Cafe Reviews

At Scottsdale’s Posh, Your Dinner Is Improvised

Feeling adventurous? Then get yourself to Posh, a contemporary American restaurant in Scottsdale where I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised.

I mean that literally. Posh calls its food "improvisational cuisine," so even though you can specify your cravings, you won't know exactly what dishes you're getting until they arrive at the table as part of a multi-course tasting menu. Clearly, this place is trying to attract open-minded foodies, but even if you have dietary restrictions — say, an allergy or an aversion to certain ingredients — the folks at Posh are not only willing, they're eager to feed you a customized meal.

Personally, I liked the randomness of Posh. If I could've wished for anything, it would've been for the kitchen to throw something really exotic and cutting-edge my way. And maybe one day, the restaurant will be able to accommodate geeks like me. That said, I really enjoyed the food for what it was — well-prepared, fresh, seasonal American, served in a series of small courses.

This place is the brainchild of chef-owner Joshua Hebert, a sleeper talent who was a chef at Tarbell's, North, and Tokyo's ritzy Miyako Hotel before becoming a partner at Dual Contemporary American Cuisine in Gilbert. In 2007, right around the time that Dual was generating enough buzz to lure Phoenicians to the far East Valley, the restaurant closed. Posh opened this past New Year's Eve.

Hebert's tasting-menu-only concept is ambitious but not a complete surprise, given his background. He offered improvisational tasting menus at Dual and, of course, his stint in Japan acquainted him with omakase dining, in which you entrust the sushi chef with orchestrating your entire meal.

And just like a sushi bar, the restaurant features a smooth, 30-seat counter where customers can hang out and watch everything going on in the open kitchen. Actually, you can get a glimpse from just about any table in the airy dining room, which is surrounded by windows. The cool gray and black décor is brightened by an uplit wood panel running underneath the counter, as well as taut orange fabric panels that give punches of color to the high ceilings.

Instead of a traditional menu, customers get a personal checklist to fill out. You begin by indicating how many courses you want (starting with a flat $45 for four courses, with each additional course another $10) and whether you'd like wine pairings. There's a rundown of the day's featured meats and seafood, so you can mark whether something strikes your fancy or specifically doesn't appeal to you. You can also note how you like your meat cooked, whether you'll eat raw meat or fish, whether you want an all-vegetarian meal, and any other details.

It's easiest, of course, to just check "chef's choice." That's what I did, with the hope that Hebert would make something wonderful with the best ingredients available. I figured that if he's going to call it "improvisational cuisine," then I shouldn't give the chef any reason to hold back.

I know, this sounds either really fun or really annoying. And that's the thing about this concept that I worry about. How many people want to dine this way, or have the time for it? Among those who do, how many will return again and again? Actually, forget about wanting. In the midst of a recession, how about affording?

Some of the finest restaurants in town — Binkley's and Sea Saw, in particular — are famous for their luxurious tasting menus, but even those places still have a set menu of à la carte items, with signature dishes that you might come to love and crave and come back for. So splurge on Kevin Binkley's full tasting menu when you can, and then plan a return visit just for another taste of his seared foie gras.

At Posh, a beautiful piece of pan-seared escolar was the most delightful thing I ate, the kind of dish I would definitely order again if it were part of a regular menu. The fish was perfectly succulent, resting on a scoop of creamed spinach, with several peeled, marinated cherry tomatoes and drops of basil oil surrounding it. In between bites of the luscious spinach and buttery fish, I'd pop a tomato in my mouth and smile at the bright burst of basil-tinged sweetness.

Seafood must be Hebert's thing, because loup de mer, served on top of risotto with caramelized onions, was another fine piece of fish, and a chilled endive and watercress salad was filled with delicate chunks of fresh octopus.

Rich, fork-tender short ribs were also outstanding. On the side, there was a heap of roasted fingerlings tossed with sautéed spinach. Moist seared duck breast, teamed with root vegetable hash and lightly spiced orange gastrique, had a satisfying, wintry taste, while roasted kangaroo, served with red wine demi and roasted red beet, was as comforting as roast beef.

Juicy grilled rib eye was presented simply, with fresh, bright-green broccolini. And velvety foie gras, served cool, with citrus coulis and a glittery ball of spun sugar, was simultaneously decadent and unexpectedly light.

Shrimp curry soup was a weak link. I liked the spicy flavor and the pineapple salsa that accompanied it, but the consistency was nearly watery, and the soup was merely warm. I suspect the bowl hadn't been heated in the first place because it was cold to the touch.

I didn't enjoy the "floating island" dessert, either. Basically a cloud of poached merengue on a sweet, nondescript cream sauce, it was neither substantial nor satisfying. Thin chocolate plaquettes with white chocolate mousse and mint ice cream were much more appropriate.

Service was an issue, unfortunately. I'd heard that Posh's multi-course meals were too drawn-out, but my experience was the opposite — a bit too quick from course to course. The hostess and the servers were helpful and down to earth, but at end of the meal, the quality of service inexplicably dropped off.

A friendly manager who'd introduced himself and promised to check in later in the evening never did. And shockingly, not a single person thanked us as my dining companion and I got up to leave — and the restaurant was almost empty by then. Considering the open kitchen and all, I'd guess there were easily half a dozen employees who watched us walk out and didn't say a peep. Incredible.

But by far, the biggest problem for Posh is accessibility. It's situated inside the Optima Camelview development — those gorgeous tiered condos just north of Fashion Square — and faces Scottsdale Road. But even when you technically know the location, the restaurant is very challenging to find.

Forget about the Rancho Vista Drive address — just pull into Optima's driveway, on Highland, and take an immediate right to get to underground parking. From there, good luck finding a visitor's parking spot, or the restaurant itself. Posh needs to get some serious signage up immediately.

If not, Joshua Hebert is going to have a hard time shaking his sleeper talent status.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig