Photography by Rob Ballard
Chopped champion Cory Oppold classes up the Shea corridor with a prix fixe pleaser.
In recent years, some of Phoenix’s most talented chefs – Kevin Binkley (Binkley’s), Christopher Gross (Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion) and Shinji Kurita (ShinBay) – have resurrected the tasting menu, offering eight to 15 pre-selected courses for a set price landing well north of $200 per person. Tack on a good bottle of wine or wine pairings for each course, and you’re approaching a $1,000 dinner for two with tax and tip, a heady proposition for most non-1-percenters.
Considered in that light, chef-owner Cory Oppold’s new Course Restaurant in Central Scottsdale feels like a bargain. Here, diners have two options: a you-pick-’em prix fixe dinner with five courses ($135 per person, Tuesday and Wednesday only) or a 10-course tasting menu (plus nibbles) for $190 per person, offered Thursday through Saturday. There’s even a seven-course, $75 tasting menu on Sundays, when Course becomes a brunch spot, waggishly taking the name Morning Would.
High-end dining and prix fixe menus are the norm for Oppold, a Chopped champion who formerly worked for Kevin Binkley and Mark Tarbell and later operated as executive chef at Atlas Bistro, a South Scottsdale BYOB built on the prix fixe concept. Now he’s partnered with investors and longtime fans Brett and Christian Pezzuto to create his own personal playground for seasonal modernist cuisine in its many splendored forms, including artful presentations, deconstructed dishes, foams and powders.
With its neutral color palette and streamlined décor, Course exudes a classy, comfortable vibe. Cocktails are clever (thanks to manager and sommelier Nicholas Padua), and modern dinnerware changes from course to course. It’s high-end without feeling pretentious, a neighborhood restaurant for a fancy night out.
Our full Monty tasting menu dinner begins with an adorable amuse bouche: tiny waffle cones filled with lemony crème fraîche sorbet and a topper of glistening Kaluga caviar. It’s a cold, tangy, agreeably salty opener for a hot summer night. The first course is also light and refreshing, a rounded hunk of juicy watermelon, the hole at its center filled with lime-sparked hiramasa ceviche. Both melon and ceviche are lightly sprinkled with tajín for spice, while avocado purée and melon-y foam add layers of texture.
Next comes a bright, summery riff on ratatouille, presented as a single tomato- and herb-infused raviolo filled with a mince of eggplant, zucchini and tomato. The pasta is accompanied by slivers of yellow squash, shiny with olive oil, an intense confited Campari tomato and red pepper jam. I love everything about it.
Oppold reveals an even more playful side with three “forms of” corn, comprising rich creamed corn; a baby cob, crunchy with a mixture of breadcrumbs, shallot and tarragon; and soft cornbread pudding (my favorite), set in a glossy puddle of corny sweetness.
I’m less enamored with a deconstructed scallop vol-au-vent, which seems bland and one-note despite a pretty presentation of seared scallop, chanterelles, fennel, roasted fennel purée and powdery fennel seed “sand.” A true vol-au-vent with puff pastry might be more satisfying.
We’re back on track with springy, crisp-crusted focaccia served with a knob of “grilled cheese butter,” augmented with cheddar powder and a salty, crunchy sprinkle of roma tomato dust. It’s an elevated spin on a sharp, greasy grilled cheese. Just as good is a Spanish-inspired combo of smoked, charred-at-the-edges octopus and potato salad, tucked beneath a crackling potato-based tuile blackened with squid ink. The combo is classic, the briny flavors reminiscent of the sea.
The first meat course of the evening contains all the elements of a rich Cubano sandwich. Spain’s famous Ibérico pork is offered in two cuts (tender secreto and caramelized pork belly), each flanked by thin, toasted slices of Noble ciabatta. The plate is dotted with Oppold’s famous “mustard custard,” Swiss cheese fondue, tangy relish and grain mustard.
Steak Diane, a Continental Cuisine classic, has also been deconstructed – one rosy strip loin medallion set alongside an ochre pond of pan juices, mushrooms, Dijon and brandy. A maitake mushroom, fried in beef fat, gets a sprinkle of fromage blanc and is sided by romanesco and creamed spinach.
I’m beyond full, but pastry chef Antonia Kane’s elegant peach Wellington is too good to miss. Nested at the center of a shatteringly crisp circle of puff pastry, rimmed with olive oil whipped cream and dusted with rosemary sugar, the fresh peaches are savory-sweet, while the dessert is creamy and crunchy all at once. Another dessert course of chocolate crémeux (richer and creamier than mousse) arrives with five dainty accompaniments: raspberry sorbet, sesame marshmallow, a mini churro, dried cherry madeleine and deconstructed cheesecake.
As if that weren’t enough, here come the mignardise, bite-size sweets that no mere mortal could fully appreciate at this juncture of a large meal: baklava; crunchy, creamy creamsicle canelés; and chocolate-covered banana-caramel bonbons.
What a fun, over-the-top night! Oppold seems to have found an approachable middle ground between the ultra-luxe dining at Christopher’s, Binkley’s or ShinBay and dozens of high-end restaurants (steakhouses, for example) that are far less sophisticated or detail-driven. Feels like a nice little niche.
Cuisine: Modern American
Contact: 7366 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-687-0491, courserestaurantaz.com
Hours: Tu-Sa 5-11 p.m., Su 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Highlights: Caviar cones; ratatouille raviolo; smoked octopus with potato salad; focaccia with grilled cheese butter; Ibérico pork Cubano; peach Wellington