Write On Rubee

An Arizona-based food, beverage and travel writer since 2008,  I launched this website in 2015 to document my culinary adventures, beverage escapades, gardening endeavors, and travel in the Phoenix area and beyond.  Also find a comprehensive calendar of Phoenix-area food and drink-related events on my Events page.


Cartwright’s Artistic Interpretation of Arizona Cuisine

By Molly Cerreta Smith

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.

Tamara Stanger, Brett Vibber, and Sam Pillsbury  (photos: Christina Barrueta)

Tamara Stanger, Brett Vibber, and Sam Pillsbury (photos: Christina Barrueta)

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.

Cartwright's Arizona meal

This was paired with a crisp rosé from Pillsbury Wine and Vineyard, which produces only local Arizona-grown wines – naturally.

Pillsbury Rose

Next, Sous Chef Joe Deruyter’s presented his version of “Arizona” ceviche, a colorful plate of prickly pear-cured Desert Sweet Shrimp topped with delicate slivers of onion, yellow tomato and serrano peppers from Rhiba and Mortimer farms.

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Sam paired this with his Wild Child White, a blend of three European aromatics (German, French and Italian).

Owner and GM Cody Heller with Pillsbury Wild Child White

Owner and GM Cody Heller with Pillsbury Wild Child White

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.

Navajo Kneel Down Bread

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.

barrel cactus Tamara Stanger

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.

Foraged Arizona sausage

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.

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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.

Sam Pillsbury and Jaren Bates

Sam Pillsbury and Jaren Bates

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.

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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.

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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.

RUBEE TUESDAY: January 16-23: Palo Verde, Kaiyo, Pa'la, Second Story Liquor Bar, Franco's, ZuZu

A semi-regular feature, Rubee Tuesday is a photo recap of my week's adventures in dining and drinking in the Phoenix area. 

Hamachi at J's Kaiyo Sushi and Bar

Hamachi at J's Kaiyo Sushi and Bar

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. 

Palo Verde charcuterie The Boulders

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. 

Hamachi special with honeydew melon, jalapeno and cucumber water

Hamachi special with honeydew melon, jalapeno and cucumber water

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.   

WTF biscuits Second Story Liquor Bar

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. 

Saturday: January 20: Franco's Italian Caffe. According to my Swarm check-in, this was our 20th visit. You can read my first article about Franco's, one of our favorite Italian spots, here.

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.

Chef LaCasce

Chef LaCasce

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

Financier Audrey Hotel Valley Ho

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.

To browse past Rubee Tuesday recaps, visit this link. 

RUBEE TUESDAY: January 9-16: Rott n' Grapes, Kawaii, CRUjiente Tacos, Mowry and Cotton, Tomaso's

A semi-weekly feature, Rubee Tuesday is a recap of my week's adventures in dining and drinking in the Phoenix area. 

Mowry & Cotton at The Phoenician Resort

Mowry & Cotton at The Phoenician Resort

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.

Rottn Grapes Phoenix

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 SundaysWednesday 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! 

Salt and pepper shrimp at Kawaii

Thursday, January 11: CRUjiente Tacos. Back to Cru for a media night to sample new menu items and cocktails (I love this restaurant; see some prior visits here and here).  

CRUjiente chicken taco

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.

Blood Mary Brisket garnish

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. 

Robert Porter The Phoenician

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.

Beef carpaccio Tomaso's

To browse past Rubee Tuesday recaps, visit this link. 

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. 

The Boulders Resort and Spa

The Boulders Resort and Spa

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.

Glenfiddich Bue Hound Phoenix

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.  

Fabio on Fire

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.

Aperol Spritz Brian Archibald

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") 

Dinner that night was a media invitation and return to a favorite, Stock and Stable (see past visits here and here, and a Rubee Tuesday visit here). I'm a big fan of Executive Chef Joe Absolor, so a special treat was having a chance to spend some time chatting with this talented chef. 

Joe Absolor

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! 

To browse past Rubee Tuesday recaps, visit this link. 

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. 

Drip Coffee Truck.jpg

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).  

Caesar salad L'Amore Arizona

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.

Chef-owner Joey Maggiore and his wife Cristina

Chef-owner Joey Maggiore and his wife Cristina

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.  

Avocaco beef shawarma lavash

Avocaco beef shawarma lavash

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. 

Friday, December 1: The Henry. After a meeting with the vivacious Sarah Benken regarding her KNOW Tribe Phoenix project, I enjoyed a quick lunch at The Henry: An Italian Mezcal Sour, and smoked Norwegeian salmon with potato hash browns, crème fraîche, and arugula.

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! 

Garrit Guthrie

Saturday, December 2:  Hosted by The Scottsdale League for the Arts, the inaugural Brunch Club took place on the lawn terrace at Mountain Shadows resort and featured some of the Valley's best chefs along with beer, Chandon champagne cocktails and Tito's vodka mules and Bloody Marys.  

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.

Fried oyster tacos

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. 

To browse past Rubee Tuesday recaps, visit this link.