Tasty local news bites to whet your appetite.

Amuse-Bouches

Written by Craig Outhier, Pavle Milic Category: Amuse Bouches Issue: January 2017
Group Free

One-Star Yelp Reviews
Part II

What do Yelp’s most clueless reviewers think of the Valley’s most admired restaurants? Inspired by the “one-star reviews of National Parks” meme (sample comment: “If you’ve seen one geyser, you’ve seen them all”), we published some of the most befuddling last year. Time for an update.

• Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
“Chicken and Waffles DO NOT BELONG TOGETHER. Ew.”
— Tabatha R.

• Crudo
“The mixture of food made us all feel sick at the end. Too much of a mixture but you have to do it that way because the plates are TINY... I ordered a Cosmopolitan as my drink and they brought me something different and didn’t tell me what it was.”
— Selin E.

• Tratto
“My biggest complaint about this restaurant is that Chris Bianco was in the restaurant, we watched him stop by every table and ask how the service was, chat with his patrons. However, he never came to us.”
— Kate J.

• Welcome Diner
“By time my food arrives my friends are done eating. Wack services.”
— Brentski U.

• Cibo
“While the staff is very kind there is a hint of disdain.  Perhaps it was my ‘Bearded for her pleasure’ shirt.”
— Dave H.

• Pomo Pizzeria
“I’ve come to the conclusion that Arizona and its people have no idea what good food is. Enjoy your crap.”
— Drew R.

• Tacos Chiwas
“Went to this place cuz everyone was saying it was dank. Highly not dank.”
— Bri A.

• Phoenix Public Market cafÉ
“I’ve been here probably 40 times in the past year...”
— M.H.

I’m often asked about which Arizona wineries to visit. Due to the proximity to Phoenix, invariably I direct them to either Sonoita or Cottonwood in lieu of Willcox, which takes more than two hours to reach. Without fail, the question of where to eat follows.

Sonoita is tricky. Following the closure of Overland Trout – the much-touted but short-lived restaurant from former Quiessence chef Greg LaPrad – nothing of that caliber has replaced it. In a pinch, try The Cafe, which has an accessible menu with salads, sandwiches and a burger section that hits the spot after tasting wine.

Cottonwood is in a better predicament, partly due to a new restaurant: Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria, owned by rocker Maynard James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars. In addition to MJK’s Willcox-sourced Merkin wines, the osteria has a food menu overseen by Chris Smith – formerly of The Asylum in Jerome. It reflects Arizona much as the wine does, with produce, meat and cheeses from McClendon’s Select, Top Knot Farms, Blue Sky Organic Farms, Arizona Legacy Beef, Whipstone Farm and Crow’s Dairy.

The love and focus here is handmade and hand-cut pasta using Hayden Flour Mills grains, like cacio e pepe ($10), tagliatelle al ragù ($11) and gnocchi and prosciutto di Parma ($11). The place is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, which is cool. If you have out-of-town guests, head over to the merchandise section so they can take back mementos from the visit.

Merkin Vineyards
Tasting Room & Osteria
1001 N. Main St., Cottonwood,
928-649-9293, merkinvineyardsosteria.com

First Bite: CRUjiente Tacos

A lot of modern-Mexican restaurants toss around the term “gourmet tacos,” but you get the feeling they really mean it at this Camelback taqueria. Priced from $4-$6 and featuring epicurean bedazzlements like ancho tartar sauce and avocado mousse, the street-style tacos “travel terribly,” according to a server, who seemed a little alarmed by the mere mention of a takeout order. Gourmet, indeed.

The scene. Set in the railroad-apartment-like former address of The Grind, CRUjiente is at once sleek and cozy, with a long, well-stocked bar and booth seating. Three weeks after opening, it’s buzzy and busy on a Wednesday evening.

Too Cru for School. Owner Jason Morris – who founded and sold Valley booze distributor Quench in a former life – has high culinary aspirations for the restaurant, including the wine list, which features several Spanish “trophy” wines with barely any mark-up, like a $50 López de Heredia, “to freak out the wine geeks,” he says mischievously.
1.  Blue crab with avocado mousse: The crab is rolled and fried, and zinged up with Fresno chile shavings.
2. Lamb belly: Tender but slightly oversalted, with a mellowing guajillo chile salsa.
3. Korean fried chicken : The best of the bunch. Crunchy and succulent with a shock of savory gochujang pepper paste.
4. Duck: It’s duck and mole. How can it go wrong? It doesn’t.
5. Ahi poke: Ruby-red morsels of raw tuna with seaweed, sesame and green onion in a fried shell.

• The early word: Fun place. And it capably pulls off the luxury-taco paradox. Just be prepared to buy $25 worth to get your fill.

3961 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-687-7777, crutacos.com