There is a sequence of scenes in Batman Begins in which Bruce Wayne goes to a remote dojo in the mountains. There, apart from society, Wayne can leave behind the bustle to focus and train. By the time he returns to Gotham, Wayne is Batman.
In early 2018, Dom Ruggiero left Chelsea’s Kitchen, a 200-seat restaurant in Arcadia, for an 827-square-foot butcher shop in Carefree. There, at The Meat Market, apart from the commotion of running a high-volume kitchen with corporate mandates, Ruggiero got to work in a creative way.
He staged at Electric City Butcher in southern California.
He sawed sides of beef, aged rib-eye, trimmed lamb, smoked bacon.
After nine months away from the restaurant kitchen, Ruggiero returned in February. And if you have eaten at his new restaurant, Hush Public House, you probably know that if Ruggiero wasn’t Batman before he went away to cure salumi and carve oyster steaks, he is definitely Batman now.
Just three months in, Hush is one of the best restaurants in or near Scottsdale. Ruggiero owns the 40-seat eatery with Charles Barber. The two hit it off about a decade ago, when Ruggiero returned from a spell of cooking in New York to work at Zinc Bistro, where Barber oversaw the bar program. Barber does the same at Hush; drinks are solid and lean toward old and new classics, boulevardiers and French 75s. Arguably, his greatest superpower is as a general manager. With an easy grace, he welcomes north Scottsdale crowds into a tiny room bathed in blues-rock, priming salmon-and-kale-salad eaters for oxtail and raw beef heart.
Against Ruggiero’s recent history, meat isn’t the lone star. In the past, he cooked in restaurants in New York; Santa Monica, California; and Charleen Badman's FnB, each with a robust vegetable culture. Ruggiero’s often-changing New American menu focuses on plant bounty as much as meat. This better bridges Hush to its enclave of the Valley. Plus, anybody can sear a good steak. Cooking snap peas and cauliflower to perfection is another story.
Parcooked, deep-fried, half-heads of cauliflower at Hush come browned and garishly red with harissa. The harissa is made in-house, from guajillo, chile de arbol, and ancho chiles. The north African paste fuels a bright burn that melds with the coolness of yogurt jazzed with cilantro, lime juice, and lime zest. What begins in the same place as any state-fair Oreo or stick of butter — the deep fryer — ends with sophistication, balance, and creativity to redeem a vegetable often left to tired florets and shitty pizza crusts.
Just about all of the plant-based dishes at Hush seem to be realized with this level of skill and imagination. Simplicity is not the mission here. Cooking methods and flavors are complex, though they are executed in a way that the loose ends tend to be tied, casting an illusion of simplicity.
For example, radicchio is soaked in ice water to pull out bitterness. What acridity remains after the burgundy leaves have been grilled jives with an anchovy dressing, and finishings of chives, Manchego, and cured egg yolk. Snap peas are plump and tender, yet retain just enough snap to honor their name. Strawberries and tectonic shelves of shaved ricotta salata seemed to accentuate the best qualities of the peas. So does a coarse, pesto-like blend of parsley, lime, pistachio, and a few more vibrant green things.
At this moment in American food, high-end toast could put an insomniac to sleep. But a spring toast, added the week of my second visit, captured the spirit of the season with wafer-thin radish, thin asparagus cut on an angle, and ham shavings embedded in a creamy bog of burrata.
Between meat and vegetable dishes, you would be wise to check out a dish or two of Hush’s seafood. Grilled oysters. A nice halibut crudo with citrus, fennel fronds, and peppery olive oil. And try the grilled swordfish sourced from Chula Seafood, cooked ideally, and smartly accented with peppers, Castelvetrano olives, and a soft-boiled egg.
Ultimately, though nonmeat dishes are legit, meat is what most separates Hush from its peers. Ruggiero traffics in currencies of country pate and thick Meat Market bacon. His chicken-liver mousse, petal-smooth and dense as a nightmare, is an ice-cream-like haymaker of iron-rich nuances edited by herbs and booze: brandy, port, and sherry.
Interestingly, two of Hush’s best plates feature meat in a supporting role.
Orecchiette with fennel pork sausage and broccoli rabe is a pasta dish that intelligently modernizes a classic. Tiny cups of pasta are hand-knifed and rustic, with the slight chew of the original shallow-thimble semolina discs rifled out by steel-wristed grannies on the streets of Bari. Ruggiero uses liberal pasta water. It fuses with a compound butter made from ramps and roasted garlic, creating a luscious pasta sauce that, partly thanks to vinegar fragrant with Calabrian chiles, doesn’t lose a gram of magic as you eat.
Another standout is a remix of the Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich. Ruggiero, whose first cooking job was at Taste of Chicago, trots out a version spotlighting oxtail, the most underrated part of the steer. Braised in red wine, it is falling apart by the time it reaches Noble Bread brioche. Drowned in rich oxtail-braising liquid, smothered in house giardiniera, the open-faced sandwich is like the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had meets torta ahogada meets the Italian south meets Chicago meets Arizona. It is a masterful blending of chile heat with the heft of jus, cheese, and oxtail.
All said, the “Italian beef” is a celebration of more than just meat.
As you crush a stellar date cake with vanilla gelato for dessert, you may realize that is so Hush. Though Ruggiero steeps the mustard seeds and beef heart tartare in 12 West IPA for a full month, the impressive thing isn’t so much the final tartare, but the thought and skill leading to it, a care and execution also applied to nonmeat dishes.
It isn’t easy to find a restaurant doing big things north of Old Town. Hush is the small, high-aiming restaurant that this part of the Valley needed, and that all the Valley’s eaters are better off for. We need more places not only pushing the envelope, but saying “fuck it,” doing what they love, and setting the envelope on fire.
Hush Public House
14202 North Scottsdale Road #167, Scottsdale
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Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 4 to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
Chicken liver mousse $16
Fried cauliflower $10
“Italian beef” $18
Date cake $9