The Arrogant Butcher

Written by Elin Jeffords Category: Food Reviews Issue: September 2011
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Jazzed-up comfort food? You’ve got it, along with a roster of homey daily specials like chicken ’n’ biscuits. Light eaters are served by a handful of sandwiches and salads offered at both lunch and dinner. Conversely, hearty entrées can be had at noon. There’s a raw bar of sorts, as well as the charcuterie and cheese selection, which is quickly becoming ubiquitous. Brunch is served on Saturdays, and bartenders sling some well-crafted cocktails at all hours.

Outdoor seating wraps the spacious street corner restaurant on two sides (though the “city” views consist of a couple parking lots and US Airways Arena). Inside it’s casual almost to a fault – this isn’t a linger-over-your-meal kinda place. There’s a bustling bar area, an exhibition kitchen and plenty of ever-popular booth seating. Industrial chic décor is hard-edged with a subdued, mostly neutral color scheme. The star of the show is the lighting, both the eye-catching fixtures and the smooth, flattering glow they shed. Private dining rooms also are available.

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We kicked things off with seafood, served in pretty citrus-colored bowls. Chilled crab legs (half pound $18, pound $35) were the saltiest I’ve ever tasted, probably more the supplier’s fault than the kitchen’s. The trio of dipping sauces that accompanies the dish includes a bracing remoulade and deliciously bold cilantro-jalapeño pesto (not, as per the menu info, a mignonette, which is vinegar-based). A half-dozen miniscule, frilly-edged oysters were firm with a crisp, mineral flavor. We asked the origin – important for oyster fans. Our server could only pin them down to being from “Washington or Oregon.” Come on – at $2.50 a pop, if not birth certificates, I want at least accurate provenance.

In all fairness, that was the only lapse from the typically breezy, accommodating Arrogant Butcher staff. In fact, on another occasion, an overcooked steak was not only cheerfully replaced but the charge was removed from the bill.

Regular starters kill. After buttery, mega-rich pâté with excellent toasted peasant bread and nicely acidic cornichons ($8), we went on to sweet black mussels in a phenomenally flavorful pork-studded broth topped with a pile of frites ($13). Potato fritters are strictly “bet you can’t eat just one” – crunchy little pillows gilded with bacon, melty cheddar and crème fraîche ($8). Another winner, salmon rillettes, is a chunky spread including capers and black olives ($8). And while fried seafood can be a cliché, here a generous mix of tempura-battered rock shrimp and Japanese hot peppers along with aioli ($13) are downright irresistible.

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Too often salads are afterthoughts, but not the brimming bowl of arugula and slivered red cabbage confettied with cubed apples and beets, lavished with gorgonzola and pistachios in a puckery dressing ($9). It’s sheer perfection. While cheese and charcuterie demand little more from a kitchen than savvy sourcing, the handful of top-notch choices ($5-$11), extras like roasted garlic, olives and grilled veggies ($2-$5), and that exceptional bread, make for a satisfying shared appetizer or meal.

On the heartier end of the menu, spicy short-rib stew ($16) is a bean-intensive cassoulet-hybrid topped with the luscious excess of a perfectly fried egg, accompanied by a pleasantly granular cornbread puck. Jambalaya ($18) is complex, bursting with excellent ingredients and bright, sweet and hot flavors. Briny scallops ($22) found an effective counterpoint in fresh spinach, smoky bacon and the surprising addition of firm white beans.

Seasoning can be an issue. Chinese chicken salad ($12) sure needs a major flavor boost. Though I had high hopes for filet sliders ($18), the meat was overcooked and not helped any by a disjointed combo of sharp arugula, bland Cambazola and onions that tasted as if they’d been overdosed with liquid smoke. Sweet potato-stuffed tortelli ($15) were much too sweet but balanced somewhat by earthy mushrooms and crunchy hazelnuts. That sweetness factor, in the guise of a red wine gastrique, also marred a hulking bone-in ribeye ($35). Ditto for a glaze that came on the ultra fine-textured meatloaf ($15), Monday’s special.

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Photos - (left) mussels, (right) Scallops

On the dessert end (all $6), both the warm peanut butter mousse cake with chocolate gelato and the just-bitter-enough, fudgy-textured hot chocolate cake are spectacular. Fluffy rather than dense cheesecake with a coarse crumb-nut crust and topping of blueberries is OK if not particularly memorable, but salted caramel pudding is an undistinguished, slick-textured reminder of why most people grow out of nursery food.

The Arrogant Butcher is enjoyable, the kind of place you might often stop for a nosh if it’s in the neighborhood. But for most laid-back suburbanites, driving Downtown, dealing with parking and navigating the labyrinth-like CityScape is a hassle that makes the restaurant barely worth the payoff.

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The Arrogant Butcher
Cuisine: American
Address: 2 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix (CityScape)
Phone: 602-324-8502
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday;
noon-10 p.m. Saturday
Highlights: Mussels ($13), smoked salmon rillette ($11), potato fritters ($8), crispy rock shrimp ($13), cheese and charcuterie ($5-$11), apple and beet salad ($9), jambalaya ($18), short-rib stew ($16), scallops ($22), sweet potato tortelli ($15), peanut butter cup ($6), hot chocolate cake ($6)

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