Tag Archives: restaurant review

Marcellinos Dinner

Marcellino’s redefines romance in the restaurant business

Being a romantic restaurant isn’t just about candlelight, exclusivity and good design. Although those are all qualities of Old Town Scottsdale’s Marcellino’s, too, true romance is embodied in the artistry of the menu items, the story behind its owners and the dedication of its kitchen staff.



Marcellino’s Ristorante has made a quiet spot of its own in Old Town Scottsdale. With a “piazza” feel to its outdoor patio, the dark wood and candlelit dining room that bring a romantic flair designed and built by its chef, Marcellino’s is a piece of Italy in the center of downtown Scottsdale.

Just last week, there were three engagements at Marcellino’s, says its public relations spokeswoman Nadine Allen, president of Rockingwood Studio. As she spoke, white petals were being crushed and camera flashes were going off during the restaurant’s first wedding ceremony, taking place on an intimate patio outside the window behind her.

This event has some special meaning for Chef and his wife (and business partner), Sima Venzino, who were married in 1996 at a restaurant in New York. In fact, his first restaurant gig after moving to New York from Rome started two days after their wedding.

Marcellino is more than a chef, Venzino says. He’s an artist. He designed a fountain constructed out of wine bottles on the restaurant’s patio used for the wedding ceremony, he decorated (and built portions) of the restaurant’s interior, he cultivates a garden at home and in planters outside the restaurant, and he designs menu items that Venzino says he never tastes until it’s completed.

Chef Marcellino

Chef Marcellino

You’ll never see salt and pepper on any of the tables at Marcellino’s either. This is part of the aforementioned artistry, Venzino says. Everything is prepared exactly as patrons should experience it. However, waiters will offer pepper and Parmesan when delivering plates of pasta or salad.

Though Marcellino has cultivated his skills in the kitchens of various restaurants, everything goes back to his roots on a farm. Marcellino was 11 when his mother passed away. He took her role in the kitchen and began preparing meals for his sister and father. In terms of training, that’s as far as Marcellino ever got. Family remains an important quality in the restaurant; staff eat at a big family table in the back of the restaurant around 4 p.m., Venzino says.

Table for two at Marcellino's

Table for two at Marcellino’s

Playing into Marcellino’s roots on an Italian farm, everything at the restaurant is fresh. Chef Marcellino roasts eight eggplants a day for a red pepper, eggplant and basil spread served with table bread. On the patio, Marcellino has a herb garden that he and his bartenders use for dishes and drinks. Marcellino also has an impressive garden at his home in Moon Valley, says Allen. While many chefs use fresh ingredients or may have strong roots to a homeland of their cuisine, Venzino articulates what sets Marcellino’s apart.

“It’s a tremendous gift,” says Venzino of her husband’s approach to food. “He takes a classic recipe and puts an enhancement on it with the respect for the dish intact.”

The way to structure dinner at Marcellino’s is as such: antipasti (appetizer), pasta, secondo (main course/protein) and dolce (dessert).

Make a reservation, though. During the peak season (read: now), Venzino says the restaurant can turn down up to 50 couples who try to get a seat for dinner.

Bright plates and vibrant platefuls.

Bright plates and vibrant platefuls.

Dinner began with an antipasto of buffalo mozzarella wrapped in pancetta and served with basil, red peppers and a sundried tomato.

The pasta dishes we tried were Paccatelli al Ragu di Salsiccia — a pasta served with tomato sauce and sausage ragu — and spinach ricotta ravioli with sage butter sauce. All pasta is handmade. For secondo, Chef served up seared ahi tuna with a tomato balsamic vinegar sauce and a dollop of mashed potato.

Dessert was a win all-around — and it comes with flaming sugar cubes in tow, by the way. Tiramisu was light and perhaps the best we’ve had at Scottsdale Living. Panna cotta, a baked vanilla cream, is made with vanilla beans from halfway around the world. And the chocolate mousse is a rich, yet light dish that is big enough to share, if you can get yourself to part with a bite of it — now that’s a true test of romance.

Visit Marcellino’s Ristorante: 7114 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, marcellinoristorante.com

RA Sushi

RA Sushi rolls out refreshing summer menu

RA sushi rolled out its summer menu, which offers a little twist on many traditional Japanese staples.

Edamame wontons

Edamame wontons

The summer menu, offered through September, gets started with a great edamame wonton appetizer. This offers a great spin on a RA favorite, the edamame dip. The lightly fried wontons are filled with a creamy edamame cheese mix.  These light, but taste-filled wontons offer a little bit of spice without spoiling your tastebuds for the rest of the meal.

Four new crisp summer salads are among the newest additions to the summer menu. Sushi and salad merge to form Japanese cuisine bliss with the sashimi salad, which includes tuna, yellowtail, salmon and shrimp sashimi with mixed greens, seaweed, cucumber, avocado, lo bok, poke dressing and is topped with sesame seeds, wonton chips and sliced red pepper. The restaurant tosses together other great takes on Japanese cuisine with the Asian chicken salad, the grilled shrimp and pineapple salad, and the dill salmon and cucumber salad.

RA Sushi - SashimiSalad

Signature rolls with RA’s classic Japanese fusion accompany the salads for a new summer delight. The menu offers three hand rolls each wrapped in lo bok and soy papers and served with rice as well as romaine lettuce. The spicy tuna hand roll and the chili ponzu yellowtail hand roll are both filled with the perfect balance of fresh vegetables and fish giving the rolls a light summer blend.  A shrimp tempura roll comprised of kani kama crab mix, tuna mix, creamy wasabi sauce, avocado, cucumber, and of course shrimp tempura, is among the exquisite hand rolls.


The menu also offers four other rolls, including the seared dill salmon roll, which includes cucumber, avocado, arugula rolled and topped with seared salmon, lemon, and truffle salt.  This roll gives a great twist on the traditional salmon roll and offers a nice vegetable flavor from the dill that works perfectly with the salmon.  Summer at RA also includes a chili shrimp roll, lobster salmon roll and shrimp calamari tempura roll.

Photo by Shavon Thompson

Sapporo’s summer menu is a work of art

srp-azbigmedia2014_Sapporo-002All it takes is one minute of conversation with Sapporo’s executive chef, Stephen Stromberg, at to know he is passionate about food. He creates one-of-a-kind seasonal menus that pop with color and are flavorful to the last bite. His new Asian cuisine summer menu debuted June 30 and it will not disappoint.

The restaurant’s teppanyaki and wok items have mostly stayed the same, but the same cannot be said about the entrée section of the menu. Stromberg noticed that when customers come to eat at Sapporo, they love sharing their food. He has decided to make his new dishes as share-friendly as possible. They are served in smaller portions, will no longer come with rice and the price has gone done to match the portion size. Do not fear.  These changes have not affected the quality of the food. Stromberg uses fresh local tomatoes from Four Peaks Farm and receives fresh shipments of fish every day.

Stromberg was kind enough to let me try a couple of his new creations and to put it in perspective of how amazing this food is, I will drive the 30 minutes from Mesa to Scottsdale, in rush hour traffic to eat his food again. The New York Strip steak salad is literally the “meat and potatoes” of all salads. It comes with fresh local tomatoes, avocadoes, NY Strip steak (that is srp-azbigmedia2014_Sapporo-001cooked to perfection), fingerling potatoes and mixed greens. My favorite dish he made was the Japanese-style Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio. The thinly sliced pieces of filet melted in my mouth and the sesame-lemon glaze on top is incredible.  I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

The Scallop, Shrimp and Mango Ceviche is a wonderful blend of sweet and tangy flavors. It has fresh mango, shrimp, scallops, green onions and chili peppers marinated in Ponzu Shoyu sauce. This chilled, light dish is served with wonton chips. The Kushiyaki-style chicken comes on skewers and is simply delicious.  The chicken and vegetables are marinated in a teriyaki sauce. The chicken is juicy and the vegetables are cooked just right. The almond chili dipping sauce that comes with this dish is a crazy mixture of flavors that work well together and really make the skewers pop in your mouth.

Stromberg recommends several dishes for old and new customers. There are two new salads that he is very proud of and wants people to try. One is the Sapporo Chopped Salad that comes with spring greens, toasted pine nuts, dragon fruit and dragon fruit shiso vinaigrette on top. The other is a twist on a caesar salad, called the Brussels Sprouts and Rhubarb Ceasar Salad. As the name implies, it comes with rhubarb, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce and wonton croutons for an added crunch. If salads aren’t your thing, he suggests trying the Blue Fin Tuna dish or the Sea Bass, which is his personal favorite.

Each dish is presented beautifully and each is a work of art for the eyes and mouth. Stromberg believes that each person who walks through the doors of Sapporo are “guests,” not customers, and each individual is treated as such. He has created a gorgeous summer menu that will keep people wanting more.

Flancer's Mesa

Flancer’s Café & Pizzeria serves prickly pear perfection

Flancers, Prickly Pear ChickenFlancer’s Café & Pizzeria has two locations in Gilbert and Mesa. The restaurant features salads, sandwiches and pizzas with unique flare. However, Flancer’s has become a local favorite because of its use of the prickly pear.

How did the prickly pear become a favorite among diners? Owner Jeff Flancer explains that the prickly pear items started 12 years ago with an order of prickly pear syrup for a catering job. The restaurant then needed to use the rest of the syrup after the event, so it ran a special on a prickly pear chicken sandwich. Now, the sandwich is the second most popular item on the menu.

The prickly pear items have extended from the popular sandwich to include a prickly pear caesar chicken salad and the Flancer’s spiked prickly pear lemonade. The restaurant also has made some desserts with prickly pear whipped cream and flavoring.

Flancer explains that the local customers love the prickly pear items and it brings a lot of repeat business. Some people get scared to try the different items, and sometimes even think it is undercooked because of its pink color, but overall the dish is a Flancers, Spiked Lemonadesuccess. They have entered the prickly pear sandwich into several competitions and even won a New Times contest with the best use of prickly pear.

Flancer’s also makes its own bread and green chile mayonnaise that customers love. The sweet and spicy creates a beautiful blend.

The restaurant participates in the community through charity work such as its annual pizza eating contest. It has raised $30,000 through its charity events and help of customers and sponsors.

Ultimately, Flancer says, that his restaurant is serious about the food yet has fun every day.

Jasmine lemonade, avocado hummus, Flying Avocado wrap and a gluten-free bittersweet brownie.

Review: Sam Fox opens Flower Child in Arcadia

The newest addition to Sam Fox Restaurant Concepts’ Phoenix takeover is an unimposing, healthy lunch spot tucked away in an Arcadia strip mall. The space is filled with efficient seating (indoor tables, an intimate outdoor patio on the south side of the restaurant and a bar along the south wall), waves of natural light, an open kitchen and decor inspired by an East Coast potting shed where vases of daisies may just outnumber the customers.


Bar seating on the west side of the restaurant.

Flower Child: A Food Revolution is maybe not what you expect from the name. It’s not a bohemian eatery filled with people (read: hippies, college students) who may have trendy meat and dairy aversions they hide under thrift store buys. On a Saturday morning, it’s filled with middle-aged people and young people in Anthropologie outfits who are stopping by to grab a quick, healthy bite before moving on with their day. The overall concept of Flower Child is to keep food simple and natural while going to great and noble lengths to do so — finding farmers and ranchers who can supply the right ingredients.

Mix and match side dishes!

Mix and match side dishes!

Chef Clint Woods’ menu is pretty straightforward with a lot of opportunity for mix-and-matching small dishes into a super meal. It has its subtle moments. The avocado hummus is a must-try. It’s smooth, rich in flavor and perfect for two people. The hummus is served with house-made pita bread that’s more like a thick, whole grain tortilla than naan.

Overall, there’s an Asian influence on the flavor palate, particularly among the hot pots and whole grain wraps.

The wraps are perfect for the oncoming summer temperatures; It’s a light meal with light, noncompeting flavors. Wraps are served with a small helping of greens. If you’re feeling a bit cool, the four available hot pots offer veggie, beef, chicken and fish combinations.

Depending on how discerning your tastebuds are, you may rejoice in knowing the menu uses no refined sugar and its bakery/dessert menu has multiple vegan and gluten-free treats. The gluten-free “bittersweet brownie” is a flax-y, tangy, yet fudge-y and sweet delight and already a favorite among staff.
photo 5(1)
As for other unique qualities Flower Child brings to the table, there’s a lemonade and tea bar worth a refill (or two). Flavors will change with the season and available ingredients, but even just the basic lemonade is nearly perfect.

The restaurant also offers a few take out options for families and larger parties that can serve between three and eight people. The “Healthy To Go” orders range from $33 to $67.

Visit Flower Child at 5013 N. 44th St., Phoenix, foxcr.com