If the food rises to the level of its décor, this handsome Modern American restaurant in Roosevelt Row will have the whole package.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression – or so the saying goes. Strictly by that standard, the new Roosevelt Row restaurant First & Last is off to a brilliant start. Formerly home to Rott n’ Grapes wine bar, the vintage space has been transformed by owners Robb and Ashley Hammond (Maple & Ash) into a sexy, streamlined stunner, sporting a second-floor dining mezzanine situated above a turquoise center-stage bar that glows with light. My first impression: impressed.
If, however, a given restaurant is only as good as its last meal – itself an old food-biz saying – then this globally inflected Modern American concept needs work. Elegantly composed plates aside, the food here seldom rises above fair-to-middling.
Early notable exceptions are excellent cocktails such as the mezcal-based Urban Sombrero (smoky, sweet and perfectly balanced) and The Scenic Route (floral, herbaceous and agreeably tart), which suggest there’s talent behind that beautiful bar.
If only the first course of the evening, Thai grilled carrots, were half as compelling. Barrel-aged fish sauce provides a little funk, but the carrots themselves, many of them undercooked, are practically tasteless. Whipped feta, sparked with za’atar, doesn’t leave the impact we expect, either. It’s airy and pleasantly salty, yes, but ultimately a rather forgettable dip for crudités and soft slices of grocery store-quality baguette.
Cacio e pepe, a pasta classic whose name reflects its two major ingredients, cheese and pepper, is a bland, gummy tangle – light-years from the rich, vibrantly peppery versions served at Andreoli Italian Grocer and Tratto.
Entrées are only marginally better. Moist, flaky monkfish, poached in butter, nested in gazpacho verde, topped with chimichurri and sparked with fermented chile, should be bursting with flavor but, like the previous plates, it’s more pleasant than exciting. Meanwhile, small planks of pork belly would benefit from more crunch and caramelization, but they’re still pretty good, as are the soft, savory bread pudding and pickled rhubarb alongside.
The highlight of the evening – aside from the cocktails – is lemon ricotta cheesecake, thick and curd-like in texture and absent of cloying sweetness. Topped with fig jam and a cloud of whipped cream, it’s lovely, proving that the best things at First & Last really do come first and last.
First & Last
Cuisine: Modern American
Contact: 1001 N. Third Ave., Phoenix, 602-975-8297, firstandlastphx.com
Hours: Su, W, Th 4-10 p.m., F-Sa 4-11 p.m.
Highlights: Cocktails ($14-$16); pork belly ($28); lemon ricotta cheesecake ($10)