It's been almost five years since chef Walter Sterling has been a part of the local culinary scene — but he's about to come back in a very big way. In the coming weeks, Sterling, along with co-chef Sacha Levine and sommelier Dave Johnson, will open Ocotillo restaurant, a massive eatery that's located on the southeast corner of 3rd Street and Flower.
"This is an opportunity to make Phoenix a better place," Sterling says.
The giant project, which is located at 3243 N. 3rd Street, takes up a nearly one-acre property that Sterling purchased three and a half years ago. Back then it was a dirt lot zoned for commercial and office space. Designed by TrueForm and Labahn Ryan Architects, the final product will comprise of both indoor and outdoor spaces including a beer garden, lawn, and, of course, the actual Ocotoillo restaurant.
Sterling and Levine, best known for her work with chef Charleen Badman at FnB, will be co-chefs of the restaurant, a collaboration that felt natural since the duo worked closely together for years in the mid-2000s. Levine counts Sterling as one of her mentors, and he says he's excited to be working together again.
Their menu aims to "cast a really wide net," Sterling says. You can expect vegetable-driven food that's both refined and relatable. For lunch there's a long list of salads and vegetable plates, as well as small plates like dumplings and mussels, sandwiches, and a whole section for different types of roasted chicken. The dinner menu (when the restaurant opens for dinner) will be even more progressive.
A weekend brunch menu includes everything from blue corn pancakes and citrus pound cake (with bee pollen) to smoked salmon, breakfast brisket, Tuscan kale quiche, and a brunch burger. You can even look forward to breakfast cocktails — in pitchers.
"The food under-promises and over-delivers," Sterling says.
In addition to the restaurant, Ocotillo will include a coffee bar with grab-and-go food that they're calling "O To Go." The coffee will come from San Francisco's Sightglass Coffee and barista Kelly Ehley will oversee the program.
Well-known local sommelier Dave Johnson curates the restaurant's wine list.
The space also includes a communal table and full service bar. Sterling says with a total capacity of nearly 400 people, Ocotillo is designed to accomodate events and he plans to host a dinner series with chefs such as Robert McGrath, Matt Carter and Beau MacMillan. Local DJ Sean Watson will also help with the music at night and the space is equipped with a drop down screen for movies or other televised events.
"It's a really cool project," Sterling says, adding later, "It's a little nerve wracking."
Valley residents might know Sterling from his past work at restaurants including the now-defunct Mary Elaine's at The Phoenician Resort, Sol y Sambra, and MercBar. His resume includes time at five star restaurants such as Restaurant Daniel; he's spent the last four years working as a consultant and corporate chef in Southern California.
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