Is it March already? I can't believe it. But that could be because the last few weeks have been jammed packed with restaurant openings and food festivals — including the fifth annual Arizona Cocktail Week, Arizona Beer Week, Chinese New Year, and more. And while time may be slipping by faster than ever, last month certainly did offer lots in the way of good food and drink. From fusion fare at a new Scottsdale restaurant to a Jello shot that had me rethinking everything I thought I knew about edible booze, here are the highlights of my dining adventures last month in metro Phoenix.
I hope you get to try some of it for yourself soon.
Whole Steamed Fish at Nee House
I was lucky enough to be invited to share a Chinese New Year lunch at Nee House restaurant in North Phoenix last month. The restaurant offers a special menu of traditional dishes to celebrate the holiday, and we ordered several of them including a dish with dried oysters and black moss (intimidating, even to this intrepid diner) and a plate a braised pig's trotters. The most visually impressive and my personal favorite, however, was the whole steamed fish, which is supposed to bring surplus and prosperity in the new year since the Chinese word for "fish"sounds similar to the word "abundant." Nee House is one of the Valley's best Chinese restaurants for fresh seafood (there are several tanks for live fish and lobsters in the back of the small eatery), and this perfectly cooked, delicately flavored fish lived up to every expectation.
Mushroom Trio Flatbread at American Way Market and Cafe
Chandler residents, I'm jealous. I'm jealous you have such a great little destination in your backyard in the form of American Way Market and Cafe. Of course, baker Jared Allen has been turning out incredible croissants and breads from his home kitchen for years, but now you can find the gluten-filled creations at this restaurant and soda shop inside the Merchant Square Antique Mall. I sampled quite a few things from the spot's menu during my first visit, but one of the stand out dishes was a doughy flatbread that showcased both the spot's excellent baked goods and smoked meats. The mushroom trio flatbread doesn't normally come topped with house-smoked pulled pork, but the savory addition turns this into a filling lunch that's well worth the drive from where ever you might coming.
Indian Chicken Curry at George & Dragon
I know what you're thinking, "Curry at George & Dragon?" But I swear, this British pub knows a thing or two about ghee and curry spice. I went to the restaurant to check out the recent remodel (the result of the spot's appearance on Spike TV's Bar Rescue) but ended up being more impressed with my plate of flavorful chicken curry than with the updated look. It's not the most traditional version of the Indian dish, but if you're looking for a satisfying gently spicy curry in Midtown Phoenix, I highly suggest giving G&D and try.
Inde Fried Rice at Inde Fusion
Gainey Ranch might not not be the first place that comes to mind when it comes to innovative restaurants, but the recently-opened Inde Fusion does a nice job packaging traditional Indian flavors in non-traditional ways. Take as an example, the restaurants incredibly easy-to-like Inde Fried Rice, a dish that can be ordered with any number of meats — though I opted for the vegetarian option, paneer, or Indian farmer cheese. The cool cubes of cheese played well with the fluffy basmati rice, which earned its subtle, but balanced flavors from soy, fish, and oyster sauces and little bit of masala spice. It's a simple dish but one that's completely approachable whether you're an experienced Indian cuisine aficionado or a first-time diner.
Jello Shot at Arizona Cocktail Week
There were plenty of great cocktails to be had during this year's Arizona Cocktail Week, but one of the boozey indulgences we still can't stop thinking about didn't even come in liquid form. At the event's kickoff party, the Cocktail Carnival, I found well-known local mixologist Richie Moe serving up these stunning little Jello shots at the Square One Concepts booths. Made with Tito's vodka, the translucent cubes were bursting with fruity flavor and showcased the vodka's clean finish in a fun, unexpected way. It's been a while since Moe parted ways with the Citizen Public House team, where he established himself as one of the most innovative barmen in town, but this single bite has me excited to see what he'll do at the soon-to-open Crab & Mermaid restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale.