Amuse-Bouches January 2018

Written by Craig Outhier, Pavle Milic Category: Amuse Bouches Issue: January 2018

Tasty local news bites to whet your appetite.

Who Cooked It Better?
This month: Peruvian Arroz con Pollo
A rustic dish of bone-in chicken with seasoned rice, arroz con pollo is a pillar of Latin American dining. In Peru, chefs typically add a chilled salad or vegetable, putting a distinct regional stamp on the dish. We pitted two prominent Peruvian pollos in a head-to-head showdown.

El Chullo
2605 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
602-279-8425, elchullorestaurant.com
Chef-owner Omar Velarde’s pollo plate (1) is a stunner: two fork-tender pieces of braised chicken over a bed of aromatic cilantro rice with marinated red onions and chilled potatoes in a dreamy huancaína cheese sauce. Nailed it.

MÁS Restaurant & Bar
1857 N. Scottsdale Rd., Tempe
480-946-3334, masrestaurantandbar.com
Roasted chicken instead of braised (2), and while edible enough, it’s also troublingly reminiscent of one of those heat-lamp birds from Safeway. Nice carrot-and-onion escabeche, tho.

Winner: El Chullo, easy. But in fairness: the MÁS menu has other, más interesting-looking dishes.

Who Cooked It Better? Peruvian Arroz con Pollo

 

First Bite: Pa’La
Beloved Valley chef Claudio Urciuoli (Noca, Noble Eatery) originally targeted February 2017 for the debut of his casual seafood/tapas concept in Phoenix... missing the mark by a mere nine months. Is the restaurant worth the wait? We cast a line.

First Bite: Pa’La
First Bite: Pa’La
The scene: Set in a converted 1920s row house near the Miracle Mile, Pa’La (rough Italian translation: “for the people”) is spartan and functional, with a walk-up order counter and blackboard menu, similar to the layout at Noble Eatery down the street. Urciuoli also provides some modest patio seating. His hand-built wood-burning oven looms promisingly in the shadows.

The food: Urciuoli is famously down with farm to table, and Pa’La’s menu – inspired by Mediterreanean and South American cuisine – reflects his passion for local sourcing. Grilled wild shrimp sit atop plump wheat berries from BKW Farms in Tucson, with a Moroccan-tinged chile kick that will chase more sensitive palates to the nearest source of H2O; while a crispy Tuscan salami flatbread (pictured) includes bitter greens from McClendon Farms in Peoria. Fans of Persian rice will love the nut-and-beet-larded farro (also from Arizona) that anchors Urciuoli’s Japanese diver scallops. For what it’s worth, the seafood is as “local” as one could realistically expect in an Arizona seafood restaurant – most of it is pulled off the coast of California, or the Sea of Cortez. Post-script: Try the grilled octopus. It’s insane.

Preliminary verdict: For a restaurant that had been open all of three days, the food was eerily on point. Then again, Urciuoli had an extra nine months to work out the kinks.

2107 N. 24th St., Phoenix, 602-795-9500, palakitchen.com

 

Pav on Juice: Arizona Vignerons
A monthly look at Arizona wine with Valley dining impresario Pavle Milic.

Todd Bostock, Dos Cabezas WineWorks
Todd Bostock, Dos Cabezas WineWorks
Looking back, Arizona’s “winescape” had a fruitful 2017. Two local sommeliers – Jason Caballero (Bourbon Steak) and Brent Karlicek (Upward Projects) – passed the advanced examination from the Court of Master Sommeliers; 51 restaurants were honored by Wine Spectator; and the Arizona Vignerons Alliance (AVA) was formed with the mission to ensure quality and authenticity in Arizona wine, and to help promote the wonderful stuff. I reached out to some of the founding members of the AVA, curious to know their 2017 highlights, and what they are most looking forward to in 2018.

What was your wine highlight of 2017?
“I revisited a 1999 Soldera Riserva this past summer. The bees, bugs, flora and fauna [of the vineyard’s nearby flower gardens] are evident in these wines. Earth and life.” – Maynard James Keenan, Caduceus and Merkin Vineyards

“A 1996 Ramirez de la Piscina Gran Reserva. Great purity and complexity. Weightless and fresh.” – Kent Callaghan, Callaghan Vineyards


What are you looking forward to in 2018?
“More freedom for Arizona producers to innovate and reach Arizona wine consumers. Folks like Oddity Wine Collective come to mind. [And] great weather?” – Todd Bostock, Dos Cabezas WineWorks (pictured)

“Getting the first fruit from recent grafting/planting projects across the state: Aglianico and Xarello in our case.” – Kent Callaghan

Visit ArizonaVigneronsAlliance.org for more information about their initiatives.