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August 22, 2011


Crab Chawanmushi Dominic Armato

  DISCLOSURE: Josh Hebert, chef and part owner of Posh, is a really good friend. Excessive elaboration imminent.  

I hadn't intended to write about Posh.

Thing is, I've been a late night regular for a year and a half, visiting somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 times, and have come to regard the folks there as really good friends... people who have helped to make Phoenix feel like home. So when I finally managed to get there early enough to hit the regular menu for the first time this week, I did so with the intention of simply enjoying myself and not posting about it, even if I still couldn't resist the urge to picture everything (it's practically reflex at this point and these plates are exceptionally photogenic). But then, three and a half hours and fourteen courses later, the first thought to pop into my head was that I couldn't wait to edit some photos and write about my meal. I had feared it might be a little weird to write about a place that's run by people I call good friends. But before this blog was even online it was a personal journal where I recorded thoughts about places I ate, and ignoring the reason I started doing this in the first place and NOT writing about Posh suddenly seems far weirder to me. Skipping that personal ritual of revisiting the meal in my head as I think of ways to articulate what was interesting and exciting to me just feels wrong. So all blathering and disclosure aside, here's a great dinner I had at my friend's restaurant.

Dill Yogurt wuth Hibiscus FoamDominic Armato

Situated on the edge of Old Town Scottsdale, Posh blends in with its surroundings while avoiding the overtly and overly trendy vibe of some of its neighbors, all of which is to say that it's modern and stylish while maintaining a sophisticated air. Though the room is sharp, the food is the focus, reinforced by the massive open kitchen that takes up half the space. And perched at one of the 25 or so counter seats, overlooking the action is the place to be. It's a talented team at work back there, and late at night or when it's a little quieter, you're as likely to be engaged with Josh and the staff as you are with your dinner. It's a funny atmospheric blend that works. The room is stylish. The vibe is friendly. And the food is very upscale and refined. The hook at Posh is "Improvisational Cuisine," which means that rather than a traditional menu, you're offered a pencil and a paper ballot with options for number of courses, a lengthy list of ingredients for you to highlight or scratch out as your tastes dictate, and a section for any notes you might have. Most folks circle a few favorites and cross out a few they're not comfortable with (exotic meats are commonplace). Some will request beef, beef and more beef. And people like me take a quick glance, hand back the ballot and tell the folks in the kitchen to send out whatever they like. So they did.

Chilled Carrot SoupDominic Armato

Dinner got off to a colorful and refreshing note. First was a spoonful of dill yogurt topped with a splash of vibrant hibiscus foam. Cool and creamy with a light tang and the combination of herbal and floral flavors were a full-flavored but light and appropriate start when temperatures are in the triple digits. The second dish continued that theme in the form of an equally vibrant chilled carrot and leek soup. Smooth, pure and uncomplicated, it was an almost completely unadorned expression of carrot flavor, save for the leek, a bit of chive and a surprise at the bottom, a sliver of pickled ginger -- a refresher at the end of the refresher. With both starters, the flavors were few, pure and strong, and this would prove to be a theme for the evening.

Melon SaladDominic Armato

The melon salad brought a little bit of modernist manipulation to the table, taking a very simple and traditional flavor palette and elevating it through technique and presentation. Three melons were present -- honeydew, watermelon and cantaloupe -- and plated with arugula, chevre and balsamic. The watermelon was converted into a gelée and cubed, the cantaloupe manipulated into caviar form, and for the honeydew, a simple melon baller would suffice. Combine with creamy chevre, grassy arugula, sweet and lightly tart balsamic and it's as classic as flavor combinations get, with added textural interest... not to mention a beautiful presentation.

Oyster and Tuna SashimiDominic Armato

Next up, some unconventional and exceptionally refreshing raw seafood. In the foreground, a stunningly succulent, lightly briny and deep-pocketed hama hama oyster, splashed with a touch of mignonette that strayed from tradition through the addition of yuzu, pink peppercorns and a pair of tiny mint leaves -- just enough to keep it fresh and interesting. And it didn't hurt that the oyster was plump, flawless and swimming in liquor. Even less conventional but a wonderful call was the tuna sashimi in the background, sitting atop an aioli exploding with the flavor of cumin. Olive oil, cucumber, avocado, red pepper and a dash of garlic salt rounded it out, but at the bite's heart was that interplay of tuna and cumin, unconventional and highly effective. It's so rare to see cumin on its own rather than as a player in a curry or spice blend, and I loved to see it highlighted so, particularly since it suited the tuna so well.

Shrimp with Spiced Demiglace and LeeksDominic Armato

One regional influence that surprised me was a little bit of creole, expressed most overtly in the shrimp dish that followed. Seared to a light crisp on the exterior, the shrimp were set atop firm, nutty red Himalayan rice and shredded, buttered leeks. But the true explosion of flavor came from the accompanying "shrimp demi glace," a dark, complex roux-based concoction that included reduced shrimp stock and a blend of spices that screamed Louisiana. It wasn't precisely of that region, but the influence and the spirit was there. It wouldn't surprise me to find a dish like this on one of New Orleans' more upscale menus, because that deep, intense blend of shrimp and spice, though subtly balanced, embodied that kind of vaguely funky, deep, earthy and developed approach to seafood that's one of the bayou's hallmarks. A fabulous dish, and one of my favorites of the night.

Crab ChawanmushiDominic Armato

Given that the kitchen is led by a fellow who's such a fan and student of the cuisine, I was a little surprised that this chawanmushi was the most heavily Japanese-influenced dish of the evening. But that's how it is at Posh. Menu themes shift wildly from week to week, if not day to day. It was a Dungeness crab chawanmushi with a tiny sawagani crab adorning the top and, like the previous dish, almost felt like it had a little Louisiana going on due to the heavy presence of bell pepper. With sweet crabmeat brimming beneath the surface, the notion that this was a seafood dish didn't really need to be reinforced. But the sawagani crab perched on the lip of the cup, flash fried so that its crunchy shell gave way to a liquid burst of crab essence, brought the message home nonetheless.

Mahi Mahi with Corn Relish and PestoDominic Armato

The mahi mahi was simultaneously one of the simplest and one of the strongest combinations of flavors, beautifully executed. Basil, corn and potato are as natural and as wonderful as pairings get, and here the mahi mahi was seared and put atop a fresh and vibrant relish of diced potatoes, roasted corn kernels and slivered fresno chiles. To accompany, a very traditional pesto Genovese, bringing the basil and a bit of cheese and nuttiness to the mix. The relish and pesto complemented each other so naturally and seamlessly that it would have been easy to completely miss the bit of cross-culturalism at play. And what I liked about this, as so many of the other dishes, was that the primary flavors were clearly defined and speaking with their own voices. Very simple, and absolutely delicious.

Frog Leg with Radish and FennelDominic Armato

The frog leg left me frustrated, not because I didn't like it, but rather because I liked it a lot and wanted it to be pushed even further. Breaded and fried, it was served with slivered daikon, breakfast radish and fennel, and otherwise almost completely unadorned. The crunch and texture of the cool vegetables against the hot fried frog leg was lovely, but the anchor of the dish was the intentional saltiness of the crust, both seasoning the meat and bringing out the subtler flavors of the vegetables. It was delicious. And to me, it would have been even better if it had been pushed even farther. I had images in my head of salt-crusted Chinese dishes, where the salt itself is a primary flavor rather than simply acting as seasoning. I could even see it with a seasoned salt on the side for dipping. And I'm sure such a move would result in it frequently being sent back as too salty, which is maddening. But I loved the willingness to push it as far as it went.

Sweetbreads and White AsparagusDominic Armato

Then, a couple of pet ingredients that I don't think I've ever seen combined before. A meaty but delicate chunk of fried sweetbreads was plated alongside white asparagus, and then finished with a squid ink and truffle sauce, and beet foam. This was unexpected, despite my adoration of both beets and squid ink. And yet it was a brilliant combination. In a way, they're almost like mirror image ingredients. Beets are sweet, but have earthy undertones. Squid ink has a pleasantly dirty and earthy flavor, with just a hint of sweetness. They were a surprising and yet seemingly natural pair that played off the sweetbreads and asparagus beautifully. This is a combination I'd love to see explored in more depth, because it's a surprisingly good fit and though I always assume everything has been done, I can't find any reference to the two of them together anywhere.

Alligator Sausage, Polenta, Sour CherryDominic Armato

Did I mention that Louisiana was in the house? Though the aristocratic refinement of the shrimp felt more like French-influenced creole, the rough-hewn alligator sausage felt more Cajun, even if this obviously wasn't something you were going to just pick up cruising through the bayou. As explained by Jeremy -- one of Josh's kitchen minions, Cajun by birth and a fellow who knows his way around an alligator -- they used a center section of the tail for a balance of tenderness and flavor. And though the flavor was excellent, the texture was just as compelling, a coarse grind with a pleasantly grainy feel, just a little rustic in a way that suited the onions, peppers and spices that seasoned it. Though polenta and haricot verts aren't too much of a stretch in a Cajun-inspired dish (corn and green beans always have a place), I suspect sour cherry is somewhat less common, but the sauce composed of the same provided a very nice contrast to the earthy spice of the sausage. Yet another winner.

Boar Bacon with Coconut CurryDominic Armato

The boar bacon is a familiar fixture at Posh. I've had it during late night on a number of occasions in various different formats, and it's always good stuff. A little leaner, gamier and more robust than its piggy cousin, this particular piece was a touch on the salty side, but accompanied by elements that worked with that. In another unconventional pairing, the dish put a coconut curry sauce with roasted zucchini and braised cabbage. Not that I've any issue with sweet coconut curry, but about the only exposure we have to coconut-based curries around here is in Americanized Thai restaurants, where sweet rules the day, and it's nice to have a change of pace like this that features very little sugar, and allows more focus on the blend of aromatics. The very plain zucchini and cabbage also played their part, providing a nice vegetal base without getting in the way.

Kangaroo with Yam and Ancho PureeDominic Armato

That I got all the way to the last savory dish before hitting one that didn't work for me says something, I think. And it's not because I've anything against kangaroo, though it's a difficult meat to work with. My issue was more in the balance of ingredients, which included whipped yams, an ancho chile puree and broccolini. The flavors were well-suited to each other, and as with the previous dish, I appreciated that it wasn't turned into a sugar bomb when it would have been so easy to do so. But the pure volume of yam involved was simply too much, and the meat felt buried rather than featured. Kangaroo's awfully lean. Perhaps it needed a healthy dose of some kind of fat? I'm not sure. But this disn didn't come together.

Cheese PlateDominic Armato

My cheese plate disability is well-documented, but I actually kind of appreciated the ultra-minimal approach here. There were no piles of walnuts and apples and fig compotes and honey and every other item found on every cheese plate ever. Just a sweet and creamy Robiola and a funky but smooth Epiosses served alongside a few thick slices of herbed and buttered toast. I believe the only accompaniment was a bit of fennel pollen sprinkled across the Robiola (a wonderful complement, actually). For the first time in a long time, I found myself really able to focus in on and enjoy the cheeses. Perhaps I've been looking at this all wrong. Perhaps it's not the typical cheese plate I'm tired of, but rather the typical cheese plate accoutrements. Time to test this theory. The next time my cheeses arrive with a pile of fruit and nuts, I'm shoving them off to the side and eating nothing but the cheese. Perhaps I'm not completely irredeemable in this department after all.

Puff Pastry with FruitDominic Armato

And then dinner ended just as it began, cool and light and refreshing. First, a very conventional but very tasty dessert, puff pastry with a sort of whipped cream cheese filling, strawberries, lemon curd and fig compote. And finally, a little treat from the anti-griddle (a very, very cold surface for snap-freezing things). Lime and lovage were liquefied and frozen into a thin, frozen lollipop. The sort of clean, celery-flavored lovage combined with a little clarifying citrus acted as a final palate cleanser, leaving nothing of the meal but the memory... well, that and a whole horde of photographs. But mostly the memory. And it's a meal that I continue to enjoy in my head.

Lovage and Lime LollipopDominic Armato

It's a little odd, finally having a normal dinner at a restaurant I've visited so many times. And while there were a couple of surprises, it mostly served to reinforce all that I've learned about Posh over the last year and a half. Posh is a great example of a breed of fine dining that's always been among my favorites. This is food that casts a wide net when it comes to inspiration, but maintains exceptional focus when it comes to any given dish. It's a wide palette from which Josh draws, which is really the true meaning of "Improvisational Cuisine." It doesn't mean conjuring a dozen dishes out of thin air every time a diner walks in the door. It means not being tied down and bound by a label. It's the freedom to do a Cajun-heavy menu one night and a Japanese-influenced menu the next. It's the freedom to draw in the perfect pairing regardless of what region or nation or era it might come from. This is a style of cuisine that, in the wrong hands, can easily come across as haphazard and forced, but here it seems graceful and effortless. This is due in no small part to the fact that it's executed so well, but just as important is that these dishes, though often exceptionally creative, are very simple and focused. They combine a small number of central flavors, each of which is made to speak its own voice clearly and firmly. Ingredients taste like themselves. There's no extraneous fluff. And there are no sneaky, hidden elements. This is very confident, self-assured food that doesn't need to overreach for effect. And that simple but effective framework is what makes it possible to draw in flavors from so many places so elegantly. This was an elegant dinner, made upscale and refined not through tricks and gimmicks and flair, but rather through a nuanced understanding of what makes flavors work together, and the skill to marry them with grace.

And I look forward to an equally graceful patty melt, slice of fried scrapple or other such "downscale" plate when perched on my seat at late night on Wednesday.

7167 E. Rancho Vista Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Tue - Sat5:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Wed Late10:00 PM - 12:00 AM


I was going to say that you know I'm a sucker for a chawanmushi-based dish and that looks like a good one.

But, as an unapologetic cheese whore, I'm going to give Josh amazing props for bringing you back from the cheese abyss.

Dill yogurt? Jesus that sounds delicious. Through the entirety of this post I was fully Pavlovian, drooling at the pictures then re-drooling during your description. Now I want to go and sit at the counter and roll the menu dice and see what happens. Eat what happens. You lucky bastard.

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