The notoriously tough mollusk turns tender in these elite Valley kitchens.
Nobuo at Teeter House
622 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-254-0600, nobuofukuda.com
If your only experience eating octopus was akin to chewing on a hockey puck, it’s time to tame the tendril. Long a favorite staple in Mediterranean countries and Japan, the eight-arm sea creature is suddenly the Valley’s trendiest dish, but it takes patience and know-how to keep the cephalopod from turning into semi-edible rubber. James Beard award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda starts with octopus from Hokkaido, where “the water is cold and the meat is sweet.” He prepares it the traditional Japanese way, massaging salt into the skin for at least 30 minutes. Sliced thin, the meat is treated to a quick dance on the grill, barely enough time to get acquainted. Paired with Spanish olive oil, a slice of ripe tomato, house-made mozzarella, a paper-thin slice of shallot and a single pink peppercorn, these tender, spoon-size bites ($16) aren’t for suckers.
3160 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Warm, crusty bread accompanies Chef Hudson Shorter’s wood-grilled octopus appetizer, and while it’s big enough to share, you might not want to. Shorter simmers Spanish octopus coins for an hour in a bath scented with pickling spices and lemons, then lightly chars them on a wood-burning grill to add a hint of smoke. He finishes by tossing them with garlic-sautéed purple potatoes, which he spoons over a bowl filled with lemony, garlicky hummus ($16). It’s pretty prego.
3701 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale
Eat it or frame it? Chef Gio Osso’s slow-simmered and wood-grilled octopus appetizer plate ($15) is a work of culinary art. Calligraphy-like arrangements of charred baby octopus arms are whimsically arranged on a white square platter painted with bright orange swaths of spicy Calabrian chile butter, scattered with chickpeas, herbs and lemon zest. The smoky octopus is paired with a mound of lemon-dressed arugula and shaved fennel. Delicious? Check. Striking? Double check.