I remember the exact moment I first tasted Donald Hawk’s brown-butter crudo. The memory is as clear as one of those fancy oversize ice cubes in a $20 Manhattan.
It was at The Gladly in Phoenix about three years ago, where I was meeting my pal – and longtime Valley food critic – Howard Seftel for a happy hour bite. Hawk, who was cooking at The Gladly at the time, had just unveiled his new blackboard seafood and sushi menu. “Have you tried this brown-butter tuna dish?” Howie asked, ever the disarmingly manic Brooklynite. “It’s stupendous! I can’t stop eating it.”
So we ordered one. And, by God, it was stupendous, the three dominant flavors of the dish – toasted butter, tangy-sweet grape relish and the silky yellowfin itself – circling each other like knife-fighters in West Side Story before breaking into a perfectly orchestrated dance that lingered on my tongue long after the fact.
Sitting down with PHOENIX food writers and editors last September to formulate our list of the Valley’s best dishes, I realized my brown-butter tuna origin story wasn’t unique. Others had similarly sharp memories of their “first time.” And not just with Hawk’s crudo. Thinking back, I realized I could recall the details – sensual and otherwise – of my introduction to many of the dishes profiled in this January/February issue. The smothered chicken at Lo-Lo’s. The mackerel fried rice at Glai Baan. The implausibly succulent chicken in the paitan ramen at Origami.
“[I]n my head, I’d always restricted the flashbulb-memory phenomenon to national tragedies and the like. Holding your child for the first time. But that’s the power of food, right?“
It struck me as interesting, because in my head, I’d always restricted the flashbulb-memory phenomenon to national tragedies and the like. Holding your child for the first time. But that’s the power of food, right? It strikes deep in our psyche, and I know each of the nine food geeks who contributed to The 101 Best Dishes in the Valley feels the same way. Hopefully some of that impact will resonate in the story as you plan your dining hit list for 2022.
On a similar note: Travel writer Jessica Dunham is back with her picks for Arizona’s best seasonal destinations in 52 Weekend Adventures, an annual feature she’s written for us the last five years and is basically her turf at this point. From a lucha libre-themed weekend in Tucson to a roundup of nearby national parks, it’s a ton of fun to read and ruminate on, and will definitely give you some good travel ideas if you have even the slightest bit of wanderlust running through
Before I let you go, know that PHOENIX is throwing its first dedicated food festival this spring, conceived around the sprawling dining cover story described earlier. Check out page 138 for details about Dish Fest, where you can try many of the delicacies picked by my team in one fell swoop, during the most glorious time of year in the Valley of the Sun.
Food will be eaten and, yes, memories will be made.