Monthly dining reviews from all over the Valley.
The Stone Tofu House
Opened: December 2020
A sliding glass door at the entrance ushers you into a clean-lined, bright-white space that seems perfect for a restaurant exalting the purity of tofu. Owners Don Kim and Cookie Sohn have created a menu that showcases the creamy, fresh soybean curd Kim makes each morning for his soups and hot pots. Soups arrive in small stone bowls, their contents bubbling furiously, while the much larger hot pots (feeding three to four people) are set on a burner and brought to a boil at the table. Dumpling soft tofu soup, ordered as a combo with L.A.-style ribs ($24.50), contrasts ruddy, spicy gochujang against mild, ivory-colored tofu, the soup bolstered by veggies, kimchi and silky pork dumplings. Meanwhile, the kalbi (barbecued beef short ribs), presented on a platter alongside, are irresistibly salty, sweet and sticky, just right with a bowl of fragrant white rice. A gorgeous hot pot of spicy pork bulgogi packs complexity and heat ($32.90), but I also love beef bulgogi bibimbap, a sizzling bowl of rice, vegetables and beef, adorned with a sunny side up egg and left to cook at the table until the rice’s bottom layer turns gloriously
Wild card: For the purists: sesame oil-fried tofu cakes, browned at the edges, with house-made soy sauce for dunking ($11.50).
1870 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-361-0523, thestonetofuaz.com
– Nikki Buchanan
Opened: May 2021
The Arizona Biltmore’s designated fine dining space has had more past lives than Shirley MacLaine, but its latest and sassiest incarnation just might stick. Named for a mythical rules-breaking wonder woman, Renata is loud, Latin-inflected and billowy with curtains that diminish the austerity of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic style. But hey, it brings fire and smoke, chiles and mezcal – sex appeal that sells in these fast times. Grilled Spanish watermelon salad, its silky sweetness offset by salty queso fresco and sharp arugula, makes a light, lovely starter ($15), but Basque sandwich bites (cheesy, toasty nibbles of Jamón Ibérico with Manchego and truffle oil, $19) are even better.
Meanwhile, Peruvian-style halibut ceviche emits more aji amarillo spiciness and less citrusy sweetness than most versions I’ve had (no match for Vecina’s luscious version), but it grows on me ($21). Fava beans and hen of the wood mushrooms, napped with oregano butter ($10), provide elegant back-up to two massive hunks of crunchy slow-cooked pork belly, salty, unctuous and so good I dream of coming back for more.
Wild Card: Finish the night with Capirotada de Sonora, brioche bread pudding presented under a smoke-filled glass dome with a dollop of dulce de leche ice cream ($14).
Arizona Biltmore, 2400 E. Missouri Ave., 602-954-2507, renatashearth.com
– Nikki Buchanan
The Italian Daughter
Opened: April 2021
“Upscale Italian” isn’t exactly a rare or unknown commodity in the Greater Grayhawk part of North Scottsdale. Stiil, judging from the buzzy Saturday night crowd, this classy, Sinatra-esque dining spot has managed to carve out a niche in a crowded field. The titular “daughter” is owner Melissa Maggiore, eldest child of the late Valley restaurateur Tomaso Maggiore, here serving the sort of subtly modernized pan-Italian cooking that would have made the old man proud. An appetizer of imported white anchovies ($15) arrives firm, slightly pink and utterly unrecognizable from the sickly grayish things you’ve probably picked out of mediocre Caesar salads. Drizzled with an earthy olive oil and served with toasted bread and stewed sweet peppers, they pair marvelously with one of the bar’s icy gin martinis ($14). (Ask for an extra measure of the bar’s excellent housemade dry vermouth for some throwback fun.) Resolving to try the eggplant torte ($23) and cacio e pepe (the famous cheese and pepper pasta dish, here enhanced with roasted corn, $20) on future visits, I splurge on the weekends-only Milanese osso bucco ($46), which arrives as two squat veal shanks, relaxed on a bed of saffron risotto under a sticky, slightly under-salted curtain of Barolo demi-glace. Fork-tender and tasty, with plenty of jelly-like marrow to pry out of the shanks and spread on something.
Wild Card: Or, if you prefer, leave the marrow. Take the cannoli ($9).
23655 N. Scottsdale Rd., 480-404-6085, theitaliandaughter.com
– Craig Outhier
Haldi Indian Cuisine
Opened: September 2021
Do PHOENIX magazine readers know what they’re talking about? It’s a question we’re putting to the test with an anonymous, unplanned visit to this new Glendale restaurant – opened not three months after owner Sam Haldi picked up a 2021 Best of the Valley Readers’ Pick for its sister location in Surprise, we realize while sitting down. “Have you tried Chicken 65? It’s outstanding,” Haldi boasts suavely during a table visit, steering us toward the oft-seen appetizer of deep-fried chicken nubs in a scarlet curry coating.
Tender and delicious, but not as memorable as paneer butter masala ($15), an entrée of cubed paneer (firm, tofu-like cheese) simmered in a sultry, buttery sauce of tomato, onion and creamed cashews; or lamb rogan josh ($18) from the Northern Indian state of Kashmir, featuring lamb morsels braised in a red chile, camelized onion and vinegar slurry, which we bravely ask the kitchen to crank up to maximum spiciness. Many frantic sips of Taj Majal lager later, our experiment concludes. BOV bona fides: confirmed. Soft tissues: not doing so great.
Wild Card: Haldi has a full bar. Start your meal with a Cape Cod-like Haldi Punch ($10).
18561 N. 59th Ave., Glendale, 623-440-8150, haldiaz.com
– Craig Outhier