From stellar service to the very last bite, memories of a great meal can last a lifetime. And who better to ask about memorable meals than people who've devoted their professional lives to food? From Tratto's fresh pasta to a Five Guys burger, discover the most mind-blowing meals Phoenix chefs have eaten lately.
What was the last truly mind-blowing meal you ate? What made it so memorable?
Beau Macmillan, executive chef of elements
I travel all over the country, and am blessed to have been able to dine in some incredible restaurants. I take memories from each and every one of them, but my most recent mind-blowing dining experience would have to be Eleven Madison Park in New York City. The food was spectacular, the service stellar, and in the same vein, it was approachable and genuine. I embrace Michelin-starred restaurants that deliver a whimsical food experience and incredible service, but still come across as grateful to have you, as opposed to thinking you should be grateful to be there. We also dove into the restaurant’s cocktail portfolio, and felt that they were better than some of the best-rated bars in the city.
Tracy Dempsey, owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals
I had the pleasure of partaking in FnB's Seven Year Itch dinner. I have to say I was blown away by just about everything. I love those plates that practically cut off all noise around you and you just focus on what you are experiencing. I was totally smitten with the fried chard stems and fry sauce. However, it was the guinea hen bastilla that left me sighing and wishing my spouse hadn't liked it as much as I.
Tomaso Maggiore, executive chef of Tomaso’s Italian Restaurant
This past summer, I went to Italy with two of my grandchildren. I went to Rimini on the Adriatic coast of Italy and I went to dine in at San Domenico Restaurant, and I ordered a ravioli filled with ricotta, egg
yolk, and truffle. It was amazing and delicious dish, and my two grandchildren encouraged me to ask the chef if he could share the recipe. Not only he did, he also took the three of us to the kitchen and showed us the way it was done. When I came back to the States, I put it on Tomaso’s menu, and now it is one of my most popular items on the menu.
Rachel Ellrich Miller, pastry chef and owner of Pistol Whipped Pastry
You will laugh at this one, but right after I had my daughter, my parents brought me a double cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake from Five Guys, and it was one of the best-tasting meals I’ve ever had. Probably because I had been in labor for 17 hours, but it was just everything I needed and wanted in that moment.
Before that, probably Tratto. I love what Bianco and Anthony Andiario are doing there. Had ricotta filled scarpinocc with fava beans and crispy sage. I love the use of local ingredients. I love the fresh pastas. I love the thoughtful construction of the dishes. Follow @anthonyandiario on Instagram! His pasta porn is fantastic.
The last truly mind-blowing meal I had was at 43rd Express (Pho 43 Express) in Maryvale. Authentic Vietnamese food that is honest and devoid of pretension. One of the most flavorful pho broths I've ever
tasted, full of fragrance and complexity. The macaron ice cream sandwich after was too good. A true gem.
Javi Perez, chef of Pomelo located at the Orchard PHX
When we went to Hawaii with my family, we decided to go out to the countryside where many tour guides told us we wouldn't be welcomed. We pulled over on the side of the road next to a small trailer selling food. We asked for the best thing on the menu and the guy said "I only serve two things, poke or fried fish." I said I'll take two of each. The fish was yellowfin tuna caught just minutes before we got there.
The poke was marinated just right and was very fresh. The people were very polite and friendly; they even stood up and gave us each a chair and shared some food while we waited for ours. Best food ever. Wish I
could go back more often.
Rebecca Tillman, executive chef of Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort
I recently went to London with my husband for a vacation, and we ate at Five Fields in Chelsea. Amazing was an understatement! Their interpretation of "summer" in a dish was unreal. It was four separate dishes all served at the same time. A pheasant egg, duck tongue, and plums; the next was summer tomatoes, fennel, and a fresh, warm farmstead cheese; then Rocket with field berries; and finally a basil granita with a French Champagne foam. It all was very light and delicious. Each dish was accompanied by a card that described why each item reminded the chef of summer. It was her memories of growing up in the countryside of England and how that translated to food. Colorful, texturally pleasing, and the smell of each dish was refreshing.
Tamara Stanger, chef of Helio Basin Brewing
It was 2 a.m. in Las Vegas at a taco shop. There were at least 100 people standing in line. Inside the tiniest kitchen were three men with autodoners and machete-sized knives cranking out al pastor at lightning speed. I’ve never tasted anything like it. That was two years ago, and I still dream about it. It was called Los Gordos.
Kevin Morrison, chef of Tacos Tequila Whiskey
January 2014 at Hartwood in Tulum, Mexico. The food is simple yet deep in flavor. The atmosphere is something one can't duplicate and should not duplicate. The menu is designed by what they have available that day. I was lucky enough to meet Eric Werner, the chef-owner, and Ken Oringer of Toro Boston and New York on my last trip. Eric was receiving a seafood delivery at 10 p.m., and he asked Ken and I to tag along. A local father and son had fished all day and drove to Hartwood. It was a pretty badass experience.
Jared Porter, chef The Clever Koi
The last meal I had that was mind-blowing was at Tratto. Italian food is close to my heart, and those guys are doing it right. The quality is great, the technique on the pasta alone is impeccable, and
the simplicity is where a true cook can shine.
Allison DeVane, owner of Teaspressa and Tea & Toast Co.
Chilaquiles from Chef Stephen Jones. Holy smokes. The combination of the braised chicken, cottage cheese, pork shreds all tossed in a pan with their house-made salsa verde, topped with fried sunny-side eggs so that when you slowly move your fork into the dish the yolk beautifully runs, and a dash of Homeboy's Hot Sauce ... game over! Doctor Jones also always makes it a point in presentation with plates inspired by his grandma and fresh flowers as garnish.
It was more like a guilty pleasure meal! It was baked brie cheese in puff pastry, with ate de guayaba and chiltepin salsa on top of it, along with some grapes that were infused with a sangria reduction. It sounds odd, but it was so ridiculously good I stopped for a moment and said “Oh my God!” This has to be the best thing I have had in a long time. What made it so memorable was the mix of the ingredients: Chiltepines and ate de guayaba are from my home in Sonora, and using a French brie cheese with a classic French technique made a perfect harmony.
Mike Goldsmith, chef of Joe’s Midnight Run
Two places come to mind. Binkley's for sure. His food is simply amazing and not overdone in any way, shape, or form. All flavor. The second would be a place called Cleo in the SLS hotel in Vegas. It’s a mix of different Mediterranean flavors that all blended together so well.
Gio Osso, chef of Virtú
A dinner in southern Italy. Simple preparation with the most amazing ingredients is what it's all about for me. Vegetables plucked from the garden 10 minutes before eating them. Catching a fish just hours
before it’s served whole with olive oil and sea salt - it’s an experience that can't be explained. That kind of freshness takes you to a different level.
Virginia Senior, chef of Urban Beans
Friends took me out for my birthday to Tarbell's. I had a dish with garlic mashed potatoes, topped with a marinated and grilled eggplant slice and morels. Everything was cooked perfectly. The smoky taste of the eggplant combined with the creaminess of the mashed potatoes was paired perfectly with the rich morels. What made it so mind-blowing was three very simple ingredients expertly prepared, and when combined made for an over-the-top combination where each bite was magical. How did [Chef Mark Tarbell] make such magic? That was the real birthday gift!
Judd Cummings, executive chef of Mill Avenue Management Group
I have to say a really memorable and astounding meal for me was a few years back when I was visiting my family in Tallahassee, Florida. I spent the day with my great-uncle Golden (he was 93 at the time) fishing for brim and gator (yes, that's right, alligator). After we did our daily catch, we spent the day seasoning, grilling, and smoking our bounty. The meal was mind-blowing, but it was also a life-altering day. I was able to experience and be part of a family tradition as well as be let in on a few secret recipes. My love of cooking started at home and took me into the industry. Having that day brought me full circle and reminded me what food is really about: family, friends, and shared memories.
Chris Nicosia, executive chef of SASSI
This is the toughest question of them all. It's been so long since a meal has "blown my mind." I'm going to have to go way back for this one. I'm sure that if I went out more it would be easier. Probably the steamed kingklip at a restaurant called the Fisherman's Grotto in Cape Town, South Africa. It was really the whole experience that made it so memorable. A small family restaurant. Super-fresh fish. You entered the restaurant through the kitchen where they were cleaning the fish. One-hundred-year-old brandy taken directly from the cask. Truly memorable. Unfortunately, I heard that the restaurant no longer exists. I wonder what they did with all of that brandy.
Rich Hinojosa, chef of CRUjiente Tacos
The last mind-blowing meal that I had was probably last summer in Napa at Morimoto. It was a great meal with my wife and two of my closest friends. That was part of it, but the food was just amazing. We
started with carpaccio and Hamachi tacos, and the depth of flavors was just awesome! It only got better from there, the sticky ribs, the spicy king crab and tempura shrimp, everything just had so much flavor. Very memorable.
Dushant Singh, director of culinary experiences at The Camby Hotel
My most amazing meal was at Vu, Hyatt Gainey Ranch. It was the same time I was working there. To experience what each guest who came in the restaurant experienced was amazing. And Chef Bradley is the best chef I have ever worked under. What made the dinner so memorable was it was my first time
experiencing food that was incredibly flavorful, creative, and beautifully presented. It was my first time eating foie gras as a guest and not just cooking it.
Jose Farias, chef of Vintage 95 Wine Lounge
Recently, my good friend Kristina and I were invited to a meal at Kai at the Wild Horse Pass. Chef Swanson and his team are the very best and this experience was extra-special because the Culinary Vegetable Institute and farmer Lee Jones provided most of the produce. We were lucky enough to have been seated next to [the] farmer himself and hear all of his stories. Between the amazing food and the company, it was truly a night to remember.
Garrison Whiting, chef of Counter Intuitive
The last truly mind-blowing meal I ate was a few years ago when I went to Roka Akor to meet with chef German Sega. He was the executive chef there at the time, and invited me in because we had been paired together for the Cowboy Ciao alumni dinner. I think I had 13 courses and was stuffed to the gills, but everything he brought me was amazing. It’s nice to be in the business sometimes.