Dahlia, a new restaurant on Seventh Street near downtown Phoenix, is romantic to its core.
The little building, a historic brick-walled bungalow that formerly held fellow small-plates restaurant Bri, sets the scene. Its jewel palette — painted deep turquoise on the outside with accents of royal purple inside — completes the tone. Fresh flowers top wooden tables, and candles glow throughout the space. Spanish music chimes over the sound of cocktails being shaken and customers clinking glasses. Officially open since mid-September, Dahlia has clearly, and quickly, become a date night destination.
On a recent visit, a couple were celebrating the wife's birthday. They ordered a bottle of wine and two steaks, a special of that evening. They were here to spoil themselves. In the front room, a larger table accommodated a group of about six friends, also celebrating. All evening, couples could be seen enjoying a romantic rendezvous.
Dahlia frames itself as a tapas restaurant influenced by both Spain and Mexico. The restaurant is owned by Audrey Corley, who also is the proprietor of Boycott Bar on Seventh Avenue. She teamed up with chef Andrew Renteria of Chubasco Tacos food truck and the short-lived downtown restaurant Ay, Chabela, who runs the kitchen. Corley currently serves tables at her new restaurant, ensuring that her customers are well taken care of.
From the small tapas section, the Pan Con Tomate is a winner. Slices of Noble Bread come toasted with a hint of char and a kiss of garlic. They surround a ramekin of cold, fresh tomato spread that tastes of summer. The spread is simple, not much more than fresh blended tomatoes, garlic and good olive oil. It is a celebration of the produce, and for those who love plump, aromatic tomatoes, it's a real treat.
On the large tapas section of the menu, don't miss the potato croquettes. Three plump, golden brown croquettes sit atop a pool of bright orange, spicy, tomato-laden bravas sauce perfect for scooping with each bite. Cut into the croquettes, and the crispy crust gives way to creamy mashed potato studded with salty, savory serrano ham. The rich, silky potatoes contrast with the crunchy exterior and balance the spicy, bright sauce for a satisfying bite. The best part is that there are three of these suckers, meaning there is plenty to go around.
But underneath all those petals are three unique tostadas. On one, chicken tinga crowns refried beans for a classic, familiar bite. The other two are vegetarian: one celebrating carrots and the other avocado. Roasted carrots bring sweetness and caramelization to the dish, which almost tastes of sweet potato and sharply contrasts against the spice. The flavors here are strong and lean a little into the realm of heavy-handed. The avocado tostada was simple and unfortunately oversalted.
The Spanish Dates are a delicious, if slightly confusing, bite. It's hard to go wrong with juicy medjool dates wrapped in bacon — two excellent stand-alone ingredients that make a stunner of a combination. But the "Spanish" part of the name, as the menu explains, comes from a stuffing of Spanish chorizo. Although the dish was delicious, no chorizo was anywhere to be found.
The dishes at Dahlia are extremely, almost frustratingly, close to excellent. The creativity and effort are undeniably there, and the restaurant is young, so probably all it needs is time. Once this kitchen really gets dialed in, there'll be no stopping it.
The namesake Black Dahlia, which Corley informs us is the bestseller, is made with Valencia orange tequila, Amaro Montenegro and black cherry puree. The glass is rolled in black salt for an added garnish and kick. The drink is smooth, balanced and makes for a perfect pairing with the tapas.
Currently, desserts are not available at Dahlia. But when we asked for something sweet, Corley offered what she calls "liquid dessert."
The bar whips up a concoction that tastes like cookie dough in a glass. Ole Smoky Cookie Dough Whiskey, very sweet but smooth, is sprinkled with chocolate shavings and served over a large cube of ice in a rocks glass with a sweet cream rim. It's decadent, sweet and satisfies the need for dessert and after-dinner drinks at the same time.
At the end of a meal at Dahlia, it's hard to feel anything but content and relaxed. The buzz of the restaurant continues among the soft glow of warm lights. Laughter and conversation fills the space, and the tapas-style food leaves you full but not stuffed. Dahlia aims to please. And for your next date night, it may just be a winner.