When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and 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, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Sumo Maya Location: 6562 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale Open: About two weeks Eats: Mexican Asian Price: $30 per person
Blending two cuisines into a single dish so that both heritages are perceptible but not competing is a challenge. It requires a good understanding of flavor and a creative mind that can deconstruct traditional combinations only to rebuild them in entirely new ways.
At Sumo Maya in Scottsdale chef Herb Wilson does just that. Not every dish on the restaurant's lengthy menu is a perfect 10, but overall it does an excellent job of proving that fusion food doesn't have to be the sort of clunky fare with which we've become all too familiar.
On our visit to the stylish new restaurant we nabbed two seats at the kitchen bar, which offers a great view of the culinary action. From our seats we could watch chefs making corn tortillas, blending fresh guacamole, and slicing off pieces of al pastor from the trompo, or vertical rotisserie. The dining room, though large, manages to still feel comfortable instead cavernous, as does the wrap-around patio, which was packed with diners even on a recent summer night.
We started our meal with a pair of cocktails from the menu of 10 drinks crafted by longtime Valley drink master, Bill DeGroot. We were pleasantly surprised to see the drinks priced between $8 and $10, a reasonable price point considered the cocktails include spirits such as Bombay Sapphire and Bulleit Rye.
We opted for the Passionfruit ($10), which combines Montelobos mezcal, passionfruit, cucumber, fresh lime, and ginger beer. The passionfruit gives this cocktail a nice sweetness up front that's followed by a lingering smokiness thanks to the mezcal. The combination makes this a near-perfect summer drink for those who don't favor too much fruit.
When it comes to ordering food, Wilson says the idea is to dine tapas-style and that about five plates should be enough food for one person. We have to say we think three dishes may be enough for most, as some of the servings are pretty large. Or rather, they're as large as they should be for the price.
We ordered several plates from various sections of the menu. They arrived at the table in no particular order, so don't expect to have your meal coursed out in traditional style -- unless you ask.
The first plates to arrive were an order of the Charred Edamame ($6) and the Mexican Style Pho ($8) . Neither ended up being our favorite dishes of the night, but were each a fine way to start the night. The grilled edamame, blistered black on the shell, was a refreshing new way to enjoy the Asian starter, but the miso butter sauce made them messy to eat and ended up overpowering the Mexican Tajín seasoning.
The Mexican Style Pho fared better than other non-traditional versions we've tried elsewhere. Wilson's version leans heavily toward a Mexican tortilla soup, with a light chile pasilla broth topped with avocado, lime, chicharron, crema, and cilantro. The noodles were a pleasant addition to an otherwise familiar dish. We couldn't help but wonder why no one had thought to put noodles in tortilla soup before.
Next came the Rollo Chignon ($15) from Sumo Maya's sushi bar -- the first knock-out dish of the night. The combination of adobo marinated grilled shrimp, guacamole, cilantro, jalapeño, and balsamic strawberry glaze makes this one of the more intriguing options on the menu of rolls. And surprisingly, it all worked together perfectly. The smoky shrimp stood up well against the sweet strawberry sauce while the jalapeño provided a subtle fresh kick. We'd happily try this dish again.
Of all the tacos, the Korean Beef (two for $6) sounded like the most original creation -- other options such as al pastor with avocado, pickled red onion, and grilled pineapple salsa seemed to play it safe. The moist shredded beef delivered on mild soy and sesame flavor but may have benefited from additional seasonings. The kimchee added brightness but still didn't pack much punch.
Our last two dishes topped our list of favorites for the night: the Miso Eggplant ($7) and Duck Breast ($12). The eggplant was perfectly cooked, creamy and soft on the inside with a nice textural contrast from the skin. We loved the flavorful miso sauce and the delicate nuttiness from the sprinkling of sesame seeds.
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Then the wood grilled duck stole the show. The healthy serving arrived at our table cooked to a perfect pink in the middle with a beautiful black crust on top. Sumo Maya's preparation lets the duck's juices steep back into the meat, making for an incredibly most and flavorful meal. At the bottom of the dish pools a mixture of rice wine, soy sauce, and sansho pepper vinaigrette that you can and should dip your duck in as needed for additional flavor.
At the end of the meal your server will likely ask if you have room for dessert -- and if you do, you should definitely go for it. The restaurant's yuzu cheesecake with strawberry sorbet is just about perfect. The tartness of the citrus comes through in a wonderful way and the cake itself is rich and fluffy like all cheesecakes should be. The dessert also comes with a side of candied kumquat and blood orange kettle corn, just to take things completely over the top.
We still have a lot to explore on the Sumo Maya menu -- there's a while section of guacamole and ceviches to try. But from what we've tasted we can see that Wilson understands how to walk a fine line between Mexican and Asian cuisines to deliver food unlike anything else we've tried in town.