Write On Rubee

An Arizona-based food and beverage 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.  Find a comprehensive calendar of Phoenix-area food and drink-related events on my Events page.


RUBEE TUESDAY: May 10-16: Il Capo Pizzeria, Hearth '61, Hyatt Regency Scottsdale, The House Brasserie,Tacos Chiwas

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

On Wednesday, May 10th, I was invited to attend an advance screening of the culinary film "Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent".  Wow, loved it! It's a powerful documentary about fascinating legendary chef Jeremiah Tower.  Produced by Anthony Bourdain, it opens Friday, May 19th.  Here's the trailer: 

Afterwards, we walked over to Il Capo Pizzeria, owned by the Rana family, whom we got to know when they owned Cuoco Pazzo in Old Town Scottsdale. James Rana told us about their brewery, State 48, in Surprise, with a second location soon to open in downtown Phoenix. Thanks to James, we sampled their Blueberry ale (my husband's favorite), Belgium blonde, blood orange Belgium blonde, brown ale (my favorite) and oatmeal stout. We each had a slice of pizza - for me, Grandma's Square. Great service from Maryann at the bar, and a treat to chat with Jack Blanton who left the kitchen to say hello.  

On Thursday afternoon, May 11th, I filmed with news anchor Olivia Fierro of AZFamily Channel 3 for her segment on her dream job as a food writer. We spent an afternoon at the newly opened Hearth '61 at Mountain Shadows Resort with Chef Christopher Brugman and had so much fun! You can watch the segment by clicking the photo below.    

That evening, we were invited by our dear friend Kirti Dwivedi to a fundraiser and cocktail dinner, with 100% of the proceeeds going to LLS. She has been nominated as Woman of the Year for the The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and this special event as part of her campaign was held at Hyatt Regency Scottsdale. Chef Brian Contreras of the Hyatt Gainey property joined Cullen Campbell of Crudo, Keenan Bosworth of Pig & Pickle, andAaron James-wayne Ward of Brat Haus, with cocktails created by master mixologist Luke Detraz. 

Luke Detraz' sparkling rosé wine punch

Luke Detraz' sparkling rosé wine punch

On Monday, May 15, I joined fellow media as we sipped and savored our way through Billy Bessinger's new cocktails at The House Brasserie. I've been missing out! His well-balanced creations have made The House one of my top spots for craft cocktails in Old Town Scottsdale. We sampled his addictive Tequila Funrise combining Don Julio Blanco tequila, and Galliano complemented by lime juice, lavender honey, and blueberry; the crowd-pleasing Smoked Manhattan capturing the essence of alderwood and stirred with cherry Coke reduction, Carpano Antica vermouth, and black walnut bitters; the refreshing Pimm's Mule with Pimm's, Amaro Nonino, lime, demerara simple syrup, and ginger beer;  Snowbird, a tropical sipper perfect for our Arizona's summers with a Polish bison grass-infused vodka, dry curacao, lime juice, Coco Real, orgeat, and bordeaux syrup; and Pour Decisions with warm caramel/butterscotch notes from a combination of Brugal rum, St. George pear Brandy, amontillado sherry, and housemade root beer shrub. Which one should you order? All of them! 

Billy and his Tequila Funrise

You can watch a video of Billy making his Smoked Manhattan here:

Afterwards, we hit one of our favorite casual taco spots - Tacos Chiwas (past link here).  We feasted on favorites such as deshebrada verde and raja gorditas, tripas tacos, and picadillo burritos.  

For last week's Rubee Tuesday, visit this link

RUBEE TUESDAY: May 1-9: Bitter and Twisted, Mora, Casa Anejo, Proof and Onyx at the Four Seasons, Artizen at The Camby, Kentucky Derby Brunch at Bourbon Steak, North, and CRUjiente Tacos

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

On Monday, May 1st, I attended a special media preview of Bitter and Twisted Cocktail Parlour's fourth annual Book o' Cocktails along with a sampling of some of Chef Bob Tam's delicious new dishes.  Loved it! You can read my photo recap by clicking the picture below.  

Afterwards, our friend Kirti joined us for a nightap at Mora Italian, where we shared the foie gras and chicken liver pate with cippolini agro dolce.  And a special treat was chatting with one of the valley's best chefs - chef de cuisine Matt Taylor. 

On Tuesday, May 2nd, I joined fellow media at Casa Añejo Tacos and Tequila, the newest addition to The Colony.  It's a winning trifecta, with a beautiful space designed by HGTV and DIY Network's Kitchen Crashers star Alison Victoria, Riley Jones in charge of cocktails, and Chef Joe Absolor helming the kitchen. Look for a full recap later this month.  

Designer Alison Victoria

Designer Alison Victoria

On Thursday, May 4th, I was on assignment for Phoenix Home and Garden at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale.  Pick up the July issue for a feature on Executive Chef Chuck Kazmer and his special summer recipes. I was also treated to a dish on Talavera's "Spring in France" tasting menu running through May 17.  The rabbit paté with caper berries and pistachios, preserved Meyer lemon aioli, and fava beanss is amazing! 

Afterwards, I joined my fellow food writer friend Lauren Topor for Proof's Thursday-only Tiki Pop-Up.  

We sipped our way through tropical tiki drinks such as the Flaming Zombie Bite (my favorite - with Plantation overproof rum, gin, pineapple, orange, and orgeat), Pimm's Plunder (Pimm's, Wild Tonic's Tropical Turmeric kombucha, ginger beer, raspberry, lime, and cucumber) and Piña Luau (ixa reposado tequila, amaro, demerara simple syrup, pineapple, lime).  Chef Dell also shared his delicious housemade kombucha  - thank you Dell!

Don't miss out on Chef Del's rotating selection of Ono Grindz such as this Hawaaian Fried Rice with pineapple, U-5 shrimp and hoisin-glazed scallops, and the bacon bao with turmeric preserved cabbage, chicharrones, charred shallot, and garlic blossoms. Chef Dell cures the bacon for 8 days and then smokes it over black walnut. For more information about this weekly event, click this link

And we couldn't leave without enjoying the sunset on the picturesque patio of Onyx.  

On Friday, May 5th, we received a media invitation to explore Chef Dushyant Singh's new dshes at a personal favorite - Artizen at The Camby. Chef not only surprised us with a custom tasting menu but WOW this is one of my best meals of 2017. I was already a huge fan, but now I'm an even bigger one. These are just a few of the fantastic highlights. Some are currently on the menu, and some are still being finalized. Look for a detailed feature later this month.  

Purple potato gnocchi with saffron-poached mussels, charred leeks, asparagus, and a saffron beurre blanc

Purple potato gnocchi with saffron-poached mussels, charred leeks, asparagus, and a saffron beurre blanc

Saturday was the Kentucky Derby. This was my first time joining the Kentucky Derby Brunch at Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, but not my last! Festivities included Bulleit mint juleps, live blues music, and a Southern brunch featuring pickled shrimp, filet mignon with Henry Bain sauce, hush puppies and fried oysters, Kentucky burgoo, shrimp and grits, hot browns, fried chicken, Derby pie, red velvet cupcakes, and more. My friend Kirti and I also left as winners! Each guest drew a horse name as they entered and since Always Dreaming won, so did we - a free overnight stay at this gorgeous resort. 

On Monday, May 8th, I joined fellow travel writers and local tourism representatives to kick off National Travel and Tourism Week. We were hosted by Visit Phoenix at North Italia in Arcadia and feasted on new favorites like zucca chips, Seasonal Vegetable salad, chicken pesto with gigli pasta, and tiramisu.

Across the street is one of my favorites, CRUjiente Tacos. Since they had just launched their new brew collaboration with Pedal Haus Brewery, I had to stop in after lunch, especially as they were promoting a one-day-only taco pairing. Crujiente's award-winning Executive Chef Richard Hinojosa and co-owner Jason Morris worked with Julian Wright and Derek “Doc” Osborne of Pedal Haus to create a blood orange Gose-style beer. I loved it! But get it while you can as it is very limited. Chef paired it with an incredible roasted pork belly taco with orange-habanero glaze, tomatoes, and cilantro mojo.  

For past Rubee Tuesday recaps, visit this link.  Stay tuned next week as I visit Il Capo Pizzeria, attend a private culinary film movie screening, support my friend Kirti at an LLS fundraising cocktail dinner at Hyatt Gainey Ranch (she's been nominated for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Woman of the Year), explore the new cocktail menu at House Brasserie...and film a segment as a guest on Good Morning Arizona!

Sel Restaurant

I first discovered the gem that is Sel on a lovely afternoon while strolling the Scottsdale ArtWalk in Old Town Scottsdale.  This weekly Thursday event celebrates artists and galleries, and its Main Street path brings visitors past Sel, located in a former gallery in Plaza Garcia. On that warm July day, Sel's pretty location and patio with cooling misters beckoned us in to enjoy a break from the heat. 

We pulled up stools at the sleek bar and were immediately welcomed by friendly bartender Josh at whose hands excellent, well-crafted cocktails were imbibed.  My husband ordered a classic Manhattan, while I opted for the Cerise Fumée with Vida mezcal, Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur, black cherry puree and lime, garnished with a smoked sea salt rim and amarena cherry. 

Sel offers a four-course prix-fixe, but dishes can also be ordered a la carte.  Since we were stopping in for just a cocktail and a bite, we shared and savored two superlative summer dishes: A vibrant yellow tomato gazpacho adorned with avocado-lime gelée, peach granité, tarragon oil drizzle, and a light and crispy squash blossom stuffed with mesquite-smoked lobster and partnered with creamy roasted corn puree, micro greens and a pickled bing cherry. 

We left happy and thrilled to find such a special spot, vowing to return to experience a full dinner. We were so impressed, that I included Sel in my article on ArtWalk dining stops for the Scottsdale Visitors Guide. 

It might have taken longer than planned, but last month we finally returned to experience the full tasting menu and wine pairings. Sel is a beautiful, intimate restaurant seating 50 people inside and 50 more on the patio. It's a modern, elegant space flanked by a 10-seat bar and tufted purple chenille banquettes. Accents include crystal chandeliers and a glowing quartz bartop, with whimsical touches such as the imbedded salt shakers in the restroom walls. 

Sel is the creation of co-owners Executive Chef Branden Levine and his wife May, who runs the front of the house as the restaurant's manager. Acclaimed for his prix fixe menu as previous Executive Chef at Cafe Monarch, Chef Branden has brought his talent for sophisticated and creative dishes to Sel.  He has also brought his years of experience, which include graduating from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales, time spent in Las Vegas working for Charlie Palmer at Aureole, chef positions in Tanzania, Africa, Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, DC, and five years as owner of a successful restaurant in Heathsville, Virginia. He has also made his mark on the national arena with TV appearances on “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell." Most recently, Chef Branden Levine and his team won the Chef's Classic Final Four, airing on CBS during the Final Four on April 2, 2017.  Congratulations Chef! 

It's thus no surprise that our dinner turned out to be a wonderful, memorable experience. 

The prix fixe four-course menu is offered at $80 per person, including a vegetarian menu at $60, and optional wine pairings at $60.  Dishes are also available to order a la carte or as supplements.  Diners can choose between two items each for the first and second courses, and six entrees.  Taking advantage of seasonal ingredients and Chef's creativity, the menu changes every three weeks.  

Pre-dinner cocktails included a Manhattan and a perfect Negroni, my favorite cocktail.

My wonderful repast began with pristine East Coast Blue Point oysters embellished with bird chile mignonette and the herbaceous-anise accent of Thai basil oil.  I also sneaked a bite (or two) of my husband's airy smoked goat cheese mousse topped with a rich wild mushroom ragout studded with the textural bites of Le Puy lentils and millet, and finished with black truffle-lemon emulsion.

Next was one of my favorite dishes of the night - delicate ravioli stuffed with tender rabbit confit and Red Kuri squash graced with smoked ginger butter, yuzu vinaigrette, and a shower of grated chocolate.  A close second was my husband's bowl of verdant asparagus puree gilded with pops of tobiko and sweet red king crabmeat brightened with preserved lemon. 

Each prix fixe menu includes a third course of the salad du jour and on our evening it featured farm-fresh winter greens complemented by roasted Chiogga beets, dried strawberry chips, molasses and applewood bacon, tossed with smoked anchovy dressing and garnished with a parmesan tuile and cheese profiterole.

Main courses brought a fabulous orange and anise-lacquered duck cleverly adorned with duck skin cooked into crispy "chicharrones" on a bed of velvety salsify puree accompanied by sauteed Swiss chard and roasted sunchokes, and enhanced with a burgundy wine-duck stock reduction.  Special thanks to our knowledgeable server Michael, who expertly paired my dish with a Damilano Barbera.  

My husband likewise raved about his sophisticated surf and turf which arrived as  juicy sliced Lone Mountain Wagyu hanger steak with Lyonnaise potato pavé, crispy rice flour tempura asparagus, Banyuls reduction and a 6-oz black-truffle poached lobster tail supplement.

We almost decided against dessert, but were glad we listened to Michael.  You don't want to miss the decadent strawberry shortcake layered with irresistible marzipan almond cake, Chantilly crème, and fleur de sel caramel, topped with a balsamic drizzle and vanilla bean gelato.  I also finished with another expert cocktail by Josh using his housemade green-tea infused Old Tom gin (tip: be sure to ask Josh if he is working on any off-menu cocktails). 

Our second (but not our last) visit reinforced everything we love about this Scottsdale jewel.  In fact, we have plans to return with friends next month.  Tune in this Sunday during the NCAA Final Four broadcast on CBS to learn more about Chef Branden's Final Four Chef's Classic win. 


I was hosted by Sel and my dinner was complimentary

A Day in the Life of Christina Barrueta

Many thanks to the luxury publication Arizona FootHills Magazine.  I'm thrilled to be featured in their Insider's Guide:  A Day in the Life of Christina Barrueta.  It's a busy one! Pick up the December 2016 issue for my food and beverage-filled day including visits to Tomaso's Italian Restaurant to celebrate Tomaso's Day, a cocktail class at Rico's American Grille at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, and ending with a Sonoran Brewing beer pairing dinner at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn with Chefs Jeremy Pacheco and Justin Beckett.