Times flies when you're eating great food, and that was definitely the case last month, which means it's time to look back on the very best things I ate in February. The list includes everything from a sweet treat at one of Chow Bella's new favorite bakeries to indulgent dishes at one of the city's best-loved restaurants.
I hope you get to try some of it for yourself soon.
Squid Salad at Umami
Tucked on the backside of Mill Avenue's Brickyard building, Umami offers diners affordable bowls of ramen in a brightly lit and cheerful setting. Owner and chef Jared Lupin, formerly of Tempe's other ramen house, Republic Ramen, lets you design your own bowl of ramen -- but before you get into all that, take a moment to check out the bento options on the back of the menu. You can order four of the small plates for $8 or select one or two as appetizers for $2.50 each. The mildly spicy squid salad is a standout from the list, with hint of nuttiness from mixed-in sesame seeds and just-right amount of bite thanks to a sprinkling of scallions.
Alfajores at El Chullo
Central Phoenix's El Chullo might not look like much from the outside, but this little restaurant delivers solid Peruvian and South American cuisine. It's hard not to fill up on complimentary cancha (homemade corn nuts) and the generously sized entrees, but if you do manage to save room, then you won't want to pass on the alfajores. The sweet sandwich features creamy dulce de leche surrounded by two crumbly cookies, all of which gets a thick dusting of powdered sugar. The delicate cookies will seriously melt in your mouth.
Corned Beef Hash at FnB
There's always something special on the menu for Late Night Love at FnB in Scottsdale. The restaurant hosts the event on Saturday from 10 p.m. to midnight, giving night owls a chance to dine and drink off a limited menu. This month's specials included corned beef hash with salty but tender corned beef, roasted yukon gold potatoes and peppery iI'Itoi onions. Topped with a fried egg, this dish perfectly showcases James Beard Award semifinalist Charleen Badman's unpretentious but unforgettable cuisine. I can't tell you when it will reappear on the menu, but when it does, I suggest you act fast. Follow FnB on social media to find out.
Samosa at Little India
If you've never been to Little India, the Tempe market/restaurant specializing in all sorts of India chaat (snacks), then you're missing out on one hell of an experience. To order, you'll take a menu -- that probably won't have English descriptions of the food -- from the table near the kitchen in the back of the mark and check off the selections you'd like to eat. Then you hand deliver it to the ladies in the kitchen. I didn't try anything I didn't like, but the samosa topped my list of favorites. The triangular pillows encase a perfect mixture of potato, peas, carrots, and other spices. Your order will also come with a side of Tamarind chutney that's slightly sweet and just the right amount of spicy.
Truffle Bikini at The Tavern
There are some dishes that just feel luxurious to eat and the truffle bikini at Mark Tarbell's newly opened The Tavern is one of them. At $4, it's a perfect little indulgence. The mini-sandwich -- the name "bikini" goes back to a concert hall in Barcelona that once specialized in this Spanish take on a French croque monsieur -- features subtle truffle oil spread over melted Manchego, the Spanish hard cheese made of goat milk. The barely sweet challah bread that serves as the sandwich's base gets toasted on the outside but stays fluffy on the inside and then the whole dish gets a drizzle of chive oil. My only complaint? I wish it were bigger.
Napoleon from Le Napoleon
You may know it as a "mille-feuille," but whatever you call it, this French pastry is worth the drive out to Le Napoleon bakery on the west side of town. At the strip mall spot Swiss-born pastry chef Gerald Cretton whips up an array of European pastries and if you're lucky, he'll have a few of these in the case when you swing by. Cretton's version of a napoleon doesn't feature two layers of custard, making it more like a puff pastry and custard sandwich. And that's fine with me since the best part of this dessert is the pastry cream anyway, a rich vanilla filling that somehow manages to feel light as air.
Spaghetti at Cuttlefish
Joey Maggiore's Cuttlefish might be one of the more underrated restaurants in town right now. The menu of coastal Italian cuisine strikes a good balance between being interesting and approachable and the service is top-notch. The spaghetti is a prime example of how Cuttlefish tends to deliver more than you expect -- the menu description promises crab, sea urchin, and prawns but I didn't expect my dish be spilling over with hearty chunks of fresh crab meat and tender jumbo prawns. The pasta, prepared authentically al dente, also gets dressed in a fresh sauce of local tomatoes and basil. If you want to try this one for yourself, you'd better go soon because Cuttlefish adheres to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide, which helps restaurants select only sustainable seafood.
Mariscos con Arroz at Tumi
We've written about this Peruvian take on Spanish paella before, but in case you missed it, know that this is one of the standout dishes at Chandler's Tumi Fine Peruvian Cuisine. When you order the arroz con mariscos, you'll get a portion that's easily enough for two -- or even three -- people to share. The dish combines rice, peppers, and cheese with a generous amount of seafood -- seriously, a ton of seafood. As you eat you'll continue to find lobster, tender scallops, plump shrimps, and mussels. Amazing.
Sour Lemon Verbena Drops at Super Chunk Sweets and Treats
Country Velador's sweet shop Super Chunk Sweets and Treats has quickly become one of my favorite stops in Old Town Scottsdale. Every time I swing by, there's something new to try and on my last visit, it was these miniature candies. The Lemon Verbena Drops are addictingly good -- and not too sugary. They start out slightly sweet thanks to a coating of powdered sugar but quickly turn sour and herbal as you take in the lemon verbena flavor. At least at $2 an ounce they're an affordable addiction.
Pork Chop at Noca
After I ate this dish, I went back to Noca to ask how in the world they created such a tender, flavorful piece of pork -- which I'll admit isn't typically my favorite meat. Not surprisingly, owner Elliot Wexler credited the quality of the meat, but there's got to be credit given to the restaurant's new chef Adam Brown, too. The pork comes wrapped in prosciutto and sits atop a layer of crisp fingerling potatoes that you'll probably end up using to grab every last bit of jus that gathers at the bottom on the dish.
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