While our jackets have stayed in storage a little longer this year, there’s no denying that fall has arrived. The (relative) chill in the morning air ushers in a sense of anticipation for the fun and change a new season brings. For us, it also means an itch to create and share new dishes.
From the islands of Japan to the foothills of Cave Creek, the flavors of the Far East meet those of the Wild West through a selection of freshly unique additions to this fall’s appetizer and entrée menus — all dusted with Cartwright’s distinctively local flair.
The culinary mastermind behind this Eastern infusion is none other than our own Chef Brett Vibber, whose formal training in both Italian and Japanese cuisine has transported him to kitchens all over the world. His schooling in the latter eventually landed him in Chicago at the award-winning, Michelin-recommended Roka Akor, a Japanese steak, sushi and seafood restaurant where Vibber spent four years as executive chef before bringing the concept back to his childhood home in the Valley. Now that we’ve lassoed him up here in Cave Creek, it seems only fair to give us high desert dwellers an authentic taste of the sea … with a cowboy twist.
Whether it’s Eastern flavors being cooked in a Western style or the other way around, the goal of our new fall menu is to present a unique dining experience for every customer while also staying true to Cartwright’s philosophy of knowing where every ingredient comes from. If we can forage for or grow the food ourselves, we do it — the rest is sourced from purveyors and partners with whom we’ve developed deeply personal relationships.
For starters — literally — there’s Allison’s Ranch Wagyu Tataki, a new appetizer featuring thinly sliced seared wagyu beef sold to us by Bruce and Allison Hemmingson, who own and operate Allison Ranch in Pittsburg. That’s Pittsburg, Texas, not to be confused with the Pennsylvania city with an added “h.” The ranch was one of the first to breed American wagyu in the United States, after the Hemmingsons flew a full-blood Japanese Red Wagyu bull across the ocean and crossbred it with their Black Angus stock. The result is a classic, American beefy taste with an enhanced, rich flavor from the healthy fats of the wagyu.
The wagyu is lightly seared — a process known as “tataki” in Japanese — before wrapping it around Fresno chilies, locally-sourced microgreens and daikon radish sprouts, then topping it with our house-made ponzu. A Japanese sauce consisting of rice wine vinegar, kombu seaweed and yuzu juice (a citrus fruit originating in East Asia), we Westernize our ponzu by infusing it with smoked shallots and serrano chilies. The dish is finished off with a crispy shallot, grilled asparagus and spiced Japanese panko breadcrumb garnish.
If you’re already licking your fingers, don’t rush. There’s plenty more where that came from, including our biggest hit of the new appetizer menu thus far, the Lobster and Crab Cakes. We keep the cakes quite simple: a mix of lobster claws and jumbo lump crab combined with Fresno chilies, locally-grown cilantro, eggs, mayo and panko breadcrumbs. All of our local greens and produce are grown and harvested on an urban farm near downtown Phoenix, and the eggs are sourced from a homestead farm in New River.
From there, we make this dish sing like a cowboy at a campfire with an abundantly-flavored remoulade of house-made aioli, capers, yuzu juice, shallots, guajillo chilies, smoked paprika, whole-grain mustard and our house blend of eight Sonoran spices. The cakes are served alongside a basil puree, featuring purple basil tossed with red beet, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. We then top this most-requested appetizer with red arrow radish sprouts.
Tuna aficionados will love our take on Tuna Tartare, featuring a duo of freshly-caught ahi brought in from the big island of Hawaii through our friends at Chula Vista Seafood, and albacore tuna from Organic Ocean, our primary seafood supplier. Based out of Vancouver, the owners are third-generation fishermen with ocean-friendly, sustainable and responsible harvesting practices. Their wild Pacific albacore tuna is hook-and-line caught off the west coast of British Columbia, and is most often described as “buttery.”
The minced ahi and albacore tunas are served with a togarashi vinaigrette — sweet and spicy Asian flavors — cilantro, diced cucumber and scallions, all plated on a bed of baby arugula and garnished with chopped avocado, wonton chips, pea shoots and Arizona sunflower seeds, which were also harvested at the urban farm.
The final new additions to our appetizer menu are our sushi dishes, which include the Sashimi Platter and Spicy Tuna and Sockeye Salmon Maki Rolls. The sashimi features our tuna duo and sockeye salmon infused with an East-meets-West blend of pickled nopales (prickly-pear cacti) Japanese ginger and Spanish onion relish. It is served on a bed of horseradish greens that calls to mind that familiar wasabi flavor, but is then garnished with a more unusual blend of toasted saguaro seeds — harvested by the Cartwright’s foraging team headed up by our executive sous chef, Matt Doss — sweet chicos (dehydrated corn), fresh citrus and home-brewed soy sauce.
You won’t find a better traditional sushi experience than our Spicy Tuna Maki, yet even this roll is infused with a prickly pear yuzu and sliced serrano chili garnish.
Our Sockeye Salmon Maki has a decidedly more Western flair — think lox and capers, topped with preserved lemon and dill and served without soy sauce or wasabi (we promise that in this case, you won’t miss them).
Having successfully whet your appetite, we move on to the newest additions to our entrée menu, including Chef Vibber’s favorite: Organic Ocean Ling Cod and Scallops. Two ling cod medallions are seared with two U-10 diver scallops, sliced thin and enveloped in a smoked tomato broth. They are served atop a Lebanese couscous salad tossed with preserved lemon oil, snap peas, roasted tomatoes and grilled asparagus, then garnished with sweet chicos and purple mizuna, a Japanese green grown especially for Cartwright’s on the urban farm. The clean and subtle ingredients coordinate in complementary layers of buttery rich flavor.
Lastly, our Duo of Tuna is served up with an avocado puree, cucumber salad and purple pesto. Ahi and albacore slices are fanned over crispy-fried sushi rice cakes before being garnished with pea shoots and a saguaro fruit gastrique.
With such a variety of complex Asian-Western cuisine, it only makes sense to bring it all home with a classic, blue ribbon-worthy American dessert: deconstructed blueberry pie. True to our nature of honing in on every ingredient, this traditional pie’s individual components have been broken down on the plate. But spoon the gels, yogurts, syrups and streusel together into one mouthwatering bite, and you’ll get a pie-pleasing experience worthy of entry at any county fair.
Ready for a taste? The only question left to answer is, which dish will you try first?