Saturday, May 30, 2009

Restaurant Review - Posh in Scottsdale

The second stop in my series of vegan friendly restaurant review is the unique and upscale Posh Improvisational Cuisine.

7167 E Rancho Vista Dr, Suite 111
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Posh is located in the Optima Camelview building facing Scottsdale Road. Be warned, the signage for parking is a bit tricky to find. You can enter the covered parking structure from Rancho Vista Drive by turning to the left into the structure. There you will see a small sign directing you to reserved Posh parking. The grounds are lush and inviting.

Because of the improvisionational nature of the restaurant, I called ahead to see if the chefs would be able to accomodate vegan requests. The very friendly hostess informed me this would not be a problem and also mentioned that she thought the owner's sister was vegan. Score another point for vegan friendliness.

We arrived for our 7pm reservation and were immediately seated. We were offered the option of sitting at a table or at seat by the open kitchen (bar). We opted for the kitchen gallery seating so we could see all of the action first hand. I highly recommend this option as you get to see the magic happen up close and personal. You will also get some personal attention from Joshua the owner and Zac the Chef de Cuisine. For a foodie such as myself this is an invaluable perk. The ambiance is definitely urban chic without being pretentious.

As soon as we were seated our server brought us the drink list, wine list, and the non-menu. He was friendly, efficient and offered great suggestions on wines to suit our tastes. We opted to try two of their specialty cocktails. The names of the cocktails which after an evening of wining and dining, have now slipped my mind. One was a delightful vodka lemonaide concoction, the other was a specialty cosmo style drink. Both were excellent. The latter's flavor was remeniscent of sweet tarts. With our dinner we selected a new style french chardonnay amusingly called Mischeif and Mayhem. My sister suggested these would be great names for my next pound puppies.

The non-menu is the heart of the Posh experience. Each guest can choose a tasting menu of 4-8 courses. There is also an optional wine pairing for an additional cost. This trip we chose our own wines rather than the pairings. The next visit (and there will certainly be more visits) I will try the pairings. The non-menu has a listing of proteins. Patrons indicate any items they would not be willing to try. These selections are decidedly not vegan friendly. However, at the bottom there is an area to indicate any special requests. Here is where I put down VEGAN. Very shortly after the server put in our requests, Zac (the Chef de Cuisine) came over to chat with us. He wanted to let us know that he was very happy to create vegan dishes for me, but that it may take him a little bit longer to create them than usual. I thought this was outstanding service. I let him know that I appreciated him letting us know. But rest assured in this atmosphere I appreciate a leisurely dining experience and was in no hurry to expedite this culinary experience.

I have to note here that the service was outstanding. I was a fine dining server for over 5 years and can be a bit persnickety when it comes to service. Posh's staff didn't miss a beat. We never wanted for refills on wine or water our entire visit.

On to the food! Don't get attached to any of the dishes you see below. Posh is improvisational so there is a good chance you won't see the same dish again. Joshua and Zac, please forgive me if I miss an ingredient or two. While I love the non-menu concept, my memory isn't always as sharp as I'd like. There was such a fantastic symphony of ingredients I may not remember them all, but my happy tounge does.

Amus Bouche - Haas Avocado Sorbet with Griddled Radicchio and fresh chives

The creaminess of the sorbet was a delightful complement to the slightly bitter and crunchy texture of the Radicchio.

Soup - Stonefruit Gazpacho - A refreshing sweet and cold twist on the Spanish classic made with cherries, plum, apricot, peach, and rhubarb garnished with chiffonade of fresh mint. Perfect for a hot summer night.

Grilled Endive and Radiccio with preserved lemons and slivered Gaeta olives. The lettuces were slightly grilled to perfection, bringing out the subtle flavors. The olives added the perfect amount of color and saltiness.

Saute of Bluefoot and Honshimeji Mushrooms with Okenowan Purple Yams. While I would like to say it was hard to pick a favorite, I am a mushroom fanatic, so this was hands down my favorite dish of the night. The mushrooms were perfectly sauteed and the sprinkling of capers gave the perfect piquant accent to the dish. When the dish came out I thought the yams were purple potatoes. When I asked chef Zac where the sweetness came from he told me about these very special yams and how he aquired them. Amazing dish!

Green and White Asparagus with Chili and Fennel - This was a visually striking dish; the white and green of the asparagus accented with the bright orange of the chili oil. The flavors were subtle and perfectly balanced.

Arthichoke Hearts with Corn Pudding and Balsamic Glaze - I love fresh artichoke hearts, so this was an easy win for me. The balsamic glaze was outstanding. I was luke warm on the corn pudding. It made for a lovely presentation, but the flavor just didn't pop with this dish. I'm not complaining mind you, I ate the entire dish without hesitation.

Chinese Long Beans with Gremolata and Lemon Verbina Broth - This was a delightfully light and fun dish. Plated to resemble a bird cage, it was a very visually appealing dish. The gremolata added a nice burst of flavor to the light and fresh tasting broth.

Dessert - Local Figs with Brulee and Muscat Espresso Smear (I'm not sure about the ingredients on this one). This was a gorgeous presentation. The figs were moist, fresh and wonderful. The brulee, however, was the only disappointment of the evening. As an aspiring vegan, I understand intimately the challenges of trying to produce a good sweet sauce resembling brulee. One must have the proper vegan ingredients to pull it off. To this end Zac mentioned that for those who are interested in a vegan tasting it is best to call 24 hours in advance so that the kitchen can have a better variety of vegan ingredients to work with. Even without advance notice, they did an excellent job at creating outstanding vegan dishes.

During and after dinner I had the pleasure of speaking to Joshua, Zac, and two other of the kitchen maestros. It is obvious that the entire staff is stoked about this venture. Zac's passion for finding unique, fresh, high quality ingredients is an important piece to this delicious puzzle. I had such a great time discussing my favorite pastime (cooking) with some of the most creative culinary minds I have had the pleasure to meet in a long time. I certainly hope that the Scottsdale/Phoenix area diners are open minded and sophisticated enough in palate to fully appreciate this incredible experience. I hope Posh has great success with their venture. I can't wait to go back! Watch out Mr. Binkley, these guys are bringing their A+++ game.

4 Course Tasting Menu $45.00 with wine pairing $77.00

5 Course Tasting Menu $55.00 with wine pairing $94.00

6 Course Tasting Menu $65.00 with wine pairing $112.00

7 Course Tasting Menu $75.00 with wine pairing $125.00

Full Tasting Menu $110.00 with wine pairing $165.00


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cool Salad - Black and White Sesame Edamame Salad

We've already broken a record in May for the most triple digit temps. That said, turning on the oven has zero appeal. What is an obsessive cook to do? Make cold salads!!! This one is high protein, but feels light and cool. With the use of vegetable stock for much of the oil it isn't too high in fat. It is also pretty darn easy to put together.

Makes 6 portions or 4 cups

2 1/2 cups thawed, shelled edamame
1 can or 1 1/2 cups black soy beans rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons hot chili oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon mirin
3 teaspoons red miso
1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
2 garlic cloves minced or microplaned
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, toasted

In a medium sized bowl mix all ingredients from hot chili oil through garlic to make dressing. This can be done easily by hand or in a blender or processor. In a larger bowl toss dressing, edamame, and soy beans and mix well. Toss in both types of sesame seeds. Marinade overnight for best results stirring once or twice to re-distribute marinade/dressing. Serve plain or on a leaf of radicchio.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Restaurant Review - Fresh Mint in Scottsdale

This is the first in a series of restaurant reviews that I am going to be posting. I will keep working on a good format but I wanted to do this one while it was fresh in my head. With the sad news that Mandala Tea Room closed this week, I am going to seek out more vegan and vegetarian options in the Phoenix area and post what I find here.

Fresh Mint
13802 N Scottsdale Road, Suite 161
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
NW corner of Scottsdale and Thunderbird

Fresh Mint is tucked away in an unassuming strip mall. It is a family owned restaurant. The Executive Chef is Mai Ly. She is the wife of the husband and wife team that own the restaurant. Each time I have been in she has been working away in the kitchen preparing every dish fresh to order. On this visit their daughter was the one masterfully plating and presenting my dishes.

The restaurant is simply and cheerfully appointed in bright greens. It reminds me of the kind of place you'd find in a small island town. There is beach music and oldies piped in which adds to the relaxed atmosphere. This could be because the first Fresh Mint was opened on the island of Maui by the owners. They moved to the mainland and sold the original so that their daughter could attend college here. This location has been open since April of 2008. It was not very busy during my visit as it was between the lunch and dinner rushes.

I'm going to jump right in and tell you about my favorite part...the food. The food is extremely fresh island fare with an Asian twist. The menu has a nice selection of appetizers, salads, soups, noodle dishes, other entrees and desserts. All of the items but one are vegan. The chow mein noodles are not vegan, but you can substitute brown rice to make the dish vegan. They offer soft drinks, coffee, daily fresh brewed jasmine tea, and smoothies made to your specifications.

On this visit I started off with the Fresh Summer Rolls ($5.95). They are filled with fresh thin sliced carrot, celery, cabbage, tofu, fresh mint all rolled in rice paper. The rolls are served with a sweet and rich house peanut sauce. The rolls themselves are super fresh. They do not have any marinade or seasoning, so alone they don't offer a lot of flavor. They are quite tasty with the sauce. As you can see from the picture below, the presentation is beautiful.

For the entree I opted for the Kung Pao Soy Chicken ($13.95) on the owners suggestion. The "chicken" was frighteningly close in texture and flavor to the animal version (in a very good way). The sauce was spiced to perfection and again the freshness of the ingredients really stole the show. You have your choice of brown or white rice. I opted for the brown. The rice was excellent. It was plump, fluffy, and cooked to perfection. The plate was presented with a lovely salad of lettuce, cabbage, red bell peppers, carrots, and tomatoes in a light basil dressing.

For dessert I tried the banana fritter. I don't have a good description of the ingredients at this time. This was a very nicely presented dessert. The bananas were wrapped in rice paper and fried. They were served over a creamy tapioca concoction drizzled with chocolate. I loved the concept of this dessert. The texture was excellent, but the flavor, while ok, left me wanting a bit more. On the flip side, because it was lighter in texture, I didn't have that overly stuffed feeling after eating a substantial amount of food.

Both times I have been in here the owners have both been working. Mrs in the kitchen and Mr in the dining room. Today I had the honor of meeting their daughter who was also working in the kitchen. She did a lovely job plating each course as you can see. We had a little conversation about the menu. She mentioned that she couldn't eat the "beef" dishes because they reminded her too much of the real thing. This makes me want to come back and give more attention to the beef dishes as many of my friends are carnivores who poo poo a lot of my veg talk. With the quality and freshness of Fresh Mint's food, I'm pretty sure they would be convinced that vegan food is pretty awesome.

The service has the laid back island feel as well. They are super nice people, but the fine points of service are absent. During my three courses, my water glass was never re-filled. It is not all that attentive, but when you do see your servers, they are very pleasant. That said, if you are looking to be pampered and waited on hand and foot, this might not be where you want to dine. If you are looking for outstanding fresh food and a bright friendly atmosphere, this is it!

Appetizers are $5.95
Salads are $7.95 - $8.95
Soups come in two sizes; Small $5.95 and Large $7.95
Entrees range from $9.95 - $13.95

If you have eaten here please post a comment and/or pictures of your experience.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

In Loving Memory of Georgee

Born December 13, 2000

Over the Bridge May 2, 2009

I usually reserve this blog for vegan food related entries, but I felt I needed to post this.
Georgee came into my life at 6 weeks old when we weren't quite ready for each other yet. He was full of piss and vinegar from the start. He wouldn't sleep for more than two hours at a time. When he was awake, he wasn't a mushy gushy fluff ball. Oh no, he had way too much spirit for that. He would bite and fight until he was exhuasted. His serious cuteness allowed him to survive these horrible puppy years. In those days he loved to dig up plants, eat carpeting, and look right at me and pee as if to let me know HE would decide when he was ready to stop trashing the carpet and when potty training would be complete. He would learn a command almost instantly, and then defiantly ignore silly human requests to do them on command. Typical Akita defiance was part of what made him such an incredible spirit.
As Georgee grew into a young man, he became the most wonderful companion I could have ever hoped for. He was very independent and aloof, as Akitas can be, but he was also goofy, loving, and incredibly intellegent. As a young man, he had a serious obsession with running through the sprinklers and going right to the muddy lake at the dog park. He would sit patiently as we de-mudded him with the hose when we got home (obviously the joy of the mud bath was worth the real bath).
He would "woo woo" to greet you when you walked in the door (if you were lucky enough to be one of his special humans). He rarely woke you up, but waited for you to acknowledge his kingly presence before gracing you with a morning "woo woo". This has been the hardest part for Fred and I so far. We both fall apart when we get up or come home and it is so quiet. He filled our lives with joy and fun. There is a huge gaping hole in our hearts and our home without him.
Georgee loved his furry buddies, Duval and Henry, who passed over the bridge before him. They taught him how to be a good dog and where the best spots to pee in the yard were. He was extremely patient and understanding of other rowdy beasts. His girlfriend Piper loved to fight with him and bite his back legs. Instead of chasing her off or clobbering her when it got to be too much, he would just sit down so she couldn't get to his legs. He would act all tough, but never, ever, hurt her. Their love for each other was unconditional, as was his love for everyone.
He developed wonderful manners but still kept that little sparkle of naughtiness throughout his whole life. You could never stay mad at him long even if he did eat your last stick of butter off the counter. You see, it was at nose height, you certainly left if for him to snack on, didn't you? Just last week, Fred came home and found that Georgee had found yet another delicacy; a small piece of garlic bread in the center of a balled up piece of aluminum foil. To Fred's amazement, somehow Georgee had unwrapped the entire ball, ate the bread, and neatly licked all of the foil into nice flat pieces all over the floor.
Fred and Georgee liked to keep some of this nauty behavior their little secret. They developed a very deep special relationship that was one to be envied. You know you've found a good man when your dog falls completely in love with him. Georgee knew Fred was special and that he had a very soft spot in his heart for those of the canine persuasion. Georgee knew how to work Fred. He'd stroll over to Fred and rub his head all over his lap. He'd look at him with those deep brown eyes and cock his eyebrows and Fred was a goner. This worked quite often for spontaneous rides around the neighborhood or a trip over to AJ's for treats. Georgee loved his outings with both Fred and me. He'd get all hurt if the humans that walked by him on our outings didn't say hello. Seriously, you could see his confusion. It was so funny.
We tried hiking together. He was good for about 2 miles. He'd stop, just stop, at one particular spot at South Mountain. It was easy to get him going again usually. The funniest thing ever on our hikes was that Georgee was certain that the shadow from a small stick could provide shade to his 100 lb body. He'd promptly stop at a stick certain he was going to get some cool shade. Hilarious.
Georgee was diagnosed with a very serious auto-immune disease 5 years ago. Most dogs don't survive for very long once they are diagnosed. If they do, they are usually blind within a year. With his usual defiance, Georgee beat the odds. He did so well. I was truly lucky to get all if the years with him that we had. He had lost all of the pigment in his retinas, but could still see. He was pretty darn healthy and happy until a few days ago. He wasn't himself and was in obvious discomfort. The x-rays showed a tumor on his spleen that was bleeding out. With his advanced age and auto-immune issues, it is likely he wouldn't have survived after surgery. It was with very heavy hearts but with Georgee's best interest at heart that we had to let him go. He is now free to be the big goof ball we love. He will be able to run free with his buddies Duval, Henry, Kota, and Tai with no pain and full eye sight.
To say that we are going to miss him is the biggest understatement EVER! Please forgive me if I don't answer your calls right now. I have good moments and bad. The bad moments I just can't bear to talk about it. Know that I appreciate your thoughts and prayers. When I can, I will be in touch.
I could go on and on about so many wonderful memories and stories of Georgee. If you met him, you were truly blessed and you know what a special spirit he had. It seems so unfair that he had to leave this Earth so soon. But how incredible it was to be lucky enought to have him in our lives. Please, please feel free to leave comments and your own Georgee stories here. I know he would love to hear from you.
Love Kim