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May, 2009, Page 151
Photography by Richard Maack
Timid diners, beware. This sleek new Scottsdale restaurant serves up ‘improvisational cuisine’ for the adventurous.
“How’d I do?” I asked, handing my menu to my server at Posh, the restaurant that opened in January on the ground level of Optima Camelview Village (the gorgeous luxury condominium complex at Highland Avenue and Scottsdale Road). “No wrong answers?”
He looked over the paper with my pencil scratches. It’s a list, actually, offering up selections like a sushi bar, where diners check off their choices in boxes titled as simply as “smoked pork belly,” “rabbit,” “blue nose bass,” “duck” and even “kangaroo.”
I’d put “no” next to shrimp and scallops, requested no raw onions and indicated that meat, if any, be served rare.
“Perfect,” he grinned, and drew a big smiley face on it.
What a kick. While I worry that our typically safer Valley diners may not be ready for such a different dining concept, I love this adventurous place.
Titled “improvisational cuisine,” Posh’s concept is seasonal modern American, where the diner participates by choosing ingredients and preparation, then lets chef/owner Joshua Hebert create whatever moves him. The trip lasts from four courses ($45) to what’s cleverly called “say stop” (eight-plus, at $105) plus optional wine.
Foie gras torchon “brûlée” with huckleberry sauce and poached pear compote
The best seat in the airy, intimate space of tall windows and sleek gray concrete is at the chef’s counter, overlooking the shiny stainless-steel kitchen. Spinning, plating, crimping his brow in concentration, Hebert shows off the skills he gained as former executive chef at Dual in Gilbert, chef de cuisine of Café California at the Miyako Hotel in Tokyo, and sous chef at several prominent San Francisco restaurants.
As with such an off-the-cuff idea, meals may not be perfect – one night I got a “freeform” lasagna with pea tendrils, beautifully buttery broth and (oops) shrimp from my “no” list – but generally exquisite flavors and downright fun more than compensate for this. Even a four-course meal likely will include some freebies, too, such as my amuse of cauliflower pasta in mint-chive oil, or the extra plate of meltingly tender braised veal cheeks the chef slipped me one evening.
The element of surprise is equally delicious, wondering what will arrive and what delicious tricks it will include, like the bitter chocolate sprinkled on a salad of avocado, blood orange, grapefruit and watercress; or the uncommon “sandwich” of crispy-skin loup de mer (sea bass) tucked with peas and hedgehog mushrooms on cauliflower purée.
“Portions are so small,” grumbled a gentleman companion as our first tasting plate arrived.
Blood orange and avocado salad with bitter chocolate and watercress
Yet, by dessert, he was waving the white flag, vanquished by an elaborate display of white chocolate mousse with dark chocolate plaquettes and huckleberry sauce, chocolate pâté with caramel powder, and poached meringues in a raspberry custard accented with silvery strands of spun sugar.
Chef Hebert handed me a frozen Meyer lemon custard lollipop, an experiment he was testing with his freebie finish plate of biscotti and walnut brittle.
Then he rubbed his hands and asked, “How’d I do?”
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