Cafe Reviews

Chef Bernie Kantak's The Gladly: Neat New American Cuisine

Anyone waxing melancholy about the loss of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse either hadn't eaten there during the sad year before that venerable steakhouse was shuttered or has yet to dine at The Gladly, which moved into Ruth's longtime location late last summer. Even if the owners of Scottsdale's award-winning Citizen Public House, the powerhouse behind The Gladly, weren't offering impossibly inexpensive happy hour prices on house cocktails and high-end appetizers, Chef Bernie Kantak's tasty lunch and dinner menus would be reason enough to celebrate this neat New American restaurant.

See also: Review - Gertrude's at The Desert Botanical Garden

Reworked from its formerly formal setting into a clubby, casual, light-filled dining room, the Gladly does comfort food one better. On an initial visit, we started with pistachio chicken liver pate. Cold and smooth and closer to chopped liver than traditionally creamy pate, the pate proved a perfect opener. Tasty on its own, this mellow liver dish is a real show-stopper paired with a dollop of sage mustard, a glob of the crunchy pickled onions that show up in a number of Gladly dishes, and a tiny pile of capers, all of which enhanced the mellow flavor of the liver. I couldn't taste pistachios.

We paired the pate with the stunning roasted Brussels sprouts appetizer, a sophisticated take on comfort food featuring perfectly paired textures. Roasted, the sprouts were soft inside and crispy outside, nestled into a puddle of mild corn grits studded with whole corn kernels and fixed up with pungent Pecorino cheese.

The Gladly's Caesar was nothing special. The dressing was fragrant with garlic but lacked any real anchovy presence. It replaced the kick of lemon or vinegar with black pepper that made for a too-spicy salad served with tomatoes, a Caesar misstep. Bacon fat croutons were a nice touch.

Duck meatloaf stopped just short of perfection. Formed, not ground, the duck meat was moist but not greasy, nicely crusted with foie gras mousseline baked on top in place of meatloaf's traditional tomato glaze. The accompanying smoked cherry demiglace was a misfire: smoky and cloying, it vanquished the subtle tastes of duck. Fortunately, it was served on the side. The accompanying rosemary millet was genius. Millett is sometimes gritty and bland, but this one was buttery and not overwhelmed by rosemary or unpleasantly grainy. I dipped the side of nicely wilted asparagus into mine.

The chimichurri chicken was a delicious primer on how to present a chicken breast. Tender and juicy, the breast that anchored the plate was cooked to perfection and balanced perfectly by the side of super-zesty chimichurri. I'd have preferred a smaller portion of the accompanying chile fingerling potatoes, which were overwhelmed by the flavor of cumin.

On a later visit, I started with the lamb riblets, and wasn't sorry I did. Crisply gristled and drizzled with cumin fig glaze and topped with more of those pickled onions, these were the perfect accompaniment to Chef Kantak's chopped salad. It's easy to see why this salad has its own Facebook fan page. Tossed tableside, it's a marvelous mélange of flavors and textures: salty salmon, Israeli couscous, currants, arugula, and the crunch of crispy corn, all tossed with a slightly sweet basil ranch dressing. Kantak's recipe has been ripped off by restaurants as far away as Minneapolis -- a testimony to its magnificence.

The flaky, crispy cobia was swaddled in a splendidly minty, subtle coconut-lime sauce and nestled on a stack of humdrum shredded green papaya slaw. The boneless Nutella short ribs were also prize-worthy. I couldn't find any flavor from the hazelnut spread, but no matter. Velvety beef was savory but not overly spiced, perfectly paired with creamy mashed sweet potatoes studded with pickled corn and still more pickled onions.

Chef Kantak's desserts, prepared by Tracy Dempsey Originals, are joyously unsubtle. The banana crème jar is made special with salted caramel, and the S'mores bread pudding is dense and sweet, topped with a glob of toasted marshmallow and served with an impossibly rich salted chocolate ice cream. Served in appropriately small enough portions, either provide a perfect end to a distinctive and superb meal.

The Gladly 2201 East Camelback Road 602-759-8132

Open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Roasted Brussel's Sprouts $10 Chimichurri Chicken $24 Duck Meatloaf $28 Banana Crème Jar $10

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela