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 Tag: Scottsdale

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

RUBEE TUESDAY, July 5-11: Proof, Arrowhead Grill, Sel, 5th and Wine, Citizen Public House, DeSoto Central Market

A recently-launched feature, Rubee Tuesday is a recap of my week's adventures in dining and drinking in and around Phoenix.  

Squash blossom stuffed with mesquite-smoked lobster on roasted corn puree at Sel in Scottsdale

Tuesday, July 5.  Proof at the Four Seasons Scottsdale Resort held a contest inviting Facebook fans to suggest a burger with creative toppings for a BYOB or Build Your Own Burger.  The winning submission would be featured for a week in July.  I was so excited to find out that my Spanish-inspired burger won, and also that it would be featured for the whole month! On Tuesday, we were invited for dinner to launch the burger and I even joined the chefs in the kitchen. Click the photo below for details of the delicious burger Chef Joey Cavaretta created. Thank you Chefs! 

Chorizo burger with smoked paprika mayo, Manchego cheese, romesco, and arugula

Chorizo burger with smoked paprika mayo, Manchego cheese, romesco, and arugula

Wednesday, July 6.  My favorite neighborhood steakhouse, Arrowhead Grill in Glendale, had a Buy One, Get One special on their signature Delmonico. It's my favorite cut so I didn't hesitate when my husband suggested dinner out.  And bonus! We timed it right for Wine Down Wednesday where they offer special bottles at 50% per off.  Justin Vineyards Isosceles was a perfect pairing.  

We also shared sides of baked stuffed potatoes and creamed spinach, and finished with the addictive butter cake.  And a shout-out to Ronnie Buchanan for the great service. 

Thursday, July 7.  On assignment for the Scottsdale Visitors Bureau, we spent an evening at downtown Scottsdale's weekly Artwalk. What a fun event. It was my first time (what took me so long?), but not my last. The theme was International Artwalk and in addition to beautiful galleries like Casa des Artistas owned by one of my husband's high school friends, I admired Vietnamese artists at the Calvin Charles Gallery, and enjoyed entertainment such as Japanese Taiko Drummers and live Caribbean music and Japanese lanterns.

Cocktail and restaurant stops included a new gem I had never been to before: Sel. Located right in the middle of the artwalk (it was a former gallery), it's a wonderful find that has only been open three months.  Chef Branden Levine welcomes guests to a  fine dining experience with a four-course, prix fixe dinner menu. You can also order a la carte, as we did when we stopped in for excellent cocktails and fabulous appetizers before our stroll. Look for a future in-depth feature when we return for dinner. 

Yellow tomato gazpacho with avocado-lime gelée, peach granité, tarragon oil drizzle. 

We strolled on to more galleries and our next two stops: Offering 35+ wines by the glass and live music, 5th and Wine was a perfect oasis to cool down and take a break between the galleries. Bonus was live music on gallery nights.  

Later, we ended our evening with cocktails at the bar of Citizen Public House. We also couldn't resist ordering another round of appetizers. Thanks to Elijah for the great recommendations and cocktails. 

Sunday, July 10.  We weren't out, but since it was National Piña Colada Day, we had to whip some up at home. 

Monday, July 11.  Uber announced the launch of its UberEats Phoenix program at DeSoto Central Market.  Check out the current UberEats delivery area, which will be expanding in the near future.  Invitees at the private event were treated to cocktails from Bitter and Twisted, an array of delicious food by The Larder + The Delta, Tacos Chiwas, The Vig, The Clever Koi, and, for dessert, High Spirited Cupcakes.  Yes, you can now have dishes from Phoenix' best restaurants like these delivered right to your door. Aside from enjoying Lauren Klein's wonderful High Spirited Cupcakes at Bitter and Twisted, UberEats is now exclusively the only other way to get these delicious boozy cupcakes. 

Check back next week when my plans include visits to Tanzy, SumoMaya, Blue Hound Kitchen, VOM FASS, and a special Chef's Roll event at The Camby.

Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

It's about time I reported back on our last meal at Bourbon Steak, because WOW it was one of the culinary highlights of 2015.  

We're long time-fans of Bourbon Steak, having been here multiple times - whether it be for happy hour, cocktail classes, dinner (and my husband's favorite lobster pot pie) or to celebrate our anniversary.

Back in December, we joined our close friends and frequent dining partners Bill and Lill of AZ Bitters Lab for dinner. As is our wont, we met for cocktails before dinner in the bar. Jason Caballero, one of my favorite sommeliers in Arizona (whom I had first met at a special wine dinner with Maynard James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars), came out to greet us and told us we had a special treat in store.  Executive Chef Jeremy McMillan  had kindly offered to prepare the four of us a tasting menu.  Would we like to do that instead of ordering a la carte? Why, of course! 

What followed next was a wonderful meal with course after course of creative, delicious dishes expertly paired with wines by sommelier Jason. I'd be hard pressed to pick my favorites, but three that I'm still thinking about include Jason's pairing of Lillet with an intensely flavorful chestnut and black truffle soup, Chef's juicy, crispy-skinned guinea hen (from local Two Wash Ranch) glazed with sorghum and whiskey with decadent foie gras rice, and the fantastic combination of beet-stuffed caramelle pasta embellished with raisins, poppy seeds, and freshly-grated horseradish savored with a glass of Moulin à Vent gamay.  Our feast: 

Thank you to Chef Jeremy and Jason for a superlative evening! 

Restaurant Week at Atlas Bistro

We had made a reservation for Atlas Bistro weeks ago, forgetting that our plans fell on a Saturday night of Fall Arizona Restaurant Week.   Would there be a limited menu or a lapse in service from a sold-out crowd?  No, not at Atlas Bistro. In fact it was a happy surprise that their idea of Restaurant Week specials is to offer their entire menu as a 3-course prix-fixe of $44 with your choice of one dish from each course. I can definitively say that this is the best Restaurant Week dining we've ever enjoyed.  So many mouth-watering options, how to choose? 

I would love Atlas Bistro even if they weren't BYOB, but that just makes the experience even more stellar.  Thanks to our friends of AZ Bitters Lab, who brought some special bottles from their collection to add to the Page Springs 2008 Glomski that I contributed: 2002 André Clouet Champagne Brut Millésimé, 2008 Domaine du Moulin (Hervé Villemade) CourCheverny Petits Acacia, 1998 Chateau Musar, and for dessert, a 1998 Maculan Torcolato.

Our delicious evening of creative, elegant dishes included:

  • Hudson Valley Foie Gras Pate, Wild Oregon Huckleberries, Candied Walnuts, Grapes, Celery, Granola, Balsamic, Huckleberry Coulis
  • Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna, Whipped Avocado, Togarashi Rice Sticks, Pickled Enoki Mushrooms, Scallions, Radish, Serrano, Ginger Emulsion
  • Golden Beets, Roth Kase Blue Cheese, Fennel, Vidalia Onion Brûlée, Swiss Chard, Rye Berries, Smoked Buttermilk, Red Beet Vinaigrette
  • Flagstaff Lobster Mushroom Ragout, Soft Poached Farm Egg, Shaved Toast, Tarragon, and an amazing Brown Butter Hollandaise Emulsion
  • Wild Hawaiian Hebi Spearfish, Pearled Cous Cous, Za’atar Shiitakes, Asparagus, Braised Leeks, Harissa, Charred Radicchio, Grapefruit Salsa
  • Australian Wagyu Hanger Steak, Citrus Cured Yolk, Red Lentils, Tempura Mushrooms, Broccoli, Curry Cauliflower, Shishitos, Black Mustard Demi-Glace 

We opted to add an additional cheese course and dessert ("Stoned” Cheesecake Mousse, Nectarine Marmalade, Peach Coulis, Honey Fennel Pollen Crème Fraiche, Graham Cracker Crumbs) and the kitchen generously sent out two more sweet treats (Chocolate Torte with Dulce de Leche, Huckleberries, and Lime Anglaise and the “P.B. & J.” – Peanut Butter Trio with Cookies, Powdered & Brittle along with Cherry Jelly, Dried Cherries and Toast Foam).  It was a perfect evening of harmonious flavors, art on a plate, and wonderful service from start to finish.  In fact, before we had even finished dessert, we had made reservations for a return visit.

For pictures of our first visit, visit this link.