No Bones About It?

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Three Bites Issue: August 2015
Group Free

Served whole or filleted, the Old World delicacy known as branzino makes a splash in Valley restaurants.

Spiga Cucina Italiana
7500 E. Pinnacle Peak Rd., Scottsdale, 480-513-9000,
Whether you favor your fish au naturel – with head and tail firmly attached – or skillfully filleted by the kitchen staff, you may get hooked on branzino, the silver-skinned European sea bass with a flavor profile so delicate it could woo even the most sworn fishaphobe. At Spiga Cucina Italiana, (pictured), Chef Mark Martinez prefers to cook and serve the branzino au naturel, because leaving it intact helps seal in the moisture and preserves the integrity of the meat. He stuffs it with lemon slices, fresh garlic and thyme, a little salt and pepper and olive oil, then grills it and finishes it in the oven. Before serving, he drizzles the fish with extra-virgin olive oil infused with fresh herbs and pairs it with a mound of lentils, broccolini and oven-roasted tomatoes ($29).

The Henry
4455 E. Camelback Rd.,
Phoenix, 602-429-8020,
Executive Chef Chris Wolven designed the Mediterranean branzino ($28) entrée with simplicity in mind. He fillets the fish in the kitchen – sparing diners the head and tail burden –  then pan-sears the branzino in olive oil with salt and pepper. On the plate, he blankets it with roasted cauliflower, crisp julienned snap peas and torn fresh basil and parsley, topping it off with Marcona almonds and a modest sauce of olive oil, butter, chili flakes and lemon juice. Wolven says it’s simple, easy and approachable. “The branzino speaks for itself.”

4949 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale, 480-627-3075,
Executive Chef Michael Cairns dishes up branzino ($35) with tail on and head off, figuring most Americans don’t like being stared back at while gazing at a delicious entrée. Cairns is partial to branzino because it’s the right size and the texture is ideal for stuffing. To prepare, Cairns packs sliced oranges, oven-dried tomatoes and shaved fennel inside the fish, pan-sears the skin until crisp and then pops it in the oven to complete. He elevates a simple fish into a citrus-perfumed tour de force. Resting on a slope of carrots, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and onions, the stuffed fish strikes an impressive pose on the plate, tail and all.