When we heard there was going to be a "7 Chef Steakout" at Tempe's Top of the Rock, we immediately began counting down to the moment when the beef-filled extravaganza would begin. Seven dishes from seven of the Valley's top chefs and seven local beers and cocktails from Four Peaks were enough to get us there.
With the culinary experience now over, here's our summary of every deliciously meaty course.
Dish: Beef Tartare (Eye of Round) Chef: Joshua Herbert (Posh) Right off the bat, Chef Herbert tests your commitment to eating cattle prepared as many different ways as possible by serving an Asian-style tartare dish. We're usually not big fans of tartare, but this tasted and felt more like a denser version of sashimi than any tartare we'd ever tried before. We're not pretending to know a whole lot about tartare, but we had to admit that this was awfully good. The wonton strips provided a great crunch while the seaweed was, well, seaweed. The accompanying drink was called a "Red Eye-PA." and used both a spicy pepper flavor and sweet fruit to add an Asian-flavored complement to the dish.
Dish: Mongolian Beef (Sweet Breads) Chef: Kelly Fletcher (The Revival) While Mongolian beef certainly isn't a very uncommon dish, Chef Fletcher's version was certainly a re-imagining of what you would typically think of when it comes to the Asian food. The lightly battered and fried sweet breads (see: organ meat) brought a unique crunchy on the outside/soft on the inside texture to the dish while the flavors were brought out by the bed of fried rice underneath it. Considering we generally wouldn't dare to try sweet breads, it's hard to complain about a tasty offering made from a part of the cow that generally gets passed on. The Peach Ale was a refreshing light beer that helped to cut some of the innate greasiness of the fried meat and rice without stealing any tastebuds away from the food.
Dish: Beef Tongue Pastrami (Beef Tongue) Chef: Bernie Konkak (The Gladly / Citizen Public House) After eating tartare and organ meat, we figured we'd made it through the weird stuff and now would get to eat some more traditional steaks and beef products. Chunks of tongue served as pastrami is probably a little more common, but not by much. Not that it wasn't good, but this was probably our least favorite round of the seven-course sampling. The tongue pastrami from Konkak tasted like a bread-free pastrami sandwich (it was even served with mustard seeds and a peppery sauce), but it was also greasy and fatty like a pastrami sandwich without the bread to soak it up. The woman at the table behind us refused to eat it because it "still looked like tongue" but that didn't bother us. Though it wasn't our favorite meat, we figure it was probably still some of the best tongue pastrami you'd find anywhere, and the Sunbru served with it did manage to peel away some of the fatty grease off of our mouths, much like the round before it.
Dish: Chorizo (Top Sirloin) Chef: Scott Holmes (Little Miss BBQ) Have you ever had chorizo mixed with sirloin? Neither did we until Chef Holmes from Little Miss BBQ in Tempe decided to enlighten us. At this point in the meal, the chorizo/sirloin combo was the best dish we'd eaten, there was little doubt about that. The spiciness of the chorizo and chimichurri meshed perfectly with the rich sirloin, while the mashed creamed corn underneath provided a sweet stable base to hold it all together. If it were an option to eat this everyday, we'd at least consider it. The sweet Kiltlifter smoothly washed everything down and pleasantly quelled some of the chimichurri's spice.
Dish: Chicken Fried Steak (Inside Skirt) Chef: Stephen Jones (Bootleggers) Considering that we love chicken fried steak and we think Bootleggers is pretty good too, we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of this plate from Chef Jones on our table. Our eyes followed the servers as they carried massive white plates around the restaurant, but upon receiving our plate, something seemed wrong. For one thing, there was a single thin circle of meat on the plate, which made it difficult to share (the whole meal was one plate for every two people). With the approximate diameter of a tennis ball, the meat only provided two or three bites each once cut in half, and the pink prime rib-like meat just didn't seem like it wanted to be chicken fried steak. We have no problem with breading and frying the outside of some fancy roast beef and calling it a dish, but this reimagining of chicken fried steak just didn't do it for us. It didn't taste bad, it just wasn't chicken fried steak, and we don't think it really fit as a modified take on the normal version, unlike the Mongolian beef. On the other hand, the 8th Street Ale has always been one of our favorites, so we were glad to have that.
Dish: Beef Cheek Chef: Gio Osso (Virtu) Honestly, we didn't even know beef cheeks were a thing until we saw them on the menu. We had no idea what to expect going into it, but the meat was shredded and tender, with the consistency of a good pulled pork. Instead of using pronounced seasoning or sauces, Chef Osso let the taste of the meat speak for itself, simply plating it on top of a crisp gnocchi frito in a way that was reminiscent of a high-end beef tostada. By this point, a lot of the beef and beer was beginning to run together in our mouths, but we think the welcomed taste of Four Peaks' Hop Knot is good to wash down just about anything.
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Dish: Ground Sirloin Brownie (Short Rib) Chef: Gregory Wiener (Top of the Rock) First of all, we assumed that Chef Gregory Wiener would steal the show with his cattle-based dish because Top of the Rock is his restaurant, after all. What we didn't expect was to be blown away by a short rib brownie that made all of the other dishes (with the possible exception of the chorizo/sirloin plate) totally forgettable. When we say this was one of the single best things we've ever consumed, we mean it. You may be thinking that a sirloin brownie would have a meaty taste or feel to it. You'd be wrong. The short rib was ground up and mixed into the brownie, providing it with an extra thick chewiness that you usually don't get in desserts. Drizzled with a goat milk caramel sauce and garnished with a couple raspberries, and a little bit of pecan roca, we really couldn't imagine having anything better than this. There's no real way to capture the blend of sweet flavors other than to say that the first six plates felt like an appetizer to this amazing brownie. The sweet Kashmir cocktail that went with it did a perfect job of replicating the chocolate raspberry flavor of the cake, but it was still second fiddle to the dessert itself. We still haven't been consoled over the fact that it's not on a menu anywhere, but we're hoping Wiener will give us a personal invitation if he's ever making it again.