When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Buck &Rider
Location: 4225 E. Camelback Road
Open: About a week
Between its high-profile location near the intersection of 44th Street and Camelback Road and the fact that its sister restaurants include fan favorites such as La Grande Orange, Chelsea's Kitchen, and Ingo's Tasty Food, the recently opened Buck &Rider has high expectations to meet.
The "casual upscale" spot (that's in the words of its creators) comes from the experienced LGO Restaurant Group, and specializes in fresh seafood the way La Grande Orange does pizza and Ingo's does burgers. The menu spans everything from a raw bar with a daily list of oysters, shrimp, and other crustaceans to a small selection of non-traditional sushi rolls with fillings like marcona almonds and bell peppers. Dinner entrees, of which there are eight, include salmon, trout, and snapper Veracruz, as well as roasted chicken, crab cakes, and the requisite steak.
On our recent visit, the brand new restaurant was, not surprisingly, busy. Arcadians from elderly couples to groups of yuppies were out in full force, filling the restaurant's airy but dark dining room and large patio. In fact, the place was so busy that by the time we ordered our food at 7:30 p.m., several dishes had already sold out.
We wanted to try the Deviled Crab Dip, described as a "house speciality," but weren't able to. Same story with the Buck &Rider Green Chile Cornbread, though to be fair, that dish is listed as being limited in availability. In the end, we settled on starting with the Steamed PEI Mussels ($16). They arrived promptly in a white ceramic dish, the top of which was removed at the table to release a dainty puff of steam.
The portion size didn't wow us compared to how many dark shells you might find in your bowl at other local restaurants. Then again, these are PEI — that's Prince Edward Island — mussels, some of the most popular filter feeders you can get. At Buck &Rider they sit atop a smoky nduja and white wine sauce that's heavier than you might expect. On the upside the deep flavor of the spreadable spicy salami was a nice departure from the usual delicate white wine sauce, but it was too thick for dipping the way you would with a proper broth.
The two pieces of green chile cornbread tucked into the bowl were moist, but also crumbly. It would have been impossible to tear off a hunk and drag it through the sauce the way we wanted to.
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Off the restaurant's sushi menu we tried the Crab & Macadamia Roll ($14). The six fat pieces of sushi each contained fresh blue crab, asparagus, macadamia nuts, Fresno chile, and shiso remoulade. We were happy to find the blue crab meat's flavor dominated each bite — a nice change when compared to the bargain sushi rolls that taste mostly like "spicy" and mayonnaise — and the macadamia nuts added a nice soft crunch to the mix. On the downside the shiso and the chile were all but imperceptible, and in the end we probably would have been just as happy without them.
Things ended on a high note with the Grilled Campbell River Salmon ($28), a handsome plate that featured a perfectly grilled piece of fish. Flaky and moist, the salmon was delicately sweet thanks to a miso marinade and came over a mix of green beans, mushrooms, pine nuts, and Fresno chile. The beans were tender but still retained some snap and provided just a little heat after being tossed with the chile. It's hard to be blown away by grilled salmon, but with this dish Buck &Rider at least came close. We're still dreaming about each bite of the pale pink fish.
The staff at Buck &Rider is so friendly they might seem familiar, though the restaurant's wireless POS system seems to be taking a while to get adjusted to. In theory, it makes sense — a server can ring in your glass of wine without having to leave the table — but in practice, it meant our server lingeringly around apologetically while she tried to figure out the system.
In many ways, Buck &Rider is exactly what you'd expect. It's stylish but comfortable and certainly impressive. And most important, it's already a new favorite for the neighborhood. We visited during the first week and the person the table over had already eaten at the restaurant twice, and on every instance we've driven by, the place was doing brisk business. While we weren't blown away by any single offering, to say this place appeals to the neighborhood seems almost too obvious.