3209 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Everybody from Peruvians to Polynesians lays claim to inventing the raw fish dish known in Latin countries as ceviche. Variations abound, but all have one common ingredient: seafood. The secret to a superior ceviche lies in marinating the fish in citrus juice just long enough for the fruit acid to “cook” the fish by breaking down the protein, but not overcooking it. The Tavern’s kitchen whips up a delicate scallop ceviche ($16, pictured) with “the sweetest, most tender scallops” imported from Foley Fish in Boston, according to food and beverage director Matt Fenton. Inspired by Peruvian-style ceviche, the thinly sliced scallops are marinated in tart lime juice and salt, and then set on a luscious layer of “tiger’s milk,” a beguiling marriage of coconut milk, lime juice, salt and a dash of Arizona Gunslinger hot sauce. To serve, the chef paints a ribbon of ancho chili sauce across the bowl and sprinkles the buttery scallops with diced sweet potatoes and with fresh cilantro.
Hula’s Modern Tiki
Two Valley locations, 602-265-8454, hulasmoderntiki.com
At Hula’s Modern Tiki, the Hawaiian ceviche ($9) is made with Pacific white fish, which sometimes includes snapper or mahi mahi, says owner Dana Mule. Because the ceviche is made exclusively with white fish and contains no shrimp, it’s a popular choice for people with shellfish allergies, he says. Hula’s version, steeped in equal parts lemon and lime juice, is studded with sweet Maui onions, crunchy red bell peppers, fragrant garlic and cilantro. Mule also mixes in chilies and coconut milk to give the ceviche the aromatic profile of Asian cuisine, and a splash of fish sauce to mellow the tangy citrus. He serves it with house-made fried wonton chips that are sturdy enough to support the ample bites of marinated fish. “It’s not the same old ceviche. The coconut milk changes the overall flavor profile.”
Sierra Bonita Grill
6933 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
Nate Hopper, owner of Sierra Bonita Grill, says he originally put shrimp ceviche ($14) on the menu when looking for a light summer appetizer. “It’s a great lunch item when it’s 110 degrees outside.” It may be light, but the portion is sizeable and can easily be shared. Hopper uses jumbo shrimp because he likes the firm texture the shellfish takes on after it marinates in lime juice. The ceviche is loaded with diced ripe tomatoes and cool cucumbers, hot slivers of Serrano chili, fresh cilantro and a dash of Clamato juice, making it similar to the cocktail-style ceviches popular in coastal Baja Mexico. The ceviche comes with a pile of crisp house-made tortilla chips laced with salt. “It’s simple. There’s nothing in there that’s going to surprise you. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “It’s just great food done well.”
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