When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).
Restaurant: Stratta Kitchen
Location: 8260 North Hayden Road, Suite A102, Scottsdale
Open: About two weeks
Price: $7 to $12
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Chef Alessandro "Alex" Stratta opened Stratta Kitchen on August 3. Aware of his many awards and storied culinary journey to this point, we were eager to try Stratta's casual, Mediterranean-flavored, health-focused Scottsdale restaurant.
We made it there last week. At lunch, this quick-service restaurant is bright with natural light; strung-up globe lamps offer more lighting. Colorful, abstract beach paintings cover the walls. Beachwood-looking tables with white chairs are set in neat rows across from the ordering counter.
On the other side of the bar (currently not available as a seating option because of COVID-19), additional dining space offers more modern seating. But maybe skip a table if you dine in to ensure you're six feet from your fellow diners. Feeling extra cautious? Stratta Kitchen also has an outdoor patio.
On to the food. Orders are placed at the counter. Chalkboards list the menu items, one board per section (appetizers, salads, bowls, and entrees), one for alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, and a skinny margarita), and one for soft drinks. Behind the counter, the busy kitchen is partially visible. All staff members are wearing masks.
We ordered our entire meal, including dessert, in one go. We received a number to put on our table and paper pouches with silverware inside.
The food arrived quickly, starting with the date and walnut pudding, steaming hot and glistening. We should have followed the adage, "Life is short. Eat dessert first,” but we didn’t and regretted it later. By the time we got to it, the dessert had cooled.
Chef Stratta himself delivered our appetizer, the Tasting of Three. A trio of Sicilian eggplant caponata, babaganoush, and hummus came with a side of country Noble Bread (though bread can be substituted with lavash or a gluten-free pita). First impression: fresh and vibrant. Bright, crisp crudité in orange, yellow, and green leaned against the inside of the hummus bowl. The creamy hummus cooled the palate despite the garlic confit. The Sicilian caponata (oh, that caponata!) sprinkled with basil leaves was an ideal balance of sour and sweet, grounded with the nuts and eggplant.
Chef Stratta uses San Marzano tomatoes for his caponata. These tomatoes are correctly known as some of the best tomatoes out there. They're sweet, and the currants balance them out with their own tartness. Pile some on the grilled bread, brushed with olive oil, and top it with a basil leaf. You'll taste the whole summer in one bite.
The appetizer section of the menu is called To Share or Not to Share. The Sicilian caponata is Not to Share. If you don't want the carbs, it tastes great on its own. But at least try one bite with the Noble Bread. The first two dishes of the trio packed so much flavor that the babaganoush paled in comparison.
Next up, an entree. The grilled Mahi Mahi was succulent and flaky. It’s dusted with kosher salt, the flakes of which you'll want to incorporate into every bite. You can have it on its own or over grains or greens. We went with grains. The dishes have recommended sauces (a whole menu section of them), which you order separately. The first sauce is free. Each additional sauce is an extra $2. Not bad, considering many dishes here start at $7.
Soon, yellow dishes arrived filled with generous portions of the Moroccan and Terra — two bowls from the grains section of the menu.
The Moroccan is perfect for fans of sweet with a little kick. Toasted bulgar wheat was bejeweled with sweet potatoes, herbs, raisins, and olives. Brussels sprout leaves, watercress, and cherry tomato halves sat atop the pile. Though flavorful on its own, the suggested sauce, Moroccan Spice Tahini, enhanced matters. It consisted of honey, a flash of cinnamon, and an elusive spice that was later revealed to be cumin.
The Terra bowl came with mung beans, chunks of wild mushrooms, roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus, spinach, and purple yam, with parsley and yellow pea shoots tossed on top. Again: fresh, bright. We ordered the suggested pairing of chimichurri sauce, which complemented the fish well. The mushrooms were a little chewy.
It was finally time for dessert.
The walnut and date pudding was flavored with cloves and cinnamon; it recalled a holiday dessert, but lighter. It was accompanied by a glorious bourbon caramel sauce, golden in hue, and drizzled around the plate. If you share this dessert, ask for extra sauce, or else a fight might ensue.
Considering Stratta Kitchen had only been open a short while when we visited — and during a pandemic, no less — we were pretty impressed. The experience was seamless.
Just remember to order the dessert after your meal so you can experience it as intended. It’s worth approaching the counter for a second time.
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