Alex Stratta's braised short rib.EXPAND
Alex Stratta's braised short rib.
Jackie Mercandetti

Resort Dining: Match in Phoenix and The Canal Club in Scottsdale

Hotel restaurants, in general, are often accused of playing it too safe, and that was my general impression of Match Restaurant & Cocktails when it debuted last year at the Found:RE Hotel in downtown Phoenix. The menu touted creative, shareable dishes inspired by global street food. But it felt weighed down by a sprawling array of sandwiches, salads, and wood-fired pizzas – fine enough fare that was too often unremarkable.

It seems that if anyone could help establish Match as a destination for modern upscale dining in downtown Phoenix, it ought to be someone like Alex Stratta. Few chefs working in metro Phoenix today, or anywhere, really, are as highly decorated as Stratta, who has the distinction of being a James Beard Award recipient and the only Michelin-starred chef currently working in the city. Stratta came to national prominence while working as the executive chef at Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician, followed by an extended and successful stint in the pressure-cooker world of Las Vegas resort fine dining (his namesake restaurant, Alex at the Wynn Las Vegas, earned a two-star Michelin rating three times in the late 2000s).

Interior of MatchEXPAND
Interior of Match
Jackie Mercandetti

Since returning to the Valley early last year, Stratta has remained something of an itinerant culinary guru. A short stint at Prado, the flagship restaurant at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, was followed by an equally short and surprising turn as the new culinary director for The Herb Box. Late this summer, Stratta popped up in yet another unlikely place: Found:RE, an artsy boutique hotel miles away from the Valley’s luxury resort circuit. Stratta became the culinary director of the hotel this summer, bringing a good dose of culinary prestige to a downtown dining scene that could definitely use some more of it.

Under Stratta’s direction, Match’s lunch and dinner menus have been reined in. Gone are the small plates and wood-fired pizzas (although there still are flatbreads on the lunch menu). The new Match feels a little more refined, with a dinner menu that favors seasonal ingredients and bold, globally inspired flavors.

8.jpg, Moroccan spiced chicken bowl, with duck spring rolls and Hearth Baked adobo chicken in bkgdEXPAND
8.jpg, Moroccan spiced chicken bowl, with duck spring rolls and Hearth Baked adobo chicken in bkgd
Jackie Mercandetti

The most popular new starter may be the duck spring rolls — two rolls, roughly the size of fat cigars, stuffed with fatty hunks of shredded duck and spiced butternut squash. The natural fattiness of the duck is a surprisingly good foil for the light and extra-crispy wrappers, and a side of spicy-sweet raisin-pine-nut sauce adds some bite. It’s a playful and delicious dish.

A Moroccan spiced-chicken salad, meanwhile, features toasted bulger wheat blended with dried fruits and nuts, including yellow raisins and pistachios. Pops of sweetness, followed by the soft crunch of nuts and toasted wheat, give the dish texture and depth. The sweetness is studiously balanced by a tart passion-fruit vinaigrette, along with leafy and gently spicy fresh watercress. It’s a surprisingly complex and satisfying dish.

Chef Stratta is known for his red wine-braised beef short rib, and you’ll find a version of the dish on the new Match dinner menu. It’s a best-selling dish, my server informed me on a recent visit. You don’t need to stretch your imagination too far to see why: the meaty fork-tender ribs practically melt into a buttery lake of sauce, which itself bears a pleasing oniony sweetness. Fluffy handmade gnocchi soak up the sauce beautifully.

Slightly less satisfying is a dish called hearth-baked adobo chicken. A recent iteration of it featured an extra-crispy, adobo-dabbed chicken breast, draped over a chile-infused muddle of chorizo and beans. The dish is sophisticated, but also easy to forget.

Hearth-baked Adobo chickenEXPAND
Hearth-baked Adobo chicken
Jackie Mercandetti

Match is one of the more interesting hotel restaurants in downtown Phoenix, and the chef’s new streamlined menu of refined and boldly flavored dishes represents a notable improvement. Match, though, still feels like a restaurant that’s growing into its identity. It’ll be interesting to see how the menu evolves, and whether chef Stratta succeeds in making the kitchen’s much-touted wood-fired oven a central part of Match’s appeal. Right now, that oven feels like an accoutrement whose creative possibilities haven’t yet been fully exploited. Hopefully, we won’t be saying a similar thing about chef Stratta in a few months.

Another splashy hotel restaurant that’s trying to find its sea legs is The Canal Club at The Scott Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, which recently replaced Kimpton’s Firesky Resort. You might remember Firesky’s signature Italian restaurant, Taggia, known in its heyday for coastal Italian fare featuring fresh, flown-in-daily fish.

The Canal Club, the resort’s only restaurant, channels a romantic vision of 1930s Havana highlife. Gone is the open kitchen and sleek dining room from the Taggia days, replaced with the bohemian elegance of rattan and wicker furniture, mint-colored walls, round leather booths, and potted palms at every turn. It’s a beautiful space that marries design trends with vintage-inspired panache.

You’ll be disappointed if you arrive primed for classic Cuban dishes like ropa vieja or arroz con frijoles. The restaurant’s small menu may be more accurately described as modern American cuisine with strong Caribbean and Southwestern inflections. You’ll note these influences and themes on the cocktail list, which features such drinks as the mezcal-based Salt River Society, and the Helen & Maude, a coconut-sluiced take on the classic Cuban mojito.

A good place to start, though, is with an order of tostones, a simple yet highly satisfying snack. The crisp, fried-twice plantain fritters are served fresh out of the fryer, with a side of creamy, well-seasoned black-bean puree.

Ceviche, another starter, features bracingly fresh and finely diced rockfish, which has been tossed with cubes of jicama. The veggie gives the dish some nice and unexpected texture.

Salads, sandwiches, burgers, and a handful of entrees round out The Canal Club’s menu. From those options, it’s hard to resist something like the Castro’s Cubano, the chef’s playful twist on the classic ham and cheese Cuban sandwich. Traditionalists may not abide the decision to use toasted whole wheat bread rather than Cuban bread. But the sandwich, deftly stacked ribbons of very rich brisket, sweet ham and a fried egg, is a deliciously sweet-and-spicy mess. And it’s nearly impossible to resist.

Crispy skinned salmon, which my server recommended during dinner recently, sounds somewhat pedestrian. But it’s cooked beautifully, with a nice, hard sear, very crisp around the edges, and topped with a huge blob of chipotle-laced butter that melts right into the fish. A finely cubed hash of purple Peruvian potato, crisp yet tender, gives the dish an unexpectedly hearty profile.

The most popular dessert option at The Canal Club is probably the tres leches jar. It’s a beautiful cake to look at, topped with edible flowers, housemade granola, and a lovely tropical fruit relish. But the cake, during a recent visit, was a little dry in some places — a cardinal sin of any tres leches cake.

Among this year’s new batch of Valley hotel restaurants, The Canal Club doesn’t stand out as particularly revelatory or essential. But it delivers on smart, refined resort cooking that flirts with modern Cuban and Southwestern flavors — plus, a beautiful room to enjoy it all in.

Match Restaurant & Cocktails
1100 North Central Avenue
Hours: Open Daily 6 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Duck spring rolls $10
Moroccan spiced chicken bowl $13
Braised short rib $24
Hearth-baked adobo chicken $18

The Canal Club (at The Scott Resort & Spa)
4925 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Hours: Open daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Tostones $10
Ceviche $12
Castro’s Cubano $16
Crispy skin salmon $30

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