Tag Archives: Phoenix

i8tonite with Phoenix’s TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo RecipeChef and owner of TEXAZ Grill Steven Freidkin is that rarity in restaurants nowadays. Long before the Food Network and celebrity cooks ruled our dinner tables, Freidkin had always been a good, respectable chef, and learning the trade not in fancy culinary schools, but employed in the eateries were he worked. As a pre-teen, he began his kitchen career working at his family’s kosher deli in Shreveport, Louisiana cutting up corned beef in the front and then hanging with his friends. Reminiscing about his youth, Freidkin said, “We would be hiding behind the pickle barrels.  We were the only store that cured our own pickles.”

His first job away from his parents’ store was as a dishwasher. Then while attending college in the Dallas, he cooked in many kitchens, learning that this could be his way of making a living instead of getting a social work degree. Ultimately, this led him to turn specifically failing restaurants into moneymakers. For a bit of time, he worked for well-known Victoria Station, a popular chain of railroad themed steakhouses that proliferated throughout the 1970s and 80s.

Arriving in Phoenix in 1976 on a proposition to a restaurant called Pointe of View located by Squaw Peak, he’s been in the Valley of the Sun ever since.

Before TEXAZ Grill, there were a couple of other stints in restaurants and a catering company, but in 1985, he, along with a former partner, opened the Phoenician steakhouse landmark. TEXAZ Grill isn’t one of the high-end places where people drop their credit cards to pay for the hefty price-tag on a wine and ribeye. No. Freidkin has established an important Valley of the Sun staple – as important as a saguaro cactus on a dusky evening — among the steak and chops set, leading the southwestern pack in crafting down home eats.

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

Regulars come to sit in the eclectically decorated space. Walls filled with hundreds of baseball hats, deer heads, pen and ink drawings found in thrift stores, black and white photos, and beer labels lavishly cover the space. It’s an homage to roadhouses long gone, or it’s an actual roadhouse, depending on your personal age and reference.

Among the ribeye and the New York Strip, listed above the delicious stalwart of fried chicken, is the house specialty – the chicken fried steak. Friedkin recalls, “When we first opened, we had a lot of requests for it. We put it on the menu for a special, and then gradually it stayed.” Two big breaded cubed steaks are dredged in flour, deep-fried, and served with white gravy. “We have served more than 900,000 of these since we opened,” Freidkin comments. Here’s to 900,000 more.

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe


Chef Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
I started cooking in our family delicatessen in Louisiana when I was 10, so I have been cooking 50 years.

What is your favorite food to cook?
My favorite dish to cook is noodles, Cajun and Creole.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
I always have pickled okra in my fridge.

What do you cook at home?
I cook everything- Mexican, Asian, Southern, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern…and I fridge raid (clearing out the fridge and making a full meal).

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
All of the above. My favorites range from a Shiner Bock, Old Vine Zin, and Tito’s on the rocks with a pickled Okra.

Your favorite cookbook author?
Robb Walsh.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Japanese Cleaver.

Your favorite ingredient?
My favorite ingredient is black pepper.

Your least favorite ingredient?
My least favorite ingredient is CILANTRO!

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Clean up!

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Southern, Italian, Mexican, and Asian.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?

Favorite vegetable?

Chef you most admire?
The chef I admire most locally is Robert McGrath.

Food you like the most to eat?
Noodles, Creole and Cajun are my favorite foods to eat. My absolute favorite is Texas BBQ.

Food you dislike the most?

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?

Recipe: Chicken Fideo

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

Serving Size: 5
Prep Time: 0:21

7 oz vermicelli — fideo
1 oz butter
3 cups cubed chicken thigh meat
1 c julienned onion
2 t minced garlic
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes
3 cups water
2 t chicken bouillion paste
1 t oregano
2 t whole cumin
2 oz canned jalapeno peppers – juice

Brown fideo in butter until golden.
Add onion and garlic and saute briefly.
Add chicken and cook for 3 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients and cook over moderate heat, until done – about 30 minutes.
Serve topped with sliced green onion and grated cheddar.
– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite with Phoenix’s Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e Pepe

i8tonite with Phoenix's Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e Pepe“After college, I thought I was going to go to California, but I got delayed,” says noted Chef Cullen Campbell, chef owner of the nationally known Phoenix-based Crudo, which he opened in 2012 with mixologist Micah Olson. Last year, the duo, along with Campbell’s wife Maureen McGrath, unlocked Okra, a Southern-themed restaurant with touches of Italy, harkening back to growing up in Arkansas. Although born in the 48th state, Campbell spent time on the Arkansas family farm and attended university in Memphis, where he picked up some of the deep Southern touches that craft the excellent flavors of his sophomore effort. Clearly, he wanted to bring some of that country to Arizona.

i8tonite with Phoenix's Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e Pepe

Like the Sonoran Desert, the interiors of both places are wide and vast. There aren’t any nooks or cubby holes  for clandestine dinners to hide in. The restaurants are boisterous, raucous affairs, letting the diner know they are in for a delicious meal. Crudo is the higher end of the two, with a collage of shutters as artwork at the entrance, but it’s the casual wood-tones of Okra which come across warmly. Both restaurants, though, are a showcase of Campbell’s kitchen talent. Arizona Republic’s restaurant critic Howard Sefetel said in his 2012 review of Crudo, “What makes Campbell’s fare stand out? Certainly, the ingredients are primo. But what Campbell does with them is often highly original and always skillfully executed.”

i8tonite with Phoenix's Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e Pepe

Since then, the kitchen star has been on the rise, putting Valley of the Sun’s dining and drinking culture on the national culinary map, with noted stories in Sunset Magazine, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times.

What’s next on the horizon for the Arizona cooking wunderkind? “I have a bunch of different concepts I want to try out. Something small and higher end with no more than a dozen tables. Then I have a hot dog concept I want to do with Micah. Cocktails. Beer and wine list all paired for the dogs.”

Whatever Campbell does, we know it will be delicious.

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
I have been cooking for 20 years.

What is your favorite food to cook?
My least favorite food is Shellfish.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
I have wine, water, & leftovers.

i8tonite with Phoenix's Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e Pepe
Squid Ink Risotto

What do you cook at home?
Not much but sometimes, I r&d at my house. I just made some pici, which is like a thick hand rolled spaghetti. I love hand rolling pasta!

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
The person wanting to try everything.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
The person that is scared to try new things.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Wine all the way, especially really great white wine.

i8tonite with Phoenix's Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e Pepe

Your favorite cookbook author?
David Joachim. Not only has he written his own books, he has also collaborated on some of my favorite books.

Your favorite kitchen tool?

Your favorite ingredient?
Olive Oil.

Your least favorite ingredient?
Anything processed.

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Clean. I make a mess haha!

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
I go through spurts. Of course Italian & southern. But I have started playing around with Polynesian.

i8tonite with Phoenix's Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e PepeBeef, chicken, pork, or tofu?

Favorite vegetable?

Chef you most admire?
I have two: Jean Georges Vongerichten & Marc Vetri. One is very refined & the other is more rustic, but they both work with the best ingredients & don’t overcomplicate dishes.

Food you like the most to eat?
Cheeseburger & fries!

Food you dislike the most?
I eat everything!

i8tonite with Phoenix's Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e PepeHow many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
I only have two at the moment. One of them is an alcohol in Japanese. But I want to get a fork & spoon on me. Also, one that celebrates my restaurants – Crudo & Okra.

Recipe: Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e Pepe

i8tonite with Phoenix's Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell & Recipe for Semolina Gnocci with Trotter Ragu & Cacio e Pepe
Semolina Gnocchi

Semolina Gnocchi
3 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
11/2tsp salt
4 egg yolks
1 cup parmesan
1 cup semolina

Put milk, butter, & salt into a medium pot (bring to a boil).
Add semolina & whisk vigorously for 4 minutes.
Add 1 egg yolk at a time while stirring.
Then add the parmesan and whisk until the cheese melts, about 3 minutes.
Spread mixture on a sheet tray & let cool for 45 minutes.
When cooled, cut out circles with a ring mold.
Sear the gnocchi in a pan on medium heat until golden brown.

Cacio e Pepe
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated pecorino remano
1tbs roux
2tbs fresh ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Heat heavy cream & both cheeses together until melted.
Add roux to thicken & then add the pepper.

Trotter Ragu
5lbs pig trotters
1 yellow onion chopped
1 head of garlic chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3oz thyme picked & chopped
6 cups da napoli crushed tomatoes
6 cups meat stock
2tbs salt
1tbs fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
In a roasting pan, brown the trotters in the olive oil.
Add onion, garlic, and thyme & stir until fragrant.
Season with the salt & pepper.
Add crushed tomatoes and meat stock & cover the pan tightly with foil or lid.
Lower the oven to 300 degrees & cook for 3.5 hours.
After pulled from the oven, let the trotters cool down for about an hour.
After cooled, shred the trotters off the bones & mix back into the sauce.

To Plate
Put the ragu in the bottom of the bowl, arrange gnocchi, & top with a generous amount of cacio e pepe

– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite with Phoenix Chef Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar & Recipe for Rack of Lamb with Pinot Noir Sauce

i8tonite with Phoenix Chef Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar & Recipe for Rack of Lamb with Cabernet SauceA little more than two years ago, Chef Jennifer Russo opened The Market Restaurant + Bar in Phoenix’s burgeoning Arcadia neighborhood. The restaurant with a neighborhood vibe is reflective of Russo’s use of Arizona-grown produce, dairy, and meats in both her catering and brick and mortar. More importantly, Russo’s growth as a decade-long successful caterer to a full-fledged restauranteur is an indicator of the quality of chefs and restaurants being developed out of the forty-eighth state. The Valley of the Sun, known for safe, corporate restaurants, is literally hungry for independent chefs.

i8tonite with Phoenix Chef Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar & Recipe for Rack of Lamb with Cabernet Sauce

Born in New Jersey but raised in Arizona, Russo has long been cooking. She started learning some of the family secrets with her father’s grandmother, who emigrated from Italy. As a teen, Russo’s passion for cookery led to a variety of food schools in her Scottsdale-area home but eventually – at the age of twenty-one – became a San Francisco transplant at one of the city’s noted gastronomic institutions. Russo says, “I waited to go to school so I could learn the cocktail classes. I wanted to be of legal age.”
After graduating, realizing the expense of living in the City by the Bay, she returned to The Grand Canyon state and worked with two venerated Sonoran desert chefs continuing her epicurean education. It began with Vincent Guerithault of Vincent’s on Camelback, which led her to a sous chef position with Mark Tarbell at Tarbell’s.

i8tonite with Phoenix Chef Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar & Recipe for Rack of Lamb with Cabernet SauceAfter working the line for years, Russo’s knees needed medical recuperation which led to the founding of her catering company. As her enterprise grew, so did the demand for her wares; clients would constantly ask when she was opening a restaurant.

Now, with a young son and several decades of operating her businesses, Russo has become as renowned as the gentlemen she worked with in Phoenix.

Below, Russo shares recipes for Rack of Lamb with Cabernet Sauce, Braised Baby Peas with Pearl Onions and Herbs, and Hot, Buttered Cauliflower Puree

Chef Questionnaire with a nod to Proust:

How long have you been cooking?
For as long as I can remember. But as soon as I could get a job, I started prep cooking @ Lewis Steven’s Catering Company at the age of 16.

What is your favorite food to cook?
I love working with proteins and seasonal veg.

i8tonite with Phoenix Chef Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar & Recipe for Rack of Lamb with Cabernet Sauce

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Beverages…Let me be honest, wine and water.


What do you cook at home?
I don’t get a chance to cook at home since opening The MARKET restaurant+bar. It seems silly to dirty my kitchen at home, especially when I can do that at work. But if I am cooking at home we go pretty big. As long as someone brings the dessert. You don’t want me making dessert.

i8tonite with Phoenix Chef Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar & Recipe for Rack of Lamb with Cabernet Sauce

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
The excitement they have for the food, wine, and cocktail menus. It makes it all worth it when they love it!

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
When they share their negative thoughts on social media. I’m here a lot. Just tell me to my face and I will do everything in my power to fix it.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
I seem to have a lot of items in delis.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?

Your favorite cookbook author?
I love cookbooks from restaurants, so anything Thomas Keller is high on the list. I like how visual they are. But if I had to choose one go to, it would be Julia Child’s Mastering the art of French cooking.

Your favorite kitchen tool?

i8tonite with Phoenix Chef Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar & Recipe for Rack of Lamb with Cabernet SauceYour favorite ingredient?
That’s not possible. Flaky salt.

Your least favorite ingredient?
Peanuts * I’m allergic!

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Peeling things

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Mediterranean. So everything…

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?

Favorite vegetable?
Mushrooms, if I had to choose one

Chef you most admire?
Julia Child past, Thomas Keller present

Recipe: Rack of Lamb with Pinot Noir Sauce

i8tonite with Phoenix Chef Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar & Recipe for Rack of Lamb with Cabernet Sauce

Three 8-bone racks of lamb (1 1/2 pounds each), trimmed of all fat, bones frenched
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Zest of one lemon
1 cup Pinot Noir
1 garlic clove
1 thyme sprig
1 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Preheat the oven to 425°. Season the lamb racks all over with coarse salt, pepper, minced garlic, & lemon zest. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a medium skillet; both skillets should be ovenproof. Add 2 of the lamb racks to the large skillet and 1 rack to the medium skillet, meaty side down. Cook the racks over moderately high heat until well browned, about 4 minutes. Turn the racks and brown the other side, about 3 minutes longer.

Transfer the skillets to the oven and roast the lamb for 15 to 20 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 120°or rare and 125° for medium rare. Transfer the racks to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the medium skillet over high heat. Add 1/2 cup of the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Pour the wine into the large skillet and add the garlic and thyme. Set the large skillet over high heat, add the remaining 1/2 cup of wine and boil until reduced by one-third, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and boil until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 8 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and discard the garlic and thyme sprig. Whisk in the butter, 1 piece at a time. Season with salt and pepper and strain the sauce into a warmed gravy boat.

To serve, cut the lamb into chops and arrange 3 chops on each dinner plate. Pass the Pinot Noir sauce at the table along with a little coarse salt for sprinkling on the lamb.

Recipe: Hot, Buttered Cauliflower Puree

Two 2-pound heads of cauliflower, cored and separated into 2-inch florets
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup mashed potato
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
Chives, chopped

Preheat the oven to 325°. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cauliflower florets until tender, about 7 minutes. Drain well. Spread the cauliflower on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, to dry it out.

In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream with the butter and bring to a simmer over moderate heat just until the butter is melted.

Working in batches, puree the cauliflower and mashed potatoes in a blender with the warm cream mixture; transfer the puree to a medium bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and chives.

Recipe: Braised Baby Peas with Pearl Onions and Herbs

12 pearl onions
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound baby peas, blanched
3 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
1 tablespoon snipped chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the pearl onions and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Peel the onions, leaving the root end intact.

In a medium, deep skillet, melt the butter. Add the pearl onions and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 3 minutes. Add the peas and simmer over moderate heat until the peas are tender and bright green, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the mint and chives, season with salt and pepper and serve. When plate is complete,  garnish with roasted cauliflower florets and fresh mint.


The End. Go Eat. 

Photos: Joanie Simon

i8tonite with Phoenix’s Barrio Café Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza & Chiles en Nogada Recipe

i8tonite with Phoenix’s Barrio Cafe Chef Silvana Salcida Esparza & Chiles en Nogada RecipeThere is no doubting Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza’s immense impact in the Phoenix restaurant world. Ask any chef currently with a restaurant in the Valley of the Sun about Esparza, and they will respond, “Oh, she’s the best. She’s tough, but she is one of the best.”

A second generation Mexican American, Esparza was born as a hija de las panaderias (baker’s daughter) in Merced County, California, America’s Salad Bowl. In her early teens, she already started using her entrepreneurial skill set and cooking acumen to fashion her first carnecaria, serving up grilled meats next to her parent’s bakery. She worked a variety of well-paying jobs as a broker, Aramark and executive chef at a variety of Arizona hotels before opening Barrio Café.

i8tonite with Phoenix’s Barrio Cafe Chef Silvana Salcida Esparza & Chiles en Nogada Recipe

Currently, she has four restaurants and another one on the way, Barrio Café Gran Reserve, opening in downtown Phoenix, on Grand Avenue, a hipster spot. Esparza came to Valley of the Sun prominence in 2002 with Barrio Café, serving central Mexican food with European influences, tableside guacamole, and real south of the border sauces. Her dishes include 12 Hour Roasted Pork and Posole Verde. In The Yard, a large complex housing four restaurants, Esparza created Barrio Urbano, a hipper, millennial friendly experience, which also serves breakfast, and two in the Sky Harbor International Airport. Esparza is undeterred in her quest for making the best Mexican that she can make, as she says, “I will not resort to using yellow cheese.”

Ezparza is an outspoken, leading advocate on immigration and LGBTQ causes. To showcase the creativity the Mexican American population has brought to Arizona, she, along with other community leaders generated a non-profit organization called Calle 16, dedicated to showcasing various arts, food, and other Mexican exports to the Valley of The Sun.

i8tonite with Phoenix’s Barrio Cafe Chef Silvana Salcida Esparza & Chiles en Nogada Recipe

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking? Since I was six years old.

What is your favorite food to cook? Italian

What do you always have in your fridge at home? Condiments, demi-glaze, anchovies

What do you cook at home? Barbeque.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? I love when they are enthusiastic.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? When they lack enthusiasm. I don’t want them to be dead fish.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? Tupperware.

i8tonite with Phoenix’s Barrio Cafe Chef Silvana Salcida Esparza & Chiles en Nogada RecipeBeer, wine, or cocktail? Cocktail.

Your favorite cookbook author? Patricia Quintana

Your favorite kitchen tool? Molacajete

Your favorite ingredient? Chile

Your least favorite ingredient? Lavender

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? If I have to…wash dishes.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Italian

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Pork

Favorite vegetable? Chayote

Chef you most admire? Patricia Quintana

Food you like the most to eat? Italian, barbeque.

Food you dislike the most? Fried chimichanga. Fake Mexican. Yellow cheese.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? Too many.

i8tonite with Phoenix’s Barrio Cafe Chef Silvana Salcida Esparza & Chiles en Nogada Recipe

Recipe: Chiles en Nogada

i8tonite with Phoenix’s Barrio Cafe Chef Silvana Salcida Esparza & Chiles en Nogada Recipe
Chiles en Nogada Recipe

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced small
2 teaspoons diced onion
1 teaspoon diced apple
1 teaspoon diced dried apricot
1 teaspoon diced pear
1 teaspoon raisins
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine, preferably Cabernet
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 poblano peppers, roasted and peeled

Nogada Sauce:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup white wine, preferably Chardonnay
2 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving
Pomegranate seeds, for serving

For the chiles: Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the canola oil when hot. Add the chicken and saute until the chicken starts to turn white, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the onions and continue to saute until the onions are translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the apple, apricot, pear, raisins and garlic and saute until they begin to soften, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and stir so the paste coats all of the ingredients. Add the red wine and cook until the chicken is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and let cool slightly. Remove the seeds from the peppers by making one long slice down the sides, stuff them with the chicken-fruit mixture and keep warm until ready to serve.

For the nogada sauce: Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat, add the shallots and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the garlic has turned a light caramel color, about 1 minute. Add the white wine and reduce until almost gone, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cream and simmer until reduced by half, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and finish with the almonds.

For serving: Place each stuffed pepper on a plate and spoon some of the nogada sauce over top. Garnish with the cilantro and pomegranate seeds.

Note: This recipe was originally published by Chef Silvana Salcida Esparza at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/chiles-en-nogada.html

Pin for later:

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's recipe for Chiles en Nogada

– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite: My Most Memorable Eats of 2015 & Moving to the Southwest

Grand Canyon_A. DuarteAt the beginning of 2015, if anyone predicted that I would be living  at year’s end in Phoenix — or starting my food blog for that matter, I would have howled with laughter. Me? In Phoenix? The American Southwest? Writing? Besides, press releases and commenting on Facebook? Yet, I am listening to my fountain cascade into the plunge pool and writing this lengthy post. I open the front door daily to walk the dogs and am awestruck with a view of Pietesawa Peak, crowned by blue skies and cottony clouds. Holly, our eleven-year-old Pitbull waddles past the security guard gate and the golf green, trying to keep up with J.J., our seven-year-old French bulldog, who likes to chase after rabbits. The bunnies hop around on our neighbor’s sixteenth golf hole, the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Arizona Biltmore – a mere five-minute walk to luxury pools and spas.  I look at all this splendor with gratitude. It’s also coming from a person who – 25 years ago — thought he could never leave  Manhattan, then the center of my Universe.

Kevin Dooley 2
Photo by Kevin Dooley

As I grow older, and I’m grateful I am,  the center of my Universe has expanded. Eventually, the Northeastern winters drove me to Los Angeles for 16 years, with 3 years in San Francisco for good behavior. Spiritually, I never felt either city was home though. They both seemed to be stopping points. I never really wanted meant to stay as long as I did. However, where do you go after Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco? These are our national hubs of entertainment, technology and finance. International culture is unsurpassed in these meccas.  You are supposed to want to be there. Did I think Miami? Paris?  Back to New York? Phoenix wasn’t even a thought.

Photo by Kevin Dooley
Photo by Kevin Dooley

After much discussion, Nick took the offered Phoenix position and we came out to look for a house. Instantly, we fell in love with the desert landscape, rich culture, sheer vastness and low-cost of living. Phoenix, in my eyes, is North America’s hidden gem, but it’s hard to hide the 6th largest city in the United States. However, it feels protected. Off the beaten path, waiting to be discovered. Tourists may come and visit one of Arizona’s 300 resorts but until you become a resident, hike the trails, meet the people, work and become a Phoenician do you understand the city’s natural splendor and sophistication.

I reckon The Valley of the Sun is physically the most attractive place I’ve ever lived. Red mountains are dissected by roads and Camelback, the dromedary rock formation casts its legendary shadow over the valley. It’s peaceful sentinel-like presence feels protective, calming and inspiring.

As we enter into the remaining days of 2015, and for the coming year, I urge you to allow change to happen. Step out of your comfort zone. The things you would say no to trying…try.  Explore new possibilities and never say, “Never.” I’m so glad I did.

Photo by Alan Stark
Photo by Alan Stark

Before I begin my 2015’s five – whoops, six most memorable food experiences, I need to let you dear reader know I still talk about these eats. That’s why I choose them. Some are new, some are not.  I would go back to eat them time and again. Additionally, I paid for each one of these meals. Nothing was given gratis or comped, so I have nothing to gain from telling you about them.

Let’s start:

Photo Courtesy of Carson Kitchen
Photo Courtesy of Carson Kitchen

Carson Kitchen, Las Vegas, Nevada: Chicken Fried Skins, served with Smoked Honey Dipping Sauce ($9). The late Chef Kerry Simon, who died early this year with complications related to Mulitple Sclerosis, was a master of New American cooking. He imbued his dishes with a sense of humor and surprise.  This dish is indicative of that experience. Who is going to order only chicken skins with a side of smoked honey? Well, I did. Three orders of the crunchy, salty, deliciously deep-fried morsels with the side of lightly smoked sweetness. I would never make this at home. Let’s definitely score points for that understanding.

Courtesy of Factory Kitchen
Courtesy of Factory Kitchen

Factory Kitchen, Downtown Los Angeles, California: Handkerchief Pasta with Almond Basil Pesto ($19). I was living in San Francisco when I ate at Farina which is where I first had Chef Angelo Auriana’s superb pasta. I was in the middle of a fight with an ex. I try not to remember him. However, the sheet-like folds of pasta expertly painted with a light basil pesto, I remember. It wasn’t until I went to Factory Kitchen did it come back hauntingly. This time, I was celebrating one of my best friends birthdays (Shelley Levitt) in Los Angeles. We ordered the Ligurian-style noodle with green sauce. One bite, I knew I had eaten it once before. It’s so good that even years later I remembered it, except with this experience, the atmosphere was much more light-hearted and loving to enjoy it.

Photo Courtesy of Tropicale
Photo Courtesy of Tropicale

The Tropicale Restaurant & Bar, Palm Springs, California: Brown Sugar-Brined, Double Cut Kurobata Pork Chop ($28). A little over a year ago, I discovered my longtime friend Chef Scooter Kanfer had encamped to this boisterous watering hole in the resort town of Palm Springs. About 10 years ago, she was the chef/owner of a stunning little place in LA’s Larchmont area called The House. Here, she received national accolades with her inventive takes on homespun items like macaroni and cheese and my favorite milk and cookies which is milk served in a whiskey shot glass accompanied by shortbread animal cookies. Now, she is under less pressure as the Chef de Cuisine of Tropicale but her food is still the best. I choose the Kurobata Pork Chop because she recommends it to me every time I see her. The only other place I ate this type of big, flavorful battering ram was at Cindy Pawlcyn’s Napa Valley-based Mustards Grill. I wasn’t in Napa this year but this may be the best pork chop in a restaurant ever.

Courtesy of Hollywood Pies
Courtesy of Hollywood Pies

Hollywood Pies, Los Angeles, California: The Hollywood Pie ($27). I was never a lover of deep dish Chicago style pies. I didn’t get it. And then, I ate from this blink-and-you-miss-it spot. Jesus made this pizza for me. Seriously, that’s one of the names of the pie-makers. Everything from the crust to the cheese, the pizza sauce, homemade meatballs is made in-house. Unfortunately, getting a pizza isn’t always easy. They take forever to make (up to an hour). Sometimes, they don’t even pick up the phone to order one. This deep dish thickly crusted – like a casserole – is from heaven. Chewy, hint of heat in the sauce, pull until it snaps mozzarella…..trust me, Jesus made it.

Courtesy of ICDC
Courtesy of ICDC

ICDC, Los Angeles, California: Salt & Pepper Caramel Doughnut/ Buttermilk Brown Butter ($2.50). ICDC, which stands for ice cream, donuts, and coffee, is a dream child of Amy Knoll Fraser and Pastry Chef Maria Swan. I don’t know Maria. I would love to know Maria. I would love Maria to make me  a donut every day for the rest of my life. The Salt & Pepper Caramel along with the Buttermilk Brown Butter are heavenly puffs of circled dough with a little richness (butter or caramel) and a surprise (salt & pepper and not just butter but browned butter). If you have never had a seasoned donut or a browned butter donut – it’s wrong. Just wrong. It’s like being a virgin and everyone around you talking about sex.

Courtesy of Breakfast Club
Courtesy of Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club, Scottsdale, Arizona: Huevos con Masa ($9). On our first trip to Phoenix, we got hungry as people do at the beginning of the day. We had appointments to look at houses and needed to fortify ourselves.  We went to dine at place at 8 am. Twenty-minute wait. We left. Found another highly recommended eatery with a wait-time of twenty-minutes. Nick and I are starving, and it’s 9 am. On the third try, we arrive at Breakfast Club. They have a wait time too. We sit at the bar to avoid the wait time. It’s packed.  Maybe 9:15 am on a Wednesday morning. I order the Huevos con Masa, a creative southwestern version of eggs benedict. Instead of hollandaise sauce, a pork green chile is served with poached eggs and chipotle cornbread. Eating it, I thought it was worth waiting for the discovery. The chile, a little heavier than I normally would eat for breakfast, is rich but compliments the poached eggs runny yolks. The cornbread has just enough heat and is incredibly moist, with flecks of chipotle. The Valley of the Sun breakfast experience also prompted me to write a story on the area’s breakfasts.  (Note: If you like blonde, athletic women serving your food in skin-tight, black fitness wear, this is the place for you. Do not come if you want to see a brunette or red-head. Hell, I don’t think there was a curl in the place, either. Just sayin’.)

Places and dishes of note: Nobuo at Teeter House, Pork Belly  Buns (Phoenix, Arizona); The Original Breakfast House, Cinnamon Rolls (Phoenix, Arizona); Revolutionario, Falafel Tacos  (Los Angeles, CA); Khin Khao, Khao Mun Gai (San Francisco, CA); Pizzeria Bianco, Margherita Pizza (Phoenix, Arizona).

The End. Happy 2016.

i8tonite: with Phoenix’s “Best Chef” 2015 Peter Deruvo and Pollo Arrosto (Roasted Chicken)

Chef Peter Deruvo: Courtesy of Awe Collective

Phoenix-based Chef Peter Deruvo has been called “the crazy cook”, partly because he cheffed at a defunct restaurant called “Cuoco Pazzo”, meaning crazy cook. Names like that stick to a person. But his food isn’t crazy, it’s well-crafted, rustic Italian starting with housemade pasta and sauces. This year with the opening of Citrine, a Tempe, Arizona-based restaurant, Deruvo is at the top of his game. In 2015, he’s even been named as “Best Chef” by Phoenix New Times, an accolade that’s been attributed to three Valley of the Sun nationally recognized names Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Bianco), Nobua Fukuda (Nobua at Teeter House) and Christopher Gross (Christopher Crush), all of whom have been recognized as a James Beard award-winning chef.

Interior of Citrine: Courtesy of Awe Collective
Interior of Citrine: Courtesy of Awe Collective

While living in San Francisco, he apprenticed with famed Bay Area Chez Panisse chef Paul Bertolli, San Francisco’s Mike Tusk, owner of the Michelin-starred Quince and Paul Canales at Oakland’s Oliveto where he refined his cooking, learning much about the restaurant world including a kitchen is not just about the chef but the hard-working support team surrounding him.

The City by the Bay afforded an introduction to award-winning olive oil producer Albert Katz, who sent him to Tuscany to learn everything he could about olives and olive oil. It was in Tuscany where Deruvo spent time tending the olive groves and farm at Montecastelli, a well-known Italian producer of gourmet wines, oils and vinegars. He also learned everything there was about the art of Italian cookery from neighboring trattorias, chefs and nonnas. All of this – including a stint working in Chicago — eventually lead him to Phoenix, with soaring tastes of his epicurean travels.

ChefPeterDeRuvo_CitrineOver the past three years, Deruvo has opened three restaurants including the much-lauded EVO, one in the past six months and had three kids with his wife, Christine. He’s not a crazy cook, just a busy chef with a family.


Chef’s Questionnaire

How long have you been cooking? I’ve always been cooking! From a young age to spending my twenties in Italy to now, I just can’t stop.

Lasagna: Courtesy of Awe Collective
Lasagna: Courtesy of Awe Collective

What is your favorite food to cook? Pasta is the game. It’s a staple in my life in both kitchens that I run and develop, at Citrine and EVO.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?    Lots of fruits, vegetables and cheeses. With three children, I’m a stickler for balanced meals!

What do you cook at home?  I like to visit fresh farmers markets with my family to get inspiration. Whether it’s Asian, Italian or what have you, it’s never the same and always guaranteed fun!

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? I love eaters who grow with the restaurant. As our dishes change, they try, adapt and change too, that’s my favorite.

Farmers Salad: Courtesy of Awe Collective
Farmers Salad: Courtesy of Awe Collective

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? Eaters who are afraid to challenge their palate. I promise it’s worth it!

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? Pyrex.

Beer, wine or cocktail?  Amaro.

Your favorite cookbook author?  Madeleine Kamman.

Your favorite kitchen tool? Olive oil.

Your favorite ingredient?   Also olive oil.

Your least favorite ingredient?  Hmmm… I’m stumped!

Charcuterie Board: Courtesy of Awe Collective

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?  Develop new pasta with old techniques.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?  Asian, Italian, Polish, Spanish.

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Pork.

Favorite vegetable?    Any and all types of greens.

Chef you most admire? The chefs who are still behind the stove, developing, mentoring and creating.

Food you like the most to eat?  Pho.

White Aspargi with Egg: Courtesy of Awe Collective
White Aspargi with Egg: Courtesy of Awe Collective

Food you dislike the most?    Liver. It brings back bad childhood memories!

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?  One but none of food, food should be on the plate in front of you!

Pollo Arrosto, Fall Pan
Pollo Arrosto, Fall Panzanella Salad

Momma’s Pollo Arrosto + fall panzanella salad + natural jus      Yield   Serves 3


  • 2 lb whole roasted chicken
  •  ¼ cup of butter
  • 2 lemons quartered

Magic Rub for the Chicken

  • 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of ground chili flake
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • Combine all ingredients and set aside for the chicken rub down

Brine Solution for Chicken

  • 1 gallon of tepid water
  • ¼ salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns crushed
  • ¼ cup of white vinegar


Combine all dry ingredients and spices with tepid water and submerge the chicken in liquid keeping it in the solution for over 24 hours.

Remove, dry, and season with salt, pepper. Under the skin of the chicken tuck all the butter.

Combine all chili, garlic and herbs and rub chicken down generously.

Truss chicken and set aside for roasting in an oven at 350 for 55 minutes until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Fall Panzanella Salad ingredients:  

  • ¼ cup roasted butternut squash
  • 1/8 cup of roasted cauliflower
  • 1/8 cup of rinsed and cleaned kale
  • ¼ blanched and sauteed green beans, sauteed in garlic, lemon and olive oil
  • ¼ cup quartered tomatoes
  • ¼ cup of toasted croutons
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:   Combine all ingredients, toss lightly with olive oil and vinegar and season to taste; After the  chicken is fully cooked and rested, the salad will go underneath roasted chicken and garnish with quartered lemons.

Note: Chicken is also great served cold as a chicken salad.

The End. Go Eat.

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Phoenix’s Biltmore Area

The city of Phoenix is one of our country’s most beautiful urban areas. Facing south from the area known as the Biltmore, the furthest southern horizon is the South Mountain and Sierra Estrellas (Correction by David Bickman. For the past three months, since, I’ve lived in Phoenix, I’ve been calling them by the wrong name.) Its wavy silhouette stretching both east and west; in between are flat lands – just widening with low-rise buildings. You can view planes jet off from Sky Harbor International. The sixth largest city in the country has skyscrapers and glass buildings but their presence isn’t too obtrusive against the natural arid beauty and environment. Instead of green lawns, oaks and maples – although, there is that – the majestic saguaros, native to the area, are planted in front of many homes beside other homegrown cacti.

Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the lush gardens that surround the Biltmore.
Biltmore. Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria.

To the north is Piestawa Peak, the topmost — second only to Camelback — in the Phoenix mountain range. Named in honor of Lori Ann Piestawa, Phoenician-born soldier, who has the tragic distinction of being the first female and first Native American to lose their life in the 2003 Iraqi War. It’s a natural border before heading into the bedroom environs. At sunrise and sunset, the Phoenician peaks are colored in a pinkish hues and are often hiked by the area residents and visitors. Matter of fact, right at the bottom of the range lies the world famous Arizona Biltmore, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpieces. It’s a beguiling resort with 740 rooms, eight swimming pools, tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course.

Courtesy of Macherisom Tourism

Unsurprisingly, the area is called The Biltmore. You might find that a car should be at your disposal as the area isn’t very walkable; however, the drives are thankfully short. In the coming year, a new luxury hotel called The Camby, will replace the recently closed Ritz-Carlton, directly across from the area’s luxury shopping mall, Biltmore Fashion Square. There’s even more luxury lodging at the independently owned The Hermosa Inn, which has one of the Phoenix’s best restaurants, Lon’s at the Hermosa.

The Biltmore area is Phoenix’s financial district – it’s Wall Street — but it does have character. For one, the mall houses a small shopping area inside called Union dedicated to independent retailers. The Saks Fifth Avenue, a former I. Magnin, has an astonishing visual merchandiser and artist, Quim Bove. At one time, Bove who resided in a principality called Andorra, wedged between France and Spain, was a window display artist at Hermes in southern France and Christian Dior in Spain before moving to the Valley of the Sun. His installations have fountains and fake hedges or brown felt, twirling like upside down cyclone turning magically into a Chanel tweed suit.  He also did all the artwork throughout the store.

Lastly, the food in Phoenix should be receiving more attention than it does. Pizzeria Bianco has been named many times over to have the best pizza in America. Phoenix’s chefs are doing very well in creating a vibrant culinary scene and Arizona has a growing wine culture and craft beer breweries are peppered throughout. Epicures should find this an excellent city to avail themselves of their favorite hobby.

Breakfast Burrito. Courtesy of Breakfast Club.
Matt's Big Breakfast
Courtesy of Matt’s Big Breakfast.

Breakfast: When I first moved to Phoenix, I noticed an amazing amount of restaurants catering to a breakfast and lunch crowd only. I would estimate three dozen restaurants or more with cute names reflecting the day’s first meal. For example, you could eat eggs, waffles and bacon at The First Watch, U.S. Egg, The Good Egg, Snooze, Scramble, The Breakfast Club and Perk one week and then the following, head to Daily Dose, Over Easy, Oink, Butterfield’s Pancake House, Morning Glory Café, Biscuits and The Original Pancake House and many more never repeat  to one in a month .  They open at the crack of dawn and close right after lunch. Get this…they have a waitlist. Not just during the weekend, but during the weekdays too. Sometimes for an hour! Phoenix has a love affair with breakfast. One of my faves is Matt’s Big Breakfast. The first location is located near downtown Phoenix with corrugated, aluminum siding and bright orange walls which has that urban hipster feel, friendly service, down to earth smiles – nose rings and tattoo sleeves. The newest location is in a strip mall, next to a QuickCuts and a Safeway. Featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Dives and Drive-In’s, it a family-run place with solid meals, liberal use of butter on everything, cage free eggs and humanely raised meats. Owner Matt Pool wanted his restaurant to represent the mid-west diners his father took him to as a boy. I think he elevated the experience by several notches. (Regardless, if Fieri was there or not.)

My suggestion:  The Chop & Chick. Iowa-raised pork chop, marinated in pesto. Served up with your choice of egg style and potatoes, plus Wildflower Bread. (This is a Phoenix-based bakery that makes delicious artisan breads.)


  • Price: $10.95
  • Hours: 6:30 am – 2:30 pm.
  • Address:  3132 East Camelback Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85016
  • Phone Number:  This location hasn’t opened yet at the time of this writing. I cheated – but it’s my site. I will remove this statement when it opens at the end of October 2015.
  • Website:  www.mattsbigbreakfast.com
The Original Chopped Salad. Courtesy of The Gladly

Lunch:  Andrew Fritz and his partner, Chef Bernie Kantake have helped elevate Phoenix’s dining scene first with Citizen Public House, a take on the gastro pub, and with this restaurant called The Gladly. It’s located within walking distance to the new The Camby, the newest luxury hotel to open in Phoenix. The young owners have an extensive bar menu and New American dishes. It was a tough call on what to feature for lunch in this area but The Gladly won out because it features a salad called The Original Chopped Salad. It has its own Facebook page. Yeah, you can’t beat that.

My suggestion:  The Original Chopped Salad

  • Price: $12.00
  • Hours: Lunch, 11am – 3pm, Monday – Friday. Dinner 3pm – 10am, Monday – Thursday. Dinner 3pm – 11pm, Friday – Saturday. Sunday Brunch, 9am – 3pm.  
  • Address: 2201 East Camelback Road, #106, Phoenix, Arizona 85016
  • Phone Number: (602) 759 – 8132
  • Website: www.thegladly.com
Pizza. Courtesy of Christopher’s Crush.

Snack Time: Christopher’s Crush is located in the Biltmore Fashion Square. It’s an appropriate spot since it evokes a cosmopolitan and very fashion-oriented atmosphere with glass, crisp tablecloths, and colored with muted oranges, reds and browns. You could place the spot in Manhattan and it would fit perfectly. The same thing can be said of Christopher Gross’ food and sommelier Paola Embrey’s wine list. Sophisticated. Chic. Urbane. James Beard-nominated for Best in Southwest.

My suggestion: They have 70 wines by the glass and a bar menu for their happy hour, named – ahem – Happy Hour.

  • Price: All wines, beers and well drinks are half-price from 3:00pm –
  • Photo Courtesy of Christopher's Crush
    Photo Courtesy of Christopher’s Crush
  • 6:00pm.
  • Hours: Seven days a week, Happy Hour is served from 3:00pm – 6:00pm.
  • Address: 2502 East Camelback Road, Suite 102. Biltmore Shopping Center.
  • Phone Number: (602) 522 — 2344
  • Website: www.christophersaz.com


Dinner: Lon’s at The Hermosa is truly an experience showcasing the old West with its adobe style structure. Owned and built by well-known Western artist Lon Mergargee, The Hermosa Inn’s restaurant is old world with white tablecloths, candles, plush seating with big over-sized chairs and booths. During the winter, it’s de riguer to be seen eating at Lon’s once a week amongst the Paradise Valley social set. The kitchen has a one-acre garden – nice to pull daily herbs and some fresh vegetables for the dining guests but it’s the citrus fruit that provides the most bounty and uses. Visitors can have a variety of freshly squeezed juices throughout the day provided by the hotel’s trees. Housemade cocktails get a healthy dose of garden love as well.

LON's Signature Burger
Photo Courtesy of Hermosa Inn

My suggestion: Lon’s is known for the steaks and chops. Just indulge and enjoy the Sonoran desert beauty.

  • Price: 8 ounce filet is $44, the lamb rack is $56 and the pork chop $36. The chop is the size of a caveman’s club.
  • Hours: 6pm – 9pm
  • Address:  5532 North Palo Christi Road, Paradise Valley, Arizona  85016
  • Phone: (602) 955 – 7878
  • Website:  www.thehermosainn.com

Stay: It’s a hard choice  on where to stay in this area which is comprised of  three of  The Valley of the Sun’s top hotels including The Hermosa Inn which is celebrating their 80th year as a hotel, The Camby, the newest in the city or The Arizona Biltmore. Each property has a different personality although the Biltmore and Hermosa Inn have long been established.

The Camby, housed in a former Ritz Carlton shell, appeals to the new generation of traveler looking for hi-tech services. On a recent visit, they had an interesting computer concierge service which sort of worked. We still needed to be talked through the process with the temporary desk person and it was fun to play with on this massive touch screen. Ultimately, it didn’t have all the information loaded onto at the time.

The Hermosa Inn, with only thirty five rooms, is the most private of three, tucked away in Paradise Valley, a ritzy residential section. The pool is quiet, the hotel understated and Lon’s at The Hermosa is one of the best dining experiences in Arizona. Try and book one of the newer renovated rooms for a great, adult like experience.

The Arizona Biltmore is one of the city’s largest hotels and one of the most historic. Under Frank Lloyd Wright’s tutelage, Albert Chase McArthur designed the almost century old hotel. It’s full of stunning vistas (Piestewa Peak is it’s backyard), resort amenities and a massive swimming pool. (Actually, several but who’s counting).

Pin for later:

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet for Dining in Phoenix's Biltmore Area

The End. Go Eat.