In the not-too-distant past, being seated near a restaurant’s kitchen was akin to wearing a scarlet letter. “Ignore us,” was the unspoken message the front-of-the-house staff received from diners parked near the swooshing doors. Then came the rise of the glass-enclosed exhibition kitchen, where chefs could be seen scurrying around the fishbowl. Some restaurants removed the glass, offering diners the chance to hear the kitchen chatter, while others planted chef’s tables inside the kitchen. Uncomfortably intimate, the weird balancing act between formality and informality left guests wondering why they donned $1,400 Ferragamos to walk on no-slip commercial tile.
Match, the restaurant taking up half of the new FOUND:RE Hotel’s ground floor, offers a truly happy medium: counter tables fronting an open kitchen. So we jumped when given the chance to try the “chef’s experience.”
As it turns out, the payoff was retribution. From the moment my husband and I were seated, chefs paraded by, ensuring three times that we had no food allergies or dietary restrictions before asking which of the menu items sounded most appealing. Typically, we were told, the seven-course tasting menu (five courses for $165 or seven courses for $195 per person with wine pairings) is at the chef’s discretion, but we instantly got the feeling they were more concerned with accommodation than alienation.
I began scribbling notes and such on the menu. First order of business was to decipher the theme, since the subtly industrial decor offered no clues. Like a scene out of The Da Vinci Code, “Filipino,” “Jamaican,” “Guatemalan,” “Indian” and “Korean” drew my eye. Ah! Globally inspired comfort food. Sous-Chef Tim Salgado confirmed my assumption and added that everything was “viewed through the lens of Arizona”—meaning more than 70 local vendors were represented, including Mediterra Bakehouse and Crow’s Dairy. Later, Executive Chef Akos Szabo, who began his career at The Phoenician, confirmed it was he who insisted locality take priority. But even the ingredients used and the talented kitchen team—most of whom had worked together previously—took a backseat to one special lady: Isabella. Large and in charge, the flames from this eponymous bright-red wood-fired oven lick 80 percent of the menu.
Before we could ask about the intriguing art that pervades the lobby, a bowl of lobster bisque emerged with a primary ingredient from Isabella’s belly: roasted cremini mushrooms. Though the fungi might typically do no more than garnish, here it shared the velvety stage, providing a tawny, earthy pool for heavenly mascarpone gnocchi pillows and Maine lobster bites.
A spicy green papaya salad reminiscent of a delicious dish I once enjoyed in Bangkok arrived next with meaty Korean barbecued ribs that previously bathed in a pear, kiwi, garlic and gochujang marinade.
Next, a plate of grilled green beans mixed with crispy pork belly crumbles and fried onions arrived. Chewy, crunchy and well-seasoned, the dish was a winner. But the real adventure began once the Latin American “pierogi” arrived with an in-depth description of all its components. Its base comprised a homemade pupusa stuffed with tender duck and foie gras, topped with a riotous helping of curtido (a tart, neon Central American relish made of cabbage and pickled beets), shaved lettuce and a heavy dusting of cotija cheese.
The savory coctel de camaron from Szabo’s family recipe followed, making us feel like the traditional shrimp with cocktail sauce we have swallowed over the years were insults. The Moroccan lamb meatballs yielded a similar reaction: If this is what lamb is supposed to taste like, what the heck have we been eating all along?
Interestingly, the kiwi-lime caipirinha of the day paired well with every bite around the globe, but we bid it farewell just before Pastry Chef Audrey Enriquez stopped over with two of the loveliest desserts in the Valley. We were hard-pressed to pick a favorite between the Peruvian posset, comprising spongy fritters and crunchy meringue sticks frolicking in a Key lime lagoon, and the Oaxacan Wreckage, a thoughtfully composed plate with almond-rum cake, molé mousse, crumbled smoked almonds and caramelized cocoa nibs suspended in brittle.
Looking back, it is entirely embarrassing to admit just how much we consumed that night. But sitting at the edge of that kitchen, chatting with everyone and learning so much about the history behind each recipe, anyone could just as easily fall victim to experimentation excess. After all, indulgence is encouraged among friends.
MATCH CUISINE & COCKTAILS
1100 N. Central Ave., Phoenix 602.875.8080
Lunch: Daily, 11am-3:30pm Dinner: Daily, 5-11pm
Cocktails, $9-$13; salads and pizzas, $6-$10; share plates and sides, $4-$18; entrees, $16-$24; desserts, $10