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January 4, 2013

One of the challenges that my husband and I knew we would run into when we decided to travel to Arizona over Christmas weekend was trying to find restaurants that would be open in the days leading up to Christmas.  While we may have spent most of our time in Phoenix, the largest city in Arizona, Phoenix is still a far cry from Los Angeles.  Meaning, in Los Angeles, you can find tons of places open 365 days a week, 24 hours a day.  Los Angeles is like Las Vegas, it’s the city that never sleeps.  However, Phoenix, not quite the hub of the universe where things are open around the clock.  Our first order of business was to find a restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve – we got that taken care of pretty quickly.  But, as the days approached to our upcoming trip to Phoenix, we still didn’t have dinner plans for Sunday night, December 23rd.  We actually found it doubly hard to find a restaurant for the 23rd because not only were we a few days away from Christmas, it was also a Sunday evening, when restaurants and stores in general tend to not be open late, if at all.  After doing some searching on the Internet, and having been turned away from our first few choices because they weren’t open on Sunday, we finally settled on a restaurant that looked pretty promising, and also got good reviews online.


We spent Sunday dinner at Tarbell’s in the heart of Phoenix.  Located in a small little retail park which featured a few retail shops mixed in with some nice restaurants, Tarbell’s is situated right in the middle with a dining room that has big picture windows looking out towards the parking lot, but providing a a nice inviting, cozy and comfortable feeling for the dining room inside for passerbys on the outside looking in.  The owner, Mark Tarbell, opened this restaurant in 1994 and it has won numerous awards since that time, including the 2011 Open Table Diner’s Choice award.  Mark has been nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Best Chef – Southwest, and he even appeared, and was the only competitor to win a battle on Food Network’s Iron Chef America during season 5.  With that kind of reputation, we knew this was going to be good.


The menu at the restaurant features a nice electic mix of healthy and organic seafood dishes, homemade pasta, wood-fired pizzas and steaks.  There were so many delicious items that it was hard trying to make a decision as to what we should sample.


I thought my husband would choose a starter of the house-pulled mozzarella with organic tomatoes, arugula and basil, but he surprised me by choosing a different starter.  While Tarbell’s wasn’t exactly an Italian restaurant, it did have quite a few Italian dishes.  I think though, that my husband chose to try something a little more exotic and out of the norm for him because this was a vacation and opportunity to try something new.  What he ordered was the sashimi tuna tartare with house-made aioli, crispy capers, and fresh horseradish vinaigrette.  Ever since my birthday meal earlier in the year when we went to The Stonehouse Restaurant and my husband ordered the five spice seared big eye tuna, he’s really acquired the taste and appreciation for tuna dishes.  And let me tell you, this sashimi tuna tartare dish was a real winner.  The tuna was fresh, the horseradish vinaigrette was refreshing, the aioli was perfect, but for me, the star of the dish was the crispy caper.  I’d never tasted anything like this crispy caper.  Frying the caper made it feel like it was hollow and it lost its salty and briny taste, instead, you ended up with something that was great texturally and just rounded out the dish perfectly.  My husband loved the sashimi tuna tartare and just couldn’t get enough of it.  He was blown away by how fresh and tasty the tuna was, and he cleared his entire plate.


For my starter, I ordered the paper-thin “beyond prime” carpaccio with fleur de sel, extra virgin olive oil, mizuna (Japanese greens with a peppery taste, but slightly less so than arugula), and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  When the plate was brought out it looked stunning.  My mouth was literally watering.  And when the menu says paper-thin, it truly was paper-thin.  If it were cut any thinner, it wouldn’t exist.  The dish looked like a work of art and it tasted like heaven.  The carpaccio was super tender, and the fleur de sel really brought out the flavor in it.  Combine that with a bite of the mizuna and Parmigiano-Reggiano and the grilled loaf bread and the plate was heaven.  I couldn’t believe this was only a starter.  I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the meal would be like.


The entrée I chose for the evening was the cast iron seared pepper steak.  According to the menu, the steak was hand selected Angus aged over 35 days.  The steak was cooked medium rare, and served with pan creamed spinach and potatoes au gratin.  The steak looked amazing, and tasted delicious, but it wasn’t as tender as I expected it to be.  The pepper crust on both sides of the steak was a nice surprise though, and gave the steak quite a bite of flavor.  If you don’t like black pepper, and some spice, you wouldn’t like this dish.  Luckily, I love black pepper.  But, this steak was spicy.  Great kick of flavor.  The potatoes au gratin was creamy and nice, but not too over cooked.  Unfortunately, the pan creamed spinach was not exactly what I thought it was going to be.  It was more like wilted spinach than creamed spinach.  But no doubt, the cast iron pepper sear on the steak was incredible.


Grilled organic Scottish salmon on crispy potato cake was my husband’s choice for a meal.  The salmon was grilled with molasses, lime and McClendon’s honey and then served atop a bed of spring mix lettuce.  The salmon was tender and flaky and cooked perfectly.  My husband said that the dish itself wasn’t anything special and out of the ordinary, but it was well prepared and the potato cake was a great compliment that added texture and crunch to the meal.  He liked it enough to finish the whole plate.


When it came to dessert, the restaurant had some interesting desserts, some that were traditional and common and others that were a bit outside of the box.  My husband chose a dessert a little bit outside of the box in the form of local sweet parsnip creme brulee.  Everyone knows what creme brulee is, the custard dish that’s usually flavored with vanilla or citrus or some other type of sweet with the caramelized sugar top to it.  However, in the case of this dessert, instead of the custard being flavored by something sweet, it was flavored with the addition of pureed parsnips.  Parsnips are a root vegetable that I most often see used in a puree to make a mashed potato-like dish.  I was curious as to how the parsnips would do with the creme brulee.  When brought to the table, the dessert looked like any other creme brulee, but after taking a bite, my husband said that he could taste the parsnip.  Since the parsnips aren’t sweet, he said that it gave the creme brulee a bit of a more savory flavor rather than a sweet one, but in a good way.  He must have liked it because within a few minutes the whole thing was gone!019

I went the more traditional dessert route with the profiteroles with vanilla bean gelato and chocolate sauce.  Profiterole is just a fancy French term for a cream puff.  The puff is generally filled with some sort of cream, in this case, vanilla bean gelato, and then chocolate sauce is drizzled over the top to adorn the profiterole.    When the profiteroles came to the table, they were way bigger than I expected them to be.  The cream puffs were created perfectly, and the heaping scoop of vanilla bean gelato that was stuffed in each cream puff was fantastic.  The gelato had terrific flavor and you could taste and see the vanilla beans.  The chocolate sauce over the profiterole was a little bit too much for me though.  It was hot fudge-like sauce that was drizzled over the cold gelato causing it to congeal a bit.  And the chocolate sauce was just a little bit too much and too bittersweet for me.  But the profiterole itself and the vanilla bean gelato was amazingly delicious.

We both really enjoyed our meal at Tarbell’s.  It looked like a fancy restaurant when you stepped inside the front doors, but it wasn’t pretentious or uptight.  The atmosphere was one of casual elegance and fun, with some amazing food being dished out by the kitchen and some great service in the front of the house.  My husband and I both walked out of Tarbell’s stating that if we lived in the area, or were to come back again in the future, we would definitely dine here again.  I can certainly see why this restaurant has been so critically acclaimed by locals and food critics alike.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2013 7:38 am

    those pictures look delicious! 😀

  2. January 5, 2013 12:20 pm

    New England’s small towns are much the same way…very difficult to find something open on Sunday. It sounds like you choice of restaurant was a good one.

    • January 6, 2013 3:41 pm

      Sometimes, I forget what it’s like when I travel somewhere else. Being from Southern California, things are always open, 24/7, 365 days a year. But yes, we did find a winner!


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