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Feast for the Eyes

Masterfully plated dishes that taste as good as they look

Dinner service is being elevated into an art form at restaurants across the Valley, transforming simple nights out into edible adventures through the use of colorful ingredients and clever plating.

One of the best means to make a visual impression is through the use of seafood. For example, Roka Akor (RokaAkor.com) has a head-turning Chef's Sashimi Selection ($38 and up) featuring a mountain of vibrantly colored fresh fish arranged atop crushed ice with floral garnish so it appears like a coral reef.

Taking a creative approach to pasta has similarly impressive results. At Lure Fish House (LureFishHouse.com), the Lobster Ravioli ($22) is made using squid ink to give the noodle black stripes before it is stuffed with gratuitous chunks of shellfish and topped with chardonnay cream sauce, additional lobster, and aged parmesan. And at Fat Ox (ILoveFatOx.com), the Rosso Creste Di Gallo ($18) infuses red wine into the pasta-making process, resulting in pink noodles that perfectly complement the accompanying dandelion greens, duck sausage, mushroom, and huckleberries.

Smart chefs also have seasonal produce and house-made sauces in their arsenal.

When it comes to produce, the Avocado Aguachile ($16) at Tia Carmen (TiaCarmenDesertRidge.com) is a gorgeous celebration of green thanks to the use of Persian cucumbers and serrano chilies; the Shrimp & Crab Ceviche ($19) at The VIG (TheVig.us) benefits as much from the expertly sliced cucumber, red onion, radish, avocado, and pomegranate as it does from the luscious blue crab on the plate; and Cooper’s Hawk (CHWinery.com) can barely keep the Shrimp & Scallop Risotto ($28.99) in stock thanks to the beautiful contrasts in texture and color that the asparagus, sweet corn, peas, and spinach give to the dish. 

As for sauces, the Brussels Sprout Nachos at Diego Pops (DiegoPops.com) are tough to beat. Certainly, the use of Brussels sprouts, street corn queso, and pickled onions make an impression, but the hot pink crema on top – made using beets and roasted garlic ­– always steals the show.

Another big scene stealer? Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion (WrigleyMansion.com), among the most ambitious eateries when it comes to whimsical plating, especially during chef Christopher Gross’ signature tasting menu ($275 per person). Though every course is wild, the Egg in and Egg in an Egg is especially impressive. The dish comes under a large ceramic egg-shaped cloche and is revealed tableside to be a hollow eggshell filled with creamy scrambled eggs and Osetra caviar, topped with edible flecks of gold.  Similarly stunning are the Buttermilk Buns ($9) at Mowry & Cotton (mowryandcotton.com), which come piping hot on a massive custom butcher block with a bevy of pink and green pickled vegetables as well as an angular slathering of seasonal jam, duck fat, and fig butter topped with lavender-pickled blueberries and dried corn; and the Jidori Chicken Wing ($6) at The Mission (TheMissionAZ.com), a singular wing that stands straight up accompanied by a garden of edible flowers and fermented hot sauce in fanciful shapes.

Of course, dessert also lends itself to statement plating. Prime, A Shula's Steak House (PlayAtGila.com) blows the doors off during dessert with its Baked Alaska ($11). The white and red-spiked Italian meringue masterpiece paired with key lime gelato, shortbread, and raspberry compote is next-level striking. Not to be outdone Kai Restaurant (KaiRestaurant.com). Each of the dishes on its tasting menu ($185 per person) is a piece of edible art, but especially I'itoi's Garden, a sweet menagerie of hibiscus and lavender pavlova, lemon curd, color-changing butterfly pea powers, orange-kissed ganache, and crème anglaise.

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