Amuse-Bouches - January 2016

Written by Craig Outhier Category: Amuse Bouches Issue: January 2016
Group Free


 Yelp/Verify: Rotana

Photo by Brian Goddard; Rotana

We never know when to trust sky-high Yelp ratings. Sometimes those wily Yelpers get it right (5 stars for Little Miss BBQ is perfectly defensible), but often the ratings seem based on dubious common-denominators like, oh, how cheaply folks can stuff their faces – which is how mall sushi at the Metro Center rates higher than Nobuo. Child, please.

 The latest gaudy Yelp rating to pique our interest: Rotana in North Phoenix.

Yelp rating: 5 stars

Style: Mediterranean

Background: Since opening in October, this high-toned kebabery at Greenway and 7th Street has enjoyed spotless Yelp love: 16 reviews, all 5-star. The family-owned restaurant is more luxe than you might expect: full-service bar, travertine floors and former dining tables. It also has that old standby of Middle Eastern/American dining: a karaoke rig.

The Food: Rotana features an upticked menu of Mediterranean standards including dolmeh ($6.50) and baba ghanouj ($6.50). The beef filet kebab was adequately tender, if a pinch underseasoned, skewered with tomatoes and onion. More pleasing: the gyros, spicy and scrumptious with a generous sidecar of tzatziki. Rotana also offers lesser-known special dishes like kebbe nayyeh (steak tartare with finely cracked wheat).

Revised rating: 3-and-a-half stars. Very solid... but, then, Pita Jungle is just down the street.


Food Scene: AWOL Chefs
Is Peter DeRuvo a culinary John Galt? The former EVO chef abruptly severed ties with business partner Nick Neuman in November and put his newly-opened Tempe restaurant Citrine on hiatus, then... well, nothing. His was a disappearing act worthy of Ayn Rand’s elusive objectivist prophet in Atlas Shrugged.

Maybe he’s holed up on a mountain somewhere, Galt-like, with other well-known Valley chefs who seem to have vanished into thin air.

Michael O’Dowd: The former Kai maestro has stayed behind the scenes since shuttering his short-lived midtown eatery Urban Vine last summer. A well-known motorhead and car restorer, O’Dowd is spending a lot of time in the garage, sources say.

Greg LePrad: His Overland Trout concept in Southern Arizona wine country was a grand but ill-fated experiment. The former Quiessence chef still lives in the Patagonia area, but isn’t believed to be cooking professionally, according to one source.

Deborah Knight: Named a Best New Chef in America by Food & Wine, the red-headed culinarian made a splash at now-defunct Mosaic before moving into real estate in 2009. Insiders are still hopeful she’ll return. “Her [stuff] was legit,” one source says. “Comparable to [FnB chef] Charleen Badman.”

Payton Curry: Speaking of red-headed culinarians... the one-time bad boy of the Valley food scene still has a stake in Brat Haüs, but has shifted much of his energy to his true passion: developing edible medical marijuana products. John Galt would approve.

The Tip Line
Midwestern transplants in the Valley rejoiced when Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria – a beloved Chicago pizza chain – announced plans to open a shop at the newly-refurbished Uptown Plaza in Central Phoenix in 2016. If only we could get Chicagoans to return the love. According to a well-known Valley restaurateur and nightlife impresario who recently opened a second location of her Scottsdale pizza-and-beer hall in Chicago (hint: it rhymes with “mottled pond”), the pizzeria community in the Windy City is downright hostile to newcomers: “We got some hate mail.” Quid pro quo, Cub-lovers. Look for Malnati’s in May 2016.


Photo by Megan Tormey; 1912 Coffee’s inaugural cappuccino art trial

Coffee Talk: Latte Art
Did you know “latte art” was a thing? Damn straight. Our resident coffee fiend, associate editor Leah LeMoine, recently served on the judging panel of Valley startup 1912 Coffee’s inaugural cappuccino art trial throwdown at Hazelrock Coffee + Sweets in Tempe. These folks take their milk manipulation seriously. The World Latte Art Competition even has a formalized judging criteria for the hearts, swans and rosettas that frequently grace your morning foam:

Balance and symmetry

Harmony between size of cup and position of design

Clarity of design and quality of milk texture

Brew master Spencer Aidukaitis of Peixoto Coffee Roasters took home the cash prize and bragging rights for his winged heart (see photo), but 1912 will be hosting more competitions this year in their World Series of Espresso Circuit Tour of Arizona.