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