Disclosure: I am not a food writer. I only like to eat.
So, when my favorite dining companion and I had the fortunate opportunity to experience Chef Stephen Jones’ new menu at Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails this weekend it came as a pretty big surprise when I started writing my thoughts on the wonderful evening.
While “wonderful”may seem too general a characterization for the food readers (and writers) out there, the statement wouldn’t stand up if the food, service and ambiance didn’t each deliver to their fullest potential. Wonderment doesn’t come if the food is just OK, or if the service is inefficient, or worse, indifferent.
Mind you, this visit was not wrapped in incognito subterfuge. There were no wigs worn to disguise our appearance. They knew we were coming.
We know many people who own or work in restaurants in downtown Phoenix. Knowing the proprietor or the chef doesn’t guarantee a good experience. We’ve had plenty of awkward moments when we visit a place we love, only to have the too-casual service fall short…resulting in a feeling resembling a slightly broken heart. Sigh. Our fondness of the establishment or the people behind it bar us from expressing this “fail” out loud. Everyone has a bad night.
On this evening at Blue Hound, we cruised through the menu, the Buffalo Trace Old Fashioned limbering up our taste buds while we perused.
The new menu is described as “spring” and “simple.” One of those adjectives is more honest than the other, but more on that later.
[We purposely skipped most of the snacks section of the menu. We are *ahem* well-acquainted with these offerings. (The corner booth in the lounge has many tales to tell.) We also skipped the flat bread. This isn’t why we go to Blue Hound. There are too many stellar pizza and bread options in this town.]
The Farm cheese plate delighted (featuring a white French cheese whose name I must chase down, as I was immediately taken by its sophisticated swiss-like flavor). The asparagus salad was a chilled refresher, and the roasted cauliflower, a favorite veggie, made me wish I had ordered it a couple months ago, as it seemed a bit out of place in this spring tableau.
Three dishes became instant favorites. First, the gazpacho. Simply the best I’ve ever tasted. The chilled soup is so perfectly suited to Phoenix’s climate, it makes you wonder why every restaurant doesn’t offer it, although, they would be challenged to match this flavor.
The Crow’s Dairy Goats Milk Yelllow Corn Cake was nothing short of fantastic. Not a cornbread, this is truly a moist cake. Delicious.
Then came the arrival of the Jerk Cured Scottish Salmon. You know those dishes that seem to make time stand still? With that first bite, the world fades to the background and your soul is exposed. Served with shaved celery, apple and fennel salad, with a potato puree, this dish is the taste of spring.
Given that, the Bay Scallop Ceviche had a tough act to follow. While the tangerine, fennel, heart of palm and dried lime delivered on the ceviche preparation, not to mention the dish was probably the most aesthetically pleasing of the night, the sweet/spicy tang of the drizzled sauce (interestingly not listed on the menu but described by our waiter) added a twist that didn’t quite work for my ceviche-loving taste buds.
The lamb meatballs were delicious. All you gyro lovers out there, this is your mecca. The perfectly cooked meatballs were matched with a tangy red onion yogurt and accompanied by dandelion greens.
The bone-in pork belly, a far cry from its cured bacon cousin, melts in your mouth upon arrival. The richness is cut here by a “peanut ghost chile gremolata.” The mix of textures was purposeful but the nuts took me away from the melting action. My companion however loved the contrast, as I suspect most would.
On to desserts (yes, we were there a while…don’t judge). The Carmelized Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, is a welcome carry-over from the old menu. If you haven’t yet experienced this caramelized decadence with medjool date ice cream, you’re missing out.
But we had to try a whimsical addition: the Willy Wonka. Imagine a swirl of pulled chocolate accompanied by truffles, beet “soil” and avocado ice cream. Preferring my avocados in a good guacamole, my favorite ingredient happened to be pop rocks. Yep, those fun pops you enjoyed as a kid mix and mingle with this psychedelic dessert that leaves you wondering if a crew of Oompa Loompas are working in the kitchen.
A take on the so-called simplicity of this spring menu.
This is a thinking-man’s menu. Oftentimes, you go to a restaurant to order a taste you’re looking for. This menu delivers tastes you didn’t know existed.
It made me think about the man behind the journey. Artists share something of themselves in unexpected ways, and Chef Stephen Jones exposes his thought process in his approach to this menu.
Like that proverbial hound, Chef Stephen guides you on a culinary path that only he has sniffed out. He provides little entry points along the way for those who love a good salmon or lamb, but then leads you to his discovered destination.
I don’t typically think about a menu following a dinner as much as I have following our evening at Blue Hound. Simple? Try cerebral.
Photo of Stephen Jones courtesy of J. Lauren PR & Marketing.
Downtown Phoenix restaurants are a point of pride, and two chef-owners in particular have not only helped redefine their respective culinary corners but have earned international recognition as masters of their craft.
Read on for a Q&A with these Historic Heritage Square neighbors Chris Bianco, of Pizzeria Bianco, and Nobuo Fukuda, of Nobuo at Teeter House, originally published in the Aug/Sept 2011 edition of DPJ Magazine.
This Sunday, they will be joined by Chef Christopher Gross in Eight’s Check, Please! Arizona Festival’s James Beard Award winners panel moderated by “Check, Please! Arizona” host Robert McGrath. (See festival details here.)
James Beard Award Winner Chris Bianco is known the world over for his creations. Pizzeria Bianco is critically, and tastefully, the country’s best pizza. And, he’s been a part of Phoenix for some time now, growing and changing in concert with his environment. Bianco is passionate about food, Downtown and the building that houses his baby, Pizzeria Bianco, and he’s flexible and ready for what the future may hold.
DPJ: When you decided on this building for Pizzeria Bianco, was it because of the demographic of the area?
CB: It wasn’t as much the demographic as the uniqueness. The synergy. The juxtaposition of something of this genre of the late 1920s, utilitarian machine shop that we could build and use with an intention that was uncompromising of the space. It wasn’t me coming and spray painting it black. This was something that demands to be celebrated. It was about bringing something back in a way but not necessarily denying the history of the journey itself.
DPJ: Were you nervous about the decision to plant yourself in Downtown Phoenix, when at the time, it wasn’t nearly as alive as it is now?
CB: Not really. I always use the analysis of four friends. Ask four friends if they would and you kind of build your demographic around that. It’s maybe a small study. You can’t essentially serve the world. If you can serve a part of it and serve them well with clear intention and the opportunity to build a relationship. I have a relationship with my clientele. I have a relationship with this building. I have a relationship with my staff. I have a relationship with my farmers and artisans. It’s very relationship built. These spaces represent something really specific in the human experience.
DPJ: What does it mean for you to be housed in a historic building?
CB: These buildings are really special, so I love being in here. I love the experience. We had to be as good as the space, essentially. You want it to be a place where…all the stars align. For us, it’s been a wonderful journey but a journey that’s ongoing. There’s an accountability. We’re continuing to remodel, internally and in some ways externally, we’re continuing to be relevant.
DPJ: What brought you Downtown?
CB: I wasn’t really driven to Downtown, as much as I was driven to the opportunity to help, and be maybe a raindrop and not the flood, you know what I’m saying? You don’t open up lofts, or grocery stores and then build lofts. You build lofts and you let people live there and it dictates a need for a barber shop, a flower shop or a grocery. Part of what we were trying to do was this size. What I was trying to achieve, was not feed 3,000 people a day.
DPJ: What do you think of how Phoenix has evolved over the years?
CB: It’s evolved nicely. We try to support…Nobuo actually having a chef of his caliber is unbelievable, but also Matt’s Big Breakfast. There’s a lot of things Downtown from a culinary point, and just as a point as a city, we’re getting there. When we say we’re not there yet, it shouldn’t be a negative. It should be a positive. Look at the opportunity. There’s a wonderful opportunity. We’ve continued to be a part of the growth itself.
Nobuo Fukuda may be the new kid in town, but he’s not new to the Valley’s culinary scene. He is a James Beard Award winner and is ever evolving, still tinkering with presentation and preparation, on a micro scale (in his kitchen) to a global scale (following the nuclear disaster in Japan).
DPJ: How is your Phoenix location different from Sea Saw in Scottsdale?
NF: The energy level is totally different. The place in Scottsdale, the dining room is our kitchen. We have a grill and we make everything on counters. When you’re in the restaurant we have a U-shaped counter. Anybody can sit down and watch me cook. [It’s a] totally different kind of atmosphere. Here we started out a little more casual, street-type food. Small bites. Here, it’s more of a casual, sit-down dining.
DPJ: Has the downtown area accepted your casual dining idea? Do you have regulars?
NF: We do have a few regulars who are coming here or have business here. And they’ll keep coming back for us, which is very, very nice. As more people start to live in downtown, a lot of people [including] my employees, have moved downtown. We have a very good feel for the future in Downtown Phoenix. Nice energy.
DPJ: Have you run into any challenges at Teeter House?
NF: We’re still trying to adjust the kitchen size. It’s challenging. And when it’s crazy busy, we don’t have enough space. It’s a small space to work with. We’re going to see what we can do, so we’re still working every moment. Our food is not going to be different but the style of how we serve, we still like a tasting, paired wines, but we have to be careful how we do it.
DPJ: How have you had to adjust?
NF: My vision will be a lot of organic, local, and high-end Japanese fish. It’s very difficult for me to get Japanese fish right now because of the nuclear disaster. Eventually we’ll be able to do it again, [with] interesting Japanese fish and an interesting local vegetable. It’s a mix of different ingredients, one way with the casual style and the other will be more high end. We do get Japanese fish from southern Japan, which is not affected by the radiation. It’s not easy, but still those fish are available. The northern Japanese fish is not available. We do a lot of local vegetable and we use a fish as an accent. But main character is a garden vegetable. That’s what I’ve been doing for a little bit.
DPJ: What do you think about your new space?
NF: The building, compared to other restaurants in Scottsdale, they’re just buildings, minimum designs. Just buildings. We were going to move across the street, but there was a brand new designer building, but that was not my intention. I feel very moved to the old buildings because they have history and give us more ambiance and warmness. It makes me more special.
Lisa Nicita and Justin Lee contributed to this article.
Photography by Jack London.
At last! Today was the day we got official word on the mysterious goings-on at the old Beef Eaters building at 3rd Ave. and Camelback Road.
Rumors have abounded and well over 100 people, including families from the neighborhood, business people, bankers, builders and just plain folks, gathered at 10 a.m. this morning to celebrate the plans to revitalize the site. The excitement was palpable on everyone’s smiling faces.
From 1961 through 2006, Beef Eaters was a central gathering place for Phoenicians to share meals, celebrate special events, and craft the business deals that shaped our Valley. When owner Jay Newton died in 2006, the restaurant shut its doors and the building sat empty. Now adaptive reuse developers Venue Projects have stepped up with a remarkable vision to bring the site back to life.
Central Phoenix-based Venue Projects principle Lorenzo Perez told the crowd of Venue’s dedication to finding and adapting buildings with history, a story to tell, and a strong sense of place. Jon Kitchell, another principle with Venue added, “We’re salvage hounds and love finding materials worthy of putting back into place, like black leather booths and the Queen Creek adobe bricks of this place.”
Working with John Douglas Architects, they’ll be uncovering the bones of the building and incorporating the treasures they discover back into the new uses for the site.
“Jay Newton’s Beef Eaters legacy will continue with a new interpretation of his iconic gathering place,” said Kitchell. To honor the past, the new complex will be called The Newton.
The Newton is co-owned by Venue Projects and two of the three businesses that will comprise the site. Co-owners include the nationally renowned, independent, community-based bookstore, Changing Hands, which will open its second Valley location at the site; and Justin and Michelle Beckett, current owners of Beckett’s Table, who will open a new neighborhood restaurant concept at The Newton. The third occupant will be The Lively Hood, a co-working space for creative professionals. Construction has begun and the goal is to reopen on November 1.
These three businesses will continue Jay Newton’s Beef Eaters legacy. Located just across the street from the light rail station, the bookstore, restaurant and co-working space will be active community gathering spaces that energize the neighborhood and encourage people to work together.
Shannon Scutari of Sustainable Communities Collaborative summed up the thrill experienced by everyone gathered when she referenced an old African proverb. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others. This place,” said Scutari, “is going to be about going it with others.”
UPDATE: DPJ was just informed Scratch will be opening
next week TOMORROW, March 9!
is about to get a bit sweeter.
Scratch, a Scottsdale based French restaurant and bakery run by husband and wife team Duc and Noelle Liao, is set to open a second location in downtown Phoenix. It will be one of a handful of restaurants to occupy the long-empty Canvas space, on 3rdStreet and Roosevelt. La vie en pastries!
Originally from France, owner and chef Duc Liao whips up beautiful creations in the kitchen and behind the lens, as a professional fashion photographer whose work can be found in everything from Vogue to Vanity Fair (and DPJ). The transition from beautiful images to beautiful pastries may seem a far stretch, but to Liao, it makes perfect sense.
“It’s all about expressing yourself,” he said.
Perhaps the sweetest part of the deal is the revitalization of empty downtown real estate into a vibrant epicurean hub, featuring Asian, Mexican and American dining options, not to mention luscious French dessert. As a surprise and treat to Phoenicians, Liao will be simultaneously opening a dedicated French pastry café next door to Scratch restaurant.
“We tried to have something that exists everywhere, at least in big cities, but not here in Phoenix yet. A really dedicated volume and space to pastries, so people can drive miles to find something sweet. Because I used to do that, in Paris.”
Renovating the space came at the perfect time for Liao, who says he’s thrilled to have a presence in the growing downtown area.
“We love downtown Phoenix. It’s a place where we couldn’t afford to be before, but now that it’s more developed, it’s an amazing time for us to be here.”
Liao is also reworking the lunch and dinner menus to feature playful twists on classic American fare, as well as French staples that remind him of home.
“Lately we’ve been developing a lot of burgers. I think that this is an amazing texture,” Liao said.
Creating complements to the traditional burger has resulted in a wide variety of flavors, Liao said, including variations on Kobe and crab burgers.
“People are responding amazingly to those differences.”
If you go:
What: Scratch French Cafe
Where: 1011 N. 3rd Street
Local Fave: St. Francis
Owner: Aaron and David Chamberlin
Opened: September 2009
The Concept: An “Urban Neighborhood Restaurant.” That straightforward notion is prominently featured on the outside of this mid-century former office building turned loft-style eatery. At the helm is chef-owner Aaron Chamberlin, who has an impressive resume working under Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nancy Oakes of Boulevard in San Francisco. Since day one, St. Francis has strived to serve the best, local seasonal ingredients in modern (but recognizable) cuisine. Family owned, they strive to keep their staff educated and efficient while warm and welcoming to anyone who dines there.
Have a Seat: Upon entering St. Francis, you are greeted with a “Pow!” at the door by the adorable chef caricature that comes from one of Chef Chamberlin’s cookbooks. The hip, sleek interior and exterior designed by Wendell Burnette Architects showcases original brick walls and beamed ceilings. Beautiful bistro style tables and bar stools fill the dining area facing your choice of artwork, the semi-open kitchen, the patio, or bar. The bar is an indoor/outdoor spot with a garage style door that lets the warm AZ sunshine in. Large swivel glass doors open the dining room to a shaded patio, complete with heaters and a fireplace. You can also enjoy dinner, a drink or even a movie as it projects onto the patio wall. A beautiful mural decorates the upstairs wall along the mezzanine, providing eclectic scenery for the diners as they overlook the dining areas below. Two local artists, DOSE and Hector Ruiz, collaborated with Chamberlin to transform that space and give it some unique character. You can also find their artwork at Bentley Gallery and the Heard Museum.
The Eats: Though most of the menu is inspired by Chamberlin, day to day operations and execution are overseen by Executive Chef Chris Barch (promoted in March 2012). Many have raved about the St. Francis staples like the Pork Chile Verde or Baked Goat Cheese appetizer but there are many enticing things on the menu. Some probably won’t ever go away, but new items get added for the regulars to try. One new addition is the The Pig Dip sandwich on the lunch menu: wood roasted pork loin, prosciutto, bacon, caramelized onion, and gruyere cheese on a house baguette. The ingredients are layered neatly and in perfect proportion. A surprise house-made mustard cuts all the richness and brightens it up. This sandwich is accompanied by a dipping jus but it’s so delicious it really doesn’t need it (however it provides a nice dip to soften the crunchy bread). If you’re looking for some lighter fare, try the Farm Salad that is packed with healthy, local veggies like white beans, pickled onion, fennel, kale, and baby carrots dressed in a sauvingnon blanc vinaigrette. It’s beautiful, balanced, and filling – all the qualities of a great salad. Proof that Chamberlin is keeping careful track of seasonal ingredients, a market list blackboard is adorned with the growing seasons of respective fruits, veggies, and meats/seafood along with approximate months/time frames. See for yourself that what you are eating is truly the freshest you can get.
FUN FACT: The custom wood fired oven was designed to provide a focal point in the restaurant as well as being the heart for many menu items. Almost every dish has some element coming from the mesquite and almond wood burning machine, designed using a 19th century bread-making blueprint. This has to be why St. Francis’s San Francisco style homemade (almost daily) sourdough bread is so delish (take one home for only $3)!
The Drinks: HAPPY HOUR IS OFFERED EVERYDAY from 3-6! This is great not only for those looking to take a load off after work but also for local food industry people looking for a good deal on any given day of the week. Specialty cocktails are $5, and made with fresh squeezed juice, fresh fruit mixes, and homemade house syrups. Have a simpler palette? Get your well drinks, beer, and wine (by the glass) at half off. Aside from happy hour, their regular drink list offers a variety of quality wine and beer at reasonable prices. All are hand selected to complement the current menu and you can find some AZ wine and beer in the mix as well. Also, enjoy the lush Cartel coffee after a meal or during your morning brunch offered on weekends.
Report: With so many offerings, from brunch to happy hour to dinner, it would be difficult to leave St. Francis unsatisfied. The focus on a variety of locally driven food in a comforting, neighborhood, home-away-from-home concept invites people to re-visit Chamberlin’s restaurant over and over again – each time with the possibility of a different experience. Even the kiddos can enjoy quality, tasty food FOR FREE. There are always fun things happening there (including live music for Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) so check the website often for details on the changing, seasonal menus and events.
And stay tuned – as Chamberlin’s second restaurant is scheduled to open in the former Urban Grocery & Wine Bar space (14 E. Pierce St.) in April 2013!