Four Corners: Monthly Dining Reviews from All Over the Valley

Craig OuthierJanuary 18, 2021
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Monthly dining reviews from all over the Valley.

Benjamin’s Upstairs; Photo by Angelina Aragon
Benjamin’s Upstairs; Photo by Angelina Aragon
Scottsdale
Benjamin’s Upstairs

Opened: October 2020
When one reaches the stature of Citizen Public House dean Bernie Kantak, sometimes it’s preferable to just let the kids play in the sandbox. So it goes at this speakeasy-ish micro-lounge set in CPH’s storied attic space (where a former PHOENIX editor once had her going-away party… story for a different time). The eponymous creative force in this 20-seat food-and-drink lab is CPH chef de cuisine Benjamin Graham, given free rein to explore his tripartite passions of fried chicken ($26), served with mashed potatoes, collard greens and bourbon honey; fussily sourced oysters (MKT); and new-look “natural” wines, made without additives or cheats of any kind, yielding an often-fizzy, vegetal character. His eight-item menu also includes a must-get seasonal vegetable crudo (winter edition: beets, radish, asparagus and more, with fennel and pea purée to make it snap, $15) and a dreamy yellowfin sashimi with jalapeño ginger aioli ($18). Great food, refined food, but it’s the Manhattan supper-club mystique that really sells the place, and you will get laid if you bring a date here.
Wild Card: Pair your chicken with a cornbread waffle with chipotle butter ($12) and save the crudo for your next diet.
7111 E. Fifth Ave.
480-398-4208, benjaminsaz.com

Smoked Taco; Photo by Sarandon Raboin
Smoked Taco; Photo by Sarandon Raboin
East Valley
Smoked TaKO

Opened: October 2020
Here’s something for your 2020 lexicon: ghost kitchen. It’s a new breed of shared commercial food-prep spaces that cater to the food-delivery Postmates set, and it aptly describes this all-day Latin-Asian fusion “restaurant.” Granted, you could drive to the Tempe warehouse district where the kitchen is located and dine at one of two wobbly high-tops provided,

but it would be a lonely and odd experience, like eating in a DMV lobby, and it might not be worth the drive, honestly. The maple-Sriracha-glazed beef brisket burrito ($10) bludgeons your taste buds into unconsciousness as the name seems to promise, but also includes sundry bits of unbraised gristle and inedible nubs, making it a brisket in name only. Build-your-own bowls ($11) and tacos ($9 for two) are riots of flavor, but that’s also a problem: between the sweet chile braised chicken, pineapple kimchi and roasted gochujang salsa, it’s never precisely clear what you’re tasting. Pro tip: Avoid the flavor clash, and get the sauces on the side.
Wild Card: Iced Vietnamese egg coffee ($3), a potent iced brew topped with egg custard.
1900 E. Fifth St., Tempe
480-734-2037 (extension 2), quelinaryconcepts.com

Phoenix
Superstition Downtown

Opened: November 2020
Color me blown away – or is that just the 12-taste mead flight ($25) talking? Landing in Phoenix with a steamer trunk full of international accolades, this Downtown imprint of the Prescott mead legend offers a dizzying and delicious selection of fermented honey beverages. That’s the expected part. The unexpected: a vast, expressive, beauteous menu of tapas and Spanish-influenced large-format dishes which I honestly have no chance of properly evaluating in the limited space provided here. What I loved: hands down the most exciting, generous charcuterie board I beheld in 2020 (half $20; full $40), full of interesting jamón, pâté-like terrines and cheeses, and something I’ve never seen before: bacon jam.

Superstition Downtown; Photo by Shelby Moore
Superstition Downtown; Photo by Shelby Moore

The Ukrainian roll, from the tapas menu, was Old World comfort personified ($9). What could’ve been slightly more awesome: braised and grilled Spanish octopus with crispy pancetta, just a wee bit salty. Unexplored: fire-roasted meat platters, fun hand food and some killer-looking salads. It’s a cliché, but I honestly can’t wait to go back to chip away at this lovely beast of a menu.
Wild Card: Mead not sweet enough for you? The postres offerings include a Mexican “hot chocolate” lava cake ($8).
1110 E. Washington St.
602-368-3257, superstitionmeadery.com

The Urban Corner; Photo by Angelina Aragon
The Urban Corner; Photo by Angelina Aragon
West Valley
The Urban Corner

Opened: October 2020
On one hand, you have the “do one thing, and do it well” principle. On the other, there’s the “do a bunch of things and see what sticks” approach. This Goodyear gastropub, set in the old Hoot & Howl spot, unmistakably pitches its tent in the latter camp. The menu includes sections for burgers, tacos, pasta and pizza – what, no pho? – along with a smattering of vaguely soul food-ish entrées, including indifferently seasoned fried catfish ($15) over wilted lettuce and “grilled” barbecue ribs ($16). Pulled pork tacos ($9) are billed as “slow-cooked,” but given the lack of fragrance, it’s unlikely the cooking was done in a smoker.

The baked spaghetti ($15) was the star of our meal, because when are sausage, cream cheese and marinara not shove-down-able?
Wild Card: Start your culinary world tour with elote ($8) and Caprese salad ($6) from the appetizer menu.
55 N. Litchfield Rd., Goodyear
623-240-2216, theurbancorner.com

Recipe extra
Duck Carnitas Empanada

It’s a question that has plagued home chefs since time immemorial: Whatever to do with that extra duck lying around? Since this is the Southwest, we suggest turning the water fowl into chef Matt Carter’s duck carnitas empanada from The Mission – one of the Valley’s great Southwest fusion dishes.

Photo courtesy The Mission
Photo courtesy The Mission

Serves 4
4 duck confit legs (full recipe is at www.chefmattcarter.com, or order pre-cooked legs from artisanal provisioner, D’Artagnan, www.dartagnan.com.)

Seared mushrooms

Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 lbs cremini mushrooms, sliced
Kosher salt, to taste
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped thyme leaves
Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
2 cups soy sauce

To prepare:
Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat, until it just starts to smoke. Add mushrooms and season with salt. Stir, then allow to sear for 5 minutes, untouched, until caramelized and water begins to leach from mushrooms. (Caramelization won’t occur if too much liquid is in the pan.) Cook for another 5 minutes, until liquid has reduced to au sec (or nearly dry) and stir again. Repeat if necessary, until mushrooms are golden brown.
Add garlic, thyme, and orange zest and sauté. Pour in orange juice and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour in soy sauce and cook for 2 minutes, until nearly dry. Season to taste. Cool and reserve.

Orange-habanero glaze

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 1/2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 sprigs thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 habanero chile, seeded and crushed
¾ cup piloncillo or brown sugar, not packed

To prepare:
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add cumin and coriander and toast for 3 minutes, until aromatic and lightly browned. Add orange juice, vinegar, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.
Add garlic and chile and cook for another 45 minutes, until liquid has reduced by half. Stir in sugar and mix until incorporated. (Do not allow it to stick to the bottom of the pan.) Cook for another 30 minutes, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt. Strain contents through a fine-mesh strainer and discard aromatics.

Foie gras sauce

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp cubed foie gras (www.dartagnan.com)
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp thyme leaves
Kosher salt, to taste

To prepare:
Sear foie gras in a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Season with salt and sear each side for 2 minutes, until dark brown, but not burnt. Pour in stock and cook for another 2 minutes, until reduced by half. Add cream, thyme, and a pinch of salt and cook for another 3 minutes, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season to taste.

Assembly [ingredients]

For each empanada, you will need:
2 oz duck confit
1/4 cup Oaxaca cheese
2 oz seared mushrooms
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp Mexican oregano
6 oz corn masa, room temperature
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 quarts vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Cilantro, for garnish

To assemble:
In a bowl, combine duck, cheese, mushrooms, thyme, and oregano.

Prevent masa from drying out by covering with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel. Measure 6 ounces of masa and roll it into a tight, even ball and set aside.

Open the tortilla press and place a masa ball between two sheets of plastic wrap and press to a 1/4-inch thickness. (The plastic prevents the masa from sticking to the tortilla press.) Turn the masa once or twice to ensure an even press.

Remove the top piece of plastic and add 6 ounces of duck mix. Using your hands, form mixture into a football shape. Gently pick up the masa with the bottom sheet of plastic and fold both sides of masa together, starting at the bottom and slowly working your way to the top, pinching to seal. Carefully peel back one side of the plastic wrap. Using a sharp knife, trim excess masa on the folded sides to make even, and pinch edges again to ensure a good seal. Cover with plastic wrap, then repeat with the remaining empanadas.

Heat oil in a deep fryer or deep saucepan to a temperature of 350ºF. Carefully lower empanadas into the oil and deep-fry for 5 minutes), until golden brown. Cut each large empanada into 3 to 4 slices. Arrange on a plate cut-side up. Drizzle with orange-habanero glaze and foie gras sauce. Garnish with cilantro.

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