After two days of eating and drinking some of the best food the Phoenix dining scene has to offer, we can say confidently that the Devoured Culinary Classic was a success. With dozens of local restaurants showing up at the Phoenix Art Museum to feed attendees, there was no shortage of things to eat, drink, and see on either day of the event.
Over the years, the two-day food frenzy has established itself as one of the best of the Valley's many culinary events, in part because the chefs and restaurants who participate each year tend to pull out all the stops. Oysters? Check. Foie gras? You bet. And steak and lamb and sushi, too. This year's event was no exception, and we've got the full stomachs to prove it. Here we've listed some of the most memorable bites and sips from the weekend's festivities.
Saturday's Devoured Culinary Classic was an exercise in moderation and meticulous planning. With so many tempting options, it was hard to know where to start. So we started at the beginning, by the door, and worked our way around, literally.
Even with careful planning, we still almost missed some locations. They were tucked so far away that finding them was basically an accident. Looking for shade on an 80-degree day was the only way we found some of them. Tucked far away from the rest of the crowd, it would have been easy to miss Sierra Bonita and others.
Due to careful planning, we didn't explode, which seemed like a real possibility even with elastic waist bands in place.
1. Our first pick goes to Sierra Bonita Grill. The Green Chile Posole held the right amount of spice for a soup loaded with pork and hominy with the added toppings of cabbage, cilantro/onion, and lime. Where other restaurants were talking big about their spice, Sierra Bonita Grill delivered. The restaurant's braised pork belly with polenta, over a slaw of kale, jicama, and apple had layers of flavor that kept our interest to the last bit.
2. Roka Akor kept things interested with two dishes as well. The Wagyu bone marrow with squid ink brioche and Japanese mignonette was an interesting dish that challenged our senses. The escargot with white soy and garlic was delightful.
3. Strawberries and cream from Terrazzo was the perfect way to cut some of the heavy meat dishes -- light and dreamy the way strawberries and cream should be, and with the added bit of bread that had an appearance of sea sponges. The dessert kept our interest until the end -- meaning we ate every last bit in that adorable little cup.
4. Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails stole the show with their Boudin Balls over grits. These fall-apart tasty balls were melt-in-your-mouth good, and the grits were not so bad, either. Blue Hound had a cute setup, with a fence guiding guests into the area and a giant blue dog standing guard.
5. Cafe Lalibela's Ethiopian dishes were full of flavor and spice. They served chicken stew, red lentils, cabbage carrots and potatoes, and injera. All were wonderful. We would have liked a little more injera with the serving since we were only able to get two scoops with the bread before switching to a fork, but that's a minor complaint.
6.Pork was omnipresent, but Tonto Grill took the game to the next level by using venison. Their venison tenderloin with smoked cauliflower puree was tender and cooked perfectly. Venison is a tricky beast, and usually ends up on the dry side, but it is clear chef Ryan Peters knows how to make a perfectly seasoned and cooked piece of venison. We appreciated the use of cauliflower instead of the super-popular polenta.
7. In the meat-heavy arena of Devoured, Flower Child helped us get on the light side with a dish of crunchy spring peas and asparagus. Everything about this made us happy. Maybe it was just that it was green, but it also had the right balance of veggies, dressing, crunch, and flavor.
8. Short ribs and mashed potatoes were on the menu for Chelsea's Kitchen. It tasted like Sunday dinners in the Midwest; pure comfort food.
9. Salt Rock Kitchen's braised veal with shallot mushroom ragu and Parmesan polenta was just as good as it sounded.
10. Moving into the vegan world. Urban Beans showed up with Braised Jackfruit Carnitas with slaw. Vegan food shouldn't be this good, but it is, and we wanted more.
11. Alto Ristorante at the Hyatt Gainey Ranch anticipated the weather with a blood orange float.
12. Palm Lane Cakes from Green New American Vegetarian was a delightful dish made with hearts of palm, harissa aioli, sherry vinegar reduction, dulce infused sesame oil, tangelo, and daikon sprouts. Chef Damon Brasch had managed to create a veg dish that doesn't make us run for the nearest crab cake. Perfectly crisp, quite an accomplishment at an outdoor event, with the right balance of flavors with the tangelo and aioli.
13. Walking out the door with a Docs Artisan Ice Creams raspberry chambord sorbet pop was pretty much the icing on the cake, or the pop, or something like that.
We arrived promptly at 10:25 a.m. on Sunday in order to take advantage of the VIP hour of tasting, which began at 10:30. And to our surprise, we found ourselves at the end of the long line of people already waiting to get a wine glass and get into the event. Fortunately, it moved quickly and by 10:35, we were decked out with a wine glass and wine glass holster (yeah, they look goofy but really do come in handy for this type of event), and had started to eat our way around.
Wary of restaurants running out of food, we chose to start with our favorite spots during an initial loop, with plans to take a wine-tasting break before circling back around for a second lap.
In theory, the plan would have worked well, except that we didn't take into account just how crowded the event would be this year. As we stood in one of the many lines that had sprung up around noon, we could barely stand the combination of crowds, direct sunlight, food, and booze. Needing cool air and some personal space, we headed into the Great Hall to check out the exhibitors there.
14. Virtu chef Gio Osso put together a little plate of Duck, Duck, Goose on Sunday that was easily one of our favorites of the day. Each plate contained a mouthful of duck a l'orange on a piece of pretzel bread, duck and foie gras rillette with preserved Meyer lemon jam, and garlic frites with foie gras aioli. We loved the combination of tart citrus and rich foie, coupled with the tender duck meat.
15. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's new restaurant, Barrio Urbano, also offered an impressive spread. We started with a cup of hot menudo spiked with a generous amount of freshly squeezed lime and a sprinkle of chiltepin pepper. The fresh little peppers made our lips tingle with a pleasant and pungent, smoky heat. Thank goodness Esparza had strawberry aguas fresca on hand to put out the fire.
16. The Breadfruit and Rum Bar went all out with a Kumamoto oyster bar for the second day of the event. We loved walking by and hearing cheers for each person enjoying their first-ever oyster, and many people raved about the preparation. Each oyster came brined in a vinegary Jamacian escovitch sauce and topped with a thin slice of pepper.
17. Two places served scallops on Sunday, and we preferred the preparation by Different Pointe of View at The Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort. The smell of searing scallops attracted a long line of people, but the reward of a tender scallop over a bed of crispy Parmesan risotto was worth the wait.
18. By far, the most impressive offerings were found at Hana Japanese Eatery's table. With the whole family working hard all day, the restaurant manged to put out five different sample plates, including individually wrapped triangles of sweet mochi rice topped with colorful sprinkles and freshly fried takoyaki, or octopus fritters covered in mayo, green onion, and pieces of bonito that fluttered prettily in the breeze.
19. In the VIP lounge, we found relief from the heat as well as a playful new product from Arizona's Dos Cabezas Winery. In the next few weeks, the winery will release a sparkling rose that comes in portable aluminum cans "engineered for summer in Arizona," according to winemaker Todd Bostock. Each can contains about two and a half glasses of the winery's rose, which has be carbonated to create the new product. It will be available soon at local spots such as Pizzeria Bianco and FnB.
20. When we went looking for desserts, we hit the jackpot at Sweet Republic's table, where the name of the game was "Sweets on a Stick." The ice cream shop served four different treats, including two ice cream pops and two booze-infused ice pops. Our favorite of the bunch was the Balls of Curry, which offered curry ice cream studded with fudge ribbons and chocolate peanuts. The whole thing was then rolled in coconut.
21. We give big kudos to Kai, which offered several photo-worthy plates of food served on planks of wood and in miniature cardboard bowls. The flavor of the smoked sturgeon rilette really wowed us, as did the tiny bottle of corn horchata. But it was the Sonoran White Wheat berry "rice pudding" with duck and foie gras that really stood out. The creamy, rich flavors took a familiar dish and gave it new meaning -- all while incorporating one of Arizona's native ingredients. After enjoying several plates of food, we made sure to separate our trash into the impressive recycling receptacle the restaurant brought along.
22. Surprisingly, it was not the marinated tenderloin from J&G Steakhouse at the Phoenician Resort that impressed us most; chef Jacques Qualin's crab cakes stole the show at this booth. The Peekytoe crab cake came topped with a fresh, sweet sugar snap pea remoulade that made for a refreshing bite.
23. Inside Exhibitors Hall, we found Kettle Heroes, a popcorn company that we almost skipped in favor of what we thought would be more interesting eats. Then we saw a sign for cayenne lime kettle corn, and couldn't resist. With bright, aggressive citrus notes followed by a persistent heat, this popcorn was anything but boring.
24. We love to see out-of-town restaurants make the trip to participate in Devoured, and Sedona's Elote Cafe was one of a handful of visiting restaurants. Chef Jeff Smedstad served samples of his elote, a crowd-pleasing plate of roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime, and cotija cheese.
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25. We weren't wowed by our beef and pork meatball from Tuck Shop, but we have to give owner DJ Fernandez credit for coming up with a fun idea for the event. Fernandez offered attendees a wooden token that could be inserted into the restaurant's Meatball Machine. Stick your token through a little slot and out came a tiny plastic container (the sort you might get out of a toy vending machine) filled with one of various flavors of meatball. The plastic containers rolled down a long chute for a seriously amusing presentation.