Last night we got a taste of the latest venture from Tommy Plato, who owns the four-store mini-chain of Gelato Spots in the Valley. Above the Old Town Scottsdale location of Gelato Spot, Plato's built an intimate restaurant with a cool retro vibe. Plato describes this new spot as "Mad Men-inspired" and story-driven, which means you can expect an impressive lineup of classic cocktails that compliment (if not outshine) the menu of well-composed food.
Called the Second Story Liquor Bar the restaurant and cocktail lounge stars the talents of chef Josh Bracher and "Whiskey Man" John Christie, whom you might already know from his time at the now-closed Old Town Whiskey at The Saguaro Hotel.
Bracher's menu features 11 appetizers and just nine entrees that range in price from a $15 Vegan en Papillote to $29 Scallops Carbonara. "New American" might be the best way to sum it all up, with appetizers including soft shell crab with sweet chili coconut curry next to Italian-inspiried dishes such as the "Inside Out Caprese" salad. From our sample of dishes we found the menu easy to enjoy with plenty of mass appeal -- though in some cases it did feel overly complicated and perhaps in need of a little more editing.
We tried the Asian Chopped Salad, a dish loaded with different ingredients including butter lettuce, wasabi peas, forbidden rice, tomato, Lotus chips, and a honey ginger dressing. We also tasted the Niman Ranch Bone-In Lamb Chops ($27), which come atop a bed of orange basil gnocchi, mushrooms, and goat cheese.
The standout dish that we tried had to be the Duck Breast Roulade ($24). Wrapped in perfectly smoky-sweet bacon and stuff with caramelized onions and golden raisins, the dish showcased tender duck over a creamy parsnip puree and an orange gastrique.
The Scallops Carbonara were a close second favorite -- the tender scallops were fresh and flavorful, complemented well by English peas, mushrooms, and fennel. It's one of two dishes that feature the restaurant's housemade gnocchi, in this case black pepper and Peruvian potato varieties. The flavors in both (especially the black pepper) were on point, though the texture just missed that ideal pillowy-ness wanted from ideal gnocchi.
The drinks, which come from the Second Story's beautiful -- if small -- bar, are all pretty great. The menu is tight, just 12 cocktails and two champagne cocktails, but offers something for everyone and plenty of history.
The menu is split into three parts: The Beginnings (with classic drinks including a Philadelphia Fish Bowl Punch), Golden Age (which includes a gin fizz and a mint julep), and finally Avant Garde (where you'll find creations of the more modern variety). It's understandably heavy on the darker spirits, as Christie's known for his work with whiskey.
While we enjoyed every cocktail we tried (and we tried nearly all of them), one of our favorites was that hard-to-find Philadelphia Fish Bowl Punch, a drink that dates back to the 1700s featuring Appleton Rum, brandy, lemon juice, and tea. It's definitely the kind of menu item that cocktail lovers will get excited to see. We also couldn't put down the Commodore, a mixture of bourbon, lemon, lime, orange, bitters, and simple syrup. A mescal rinse added smoky complexity to the drink, which manages to be fruity but not sweet.
The High & Tight -- a champagne cocktail made with Lunetta prosecco, house bitters, sugar cubes, and a flamed orange peel -- was another surprise winner.
As far as the concept goes, there's potential for things to get a bit gimmicky, but we didn't mind little details like our server's custom-designed lace-adorned aprons and long pearl necklaces, or the bartenders purposely undone bow ties. In fact, we hardly noticed them since we were so busy being impressed by the top-notch service. During our experience, the Second Story managed to split a perfect balance between offering fine dining service in a fun, casual atmosphere.
The Second Story will serve dinner from 4 to 10 p.m. seven days a week. There will also be a late night menu available until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. The separate late night menu includes options like Cuban Pork Sliders ($12), Chicken Katsu Sandwich ($10), and Shrimp Fritters ($10).
The restaurant and bar will also offer happy hour.
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Second Story Liquor Bar 4166 N. Scottsdale Rd, 2nd Story 480-945-5555 www.secondstoryliquorbar.com