When the top toque leaves an established restaurant and another chef takes his or her place, it’s only a matter of time before the menu gets a makeover. Consider Gertrude’s at Desert Botanical Garden. Matt Taylor (pictured) inherited the stoves from outgoing Stephen Eldridge in February, but took a few months to survey the landscape. His new menu reflects native foliage (like prickly pears and chiles), but also hews to his personal journey as a cook. He pays homage to his Canadian roots with poutine ($18) and fries draped in gravy goosed up with foie gras, and flaunts a devilishly conspicuous Southern accent (Taylor cooked for celebrity chef John Besh of New Orleans) with iconic ingredients like grits, country ham and collard greens. These typically lowbrow staples get highbrow treatment from Taylor. Case in point: cornmeal-crusted oysters with collard green pistou (pesto) and Tabasco ranch dressing.
111 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Some call it summer, but Phoenicians call it "pain." Take action, Valley diner. Wage elemental warfare on triple-digit summer temps with a bowl of heat-relieving chilled soup. Popular in warm Latin climes – and also in the Far East, where Koreans sip on a chilled beef stock called mool naeng myun – these bracing broths translate nicely to the Southwest. A good place to start is with the French-inspired "chilled potato and leek soup" at St. Francis, or vichyssoise to you Francophiles. Chef Aaron Chamberlin puts a contemporary spin on the potage with garnishes of pickled seasonal vegetables, crisp-thin coins of fried fingerlings and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. ($6)
11055 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-348-2337, hopdoddy.com
When the mercury tips 110 degrees, a thick, coma-inducing burger might not be the best lunch idea. So how do you quell that gnawing burger craving? Simple: Order a turkey burger. Finding one that doesn’t taste like a cardboard puck isn’t easy, but bacon helps. So does starting with a free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free bird. Hopdoddy’s Continental Club satisfies those prerequisites and more, adding basil pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan, all mixed into the all-white meat. Topped with peppery arugula, applewood-smoked bacon and melted provolone on a soft, whole-wheat bun studded with oats and seeds, this is one fine burger to crow about. ($8.50)
Head north, south… or stay put… for Arizona’s hottest restaurant trend: house-cured charcuterie plates.
Pig & Pickle
2922 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, 480-990-1407
From the summer getaway haunts of the high country to the dining corridors of Tucson, charcuterie plates are trending in a big way in Arizona. But order wisely: Any hack can shave pink ribbons from a hunk of imported ham and call it a day. It takes passion, skill and patience to assemble a charcuterie plate from meats cured in-house. Pig & Pickle chef/owner Keenan Bosworth’s charc plate features an ever-shifting rainbow of rich, succulent meats, like andouille and traditional hunter’s sausage, along with specialty terrines like pork with a duck and fig inlay. Bosworth pairs his handcrafted meats with house-baked breads, bacon jam and house-pickled produce, each with its own brine, including baby red grapes with cinnamon and star anise. Here’s a tip: Bosworth likely has a stash of other cured meats – perhaps lardo, lonza or prosciutto – for use in other dishes that he’ll happily add to your plate if you ask. ($15)
Modern twists give classic Italian desserts a kick in the posteriore.
6106 S. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-276-0601, qatthefarm.com
Classic Italian desserts aren’t always the most fetching. Tiramisu is generally a drab slab of cake, and panna cotta is nothing more than an ordinary cup of custard. However, turn one of these homespun standards over to a gourmet chef, and it goes from “ho hum” to “holy cow.” Exhibit A: the honey panna cotta from Quiessence. Inspired by McClendon Farms’ blood oranges, Chef Dustin Christofolo collaborated with pastry chef Kelly Prine to incorporate the striking maroon citrus into a light, seasonal dessert that takes advantage of the edible flower garden outside Quiessence’s door. Cooking the honey- and vanilla bean-infused custard in a pretty fluted mold is the first step to this visually stunning dessert. Tableside, the server slowly pours a rosy “broth” of blood orange juice sweetened with edible flower simple syrup into a shallow bowl holding the milky white panna cotta and a scoop of blood orange sorbet. A scattering of miniature flowers gently floats to the surface. It’s bella and delizioso all at once.
The notoriously tough mollusk turns tender in these elite Valley kitchens.
Nobuo at Teeter House
622 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-254-0600, nobuofukuda.com
If your only experience eating octopus was akin to chewing on a hockey puck, it’s time to tame the tendril. Long a favorite staple in Mediterranean countries and Japan, the eight-arm sea creature is suddenly the Valley’s trendiest dish, but it takes patience and know-how to keep the cephalopod from turning into semi-edible rubber. James Beard award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda starts with octopus from Hokkaido, where “the water is cold and the meat is sweet.” He prepares it the traditional Japanese way, massaging salt into the skin for at least 30 minutes. Sliced thin, the meat is treated to a quick dance on the grill, barely enough time to get acquainted. Paired with Spanish olive oil, a slice of ripe tomato, house-made mozzarella, a paper-thin slice of shallot and a single pink peppercorn, these tender, spoon-size bites ($16) aren’t for suckers.
Slurp-worthy bowls of soul bring Valley ramen science to a full boil.
Ramen mania has arrived. Long considered Japanese comfort food akin to a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the dish has migrated out of dorm rooms and onto fine-dining menus. What's not to like? At improvisational-dining trailblazer Posh, chef Josh Hebert starts with a piping-hot bowl of umami-rich broth, which he fills with bouncy noodles and a cornucopia of garnishes.