CRAVE Arizona is Perfectly Balanced Gluttony

Categories: Chow Bella

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​Celebrity chefs. Blind wine tasting contests. Food samples from dozens of Valley restaurants. Only two weeks after Scottsdale's Dine Out With the Chefs event, culinary afficianados from across the Valley loosened their belts for another huge epicurean event: CRAVE Arizona, formerly known as Eats3. This year's event was a relaxed, outdoor affair. It seemed to strike the perfect balance in attendance, with enough of a crowd to make everyone feel sociable without being elbow-to-elbow.    

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Four Seasons dished up a tasty gourmet version of short ribs and mac n' cheese.

​There was an unbelievable amount of wine, beer and spirits flowing at CRAVE -- perhaps two or three liquor booths for every one restaurant -- but the food remained the star. Local culinary powerhouses including James Porter (Petite Maison), Gio Osso (Estate House) and Mel Mecinas (Four Seasons Resort) whipped out fun palate pleasers that you won't necessarily find on their restaurant menus.

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We dug Ahnala's spicy ceviche, but the carved watermelons were even more impressive.

Short ribs were popular. Foie gras made several appearances. And ceviche was so plentiful -- in varieties from Cafe Carumba's salsa-like shrimp blend to Ahnala's chunky Ecuadorian version -- that guests were left wondering if there was some sort of epicurean mind-meld prior to the event.​

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​Chef Matt Carter had his hands full with neighboring booths for both The Mission and Zinc Bistro. Carter's salmon, served in a brothy tomato sauce with a dash of candied almond-bacon log grated on top, was a crowd favorite, as was James Porter's marrow. In fact, the latter was so popular that we caught Porter enjoying a sample of Sweet Republic's sorbet after his Petite Maison booth ran out of food halfway through the event. (He wasn't the only chef at Sweet Republic's vintage orange truck, either.)

 

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Crudo Cafe, which opened about a month ago in Scottsdale's Steven Paul Salon, was one of the few booths offering a non-cevich raw fish option. One passing guest took a mouthful and declared chef Brandon Crouser's butterfish with cured lardo, tomatoes and arugula a "home run."

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Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard was back in Arizona again, cooking with generous dollops of wine on the Viking Kitchen Stage. Yes, we've now seen her several times at Valley culinary events, but it was nice to be able to get up close and personal with her. Fans were able to talk with her after the demo or walk right up and have a one-on-one at her autograph signing table.

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​Though we adore Stephanie, there were two CRAVE events which eclipsed even her magnetic personality: a ceviche (yes, there it is again!) demo from Jon Shook and Vinnie Dotolo of Animal in Los Angeles and a "Battle of the Sexes" blind wine tasting battle of men vs. women, hosted by Peter Kasperski. "In this event, I'm neutral," he quipped. "I'm like Jesus. I love everybody." Enough said.

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