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: Twist Bistro and Gallery
Location: 32409 North Scottsdale Road, #107, Scottsdale
Open: About two months
Eats: Grab-bag Mediterranean
Price: $12 to $50
Hours: 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays
Sometimes, a lone detail can spark your intrigue in a restaurant. For me, at a new restaurant in north Scottsdale, it was the appearance of lamb belly bacon on the menu. It wasn’t so much the lamb belly bacon itself. It was: If a little-known restaurant is smoking lamb belly bacon in-house, what else might they be doing?
Like most other restaurants in mid-2020, one thing Twist Bistro and Gallery is doing is just barely holding on. Chef Larry Shore and his wife Sandy Shore opened in May, during the pandemic, which has dragged into the incendiary days of summer. The timing hasn’t been great. But if you’re in the northern reaches of the Valley (Twist is pretty much on the cusp of Carefree), this place is well worth a visit.
Larry cooks in a regional-American-meets-Mediterranean style, one with a whole lot of character. Biscuits, but also wild boar meatballs. Cobbler as well as gnocchi with mostarda. Peppers stuffed with tagine.
Shore is a chef who, in his embrace of Southern-style fried chicken, turns it into shawarma. At brunch, eggs Benedict has meant merguez sausage, harissa hollandaise, even falafel. A recent smoked dish veered Moroccan, with a bone-jutting lamb shank, fava beans, and couscous.
“You don’t have to get crazy with the food if the flavors you’re working with are a higher quality,” Shore says. Though he starts with some of the top local farmed flavors — he sources from places like Steadfast Farms and Pinnacle Farms — Shore goes pretty crazy anyway.
Shore is a longtime industry veteran with experience behind stoves across the country. When younger, he cooked in Connecticut for a fiery French chef named Serge Backes, who “served in the French legion, traveling all over the Mediterranean.” The French chef’s food followed suit, invoking dishes and flavors that left France and “marched across Europe.”
Shore always wanted to do something similar but more contemporary. Along the way, he cooked in Sedona, under Valley chefs like longtime veteran Charles Wiley (now of Hearth '61), and recently oversaw Cedar 65 Bistro & Gallery, a restaurant in Evergreen, Colorado.
His path began, though, at his mother’s side, baking breads like the flatbread of his lamb belly bacon gyro at Twist.
He swaddles the bacon, which is wrapped like Texas brisket at the end of its smoking process, to lock in juices. It's surrounded by tzatziki, lettuce, pickles, and the warm flatbread. Salty, intense with umami, the bacon has the richness a gyro needs, one that all the other elements work to mellow. It’s a nice, hearty sandwich. (If you order to-go, get tzatziki on the side so the bread doesn’t sog in transit.)
Just about everything I tasted at Twist was impressive. Falafel was plump, dark with herbs, and perfectly fried. A flatbread that mimicked an everything bagel was piled with folds of housemade lox, greens, radicchio, and heirloom tomatoes. The smoked lamb shank was a cannon blast of a main, the whopping portion of lamb carrying a pungent smoke and the heavy minerality of lamb, tempered by refreshing touches like feta, golden raisins, marcona almonds, and fava beans.
The two best things I tasted were wholly unexpected. That's because Twist offers a takeout combo of an entrée, appetizer, and desert for $30. It’s hard to overstate how good this deal is, especially if you spring for a main like that lamb, which is $27 alone. Chasing the value of this combo, I threw in a soup and dessert just for the hell of it. Man, am I glad I did.
A cup of Moroccan festival soup shows just about every color, swimming with legumes, beans, and green bits. The soup is warmed with a long parade of spices including saffron, anise, clove, cumin, and coriander. But the wild flavor that jars it all sideways into a strange fruitiness? Preserved lemon. What a great soup.
My other favorite: a cheesecake that Shore builds cribbing from the architecture of tiramisu. The bottom layer, crunchy like crust, consists of crushed almonds, butter, and sugar, all baked. There is pistachio brittle, orange zest, and salted caramel roped through. The business part of the cheesecake domes up, light, the opposite of a New York-style slice, savage in its unceasing density. This vivid reimagination is worth ordering even if you’re not into dessert.
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Though the food is inspired and worth a trip, I wouldn’t sleep on the second part of Twist Bistro’s title, “and Art Gallery.” Sandy Shore has operated an art gallery in Sedona and is part of the Scottsdale League for the Arts. Some of the paintings that you’ll see in the restaurant are hers, some aren’t, and they’ll change every so often.
The menu at Twist changes, too. Gone is the smoked lamb shank. Here instead is a lamb sirloin. Come fall, Shore says, there will be Marsala-braised buffalo. It’ll be interesting to see where Shore steers Twist if he can navigate the ship out of storm COVID. As “a bistro that’s American in theory, but with all kinds of flavors from the Mediterranean,” there's a lot of potential for intrigue — just like the gyro, just like the cheesecake.