When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: The Covenant
Location: 4740 East Shea Boulevard, #104
Open: Less than a month
Eats: Eclectic New American
In hindsight, it seems a little bewildering that there aren't more restaurants like The Covenant in the Paradise Valley area. True, there are plenty of chain dining options scattered around the general vicinity of Shea and Tatum boulevards. But finding a neighborhood restaurant with fine dining airs in this neck of the woods can prove a little more challenging.
Here to fill the void is The Covenant, a swanky new restaurant and bar from local restaurateur Carri Gardner. The restaurant is on the northwestern corner of Shea and Tatum, in a space that formerly housed a shoe store.
With its bright yellow signage, sleek lines, and oversize, garage-door-style windows, the restaurant is sunny, bright, and very modern. And it no longer resembles anything you might confuse for a shoe store.
In the dining room, the central design principle at work seems to be style and comfort. Comfy banquettes, paired with high bistro tables and well-cushioned bar stools, make up most of the seating options. Glittering chandeliers imbue the space with glamour.
In the middle of the dining room, you'll note the impressive, U-shaped bar, which is packed tightly with the restaurant's signature robin's egg blue tufted bar stools. There's an impressive three-tiered shelf suspended over the bar, loaded with sparkling barware, bottles, and the glow of flat-screen TVs.
The overall vibe is that of a buzzy, loud space, and, judging by the very crowded dining room on a recent visit, it seems to be exactly what the neighborhood has been waiting for.
The restaurant's kitchen, which is framed by a striking black-and-white mural, is entirely open, which means some diners sit in the full flicker of the restaurant's 900-degree, wood-fired oven.
Maybe it's the giant oven — or perhaps the simple fact that the restaurant was packed to the gills on a recent Phoenix summer night — but the otherwise comfortable dining room seems to have a tendency to get a little steamy.
The menu, described as eclectic New American, brings together upscale happy hour fare (a charcuterie board featuring locally made sausage seems to be emerging as a house favorite), wood-fired entrees, cocktails, and a pretty deep wine list. According to my server, the restaurant will offer a weekend brunch menu starting September 25.
One of the most interesting starters is an octopus salad, served with pickled veggies, roasted potatoes, and lush, spicy hunks of chorizo. During a recent visit, the octopus was served in thick, tender hunks, deliciously charred around the edges. The richness of the octopus was complemented by the bright, tangy veggies and the spice of the sausage. If you already have a fondness for octopus salad, this one probably won't disappoint.
The entrée menu includes several wood-fired mains, including seasonal fish cooked en papillote, and a half-roasted chicken served with roasted veggies and smashed fingerling potatoes.
The chef's recommendation (which is noted on the menu), however, is a fire-braised short rib served with a mirepoix-inflected farro risotto. The farro risotto, dampened with buttery tomato pan sauce, was heavenly during my recent dinner visit. The short rib itself was very good, although not quite as memorable as the saucy risotto that puddled around the meat on the plate.
How about a veggie- and chorizo-stuffed chile relleno? I was too intrigued not to try it. The dish might not be the most Instagram-friendly plate of food in town, but its flavors more than make up for its slightly disheveled presentation.
The two chiles, roasted to a soft, limp state, are crammed with roasted corn, potatoes, and spicy hunks of chorizo. The peppers are bathed with a deliriously rich corn crema, which is itself dappled with an herb-perfumed cilantro pesto. The dish can be a little messy to eat, but it's too good to resist. You might find yourself inelegantly scraping at your plate, if only to get the scraps of buttery chile and corn into your mouth a little faster.
There is a small dessert menu, including a chocolate panna cotta labeled as a "chef's recommendation" on the menu. How you feel about panna cotta in general will probably determine about how you feel about this panna cotta in particular. At the tail end of my recent dinner, the panna cotta felt a little stiff in my spoon, not as creamy or gelatin-like as you maybe expect from the average panna cotta. But it was rich with the flavor of cocoa, and a few strands of candied orange peel added a beautiful citrus punch to the dish.
While The Covenant doesn't feel poised to break new culinary ground, it does feel ready to become a neighborhood favorite. It offers upscale eats (nothing will probably strike you as budget-friendly about the modest serving sizes) in a part of town that seems hungry for it.
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If you're wondering about its sober-sounding moniker, a restaurant employee told me that it alludes to the restaurant's promise of solid food and friendly ambiance. In that sense, The Covenant seems to be holding true to its name.