Photo courtesy Tarbell’s
When you dine at Tarbell’s, you will embark on an odyssey of opposites. This, you’ll soon learn, is a large part of its lasting charm.
Mark Tarbell opened the restaurant in 1994 to immediate acclaim. The eatery soon became synonymous with fine dining in the Valley, attracting a welter of well-heeled patrons and possessing a certain je ne sais quoi that generated a positive buzz.
Nearly three decades later, the Tarbell’s team continues to serve classic contemporary fare while still managing to keep things fresh. To wit: the eatery’s brand-new three-course vegan menu.
It’s a major plot twist for an upscale eatery that built its culinary empire on such carnivorous comfort food as spaghetti and meatballs, Scottish salmon and pan-seared prime cut filet.
Tar’s Tots | Photo by Madison Rutherford
But the dissimilarities don’t end there. Even Tarbell’s atmosphere is delightfully divergent. Upon entering, the white tablecloths and dapper staff align with the notion that Tarbell’s is a garden variety gourmet restaurant. Perhaps you might even assume that it’s staid and stuffy. The term “bougie” might come to mind. Then you’ll notice the avantgarde artwork lining the walls and a baseball game playing on the trio of TVs at the bar. The mixologist behind it will flash you a friendly smile. And when you belly up to it, the ambiance is so inviting that you feel like you could linger there long after last call.
“Fancy Cheers” is what my gal pal calls it when we arrive. We’ve come to try out Tarbell’s vegan offerings as well as the recently launched Test Kitchen menu, which features limited-time small plates paired with weekly cocktail and wine selections.
The vegan tasting menu and Test Kitchen options change every week, which makes sense for a restaurant like Tarbell’s. Clearly, it’s no stranger to switching things up.
Crispy cauliflower | Photo by Madison Rutherford
On this particular visit, Tarbell’s vegan vittles included beet “nigiri,” maroon-hued morsels of beet-wrapped rice served with tangy ponzu and aioli. Next came a grilled stone fruit salad freckled with coconut and lime crema, caramelized onions, sunchoke chips and balsamic reduction, the plate strewn with fresh sprouts. Then, avocado tempura topped with house-made plant-based chorizo, chimichurri, pickled shallots and cilantro.
Tarbell’s is known for its worldly wine selection and I’m partial to whites, so I paired the first half of the meal with a glass of Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc. As the evening progressed, I transitioned to the Test Kitchen menu and tried the featured cocktail, aptly named It’s 5:00 Somewhere.
As the titular time approached (the vegan and test kitchen menus are only available from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the bar), I sipped on the tangy tipple made with Mezcal Naran, passion fruit and elderflower liqueurs, orange and lime, and settled into the next part of the gustatory voyage. This time, Tar’s Tot’s came to the table served with spicy aioli, homemade barbecue sauce and salsa verde. Another plot twist: the taters are rectangular and come stacked atop each other like a tiny tot hut. Crispy cauliflower came next, perched on a robust romesco sauce and garnished with paper-thin carrot slices.
It’s 5:00 Somewhere | Photo by Madison Rutherford
Each dish is served on diverse dinnerware designed by Valley ceramicist Christiane Barbato, who mimics natural tones and shapes in each one of her unique vessels.
It’s yet another pleasant plot twist in Tarbell’s whimsical journey of juxtapositions.
3213 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, 602-955-8100, tarbells.com