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: Chestnut Fine Foods and Provisions Location: 4350 East Camelback Road Open: Over a month Eats: Breakfast, lunch Price: $10 to $20
Central Phoenix has welcomed a handful of new sandwich shops/marketplaces during the past few months (see: Ollie Vaughn's, The Market by Jennifer's, and Essence Bakery), which means Chestnut Fine Foods and Provisions either hits the nail on this trend's head or will fail with such stiff and plentiful competition.
All right, maybe the reality of it isn't so black and white, but either way, Chestnut shows promise.
Like many of its competitors, Chestnut serves breakfast, lunch, juice, and coffee and offers a market with grab-and-go pastries, retail items, and an in-house flower boutique. And though the place is not perfect, the combination of designer décor and fresh (albeit sometimes expensive) food had made the place popular with certain crowds already.
Unfortunately, like so many other Arcadia/CenPho eateries, Chestnut suffers from a lack of parking -- and, yes, they solve it by offering "free" valet. Of course, unless you're a jerk, you'll have to tip. So bring cash.
But once you step inside the bright and artfully designed space, it's hard not to fall in like. The large, square coffee bar and register greets you with cases of fresh pastries and chalkboard paint accents, while sunlight streams in from the open patio. A community table in the middle of the dining area benefits from an oversize flower arrangement and a cluster of miniature tables in the corner (complete with toys and a magnetic wall with alphabet letters) made us wish we had brought a little kid along.
Chestnut serves coffee and espresso drinks supplied by Cartel Coffee Lab, as well as fresh juices and smoothies. Under the breakfast section of the menu, you'll find options such as lemon ricotta waffles, smoked salmon toast, and a Morning BiBimBap Bowl with quinoa, tamari, green onions, kale, poached eggs, and korean chili paste. The lunch menu includes sandwiches and salads. And there's a kids' menu.
We were happy to see Cartel Coffee Lab on the menu. But as it turns out, just because Chestnut serves the beans, that doesn't mean the baristas will be capable of crafting Cartel-quality drinks. The first iced Honey Lavender latte we ordered had to be sent back because of a bad pull of espresso. And though our cafe au lait tasted fine, the odd foam design (or lack thereof) made us sad.
The most expensive item on Chestnut's food menu is a $16 Lobster Roll, and judging by the number we saw coming out of the kitchen, it's also one of the most popular. The dish features sizable chunks of lobster meat, colorful heirloom tomatoes, and butter lettuce, in addition to a side of highly underachieving sweet potato chips. We could eat the spicy remoulade from this sandwich on just about anything, but for a $16 lunch, we wish there had been more meat in there, too. On the upside, the toasted baguette was buttery and crisp, and the housemade pickled cucumbers offered an enjoyable crunch.
We also tried the kale salad with currants, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, and lemon vinaigrette. For a $6 half-salad, it was a very good portion, but as far as flavor, we weren't impressed.
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If you're able to resist all the pastries on display at the counter, you're stronger than we are. We gave in to the call of a simple chocolate eclair, which had a nicely crisp pastry shell filled with light and flavorful custard. It wasn't the best we've ever had but didn't leave us guilty about the extra calories, either.
So, though our three-course lunch wasn't the best -- or the best value -- we could get in town, we enjoyed taking in the surroundings at Chestnut. And we weren't the only ones -- not by a long shot. The place was packed with parents, kids, and business types through the lunch hour and beyond. So in other words, expect a wait.
The service could use a boost, particularly when the dining room gets full. But raise that to the picture-perfect level of the interior design and this place is poised to please.