We have been meaning to visit Beckett’s Table for about a year. In fact, since Beckett’s Table’s pre-launch (and launch) PR campaign has died down, we are usually reminded of our desire to dine with Justin Beckett by driving past his restaurant on Indian School on the way to someplace else. Two or three weeks ago, rolling down Indian School on the way to Crudo, we passed Beckett’s Table and noted, again, that we meant to go. That was probably our 4 or 5th time remembering we meant to go.
A quick detour away from Beckett’s Table here. Crudo is Cullen Cambell’s new award winning place. If you saw the cover of Phoenix Magazine with the chef wearing the pink fish tie, that is the place. We loved Crudo but did not blog about it yet because we plan to return in October with cameras for The Sour Ball put on for charity by Sweet’s Brands. Also if truth be told, after the Summer Food Drive 2012, I was not much in the mood for eating blogging-style with cameras and lights and questions and notes.
Sorry for the interlude, now back to our Beckett’s Table story. Mrs. P Chef has become more restricted in her diet for some health reasons. The process that used to be a simple read of a menu and then some ordering is now akin to a detective’s interrogation. Picture a young, excited, fresh-faced server being grilled (not literally) by Mrs. P Chef over the terms: ”Gluten Free,” “Soy-Free,” “Smoke-Free,” “Butter-Free, Etc.-Free,” etc. and you will have the picture. The restrictions are now a part of her, and by extension our, meal planning and menu perusing lexicon. It is not a lot of fun chowing down on a cola-braised, smoked, pork shoulder slider, in front of your scowling wife, and her salad, but sometimes it has to be done. Sometimes it does have to be, really, for work, honey.
Okay. With lessons learned, on “Date Night” we are now usually looking for restaurants that are both on the cutting edge of cuisine and on the cutting edge of making something from nothing. As you can imagine, places that fit both bills are few and far between. We imagined that Beckett’s Table would fit into the first camp and offer cutting-edge, fine-dining, comfort food. Mrs P Chef was a trooper in offering to visit there for AZ Restaurant Week 2012. We were both pleasantly surprised to find out that not only does Beckett’s Table serve up thoughtly constructed dishes, well-exectuted, but they are very sensitive about food allergies and food preferences and can be very accomodating.
The menu is marked with (gf) for Gluten-Free, and the vegetarian items are marked as well. Having worked in the kitchen, our server, Brandon, was well-versed in the detailed preparations of the items and their ingredients. He was also extremely patient as we had a mini-seminar, breaking down the most likely dishes for Mrs. P Chef.
In the end, we ordered and hoped for the best. We used to have an inside joke that I always ordered the best thing between us when we went out. I say “used to” because it was a lot more amusing before Mrs. P Chef was kicked down to the equivalent of the Freshman ordering team by her dietary restrictions. Trouncing her Trout Almandine selection, or Sauteed Vegetables, isn’t the same game.
Ultimately, Mrs. P Chef’s options were good enough to leave her smiling (not scowling at the dishes of your’s truly) and a successful dinner was achieved. She was starving as we arrived and got started right away with the Oven Roasted Organic Beets to sustain her for the negotiations ahead.
I typically have a hands off policy with regards to her limited menu options but I did sneak a single Golden Beet, off her plate (for work) while she was visiting the powder room. It was flavored with Crow’s Dairy Feta, herbs and pecans, making for a tender and earthy dish that was a very good choice for either of us.
My first dish was the gluten-free, Achiote Citrus Poached and Chilled Shrimp with black bean salad and avocado puree. It was acceptable to both of us and a really good example of “Flair,” the 4th of Smart Kitchen’s 4 Levers of Cooking.™
Without it sounding too bad, a lot of the appeal of this shrimp dish was in the visual presentation. Arriving at the table, it looked like it should have been on a pedestal at the Phoenix Art Museum. The looks set up some great taste expectations. The great expectations were ultimately not met by the dish as a whole. The shrimp, which our brains knew were poached and chilled, turned out to be poached and chilled. It was a much more subtle flavor and experience than that advertised by the visual presentation of the fresh, succulent shell fish sitting on a black bean salad.
Now, Mrs. P Chef loved the black bean salad, but I thought it was reminiscent of the black bean salad at Chipotle, as if a master chef had slipped into the burrito place and prepped it that day, making a sexier, older cousin of Chipotle’s normal black bean fare. It was tasty and delicate but the similarity to faster food ruined it for me. Mrs. P Chef loves Chipotle (and their black bean salad) and loved this one, too.
The avocado puree was a beautiful painted green flourish but fairly inaccessible since none of the other items on the appetizer plate were soft enough or absorbent enough to take it up. All-in-all, the chilled shrimp read like a masterpiece on the menu, arrived like a star and ate like a pretty-good jumble (to me). Mrs. P Chef would probably criticize my take on it, as she ended up with the lion’s share of the dish and a happy “cat-who-ate-the-canary” expression.
Mrs. P Chef ordered from the regular menu and got the Gold Canyon Flat Iron Steak with fingerling potato salad, aioli, & Rocket (a leaf veggie like a milder spinach) for her entree.
The Flat Iron Steak was a great, though pricey, dish. My one small bite was sultry and succulent with accents of butter and umami. I wanted a bit more but left Mrs. P Chef to it because she is not getting as many choices theses days. She cleaned the plate and was a very happy and satisfied spouse.
I ordered off the restaurant week menu for my entree and got the Cola Braised Pulled Pork that came with a Bacon Cheddar Biscuit, the Fingerling Potato Salad and Carolina Cole Slaw. It was not exactly like your Mama would have made (in a good way). This difference from Mama’s cooking is the essence of what I came to like about Beckett’s Table. The items are comfort food, like Mama might have made, but re-imagined as though Mamma were a culinary professional with some serious chops. The pulled pork was tender, moist and flavorful. Examining the plate with a jaded eye, I actually thought that there were some margin enhancing games being played at the center of the plate. I saw how the pork was laid alongside the bulk of potato salad, slaw and biscuit and expected chicanery. Lifting the slaw and potato salad with my fork to uncover the plating ruse, revealed only more pork instead. The revelation made me both happy and wrong and cynical all at the same time.
Only your’s truly could venture into dessert land…..because it was included on the Restaurant Week menu. At least, that is how I attempted to assuage Mrs. P Chef, who was actually happily sated from her big portion of steak, and able to hear me. The re-imagined S’mores dessert, called Bacon Chocolate Smore’s, was really interesting. There were a lot of different tastes and textures and a number of combinations to try to determine which method was the best eating. It was like a new culinary playground on the plate that was tasty, engaging and interesting. It was a very flavorful, playful way to end the meal.
As the check arrived we both agreed that we were glad we had visited and liked the experience. The rub was that we were not so sure that we would be rushing back. I think our reluctance stems from the focus on a fusion of fine dining & comfort food. Beckett’s Table is good but neither fish ‘nor fowl. Every dish we had was good, even really good in its way, but none of the dishes that we had (so far) were “crave-able,” like the hatch green-chili burger at Le Grande Orange, or the pork at Bryan’s BBQ in Cave Creek, or the oxtail at Atlas Bistro. There won’t be a mental linchpin of craving to remind us to return.