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: St. Amand Kitchen & Cocktails.
Location: 3990 South Alma School Road, Chandler
Open: About four months
Eats: European with Southwest touches
Price: $22 to $60 per person
Hours: 4 to 10:30 p.m., Tuesday to Wednesday; 4 to 11:30 p.m., Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight, Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight, Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
Moving down Alma School Road in southern Chandler, you’ll spot nationally known fast-food restaurants among the manicured lawns and man-made lakes. But there, at the intersection with Ocotillo Road, St. Amand Kitchen & Cocktails stands as an example of high-end local fare — right next to the nail salon.
Inside, there are custom tabletops decked with napkin-wrapped silverware shaped like the cross. And walking in, diners can tell light is important. The afternoon sun glows in each room of the former D'Vine Bistro and Wine Bar, and the main dining area’s neat-looking chandeliers illuminate a mural of the man himself — St. Amand. He is the patron saint of wine-making, beer-brewing, and bartending, which creates a unique pressure for the drink program here. And that’s where we’ll start.
The double-sided drink menu will require a few full minutes of your attention. But if we may save you some time, and tout the talents of head bartender Ruben Gaeta, let your eyes first focus on the house-crafted cocktails – signature drinks titled Peach Caipirinha, Dark Rock, and Peruvian Pear.
The Vanilla Rosa looks like a wedding dress. The Rhubarb Paloma looks like a watercolor of a Mexican coastal town. The Innkeeper is a delightful pink surprise because of the blackberry syrup. Anything with the word “peach” in it is a home run.
The cocktails go down pretty easy, as in, these aren’t drinks for getting you drunk. It’s not that kind of place. You’ve hopefully come to savor Gaeta’s menu of creations.
But as you would assume, there’s also killer food.
Executive Chef Ramon Rice is behind the food at St. Amand Kitchen & Cocktails. He’s also responsible for the menu at D'Vine’s Mesa location and he revamped the menu at the recently closed ThirdSpace on Grand Avenue. But here, Rice has created more of a European-themed menu with some Arizona and American touches.
“It’s the type of direction I’ve wanted to go in,” he says.
Small plates, salads, and entrees are displayed on a simple front-and-back menu, accompanied by a small clipboard listing the night’s specials. The specials menu is where Rice gets to play around, but it’s the starters you’ll be drawn to.
“I feel like if you came in and ordered a bunch of small plates, you’d be doing it right,” Rice says.
That’s because the face-up page of the menu almost needn’t be turned over. On it you'll find octopus, bright and spicy sea scallops, street tacos, deviled eggs, and New Zealand grass-fed lamb meatballs.
And though Rice explains he’s a big meat eater, there’s a next-level dish of cauliflower mac and cheese, too. It’s a bowl of cauliflower with roasted garlic and Gouda cheese, topped with charred onions. A word of advice? Let this dish cool and congeal. It tastes better than it looks after a few minutes, even heated up the next day.
The first small plate listed is the risotto “of the moment.” The moment happened to promise lobster. It was advised we mixed the bright coral chunks of lobster with the risotto, onion, capers, and parsley to get a little bit in each bite. And the result? Do you remember that Seinfeld scene? We were very satisfied.
Turning the page, there are hearty salads. And for entrees, Rice gets to show off his meat-loving side. Find the 20-ounce pan-roasted rib-eye, braised pot roast, and the Backhendl, a.k.a. German fried chicken, which is recommended by Rice. It’s crispy chicken with green peppercorn bechamel sauce, asparagus, and German mashed potatoes.
All the food is extremely good on its own, but the sauces and mousses are where this place climbs above: the juice beneath the octopus, the creamy Gouda in the cauliflower mac, any of the glazes. You want to keep all your dishes from being carried away, only to cross-pollinate — dipping the scallops in the goat cheese mousse or dragging a piece of meat through the warm Gouda.
And if you happen to spot the burnt cheesecake on the specials menu for dessert, do not hesitate to flag down an extremely friendly server to get that order in. It’s the perfect dessert, a crustless cheesecake topped with mandarins and a sweet goo. Join it with the house-selected sherry and you’ll have trouble deciding to leave.
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Of course, the menu isn't completely finalized, as Rice plans on tinkering with it more, play around with a few more things.
St. Amand had a soft opening date May 1, followed by its grand opening on August 18, but the restaurant seems to have picked up a rep already. There’s live music, but this being the deep southeast Valley, there are also large flat screens immediately neighboring the dining room in the bar area, as if someone didn’t feel comfortable leaving televised sports out of the equation.
No matter, as we’ve just heavily praised the creations of Gaeta and Rice. But we’ll tell you this, suburban Chandler: You’re all lucky to have a place like St. Amand Kitchen & Cocktails.