Crudo Restaurant Review- A Hidden Backstreet Gem With Serious Good Eats

Crudo Restaruant and Bar CrudoI have finally found a restaurant in Arizona that leaves me thinking–even dreaming about what I ate and drank weeks after having a meal there.  I am not suggesting that there aren’t others out there but in the 10 years that I’ve returned to live in Phoenix / Scottsdale area, Crudo— chef / owner Cullen Campbell‘s creation– is the first I can say…”Don’t talk to me while I’m eating this because it is so good that I have to savor every single second of this bite.” Hint* squid ink risotto– see below.

From the moment you approach Crudo you get hit with the aroma of the wood buring grill…that warmth and comforting smell that immediately hits your senses and opens your appetite for the gifts you are about to receive. As you walk up the few steps to the foyer you get transended to a place resembling a restaurant on one of the small side streets in Venice, California–an open, clean, airy feeling that is soothing and refreshing.

To the left is the entrance to Bar Crudo owned by Micah Olson where the magic begins with the perfect concoctions of various libations reinvented and newly created by serious mixologists.  Watching them make your drink whether it be from their drink menu or a new concoction made just for you it’s like watching a live performance of a great chef preparing a special treat– brings back a time when making drinks was an art not just a job.  These guys know their stuff and just wait until you taste what’s been created for you.  In our case it was the perfect start to ‘a foodie’ experience…

The Crudo dinner menu is comprised of small to medium portioned food creations broken down in to four main categories- Crudo/Raw, Mozza/Mozzarella, Cotto/Cooked, Griglia/Grilled in addition there is also Lati/Sides and Dolce/Desserts.  Chef Cullen Campbell also offers a Corso option which allows the patron to choose from 3, 4 or 5 courses from the menu at a prix-fixe for each of the three options.  The wine list is not too big but the selections are very nice.  Since we were not familiar with some of the wines on the list we asked for recommendations which were excellent choices each time and paired very well with our meal.  We especially liked the ‘wine-on-tap’ concept served in a carafe type vessel.  On to the food…

Although I enjoyed all the menu items we ordered,  below were my favorites:

Any of the Crudo’s – Delicate ‘Italian Style’ sashimi so cleverly put together with an array of quality condiments.  Whether it be black garlic, smoked olives or a hint of truffle oil they are Albacore Crudospectacular.  Albacore – Ultra-fresh thin slices of albacore with julienned apples, small pieces of black garlic all drizzled with truffle oil.

Butterfish- Thin slices of melt-in-your-mouth butterfish with plumped up oven dried tomato pieces (a real treat), lardo andmicro arugula which adds just the right amount of bite– seasoned just right.

Ricotta- Fresh ricotta with the oh-so yum plumped up dried tomato (plump, moist, tangy, Ricotta Mozzanaturally sweet yet savory, rich tomato morsels) dressed perfectly with a nice olive oil, a chiffonade of basil and gracefully seasoned with salt and pepper and a few slices of wood-fired grilled crusty bread.  This mozza is so delicate, light and creamy and all the embellishments to the dish don’t in any way detract from the star of the show…the Ricotta they merely act as an enhancement.

Burrata –This burrata is decadent in it;s own right and dressed with a pancetta vinaigrette that cut the richness factor in a way that makes it melt away in your mouth leaving you craving the next bite and just the right amount of arugula to cleanse the palette. Also accompanied with slices of the wood-fired bread.  Serious good eats.

Mushroom – An assortment of in-season mushrooms made in a ‘gratin style’ with mozzarella and topped with a sunny-side up egg and drizzled with truffle oil.  I always say if you can add an egg to a dish unexpectedly and make it work well– that’s what separates the men from the boys so to speak.  Mission accomplished!

For me the pièce de résistance was the Squid ink Risotto. Tender creamy squid ink risottoSquid Ink Risotto at Crudo with pieces of “almost like” tuna confit , roasted tomatoes and pickled chilis that gives it a nice spicy kick.  This one is like pure heaven.  Just close your eyes, stop talking and just savor every single bite.

As for the Desserts they are generally made by Tracey Demsey Originals and the tarte I had on the first visit was very good.  On my next visit chef Campbell made a breading pudding and panne cotta combination that was fabulous.

In closing my husband said that my review might sound too subjective and that everything I wrote was favorable.  My response was “why shouldn’t I sing its’ praises if I have nothing bad to say?”  Crudo is a must-go-to restaurant from the first moment you walk in you will have an evening to remember at this backstreet gem.

Crudo
3603 E. Indian School Road Phoenix
602-358-8666
crudoaz.com

Kampai Sushi Restaurant Review – Japanese Dining In North Phoenix

Kanpai Restaurant

Kampai for dinner last night.  One of my favorite sushi bars in the Phoenix area. It actually looks like a sushi bar you might find on a street corner in Kyoto…no frills but charming and to the point and NOT a Las Vegas night club like so many around town these days.  Having lived in LA where some of the best sushi joints downtown in little Tokyo live this place has it going on thanks to the expertise of Yuki and EJ and the crew that make it happen.  I come here with my dining companion often for our ‘sushi fix’ close to home. The line up for last night:

  • A little complimentary edamame to start
  • kanpachi (amber jack) sashimi with yuzukosho (a yuzu chili type paste) special sauce
  • Uni nigiri (sea urchin) on top of cubed yamaimo (mountain potato). Delicious and refreshing!
  • Sauteed shishito peppers perfectly seasoned
  • Ankimo (monk fish liver pate) home-made here and delicious seasoned with grated radish, minced green onions  and ponzu sauce.
  • Fresh ika (squid) and japanese cucumber spicy sunomono type salad that I have know idea what it’s called but the ika cut perfectly and just fabulous.
  • Tuna and Salmon nigiri fresh and simple palate cleansers

Washed it all down with some great cold sake and Asahi beer. Don’t forget to ask for the the “good” or “better” wasabi…not the powdered kind. Only about a buck more but worth it…don’t mix it in the soy sauce just place a dab on top the sushi or sashimi before lightly dipping in soy.

I would definitely recommend this place for some great sushi.  I haven’t had the chance to try much of the cooked food here since when I come I go straight to the sushi bar but my daughter raves about the vegetable tempura one of the few places–if not the only in town that actually uses lotus root which is her favorite.  Until next time…

Kampai Sushi
2945 E Bell Rd, Ste 102
Phoenix, AZ 85032
(602) 482-3260

Pita Jungle Mediterranean Feast in the Desert

Pita Jungle Wood-Fired Chicken After traveling through the wonderful presentations of Africa and South America for Passport Academy at my son’s school we all had an appetite for something ethnic.  Pita Jungle at Desert Ridge was the pick for the evening since it was close and inexpensive. This was not our first visit to the Pita Jungle chain and won’t be the last but this is the first time I’ve decided to write my review for the place.

The atmosphere at the Desert Ridge restaurant is bright and airy with a funky sophisticated twist. They showcase artwork by various artists that rotates on a regular basis so it’s got an artsy vibe as well.  They have this great large family style eating table and a huge full bar near the entry way.  Beyond that there’s the main dining area with a semi-open concept kitchen and a spacious patio outside– it overlooks the the parking lot but it’s set back alittle a ways so it’s not really an eyesore.  Besides I come to Pita Jungle for the great price and good food so the atmosphere is just a perk.  Note: The acoustics-  I suppose because of the high ceilings– in this location are loud.  I don’t mind since I usually come here with a larger group but for a quiet intimate evening this would not be my pick.

The service is generally good but tends to be inconsistent.  I kind of feel like you never know what the service will be like the day you choose to dine in.  There’s really no rythm or reason to it sometimes the service is great and the place is packed or sometimes the service is really slow and the place is only 1/4 full.  But on as a rule I would consider the service good and what you might expect for this laid-back type of restaurant.

On to the important stuff…the food.  I really like the food.  It’s fresh, healthy, tasty, has many authentic nuances, nice sized portions and reasonably priced…I would go as far as to say inexpensive for what you get for most items on the menu.  They even have nice house wine…seriously…for only $2.99 a glass.

The regular menu is quite extensive in addition they have a seperate specials menu and they even offer happy and reverse happy hour tapas menu.  The tapas menu in my opinion is hit or miss.  Most items I ordered from the tapas selections were over-priced and small in comparasion to the regular menu.  My suggestion would be to stick to the regular or specials menu and skip the tapas.

Before I get into what we ordered this particular evening  I find that as with the service the food tends to be a little inconsistent as well.  Some days it’s really good and some not so much so if you tend to order the same thing when visiting a particular restaurant you’ll know what Not to expect.

Okay here’s what we ordered:

Mediterranean chicken salad $9.29 which  tonight was great. Pieces of grilled chicken (I have to say Pita Jungle makes some of the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had–and honestly I’m never that enthusiastic about chicken–so that says a lot) tossed with diced tomatoes, onions, roasted red bell peppers, pine nuts, chopped cucumbers, corn, golden raisins and taboule, over a bed of mixed greens with feta and lemon vinaigrette.  It’s basically a giant tossed chopped salad. It’s quite good.

The daily/weekly special wood-fired chicken entree $9.99. Fabulous.  Whole wood-fired marinated boneless chicken breast on a bed of lightly seasoned wilted spinach and garlic herb smashed new red potatoes done rustic style with some skins.  This was all topped with a light garlic and chopped tomato concasse and seasoned perfectly.  A nice large portion as well.  This I would say was the star of the evening.

Wood-fired salmon entree $14.59. It does not compare to the fowl version of this dish mentioned above.  Although the salmon was nicely cooked lightly seasoned and grilled, the rest of this entree–garlic smashed potatoes and wilted spinach– is just plain, uninteresting and paltry.

The falafel pita $5.99– crispy croquettes (fairly large size) of chickpeas and the gyro pita $6.49–thin slices of broiled beef & lamb that’s been marinated with spices and herbs both with similar fixings of chopped cilantro, mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, israeli-style pickles and tahini on the falafel or tzatziki for the gyro.  With the exception of the falafels which are very good here and I highly recommend but I prefer having them in the Mediterranean Platter (see below)  the rest is basic with traditional fixings.  Either of these are a good sandwich choice but nothing extraordinary.

Mediterranean Platter $10.29. This is one of my favorite items on the menu at pita jungle.  It’s a great share appetizer or as a full and I mean extra full meal.  It comes chuck full of all the traditional middle eastern goodies such as hummus, baba ganoosh (eggplant-tahini dip), tzatziki, taboule, feta cheese, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), falafel and braised green beans with stewed tomatoes…reminds me of my grandma’s Turkish style green beans. Top it off with a couple of pitas to soak up all that goodness! Yum!

What I don’t recommend is the mozzarella tomato and basil $7.99.  It was not that it was bad and it even looked delicious but it tasted bland and flavorless.  The tomatoes were barely ripe and the mozzarella was tasteless.  Even with the addition of a chiffonade of basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil.  This is too simple of a dish to not use better ingredients.

Rice Pudding $3.69– This is one of the better rice pudding I’ve had.  It’s nice creamy with plump and juicy golden raisins, sprinkled with cinnamon and garnished with fresh strawberries.  If your to full–get it to go. You’ll be happy you did.

To sum this up I have had many meals at Pita Jungle that alone says that it’s a restaurant I would consider a good place to eat for a quick, good, inexpensive meal with a group.

Pita Jungle — Desert Ridge Location
20910 N. Tatum Blvd. • Suite 140 • Phoenix, AZ 85050
480-473-2321
Open 7 Days a Week 10:30 am – 10:00 pm