signature Kaiyo roll, stuffed with blue crab, cucumber, and tempura asparagus, and piled high with satiny cubes of big eye tuna, yellowtail, and salmon strewn with yuzu tobiko and togarashi.
As you explore more of the menu, you'll see some of chef McGrath's favorite ingredients sprinkled throughout such as Korean gochujang, Turkish Urfa biber, or Syrian Aleppo pepper. "I love immersing myself in a position like this where I have a chance to pick up so much culturally, from Japan to Morocco, from the Mediterranean to Thailand," McGrath explains. "We pull from all those influences in what we do here. As a Japanese restaurant, we have expected dishes like edamame, gyoza, and shishitos, but we also try to do unexpected things." That means smoky blistered shishito peppers are deglazed with rice vinegar and accentuated with shallots, Fresno chiles, lemongrass and garlic with a tangy vinaigrette of soy, housemade ponzu and sesame chile oil.
A beautiful crudo special features coils of hamachi and watermelon radishes nestled in a celadon-green cucumber, honeydew and jalapeño water with kiwi fruit. Decorated with golden pea shoots, flower petals, Urfa biber and bright pops of finger lime, it's art on a plate and as delicious as it looks. "It's very refreshing, with simple, straightforward flavors," describes McGrath. "We try to be adventurous but still make our menu approachable."
"I wanted to find a unique way to serve crabmeat and avocado, adding texture and flavors that work together." Mission accomplished. This crowd pleaser features torched avocado halves stuffed with sweet blue crab scented with lemongrass and ginger, a seeded crust of sesame, sunflower, pepitas and poppy seeds spiked with Aleppo pepper, and dollops of citrusy mango gel.
"One of my favorite dishes on the whole menu is these lamb ribs," McGrath says as he sets the next plate before me. "It's a dish of many cultures with a tandoori masala spice we make in house. We rub our ribs with garlic, then the masala rub, steam them in mirin and sake for four hours, and grill them." They're served with cucumber-shiso yogurt, a Japanese take on tzatziki, and a raisin and radish salad fragrant with cumin and finished with gochujang oil which he says skews more Moroccan. They are superb - tender and meaty with a flavor profile heightened by warm spices and enhanced even further with the unique accoutrements. And a tip from chef: "I encourage you to try a rib plain, then one with the yogurt sauce, then one with a little bit of everything; you'll see how different each bite is."
The next dish we try is an homage to his first experience at a Thai restaurant with his father. "I was about 11 or 12 and it made an impression. I wanted to recreate and elevate my memory of it." Bone-in chicken thighs are first brined and then grilled and braised. Tender enough to pull apart with a nudge of a chopstick, they are blanketed in a housemade green curry sauce and a drizzle of coconut cream and topped with a bright acidic thatch of banh mi pickled vegetables and colorful pomegranate arils.
A wild Scottish pheasant ramen special is a culinary eye-opener and skillfully showcases the breadth of McGrath's creativity and modern flair. "This is definitely something you will not find anywhere else," says McGrath. He starts with their three-day ramen broth and bolsters it with roasted pheasant bones. The meat is then confited and layered with ramen noodles, celeriac, nutty heirloom Steuben beans, dried corn, and earthy huitlacoche. Crowned with a drift of green onion and daikon radish, it's a melange of delicious textures and innovative flavors.
For something heartier, order beef short ribs napped in a plum-dashi demi from a deep braise of mirepoix, lemongrass, plums, and kombu seaweed. Served on a bed of velvety pureed cauliflower poached in milk with garlic, the richness of the dish is offset by the crisp clean crunch of raw enoki mushrooms.
Dessert offerings include mochi and green tea ice cream or, as I would highly suggest, asking if chef could make something off-menu. "If something sweet for dessert is requested, I can always adapt and come up with something," says McGrath. If you're lucky, it might be a plate of buttery grilled sandwiches stuffed with strawberry miso jam and peanut butter (both made in house), caramelized bananas and finger limes and, in this case, that jam also finds its way into a special strawberry-miso Manhattan!
I received a media invitation and my dinner was complimentary,
A semi-regular feature, Rubee Tuesday is a photo recap of my week's adventures in dining and drinking in the Phoenix area.
Tuesday, January 16: Palo Verde at The Boulders Resort. With a kitchen led by Executive Chef Kyle Lipetzky and Chef de Cuisine Joshua Winters, this is one of my favorite resort restaurants (link to a recent visit with Culinary Director Brian Archibald). Last Tuesday, our group of six were spoiled with a surprise tasting menu by Chef Winters. Winters is a master of charcuterie and his skills shone in our starter, a platter of chicken liver and pork pate studded with pistachios, spicy Calabrian salami - Chef Josh says he is in the process of making another batch ("you'll see my name on salumi one day") - white cheddar, cornichons, whole grain mustard, honeycomb and rosemary grilled bread.
Austin Bergeron was in charge of well-crafted cocktails and food and beverage manager Eric Beers expertly paired wines (you can see him entertaining us with the "Mollydooker Shake" on my Instagram video here). Other wonderful dinner highlights included cured salmon with Rogue Creamery blue cheese smoked in-house, fresh apple, apple butter, and a rye crisp, and gnocchi with dried corn, corn puree, Winters' ndjua which he started curing last year, and 18-month aged Grana Padano.
To find out the details about my favorite dish of the night, watch the video below.
(not pictured were our desserts paired with Mumm Napa sparkling wine - sweet potato Napoleon with star anise sponge and bourbon marshmallows and a Gianduja chocolate tart with hazeltine nougat and caramelized bananas).
Wednesday, January 17: J's Kaiyo Sushi and Bar. If you haven't been to Kaiyo, you are missing out! With a superstar culinary team in the kitchen of Executive Chef Jason McGrath and Josh Bracher, this is not only a great neighborhood spot but a destination restaurant, so make your reservations now. Look for a detailed feature to post next week, but, for now, here's a sneak peek.
Thursday, January 18: Pa'la. I've been a long-time fan of Chef Claudio Urcioli since his Noca and Prado days (you can read my 2009 recap of a Prado dinner here), and have been wanting to try his new spot which opened two months ago. I had a morning meeting at Sanctuary on Camelback with the team of Nirvana Food and Wine Festival (tickets go on sale next week!), and lunch at Pa'la was part of my plan.
A partnership with Omar Alvarez of Tortas Paquime, this tapas restaurant is a casual, order-at-the-counter spot ensconced in a 1920s bungalow. I loved everything about it and can't wait to return. In fact, they just launched dinner service last week. The menu revolves around the wood-fired oven with tapas, open-faced sandwiches on Italian flatbread called schiacciata, and Navarro grain bowls. You'll find a lot of fresh fish options, and Claudio tells me that he will be putting a bigger focus on seafood in the coming months. For a first-hand description of the menu from Chef Claudio himself, click on the video below.
Friday, January 19: Second Story Restaurant and Liquor Bar. The last time I had Executive Chef Chris McKinley's food was when I judged the Dish it Out Competition in 2016 and he won for the second year in a row (you can read that recap here). I also loved his food when he owned The Local (2014 Instagram photo link). Well now, I can have a fix of Chris' food anytime, and that includes his best-selling WTF biscuits with fermented pink peppercorn honey, creme fraiche butter, and rye whiskey jam. And be sure to order the optional "nip" of Whistlepig barrel-aged maple syrup for $5.
Looking for suggestions on what to order on your next visit? These were all winners. And with Allison and Tyler behind the bar, you can expect excellent cocktails too.
Franco kindly set before us complimentary prosciutto and melon ("because the melon is so good today") and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto in a white wine butter sauce. My husband ordered his usual - fettucine and meat sauce as a primi, and then the Orecchie Elefante, a pounded, breaded veal chop with a request of lemon-caper sauce on the side. I tend to explore the specials, as I did on this visit - pappardelle with rabbit ragu, and grilled New Zealand snapper. Dessert is always Franco's grandmother's merenghata, a cake layered with semifreddo and meringue.
Monday, January 22: ZuZu at the Hotel Valley Ho. As a media guest, I attended my first Monday Night Chefs Table, which this month featured the Prisoner Wine Company. Executive Chef Russell LaCasce is one of the valley's shining stars, and this dinner was just another example. While scrolling through the pictures of our delicious dinner, keep in mind that this was for a sold-out crowd of 90! Perfect execution.
First course: Pear and citrus salad with warm goat cheese fritter, watercress, hazelnuts, and a barrel-aged vinaigrette, paired with the 2015 Blindfold
Second course: Coffee-rubbed duck breast with salsify puree, cherry-zinfandel syrup, braised oyster mushrooms and cippolini onions, paired with the 2013 Thorn
Third course: Braised veal cheeks with Anson Mill grits with aged white cheddar, Swiss chard, and black truffle, paired with the 2015 Derange (the unique etched bottle is designed by Stranger & Stranger).
Dessert: Executive Pastry Chef Audrey Enriquez' brown butter financier with spiced anglaise, blackberries, and caramelized apples, paired with the 2015 Saldo
And we'll be back...in two weeks! We left with reservations already made for a return visit with family visiting from out of town. ZuZu's Monday Night Chef's Dinners take place monthly at at cost of $75 per person plus tax and gratuity. More information can be found here. Upcoming dinners include:
February 19 | Opolo Vineyards
March 26 | Rombauer Vineyards
April 16 | Hess Collection Winery
And bonus - I got to try two brand-new additions to the cocktail menu:
Second Star to the Right with Star Punch (pineapple juice, orange juice, guava nectar, passion fruit puree, and lemon-pear marmalade) and the barrel-aged 'Silk Tie' (Ultimat vodka, lemongrass, kumquats and yuzu juice) with a Zacapa rum float.
From the Ashes with Arizona's Del Bac whiskey, pineapple juice and prickly pear and barrel-agd TY KU coconut sake, Patrón Citrónge and Captain Morgan Black spiced rum.
A semi-weekly feature, Rubee Tuesday is a recap of my week's adventures in dining and drinking in the Phoenix area.
Tuesday, January 9: Rott n' Grapes Wine and Beer Bar. On Tuesday night, I attended a media introduction for Rott n’ Grapes, a wine and craft beer bar in Uptown Phoenix. It's a gem of a bar tucked away below Landmark Towers on N. Central Avenue offering bar snacks and 80 craft beers and 95 wines by the glass. Husband and wife owners Patty Gii and Keith Shanks chose the name to represent their love for both their pet Rottweilers and wine. Wine flights are $15 (more for those on the reserve list) and feature three 3-oz pours you can choose from 95 options. They also have a grazing menu with charcuterie and cheese, meatballs, hummus, mini pizzas, and other bites.
Settle in at the intimate bar, outdoor patio, or cozy lounge, and Patty and her team will help you choose wine and beer flights from the extensive list. Stop by for Happy Hour all day until 8 pm, and special events such as Bubbly Bliss Sundays, Wednesday Board & Bottle Night, live music, and wine classes. In fact, they are so popular, look for a second location - Rott n' Grapes Bistro - to open downtown on Roosevelt Street this summer.
Wednesday, January 10: Kawaii Sushi and Asian Cuisine. Kawaii is a busy spot in our NW Phoenix neighborhood for sushi and Chinese dishes, but we hadn't visited since it changed ownership a couple of years ago. Conveniently located just minutes from our house, we stopped in on Wednesday night, ordering crab puffs, chicken tempura, and rocky shrimp off the Happy Hour menu. For dinner, my husband enjoyed his shrimp and lobster sauce with pork fried rice, while my salt and pepper shrimp, a special, was my favorite of the night. Owner Kelly says they are introducing more authentic dishes to the menu, and suggested I try their Shui Zhu Beef (a Sichuan dish that is a personal favorite) when I return. Will do!
CRUjiente never disappoints, and this visit was no exception. Delicious dishes included:
- Crunchy pork chicharrón with house hot sauce, guajillo aioli, and cotija, and served with a roasted poblano pepper salpicon
- Mixed green salad with fig-balsamic vinaigrette, jicama, spiced pecans, and local Crow’s Dairy goat feta
- Mexican Caesar salad with roasted poblano Caesar dressing, romaine, cotija, spiced pepitas, escabeche, and croutons
- Charred ejotes (green beans) with Hatch chile salsa, a slow-poached egg, pickled jalapeño and red onion, cotija, and cilantro
- Green chile chicken taco on blue corn tortillas with mole verde, charred red onion, jalapeños and micro cilantro
- The Taco de la Semana (taco of the week) was grilled Colorado lamb with Crow's Dairy goat cheese feta, golden potato puree, pickled red onions, and chimichurri
Great cocktails are also crafted for your sipping pleasure at Cru, which has an extensive list of hard-to-find and boutique spirits. Currently, my go-to is the JapaKnees, a riff on the classic Bee's Knees, combining Suntory Toki Japanese whisky, lemon, and hopped honey syrup. Other must-orders are the new Cru Paloma with smoky mezcal and pink grapefruit, and the Cherry Sour (the crowd favorite) shaken up with Traverse City Whiskey Co. American Cherry Edition, a bourbon infused with Montmorency cherries.
Friday, January 12: Mowry & Cotton at The Phoenician Resort. I've been wanting to visit Mowry & Cotton, part of the multimillion dollar renovations at The Phoenician, and lunch with my friend Stephanie was the perfect excuse. Its name is a homage to two Phoenix pioneers, George Mowry and James Cotton. With the powerhouse team of Chef de Cuisine Tandy Peterson and Executive Sous Chef Rebecca Tillman (who I first met here), this restaurant is serving an impressive menu of fantastic dishes packed with flavor. I would order each and every one again, which will make it hard to explore more of the menu on my next visit! Look for a future in-depth feature when I return for dinner. Excellent cocktails are poured here too, thanks to Phoenician Beverage Director Jared Sowinski. If you're visiting with fellow libation lovers, be sure to share a carafe of rum punch - perfect for an al fresco lunch on a sunny day.
Mowry & Cotton serves breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner, and after a discussion about their brunch menu and a recommendation from Chef Becky for their Bloody Mary, I had to try that too. Another winner! Made with smoked tomato juice and garinished with brisket and house pickles.
No time spent at The Phoenician is complete without visiting one of my favorite craft bartenders, Robert Porter (you can find my prior interview here). Since I wrote that, he has gone on to win the title of Arizona’s Star Bartender in 2016 and was tapped by Cocktail Artist to create his own Manhattan syrup for their line of all-natural premium bar ingredients.
The new Thirsty Camel bar and lounge with its stunning floor to ceiling views is the perfect setting for Robert's cocktails, including his Sandia Martini with Hangar One vodka, Cointreau, tomato and watermelon shrub and basil oil, or the Cortez with Partida Blanco tequila, Sombra mezcal, and hibiscus syrup.
Sunday, January 14: Tomaso's. Sunday night dinner with friends found us at Tomaso's, a Phoenix institution which opened its doors 40 years ago (read my feature on chef/owner Tomaso Maggiore here in last month's Phoenix Home and Garden magazine). This upscale restaurant is the place to enjoy traditional Italian dishes, and the five of us feasted on fritto misto, escargot, beef carpaccio, veal piccata, veal marsala, and pistachio cheesecake. TIP: Ask about the off-menu pasta combination sampler, which on this visit was stuffed sacchetti, filet mignon ravioli, and gnocchi showcasing Tomaso's handmade pastas.
RUBEE TUESDAY: December 7-11: Glenfiddich Dinner at Blue Hound, Fabio on Fire, The Boulders Resort, Stock and Stable
A semi-weekly feature, Rubee Tuesday is a recap of my week's adventures in dining and drinking in the Phoenix area.
Thursday, December 7: Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails at the Hotel Palomar Phoenix Kimpton is one of my favorite spots, so I accepted a media invitation with no hesitation. Last Thursday featured a special Glenfiddich event showcasing the Solera Reserve 15 year old (a personal favorite. aged in sherry casks) and two unique whiskies, part of their Experimental Series - the Glenfiddich IPA Experiment, finished in Speyside IPA barrels (with the IPA a collaboration between malt master Brian Kinsman and a local craft brewer) and Project XX, a blend by Kinsman of 20 malts chosen by 20 whisky experts from 16 countries. Note: You can read my prior interview with Brian Kinsman here.
Our educational evening was led by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Michael Anderson, Luxury Spirits Specialist at Young's Market Company, and Chef de Cuisine Chris Neff made sure each pour was paired with a delicious dish.
I started with an excellent Glenfiddich Blood and Sand by Phil Clark, head bartender, before a great dinner of:
- Course one: Pork belly with apple butter, pistachios, mustard greens, honey, and a wonderful beer vinegar made by Chef Neff. Paired with the Glenfiddich Solera Reserve.
- Course two: Diver scallops with fresh spinach tagliatelle, brown butter, butternut squash and fennel salad. Paired with the Glenfiddich IPA.
- Course three: Short rib with parsnip puree, smoked mushrooms, and cherry jus. Paired with the Glenfiddich Project XX.
Friday, December 8: Back to Fabio on Fire, a neighborhood favorite (I've previously mentioned it here and here). This time I started with a special of mozzarella di bufala (Italian mozzarella made with buffalo milk) flown in from Naples with arugula, prosciutto di Parma, and a balsamic drizzle. For my main course, I ordered another special, a fantastic rack of lamb roasted in the wood-fired oven with rosemary and garlic potatoes. My husband had his regular order of an appetizer of meatballs and then the lobster ravioli with crabmeat sauce. We ended with strawberry gelato and puff pastry diplomatico, and took home a dozen cookies, sfogliatelle, pandoro (a special holiday cake), and cannolis for my dad.
Saturday, December 9. I'm working on my next feature for Experience Scottsdale, an Aperol Spritz round-up. I've chosen five great spots to enjoy this cocktail or its variations, including the Discovery Lounge at The Bouders Resort. Thanks to Culinary Director Chef Brian Archibald, I not only fell in love with their libation (made with a house barrel-aged Aperol), but spent the afternoon dining and imbibing. Look for details on those dishes and drinks on an upcoming recap here, and my Aperol Spritz list on ExperienceScottsdale.com.
One highlight was a new Boulders Flask cocktail for two, made with smoked ice cubes, the Boulders' exclusive Casa Noble Anejo, El Silencio mezcal, Aperol, Shrub & Co Blood Orange Shrub, lime, and honey water...and it needs a title! Want to win free cocktails and dinner? Enter the Facebook contest here by suggesting the name for this new drink. If yours is chosen, you'll win an etched Boulders glass flask containing cocktails for two, and two entrees from the Discovery Lounge menu at the Boulders Resort. Winner will be announced at 5 pm Monday, December 18, 2017 (UPDATE: Congratulations to Laura R on Facebook who won with El Corazón de Silencio, "The Heart of Silence")
We grazed on kung pao cauliflower, corn dogs made with TenderBelly franks, and Philly cheesesteak rolls before diving into a double cheeseburger with garlic and rosemary frites and chef's spot-on suggestion of the Beer Butt Chicken (super juicy from a beer marinade and served with a lemony jus), ordered with a side of Brussels sprouts and Hasselback potato. Another great night at Stock & Stable, though too full for dessert!
RUBEE TUESDAY: November 27-December 5: Drip Coffee Truck, Coconut's Fish Cafe, Jade Bar, L'Amore, Sicilian Butcher, Pita Jungle, Market Street Kitchen, Brunch Club, Crujiente Tacos
A semi-weekly feature, Rubee Tuesday is a recap of my week's adventures in dining and drinking in the Phoenix area.
Monday, November 27: Phoenix's newest mobile coffee truck, Drip Coffee and Espresso, debuted on October 10th and I attended a media introduction last Monday. We met the friendly owner, Jeff Rorvig, at his beautiful new mobile station as I sipped on a nitro dark coffee and my husband enjoyed his espresso Bananas Fosters frappe. Jeff serves locally roasted coffee and tea from CULT Coffee Roaster and offers dripped, iced and nitrogen-infused coffee, espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, frappes, teas, Italian sodas, energy drinks (on tap!), pastries, and more. You can check out his weekly routes on Facebook, Instagram, or azdripcoffee.com.
Afterwards, we joined friends Susie and Eric for dinner at Coconuts Fish Cafe. The original, famous for its fish tacos, was founded on Maui and opened its first mainland location in North Scottsdale, with currently three AZ locations. I had heard good things about this fast-casual spot and it didn't disappoint - fresh, flavorful seafood dishes at a friendly price point.
Tuesday, November 28: I met the team of Nirvana Food and Wine at Jade Bar at the Sanctuary resort. Nirvana, a culinary festival hosted by Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, debuted last year and returns in April, 2018, and I will be working with the organizers to spread the word. Last year featured culinary and beverage luminaries for a series of special events, dinners, a cocktail competition, and a celebrity golf tournament. Renowned guest chefs included Robert Irvine, Todd English, and Scott Conant. Check out the video below for a peek at last year's events (and stay tuned for 2018 details).
Of course, as we chatted, we also enjoyed cocktails (a Negroni for me) and delicious small plates - thank you Chef Andrade!
On the way home, we made a first-time visit to L'Amore Italian Restaurant. We've passed it countless times over the years, so this time instead of driving by, we pulled in. What a great spot! Cozy atmosphere, Italian classics, friendly owner, and excellent service (ask for Sal).
Wednesday, November 29: The eagerly-anticipated Sicilian Butcher held their friends and family soft opening last Wednesday, and officially opened on Friday. I'm a big supporter of the Maggiore family (read my feature on Tomaso Maggiore here in this month's Phoenix Home and Garden magazine), and their newest venture is another winner.
Thursday, November 30: I'm a fan of Pita Jungle (as I've mentioned here and here), and when I received a media invitation to try their fall Seasonal Kitchen Crafts Menu, I knew who I would be bringing. My parents moved here from Massachusetts last year and I had been wanting to introduce mom to Pita Jungle. I was sure she would love their healthful and fresh dishes, and she did. "This so good! I could eat here every day," she said, so I know we'll be coming back often.
In October, Pita Jungle introduced eight new dishes rooted in Levantine cuisine. I tried three delicious items: Baked Kibbeh made with ground turkey, potatoes, and quinoa topped with a walnut, onion and golden raisin compote and served with a beet and greens dressing tossed with a tahini-beet dressing, Mujaddara with beluga lentils and brown rice topped with a kohlrabi, cucumber, tomato, and jalapeno salad with a mint-sumac-apple cider vinaigrette, and the Avocado Beef Asada Shawarma Lavash Pizza with Arizona grass-fed beef (it was a nice bonus to meet the employee whose family ranch supplies the beef) with cheddar, and cilantro-avocado crema, cumin yogurt sauce. I thought the kibbeh would be my favorite, but it was actually the mujaddara that we couldn't stop eating. Look for the winter Seasonal Kitchen Crafts Menu to introduce eight new dishes in January.
Later that evening, we had dinner at Market Street Kitchen. When we heard that it would be the last night behind the bar for one of our favorite cocktail talents (who recently won the 2017 Top Mixologist Foodist Award), we immediately made plans to head over. Garrit Guthrie had made his mark at Market Street Kitchen, but now he's moving on to a new position at Young's Market. Congratulations Garrit!
Monday, December 4: I attended a Belvedere Single Estate Rye Launch Party at the MercBar. Belvedere recently unveiled two new vodkas, Smogóry Forest and Lake Bartężek. I've previously posted how impressed I was with Smogóry Forest, and now I'm also a fan of Lake Bartężek, very different but no less remarkable. Industry guests were invited to sample tastes of both and enjoy them in cocktails. My favorite of the evening was the The Vespężek, a Vesper with Belvedere Lake Bartężek, Lillet Blanc and Nolet's gin. I also learned that Belvedere has chosen only three states to release this signature vodka this month - Phoenix, DC, and Denver.
Both unique and richly-nuanced vodkas draw their names and terroir characteristics from single estate regions, Smogóry Forest made with rye grown in a village in rural western Poland, and Lake Bartężek and its rye grown on a farm in a lakeside village in northeastern Poland.
Dinner that night was at Crujiente Tacos, an award-winning restaurant and one of our go-to spots. It's always a special treat if owner Jason Morris is working as he always introduces us to new spirits. We also met Laura, a new cocktail star at Crujiente, and be sure to order the special taco of the week - fried Kumai oysters with remoulade, romaine lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, and house pickles. We ordered two rounds.
I also tried a couple new-to-me cocktails last night and highly recommend the JapaKnees, a riff on the Bee's Knees with Japanese whisky and hopped honey.
"Surprises around every corner" and "double-takes” are hallmarks of The Camby, so it's no surprise that their new Tipsy Tea Party is uniquely delightful. This boutique hotel brings a modern flair to this usually sedate pastime with a combination of boozy tea-infused cocktails and elevated finger food by Chef Dushyant Singh, one of the Valley's shining stars. I was recently invited to spend an afternoon at the elegant Bee's Knees Lounge at The Camby, where Tipsy Tea is offered every Friday and Saturday.
The cost of $40 per person includes a champagne cocktail or one teapot (containing two to three drinks) and one of every dish from the prix-fixe menu of savory and sweet bites. Guests can choose from cold teapots, hot teapots, tea-infused champagne cocktails, and bottles of champagne for a separate cost.
If you're lucky and Nicole Ellington is working, she'll deftly guide you in choices, such as the smart suggestion to order a cold teapot with the savory dishes, and add a hot to pair with the desserts.
We started with cocktails using Moët Ice Impérial champagne. I loved my C.C.T., which combined Campari, jasmine tea simple syrup, and lemon with champagne, while my husband was just as happy with his Double-O-Seven with vodka, orchid oolong simple syrup and angostura bitters.
I wanted to sample a variety of teapots, so we sipped on the potent Green Tea Daiquiri with green tea-infused rum, lime, and demerara simple syrup, and the light and refreshing Verbena Dream with lime vodka, lime juice, orgeat syrup and verbena mint iced tea as we enjoyed a wonderul selection of savory bites: Crab sliders with mango and avocado, truffle deviled eggs with a hidden layer of potato chip dust, fried cherry green tomatoes dusted with BBQ seasoning and served with preserved lemon aioli, bruschetta layered with herbed ricotta, green apple, and Jamón Ibérico, aji amarillo tater tots garnished with caviar, and an addictive sweet and tangy marinated cucumber, radish, and carrot salad.
To enjoy with dessert, we took Nicole's suggestion of a hot pot of Spiced Pear Toddy made with bourbon, lemon juice, demerara simple syrup, spiced pear liqueur, and Earl Grey tea.
Desserts are cleverly served in a sugar cookie tin. Here, Nicole describes our sweet treats:
I can't wait to return with local and out-of-town friends and family. And it's not just for the ladies! My husand enjoyed this as much as I did, declaring his cocktail one of the best champagne cocktails he's had and that Chef Singh's food was absolutely delicious.
I received a media invitation and my experience was complimentary.
It's fall in Arizona, and that means prime patio dining weather with leisurely lunches, dazzling dinners and bountiful brunches. Of course, this is all enhanced by our beautiful vistas, such as the lush greens of the TPC Stadium Course and views of the McDowell Mountains found at Toro Latin Restaurant and Rum Bar.
Located in the TPC Clubhouse at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a AAA Five Diamond luxury resort, Toro is a collaboration with celebrity chef Richard Sandoval and boasts a Pan Latin menu presenting Central and South American flavors with Asian accents.
Earlier this month, Toro (a personal favorite as I've mentioned here) hosted a media preview to introduce us to some of the new dishes. We were greeted with Misterioso Mimosas with champagne, vodka, fresh grapefruit juice and a dash of bitters, and Toro Signature Bloody Marys...
live music by Ritmo Latino (you can hear them on my video here)...
and Pan de Chango (first photo above) and Lemon-Buttermilk Pancake skewers.
General Manager Miljan Vidovic extended a warm welcome as we were seated. "Welcome to Toro. This is definitely my and Chef Fernando Fernandez' [Executive Chef of Toro] second home, we love it here. We are really excited to showcase our new brunch menu and what we have to offer. And don't forget, we're also home to over 150 rums."
We were also introduced to other members of the extraordinary culinary team - Conor Favre, Executive Chef of the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Sara Garrant, the new Executive Chef of Bourbon Steak, Chef Fidencio Alatriste of Toro, and Executive Chef Forest Hamrick of La Hacienda.
We started with three inventive sushi rolls: Havana Roll with spicy crab, cucumber, avocado, caramelized plantains, and miso glaze topped with a thatch of fried potatoes; Acevichado with hamachi, kanpachi, avocado, jalapeno ponzu, and aji amarillo; and Surf and Turf with crab, tempura shrimp, cucumber, avocado, thinly-sliced NY strip, and truffle chimichurri with a churrasco aioli. Chef Fernandez told me the Acevichado is his favorite, but I couldn't decide - they were all uniquely delicious!
Our next plate brought Avocado Toast, always a crowd favorite, gussied up with charred corn, a fried egg, and a zesty chimichurri.
The Huevos Rancheros (or Huevos Divorciados since they were topped with both salsa verde and salsa roja) were the best I've ever had. I especially loved the handmade poblano corn tortillas and excellent salsas.
I tend to order from the savory side of the menu, but I'll be straying at Toro. The Churro French Toast made with cinnamon brioche was crunchy on the outside with a cinnamon-scented creamy center and drizzled with cajeta.
And of course, no visit to Toro is complete without the signature La Bomba dessert, a chocolate bowl filled with ice cream, cake, and cream cheese mousse finished with a trio of caramel, vanilla, and berry sauces, that comes with a show (you'll have to visit and order to find out for yourself!)
And here are two insider's tips: Visit any of the restaurants at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, now through November 12, mention Fairmont Foodie Friends, and you'll receive a free appetizer or dessert. And if you like it fiery, be sure to ask for the off-menu house Special Sauce at Toro.
Brunch is available every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. Find an extensive selection of craft cocktails (how about a Breakfast Old Fashioned?), favorites including frittatas, pancakes, and eggs Benedict, and unique fusion dishes on Toro's creative brunch menu.
It's fall, which means it's time for Arizona's Fall Restaurant Week! This year it takes place on September 15 through September 24. First launched in 1992 in New York City, Restaurant Week was created to encourage local support for restaurants during a slow time during the tourist season. Participating restaurants offer special multi-course prix-fixe menus for just $33 or $44 per person, with your choice of dishes from each course. Locally, we celebrate Spring and Fall Arizona Restaurant Weeks, with www.ArizonaRestaurantWeek.com getting over 1 million unique visits in the weeks leading up to restaurant week, and 400 different restaurants taking part over the past ten years. I've mentioned some of my picks in the past, such as Atlas Bistro, but here are ten more of my favorite restaurants, their Restaurant Week menus, and what I would order:
Where: Lon's at the Hermosa, 5532 N Palo Cristi Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253. (602) 955-8614
Why: There are few places that capture Arizona as beautifully as the Hermosa Inn, a historic hacienda and resort. Add its signature restaurant Lon's with its cozy ambiance, award-winning patio, and one of my favorite valley chefs - Jeremy Pacheco - and you have a combination guaranteed to be an ARW winner.
I'm ordering: Crab-stuffed squash blossoms with roasted pepper aioli, dry-aged duroc pork chop with sweet potato, hatch chili, and mole, and caramel apple tart with bacon and Del Bac whiskey ice cream
Cost: Three courses for $44
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/Lons
Where: Talavera at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, 10600 E Crescent Moon Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85262 Phone: (480) 515-5700
Why: Located inside the Four Seasons Scottsdale, this signature restaurant offers beautiful Pinnacle Peak views, especially stunning at sunset on the terrace. The menu, under the helm of Executive Chef Chuck Kazmer and Talavera Chef Samantha Sanz, is a destination at any time, and their Restaurant Week menu is the perfect opportunity to experience this luxury property.
Cost: Three courses for $44
I'm ordering: Amaranth and quinoa Salad with black lentils, short rib “tamale” with masa, butternut squash, and Arizona dates, and spiced apple tarte tartin
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/talavera
Where: Artizen, 24th Street & E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, AZ. 602.522.6655
Why: You'll find Artizen inside The Camby, a unique boutique resort in downtown Phoenix. In my opinion, Chef Dushyant Singh is one of the best chefs in the Valley and his globally-inflected menu never disappoints (you can read about a summer visit here).
I'm ordering: Heirloom carrot soup with smoked cashew butter; salad with organic greens, sugar-cured beets, and sorrel vinaigrette; duck breast with gingerbread crostini and sweet potato puree; caramel apple tart
Cost: Four-course tasting menu for $44
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/artizen
Where: Market Street Kitchen, 20825 N Pima Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85255. Phone: (480) 278-7044
Why: Do a search on this website, and one of the most-visited restaurants is Market Street Kitchen in DC Ranch. I'm a fan of everything about this neighborhood spot - the friendly, gracious owners, its great location in DC Ranch with an expansive wrap-around patio, the skills of Chef Hunn, and the stellar craft cocktails.
Cost: Three courses for $33
I'm ordering: Mini-grilled ham and cheese with tomato soup, rotisserie fried chicken with cheddar smashed potatoes, and Chef Hunn's seasonal cheesecake bites
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Market-Street-Kitchen.pdf
Where: Cartwright's Modern Cuisine. 6710 E Cave Creek Rd, Cave Creek, AZ 85331. (480) 488-8031
Why: Earlier this year, executive chef Brett Vibber of Cartwright's and Cody Heller, the general manager, partnered up to buy this beautiful Sonoran Ranch-style restaurant and make it their own. Chef Vibber is a firm proponent of local foraging and nature's bounty, so you'll find Sonoran desert ingredients such as mesquite pods harvested by hand and milled on-site into flour.
Cost: Three courses for $44
I'm ordering: Wagyu beef tartare with pickled nopales, Haida Gwaii salmon with local squash and tomatillo marmalade, and mesquite chocolate cake
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Cartwrights.pdf
Where: Sonata's Restaurant, 10050 N Scottsdale Rd #127, Scottsdale, AZ 85253. (480) 477-1390
Why: Besides the fact that it is a beautiful restaurant with an equally inviting patio, I love the unique Eastern European menu (and great cocktails!). Named after co-owner Sonata Molocajeviene Tuft, its modern menu celebrates her family's Lithuanian heritage along with dishes from Serbia, Russia, Poland and other European cultures.
I'm ordering: Ruskie Pierogis with sherry glaze and celery root puree, Chicken Kiev with boursin mash and wild mushrooms, and Spurgos “Varškės” (Lithuanian doughnuts)
Cost: Amuse and three courses for $33
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Sonatas.pdf
Where: Different Pointe of View
Why: You'll need to make reservations for Chef Anthony DeMuro's menu, which usually sells out for ARW. It's no surprise - this restaurant at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs is perched on top of Lookout Mountain and the cuisine lives up to the panoramic views.
Cost: Three courses for $44
I'm ordering: Lobster bisque (the best in town!), porcini-crusted pork tenderloin with goat cheese rapini and huckleberry reduction, and BONUS you can choose from any of the desserts on the menu (like this devil's food cake torte with walnut caramel and marshmallow I ordered last year during ARW).
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Different-Pointe-of-View.pdf
Where: Fat Ox, 6316 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85253, (480)307-6900
Why: Not yet a year old, this restaurant is already a favorite of mine. I've made many visits to the Fat Ox - for dinner, to meet friends, and to enjoy their recently-launched Happy Hour. You'll find a menu that celebrates rural Italy with seafood, rotisserie-grilled meats and handmade pastas. If you have yet to visit, their restaurant week is a perfect introduction with choices such as handmade gigli pasta with tomatoes and pesto and brick-grilled Jidori chicken with arugula and caper vinaigrette.
Cost: Three courses for $44
I'm ordering: Linguine with pork sugo and ricotta, grilled swordfish with cauliflower crema and mushroom agrodolce, and Gianduja Franjelico tiramisu
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/fatox
Where: Ocean Prime, 5455 E High St Ste 115, Phoenix, AZ 85054. (480) 347-1313
Why: This upscale High Street steakhouse and seafood restaurant is always a popular spot, and for those looking for some classic favorites, you'll find them here. The restaurant week menu is a great bargain (the prime aged 8-oz filet mignon is normally $43 alone) and you'll also find my favorite carrot cake in town - a 10-layer decadent tower drizzled with pineapple syrup.
Cost: Three courses for $44
I'm ordering: Caesar salad, sea scallops with parmesan risotto and citrus vinaigrette, and carrot cake
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/ocean prime
One Sunday a month, Hearth '61 at at Mountain Shadows resort invites guests to their Sunday Supper Club. Each event welcomes diners to explore a four-course menu featuring a visiting chef, artisan supplier, winery or distillery collaborating with Chef Charles Wiley. On August 20, I was invited to this beautiful resort with its scenic views of Camelback Mountain for the third installment of their Supper Club series.
Our evening's special guest was Jason Raducha of Noble Bread. If you've ever commented on the wonderful bread found in some of the finest restaurants in Arizona (such as here and here), chances are it's Noble Bread. He's also the owner of Noble Eatery, a popular lunch spot serving delicious sandwiches, soups, and more. Chef Wiley filled us in on how he met Jason "almost ten years when some guy found his way to the back door of Hotel Valley Ho, where I was the chef, with some loaves of bread. Not very unusual, except that the bread was amazing. It was remarkable. It had this incredible texture and toasted aroma and flavor."
We learned more about Noble Bread as Jason spoke next. "Everything we do is all organic. It's all US-grown wheat, nuts, and seeds, and we cultivate our own yeast." He also spoke about the special relationship with the property, including an exclusive bread served only at Hearth '61 using a blend of pumpernickel and wheat.
Food and Beverage Director Jim Gallen introduced each wine, beginning with our flutes of Mumm Napa Brut Rosé, a sparkling blend of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Our amuse bouche was a Noble Bread crouton topped with silky chicken liver mousse, cherry gastrique, and pistachio dust.
Paired with the rosé was Ora King salmon. The perfectly cooked filet was topped with a gremolata made with toasted Noble millet and decorated with a cap of crispy fish skin, served on a bed of sauteed greens, and partnered with sweet peppers and a roasted golden pepper beurre blanc.
Course two brought panzanella salad with Noble Bread croutons made with a blend of rye and whole grain wheat flour, tomatoes, mozzarella, and tomato vinaigrette. Château de Sancerre Blanc, a wine of 100% sauvignon blanc grapes from the Loire Valley, was poured, with its bright minerality and citrus notes a perfect complement to this summer dish.
Tournedo of beef a la périgourdine featured a tender, juicy filet perched on Yukon Gold potato puree and a buttered Noble Bread Super Seeded crouton studded with sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds and accompanied by braised fennel and a rich truffle sauce. Jim Gallen once again chose another perfect wine pairing, this time a Russian River Valley pinot noir - Belle Glos Dairyman.
We ended with a bread pudding made with Noble walnut and dried cranberry bread with black cherry ice cream paired with Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti. Gallen also gave us a handy tip: "If you want a really fine drink, put this in the freezer for about 35 minutes so it doesn't get too frozen, but be careful when it pops. On a summer day by the pool, it's the best drink ever." I can't wait to try that, thanks Jim!
The next Sunday Supper Club takes place on Sunday, September 17 at 6 p.m. with Pat Jasmin of Folio Fine Wine Partners (menu here). The cost is $74 per person and includes wine pairings. For reservations, call 480.624.5458.
Hearth '61 is located inside Mountain Shadows resort at 5445 E Lincoln Dr, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I received a media invitation and my dinner was complimentary.
I love arriving at the Montelucia Resort, which sets the mood for its signature restaurant, Prado. Inspired by the Moorish and Spanish architecture of Andalusia, its golden yellow walls and vibrant splashes of cobalt blue and red immediately transport you to Southern Spain.
Prado is named after the famed museum in Madrid, and stepping through the wooden double doors, you feel as though you’ve entered a luxurious European villa. It’s a beautiful space with soaring arched ceilings and exposed beams. There’s a marble-topped bar with high tables that opens onto the pretty courtyard, a cozy lounge delineated by plush banquettes and low tables, and an elegant dining room featuring a wood-burning brick oven. A highlight is the mosaic-tiled outdoor terrace that overlooks the row of fountains, especially romantic at dusk with the backdrop silhouette of Camelback Mountain.
I wrote that eight years ago in a dining article for AZ Wine Lifestyle magazine, but those same impressions still hold true. Last month I was invited on a media journey to explore the latest updates at Prado and fell in love again. We were welcomed in the Mbar Lounge with red and white sangria and a plate of Spanish bites as Food and Beverage Director Uro Vazquez spoke about a recent trip to Rioja. "We took some of the things we saw there and recreated it in our own way here," he explained, including our plate of pintxos, or tapas, covering our sangria (the word tapa means "cover" or "lid").
We were then introduced to Executive Chef Marcos Seville, who described what we would be enjoying that evening, including the new tapas bar and dinner menu. "These two chefs are integral to the creation of this menu," he said as he introduced Chef de Cuisine Smail Yaakoubi and Sous Chef Belal Rajab.
"Belal worked very closely with us on the tapas menu," said Chef Seville as he emphasized the three main aspects of the tapas bar - "simple, casual and using the foods of the region." Six of us we were seated at the cozy bar in front of the open wood-fired grill as plates of olives and house-baked sourdough bread were set before us. "Most tapas are eaten with nice crusty bread," Chef Seville pointed out.
The tapas menu is inspired by the food of Andalusia and these small plates can be ordered as two to four bites per person, with many of the options grilled over white oak. Twelve tapas are offered along with a build your own board selection (menu here). We sampled shrimp casuela, albondigas made with beef and chorizo, berenjena (eggplant with onion, tomato, and garlic), chorizo, beef tenderloin with green romesco, and lamb chops with mint pesto.
We were then led to our table to discover some of the new dishes on the dinner menu as red and white riojas were poured. "Chef Smail is a big part of the dinner menu," Chef Seville told us. "You'll find some traditional Spanish items but also those that showcase Chef Smail." We feasted on Kale Salad with manchego cheese, marcona almonds, and a creamy avocado Green Goddess dressing; Crab Timbale with avocado, cucumber, jumbo lump crab and a vinaigrette designed to capture the flavors of gazpacho with sherry and sweet tomatoes; Roasted Sea Bass with heirloom tomatoes, artichokes, spinach and goat cheese cream; Lobster Paella loaded with chorizo, chicken, scallops, mussels, clams, halibut and red snapper with saffron rice and roasted sweet peppers. My favorite? The Casablanca Lamb Tagine. Representing Chef Yaakoubi's Casablanca heritage, sitting on a bed of saffron risotto was a fork-tender lamb shank that had been braised for six hours and seasoned with ras al hanout, an exotic North African blend of spices with aromas of cardamom, cinnammon, and coriander.
Our next stop was Mbar, where vivacious Prado Sommelier Sarah Joubert educated us on gin tonics, a cocktail whose popularity in Spain has soared in the last decade. "When you go to Spain, you're going to find gin bars with elaborate garnishes and different kinds of gin, so we want to be both modern Spain and classical Spain," Sarah told us. As a result, M Bar now has a gin and tonic section with your choice from an extensive selection of gin, the option of upgrading with Fever Tree tonics, and the Spanish tradition of serving this libation in large goblets. We sampled three different gin and tonics:
- Arizona Distilling Company Commerce gin with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water, cardamon and grapefruit peel.
- Plymouth gin with Fever-Tree Elderflower tonic water, rosemary and raspberry.
- Malfy Italian gin with Fever-Tree Indian tonic water, cilantro and orange.
My favorite was the Commerce gin and tonic with the floral and herbal notes of Mediterranean tonic water and a garnish of pink grapefruit zest and cardamom.
We ended our evening's journey back in the Mbar Lounge, this time for glasses of cava and decadent desserts - Quesada Pasiega (Spanish cheesecake),Wild Berry Crumble, and rich Hot Chocolate in a phyllo dough wrapper.
What I especially love about Prado's lastest concept is the casual nature. Yes, you can still visit for a formal dinner or special occasion, but now it's also the perfect spot to stop in for cocktails and tapas, meet friends, or unwind after a long day. In fact, we're joining friends there this weekend for gin and tonics at M Bar before heading over to the tapas bar.
Prado is located inside the Omni Montelucia Resort at 4949 E Lincoln Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85253. It is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To view the full menu, visit https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/scottsdale-montelucia/dining/prado.
I received a media invitation and my experience was complimentary.
Wednesday, August 23: Two of my favorite chefs joined forces at Cartwright's Modern Cuisine for a "Food Without Borders" collaboration dinner. Cartwright's chef/owner Brett Vibber invited Chef Fidencio Alatriste of Toro Latin Restaurant & Rum Bar at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess for a special dinner showcasing his Mexican roots. Look for a detailed recap, but here's a sneak peek, including a fabulous Niman Ranch NY strip with cilantro gorditas, mole poblano and pipian verde.
Thursday, August 24: Chef Matthew Eck, sous chef at The Mission Kierland, invited a group of media and fellow food-lovers to the launch of his new concept, Fifth Floor Pop-Ups. We gathered at sunset on the the Fifth Floor Skyview Lounge at The View at Cascade and were greeted with Arizona Sunset cocktails before diving into a wonderful dinner featuring Chula Seafood and Twisted Infusions Farm. This is just the type of spirit and passion that I feel makes our city such a great food mecca. Look for a full recap here on the website next week and follow along 5th_floor_pop_ups for future events.
Friday, August 25: We were back at Fabio on Fire, which I first visited last week (see that here). Once again, Fabio wowed us with his food and I think his rosemary foccacia with burrata, arugula, pacchino tomatoes, and olives might be my new favorite dish. A round of puffy, chewy, charred pizza dough was brushed with fragrant olive oil and rosemary and then topped with peppery argula and creamy burrata imported from Italy. I also loved the porcini mushroom ravioli special, so be sure to order that too if it's on the menu!
Monday, August 28: Would I like to spend my Monday night sampling cocktails at EVO (a favorite Old Town spot I've mentioned before). Why, of course! Six of us gathered at the bar for a media tasting as Jake Russell introduced us to his cocktail creations, along with Chef Steven Fowler's fantastic polpettini with grana padano and roasted mushroom pizzas.
- La Paz: As Jake shared with us, this is his version of a margarita. He told us how he tried 30 tequilas before deciding to barrel age one himself to get the right amount of oak. For this, he ages Corazón tequila and shakes it with Aperol and lime before finishing with an aromatic elderflower foam (nitrous oxide-whipped elderflower cordial, egg white, and lemon juice).
- Limoncello Rosa. Jake starts with his housemade limoncello, fresh lemon juice, and gin. But there is also "pomegranate syrup on the bottom and soda water on top, so you want to make sure you give that drink a good swirl to mix it. It tastes light and refreshing but is also something you can drink dangerously." My kind of of drink.
- Barrel Roll: This barrel-aged cocktail was started in February and inspired by a barrel-aged Manhattan. The addition of a Campari sphere makes this cocktail uniquely evolve - "it starts as a Manhattan, essentially, but as the Campari melts, it transforms into a Boulevardier."
- Calling for Clarification: I had my first, and only (until now), clarified milk punch at Bitter and Twisted last year, so was impressed to see Jake serving this labor-intensive cocktail. Yes, milk is an ingredient but it undergoes a process where it becomes clarified or clear. Fascinating, right? You can read more about this centuries-old libation technique here. At EVO, Jake uses three kinds of rum - white, spiced, and overproof.
- Bronze Boar: We finished our cocktail adventure with this spirit-forward cocktail made by mixing up Pig's Nose blended scotch with Luxardo Sangue Morlacco and a dash of Angostura bitters before pouring into an absinthe-rinsed glass.
EVO serves an Italian-inspired menu with a popular happy hour (4-7 pm). Night owls like me and industry pros love the late-night hours with Chef Fowler's full menu served until 1:30 am. EVO is located at 4175 N Goldwater Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. Menu: evoscottsdale.com
On the way home, my husband had to look at a property which happened to be right next door to Avanti, one of Phoenix' iconic Italian restaurants (it has been open for 43 years). He suddenly had a craving for carbonara, so in we went. I started with a Negroni, of course. My plan was for a light second dinner of carpaccio, but when I noticed the $27.95 lobster special, how could I say no? This summer special is a delicious bargain - a perfectly-cooked one-pound lobster cut in half and claws cracked for easy access, with soup or salad, garlic bread, pasta, and sauteed vegetables. Take advantage of this deal through the end of September. We also had great service - thank you Jerry!
Every time I visit Little Cleo's Seafood Legend, I'm reminded that it's not often enough. Located at The Yard, a 53,000-square-foot neighborhood space and restaurant cluster with an expansive patio complete with ping pong, giant Jenga, foosball, and corn hole, this cozy yet sleek seafood restaurant is everything this New Englander loves. A classic oyster bar decor welcomes guests with white subway-tiled walls, gleaming stainless steel and marble accents, open kitchen, and a window wall that rolls up on beautiful Arizona evenings. It is worthy of a visit at any time, but their unique Happy Hour is too good to miss. Every Monday through Saturday, 4 to 6 pm, join them for a special summer Absinthe-Minded Happy Hour through September 15 (4-5 pm through the fall and winter). You'll find select $1 oysters and shrimp, $2 Champagne pours, $7 signature cocktails, $4 beer, $5 wine, and half off their extensive absinthe selection or absinthe cocktails.
Of course, I had to start with one of my favorite cocktail classics - Ernest Hemingway's "Death in the Afternoon," a simple, yet potent sipper of absinthe and champagne.
The $1 oyster specials apply to one variety (on this visit they were plump and creamy Kumiai oysters from Baja California), but the chalkboard selection looked so mouthwatering, we slurped down two of each for a briny, ocean-fresh starter: Kumiai; Eastern oysters from Virginia, Sex on the Bay from Bedec Bay, New Brunswick; Coromandel oysters from New Zealand; Paradise Oysters from Deep Bay, British Columbia.
I moved on to another absinthe cocktail, the "Subtle Menace" with Tanqueray gin, absinthe, sauvignon blanc, and lime juice, as we shared Happy Hour shrimp cocktail. Then, of course, we had to peruse the regular menu with all its enticing options. That meant we started with a bestseller, the Warm Jar of King Crab and Butter. Picture a mason jar of sweet chunks of shelled crab covered in clarified butter and served with toasted bread. Yes, please.
As decadent as that was, I have to say that my favorite of the night was the fabulous Diver Scallop Crudo featuring silky slices of raw scallops sourced from Chula Seafood with smoky chunks of charred avocado, radish, scallion, crispy garlic, and tangy ponzu sauce. I almost ordered another.
My husband disagreed, however, as his favorites were his choices. He ordered a bowl of flavorful clam chowder studded with diced potatoes and tender clams before polishing off a buttery split-top brioche roll stuffed with Maine lobster with Old Bay aioli, celery leaf, and dill.
At the behest of our server who told us we shouldn't miss the "Bacon & Eggs," we ended with this signature dish, and she was right. Toasted bread was slathered with creme fraiche and topped with an amazing house-made sturgeon "bacon" and a fried golden-yolked egg. Another must-order.
Whether it's a visit for impeccable oysters and shrimp at Happy Hour or a feast for dinner, Little Cleo's should be at the top of every seafood lover's list. I have a return visit with friends already planned.
Little Cleo's Seafood Legend, a Fox Restaurant Concept, is located at 5632 N. 7th Street Phoenix, AZ 85014, and is open at 4 pm daily for dinner except Sunday.
I received a media invitation and my dinner was complimentary.
RUBEE TUESDAY: August 16-21: Second Story Liquor Bar, Crudo, Char, Fabio on Fire, Hearth '61, AZRW Fall Preview
Wednesday, August 16: I'm working on my next assignment for Experience Scottsdale and spent the afternoon with Executive Chef Jordano Sessions of Second Story Liquor Bar. This talented young chef has a background in botany nutrition and sustainable agriculture, and I can't wait to share his story and food philosophy.
SSLB will be rolling out a new menu of global small plates and I had a sneak peek at some of the delicious dishes, such as his carrot and turmeric arancini with gochujang aioli and tomato jam. Tip: Pair it with Andrew's "Local Roots" cocktail with turmeric-infused gin, chamomile grappa, lemon, and watermelon syrup.
Afterwards, we joined our friends Margo and Norman at Crudo. A Wednesday night special encourages you to gather with your friends and family to share a refillable Polenta Board. Dinner includes a market salad, platter of polenta (local Hayden Mills) topped with a weekly sugo, garnishes, and a bottle of wine for four people. All this at only $20 per person. We feasted on polenta topped with pork belly, brisket, and shishito peppers, and rounded out our dinner with excellent cocktails such as Brenon's "Just a Snip" pictured below and small plates like a wonderful yellowtail collar.
Thursday, August 17: I attended a special media sampling of new fall dishes at Char Kitchen + Bar. More photos and details can be found by clicking the photo of their Mediterranean Chef's Board below.
Friday, August 18: My friend chef Fabio Ceschetti and his wife have long had a dream of opening their own restaurant, and it has come true with the opening of Fabio on Fire! Although Fabio just opened in June, he's already received great reviews (such as this one) and a busy restaurant every night. In fact, plans are already in the works to add a 30-seat patio. I finally had a chance to visit with my parents and wow, we loved it! And the best part? It's on my side of the valley in Peoria. You'll find Italian pastries, pizzas, pastas, and salads, and Fabio also bakes his own bread and makes gelato. Look for a future feature, but for now, here's a glimpse of some of the fantastic dishes we enjoyed.
Sunday, August 20. I was invited for the third installment of the monthly Sunday Supper series at Hearth '61, the signature restaurant at Mountain Shadows Resort. Special guest Jason Raducha of Noble Bread joined Executive Chef Charles Wiley for a four-course wine dinner ($74 per person). It was my first time at Sunday Supper, but not my last! The next one is scheduled for September 17. Look for a detailed recap of my experience to post next week.
Monday, August 21: Arizona Restaurant Week kicks off next month and I joined fellow media for a progressive dine-around to preview the menus at The Herb Box in DC Ranch, Market Street Kitchen, and Fleming's Steakhouse. Here are some of the great choices you can expect.
We started with appetizers at The Herb Box.