Some people think this is the loveliest time of the year in Arizona until monsoon season chills our blistering summers for fall. As far as we’re concerned, the most beautiful thing about spring, between the Cactus League and April pool parties, is Arizona Restaurant Week (May 17 to 26). You get 10 glorious gluttonous days to try three-course, prix-fixe dinners at the state’s best restaurants for what’s generally discounted prices of $30 to $40 per person.
Though we wish we could have taste-tested all the participating restaurants’ special menus for you, dear reader, we also know that half the fun of trying something new is the surprise! Luckily, you probably won’t find too many disappointing spoonfuls while on your gastronomical journey.
To get your saliva glands going, we took a bite (or two) out the restaurant week menus at three central Phoenix restaurants.
Here’s the scoop!
1. Bink’s Midtown
2320 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix
All of Bink’s Midtown has an open-air feel. When you arrive, you have the option of sitting outside on its romantically lit patio, inside at its cozy bar or at a table or in its white-walled “sun rooms.” There’s no bad seat in the house, in so many words. Bink’s Restaurant Week menu is modern American cuisine with a range of healthy and indulgent options in each course.
The first course leads with crispy spring vegetable fritters served in a romesco sauce prepared with young garlic. The kale and salanova salad is a tart little treat, though it’s a little overshadowed by the crispy fritters. The third option will have you fork-fighting over the last chicken karaage — think less “Lady and the Tramp” and more Joey from “Friends.”
The second course hands-down must be the “no knife necessary” confit pork. The pork is marinated for four to five days in its own fat and is so, so buttery smooth and tender. The spicy broccolini bring you back to earth, so save those and the white bean ragout for last — to keep you grounded.
Other second-course options include corn pasta with veggies and grilled rainbow trout.
The third course is intriguing. It includes a vanilla yogurt semifreddo, hibiscus sorbet and flourless chocolate cake.
2. The Clever Koi
4236 N. Central Ave., #100, Phoenix
Jared Porter and Joe Absolor’s brainchild is a modern American-Asian fusion menu that has a lot to offer the adventurous eater. The vibe is dim diner chic with an open kitchen grill and a cocktail menu to literally flip over. Clever Koi also brews its own fernet, which is serves on tap, as a digestive aid. One patron was overheard saying it tasted like “the war,” so prep your gut! The Clever Koi’s Restaurant Week menu offers three vegetarian and four gluten-free choices.
The vegetarian tomato and melon salad is served with tempura avocado and a bit of sass (lemongrass vinaigrette). Other options include the delicious-sounding gluten-free and vegetarian edamame fritters and gluten-free Sriracha roasted pork ribs. Choosing between these really depend on the diner’s mood, but, really, who is going to eat a salad during Restaurant Week? Go for the fritters or ribs!
For a main course, Clever Koi is serving a gluten-free steak “cobb” bibimbap (grilled Bulgogi flat iron, bacon, tomato, scallion, tempura avocado and a soft egg). The combination of ingredients was underwhelming, though it looked very pretty propped up on a scoop of dry, bland rice. However, the steak was delicious! The spicy seafood hot pot sounds really intriguing with its wood-grilled octopus, catfish and shrimp with cilantro. The entree options wouldn’t be complete without some gourmet ramen. The vegetarian summer corn ramen wish is served in corn broth with summer squash, chilis, asparagus and miso butter. The soups really win here. Bottoms up!
The Clever Koi is only giving you two options for dessert: roasted banana fritters and gluten-free “Almond Joy” rice pudding. We didn’t get a chance to try either, but we trust your sweet tooth won’t steer you wrong after two courses of spicy and salty fare.
3. Sierra Bonita Grill
6933 N. 7th St., Phoenix
Sierra Bonita Grill is a romantic, rustic place inspired by its namesake, which is a historic ranch in southeastern Arizona. It is one of two restaurants in the Valley with a subterranean wine cellar and has more than 100 Western paintings, photos and sculptures near and dear to owner Nate Hopper. If you want to impress your date, we recommend asking someone if you can tour the wine cellar (they may escort you if there isn’t already a private party!).
Sierra Bonita Grill serves up delicious Mexican fare so for tradition’s sake one of the appetizer options is guacamole and salsa. There are also more unique options of ceviche and Hopper’s Poppers, which are halved jalapeños stuffed with a blend of four cheese.
This is where Sierra Bonita shines. Its carne asada, buttermilk chicken, smoked red or green chile pork roast and pan-seared trout are going to be a tough pick and we don’t envy you. If you need a tie-breaker, go with the smoked red chile pork roast. It’ll knock your tastebuds right into Tucson.
And now this: peach cobbler, buttermilk pie and croissant bread pudding. The bread pudding is ah-mazing, served with Jack Daniel’s whiskey-lime-and-caramel sauce. However, we’re pretty certain we would have flipped for the cobbler and pie, too.
For more restaurants, visit the Arizona Restaurant Week website: http://www.arizonarestaurantweek.com/restaurants.