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: Twisted Grove (formerly Twisted Root) Location: 8220 North Hayden Road Open: Almost a month Eats: American Price: $25+/person
With Wally's American Pub and Grassroots Kitchen and Tap, chef Chris Collins mastered the art of opening and operating a neighborhood restaurant. The ingredients are pretty simple: a menu that's safe but feels fresh, service that's casual and friendly, and an atmosphere that makes your clientele feel at ease.
And knowing of his other restaurants' success, it should come as no surprise that Collins' latest endeavor also delivers all three of those things.
First thing's first: Let's explain that you're not mistaken, that this restaurant did originally have a different name. But not long after opening as Twisted Root Parlor + Bar, Collins discovered there was a national trademark against the name. So he renamed the third concept in the Common Ground Culinary portfolio: Twisted Grove.
It takes over the sprawling restaurant space that most recently housed Scottsdale Station, inside the same shopping center as the original Grassroots Kitchen and Tap location. With a spacious main dining room that opens onto a large front patio, the restaurant fills with sunlight in the middle of the afternoon. The décor resembles that of Grassroots Kitchen and Tap. The patterned wallpaper doesn't make the place feel sleek, exactly, but the metal light fixtures don't give a cozy vibe, either. On the whole, it lands somewhere between modern Americana and chic farmhouse.
Twisted Grove's menu seems designed to give something to everyone. So the question becomes not whether you'll find something you like, but rather whether what you think you'll like actually tastes good.
The restaurant's Twisted Oysters, a take on classic oysters Rockefeller, combine mollusks on the half shell topped with creamed spinach, tasso ham relish, and béarnaise sauce. It's easy to like the richness of the béarnaise and spinach complemented by the sweet, almost spicy ham relish, but none of the toppings do much to help underscore the flavor of the oyster.
If you were looking for that briny ocean experience, a better choice would be the order of simple oysters on the half shell. Otherwise, this makes a perfectly fine place to start.
At the recommendation of our server, we didn't skip the Twisted Noodle Salad, which features more kale, arugula, and herbs and less of the buckwheat soba noodles than you might expect. It's not a bad thing if you like salads that actually taste like greens, though this one is punched up with the flavors of mango, avocado, cashews, and chile-lime vinaigrette. The result is a chorus of flavors that's loud, but not dissonant.
In comparison, the housemade pappardelle with wild mushroom seemed too quiet. That could be because the subtle flavors of shallot butter and three types of mushrooms (hen of the woods, oyster, and beech) sometimes fell victim to the power of the salty boursin cheese and wild greens, making the overwhelming flavor a one-dimensional saltiness. The pasta, too, could have used a little help; the large flat noodles lacked any sort of bite and clumped together in some places.
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For dessert, adventurous diners would do well to try the homemade sweet ricotta. Just barely sweet enough to be considered a dessert at all, it features a mountain of fresh ricotta cheese topped with tart cherry jam, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil. Served with a side of thin buttermilk crackers, this could easily be enjoyed anytime of day, with or without a full meal.
Service during a late lunch at Twisted Grove wasn't quite smooth. Though one server poured water, another took orders, and still another dropped the check. Some were friendly, others downright casual. In the end, all seemed knowledgeable, and mostly, eager to please.
The same can be said about the restaurant itself.