Fried: Stuffed Shrimp at Zest

Fuzzy photo; yummy shrimp

by Sarah Fenske

It'd been miserably hot and I felt like my brain was fried. I needed a pick-me-up.

So of course I chose Zest.

This stand-alone restaurant, at 16th Street and Indian School, is practically my favorite place in all of Phoenix. I love those little carts that they wheel around to make salads tableside. I love their ruby-red cosmopolitans (I swear, this is the best girly drink ever invented: a cosmo with a grapefruit twist). And I love the stuffed shrimp so much that I sometimes wake up at 4 a.m. just to crave them.

Nothing at Zest is simple. I went there once with my friend Lisa, who hates garlic, and there was literally nothing on the menu she could eat. Everything is juiced up with citrus, or infused with garlic, or dripping with peppers and cream and mango. It's a four-year-old's nightmare (not to insult Lisa's palate or anything), but really great stuff if you like your food dripping with taste. Which I do.

The tableside salad is this wonderful mix of greens and citrus dressing with oranges, cranberries, pecans, and blue cheese -- it really is fabulous. But whenever I eat it, I have to admit, I'm just counting down the minutes 'til they bring me my stuffed shrimp.

So here's the magic dish: Shrimp and goat cheese, coated with panko and fried, served on a bed of linguini in a heavenly sauce. I still can't quite figure out what makes this sauce so good --the menu talks about sundried tomatoes and artichoke pepper relish, but what really makes it sing is the red onions. It's creamy without being heavy and tangy without being too sweet. One bite of it with those goat-cheesed shrimp and I'm in ecstasy.

So of course at Zest the other night, my dining companion and I got in a stupid fight. Hey, it's 115 freakin' degrees and everyone is in a bad mood.

But nothing could ruin how wonderful the food tasted -- and after a hard day and a rough conversation, what could be more fitting than a second ruby-red cosmo? Oh, waiter ...

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