Cafe Reviews

Jet Set Supper

The day that Publishers Clearing House shows up at my front door with a giant check for $10 million is the day I become a full-time globetrotter.

Nothing gets me revved up like travel — navigating unexplored streets, chatting with strangers, discovering unusual things. I like to immerse myself in a different culture, and there's no better way to do it than by eating the local specialties. Some of my all-time favorite souvenirs are simply memories of great meals.

These days, though, the closest I've come to traveling has involved schlepping my dining companions from Central Phoenix to Peoria or Gilbert to check out restaurants. I've been antsy for a trip, and now I'm craving unusual foods to compensate for my urges. The launch of Twisted Restaurant couldn't have happened at a better time.

This two-month-old South Scottsdale eatery is the latest brainchild of Carlos Manriquez, the talented chef behind Atlas Bistro (located just a couple doors over from Twisted, in the same plaza) and Tempe's stylish Mucho Gusto Taqueria. Just a glance at Twisted Restaurant's eclectic, round-the-world-in-80-flavors menu reveals that Manriquez is not only a culinary adventurer, but a jet setter as well.

I don't that mean that in the private luxury jet sense of the term. Manriquez's cosmopolitan style is more about grabbing a backpack and hopping a flight to Europe.

Accordingly, Twisted challenges the notion that you have to suffer first-class pretension to eat sophisticated, inventive dishes. The black-clad waitstaff is friendly and low-key, and the stapled paper menu is accessible — nothing costs more than 16 bucks, and many items are in the single digits. I'd feel equally comfortable coming here on a date or with a group of friends. (Actually, for my research, I did both.) I suspect it'd be fun to drink and dine at the bar, too.

Inside its strip mall digs, the place feels like a quirky neighborhood grill. A dark, wooden room divider creates a path to the hostess station and, beyond that, the bar. Along the back, cream-colored brick walls are decorated with flat-screen TVs and faux ivy, while paintings and sculptures adorn the rest of the room. A round, purple couch is tucked into one corner, adding to the kitschy, playful vibe.

The food, too, is downright sassy — hardly anything is straightforward or predictable.

I've had baked Brie too many times to count, but what landed on my table at Twisted was not even close to ordinary. Here, the rind was covered in a thick crust of crushed nuts that was fun to bite into — a crunchy, crumbly texture that gave way to an oozy, creamy center filled with house chile jelly. Dressed up in tangy aged balsamic, there was nothing subtle about it.

Twisted took hummus, a Middle Eastern staple, and introduced it to Navajo turf with tepary beans, roasted red pepper, and — get this — warm slices of fry bread dusted with powdered sugar. It sounds odd, but the play of savory and sweet flavors was delicious. The presentation was striking as well, with a slice of cucumber wrapped into a cylinder to contain the hummus, and a garnish of apple slices and grilled brandied pineapple.

Flavors from the northern and southern Mediterranean coasts came together in the tender fried calamari, coated in cornmeal batter lightly spiced with harissa. Meanwhile, crispy alligator bites took Cajun cuisine to the Indian subcontinent. Batter-dipped chunks of gator — a mild, moist meat — came with zesty Indian curry-pickled Asian pear, plus Cajun remoulade and butternut aioli.

My friends and I inhaled the luscious beef machaca empanada, with carrots, onions, and cremini mushrooms in a sweet, peppery sauce of Guinness and guajillo chiles. We also devoured the complimentary soft pretzel served as an amuse-bouche.

The wild Alaskan salmon was the least out-there of the entrees, served with spinach, cherry tomatoes, oregano pesto, and toasted almonds. Still, it was a competent dish. I felt the same way about the grilled vegetable terrine, a heap of thinly sliced zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and Japanese eggplant mixed with spinach and ricotta, and slathered with marinara. I liked it, but other dishes were more intriguing.

Twisted's fish and chips didn't stray too far from tradition, but Stella Artois in the batter, a touch of chimichurri to season the skin-on fries, and two kinds of aioli (garlic-lemon and sundried tomato), gave it a welcome tweak.

At the opposite end of the familiarity spectrum was the "Rocky Mountain Range Meatloaf," served open-faced on a grilled crostini. Turns out, the crostini was a three-inch-thick slice of bread filled with blue cheese. And the meatloaf, made from organic buffalo, lamb, and wild boar, looked like an enormous burger balanced precariously on top of the crostini. A thin slice of taro added even more height to the dish. Though the meat didn't seem to have enough seasoning on its own, the pool of peppery bacon Creole gravy that surrounded it added more than enough kick.

For my favorite dish, I was torn between the pork tenderloin and the braised beef short ribs. The former was crusted in white pepper and coriander, stuffed with a chunky filling of goat cheese, apples, and dried cranberries, and jazzed up with a bold red sauce made from pomegranate and curuba (South American banana passion fruit). The latter, a serving of two succulent, meaty ribs, came with sweet corn-pineapple glaze, two half-cobs of corn, toasted coconut, and kumquat gremolada.

There wasn't much in the way of dessert, just crème brûlée, chocolate layer cake, tiramisu cheesecake, and caramel apple crisp. I went for the last one — a heap of gooey apples topped with dulce de leche ice cream, strawberries, and blueberries — but even shared among friends, it was too much to finish. (I guess we'd had our dessert throughout the meal, in the form of margarita flights. The five-flavor samplers included everything from berry and mango to jalapeño, tamarind, and even garlic, which was surprisingly delicious.)

I'd hoped to try some of Twisted's tasty-sounding sandwiches at lunch, and had even settled on "The Mexican Baja Dog," with Schreiner's apple bratwurst, poblano cheese sauce, beans, bacon, and mango relish. But as of press time, Twisted Restaurant was still just a dinner destination.

That's okay, though. I know I'll be back soon to quell my wanderlust.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig