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).
Location: 4130 North Seventh Avenue
Eats/drinks: Brunch, pastries, burgers, wood-fired fare, coffee, cocktails
Open: About a month
Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Phoenix's Melrose District calls to mind antique stores, rainbow crosswalks, maybe a rowdy patio at Thunderbird Lounge. And, now, Valentine.
The wood-fired eatery, bar, and cafe sits at the front of mid-century modern furniture dealer Modern Manor — right next to the neighborhood's entry sign.
Valentine's wacky Instagram feed, which serves up posts of whole roasting pigs and newspaper clippings of UFO sightings, had us aching to check out the restaurant, which opened in December 2020.
Inside, floor-to-ceiling windows frame a casual, Seventh Avenue-facing patio, where diners enjoy waffles and wine. The airy Southwestern ambiance is complemented by, naturally, mid-century modern furniture. The south end of the space was more laissez-faire with wooden lounge seating and a cream velvet sectional. The restaurant and bar area has light turquoise booths, tan and black geometric chairs, and an open kitchen. A neutral-toned wine display separates the areas.
Valentine's co-owners are Chad Price and Blaise Faber. The latter is the guy who curated the cocktail list at Chris Bianco's Tratto. But Price can speak to the food. "When I had to decide how to describe the food, I chose 'wood-fired,'" he told us during our visit, though he didn't want to pigeonhole the restaurant as one specific type of cuisine.
Brunch was on our brains. After some negotiation, we approached the terracotta-tiled bar to place our order: the Breakfast Sandwich, Veg Burger, Hiramasa Crudo, Churro Waffle, and a Bloody 'Bull' Mary. The steak and eggs beckoned but would have to wait for another day. Our server handed us a number and we found a place to sit.
The Breakfast Sandwich arrived first. Two heavily buttered and perfectly pan-seared slices of toast hugged a marbleized egg, house-made sausage, pimento cheese, and aioli. The thing was buttery bliss, one of our favorite parts of the meal.
The Veg Burger was light by comparison. A two-inch squash bun lent sweetness to the earthy sandwich comprised of a bean and amaranth tempeh patty, avocado, watermelon radish, tomatillo, and pita chips toasted with sumac for a satisfying crunch. But the star of this show was the side of tater tots — fried to golden crispiness on the outside and potatoey goodness on the inside, and topped with a zesty stonefruit mustarda and native seed blend.
A server donning all black brought out the Hiramasa Crudo next, a welcome fresh addition to the meal. The dish is made with thinly sliced Japanese yellowtail kingfish topped with brown butter, a tomatillo and fish sauce vinaigrette, charred golden raisins, and scallions. The golden raisins were a strange inclusion to an otherwise refreshing plate, which will be perfect on a hotter day.
Now, how to describe the Churro Waffle? If a funnel cake, churro, and Belgian waffle somehow birthed a love child, this would be it. The dulce de leche that came on top was deliciously sweet but a bit excessive; the house-made whipped cream added some nuance. Dusted with mesquite chai spice, the waffle was both crispy and fluffy, aside from one portion which was too crunchy to cut through. Split this with a friend for dessert, or indulge an overactive sweet tooth by keeping it all to yourself.
The Bloody 'Bull' Mary was presented nicely enough, with a large cube of ice and skewered olives served in a tall glass. Though it didn't lack vodka, the cocktail needed flavor. Perhaps more bloody mary mix would do the trick.
For everything we forked down, there was still much left to conquer. Valentine's pastries are made in-house. And its sleek black Marzocco machine would make any espresso fanatic eager for a shot. We're fine waiting. When it comes to Valentine, like any dizzying new love, a little mystery goes a long way.
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