Best Of :: Food & Drink
These days, hardly a restaurant opens up without some fanfare about its local organic produce or seasonal dishes. That's great and all the more the merrier, when it comes to sourcing great ingredients but still, we know a trend when we see it.
At Quiessence, though, they don't just talk the talk. They walk the walk every single day, when chef de cuisine Greg LaPrad and sous chef Anthony Andiario put their heads together and come up with a new menu that makes the best use of the freshest produce, seafood, and meats. That means organic vegetables grown right next door, at Maya's at the Farm, meats from local herdsmen, and other ingredients from Phoenix purveyors. Both LaPrad and Andiario have spent time working in Italy, where the Slow Food Movement was founded, so they're huge believers in the philosophy behind the food. On any given day, the menu might feature braised pork tenderloin with roasted peppers and wilted mizuna; buckwheat tagliatelle with duck confit, fava beans and sage; or pan-seared sole with shrimp, baby fennel, and sweet potatoes. More likely, you won't find any of the above due to the truly seasonal menu, but you get the picture. Housemade charcuterie, pâtés, and salads are ever-changing as well.
The beautiful thing about Quiessence, aside from the pastoral setting, is how it never gets old. We can't think of anywhere else in Phoenix where repeat visits are such a pleasure.
Don't get us wrong we adore the savory dinner options at Sweet O Wine & Chocolate Lounge. From cheeses and dips, served with excellent grilled bread from Simply Bread, to fresh salads and creative panini, there's plenty on the menu that we're happy to fill up on. But why try to save room for dessert when that's the star attraction of this sleek little eatery? Better to start off with exactly what you came for exotic chocolate pastries, chocolate fondue, chocolate hazelnut panini with crme fraîche and crispy hazelnuts, and petits fours galore. Once you get a glimpse of the chocolate treats in the display case, you won't be able to wait 'til after dinner to indulge. From macadamia toffee and milk chocolate caramel to fleur de sel truffles and butter ganache pralines, Sweet O can deliver your chocolate fix in just about any form you like. Even the eclectic wine selection is geared toward cacao consumption, with a generous selection of dessert wines and fortified wines. And if you'd rather let the experts guide your palate, pick one of the chocolate flights, where three different bonbons are paired with an appropriately decadent drink. Sweet O's proprietors say the "O" stands for "origine" (French for "origin," sort of the terroir of chocolate). But after flooding our brains with blissful endorphins and alcohol, all we feel is sweet oblivion.
We sure love hot chocolate, although in the warmer months (when we'll only drink iced lattes) we can hardly stand the thought of it unless it's Cowboy Ciao's unforgettable take on the classic cold weather treat, the Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate. Here, pastry chef Tracey Dempsey interprets it as a cool, utterly decadent dessert: a rich chocolate-cinnamon pot de crme that's almost as thick as fudge, served in an oversized cup fit for cocoa. The only thing "hot" about it is a froth of oozy chipotle cream on top perfect to scoop up with the spicy ginger cookie that comes with it. We'd happily splurge on a cuppa that any day, no matter the season.
We usually order dessert when we're out somewhere fancy, when the conclusion of a multicourse meal calls for something sweet to go with our after-dinner cup o' joe. But after lunch at a sandwich shop? Hardly ever unless we're at Bertha's Café, where it's a given. At this friendly, inconspicuous little eatery, desserts are impossible to resist, appealingly displayed in a big case right next to the front counter. From cookies and muffins to malted brownies, it's all good, but we're particularly fond of their rich, creamy, homemade cheesecakes. Sometimes it's actually hard to choose from the daily assortment of just-made mini-cakes, with creative concoctions like s'mores, baklava, and banana cream. Bertha's flavors are anything but plain Jane.
Check your guilt at the door. From buttery grits and mac 'n' cheese to the famous fried chicken served with a hot stack of waffles, everything at Lo-Lo's is stick-to-your-ribs delicious. So it only makes sense that dessert here would be a luscious affair, worth every calorie-laden bite. And, boy, does the red velvet cake deliver. One slice of this sweet, red-tinted chocolate cake slathered in buttery cream-cheese icing that we could just eat with a spoon is thick enough to feed two people. Still, we'd rather get one all for ourselves. We figure, if we're gonna blow our diet, we might as well do it with gusto.
We love olive oil drizzled on salads or soaked up with a soft piece of bread, but in dessert? Admittedly, the sound of olive oil cake turned us off at first. But we were very pleasantly surprised when curiosity got the better of us at radioMILANO, and now it's our favorite choice for sweet satisfaction at the end of the meal. Here, the thick slice of cake is so moist and velvety that it's hard to eat just a bite or two. It's served with a huge, smooth dollop of thickened cream (you'll never be able to eat Cool Whip again after tasting it) and a nice blob of blackberry jam, although we'd gladly eat it plain. And here's a word to the wise: Get your own piece. The rest of the menu might be full of shareable small plates, but when it comes to olive oil cake, we gotta look after ourselves.