Amuse-Bouches

Written by Pavle Milic & Craig Outhier Category: Amuse Bouches Issue: September 2016
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Pav on Juice: Pick Your Poison

A Monthly look at Arizona wine with Valley dining impresario Pavle Milic.

If you’re a wine lover, it’s likely you enjoy reading about wine, planning vacations in wine regions, and watching documentaries about wine. Perhaps you wax poetic about the vicissitudes of the 1999 harvest in Burgundy. Even so, sometimes you just want to pick a bottle and get straight to business of sipping. The following graphic – inspired by the “wine wall” at Sorso Wine Room – is an easy visual guide to find the right Arizona wine for your mood and tastes.

Rich/Robust vs. Light/Subtle

I’m going to use a rather unusual analogy to explain body/textural attributes of wine: dairy. Skim milk and heavy cream have, texturally speaking, vast differences. Skim milk is light on the tongue, and heavy cream is thick and rich. So think of body as the way wine feels on your palate.

Fruity vs. Earthy

A fruity white wine will give you citrus aromas of mandarin, orange and exotic lychee, whereas earthy whites have aromas of flint, slate and wet gravel. In a fruity red wine, you might pick up cherry, pomegranate and raspberry; earthy reds give you scents of mushrooms, tobacco and dust.

 

 

1. 2015 Chateau Tumbleweed Descendants

2. 2014 Sand-Reckoner Malvasia Bianca

3. 2014 Pillsbury Chardonnay

4. 2014 Dos Cabezas Pink

5. 2013 Rune Wild Syrah

6. 2011 Caduceus Marzo Sangiovese

7. 2013 Callaghan Grenache

8. 2011 LDV The Signature Petit Sirah

9. 2024 Arizona Stronghold Tazi White Blend

 

First Bite: Helio Basin Brewing Co.

We truly live in a gourmet-taco golden age. The latest offering: Helio Basin. One in a wave of new craft breweries in East Phoenix, this joint project of Marine-turned-MBA Mike Conley and ex-Four Peaks brewer Dustin Hazer also boasts a fairly ambitious menu of Native American-inspired tacos and small plates. We recently sidled up for a pint.

Rack ‘Em. Set in a former billiards hall in the so-called “Arcadia Lite” area, the tap room is spacious and industrial-chic, with community tables and a travertine bar top. There are six brews on tap, including the House Beer ($5), a well-judged blonde ale with toasty esters, and a terrific, clean-finishing Blackberry Wheat ($5) that’s one of the best of its kind in the Valley. 

What’s Great. Peppering her menu with Tohono O’odham tepary beans, frybread dishes and arcane greens like epazote, head chef Tamara Stanger has essentially created the pub-grub version of AAA Five-Diamond fine-dining legend Kai. The starters menu includes a sturdy guac ($7) studded with red grapes and olives, while the taco menu – euphemistically dubbed “tortilla plates” – includes a knockout “Yucatecan banana leaf roasted pork” (or cochinita pibil to you purists) topped with pineapple relish and a crunchy entourage of fried onions ($6).

What’s Not Great. Pork belly is essentially a big piece of bacon. It should be succulent and no harder to chew than a croissant. So something was definitely awry with the beer-braised pork belly taco ($6), sabotaged by a rind of tough, unseared swine-flesh that no mortal could chew – or would want to. 

Overall. A very promising haute taco haunt, with a dignified (if slightly orthodox) beer list. Just find a better belly. 

3935 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix, 602-354-3525, heliobasinbrewing.com

 

Eat with Your Eyes: In the Raw

True to the name, red meat is front and center at Steak 44 in Phoenix. But it’s the remarkable raw bar and clean-tasting shrimp cocktails that distinguish the restaurant from other elite steakhouses. How does executive chef Robert Watson pull it off? He’s always watching the clock.

9:45 p.m.: Watson wraps up his shift and checks email alerts from his oyster suppliers in California. He sees what’s available (“Almost all the West Coast oysters are from British Columbia this time of year...”) and checks reservations to estimate demand.

10 p.m.: The chef places his order, along with his daily order of raw shrimp. “I’m pretty accurate... we generally don’t have anything for longer than 24 hours.”

11 p.m.: Watson’s oysters are loaded into refrigerated trucks in California to begin their overnight journey to the Valley. 

9 a.m.: The shrimp arrives first. A sous chef checks the temperature of the shipment and begins prepping them for a 12-minute simmer in a “simple bouillon of black pepper, coriander seed, thyme” and proprietary spices, according to Watson. 

10:30 – 11 a.m.: The oysters arrive from California and undergo the same temperature check as the shrimp, “to guarantee freshness,” Watson says. 

2 p.m.: Watson’s raw bar manager washes the oysters and places them in the bar display. During the summer, Steak 44 goes through “two to three bushels a day” (100-150 in each bushel).

5 p.m.-close.: Each oyster is “shucked to order” by a chef, who uses a purpose-designed knife to disconnect the meat from the bivalve. Pro tip: If you order the shrimp cocktail, pair it with a Grey Goose martini. Pure harmony.

9:45 p.m.: Watson checks his oyster email... and the seafood sourcing dance begins again.

5101 N. 44th St., Phoenix, 602-271-4400, steak44.com

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