| MARCH 11, 2013 | NEWS & NIBBLES
Day Two of Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic is in the books. Phoenix’s most anticipated culinary festival got off to a rocky start yesterday with the threat of rain and crowded confines, but in the end, Day One restaurants rescued diners with bites of local flavor. For the sold out crowd who attended today, it was all sunshine and…crowded confines.
The Phoenix Theater expansion put a squeeze on the Phoenix Art Museum’s sculpture garden, where the bulk of the festival is held, but it still seemed there were more people and more restaurants than in previous years.
Day Two is historically the “wow” day. What were festival goers treated to today? Tacos.
Tacos weren’t everywhere, but the ubiquitous Arizona staple made appearances where expected (Gallo Blanco, above) and unexpected (Relish Burger Bistro, below).
Gallo Blanco’s cabrito (young goat) taco with charred salsa was the second best taco of the day (more on the best taco later). Without a doubt, Chef Doug Robson’s tortillas were one of the best things I tasted all day.
Relish Burger Bistro’s hard shell pork taco (above) was out of its league. I wonder why they didn’t bring their outstanding burgers? Their novel deviled egg (below), topped with bacon and tomato, was eye catching.
Another deviled egg showed up — this one deep-fried.
Chef Justin Beckett of Beckett’s Table revealed his playful side again (remember last year’s gourmet “can” of pork n’ beans?). This year, he put a cornmeal batter on a deviled egg and served it with spicy mayo and a pickled vegetable salad — all in an egg carton.
If Gallo Blanco gets props for best traditional taco, then an unexpected source gets props for serving the very best taco of the day (and possibly the best dish of the festival): House of Tricks.
The foie gras taco (above) with caramelized pineapple and shallots jumped up and down on my tongue with unabashed glee. I shouldn’t be surprised. Chef Kelly Fletcher blew me away last year with a Mongolian BBQ Shrimp with lemongrass grits and kimchi. I easily could have asked for another foie taco, breaking festival etiquette of one dish per person.
The queen of the barrio (Barrio Cafe and Barrio Queen) didn’t bring a taco. But she did (as usual) bring her A-game.
In addition to her pomegranate-studded guacamole and signature cochinita pibil (both served on sturdy tortilla chips), Silvana Salcido Esparza served a tequila shrimp (above), perfectly cooked, natch.
New restaurant Pig & Pickle lived up to their name with a pork shoulder tostada paired with pickled cabbage in the form of crunchy kimchi. I’d eat this again and again.
Enough about tacos. Let’s talk duck.
Fez put out a grilled duck breast with frissée, goat cheese and pistachios (above).
Chef Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House (who announced plans for a new restaurant called Gladly) put a dish out that visually resembled his tea smoked tuna from last year, but this year, it was a slice of five-spice duck on top of teff (grain) porridge, with drops of black garlic gastrique. The combination was spot-on — just like last year.
Enough about duck, let’s talk about lamb heart.
Outspoken showman Chef James Porter of Petite Maison tested the boundaries of festival goers (and apparently the health department) with his fresh ground lamb heart tartare. It was a first for me, and I loved it.
Where else other than Devoured can you go from discussing lamb heart tartare to gushing about a hot dog?
Only one brat made the cut today, and that was Short Leash Dog’s juicy brat slider on a pretzel roll (above).
Santa Barbara Catering’s pork belly reuben on a pretzel bread (above) was another winner, proving you don’t have to be fancy to be delicious.
Bone marrow anyone? Thank you Atlas Bistro, for the meltingly fatty treat (above), topped with bits of chewy pork and red onion jam.
I loved your elegant radishes bites with plumped raisins and salted butter, too (above).
Different Point of View’s smoked venison with caramelized onions on a corn cake, surrounded by a huckleberry reduction. In a word — outstanding.
The Breadfruit’s ginger lime calamari was simple but delicious. So tender. So simple.
Speaking of simplicity, Crudo’s albacore bite was sensational — unless you got a few too many drops of truffle oil.
Nothing simplistic about the bold flavors of Phoenix City Grille’s eggplant with roasted peppers, goat cheese and balsamic.
Kai, oh, Kai. Arizona’s only Five-Star, Five-Diamond restaurant upped the ante (again). Six dishes, all in recyclable containers (they even had the recycle bins set up at their booth).
Clockwise, starting at the left: black & white dot paper cone filled with milky, root beer flavored ice; whipped corn cheesecake; jar of whipped foie gras mousse; smoked trout with pickled red onion; wild game barbacoa with flatbread; salted date crème brûlée (my favorite of the six).
The small, family-run Hana Japanese brought four bites. What they lack in resort resources, they more than make up for with heart and soul.
The delicately flavored chawanmushi, a custard with shrimp and vegetables was sublime. Just like last year, with the now-famous uni-shooter, Hana dropped another flavor bomb.
The ankimo slider. Brilliant.
And that’s a wrap.
Did you go to day two? What did you think?