The crazy thing is, you need that steak knife with its swirled handle and serrated blade. The salad, which doubles as a crudité, is a whole head of Treviso radicchio, purple and laced with crisp white veining, leaves spread open like flower petals.
There’s an excess to Century Grand. There’s the ravishing decadence of post-World War I boom times, which the concept seeks to channel, and does.
The Grey Hen also offers stellar drinking. The whiskey shop’s windows glow, its door opening onto the dim clearing where people who have scored elusive reservations to board Platform 18, the simulated train ride that immerses drinkers in a lost past with a 50-plus page menu. (Note: Food isn’t served on the car.) In the Grey Hen, shop overseer John Christie talks whiskey and whisky, everything from Pappy Van Winkle vintages to private selections from Tucson’s Hamilton Distillers to shelves of primo finds from Japan.
In its cellar, Century Grand stocks an eye-popping 2,200 natural wines.
Drinking here is something wild. And with Chef Sacha Levine behind the stoves, food has the creativity, range, history, and soul to match. One of the Valley’s top talents with vegetables and seasonal bounty, Levine, who has cooked in the past at Ocotillo and Singh Meadows, brings her bold cooking style to thoughtful plates, many with links to the 1920s.
There are home runs. There are solid doubles. There are a few swings and misses.
The Treviso — steak knife optional — captures Levine’s unimpeachable sourcing and luminous creativity as well as any dish on the menu. Creamy dollops of dill-heavy green goddess dressing fill some of the shallow cups in the spread-out purple head. Slivers of peppery radish nestle in the leaves, along with intensely green pea pods sliced on a bias. The radicchio’s bitterness is left partly intact, and in the plate’s deliberate rusticity lives a sense of its source: Blue Sky Farms, a pristine growing operation in Litchfield Park.
For one, she aggressively reimagines beef Wellington. Traditionally, this English dish sees beef coated in mushrooms, prosciutto, and more, all swaddled in a tight sleeping bag of puff pastry. Levine tweaks ingredients, jumbles ratios, and edits plating positions. At center: an unwrapped fist of beef cheek, braised for five or six hours with fermented shiitake mushrooms. Instead of prosciutto, she gooses the beef with pork jus. The puff pastry? Reduced to a puck of fluffy biscuit, teetering atop the cheek.
I’d say this beef cheek alone is worth a trip to Century Grand. It has the melt and glide of a good barbecue brisket, not to mention seemingly more richness. Umami seems to radiate, deepened by meaty mushrooms.
To eat at Century Grand, you need to open your mind to not knowing what’ll roll by on these carts. If you like traditional service and knowing what you’re eating ahead of time, you should probably try someplace else. Here, you need to revel in the meal’s arrhythmic rhythm. You need to embrace its joyful chaos.
Crunchy crab rangoon tops a luscious smear of persimmon, when in season. Vietnamese-style butternut squash spring rolls gain silky depth from marble-smooth peanut sauce. Oysters sourced by fish maestro Chris Nelson are zapped with buddha’s hand and pink peppercorn mignonette. Even beef jerky shines, permeated with fish sauce doctored with chile, ginger, lemongrass, and crispy onions, jagged flavors that jive nearly perfectly — a theme that persists.
That said, even through the rose-colored glasses the space thrusts over you, not all is perfect.
Stuffed grape leaves were sleepy. Sichuan noodles with chile de arbol and toasted sesame could have a more robust chile flavor, or more components. Though I loved the idea of a reimagined avocado toast, deconstructing it into foams and aspics didn’t upgrade the original. Finally, I am going to be that guy and whine about the pasta — which I didn’t even try. My beef is that Century Grand rolls it out on the cart near the end of the meal. This happened twice, and both times I was way too full to get busy.
If you crave new eating and drinking experiences, make a reservation at Century Grand ASAP. Better still, post up at the bar with a game friend and an appetite and set your eyeballs on those dim sum carts. However you choose, you’re in for a high-speed ride to the heights of immersive dining and cocktail culture in Phoenix.
3626 East Indian School Road
Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday to Saturday
Colfax, CA (cocktail) $12
One-ounce whiskey pour $8 to $120
Treviso salad $15
Crab rangoon $3
Seasonal dumplings $12
Beef cheek Wellington $22