Scottsdale’s new Mex-Asian concept doubles the fun with infectious energy and innovative fusion fare.
Chef Herb Wilson and Sumo Maya seem like a predestined marriage. The New York native and contestant on the Food Network show Beat Bobby Flay was a shortlist unto himself to helm the new Latin-Asian smash-up from local restaurateur German Osio, given his last place of employment: Sushi Samba in Las Vegas, where he performed a similar culinary high-wire act.
Of course, Valley residents have proved their keenness on Mex-Asian cuisine thanks to a certain Chandler “takee outee” joint featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but really there’s no comparing the two.
Sumo Maya is total sensory overload – in a good way. Wilson’s exposition kitchen, which includes wok stations and a Spanish plancha griddle, buzzes with energy. In the dining room, pop music and projection TVs compete for attention against fun decorative touches like luchador masks and a Buddha wearing sunglasses. A massive faux tree shelters acrylic chairs bedecked with multicultural photo portraits. Every nook and cranny of the 30-foot-high space offers something new to see. But the real showpiece here is Wilson’s food, which is as pleasing to the palate as it is to the eye.
Sumo Maya satisfies south-of-the-border food fetishes with hearty platos such as chicken mole ($12) and Mexican shrimp cocktail ($14). The latter’s sugary mango glaze and crisp veggies pleasantly call to mind Puerto Peñasco’s casual, ocean-fresh seafood ceviche dished up in soda fountain glasses, and the former’s subtly spicy cocoa sauce is lip-smackingly delicious. True, the chicken itself – diced into chunks and fried until crisp – wanders a little too close to Panda Express territory for my comfort, but it’s still a worthwhile iteration of the chile-chocolate classic. The mole pairs magnificently with beverage master Bill DeGroot’s Green “Magic” Mojito ($10), a dessert-like blend of frozen horchata, coconut, rum and milky Nigori sake. It’s the alcoholic equivalent of Nabokov’s Lolita: sweet on the surface, yet dangerous enough to get you in a lot of trouble.
Wilson delivers five varieties of street tacos, each one supported by rustic housemade tortillas. Pickled onions and creamy buttermilk sauce add depth to otherwise shy wood-grilled chicken tacos, while battered cod filets get spiced up with finger-licking-good Sriracha aioli. Mushroom tacos – normally vegetarian afterthoughts – are buttery and beautifully browned. Micro greens provide subtle texture, with earthy avocado and little-used Mexican herb epazote grounding the mouthwateringly sweet glaze ($6 for two; cod $7 for two).
Mexican-style pho ($8) is perhaps the truest manifestation of Sumo Maya’s fusion concept. The tangy broth hovers somewhere between salsa and tomato soup, its difficult-to-place flavor causing brain and mouth to simultaneously, gloriously implode. Similar palate fireworks happen with bacon guacamole ($11), an indulgent, fat-filled dip that sparks the brain’s pleasure centers. Pomegranate ($11) and lump crab ($14) versions are also worth ordering, though the salty-grassy-sweet tongue dance of the former made it the only one to be consumed down to the last bite.
Pure Asian dishes are limited unless you stick to classic rolls and sashimi. And since sushi’s not exactly a fine-dining rara avis – even in the Sonoran desert – it makes sense to steer clear of the orthodox stuff and camp out in hybrid territory. A visual masterpiece, Sumo Maya’s rollo chingon ($15) is a savory mélange of vinegary rice, adobo-grilled shrimp and jalapeño. Red lotus roundels provide salty crunch and the sugary berry glaze contrasts delightfully with the roll’s peppery bite. Crispy pork belly roll ($15) is a no-brainer for any bacon lover, though I preferred the perfectly prepared swine of the entrée. Tender and earthy, braised pork belly ($12) with nutty miso glaze easily balances the potency of sake sangria made with cucumber-infused vodka ($9). In contrast, the marinated meat promised in Sumo Maya’s pad Thai al pastor ($11) cowered under a deluge of tamarind sauce. Apparently this little piggy went home.
Charred edamame ($6) and rock shrimp tempura ($14) stand out among the more expected Far East offerings. The oft-overplayed soybeans surprise with intense smokiness mitigated by a buttery sauce tinged with the lime and chile zing of Tajin powdered snack seasoning. Sumo Maya’s tempura pairs soft-battered crustaceans with summer peas and grape tomatoes for a satisfying dish that’s more picnic salad than bento snack. While the sea critters are plump and juicy, frankly, the tempura’s habit-forming truffle mayo sauce would make cardboard taste good. The same principle applies to the smoky Kewpie glaze of summer corn with cotija and chile ($6). If you haven’t sampled the Japanese mayo brand before, this dish is proof of its addictiveness.
At the time of my visits, Sumo Maya’s dessert menu was in flux. For example, the buttery crust and silky mouthfeel of Mexican cheesecake ($8) vanished in favor of a riskier yuzu version served with basil sorbet. The cheesecake redux was palatable enough, though the blubbery texture of its gelatin shell prompted one dining companion to awkwardly spit it out into her linen napkin. More appealing alternatives include tasty amaretto-soaked chocolate bread pudding ($10) and a clever multiethnic take on tea and biscuits with warmed horchata and petite almond cookies ($8).
Originally slated to open last November, Sumo Maya’s debut was delayed for more than six months while Wilson and Osio fulfilled their kitchen-machinery wish-list and perfected every detail. Luckily, it was worth the wait. Sumo Maya’s service is top-notch, the décor eye-catching and the grub fresh and innovative. With savvy standouts such as guacamole-topped pepper rolls and creamy Mexican pho, Wilson delivers tight, seemingly effortless fusion fare that marries the best of two worlds.
Cuisine: Fusion (Mexican, Asian)
Contact: 6560 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-397-9520, sumomaya.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.- midnight Friday; 9 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Highlights: Mushroom tacos ($6 for 2); Mexican shrimp cocktail ($14); Green “Magic” Mojito ($10); Mexican-style pho ($8); pomegranate and dried fruit guacamole ($11); rollo chingon ($15); braised pork belly ($12); rock shrimp tempura ($14); summer corn with cotija and chile ($6); Mexican cheesecake ($8); tea and cookies ($8)
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