Peter Kasperski, the crazy-creative Scottsdale restaurateur behind dearly departed Cowboy Ciao, Sea Saw, Digestif, Kazimierz World Wine Bar and Counter Intuitive, partners with longtime friend, former employee and inventive master barman Richie Moe to open Roosevelt Row’s most sophisticated restaurant and bar to date (Speakeasy Alias, which sits behind Character, hasn’t opened yet, but it’s almost ready to rock). I popped in to see how Kasperski, an Old Town Scottsdale boy since his salad days at Dr. Munchie’s and Steven, is navigating the downtown Phoenix food scene and so far, so great.
218 E. Portland St., Phoenix, 602-675-4069, characterphx.com
Housed in a tiny, 20s-era cottage that oozes intimacy and charm, Character feels like the logical next step for F&B industry veterans Kasperski and Moe. It’s sophisticated, relaxed and personal, its walls featuring art and mementos from their adventures in the business. Although his glass-enclosed wine wall pales in comparison to Cowboy Ciao’s former 4,500-bottle cellar, Kasperski’s wine list is quirky and nimble, specifically designed to harmonize with Chef Justin “Red” Hauska’s frequently changing and infinitely appealing modern American menu.
Kasperski describes his new venture as “distinctive” or “fine” dining, adjectives that shouldn’t spook you into thinking you’ll need to don glittering attire or max out your credit card. Once you see and taste Hauska’s globally inspired food, however, you’ll appreciate the label. The guy can cook (his resume includes Binkley’s and Kai, after all), and his elegant, labor-intensive touches elevate every dish. You won’t believe your good fortune at getting preternaturally fluffy smoked black cod rilletes, smeared over grilled country bread, for just $11 or an unctuous duck confit ragout, served on a cloud of cauliflower mash that exudes an ethereal Binkley’s vibe for $21. Whether you splurge on veggie-laden mesquite venison loin (the best I’ve had in ages, $55) or frugally graze on inexpensive sides such as crisp-tender Romanesco and rapini, bathed in briny bagna cauda ($8), you’re going to come away from this singular dining experience knowing you’ve met one memorable Character.