One of the most interesting, inspiring and intriguing new restaurants opened in Phoenix this year. This isn’t a glamorous establishment of exceptional service and fine dining. If you can widen your horizons for this notable and innovative concept you will be rewarded with a new model for a new era. Refined cuisine needn’t come in an elaborate setting, or on expensive dishes and glassware. At Chef Claudio Urciuoli’s, new restaurant, Pa’La, located at 2107 N. 24th Street, in Phoenix, you will be transported by the ambitious food alone. The chef worked previously at Noca and Noble Eatery and knows his way around a kitchen. But only the upwardly mobile patron could partake and pay for his masterfully prepared food. Now, with reasonable prices, in a casual atmosphere, he is making his cuisine accessible to a wider audience, who are no less deserving.
Chef Urciuoli, has partnered with Omar Alvarez of Torres Paquine.
Based in a whitewashed 1920’s bungalow, with concrete floors, wooden tables, and a tiny open kitchen where the centerpiece is the wood-burning oven. Outside is a charming trellised patio, and super cozy sitting area. The place is spotless, and it is not your typical restaurant. To keep costs down and food quality up, you will find no dishes, silverware, linens, glassware or electric ovens. They don’t take reservations and there is no hostess to seat you. You order your meal from a daily changing chalkboard at the counter. When the food is ready, a runner or even the chef himself, will bring out your food on paper plates and disposable wood fiber utensils. Your drinks come in plastic cups. There are bins for recycling and composting.
What you come here for is the food. At lunch, they serve sandwiches and small tapas and grain and vegetable bowls. At dinner, they add some protein, ceviches, crudo, seafood, roasted fish, beef or pork. Sourcing here is the key, whether from local farmers or markets, or from around the country or internationally. The chef hails from Genoa, and he brings in oils, cheeses, and cookies from Italy. He comes from a family of bakers and so he produces most of the breads in-house in a wood fire oven. The seafood is sustainable. All the produce and meats are organic and humanely raised. His food is fresh, vibrant and satisfying. The menu is small, and well curated. For dinner, we had some delicious warm olives with this dated spicy Marcona almonds. We tried the freshest tasting scallop crudo and oysters. We had a seafood stew with freshly baked bread for dipping, that tasted of the sea. Lucky for us, our timing was perfect for soft shell crab season, and we had a sandwich on warm out of the oven pita, stuffed with the crab and an egg and zucchini frittata. A must-have dish here is the Ramon Navarro bowl, named for the Chilean surfer. It is a mix of 5 grains, roasted vegetables, toasted seeds, cannellini beans and finished with some premium extra virgin olive oil, cabernet vinegar and a sprinkle of cherry blossom soy sauce. You can top it with a protein. On the night we ate there, the choice was wild shrimp from Louisiana or Rhode Island skate. The mixture was just the right balance of flavours and textures.
For dessert, the only choice was cookies. We had some crisp chocolate, hazelnut farro cookies, perfect for dipping in some espresso.
The menu changes daily, depending on what is good that day.
The experience is fun, although my husband did have trouble accepting the wood fiber cutlery. (get over it!) And even though the menu is limited, everything was of the highest quality, simple and healthy.