Hidden in plain sight, Sel is exactly the kind of place you want in Old Town nestled among art galleries, with its sophisticated flavors, chic modern vibe and dishes that look like works of art. When I walked in, its contemporary décor with accents of tufted purple velour and crystal chandeliers reminded me of a place one would find in Palm Springs or Miami. The clientele was a mix of young professionals, intimate dates and Baby Boomers stopping in for a lite bite.
The innovative menu is filled with unique creations as well as modern twists on classics, sharing the common theme of seasonal flavors. Sel prides itself on sourcing the finest and freshest ingredients and tries to use as much organic and locally produced ingredients as possible. Chef Branden Levine’s style may seem a bit familiar, as he was formally the executive chef at Café Monarch and definitely carries that same elegant style over to Sel.
Sel is known for its four-course chef’s tasting menu, but all dishes are available a la carte. Each course has two choices, giving the diner a tad bit of control. An extensive wine list awaits those who are passionate about vino. But, do not expect to find a glass in the single-digit price range.
Diving headfirst into the four-course chef’s menu, the first to arrive at the table was the Alaskan King Crab. A variety of crab is complimented by squid ink vinaigrette “caviar,” kimchi aioli and Meyer lemon butter delicately nestled aside shellfish grits. The combination of the sweet crab and full-bodied seafood flavors was a splendid balance. I appreciated the portion of this rich dish; it was satisfying but held caution to the three additional courses to come.
The Spiced Big Eye Tuna Tataki was next to arrive. Four slices of lightly seared tuna sit atop a white truffle-shiro vinaigrette finished with an Espelette chili crisp and a grilled baby artichoke. This dish is melt-in-your-mouth perfection. The light and mild fish soaked up the essence of the accompanied items to create a wonderful combination of sensational bites.
The Roasted Romanesco Soup was a showstopper. Who knew Roman cauliflower could be this fantastic? I think it was the enhancing black garlic emulsion that took this soup to the next level. Each velvety spoonful was a delight and invoked a sense of warmth and comfort on this particularly chilly winter’s night.
For my entrée, I chose the Roasted Butternut Squash Gnocchi with roasted eggplant-golden chanterelle mushroom lasagna, fontina Mornay sauce, charred Brussels sprouts, crispy garlic and toasted pumpkin seeds. Each ingredient enhanced the robust flavors of autumn, collectively creating a heavenly dish. Though I thought I was full before this entrée arrived, I somehow found the room to devour it completely.
For dessert, a gourmet twist on strawberry shortcake was served. A fresh and mild dessert after an evening of decedent dishes was exactly the finishing touch one would want.
Throughout the night, I was pleasantly surprised to find Chef Levine making his way through the restaurant and socializing with diners. He approached our table towards the close of the night, his friendly and personable demeanor as warm and delightful as his creations in the kitchen. I’m thrilled I finally got the chance to experience Sel and have already sent some snowbird friends there. If, like me, you prefer art on a plate versus on the walls, you must venture to Sel.
7044 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-949-6296, selrestaurant.com