Situated on the up and coming food corridor, Camelback Road, Tarbell’s is a quaint little restaurant in an unassuming strip mall. According to the website, prior to opening the restaurant, Chef Mark Tarbell studied in Paris at the l'Academie du Vin and earned a Grande Diplôme d'Etude Culinaire from Ecole du Cuisine La Varenne. Between this restaurant and his other (The Oven in Denver, Colorado) he has earned more than 50 city and industry awards, including a "Best Restaurant" from Food and Wine magazine and a nomination as "Best Chef - Southwest" by the James Beard Foundation. In fact, he was the only winning competitor on the 5th season of “Iron Chef America” beating Cat Cora in Battle: Apple.
I had been to this restaurant last May and had a very disappointing meal. Even my friend who took me (a dedicated patron) agreed it was subpar. She convinced me to give it another try and off we went. We arrived in the dining room, which is split into a casual bar area on the left and a more elegant dining room to the right. We elected the dining room and were immediately taken to our table. We had asked for a 6:30 reservation but were told that only 6:00 was available. By 7:00, there were still several available tables. Interesting…
The dining room was nice and well decorated. The only complaint would be with the table spacing (or lack thereof). The tables were so close together that our neighbor almost knocked a martini off our table while sitting at hers. The first “course” to arrive was the bread dish with olive oil. Not flavored olive oil or olive oil with herbs. Just olive oil. Kind of bland. The bread, however, was delicious with a nice crispy crust.
We started with one of the salads – Tarbell's Field Greens [Maya's greens, pickled carrot, fennel, toasted pumpkin seeds and apple-pumpkin dressing]. The portion size was very generous and the dressing was quite delicious. The busboy was a little overzealous as he tried to clear it before we were actually finished. Hint: If there’s still food on a plate, ask the diner if he or she is done.
We started with a new item that had just been added to the menu – Oysters, baked in shell and topped with a crispy prosciutto and a creamy beurre blanc. They were very good – well cooked and seasoned. The sauce overpowered the oysters a bit, however.
For the main course, we had their fish of the day (creatively named “Mr. Fish of the Moment”). Today’s selection was a pan-fried Lemon Sole with Parisiene Potatoes, Celery Root and a delicious butter sauce. I have to say that they did a typically bland white fish justice. It was juicy and flaky and absolutely delicious. We also had the Pan-Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops with herbed potato, wild mushrooms and saffron. They asked how we wanted the scallops cooked and we left it up to the chef’s discretion. This turned out to be an excellent decision as they were cooked perfectly. It is very easy to overcook seafood and scallops especially can turn into rubber very quickly. The seasoning was perfect as well. My companion said they used to come with a risotto, which would have been preferable, but the potatoes were a great accompaniment. The only complaint was the saffron sauce. It was so heavy with vinegar that it overpowered everything else on the plate. The only way I knew it was saffron was by the yellow color. We avoided the sauce and enjoyed the dish.
Like with any restaurant, there are a few very minor issues. But this meal was heads and tails better than the previous one. I am going to give them the benefit that that was the exception and this was the rule. The server was very friendly and attentive and couldn't have been nicer.
3213 E Camelback Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85018
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