3 Best Things We Ate This Week

Nikki BuchananOctober 1, 2021
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Photo by Nikki Buchanan

Bún Thit Nuong with Cha Giò at Banh Mi Bistro
While it’s true that BMB is famous for its banh mi, it’s also true that their noodle salad bowls — bún, in Vietnamese — are every bit as good and maybe a wee bit lighter. You get your choice of two items to put in the bowl (grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, tofu and the like), but I always go for this combo: thit nuong (lemongrass-marinated and grilled pork) and cha gió, (pork spring rolls). The pork is fork-tender, sweet and smoky tasting, while the ever-so-faintly greasy spring rolls provide crunch and textural contrast to the cool, springy rice noodles that fill the bottom of the bowl. The bowl also contains crisp, lightly pickled vegetables — cucumber, carrot and daikon, more sweet than sour — and a bit of fresh, bright mint and cilantro. Over the top, a final flourish of diced green onion and crushed peanut. Nuoc cham, a sharp, sweet, salty, umami-laden flavor bomb of clear fish sauce is served on the side. I pour it all in at once, add a bit of hot chile sauce and stir it around. It’s pretty hard to find a better $10 meal than this.
2340 W. Bell Rd., Ste. 110, Phoenix, 602-843-3637, banhmibistroaz.com

Photo by Nikki Buchanan

Korean Poke at Chula Seafood Uptown
It was love at first bite when I tried the Hawaiian poke bowl at Chula’s original location in South Scottsdale four years ago. Now I’m just as crazy for the Korean version ($17), which offers a nice little kick of gochujang, the spicy-sweet, fermented red chile paste that goes on or in just about everything and therefore serves as Korean ketchup. But no worries, it’s thoughtfully administered here, and never overpowers the dish, a beautiful, heaping bowl of sushi rice, topped with your choice of fish — we chose salmon, but ahi, spicy scallop and spicy tuna are other options — cut in big chunks and sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds for nutty crunch. Arugula, cucumber, jalapeño and onion almost make the bowl a salad-y situation, but there’s the rice underneath, a fluffy underpinning and sushi-like counterpart to that rich, buttery salmon. For ocean-y accent, briny, granular pops of bright orange masago and translucent slivers of sesame nori, and for extra crunch, a bit of crispy crumbled tempura.
100 E. Camelback Rd., Ste. 172, Phoenix, 602-354-3599, chulaseafood.com

Photo by Nikki Buchanan

Oysters at Elements
My beau and I had an extraordinary dinner with friends at Elements last week. Chef Samantha Sanz and Sommelier Laura Bruno asked us if we’d like to be left in their hands, in terms of food and wine, and we agreed. No ordering. They chose what we would eat in an omakase, trust-the-chef sort of arrangement. What a fabulous five-course meal we had! And the wine pairings were perfect. I’m only submitting one picture and description here. Samantha posted her own pictures last week on Instagram (@chefsammysanz), so you can see them there.

This was the first course: Island Creek oysters, firm and buttery, given a golden dab of exotic fruit puree (banana, passion fruit and mango) and a tiny hit of salsa macha, a rich chile oil composed of guajillo, pasilla and chile de arbol peppers with yuzu, ginger, cashews, sesame seeds and peanuts. Forget cocktail sauce with horseradish. Forget mignonette. Both too heavy and in-your-face. This was mesmerizing. You could taste the sweetness of the fruit (especially the banana and mango), but there was a bit of heat and nutty complexity there too — without those assertive ingredients ever overwhelming the natural sweetness of the oysters. I am forever ruined for anything else. It’s Sanz’s exotic fruit puree for me.
5700 E. McDonald Dr., Paradise Valley, 855-245-2051, sanctuaryoncamelback.com


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