Contributor Shannon Severson was introduced to TapHouse Kitchen’s Phoenix location on a recent media introduction. Here’s her recap:
By Shannon Severson
Gastropubs are eternally popular. What’s not to like about a comfortable neighborhood spot where you can enjoy a pint and good food?
Taphouse Kitchen has opened a Phoenix location off the 51 at Shea Blvd. with 40 beers on tap and knowledgeable bartenders who can help you expand your brew horizons or enjoy an old favorite. The bar is proud to highlight a broad array of local, Arizona-brewed suds.
When you can’t pick just one (and really, why should you have to?), craft your own adventure with a “Flight Plan” of four beers from what’s on tap! If wine or custom cocktails are your jam, there’s plenty to quench your thirst.
Owners Nic Ferrantello and Tom Piccione have a background as contractors and it’s readily apparent in the attention to details in the space. It’s just as nice for a beer with your buddies as it is for a family night out. The surroundings are rustic industrial with high ceilings and a view into the kitchen with a massive pizza oven.
Since featuring local breweries is a priority, it makes sense that there are a number of locally-sourced items on the menu, which is centered around modern American cuisine: salads made with local greens and veggies, citrus and Crow’s Dairy Feta cheese (a personal favorite of mine), and Arizona prime New York strip steaks from the grill. The proprietors are kind enough to recommend beer pairings to enhance the flavor of each dish. There’s even a pairing for desserts (how does Butter Cake with Pistachio Gelato and a pint of Avery White Rascal sound? Yum! That’s how it sounds!). Taphouse is definitely taking “pub grub” to the next level!
When my husband and I were invited to attend the grand opening of their Phoenix location, we had the chance to sample a wide array of bites from the menu that were expertly paired with beer or wine.
Some of the highlights included cornmeal-crusted calamari paired with a Pino Gris by J Vineyard and a gorgeously oversized, house made Jalapeño tater tot served alongside a sample of Cali Creamin’ Nitro. If a tater tot went to the gym and sprinkled itself in bacon, it would be this delicious twist on a BLT.
Next came the TapHouse Sliders, juicy little burgers on buttery brioche buns with sauce Bérnaise and smoked Gouda, a perfect match for Lumberyard Red Ale.
It’s Arizona, so of course we needed tacos. THK Tacos are locally made corn tortillas filled with short ribs braised in the same beer they came to the table with - High Water S’mores Stout. Sounds strange, but the effect was delicious. If smoky beer with a hint of marshmallow flavor is a little too adventurous for you, the Virginia Dare Pinot Noir was a smooth accompaniment.
Every good pub should have a proper fish ’n’ chips offering, and TapHouse delivers with their “Fish Fry Everyday, Baby!!” Light and crispy cod and fries that were seasoned perfectly on the outside with a slight give when you bite them were enhanced by a sweet, tangy slaw and an Irish IPA from O’Dell Brewing.
That big red pizza oven is put to blazing-hot use when you’ve got a pizza craving. The high heat produces an extra-crispy crust, something that is close to the heart of Ferrantello, who comes from a Sicilian background (which means he really knows pizza!). We tried a Margherita Pizza with Kona Longboard Lager or Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. The pizzas make a great shareable appetizer, or keep it all to yourself and make your friends order their own!
Taphouse serves lunch and dinner with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and a “Hoppy Hour” Menu. You’ll find an array of tasty deals, like their house-made pretzel served with Kona Longboard beer mustard and Stella Artois beer cheese fondue –– pair it with a Stella or go rogue and sip a glass of Kendall Jackson “Avant” Chardonnay alongside. THK Wings glazed with honey chipotle sauce and served with Maytag bleu cheese are a classed-up version of the standard.
Whatever time of day you choose to come, the fresh, New American cuisine, friendly service and convivial atmosphere will make you feel exactly the way you should at a neighborhood pub - relaxed and well-fed!
TapHouse Kitchen Phoenix
3131 E. Shea Blvd.
Tastea Glendale celebrates their Grand Opening today, May 11. I had a chance to stop in a couple of weeks ago at their soft opening with my mom, and now we’re both fans!
Tastea, originally founded in California by two California State University Fullerton students, offers a menu of colorful and creative drinks including smoothies, slushes, and milk teas, and snacks such as Karate Chicken and Buttload ‘a Fries. Founders Ted Vu and Scott Nguyen built on their cultural heritage at the young age of 22 and started the company in their Orange County garage, selling drinks to local businesses during lunch.
The Glendale franchise is co-owned by Dean of Tacos Culichi - another favorite of mine! - so when he invited me to check out Tastea, of course I said yes. I loved the range of flavors and add-ins including honey and crystal boba, coconut jelly aloe vera, lychee, longan, avocado and fresh fruit. I really appreciated the fresh, high-quality ingredients (great chewy, soft boba!) and learned they support fair trade coffee bean and tea leaf farmers.
Need suggestions? There’s a handy list of customer favorites to help you decide:
And it’s not just drinks. The addictive Karate Chicken is garnished with fresh Thai basil and comes in five spice levels (I got the Me Soo Spicy, and next time will try the On Fire), and there are also fries and crispy shrimp:
While my husband’s favorite was the Shrimp On It, I’ll be ordering the crunchy Karate Chicken on every visit.
I’ll be swinging by every time I’m in this part of Glendale, and mom has told me to make sure I pick her up something too. Tastea Glendale is located at 9184 W Northern Ave Ste 105, Glendale, AZ 85305 and is open 11 am to 9 pm daily.
This spring, Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails’ new executive chef Dushyant Singh debuted his inaugural menu featuring elevated classics showcasing his signature global flavors and seasonal Arizona-sourced ingredients (including Noble Bakery, Frites Street, Chula Seafood, and Certified Angus Beef dry aged and butchered in Phoenix).
Most recently, Chef Singh served as the Executive Chef at The Camby, Autograph Collection (you can read my past raves here) and he is relishing his new role at the Kimpton Palomar in downtown Phoenix. “I love the vibe of it,” Singh shares. “and I love the people. Downtown is a great market, and I think it's just going to continue to grow. It’s an exciting time to be at Blue Hound and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
Arriving for our media visit, we settled in with cocktails (for me, Phil Clark’s Singani Sour using a Bolivian spirit distilled from Muscat of Alexandria grapes) as Chef Singh took us on a delicious tour of his new menu.
Chicken Liver Pate: “If I’m sitting at the bar, this is what I’d order. It’s a very classic French technique with chicken livers, eggs, cream, brandy and red wine. We sous-vide it at 154 degrees for 90 minutes in the Mason jar, top it with a red wine gelee, and serve it with Noble toast, pickled berries and onion marmalade made with brown sugar, red wine vinegar and a little bit of turmeric.”
Steak Tartare: “I use tenderloin that has been dressed with a charred leek vinaigrette for a little acid, and there are traditional ingredients like whole grain mustard, capers, and chives. It’s topped with an egg, freshly-grated horseradish, cornichons and a celery leaf. Instead of toast points, I make sesame rice puffs because I think they hold the crunch longer, and on the bottom is a purple mustard.”
Kohlrabi Parsnip Salad: “We shave the kohlrabi, blanch the parsnips, and add shaved apples, dates, pickled onions, and arugula. You have two dressings - it’s tossed in a lemon vinaigrette, but on the side is a honey yogurt with Greek yogurt, Arizona honey, shallots and a lot of lemon zest. It’s a clean, crisp salad with a lot of textures and flavors.”
Ricotta Gnudi with Mushrooms: “The gnudi are made with ricotta so they are creamy, but still have a nice texture. There are mushrooms on the bottom, and I make an emulsion with brown butter. On top are pickled beech mushrooms, and then we finish it with crispy sage, Parmesan, and chives.”
Lamb Osso Bucco: “The lamb shank is braised with cherries and porcini powder, and just falls off the bone. The lamb is served with a porcini demi and roasted root vegetables, on the bottom are Anson Mill grits, and on top is a gremolata.”
Bone-In Ribeye: “This is a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye. All our steaks are Certified Angus Beef from a local company called Sterling Meats. We buy the entire cut and they cut the steaks for us every morning. The charred chimichurri has green onions, parsley, basil and mint. We bundle it all up, soak for 15 to 20 minutes in white wine and then put it on the grill. We let it char and add oil and a hint of vinegar, so you get all those herbal notes with your steak.”
Yukon Gold Potato Puree: “It’s so simple with only three ingredients - crème fraiche, European butter, Comté cheese - but one of my favorites. “
Brussels Sprouts: “The Brussels sprouts are flash-fried and tossed in a black pepper-egg yolk vinaigrette, which we make almost like a sabayon to give the dish a velvety texture that coats the leaves. There’s tang from fish sauce and black Chinese vinegar, nuttiness from the Parmesan and crunch from the ciabatta croutons.”
Wild Mushrooms: “We make a soy caramel and toss with shallots, garlic, and Madeira, and top with chopped hazelnuts.”
We finished with a decadent fruit cobbler expertly paired with a glass of Amaro Montenegro by our friendly waiter.
Once again, we drove home from a Dushyant Singh feast commenting on his culinary talent and range of outstanding dishes. Make a reservation and see for yourself!
Blue Hound at the Hotel Palomar is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with CityScape Garage parking validation for up to 2 hours with receipt from lunch or dinner. It is located at 2 East Jefferson Street, Phoenix, Arizona, 85004. (602) 258-0231
We were extended a media invitation and our dinner was complimentary.
Contributor Molly Cerreta Smith was introduced to Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse on a recent media introduction. Here’s her tasty recap:
Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse Adds Vibrant Yet Casual Atmosphere to Carefree Dining Scene
By Molly Cerreta Smith
It takes confidence to simultaneously host a restaurant grand opening celebration and New Year’s Eve bash. Yet that’s exactly what restaurateur Paul Keeler of Keeler Hospitality Group did with his latest concept, Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse in Carefree… and with great success, naturally.
The party hasn’t stopped since opening on December 31 of last year. Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse has staked its claim in the North Scottsdale restaurant scene, adding a much-needed high-end steakhouse menu combined with a warm, inviting and relaxed atmosphere to Carefree’s Historic Spanish Village complex and offering an extensive dinner menu by Chef Anthony Apolinar that ranges from comforting classics such as burgers to a wide selection of steaks, chops, and market-fresh seafood.
Even traditional dishes make their way to stardom at Keeler’s. The Beefsteak Tomato and Mozzarella Salad, for example, features crispy-thin basil leaves that practically melt on your tongue.
Of course, steaks are a main attraction at Keeler’s.
From Baseball Cut, Petite Filet, Bone-in Ribeye and New York Strip, carnivores can select their cut of choice and also enjoy other selections including decadent Rack of Lamb, Double-Cut Pork Chop and Slow-Roasted Prime Rib.
We tried a variety of sides to accompany these meaty mains including the Loaded Baked Potato and Brussels Sprouts, but the Mac and Cheese was by far my favorite. Other outstanding starters include the Steak Tartare and Crab Cakes, which had my dinner mates and I practically arm wrestling for the last bite.
Seafood also steals the show at Keeler’s. The Seafood Pasta, featuring Argentinian red shrimp, diver scallops, and PEI mussels over a bed of linguine pasta tossed in mushroom cream sauce is a delight for the taste buds. And the Atlantic Salmon served with herb-asparagus risotto and roasted red pepper cream sauce is as fresh as they come.
You may already be uncomfortably full after a meal at Keeler’s. Order dessert anyway. Whether you choose the Apple Pie, Cheesecake or Crème Brulee, you won’t be disappointed.
In addition to a well-rounded menu, the bar program at Keeler’s is worth noting. From a classic PK Martini to the “Pina-Cillin” featuring Highland Park Magnus Scotch, lemon, pineapple, honey, and ginger beer with lemon and orange twist, a cocktail is the perfect way to begin — or cap off — a meal at Keeler’s.
Beginning in March, Keeler’s opened its Rooftop Terrace for happy hour from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily, featuring a selection of brews, cocktails, wines and sangrias for a steal, as well as $5, $10 and $15 menu selections including Loaded Steak Fries ($5), Lobster Mac and Cheese ($10) and the Prime Rib Dip Combo including a non-alcoholic beverage and steak fries ($15).
Keeler’s now offers brunch on Saturday and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Choices run the gamut from breakfast selections like the Big Poppy Omelette with bacon, sausage, ham, mushroom and cheddar, served with hash browns and Crab Cake Benedict featuring poached eggs, crab cakes, hollandaise sauce and cilantro to lunchtime plates such as PK’s Burger featuring an 8-ounce CAB burger, crispy bacon, Swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and caramelized onions and the lobster roll with butter-braised lobster, celery, Bibb lettuce and garlic aioli.
Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse offers diners the elevated menu of a Scottsdale steakhouse without the stuffy atmosphere or out-of-this-world prices. Comfortable and classy, Keeler’s is right at home in Carefree.
This contributing writer attended a complimentary media event at Alien Donuts
Photos and Text by Shannon Severson
They come in peace… and deliciousness! Alien Donuts landed on Old Town Scottsdale’s Fifth Avenue in October, 2018 and has been steadily rolling out a delightful array of delicious “out there” and traditional donuts, along with ice cream, and coffee by Phoenix favorite, Cult Coffee, including nitro cold brew “Rocket Shakes.”
Owner David Ventura and his crew of “alien chefs” take pride in the constant variety of donut styles the kitchen is sending out daily. The selection changes week-to-week and often day-to-day, fueled by the spirit of experimentation.
The donuts fall into three categories: yeast-raised donuts, cake donuts (standard and vegan) and filled donuts.
Creativity here is obviously out of this world, with a range of iced donuts in fun colors, dressed for galactic success in sparkly toppings.
Take your breakfast to the next level with cereal-topped donuts, which are served with a pipette of milk.
If pancakes and bacon are more your thing, the slight tang of the Alien Short Stack buttermilk topped with maple glaze and brown sugared bacon is a meal in your hand.
And if you want to double your caffeine boost, pick the Alien Energy, a raised donut with cold brew coffee, topped with chocolate glaze, tossed with tres leches and topped with a chocolate coated espresso bean. You might just be able to fly home under your own power!
The Alien Ice Donut, aka “The Walter White,” is a traditional yeast donut topped with teal-tinted vanilla glaze, edible gold leaf and organic raspberry rock candy (hence the Breaking Bad reference!) The Galaxy Donut shows off its celestial glory with a variegated galaxy sugar glaze and edible gold stars.
With Valentine’s Day in mind, a Strawberry Champagne donut, glammed up with vanilla drizzle, shimmering nonpareils, dusted with gold powder and topped off with a pipette of Strawberry champagne is positively elegant.
If your on a Vegan trajectory, Alien Donuts has you covered with several varieties including the pirate-y deliciousness (if “piratey” wasn’t a word before, it is now) of an apple spice yeast donut with rum glaze or the chocolate-dipped Vegan Oreo Crush (that non-Vegans will also enjoy.)
While there is plenty in the brightly-lit glass display case for customers who want some adventure with their donuts, if you’re looking for something a bit more down to earth, there’s plenty of styles and flavors that are quite familiar – classic old-fashioned, “Infinity” twists, jelly-filled, cannoli-filled, and Boston cream versions (some shaped and iced like alien faces). The shop’s donut holes are a slightly bigger version called “moon rocks” and sometimes appear iced and decorated as an alien head peaking out from the center of a frosted and sprinkled yeast donut that the kids will love.
Every Friday at Alien Donuts is “Fritter Friday,” when the chefs perform feats of (donut) daring do with multiple types of fritters including Apple Newton, Chocolate-Cherry Chaos and “We Come in Peach,” which happens to be General Manager Anthony’s favorite. Flecks of fruit throughout the dough pack a flavorful punch.
Two real standouts, for me, were the “Blueberry Spacecake” donut, a classic cake donut that tastes like an intense blueberry muffin with a blueberry-glazed drizzle. I love blueberries, but I wasn’t expecting to love a blueberry donut this much! Another favorite was the cinnamon-flecked “Alien Pretzel.” It’s an oversized, glazed raised donut sprinkled with raw organic sugar. It’s as if a flaky Morning Bun was abducted (by aliens, of course) and returned to earth as a donut. Fantastic with a cup of coffee. I think the texture of the raw sugar really makes it.
Alien Donuts’ faithful following doesn’t need to confine themselves to standard donut shop hours. The mothership is open Sunday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to “Late Nights,” which means donuts are a tasty option after cocktails!
As they say, “Donut Stop Believing!”
7111 E. 5th Ave, Suite D
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
This contributing writer attended a complimentary media introduction to Tocaya Organica
Photos and Story by Molly Cerreta Smith
The newest restaurant to join the ranks of Kierland Commons’ list of on-trend, healthy yet posh dining is Tocaya Organica. And I could not be happier. Because if you know anything about my cauliflower rice obsession, I’m excited to share that I’ve found my motherland.
Let me start from the beginning… but I promise, I’ll circle back to the cauliflower (it’s my favorite topic). Tocaya Organica is a healthy, quick-casual order-at-the-counter style restaurant dressed up to fit right in with Scottsdale’s finest. A far cry from the dark, red interior of its former inhabitant, Ra, the space has received a face-lift so it’s much more open, light and casually contemporary. The brand comes to us from California, with the intent to offer healthy organic-based and Mexican-inspired cuisine to all types of diners. What does that mean, you say? Well, the menu is naturally about 98 percent gluten free, with just three items that don’t fall into that category (the scrumptious Churro Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich among them).
There are also a number of ways to order so you can just as easily dine there if you are vegan, vegetarian or a keto-loving carnivore… and pretty much anything in between.
With multiple Mexican-inspired salads, bowls, tacos (with butter lettuce wraps as a light and refreshing “shell” alternative to traditional corn tortillas) and burritos to choose from, Tocaya keeps the choices coming with multiple options in the “proteins” and “queso” categories for diners to design their dish exactly as they like it. Ample protein choices include Diablo Chicken, Chicken Tinga, Carne Molida, Carne Asada, Turkey Picante, Halibut, Adobo Tofu and even Vegan Picadillo and queso toppings include Queso Fresco, Jalapeno Jack and Queso Manchego as well as Vegan Mozzarella and Vegan Chipotle Jack.
Instead of just serving up rice and beans to accompany the mains, Tocaya’s “Sides” category is decidedly more sophisticated with choices such as Street Corn, which can be made vegan, Sweet Potato Bravas, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Guacamole with Hand-Cut Plantain Chips (which are almost see-through thin, super crispy and downright delightful), and… wait for it. Cauliflower. And here we are, back to the cauliflower. I always come back to the cauliflower.
The Diablo Cauliflower is roasted and tossed in Tocaya’s signature buffalo sauce, and the Spanish Cauliflower Rice makes the perfect bedding for their seasonal Keto Bowl, which we sampled the day I visited. This dish was visually delicious — with tri-colored peppers, red roma tomatoes and bright green avocado slices — and surprisingly indulgent. The Chicken Tinga I chose as my Protein added just the right amount of spice, and Spanish Cauliflower Rice could easily pass for Spanish rice rice, especially when combined with all the other flavors in the bowl. I could eat this bowl any day of the week.
We also sampled the Tostada Salad, a crispy plate of shredded romaine and butter lettuces piled high atop a crunchy corn tortilla layered with black beans, roma tomatoes, diced red onion, corn salsa and spicy citrus dressing. We chose Carne Asada for the protein on this one and it was just the right addition to transitions this salad from a starter to a hearty lunch or dinner.
On another visit, I enjoyed some tacos with their “chef recommendations.” The “Cali,” features avocado, onion and salsa, with the chef recommended achiote chicken and queso manchego; and the “Barrio,” with roasted tomato salsa, avocado, diced red onion, cilantro and the chef recommended Carne Molida (all-natural ground beef with onion, garlic and tomatoes) and jalapeno jack cheese toppings. I selected the butter lettuce “shell,” which made for a filling meal without that “heavy” feeling Mexican dining sometimes leaves behind.
To wash down those tacos, Tocaya features a refreshing selection of flavored iced teas and agua frescas (the Watermelon Limeade and Strawberry Basil Limeade are my favorites!), as well as specialty coffees, and a beer and cocktail selection with a killer happy hour from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily featuring $5 margaritas, $6 select wines by the glass or $20 by the bottle, $3 cervezas and $2 select menu bites. And let’s not forget Taco Tuesday! Guests can enjoy $2 tacos and happy hour drink prices all day on Tuesdays.
I’m so happy to have Tocaya right in my neighborhood and it has already become a regular hot spot for me to meet a friend or grab a quick bite to go. But if Kierland Commons isn’t on your radar, you’ll be pleased to know that the brand is quickly expanding with a second Arizona location set to open this spring. For more, check out www.tocayaorganica.com.
JOJO Coffeehouse is the latest coffee bar and restaurant to join the burgeoning community of local coffee houses in the Old Town Scottsdale. But beyond featuring its own proprietary JOJO coffee beans, a blend of a chocolate-forward beans from Brazil mixed with a wild berry full natural bean, JOJO Coffeehouse boasts an extensive selection of coffee drinks, organic tea blend varieties, craft sodas, signature cocktails, sangria and wine — with “flights” that boast everything from coffee to craft brews.
Open daily, JOJO Coffeehouse serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with brunch on the weekends. Morning meal choices include breakfast sandwiches, such as the JOJO Breakfast Sandwich with egg whites, avocado, goat cheese, pesto, cilantro and choice of protein (ham, bacon, chicken, steak or salmon) on toasted focaccia bread. Other breakfast selections include Omelettes, Waffles, a Breakfast Bowl and Breakfast Bruschetta options such as scrambled egg, mozzarella, avocado, green onion, and red vinegar; strawberry, blueberry, mint, balsamic vinegar and whipped ricotta; and Nutella, banana, brown sugar and agave drizzle with an option for gluten-free bread. The lunch and dinner menu is served from noon to close daily and includes a variety of fresh salads and sandwiches, along with a large selection of bruschetta choices.
Local entrepreneur Mike Melton, founder and owner of JOJO Coffeehouse, says the menu reflects a very purposeful direction toward clean, organic and locally sourced ingredients.
Beyond serving good food that’s good for you, Melton wants to create a sense of community at JOJO Coffeehouse. With ample space (and set-up!) for bands and solo artists to perform, Melton hopes to make local entertainment a part of the regular scene at JOJO, starting with live music during weekend brunch. He would also love to make open-mic nights a regular occurrence and invites the local performance community to take the stage! JOJO’s “living room” style environment (including cozy fireplace) — featuring a variety of seating options for large and intimate groups including large tables, couches, and bar seating with views of Scottsdale Road, the coffeehouse is ideal for everything from meetings and networking to social gatherings and first (or 50th!) dates.
JOJO celebrates their official grand opening on Saturday, January 26 from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., featuring live musical performances scheduled between 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., giveaways, raffle prizes and more. A portion of the proceeds from this event will benefit Feed My Starving Children. For more, www.jojocoffeehouse.com.
This writer attended a complimentary media event.
Almost a year ago, I visited the original location of Rott n’ Grapes for the first time (you can read that here). “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,” I mentioned back then. I’m thrilled to see owners Patty Gii and Keith Shanks’ success grow into a second location - this time in the heart of Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. Since my initial visit, chef Christopher Newstrom (formerly of Upwards Projects) joined the team to expand the menu for both locations.
The name Rott n’ Grapes is a nod to the owners’ love of their Rottweilers and passion for wine. The newest location, RoRo, is a three-level bar and restaurant serving lunch, dinner and brunch with an extensive craft beer and wine selection (40 wines by the glass), a convenient bottle shop, and a speakeasy-inspired hidden bar.
You’ll also find well-crafted cocktails and, although it’s hard to stray from the many wines by the glass, I started with The Bitter Truth (bourbon, Campari, raspberry syrup, lime)
I had a chance to sit down with owner Patty Gii and executive chef Newstrom to learn about the new menu which features seasonal dishes sourcing local ingredients. “I think of it as made-from-scratch and Italian-American inspired food,” said Newstrom. “We wanted a menu that appeals to everyone. You might want a great burger, or you might want a really nice risotto. We have a lot of vegetarian options, a lot of vegan options, and gluten-free too.”
“I spent a lot of time working on this menu to make sure that everyone who comes in will love what we have to offer. It’s good food you can eat every day at a great price point.”
“Our food isn’t overly complicated. I try to execute ‘simple’ really well. We have clean, clear ingredients like this harissa and grilled vegetables,” Newstrom said as he pointed to the vegetable of the day, on our visit a melange of tender grilled zucchini with torn basil and house-made harissa, a flavorful North African spice paste made with chiles and scented with ground coriander and cumin.
You’ll find Newstrom’s wonderful charred eggplant puree and creamy hummus rounding out a charcuterie plate piled with prosciutto, finocchiona, cheese, dried fruit, olives, cucumbers, guindilla peppers, and Noble Bread toasts.
I also learned that Newstrom has perfected his pizza dough using a blend of three flours to impart a chewy, blistered crust, while his tomato sauce is inspired by a memory as a young chef. “We used to make a pizza sauce that was thick and strong in oregano flavor, so I recreated my version of that. It’s a mix of Stanislaus tomatoes, cooked down with sweet onions and garlic and dried oregano. Then I tear up a bunch of fresh oregano and basil and add it at the end, so it’s a really bold, rich tomato sauce.” Meat-lovers will be just as happy as we were with The Jet, topped with pepperoni, bacon, and local Schreiner’s sausage.
As I commented on a wonderful late-summer corn risotto accented with sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh peas and the delicate anise aroma of chervil, I was told the seasonal risotto would soon give way to one made with wild mushrooms and sherry - a good excuse to return ASAP!
My order of the Chef’s Seafood Special was so fantastic that it will be hard not to try the special again when I return. On my visit, I savored every bite of a superb filet of pan-seared Chula Seafood black cod napped in a tangy-buttery lemon caper sauce and served on a bed of Swiss chard and roasted mushrooms.
My husband declared his juicy NY strip just as terrific. Aged, marinated in chermoula herb sauce, grilled, and served with a red wine reduction and compound butter, it comes with your choice of two sides. I highly suggest the mac and cheese, made with a creamy-gooey combination of fontina, young cheddar, aged cheddar, and parmesan, and sauteed greens on top of that addictive hummus.
Our fun night didn’t end there - Rott ‘n Grapes RoRo is also home to Onyx, one of my favorite hidden bars in Phoenix. Look for the door marked with a painting of Patty and Keith’s dog Onyx and then head down a flight of stairs to a subterranean lounge.
You’ll discover a cozy room lit by dark ambient lighting and lined with cozy seating for intimate groups. Black and white movies are shown on a screen and creative craft cocktails include The Watson with scotch, ginger shrub, passionfruit and pineapple, and The Pug with Suntory Toki Japanese whisky, Yuzuri yuzu liqueur, Aperol and lime juice.
Cocktails, a glass of 40-year-old tawny port (thanks to Patty and her generous friend!) and desserts - chocolate hazelnut budino with torched marshmallow and panna cotta - were a decadent finale to our introduction to Rott ‘n Grapes RoRo and Onyx.
Reservations for Onyx are accepted through the website for Thursday through Saturday starting at 5 p.m. Daily specials at RoRo include Bottle-Schetta Night (a bottle of wine $30 or under and four bruschetta for $25) and Wacked Out Wednesday (two entrees and two drinks for $48). Brunch is served from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends and Happy Hour is every day until 8 pm.
Rott ‘n Grapes RoRo is located at 1001 N 3rd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003. For reservations, please call (602) 346-0068.
I received a complimentary media invitation.
On October 4, 2018, I was thrilled, surprised, and honored to win the Arizona Restaurant Association's Foodist Award for Best of the Best Food Writer. I am so passionate about the amazing food and beverage culture being celebrated in our beautiful state, and it seems readers are too! Thank you to all the gifted chefs, restaurateurs, cocktail talents, winemakers, distillers, brewers, farmers, growers and artisanal producers. It’s because of them that I was on stage accepting the award, and they make my job a joy. Thank you also, of course, to my patient and supportive husband who squires me around to my assignments and events so I can indulge in multi-course wine dinners, judge cocktail competitions, and feverishly work in the car catching up on social media and my other job (yes, a full-time job in addition to my writing career keeps me busy).
Congratulations to all the winners who were recognized as stars in Arizona’s culinary and hospitality industry, and the worthy finalists.
Winner of Innovative Restaurant Concept - Binkley’s and The Larder + the Delta (a tie): Recognizes a restaurateur or restaurant group who demonstrates that they don’t follow trends; they define them, setting the bar in restaurant operations and the overall customer dining experience.
Finalist: CRUjiente Tacos
Winner of Outstanding Food Truck – Aioli Gourmet Burgers: Recognizes outstanding achievement in mobile nourishment, operations and community development.
Drive Wood Fired Grill
Winner of Emerging Restaurant of the Year - Roland’s Cafe Market Bar: Honors promising up-and-comers that demonstrate exemplary talent, showcase innovation and have already distinguished themselves as pacesetters in food, beverage and service.
Mowry & Cotton
The Larder + the Delta
Winner of Best Arizona Caterer – Jennifer’s Catering: An Arizona grown catering team that provides quality dining experience at any location and exemplary service.
Artisan by Santa Barbara Catering
Winner of Outstanding Multiple Location Restaurant – Flower Child: Honors a culinary concept with more than 3 locations, demonstrating exceptional achievement and commitment to excellence in marketing, menu design and customer service.
Cornish Pasty Co.
Matt’s Big Breakfast
Winner of Uniquely Arizona – Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine: Home to some of the oldest documented food traditions, Arizona has a rich culinary past steeped in tradition. We are searching statewide for the restaurants that embrace not only the local food but are staples of the state.
Winner of Innovative Fast-Casual Dish – Crepe Bar’s Crepe Chips: Honoring our fast-casual segment, and the most unique dish on the menu.
Coconuts Fish Café – Fish Tacos
Gadzooks – Short Rib Enchiladas
Winner of Best Arizona made restaurant retail food product – Noble Bread: Hats off to the tried and true recipes that we want to have available at home.
Matt’s Big Breakfast – Hot Sauce
Noble Bread – Bread
Perk Eatery – Cilantro Jalapeno Sauce
Winner of Best Signature Dish - LON’s at the Hermosa Inn’s Himalayan Salt-Seared Ahi: Honors the restaurant that quite simply does it best.
Farmboy Market, Meats, Sandwiches – The Ocotillo Pulled Pork
Virtu Honest Craft – Grilled Octopus
Winner of Best Arizona Wine – Dos Cabezas Wine Works: Raising a glass to the best wine made in Arizona – from rose to chardonnay, this wine is the best of the best from State 48.
Pillsbury Wine Company
Winner of Best Arizona Beer – AZ Wilderness: Raising a glass to the best beer made in Arizona – from ales to malts, this beer is the best of the best from State 48.
Mother Road Brewery
Winner of Best Cocktail – Bitter & Twisted’s Ship Load of Rum: Raising a glass to the best cocktail made in Arizona. This beverage is an exceptional cocktail that is without a doubt delicious, garnished to perfection while pushing the limits with flavors.
Artizen at the Camby – Kingston Fog
Bourbon & Bones – Manhattan
Winner of Best Beverage Program – UnderTow: Recognizing a bar or restaurant that keeps their beverage menu edgy yet approachable embracing all things beverage – cocktails, spirits, wine and beer.
Bitter & Twisted
Winner of Best Restaurant Employee – Fran D’Amato, Prado: Recognizes the front or back of house employee (non-managerial) that has set the gold standard for exemplary customer service and enhancing the overall dining experience.
Christian Giles, Binkley’s
Gabby Golf, Isabella’s Kitchen
Winner of Best Restaurant Manager – Bill Parker, Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn: Recognizes the manager that has set the gold standard for exemplary customer service and leadership as well as enhancing the overall dining experience.
Cody Heller, Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine
Jason Morris, Crujiente Tacos
Winner of Top Chef – Lisa Dahl, Dahl Restaurant Group: Pays tribute to outstanding culinary excellence, breaking new ground with an innovative menu while enhancing the dining experience.
Stephen Jones, The Larder + the Delta
Michael Rusconi – Rusconi’s American Kitchen
Winner of Top Mixologist – Jason Asher, Barter & Shake: Honoring an individual who is behind the bar, constantly raising the bar and setting trends in the beverage scene.
Josh James, Clever Koi
Nick Williams, Annex in Flagstaff
Winner of Best of the Best Food Writer – Christina Barrueta, Write on Rubee: This award recognizes a writer, blogger, food critic who dedicates time, passion and energy to capturing the beauty of our industry with the written word in any form.
Chris Malloy, Phoenix New Times
Dominic Armato, the Arizona Republic
Winner of Good Neighbor – The Joy Bus Diner: Recognizes the outstanding community leadership and exceptional devotion to making a difference in our neighborhoods and community at large.
David Duarte, Finestre Modern Gastronomy
Raveen Aurora, The Dhaba
Winner of Food Pioneer – Christopher Gross, Historic Wrigley Mansion: Honors a lifetime of outstanding culinary excellence that continues to educate, inspire, entertain and foster a deeper understanding of the culinary culture in Arizona.
Gio Osso, Virtu Honest Craft
Mark Tarbell, Tarbell’s
For details and more information, visit http://foodistawards.com/
It's fall, which means it's time for Arizona's Fall Restaurant Week! This year it takes place September 21-30. 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. This year in Arizona, participating restaurants offer special multi-course prix-fixe menus for just $33 or $44 per person. 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. Here are ten 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: Chorizo and cheddar-stuffed squash blossom with corn pudding; Alaskan halibut with sugar snap peas and lemon vinaigrette; Schnepf Farms peaches in puff pastry with honey gelato.
Cost: Three courses for $44
Menu link: https://arizonarestaurantweek.com/lons-at-the-hermosa/
Where: Prado Restaurant at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia at 4949 E Lincoln Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85253. Phone: (480) 627-3004
Why: 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 with mosaic-tiled outdoor terrace overlooking a row of bubbling fountains and Camelback Mountain. It’s the perfect setting to experience the Spanish-inspired menu.
Cost: Three courses for $44
I'm ordering: Seafood paella bites with piquillo pepper vinaigrette; seared diver scallops with langostinos and lemon-saffron risotto; Quesada Pasiega (Spanish cheesecake).
Menu link: https://arizonarestaurantweek.com/prado/
Where: Roka Akor Scottsdale, 7299 North Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85253. (480) 428-0051
Why: This sophisticated sushi and steakhouse restaurant is a spot I need to spend more time visiting. The menu changes seasonally and offers superlative steaks, seafood, and Japanese specialties in a beautiful contemporary setting.
I'm ordering: Butterfish tataki with yuzu-shallot dressing; Prime NY striploin with truffle aioli and mushroom rice hotpot; ube pot de crème
Cost: Three courses for $44
Menu link: https://arizonarestaurantweek.com/roka-akor/
Where: Deseo at the Westin Kierland Resort, 6902 East Greenway Parkway, Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Why: I recently dined at Deseo, the Nuevo Latino-inspired signature restaurant at the Westin Kierland, and the vibrant flavors of each dish makes this one of my favorite menus Chef Derek Biazo has launched. Tip: Beverage Specialist Matt Allen’s cocktails new cocktails are just as enticing.
Cost: Three courses for $44
I'm ordering: Peruvian fried chicken with ginger-scallion marinade and rocoto sweet chili; coffee and panella-seared Wagyu shortrib, yucca hash browns and roasted pineapple chimichurri; and the Oasis dessert with tropical gelee, lemon sorbet and marshmallow.
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/deseo
Where: Rott ‘n Grapes RoRo, 1001 N 3rd Ave #1, Phoenix, AZ 85003
Why: I’m a big fan of the original Rott ‘n Grapes (named after the owners’ beloved Rottweilers), a cozy neighborhood spot with 80 craft beers and 95 wines by the glass, and this week they celebrate another grand opening. Be one of the first to visit RoRo on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix, with three floors and an appealing menu by Chef Chris Newstrom with an emphasis on sourcing local. Their $44 menu includes a cocktail, beer, or wine.
Cost: A drink and three courses for $44 ($33 without)
I'm ordering: A Negroni; charcuterie board for two; sweet corn risotto with chervil and peas; seasonal panna cotta.
Menu link: https://arizonarestaurantweek.com/rott-n-grapes/
Where: Different Pointe of View at Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort
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; achiote-grilled pork tenderloin with green chile and cheddar polenta cake, pickled pepper and cilantro tapenade; and peanut butter, banana and chocolate for dessert.
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/DPOV
Where: Artizen at The Camby, 2401 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016
Why: Tucked away in The Camby Resort is this culinary gem serving globally-influenced dishes at the hands of Executive Chef Dushyant Singh and his team, and you’ll want to take advantage of their special menu of four courses for $44. Tip: Start with the Kingston Fog tea cocktail, recently nominated as Best Cocktail for this year’s Foodist Awards.
Cost: Four courses for $44 + optional $25 wine pairing
I'm ordering: Crispy pork cheeks with popcorn grits; shaved Brussels sprouts salad with sundried apples and pomegranate; duck duo with hazelnuts, blueberries and smoked cream; caramelized banana budino with dulce de leche and peanut meringue.
Menu link: https://arizonarestaurantweek.com/artizen
Where: Tanzy, 15257 N Scottsdale Rd #220, Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Why: Tanzy restaurant is located adjacent to the iPic Theaters in Scottsdale Quarter, but it’s not just a pre or post-movie spot. You don’t want to overlook this sleek modern space with a kitchen team led by Chef Michael Press turning out refined Italian comfort dishes.
Cost: Three courses for $33 + optional $20 wine pairing
I'm ordering: The Tanzy trio (meatball, fried artichokes, tomato bisque); ricotta and gnudi with pesto, roasted mushrooms, gorgonzola cream, and Grana Padano; warm Italian butter cake with vanilla panna cotta
Menu link: https://arizonarestaurantweek.com/ipic-tanzy/
Where: Fat Ox, 6316 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85253, (480)307-6900
Why: I've made many visits to the Fat Ox - for dinner, to meet friends, and to enjoy their Happy Hour. You'll find a menu that celebrates Italy with seafood, grilled meats and handmade pastas. If you have yet to visit, their restaurant week is a perfect introduction with choices such as some of the best handmade pasta in AZ and steaks from renowned Chicago butcher Linz.
Cost: Three courses for $44
I'm ordering: Pappardelle with fennel-braised pork and Swiss chard; 8-oz Linz prime steak; and lemon panna cotta
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 juicy steaks and superlative fish dishes, you'll find that here. The restaurant week menu is a great bargain (the prime aged 8-oz filet mignon is normally $43 alone) and it’s also the home of 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; Alaskan halibut with caviar, cauliflower puree, and citrus vinaigrette; and carrot cake
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/ocean prime
And number 11 means a bonus. You can read about a past Restaurant Week visit recap to Atlas Bistro by clicking the photo below:
Where: Atlas Bistro, 2515 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257
Why: The regular $65 prix-fixe menu of three savory courses of wonderful artfully-plated dishes is $44 during Restaurant Week. I especially appreciate that it’s their regular daily menu, from which you can choose one of four options from each course. Tip: Add on an optional dessert or cheese plate, and bring a bottle of wine - Atlas is BYOB.
I'm ordering: House-cured wagyu pastrami with honey mustard emulsion and shaved Noble Bread; veal katsu with braised daikon radish consomme; and jumbo New Bedford scallops with kombu forbidden rice and Hawaiian hearts of palm.
Cost: Three courses for $44
Menu link: http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/atlas-bistro
On September 22nd, La Hacienda at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess will officially open its doors and welcome guests to a new vision. La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval has garnered multiple Best Mexican Restaurant awards over the years with a kitchen helmed by Executive Chef Forest Hamrick, and now it’s poised to raise those accolades to a new level.
This summer, we were invited to La Hacienda for an exclusive behind-the-scenes preview of what’s in store. Our hosts were General Manager Miljan Vidovic, Director of Food & Beverage David Miller, Executive Chef Forest Hamrick, Director of Beverage Matt Doerr, and Tequila Goddess Katie Schnurr.
As we were welcomed with refreshing margaritas, David Miller spoke about the detailed renovation that was planned - from structural changes (look for a new entrance, 20-seat bar, and landscaped patio), furniture, and finishes, to the menu, beverage program, and dinnerware.
Throughout the afternoon, keywords such as refinement, sophistication, and inspiration were repeated, emphasizing that every part of the refresh was carefully chosen to maintain the warmth and charm of La Hacienda’s Mexican heritage and culture while integrating the contemporary southwest of today.
Along with a larger, U-shaped bar will be an elevated beverage program led by the resort’s Beverage Director, Matt Doerr. Look for an extensive craft cocktail menu featuring Smoked Cocktails poured tableside such as the Lavender, Port, and Rose (reposado tequila, lime, orgeat, rose water, and orange bitters in a smoked carafe), six signature Margaritas including Avocado with chartreuse and avocado foam and the Cabernet with a red wine float, Shandies (my favorite was the Apricot Shandy with sotol, apricot, grapefruit, and IPA), Agave Clásicos with a range from Honey (with reposado tequila, lemon, orange blossom honey and bitters) to Chocolate (añejo tequila, amaro and mole bitters), and Non-Agave including an excellent sangria.
“They’re all stylistically different,” said Matt, “and none of these drinks have more than five ingredients. If anyone is familiar with my style, it’s all about being simplistic and doing it perfectly.”
One of Scottsdale’s largest tequila selections will once again be led by lovely Tequila Goddess, Katie Schnurr, who also spoke about an expanded mezcal collection. They’re a natural pairing for the revamped menu, which will introduce all-new dishes in addition to fan favorites in refined presentations.
We were spoiled as Chef Forest described each wonderful dish we were to enjoy:
“The Sandia guacamole is made with seedless watermelon, queso fresco, candied hibiscus leaves, candied pepitas, pomegranate seeds, taijin, and a tequila-agave syrup poured over the top at the table for a little sweeteness, a little lime, and a tequila punch."
“The other I call Tres Cerditos, which means the three little piggies, so it’s basically three different kinds of pork. We have a crispy hickory-smoked bacon, carnitas tossed with shaved brussels sprouts and white cabbage in a piloncillo-sherry vinaigrette, and then it’s topped off with what I call chicharon panko. Flavor-wise, I think it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever made. “
“This is our chicken tinga quesadilla. Tinga is a Mexican braised chicken dish and in Puebla, you’ll see a lot mixed with pork, tomatillo, and other ingredients. Our chicken is roasted, pulled, and braised with onion, garlic, and chipotle sauce. We mix that with an herbaceous chorizo verde, which originates in Toluca. It’s a mix of beef and pork, spinach, cilantro, and spices and very different from a traditional chorizo; you don’t see it very often except in Mexico. We use blue corn masa, with salsa verde, curtido made with celery, red onion, sliced jalapenos and lime juice, and queso fresco on top.”
“Our sweet corn tamales are made in-house. We have an awesome team of about five women who make all the masa, tortillas, and salsas in the morning, and without them La Hacienda wouldn’t be La Hacienda. The tamales are served with three different moles. There’s a mole verde with almond, pistachio, pumpkin seeds, and lots of aromatics; in the middle is a very traditional Oaxacan mole amarillo with hoja santa and chile guajillo; and mole rojo, which is Chef Sandoval’s grandmother’s recipe which has been on the menu from day one.
“I wanted to put some tacos on the menu that were a little bit upscale. We have two different styles here on blue corn tortillas. One is very Mexico City, and one is very Baja.
In Mexico City, a lot of the taquerias do different cuts on tortillas - filet, strip, ribeye, skirt steak - with different salsas. We’re using a Cedar Rivers Farm prime ribeye, sliced very thin and grilled, with guacamole taqueria and salsa molcajete made with roasted tomatoes, tomatillos, chile de arbol, nopales pico de gallo and queso panela.
Then we’ll take you to Baja, where we go every summer. There’s a place that, in my opinion, does some of the best seafood in Baja. They do these shrimp tacos and on the table they have curtido, though it’s simpler than ours. So that’s on the bottom and the shrimp are fried in a traditional Ensenada batter of flour, mustard, beer and oregano, and topped with pico de gallo and our version of a remoulade.”
“This pollo adobo is one of my favorites. We start with a smoky brine overnight, cook it until almost done, and finish it on the grill with a chipotle BBQ sauce. On the plate is a mexican crema, pico de gallo, guacamole taqueria, radishes and micro cilantro.”
“We dry brine the barbacoa ribs with smoked salt, roast them in the oven low and slow for about four hours, and glaze with a tamarind and Dijon mustard BBQ sauce with piloncillo, different chiles, and honey. We take the meat off and present it with the bone, with a poblano crema and our version of gremolata made with cilantro, chives, parsley, fresh garlic, lemon and orange zest, and crushed tortillas for crunch. It’s topped off with freshly-grated horseradish, pomegranate seeds, and micro-greens.”
“I call this The Baller because it’s pretty over the top and not something you’ll find in the Valley. You’ll see this type of pork chop in Miami, and in Puerto Rico because that’s where this cut comes from. The pork chop itself is called can-can. There’s a skirt in Puerto Rico with slits in it and you’ll see the chicharones has slits and when it fries it opens up with that can-can look to it. Basically, you have the pork chop, the loin, the rib, and belly, and the chicharon. It’s a three to four-day process. It gets brined and sits overnight, then cooked and sits overnight, and then gets fried and comes to the table.”
“We’re serving this with our three moles - mole rojo, mole amarillo, and mole verde. The little dumplings are called chochoyotes and made with maiz, epazote, hoja santo and a little cilantro and are very traditional with mole amarillo, ”
For us, it’s important that we remain relevant for another decade,” explained Pam Gilbert, Director of Sales and Marketing. “We have a great team and it was time to give it a bit of an update. We want to make sure that 10, 20 years from now we can say we’re one of Arizona’s top-ranked Mexican restaurants.”
I can’t wait for this weekend’s unveiling to see this vision come to fruition (and once again enjoy Matt’s great cocktails and Chef Forest’s delicious food!). For a sneak peek, follow along on my Instagram this Friday as I attend a special media preview.
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.
To browse past Rubee Tuesday recaps, visit this link.