Arizona Restaurant Week -- the Spring 2013 Edition -- begins Saturday, May 18 and ends Monday, May 27 (which is Memorial Day, when most of us will be grilling burgers and drinking beer at home . . . but never mind). By the end of this week, ARW officially will be upon us: a 10-day eating extravaganza of bargain-priced restaurant food and a last hurrah for local restaurants who already have begun to feel the slowdown that comes with our long, hot summers.
I've studied Arizona Restaurant Week's website extensively and found five places I'd not only love to visit but also consider a legit bargain. See what you think.
P.S. This list is based on what can be found on the ARW website as of this writing, and frankly, the pickin's are slim, which doesn't diminish the five noteworthy selections here.
It's been far too long since I've paid a visit to Atlas, the charming BYO bistro tucked inside AZ Wine Co, in a no-frills strip mall in South Scottsdale. And now there's every reason to go. Not only does its restaurant week menu make me instantly hungry (and that's the gauge here, isn't it?), but I'm eager to learn more -- via mouth instead of word-of-mouth -- about its new executive chef Chris McKinley. His résumé includes stints at J&G Steakhouse, Addison in Del Mar (under William Bradley, who worked here at Mary Elaine's back in the day) and most recently at Noca and Sam Fox's NoRTH Fattoria (where McKinley worked under Chris Curtiss in both venues). I want every single first course offered -- especially the Wagyu bone marrow with crispy lamb bacon, red onion jam, and aleppo pepper. But really, I mean it when I say I want them all. Ditto for entrees, so I guess I'd better come with friends. And because customers can bring their own wine or buy something at AZ Wine Co. (which means no corkage fee), the $40 price for such an inventive meal will be super-reasonable when all is said and done.
Blistered Radishes, Fromage d'Affinois au Poivre, Cranberry Mostarda, Aged Saba
Grilled Artichoke Barigoule, Basil Pesto Aioli and charred Lemon
Apple Wood Smoked Fish with Cucumber Gribiche, Deconstructed Egg and Toast Points
Wagyu Bone Marrow, Crispy Lamb Bacon, Red Onion Jam, Aleppo Pepper
Heirloom Tomatoes, Wild Arugula, Baby Spinach, Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Chop Caesar Salad, Charred Tomatoes, Roasted Garlic Croutons, Sardinian Dressing
Chilled Corn Soup, Avocado Succotash, Calabrian Chile Oil
Housemade Tagliatelle Pasta, Tenderbelly Pork Bolognese, Grana Padana
Maine Diver Scallops, Melted Leek Risotto, Local Vegetables, Citrus Gremolata
Braised Short Rib, Curried Yam Puree, Apple Slaw, Asian Five Spice
Desserts and Cheese are a la carte.
The three-course prix fixe menu at Christopher's will also set you back $40++, but to my mind, the price is a screaming deal when you consider the contemporary elegance of the setting plus a menu that reads trés classique. I'll have a tough time deciding between house-smoked salmon atop créme fraiche panna cotta or foie gras torchon with brioche for the first course, scallop mousse with lobster sauce or hard-to-find frog legs for the second, and who knows which one the four entrees I'll decide on for dinner? It'll probably depend on my mood that day, but I'll surely be asking myself when was the last time I had Sole Meunière. For an extra 20 bucks, Chef-owner Chris Gross offers wine pairings for each course (each dish, in fact), which means your by-the-glass cost is a tad over $7, and it's been paired by people (including Gross's wine geek-y partner Paola Embry) who know their stuff. I also like having dessert as an extra add-on, given that the real bargain is in finding three courses of classic French dishes you seldom see at all, much less at these prices. And with wine! Ooh la la!
Panna Cotta of Creme Fraiche with Christopher's Smoked Salmon and Duncan Farms Greens Paired with: Wrigley Mansion Private Label Brut- Albuquerque
Torchon of Foie Gras with Brioche Paired With: Domaine Bru-Brache Jurançon Moelleux 'Les Casterasses' - Southwest-France
Salad of Duncan Farms Greens and House Made Ricotta and Beets Paired With: Domaine du Salvard Cheverny -Tourraine-Loire Valley, France
Mousse of Scallops with Lobster Sauce Paired WIth: Frederic Magnien, Petit Chablis - Burgundy, France Or
Cuisses de Grenouille (Frog Legs) Paired WIth:Schiefer Blaufrankisch 'eisenberg' - Austria
Alsatian Onion Tart with Bacon Paired With:Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc- Alsace, France THIRD COURSE
Bistrot Tender with Au Poive Sauce And Sautéed Shallots Paired With: 2009 Montgras Cabernet Sauvignon
Boudin Noir de Shreiners with Onions and Red Wine Sauce Paired With: Cuatro Pasos Mencia - Bierzo, Spain Or
Sole Meunière Paired With: 2009 'The Honorable' Chardonnay - Washington Or
Coq Au Vin Paired With: 2008 Seven Hills Merlot - Washington
Wine Pairings Additional $20
If you're a bona fide bargain hunter, then you've probably already done your research, which means you already know that you can't do better than Noca's $30 three-course dinner, so chock-full of tempting choices it'll take you 15 minutes just to make up your mind. And that's a good thing because offering the customer choices demonstrates effort, pride, and enthusiasm on Noca's part. Owner Eliot Wexler and his perfectionist chef, Claudio Urciuoli, aren't just going through the motions here. They're strutting their stuff, which is what restaurant week should be about. Even better, the two are fanatical about sourcing great ingredients, so the seafood, the pork, the veggies, and even the house-baked bread and pizza (both made with heirloom grains) will all be first-rate. And because Urciuoli brings his Italian sensibility and upbringing to the table, each dish is a crash course in real Italian cooking -- simple, restrained, delicious. Be sure to read to the bottom of the menu for even more options. Two trips, maybe?
First Course (choice of) Gazpacho Marcona Dust
Meatball Panino Mozzarella, Greens, Tomato Sauce
Roasted Eggplant & Heirloom Tomato Salad Cucumbers, Feta, Country Bread, Forum Cabernet Vinaigrette
First Course Supplements ($10) Chilled Prawn Salad Potato, Celery, Olives, Capers, Chile
Sausage & Rapini Schiacciata Mozzarella, Tomato, Chile
Mushroom Schiacciata Smoked Mozzarella, Tomato SECOND COURSE
Second Course (choice of) Crespelle Zucchini², Potato, Ricotta, Tomato Sauce
Creste di Gallo Red Wine Braised Lamb, Roasted Garlic Crema, Pecorino
Kurobuta Pork Loin Prosciutto Wrapped, Peperonata, Crushed Potatoes, Spicy Tomato Jam
Burrida Monterrey Calamari, Mussels, Clams, Branzino, Spicy Seafood Brodo
Supplemental Entrée (+$5) Hangar Steak Crushed Potatoes, Roasted Mushrooms, Salsa Verde THIRD COURSE
noca Ho Ho Chocolate Sponge Cake, Milk Chocolate, Hazelnut Mousse, Chocolate Glaze, Hazelnut Crunch, Fleur de Sel Caramel
Warm Doughnuts & Holes
Noca is offering a 3-course menu priced at $30 or a 4-course menu adding a pasta as the second course priced at $40 both menus include a glass of house white or red wine.
On Monday May 20, and Monday May 27, Noca will offer a five-course menu for $45 that is choice of first course, pasta, fish, meat, and dessert.
Why, you may ask, do I select Petite Maison (the cozy French bistro in Old Town) again and again for Arizona Restaurant Week? Easy. Chef-owner James Porter never fails to come up with a provocative menu that makes my mouth water and my mind spin. I love it when he gets cerebral, and that's certainly the case this spring, when each course will feature a different country/region that, at some point, has fused its cuisine with that of France. So there are history and geography lessons here, should you care to chew on something meatier than what's on your plate. The first course is themed French Asian, the second French Moroccan, and the third French Italian. I definitely want char siu pork jowls with braised shiitake and savory crepe (round one), sea bass in papillote with saffron, pastis, couscous, and preserved lemon (round two) and rhubarb carpaccio with brown sugar streusel and goat cheese. There's also a $14 French French supplement of foie gras torchon with Sauternes "pop rocks" that I'm pretty sure has my name on it.
char siu pork jowls, braised shiitake, savory crepe
soft shell crab tempura, carrot-ginger slaw, black truffle
sea bass en papillote, saffron, pastis, cous cous, preserved lemon
roasted lamb leg, chickpea robichon, cipolinni confit, cured olives
nutella raviolis, aged balsamic strawberries, cracked pepper
rhubarb carpaccio, brown sugar streusel, goat cheese
French French Supplement $14
hudson valley foie gras torchon, sauternes "pop rocks"
Local foodists and even hard-to-please Yelpers are raving about this casual, family-owned Italian spot in the Esplanade, inspired by neighborhood storefronts in Chicago. Chef Craig Degel, a SoCal guy who spent years working in Windy City kitchens, also has done stints at a few prestigious restaurants here in Phoenix, including Noca and Cork. The food on SOLO's website and Facebook page looks amazing, and the $30 menu sounds like a good introduction to a place that touts seasonal ingredients and unfussy Italian cooking. Do I want burrata with marinated heirloom tomatoes and basil Green Goddess? Yes, I do. Or green beans with new potatoes, smoked prosciutto, sieved egg and Prosecco vinaigrette? Or ham and fig pizza? Or oatmeal stout panna cotta? Yes to all three. And for $30, how can I lose?
Solo Caprese - Burrata, marinated heirloom tomato, basil green goddess Beets - Arugula, pecans, razz cherry, Crow's Dairy goat cheese, beet vinaigrette House Meatballs - Simple tomato sauce, pecorino Green Beans - New potatoes, smoked prosciutto, sieved egg, prosecco vinaigrette Organic Lettuces - Shaved vegetables, balsamic SECOND COURSE
Margherita Pizza - Tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil Skuna Bay Salmon - Orzo, gazpacho salad, salsa verde Roast Organic Chicken - Corn, chilies, Crow's Dairy feta, Calabrian BBQ Coppa Pizza - Our version of a pepperoni w/tomato, mozzarella, straciatella, chile flake Ham and Figs Pizza - Prosciutto, fig jam, mozzarella, arugula, parmigiano THIRD COURSE
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SHOW ME HOW
Affogato - Espresso, vanilla gelato, Jackie's biscotti Summer Berry Soup - olive oil cake, vanilla cream Oatmeal Stout Panna Cotta - blueberry jam, granola Gelato Trio (Choice of three) - Vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, pistachio, mascarpone, cannoli crunch ADDITIONAL OFFERING
add a 2nd course pasta for $10 choice of:
Tagliatelle Carbonara - House guanciale, calabrian chile, pecorino, farm egg Spaghetti alla Chitarra - Pesto Trapanese, caciocavallo