An elegant chandelier sparkles above Amaro Italiano Ristorante open kitchen, but it?s rarely the first thing that guests notice. They are too engrossed by Pizza Chef's delicate dance as he flings discs of pizza dough high into the air, careful not to get them caught in the chandelier?s net of crystal beads. The culinary team pull their own mozzarella and top their Neapolitan pizzas with such creative ingredients as shoestring onions, oven-roasted artichoke hearts, and shaved ham. Pizza is hardly their only specialty, however. Their dishes run the gamut from house-made pastas to a bone-in pork chop with a Dijon and mustard glaze. 70 wines complement the complex Italian flavors, as do the artworks on the dining room?s walls and live musicians who have strung their guitars with resonant spaghetti al dente.
Stabilized by a protective layer of sticky rice, raw fish explodes in a shockwave of flavor when exposed to munching mouth-bone agitation. Sushi, cooked fish, and beef entrees frolic along with the creative appetizers, salads, and udon and soba noodles on Ebisu’s menu. Start with garlic soy edamame ($5), Ebisu ribs ($8), or a squid salad ($7) before entangling taste buds in a web of nabeyaki udon noodles with shiitake mushrooms, green onions, eggs, konnyaku, cabbage, fishcake, and shrimp tempura ($12). Main courses include the Ebisu sushi platter, served with seven nigiri sushi rolls, one special roll, and miso soup ($20), and kombu-grilled salmon with miso cream sauce ($17).
At first glance, Yen Sushi and Sake Bar may seem to be closed—the few signs, minimal lighting, and darkened windows allude to a restaurant long out of business. “Even when you park right out front, it's hard to tell if there are any signs of life here," writes Michele Laudig of the Phoenix New Times. "And yet you walk in the door, and it's buzzing.” And though the menu features such Japanese staples as udon and yakisoba, the element most responsible for this buzz is the extensive collection of sushi. Chefs gently roll seaweed and vinegar-tinged rice around spicy tuna, salmon, and mackerel, and artistically place their careful slices on clean white plates. They may impale rolls with skewers or top them with sauces, jalapenos, or mini umbrellas in case it starts raining.
Before their restaurants open, Sakana Sushi & Grill's chefs can often be found at the airport, eagerly awaiting their next shipment of seafood. Huge cuts of tuna and even whole fish, shipped fresh from such locales as South Asia, Fiji, Spain, Ecuador, and New Zealand, are hauled to Sakana's kitchens and prepared in house by its sushi aficionados. At each location, guests will notice a board displaying the night's dinner specials—white tuna tora, red snapper, salmon bomber—that are based on whatever fresh fish the kitchen happens to have. The chefs then transform entire fish into elegant maki, sashimi, or house specials, such as grilled tuna cheek or calamari ceviche. For diners who are less interested in seafood or overly fond of their childhood goldfish, all four Sakana locations offer entrees such as grilled chicken teriyaki, dumplings, and fried chicken or pork cutlet. At the Ahwatukee eatery, guests in need of some thrilling culinary theatrics to complement their meal have the option of teppanyaki dinners. A mash-up of the Japanese words for griddle (teppan) and grilled (yaki), the stateside version of this cooking style gathers hungry customers around a flattop grill, mere feet from the flames, as a chef sears fresh lobster, scallops, steak, and chicken right in front of them.
It's not unusual to find Tammy, owner of Pearl Sushi Lounge & Bomber Bar, standing behind the bar at one of her two restaurant locations, chatting with customers while they sip her signature cocktails and sake bombs. Her crew of bartenders takes their tasks seriously, mixing up martinis infused with soju, sake, fresh fruit juices, and muddled blackberries, or pouring red and white wines straight from the special tap designed to prevent oxidation. Inside the kitchens, the chefs work with equal dedication, whether crafting classic california sushi rolls or the more inventive White Snake roll stuffed with sweet-potato tempura, tamago, asparagus, and cream cheese, and topped with escolar and a spicy peach sauce. Small plates sport crispy calamari sautéed with fresh ginger and garlic while Big Plate meals feature wok-charred beef and teriyaki salmon flanked with miso soup, salad, and steamed edamame.