Anhelo

Nikki BuchananAugust 2019
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Pasta carbonara
Pasta carbonara

Photography by David B. Moore

Set in historical Heritage Square, this new chef-run restaurant excels with small bites, but over-punches a bit with pricey entrées.

When 27-year-old Ivan Jacobo opened Anhelo, his first restaurant, in the Silva House in Heritage Square this past February, he probably had no idea what good juju he was inheriting. Long before its most recent tenant, The Rose & Crown, inhabited the historic building, it was home to Circa 1900, the restaurant where star chef Chris Curtiss first garnered attention for his fish-whisperer ways. Before that, pastry chefs Karen Dawson and Marjorie Hoskins set the world on fire with Ruby Beet Gourmet, an adorable Martha Stewart-esque space beloved for its farm-to-table food and ridiculously good desserts.

What will be Jacobo’s claim to fame? At this point, it’s hard to tell. He’s already earned a reputation for his intimate, dinner-party-style pop-ups called 319 Hidden Kitchen, but now he has a permanent space in which to work, a gracious bungalow he refurbished and painted himself. The pale blue and white interior sets the elegant tone for a menu that features sophisticated entrées that fetch high prices. Two visits in, I’m convinced the kid can cook. My question is: Where’s the vision? The je ne sais quoi that sets Anhelo (Spanish for “longing”) apart from the pack?

In any case, I’d probably love the watermelon salad – prettily arranged with micro greens, mint and goat cheese and anointed with watermelon “soup” – if the watermelon were not mushy and tasteless. The Caesar, tossed with green garlic dressing, generously sprinkled with Pecorino and strewn with a flurry of crisp, anchovy-infused breadcrumbs, is far more successful, offering a lively, texture-driven update on a classic.

toast with burrata, prosciutto and peaches
toast with burrata, prosciutto and peaches

The austerely named “toast” is another favorite – a pretty jumble of creamy, balsamic-drizzled burrata, peaches, smoked prosciutto and arugula heaped atop a hunk of chewy bread. But the most unorthodox and best thing from the starter side of the menu is the whole cauliflower, roasted to fall-apart tenderness and impaled with a completely unnecessary knife. The inherent contrasts in salty anchovies, crunchy almonds, fresh mint, pepper flakes and lemon make the dish a standout.

Dinner gets dicier as we move into pastas, grains and entrées that approach $30. With a black pepper-dotted egg yolk at its center, Anhelo’s pasta carbonara looks lovely but lacks the hallmark richness of the hearty Roman staple. Seared halibut arrives faintly dry and overcooked, and while there’s nothing wrong with seared scallops or Argentinian shrimp or sweet pea risotto, they’re neither original nor compelling. I love the playful short rib fries, though, mantled in gooey mozzarella and topped with a sunny side up egg. This could be a signature.

But here’s the thing: When you can eat at nearby Pizzeria Bianco or Nobuo at Teeter House for about the same price, what’s the impetus to eat at Anhelo? Jacobo needs to carve out his own niche offering food that’s uniformly less expensive and more playful. If he finds that sweet spot, he’s probably got this.

interior of Anhelo
interior of Anhelo
Anhelo Restaurant

Cuisine: Modern American
Contact: 628 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-596-7745, anhelorestaurant.com
Hours: Su, Tu-Th 5-9 p.m., F-Sa 5-10 p.m.
Highlights: Toast ($10); Caesar salad ($10); roasted cauliflower ($10); short rib fries ($16)

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