New Chef Luis Matagives the Scottsdale upstart a partial Mexican makeover. Why not go all the way?
When James Porter opened Big Earl’s BBQ in downtown Scottsdale early last year, he put a new twist on typical meat-on-a-plate. The ambitious Petite Maison chef treated diners to braised pig tails, fried sweetbreads dunked in Green Goddess dressing, and oven-roasted beef bone marrow topped with pickled okra. Oddly, barbecue was the weak link, coupling oft-dry meat with insipid sauces.
This past February, Porter pulled out, turning over the keys to owners Jack and Joyce Dustin, who brought in Luis Mata as chef and general manager. Having helmed such beloved Valley restaurants as Asi Es La Vida and Tapas Papa Frita, Mata’s aptitude for delicious Mexico City-style cuisine is a matter of public record.
The saucy South American fare at this Scottsdale eatery is a real hot potato.
Once you get past exotic-sounding menu items like papa a la huancaina, you’ll find that Peruvian food is, at its heart, meat-and-potatoes fare. The potato was first domesticated in Peru, so the Peruvians have had plenty of time to cultivate thousands of varieties and invent dozens of delectable ways to spiff up the humble tuber. Starches of all kinds take center stage on Peruvian plates, including, surprisingly, pasta. As in the U.S., a melting pot of people have settled in the South American country – including the Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Japanese – and all of these culinary powerhouses are reflected in the cuisine.
Silvana Salcido Esparza’s latest Mexican dazzler serves savory street tacos, bold breakfast plates and mellow mole.
“Do you want to sit on the fun side or here?” our hostess asks. Here is the half of Barrio Queen that began life as Silvana, the short-lived “Euro-Mexican” concept that owner Silvana Salcido Esparza opened last January alongside its more casual sibling. Just a month later, Esparza – whose Barrio Cafe flagship remains a Valley favorite – terminated the dual-eatery experiment. Bye bye, Silvana. Long live Barrio Queen. The food is the same on both sides, but the vibe is not. The “fun” side is a noisy, energetic mélange of vibrant colors, Mexican tile, reclaimed wood and ironworks. The “Silvana side” seems comparatively muted, sparsely decorated with orange banquettes and antique-white leather chairs. The wraparound patio is definitely fun when it isn’t too warm.
The Italian country cuisine is both earthy and out-of-this-world at Sam Fox’s new Arcadia dining haunt.
When the all-mighty Fox Restaurant Concepts debuted North Fattoria Italiana in the Arcadia neighborhood, many diners assumed it was a carbon-copy of the North location in Kierland Commons. In fact, the restaurants are as mutually distinct as spaghetti and saltimbocca. The clue to the contrast lies in the “Fattoria” designation, which means “farm” in Italian and anticipates the restaurant’s rustic, relaxed persona.
Blanco tequila and brown butter add an air of sophistication to the humble pecan pie ($6.95) at Los Sombreros, the 18-year-old restaurant housed in a rustic brick cottage in south Scottsdale, known for authentic Mexican cuisine and award-winning margaritas.
Sweet but hardly cloying, this pie is an ode to the meaty flavor of pecans. Packed with a tree’s worth of pecan pieces coddled in a handmade butter crust, it satisfies the sweet tooth without necessitating an appointment with the dentist.
Boasting a flavorful fusion of Persian, Mediterranean and Russian cuisine, this Uzbek eatery more than makes up for its drab decor.
What can I say to convince you to try Uzbek cuisine? I can’t tempt you with ambiance. Space-wise, Golden Valley is charmless: Located in a featureless strip mall, it’s essentially a rectangular box with windows draped in over-the-top swags of satin and tassels. A takeout counter does brisk business, but there are few tables for sit-down meals. Low-budget Uzbek cooking demos and music videos play on a flat-screen TV. Service is courteous and efficient but very basic. Hungry yet?
Iron Chef Jose Garces puts a swank, sweet spin on Mexico City street food at The Saguaro Hotel.
It takes serious cojones to open a Philadelphia-based Mexican restaurant in the Valley, and even more cojones to open it at The Saguaro Hotel, a property that’s cycled through so many incarnations over the last decade – Old Town Hotel & Conference Center, The James, The Mondrian, The Theodore – it seems cursed.
After several chef and menu changes, this Tuscan fine-dining fortress has relaxed its style but not its standards or its penchant for culinary surprises.
Since Sassi opened in 2004, the Arizona restaurant scene has undergone a sea change: High-end, white-tablecloth dining has been largely phased out in favor of more casual experiences. At the same time, customer appreciation for superb food has grown.
Gavin Jacobs transforms a historic hideaway in Chandler with a wonderful wine list, stellar soups and sandwiches, and a happening back patio.
For years, East Valley residents have been yearning for a real wine bar in downtown Chandler – one with outstanding by-the-glass selections, a full bar, cozy lounge ambiance and something good to eat. Last November, our prayers were answered.
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