Write On Rubee

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

Filtering by Category: Dining Out

Sel Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I was hosted by Sel and my dinner was complimentary

Happy Hour at Onyx

Upscale resorts might not be the first venue Arizona locals think of for Happy Hour deals, but Onyx at The Four Seasons Scottsdale will change that viewpoint.  Not only are some of my favorite HH dishes, like the tempura octopus and lamb meatballs, being served with a view, but they are only $5 during 5 and 6 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  

Nick Padua, the assistant manager for Onyx and Talavera, has some new cocktails coming up. On our last visit, I was able to preview a delicious cocktail he's working on made with grapefruit and mezcal.  If that was any hint of what's to come, I can't wait to see the list. 

Octopus tempura

Lamb meatballs

Onyx Bar & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Persian Room

The Persian Room in North Scottsdale has been around for more than 25 years, but I'm sad to say it took me 7 years of living in the valley before I made my first visit - but it won't be my last.  In fact, I have lunch plans with friends again tomorrow.  

It's a pretty, upscale space with a lofty second floor, chandeliers, and high ceilings.  Generous portions for lunch made two meals, and I'm still thinking of the Kash O'bademjan (roasted eggplant with whey and topped with crispy garlic slices) and juicy chicken kebabs.  The lunch plates come with regular basmati, but you can upgrade to a different rice dish.  I loved the one with dates and lentils called Adas Polo.   I was joined by two friends for lunch on my first visit and we enjoyed: 

Doogh, a tangy carbonated drink with yogurt and milk.  Each table also receives complimentary pita with butter, onion, and fresh basil. 

Kash O'bademjan (roasted eggplant mixed with kashk/whey, garlic, onions & mint).  Shirazi Salad with cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.

Mast o moosier (yogurt and garlic dip).  Lamb Koobideh (minced lamb kebabs) with Adas Polo (basmati rice with raisins, lentils, dates and saffron);

Beef Shish Kebab with basmati and Chicken Barg Sultani with two kinds of chicken kebabs and Baghala Polo (basmati with dill and fava beans).  

If you need a speedy lunch, this isn't the place, so allow plenty of time.  I especially liked the Doogh, Kas O'bdemjan, and Adas Polo, which I will be ordering again.   And this time I'll save room for dessert!

Afterwards, I did a little shopping at the Caspian Market next door: Fava beans, Bulgarian feta, yogurt, zoolbia (honey syrup-soaked fried pastery) and pistachios. 

 

Persian Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato !

Lebanese in the North Valley at Mashawi

My first visit to family-owned Mashawi Lebanese Grill wasn't planned. We were doing errands in the area when I noticed the sign. I love Lebanese cuisine, so of course I had to stop to check it out and pick up a menu. After reading through, however, I left with more than the menu and ordered chicken kofta (ground chicken kabobs seasoned with parsley, onion and garlic served with garlic sauce) and kibbeh (a crispy bulgur wheat shell filled with ground spiced beef) to go. One of my favorite elusive Lebanese dishes is kibbeh nayyeh made with raw lamb, pureed onion, bulgur wheat, and seasonings. Think a Lebanese lamb tartare but smooth with texture from the bulgur. Although it wasn't on the menu, I was told they could make it next time if I called ahead. Wonderful!

While I waited, the nice owner/father sent me out some some complimentary hummous, describing it as "the best because it was just made" and a "family recipe".  Such a welcoming gesture. It was excellent - creamy, not grainy as some can be, with a bright hit of fresh lemon and a mild balance of tahini and garlic.  Back home, the chicken kofta was juicy and flavorful, and the kibbeh is now one of my usual orders.  

On my next visit, I pre-ordered the kibbeh nayyeh to share with friends.  It was a perfect texture with a nice lamb to bulgur ratio, no sinew, smooth and buttery.  I'll definitely make plans to have it again.  The family has always been hospitable and friendly, though I'm overdue for a visit. 

Falafel, baba ganoush, ‎and hummous; tabouli‬; warak arish (vegetarian stuffed grape leaves with tahini sauce), kibbeh nayyeh; chicken kofta and kibbehshish kafta (ground beef and lamb kabobs):

The address for Mashawi Lebanese Grill is 814 E. Union Hills Drive, #6, Phoenix, AZ 85024.  Hours are 11 am to 9 pm seven days a week, and they offer delivery within 5 miles.  Tel: 623-879-6777.

 
Mashawi Lebanese Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monthly Mashup at Talavera with Chefs Mel Mecinas and Christopher Gross

Two chefs, one kitchen is the idea behind the Monthly Mashup series at Talavera at the Four Seasons Scottsdale Troon North.  The program kicked off in March, with a different guest chef each month joining Executive Chef Mel Mecinas in the Talavera kitchen.  I love the thought behind this concept - enjoying the food of not just one, but two favorite chefs as they team up to create a menu featuring each other's culinary creativity and philosophy. “The best way to grow as a chef is to partner and learn from other chefs,” says Executive Chef Mel Mecinas.  “Taking two concepts and blending them together – for one night only – gives each chef the opportunity to expand their skills and offer diners a truly unique experience.”  In May, the collaboration was between Mel Mecinas and Christopher Gross, two talented chefs whom I've spotlighted in the past in AZ Wine Lifestyle.  Seated on the gorgeous Talavera patio on a beautiful spring evening, this Mashup menu did not disappoint:

Our evening in photos: 

We were hosted by the Four Seasons and our meal was complimentary.

Andreoli Italian Grocer

This Italian grocer, deli and restaurant offers fantastic authentic dishes, desserts, sandwiches, freshly baked bread, and housemade salumi. It's hard to decide between ordering a favorite off the menu or daily specials like grilled calamari,  branzino or spaghetti vongole.  And I never leave without doing a little shopping to take home quality ingredients such as pasta, veal chops, wine, imported Italian pantry items or a box of Italian pastries.

Andreoli Italian Grocer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Welcome Chicken + Donuts

With a nice start to the day as a guest panelist at the PRSA Phoenix Table Talk Media Breakfast, I finally had the opportunity to visit Welcome Chicken and Donuts. We live in the NW Valley, so I took advantage of being out and about early, and its proximity, to cross another must-get-to spot off my list. Chef Michael Babcock of Welcome Diner opened WC+D with a focused menu featuring Asian-style fried chicken (sauce options include Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese)  and donuts (classics such as glazed or cake, and premium such as key lime or cajeta mesquite).  Alas, I was half an hour early for the fried chicken, which isn't served until 10:30 a.m., but I certainly didn't leave disappointed.  

From left to right starting with the top:

  • Kaffir and matcha, Thai tea and Arnold Palmer, Double Chocolate, Chocolate Glazed
  • Almond Butter and Jelly Glazed, Apple Fritter, Classic Glazed, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  • Honey Butter Almond, Classic Glazed, Chocolate Glazed, Strawberry Balsamic.

And what did I try first?  The Almond Butter and Jelly Glazed, a decadent combination of rich, nutty filling and tangy, fruity icing.  

Welcome Chicken + Donuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pig's head feast at Bink's Scottsdale

Last night we joined 4 adventurous food-loving friends for a special-order pig head dinner at Bink's Scottsdale.   One week's advance notice is required for the main course to be ordered from The Meat Shop. The dinner costs $180 and includes an abundance of side dishes to accompany the rich roasted pork and delicious crackly skin.  With 6 of us, the cost was $30 each, and our meal could have easily fed 10.  In fact, we all took home bags weighty with leftovers. Combine it with Rich Heider's wonderful cocktails  and you have yourself quite a feast! 

Lunch at Clever Koi

Although we eat out quite frequently, with the number of great restaurants in the Phoenix area, I have a list of must-visits that gets longer every year.  Clever Koi, which opened in December of 2013, has been on that list for quite a while.  I was a big fan of Chef Jared Porter when he was at The Parlor (and even chose to Spotlight it in AZ Wine Lifestyle) and excited to hear he would be changing gears and cooking up modern Asian.  I had since heard good things about this collaboration with Joseph Absolor and co-owners Joshua James and Nicholas Campisano, so when my friend Angela suggested Clever Koi for an overdue lunch date, I didn't hesitate.  The lunch features are limited but delicious. There is a Build Your Own noodle bowl or stir-fry  with plenty of vegetable,  noodle, rice, and protein options.   Two fried dumpling choices (creamy goat cheese with sweet ginger-scented beets or the "crispy pig face" filled with tender flavorful pork) and buns (pork belly on a steamed bun or chicken on a kimchi waffle) round out the menu.   What did we order?  Everything of course, and we loved it.  To this casual but creative Asian fare, add Joshua James' excellent craft cocktails and great service from Ralph (who coincidentally I had just met at Nook), and it's a winning combination.  I'm looking forward to a return visit for dinner to do some more dining and drinking exploration.

The Clever Koi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato