Matt Carter rolls out the welcome mat with inspired, all-over-the-map cuisine.
Every home has a story. The House’s tale begins in 1939, when a young Scottsdale couple built a 1,470-square-foot, bright yellow cottage from a set of mail-order plans. The home later became a dentist’s office and a restaurant, and the festive-looking fir tree a child planted in the backyard grew to dwarf the surrounding neighborhood. Fact or fiction, these legends are part of what makes The House Brasserie so endearing.
Quaint digs or no, this isn’t your granny’s home-cooking. Partners Brian Raab and Terry Ellisor granted Chef Matt Carter free reign inside The House’s kitchen – and the culinary wunderkind doesn’t play it safe. After restricting himself to regional cuisines at Zinc Bistro, The Mission and the defunct Nine 05, the Paris-schooled Carter takes advantage of his newfound leeway with a dizzying “ad-hoc” menu of Argentinian-grilled seafood, American steaks and Asian-inspired dishes. Ever the gastronomic multi-linguist, he handles the mélange with aplomb.
Looking at the menu of small plates, entrées and sides, one hardly knows where to dig in. Charcuterie is a safe bet; skip the fatty Portland, Oregon selections in favor of red wine-infused Creminelli Barolo ($8 each; $16 for three). The tangy salami rocks when paired with baked St. Andre cheese ($8), a decadent, soft-ripened triple crème topped with kumquat preserves. After our toast slivers disappeared, my companions found creative ways to incorporate the St. Andre into other dishes until the last gooey morsel was consumed. Cheesy bisque, anyone?
Carter’s cuisine proves that mama had it right when she made you eat everything on your plate. Tuscan kale with miso peppercorn dressing ($8) will make you rethink any hatred of the bitter green. Plump sultanas and citrus segments stood in for the salad’s promised kumquat and plum; both substitutions meshed well with the briny feta. And while I’m a salad nudist at heart – no dressing required – the bite of miso vinaigrette helped cut the pungent kale. Braised in wine and drizzled with tangy Sriracha glaze, beef tongue with scallion crepe ($12) was remarkably tender and savory. Despite initial protests, plates of the offal were polished clean.
Other satisfying starters included charred broccoli soup ($8) and Maine lobster roll ($18), a mayo-based salad that was tantalizing but too messy for sharing. Poured over an island of sweet lump crab and roasted butternut squash, creamy crab bisque ($12) tasted like liquid autumn. The House’s soup presentation – a highlight of the attentive service here – is almost as much of a spectacle as the six-minute Chemex coffee ($6), a mad scientist procedure that involves filtering grounds atop a borosilicate glass carafe. The smooth, caramel finish of the African/Indonesian house blend warrants the wait, however.
Unavailable on my first visit, seasonal roasted halibut with sherried au jus ($28) seared on an Argentinian grill also proved to be worth the wait. Carter’s mastery of European cooking is showcased in this dish: Combine a forkful of equal parts oak-grilled halibut, shiitake, cherry tomato, braised kale and creamy parmesan potato for a mouthwatering explosion of Mediterranean flavors.
From beef tongue to pork ribs, meat wears the pants in this House. Every bite of the juicy Creekstone filet ($36) – and the accompanying sweet corn with spicy shishito peppers – is a delight for the tongue. The same can be said of the lunch-only pork roll ($12) and lamb pasty ($12), the latter a blend of curried ground meat and potatoes tucked inside a crisp dough pocket. The pasty was so addictively spiced that I barely refrained from going all Oliver Twist on my server: “Please, sir, may I have some more?”
Not every meat dish elicited such enthusiasm. The popular lamb Bolognese with buttered linguine ($22) suffers from heavy-handed use of lemon mascarpone. While citrus brightens the deep sauce, it also overwhelms the poor wine-soaked tomatoes. The result is a clash of two culinary titans vying for the palate’s attention. And the tart mascarpone is clearly the better gladiator.
Unfortunately, the promising broccoli carbonara ($6) side dish was also done in by overwhelming lemon zest. My favorite of the sides was grilled and buttered shiitake mushrooms with truffle honey ($6) – and not just because, as one fellow diner put it, “you can slather a shoe in truffles and it’ll taste heavenly.” Cooked until slightly spongy, the woody flavor of the precious fungi melds beautifully with the syrupy honey. If Carter crisped these suckers up, they’d be as snackable as movie theatre popcorn.
After sampling three of four House Brasserie dessert offerings ($6 each), I can honestly say nothing trumps the honeyed mushrooms. The tasty caramel apple upside down cake suffered from an amaretto overdose, while the buttermilk blackberry crumb cake was a delightful, if not outstanding, combination of tart fruit and moist coffee cake. Perhaps the best sweet ending was the House Paloma ($11), a St. Germain-boosted version of the common Mexican cocktail in which a splash of grapefruit juice adroitly tames the floral notes of the elderberry liqueur.
The story of the former “Yellow House” continues. The exterior is now pale gold, the lawn replaced by a sprawling patio with outdoor fireplace. Inside, flocked damask wallpaper, ornate mirrors and mismatched chandeliers combine for a casually elegant feel. What hasn’t changed is the figurative welcome mat, first rolled out by the home’s original owners and most lately by Chef Matt Carter. Like that bygone couple, Carter is embarking on something both modest and grand.
The House Brasserie
Address: 6936 E. Main St., Scottsdale
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Highlights: Baked St. Andre cheese ($8); red wine-braised beef tongue with scallion crepe ($12); kale salad with miso peppercorn dressing ($8); roasted halibut with grilled shiitakes, parmesan potato, braised kale and sherried chicken jus ($28); Creekstone filet with shishito peppers, roast corn and balsamic glaze ($36); grilled and buttered shiitake mushrooms with truffle honey ($6)
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