My last night in Arizona I saved Chef Branden Levine’s brand new restaurant Sel, which just opened in April 2016, to dine at. Chef Levine was most recently Executive Chef at the high-end Monarch restaurant which we also enjoyed. He has worked at Aureole in Vegas, The Tavern, and had his own eatery in Virginia, as well, as a luxury safari resort in Tanzania. He has been on a few Food Network shows also. One of his recent shows was with Bobby Flay.
The restaurant is different looking for Arizona. It’s modern, and a little more dressy and elegant than your typical restaurant here. There are glam chandeliers, white tablecloths, and backlit
lighting features. There is seating for 50 people inside, including 10 at the bar, and an additional 50 seats outside as well. They play a nice music set, but at levels where you can talk to your dinner companions. This restaurant is a welcome change from the casual eateries in Arizona. The Chef’s mission is to change the way people dine here, and he is doing an excellent job of it.
Sel is located in Old Town Scottsdale at 7044 East Main Street.
We were encouraged to try the four course $70, prix fixe contemporary American cuisine, but you can order a la carte too. The menu changes every two weeks, and our great waiter Dave told me that the Chef tries to source all his ingredients from local farmers and purveyors. The menu is based on what is the freshest seasonal ingredients available in the market. We met the Chef, he came over to our table and he was sincere and genuinely nice, and easy on the eyes too … he looks like a younger version of Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin.
We tried almost every dish on the menu. The braised pork belly with shaved cantaloupe, garlic chip and Aleppo pepper chili, in a mint jus was a well-executed dish. The meat was tender and the sauce worked well in this dish and was visually exciting. The morel mushrooms stuffed in squash blossoms was a personal favourite dish for me. It was done in a hazelnut tempura batter, with goat’s milk ricotta, in a red shallot confiture, and a roasted corn purée. The second course this evening was a local heirloom tomato soup with a garlic confit wild ramp emulsion, with basil oil, and smoked pine nuts. This was topped with a spicy Parmesan focaccia cracker. The third course was a compressed peach salad that was out of this world. It consisted of peeled heirloom cherry tomatoes, lemon oil, endive, black Mesa Ranch goat cheese, and the best molasses applewood bacon that I have EVER eaten and I am not normally a bacon fan. This had smoked fleur de sel and a white balsamic – anchovy dressing. Fabulous!
The fourth course had five choices, which one of was vegetarian. We tried the Alaskan halibut with a Meyer lemon glaze, fried Brussels sprouts, seared ink polenta (very different), in a black miso vinaigrette. It would have been great but was overlooked. Our other choice was seared hand-harvested scallops sitting on a wonderful coconut parsnip purée, with fiddlehead ferns, which are not seen in this part of the country but brought in from Oregon, and roasted corn in a tarragon beurre blanc. This dish could have been perfect but the scallops were salty. The other choices were a filet mignon, a seared maple leaf farm duck breast or sweet potato gnocchi. You could add on a course of seared foie gras, and I was tempted but the meal and portion sizes were quite large enough without indulging, besides we tried the two desserts that were offered this evening. One was a marzipan strawberry shortcake with chantilly cream and vanilla gelato in a 15 year aged balsamic vinegar and caramel sauce. The other dessert was a flourless chocolate cake with a graham cracker crust in a deliciously crafted sauce. It is unusual to see a chef who is both proficient at cooking as well as baking.
Each plate we tasted was carefully executed and boasted sophisticated and bold flavours. Chef Branden created an excellent experience.