Calistro Bistro Left Out "Tasty" When Building Its Seasonal, Local, Organic Menu

Seasonal. Local. Organic.

Those three words always seem to go together, and you hear them more and more. They're the unofficial mantra of the Slow Food Movement, which was founded 20 years ago when delegates from 15 countries signed a manifesto against fast food, fast life, and the erosion of local food cultures around the world.

But they've also become an impossible-to-ignore trend. Hardly anyone opens an ambitious restaurant anymore without a tip of the hat to seasonal, local, and organic ingredients somewhere on the menu.

Pretty vacant: Not everything at Calistro Bistro tastes as good as it looks.
Jackie Mercandetti
Pretty vacant: Not everything at Calistro Bistro tastes as good as it looks.

Location Info

Map

Calistro California Bistro

18221 N. Pima Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85255

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: North Scottsdale

Details

Lamb meatballs: $11
Calistro flatbread: $12
Short ribs: $24
Rice pudding: $5
Calistro Bistro
18221 North Pima Road, Scottsdale
Hours: Lunch, daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, daily, 3 p.m. to close

It's admirable, really, and while some of my favorite things are the antithesis of Slow Food — especially exquisite seafood shipped halfway around the world — I'm a huge proponent of seasonal, local, and organic when those qualities are embodied by a perfect little heirloom tomato at the peak of its summer ripeness.

Calistro Bistro opened this summer at the DC Ranch Crossing in north Scottsdale, and the "farm to table" philosophy is at the heart of its concept.

Executive chef Devin Walsh, formerly of Taneko Tavern, includes quite a few local ingredients in his California-meets-Mediterranean menu, including organic produce from McClendon's Select, olives from Queen Creek Olive Mill, and meats from Cedar Mill Beef and The Meat Shop.

Everything has a healthful spin and, to take things a step further, the restaurant is also a member of the Green Restaurant Association, using sustainable local wood for its oven and environmentally friendly cleaning products in the kitchen.

In theory, I should love this place. After all, Calistro Bistro does seem to be doing more than just paying lip service to the organic trend. In reality, though, even seasonal, local, organic ingredients couldn't elevate certain dishes.

Alaskan scallops with celeriac remoulade, and pork tenderloin with baked tepary beans were the two biggest misses. The former was beyond bland, four smallish scallops (sans a good searing) plunked on a tasteless pile of celeriac and carrot shreds, with a few sun-dried tomatoes scattered on the plate. I suppose the oily, flavorless foam surrounding the scallops was butternut squash-prawn emulsion with fresh black truffle, but there was no sweetness of prawn nor any whiff of earthy truffle.

The pork tenderloin was nicely seasoned with pink peppercorns but was a little too done, while the sweet baked beans were unpleasantly al dente. Cornbread sounded like an appealing side dish, but it was such a thin, flimsy portion that it had no heft to stand on its own, instead soaking up the sauce from the beans and practically disintegrating.

Short ribs were the most intriguing thing I tasted, braised in red wine until the meat was fork-tender and the sauce was lusciously savory. Sprinkled with crispy horseradish breadcrumbs and teamed with a heap of cauliflower, the dish was wonderful — until I dug into the pommes purée hidden under the short ribs. Let's just say that these weren't remotely close to legendary chef Joël Robuchon's decadent take on pommes purée, which contain a sinful quantity of butter. Instead, these lackluster mashed potatoes tasted like cardboard.

Thin ribbons of tender housemade fettuccine were tossed with housemade chicken sausage, sliced mushrooms, carrot, cauliflower, and a light champagne-fennel sauce. Nothing to complain about, but certainly nothing to rave about, either.

I had better luck with such shared plates as lamb meatballs, plump orbs of all-natural meat glazed with zingy pomegranate barbecue sauce and served with toasted almonds, shredded carrots, and crumbled feta. These were moist, flavorful, and fragrant.

Roasted Pacific blue prawns, smothered in kicky harissa marinade, were mouthwatering with salty bits of feta and olive. And freshly baked Calistro flatbread — a thin, crisp pizza topped with heirloom tomatoes, pesto, and housemade mozzarella — was simple and tasty, with a touch of smokiness from the wood-burning oven.

However, that same flatbread, unadorned, was rather ho-hum with a bowl of plain hummus, whose mouthwatering description promised lemon and cumin and sumac (where were they?).

The summer roll didn't blow me away, either — "spicy Hawaiian tuna" filling was actually minced plain tuna with a bit of spicy red pepper, along with carrot, avocado, and some harissa-mango sauce pooled on the plate. Somehow the flavors didn't mesh, ultimately leaving the odd impression of plain tuna and sugary sauce.

I was caught off-guard when the prim-sounding dairy-free rice pudding turned out to be rich and creamy. Calistro used coconut milk as the base and topped it with pistachio, Saigon cinnamon, and some spiced apples. Butterscotch crème brûlée, served with fresh orange segments, wasn't bad, either.

But a couple of other desserts were bummers. Warm bread pudding with dates was the most literal rendition of "bread" and "pudding" I've ever had the misfortune of eating. Seriously, it was about three chunks of bread steeped in soupy custard, with a faint grittiness that I assume was minced dates.

Meanwhile, peanut butter chocolate mousse lacked the potency of either chocolate or peanut butter — its musty taste reminded me of health food, which is not a quality you'd want in any dessert. A shard of peanut brittle was its only redeeming quality.

With Halloween right around the corner and bags of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups flying off the grocery store shelves, chocolate and peanut butter should be easy seasonal flavors for Calistro Bistro to ace.

Yeah, you'd think.

 
My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
Michele
Michele

Being a native of Scottsdale, I have always looked to the New Times Restaurant Reviews when seeking a new place to try. So many culinary ventures and so little time. Usually, your reviewers are not only right on the money, but fair and true. Until Now! The strangely vindictive tone of Michele Laudig�s review of Calistro California Bistro in DC Crossing leaves me wondering if I�m reading the tale of a woman scorned or the fair and accurate review of a new culinary venture. Not only have I dined at Calistro myself, numerous times, but have recommended this restaurant to at least 20-30 people. All of the people I have sent to Calistro have returned to me with exuberant reviews and positive comments. Not once has someone been unhappy with the food, ambiance, Management, or service. The pork tenderloin being a huge favorite among the DC Ranch crowd. I find Michele�s review to carry an undertone of bitterness and animosity that leaves me wondering if maybe she should review her professionalism and attitude and leave the food reviews to people who appreciate the Organic, local food movement. Funny� it seems the only thing she got right was the spelling of her name.MicheleScottsdale

Becca
Becca

I loved this restaurant when I went last week. As far as the previous comment stating management is atrocious...?? The managers seemed to be very involved, attentive and kind when my group of friends were there. Not to mention how good looking the men on staff are.... WOW!!! I definitely recommend!!

NEIL KATZ
NEIL KATZ

As great movies sometimes get bad reviews from so called movie critics, so do great restaurants from so called restaurant critics. Calistro Bistro has wonderful food, great atmosphere, and is the only restaurant my wife and I will go to when we visit Phoenix or Scottsdale. Well worth the trip up the 101 and planning a birthday dinner next month. People need to try it and form their own opinion.

Greg
Greg

I thought the tone of the review was all wrong. Just because Michele from New Times prefers Kentucky Fried Chicken or Taco Bell to fresh quality food does not make the tone of the review acceptable. I personally have dined at Calistro and had an excellent time. I actually had the Scallops she so easily dismisses, and trust me, the use of truffle oil makes this dish full of flavor.The review also lacked any opinion on ambiance/staff/ect.... How were these factors?? I think Michele is an idiot - that is my review.

Downtown
Downtown

Sounds awesome, I'll have to try it out... one thing that always bothers me a bit is the trickery the food industry is using to get people to buy organic foods. In almost all cases, organic foods are much more dangerous to consume than non-organic... they're fertilized with animal waste, usually from cows (which create lots of CO2 - bad for the environment), which also brings about the risk for E. Coli contamination. Organic foods also use pesticides designed 20-50 years ago, which are more toxic for both your body and the ground water and for wildlife that may come in contact with the chemicals. It also takes more land for lower yields, which means more habitat destroyed for crops. And if you think they taste better, in most studies 80-90% of the population chose non-organic vs organic.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of local and support local... I love the idea of humane treatment of animals raised for food.... but from looking deeper into things, organic fruits/vegetables might not be the best thing for you - newer modified foods (whether genetically altered in a lab or just through hybrid plants over generations) are pest-resistant so they require less pesticides and work with much safer pesticides... they produce higher yields... they're less expensive, and in blind taste tests are preferred.

Free-Range (but not wild land range - that destroys habitats too) organic meats - now that's another story and something I definitely support... ;-)

Sarah
Sarah

I agree with Michelle completely. Right down to the dishes that she found edible. The Lamb meatballs are great...although I wish they were larger than the size of a malt ball. The management is absolutely terrible. Do not go to this restaurant unless your only intent is to eat flatbread and drink wine.

Dave
Dave

The management is also atrocious. If you want to feel like someone wants your business, Go. Somewhere. Else.

mikey
mikey

I agree with the comments in that Michelle is way off. I have been there twice and agree that the food was really great. Fresh, tasty ingredients. The flatbreads are incredible flavorful and tasty. Part of what was missing from the review were comments regarding the decor and service, both of which were excellent. Isn't that a big part of the dining experience as well? I remember taking my wife to Gramercy Tavern (Tom Colicchio) in NYC. We don't remember exactly what we had, but will always remember the service. Is it Chez Panisse? No. But is it one of the better restaurants in North Scottsdale, yes. Michelle's review puts it a step above Chevy's.

Amy
Amy

It must have been a bad day for Michele! I have visited Calistro on several occasions and have never experienced what she had relayed in this review. Being in the restaurant business for 20 years, I tend to be quite critical, but I have found each appetizer, entree and dessert I have ordered to be wonderful. The wood burning oven creates a earthy flavor on the flatbreads, with their signature flatbread being my favorite. Regarding the herbed flatbread with the hummus...have you ever tasted pita bread? Not exactly exciting! She failed to mention the fresh fish flown in from Hawaii, which has always been cooked and flavored to perfection! I believe Michele has missed the concept of "clean foods" which allows the taste buds to experience the quality of the ingrediets, instead of tasting over seasoned, low quality meats and fish which have become a standard at so many restaurants. Too bad Michele missed the mark on this one!

Dan
Dan

Usually I agree with Michele, but I think she is waaaaay off on this one. Calistro is the best thing to happen to North Scottsdale since the Phoenix Open. Deft of any decent restaurants, the Calistro team, menu and full bar of fun, interesting and delicious drinks is a godsend for us in the northeast valley. The trip up the 101 from old school Phoenix must have played havoc on her taste buds. I've been to Calistro many times and have had nothing but excellent food and service. I would actually rather keep this place a secret, but I know it won't be for long, no matter what sort of chip on her shoulder Michele seems to have about this one.

 
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