Cafe Reviews

Sweet Spot

I had no idea I wanted a D-Backs jersey, but when a friend gave me one for Christmas — in the perfect size, with the new team colors of white, red and black — I was thrilled. Now I can't wait for the next season to start so I can wear it to the ballpark. But for all of my enthusiasm, the truth is, I'm not even a sports fan. I'm just preoccupied with the details of what I'll be eating and drinking.

So yes, I love to go to Diamondbacks games, just as long as I'll be able to get an Italian sausage sandwich and a cup of Alaskan Amber. It's been a while since my last Suns game (I can't even recall whether they won or lost), but I still remember a delicious pulled pork sandwich I had at the arena. And whenever my sweetie invites friends over to watch a pay-per-view fight, I'm only thinking about the hors d'oeuvres. Now, if I wind up with tickets to see the Cardinals or Coyotes, I'm comforted to know there's decent food nearby, at Sweet O Wine & Chocolate Lounge.

Open since early December, Sweet O is part of the first wave of tenants at the brand-new Westgate City Center by the 101, near Arena and University of Phoenix Stadium. While the complex is still in its first phase, the full plan includes an AMC movie theater (already up and running), a hotel and convention center, offices, and a variety of restaurants and retail. It's an instant city that sprang from the cotton fields, and not surprisingly, much of the current and upcoming restaurant lineup reads like a greatest-hits list of chains that I could find elsewhere in the Valley, if I cared to. If I'm in the neighborhood, I'd rather hit up a small, indie business like Sweet O.

With two walls of windows, high ceilings, stone tile floors, and a lengthy wine bar and dessert counter separated from the dining area by upholstered banquettes, Sweet O has a casual, minimalist vibe. It's a breath of fresh air in the chain-choked West Valley, where owner Jeanette Dubreil grew up. When she and her husband Pierrick, a French native and former chef, first thought about opening a wine bar, they wanted to keep it close to home.

"We enjoy good food and good wine," she says, "but there weren't many places for us over here." And since Pierrick works for Barry Callebaut, one of the world's leading chocolate manufacturers, the "chocolate lounge" concept made perfect sense. "He sold four million pounds of chocolate last year," Jeanette says, laughing.

This is the kind of restaurant where you don't need an excuse for dessert. In fact, you could make a whole meal out of sweets, from a Callebaut chocolate panini (made with chocolate hazelnut paste, hazelnuts, and crème fraîche), to a dark chocolate fondue, to a plateful of truffles and pralines. Wash it all down with a spicy mug of Mexican hot chocolate, or sip a dessert wine to add a buzz to your sugar high.

My favorite dessert was called Dulce, a moist chocolate pecan brownie topped with a layer of dulce de leche mousse and honey ganache. It was so potent that I had to eat it slowly, letting the rich flavors melt together in each bite. And The Bomb lived up to its name, blasting me with dark chocolate mousse and cherry crème brûlée on a hazelnut crust. It had a glimmering dab of gold leaf in the middle, and a side of strong liquor-soaked cherries.

As lovely as the pastries were, I was just as happy nibbling on chocolates. (I picked my own, but I could've easily gone with one of the chocolate flights, a sampling of sweets paired with wine or cordials.) Some tasted more like their designated flavors than others — a ginger truffle gave the distinctively tingly sensation of spice, and a mango cream-filled chocolate had a fresh, tropical taste, while a plum and Armagnac truffle was indistinguishable from plain dark chocolate. Squares of soft caramel, dipped in milk chocolate, seemed old-fashioned compared to sophisticated options like cabosse au porto pralines, but they were dazzling in their simplicity. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

The savory options at Sweet O were pretty basic — a baker's dozen of appetizers, and several kinds of panini — but nicely done. The quality had a lot to do with the bread, which figured into almost every item. From moist slices of walnut raisin bread that accompanied the cheese plate to the sturdy French country bread that held the panini together, it was all sliced from the award-winning loaves of Simply Bread Company, a local bakery that supplies top restaurants across the Valley.

Like several other appetizers, the bruschetta was served with grilled bread on the side, so you could assemble it yourself (and keep it from getting soggy). It was a generous bowl of ripe tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil — nothing fancy, just fresh and flavorful. The cheese and salumi platter was distractingly pricey — $22! — but that said, the kitchen didn't skimp on it. Along with plenty of bread, it came with big hunks of creamy chevre and Maytag blue cheese, paper-thin slices of manchego, and shavings of Serrano ham, bresaola, and sopressata.

I liked that the panini didn't have run-of-the-mill fillings. Sure, there were some standard offerings, like the Margarita (tomato, mozzarella and pesto), and roasted vegetable with goat cheese, but I was drawn to more interesting combinations. One had smoky shreds of duck confit topped with Rondin cheese and tangy-sweet roasted tomatoes. The Serrano ham sandwich was a bold flavor combination, with artichoke hearts, arugula, fontina, and roasted peppers, while the Lomo Embuchado Entero — moist slices of Spanish cured pork topped with tomatoes, arugula, manchego and onion — had a touch of sweetness.

Really, I enjoyed all the food I ate here. But I do have some complaints with Sweet O. Biggest quibble? The service. The gals who waited on me were truly friendly, but when I'm treating myself to high-priced nibbles, I expect my server to be confident and knowledgeable about the menu. If I'm considering a wine, tell me more than "That's a good one." I'd like to know something about the cheeses of the day — at the very least, what they are?! If Jeanette herself had been waiting on me, perhaps I would've gotten some assistance, but that wasn't the case.

The atmosphere here in the evening wasn't cozy, as I'd hoped — the industrial-style space was so brightly lit that candles on each table didn't matter, and the music wasn't loud enough to keep me from overhearing everyone else's conversations. As glad as I am to see a non-chain in the West Valley, this place felt more like Chipotle than Postino.

And finally, I was surprised that Sweet O was often out of things — this happened on more than one occasion. When you're looking forward to a couple of those addicting fleur de sel truffles, seriously, nothing else will do.

Get Foodie: Taste the author's "Chow Bella" blog.

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

Latest Stories