Devoured Phoenix – Day Two

Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic 2012 will go down in the books as the one of the best — if not THE best — in its 8-year history. Restaurants pulled out all the stops (most of them, anyway). I mentioned in my Day One post that Day Two restaurants better bring their “A” game, because Day One chefs sure did.

There wasn’t anything to worry about. Day Two chefs were all over it — including Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House, who veered off his typical tricked out comfort food fare with an avant garde, tea-smoked Ahi tuna paired with lavendar-scented tapioca and a sweet, herbal-soy gastrique, topped with red-shiso micro greens. Brilliant.

Before I recap Day Two, I want to backtrack to the luscious lamb meatball with Sicilian lentils from The Parlor Pizzeria I tasted yesterday (they returned on Sunday, too). I forgot to snap a picture, and seriously, no description I could write could convey its deliciousness more than a photo, so here it is (yes, I ate it again and loved it even more the second time):

The biggest difference between Day One and Day Two?

Sunday was far more crowded, and some lines were long (undeservedly so in one case, more on that later).

I heard the event was filled to capacity (2,500 tickets sold) but at times it seemed as if double that amount were waddling around The Phoenix Art Museum’s Dorrance Garden. The indoor room housing more desserts, beer, wine and silent auction items did little to create more outdoor elbow room. Looking back, it made Day One seem a ghost town by comparison.

The other difference was, of course, the food. As much as I gushed about Day One restaurants, Day Two raised the bar even higher. That said, the pork belly topped with kimchi from Roka Akor from Day One is still one of the best dishes I’ve tasted at Devoured. Ever.

The Breadfruit, a downtown Phoenix Jamacian-inspired restaurant kept it simple but flavorful with a smoky mussel (above) steamed with a sweet and spicy rum reduction. Delicious.

Best effort by a family restaurant goes to Hana Japanese. I lost count of the offerings from the Hashimoto clan, but every bite I popped into my mouth danced and thrilled, especially the uni (sea urchin) shooter (above). Fantastic.

The fully-cooked hamachi with sweet marinated daikon radish was tasty, too — and different.

Other punchy bites were kushiyaki (marinated and grilled bites of rib-eye, shishito peppers, and two different chicken versions (above), and sweet cup of Hana an Mitsu, jellied aloe vera, red bean paste and mandarin orange.

The Mongolian BBQ Shrimp with lemongrass grits and kimchi from the House of Tricks brought me back to their booth to find out if it was on their menu, because if it was, I was going to make a reservation on the spot. It isn’t on the menu, but it should be.

J & G Steakhouse at the Phoenician brought a nice aged strip loin with cilantro pesto, but their juicy, spicy black pepper shrimp with dried pineapple, diced jicama and pea shoots really stole the steak’s thunder.

Most creative display goes to the Tuck Shop for their old-fashioned crawfish boil, dumped straight from the kettle to a newspaper-draped table. No one seemed to mind digging in, peeling shrimp and mud bugs, and gnawing on corn-on-the-cob.

Tuck Shop wasn’t content with just the crawfish boil. They plated up hearty  muffalettas, too, and poured Four Peaks brews to go with them. Watch for their new, next door breakfast and lunch spot, The Astor House, to open within the next month.

Chef James Porter of Petite Maison is a showman, and a funny one at that. He had the crowd in stitches during his demo, while back at his booth, I dove into rustic head cheese, with a tart and sweet beet and bean salad. Head cheese isn’t for everyone, but Porter’s version was as refined as pig parts suspended in gelatin can be.

Most creative (and perhaps the most expensive) serving container goes to Beckett’s Table. Pork ‘n beans in a can? There was a twist: this wasn’t any ordinary pork (it was rillettes) and the beans weren’t typical either, at least not the fava beans. Fun, fun, fun — and tasty, too.

Hot dogs at a refined culinary festival? Why not, especially when said pups are from food truck phenom Short Leash Dogs. They brought three dogs: a phyllo-dough wrapped sausage, a Frito-pie version and the Lady dog, with chipotle sauce, sweet caramelized onions, and a fried pickle (above). That puffy bread underneath is Short Leash Dogs’ version of a “standard” bun.

Silvana Esparza Salcido proved she is still Queen of the barrio (Barrio Cafe and Barrio Queen), with four tastes, including creamy, tangy corn in a cup and a refreshing Mexican shrimp cocktail.

The natives might revolt if Silvana didn’t bring her famous cochinita pibil, and the pomegranate guacamole was a bonus. I noticed Silvana tossing Barrio branded T-shirts to the crowd, and thought, “smart lady.” Those folks will be walking billboards for her restaurants. It always surprises me when restaurateurs try to turn T-shirts into a profit center instead of recognizing them as a marketing tool.

CIBO offered three tastes: a tasty pear salad, a so-so arincini (breaded, fried risotto ball) and a killer cauliflower soup with a touch of coconut milk and heat, topped with a popcorn piece. I had two spoonfuls but would have happily devoured a full bowl.

Cork in Chandler offered different bites throughout the day, and I wasn’t particularly taken with any of the three I tried. Although they were fine, they certainly didn’t wow me. (Clockwise from top: macadamia nut bread pudding with coconut; strip loin with garlic, basil and Syrah glace; sweet potato cake topped with a marinated golden raisin.)

Hula Modern Tiki surprised me with a generic “white fish” ceviche that was too salty and too tart, but the potent, delicious Mai Tai quickly erased all bad thoughts I had about the dish.

And now we come to the end of the line. A long, snaking line.

Kai, Arizona’s only Forbes Five-Star restaurant, had the longest lines of the day. I’m going to go out on a limb and say their offerings didn’t deserve any longer lines than half a dozen other restaurants.

What on earth did they bring to make the food-obssessed stand in line for half an hour?

Oh. Right. A suckling pig. Impressive for sure, and the shredded pork on top of a fresh-fried (but tough and dry) puffy fry bread was really, really succulent. It was good.

Actually, it was great, but it wasn’t the best of the fest and it was tough to stand in line when so many other deserving restaurants had no lines. Fortunately Kai brought along some front-of-the-house folks who recognized the fans were getting antsy, so they began bringing trays of the pork and their other terrific offering, a cedar planked Artic Char, to the line of not-so-patient patrons.

One bite of Tammie Coe’s “crack” cake erased any memory of lengthy lines and crowded pathways. There was simply no better way to end the two day festival than with this small slab of dark chocolate ganache dusted with rich cocoa powder. It was crazy-good, elevated to utterly fantastic when paired with the roasted banana “tea.”

Another Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic  is now in the books, and organizers should be proud of this two-day extravaganza. I think this 2012 festival will be the one we talk about for years to come.

Other Day Two Recaps:

Howard Seftel: AZ Central

Jess Harter: Mouth By Southwest


3 replies
    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Thanks, Sam! My little Canon G11 works like a charm… plus a little help from photoshop elements to fix what the camera missed. The suckling pig shot came from an iphone 4GS.


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