Phoenix-area eats, March 2013 update.

I hope by now you’ve seen my spring training dining guide for this year, but of course, this is a month when I try a lot of new places because I’m out of the house for games. Here are a few places I haven’t reviewed on the blog previously, and I’ve updated the guide where appropriate.

I’ve been to Davanti Enoteca in Scottsdale twice now, once for lunch and once for dinner, with the latter the far more memorable experience. The restaurant’s publicist had urged me to try their linguine con riccio di mare e granchio, pasta with sea urchin and crab. (Riccio di mare literally means “hedgehog of the sea.”) The sea urchin, which sushi fans among you know as uni, is in the sauce, an umami-filled buttery coating that’s just barely enough for the pasta and small pieces of delicate crab meat, a phenomenal and, for me, entirely new dish that was only marred by a few bits of crab shell. Davanti is the only place in Arizona that I’ve found that serves white anchovies, known as boquerones in Spanish; here they’re served as fillets, lightly marinated and presented with pecorino sardo, marinated olives, and a small salad of arugula and celery. The bruschetta varies daily; on Saturday it was goat cheese, arugula, small crispy bits of prosciutto, and a light balsamic glaze, nicely balanced with the creaminess of the cheese and peppery arugula balancing the salty-sweet prosciutto. I’d skip the honeycomb focaccia, which the server recommended highly – it’s flat, Ligurian-style, almost cracker-like, with a soft cow’s-milk cheese inside, but overall I found it pretty bland. Dessert was also disappointing – they were out of my first choice, the mille foglie (misspelled as “millie foglie” on the menu, which sounds like a supporting character in a Nero Wolfe novel), and my second, the peanut butter mousse, had a great texture but no flavor. For lunch, they offer a small selection of fresh sandwiches, including an authentic porchetta, served with rapini, aged provolone, and hot peppers (a lot of them), for a very reasonable $9. EDIT: Davanti closed in May of 2013.

On Friday night, I tried Federal Pizza in CenPho – that’s what the cool kids call central Phoenix, apparently, although to me that’s just “downtown” – with Nick Piecoro and a colleague of his at the Republic. After a 90-minute wait for a table, the pizza had to meet a pretty high standard to satisfy me, but it did, better than ‘Pomo in Scottsdale and on par with Cibo, which surprised me given how strong both of those pizzerias are. Federal’s crust is soft and spongy, thin but not Neapolitan-thin where the center often can’t support the toppings, but also not as strong and cracker-like as Bianco’s is. The two pizzas we ordered arrived with plenty of char on the exterior but not underneath, which is good. I went with the Brussels sprout pizza, with manchego, large bits of bacon, and a hint of lemon; Nick ordered the meatball pizza, with house-pulled mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. Both were excellent, although I preferred the Brussels sprout pizza for its novelty and for the great combination of the roasted sprouts, which have a little sweetness when they’re caramelized, with the saltiness of the bacon (a great friend to basically all things green) and the Manchego and the acid from the lemon. Nick’s friend, Amy, ordered the roasted vegetable board, which was both very fresh and very generous, with more cauliflower, roasted to a nice shade of brown on the cut sides, than I could ever eat at one sitting.

I never wrote up crudo, although it’s on the dining guide and I’ve recommended it to many of you individually. Crudo’s menu has four major sections: four or five crudo (raw) seafood dishes that give the restaurant its name, four plates built around fresh mozzarella, four pasta/risotto options, and four grilled proteins, as well as a few sides. Nearly everything my daughter and I ate here was outstanding; she loved the fresh mozzarella with bacon relish, I couldn’t get over the quality of the albacore (with apple, truffles, and black garlic) in the crudo preparation, and we both adored the crispy pig ears appetizer and the squash dumplings with pork ragout (this was in November when that was seasonal). They also feature desserts by the great Tracy Dempsey, and, again sticking with the fall theme, we had an apple tart with crème fraîche that was superb, especially the crust which was firm when you cut the tart but shattered in your mouth so all of that imprisoned butter could burst forth as you bit into the apple. If I were trying to impress a woman on a date, this is where I’d take her.

Further out here in the east valley boonies, I tried the new Whiskey Rose Saloon BBQ location in south Chandler, which they promise will be the first outpost of many … although I doubt it, as the food was pretty mediocre across the board. They are smoking the meats, but there was very little smoke flavor anywhere to be found, and what we got – I went with Phoenix New Times/Chow Bella food critic Laura Hahnefeld and her husband, Jay – was not very hot when it reached the table. About the best I can say for the food is that nothing was overcooked to the point of dryness, but none of it had much taste, and the amount of fat left on the brisket was kind of shocking. The conversation clearly outpaced the food here. By the way, Laura also has the skinny on the awful makeover of Distrito in Scottsdale’s Saguaro hotel.

I’ve also been remiss in failing to mention Queen Creek’s San Tan Flats, which is more of an experience than a restaurant, offering basic grilled fare like burgers, steaks, and chicken breasts with Jack Daniels sauce, but in an outdoor venue with fire pits (bring your own marshmallows … no, really, we do) and live country music. Located on Hunt Highway just east of the end of Ellsworth Road, San Tan Flats gets pretty jammed on the weekends but it’s very kid-friendly and the food is adequate for an evening of hanging out with friends, with the three of us eating there for under $40 unless there’s alcohol involved.


  1. By your descriptions, you’d like the crust and combos at Tommy V’s, the osteria of Tomaso’s.

  2. Hey Keith. Have a real food experience for you when you make it back to the NYC area that I think you’d really enjoy. Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY. Close to the Tappan Zee bridge. They take farm to table to the next level not only growing their own vegetables, but raising their own animals. There’s no menu, you just tell them how many courses you wish and what you will not eat. The creativity and yet simplicity of the food is amazing. From a beet yogurt, (sweet and deliciously tangy), kale chips, delicately whipped lard (unreal on bread) to cured country ham. Really opens your eyes to what is possible with fresh and local ingredients, even in the dead of winter. Can’t wait to try it during the warmer months.

  3. @Brent: Thanks, photos look promising.

    @MeisterNJ: Oh yeah, Dan Barber is quite famous – his TED talk on “falling in love with a fish,” about sustainability and the paradox of aquaculture is amazing.

  4. I’ve found the Davanti in Chicago (I believe the original location as it’s been there for a while now and Harris is based out of here) to be about the same as you describe… solid, if not spectacular, as I’ve had some really enjoyable plates there, and some mehs. For the one person who finds this review of the Davanti AZ location and uses it to determine if they should go to the Chicago location… I’d recommend Urban Union just down the street on Taylor over Davanti, however, I believe Urban Union is a tad pricier.

  5. Keith, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but since you enjoyed Barber’s TED talk about the fish, I think you’ll also enjoy this one about foie gras; it is a similar concept to the fish talk, and just as funny/engaging, but with a different star.

  6. Wow, eye opening. Thanks KLaw. Did I miss something, or did he not say the actual name of the fish? Guessing that’s the point, that anything raised there tastes awesome. Anyhow, his restaurant is incredible and you have to put it on your must list, and having watched that, even moreso.

  7. Have you ever gone out to Greasewood Flats in Scottsdale? It sounds like San Tan Flats. Just a crappy hole in the wall burger place that is such a great experience. Highly recommend heading out there for a fun night.

  8. I wish people would stop drooling over every little thing Craig DeMarco does. I lived downtown, within walking distance of Postino, Churn, Windsor, and (now) Federal Pizza. All are average at best, with Windsor being a downright trainwreck. I had Federal Pizza last month and it doesn’t hold a candle to Italian Restaurant or noca. Not faulting DeMarco. He’s great at what he does. I just wish that central Phoenicians would stop thinking these restaurants are the end all/be all of central Phoenix dining. If not, DeMarco is going to open a restaurant at Camelback and Central, serve only hot dogs, call it ‘STICK’, and within days, they’ll be a 60 minute wait.

  9. @Jeffrey: Nope, never been.

    @MeisterNJ: He doesn’t, and the farm he mentions, Veta la Palma, produces multiple species for consumption.

    @PJ: If that’s directed at me, you’ve missed the mark, as I’m not a central Phoenician (I live 45 minutes away from Central), I only raved about one of the four places you cited, and it was far better than average.

  10. Mike Graham

    Hey Keith!
    I am coming down to Phoenix next week for five days to see some baseball with a group of guys. We have tickets for the Giants/Rangers game on Mar 15. Where should we look to go before/after that would be a trolley ride/stumble/short cab away from there? Any other games/stadiums you would recommend we visit? We are in town until the 19th. I have been to an Angels game and, from reading your posts, feel certain that a visit to Maryvale is out of the question. Are the night games worth a try? Thanks for your help and all of the other information you have on your blog!