WHIZ VISITS RESTAURANT HAPA
His daughter calls him
“The Stinky Cheese Man,” but Maître Fromager Max McCalman
doesn’t seem to mind. His mission is to “spread the curd” about
cheese and combat the bad health rap it’s been given. McCalman, the
cheese whiz at Picholine and Artisanal in NYC, brought his message to
Restaurant Hapa recently, partnering with new owner Margarita Lopez
Walker, Exec Chef James McDevitt, Chef Graham Mitchell, and Chef
Christopher Gross to present a five-course feast.
The sultry Walker
aroused appetites with her
trio of rellenos, followed by McDevitt’s seabass and Gross’s
braised shortribs, before McCalman introduced an array of pungent
European cheeses that, it was agreed, had the room smelling like
‘feet’. Debonair new Hapa GM, David Torkko (formerly of the
and Paola Embry Gross collaborated on the evening’s wine pairings.
McCalman autographed his book, “The Cheese Plate.”
|Sat., May 31:
Margarita Lopez Walker, 26, the owner of Restaurant Hapa, looks
stunning in a sequined top from
and a silk skirt from
at Saturday's Taste of the Nation hunger-awareness benefit.
The beauty of this establishment is that two compelling visions
coexist under the same roof, each amplifying the other. On one
side, in a long, calm dining room anchored by an open kitchen,
chef James McDevitt draws on his Japanese-American heritage to
create Asian-fusion food, weaving greens, vegetables, and such
local produce as pistachios and dates through his dishes.
He can even bring off notions that would scuttle
a lesser chef: A beef tenderloin with a caramelized crust jumps
with the sharpness of Chinese mustard. When miso-marinated sea
bass arrives with fresh soybeans and curried artichoke relish,
the question that comes to mind is not why but why not.
"Hapa" is Hawaiian slang for "half." This
describes the Japanese-American background of chef-owner James
McDevitt, who along with wife Stacey brings us
American classics infused with Asian electricity.
Asian fusion is everywhere these days, with one
local place we know of even mixing French foie gras with Chinese
five-spice how weird is that? But Hapa knows when to exercise
restraint, from its simple, refined decor to dynamite delicacies
such as seared California squab with kabocha squash purée,
Chinese broccoli and Thai basil oil, to New York steak dressed
simply with caramelized Chinese mustard and served with Japanese
sticky rice and Chinese long beans. For dessert? Sweet dim sum
such as chocolate parchment pot stickers, and banana crème
brûlée with toasted coconut. Both have us hapa to
Gourmet, October 2000
America's Best Restaurants 2000
Phoenix - Best Asian
On one side of this stylishly spare hot spot, chef-owner James
McDevitt turns out luxioursly detailed Asian-fusion dishes that
honor his Japnaese-American roots -- from crisped sweetbreads
on garnet-hued ginger sauce to bronzy wood-roasted fish. On the
other, his neo-sushi master, Nobu Fukuda, works with Iron Chef
discipline to create multicourse sushi extravaganzas. Together,
they make Hapa the most exciting place in town.
Zagat restaurant guide:
"Exciting," "interesting" Asian-influenced
Contemporary American fare served on "beautiful" Japanese-style
plates, a minimalist, mirrored dining room and a new sushi bar
and lounge with rattan furniture generate high scores and praise
for James and Stacey McDevitt's "great little" Scottsdale
spot; signature dishes include caramelized Chinese-mustard beef
tenderloin and miso-marinated Chilean sea bass.
Bryan Miller, The New York Times, April 2000
"This two-year-old restaurant is one of the most inventive
and exhilarating in Phoenix, and it is destined to enjoy a wider
Gourmet, April 2000
Restaurant Hapa is more than a culinary
by Alison Cook
Driving the vast expanse of Greater Phoenix can feel interminable
unless you have something to obsess about. I had plenty, having
just sampled the sushi of Nobu Fukuda - "the other Nobu,"
as I quickly came to think of him-who works the new sushi-lounge
adjunct to chef James McDevitt's Restaurant Hapa. Together, they
have turned it into the most compelling place in town.
It was a black January night, and the hotel was 30 miles away
from the restaurant (somehow everything seems to be far apart
here in Phoenix). But strip-mall corridors and Xeriscaped subdivisions
slipped by painlessly as I rehashed the epic tasting menu dreamed
up by Fukuda. By the time I revisited every last thrill - from
Fukuda's Belon oyster, tamed by brief poaching and a jot of soy-tinged
grape-seed oil, to the sumptuous Port-glazed eel layered with
avocado and rice - I had climbed without noticing into a Martian
desertscape of boulder-strewn foothills.
The guy's that good. Credit should go to the baby-faced McDevitt
for being secure enough to install someone of Fukuda's gifts
in the adjacent room. McDevitt can afford his self-confidence.
Two years after opening Hapa (which is Hawaiian slang for half
and alludes to the chefs Japanese-American heritage), McDevitt
plays to mostly full houses.
His notion of Asian-American food is more soulful and unforced
than most of its fusiony ilk. McDevitt's sauces ring with flavors:
Witness the red curry in successive bongs of lemongrass and coconut,
and the red-chile heat, which lift the bowl of skillet-roasted
mussels out of the realm of cliché. He uses thickets of
springy, sparingly dressed Asian greens to surround a crab cake
with a lush green bonnet, for instance; or sets astringent tatsoi
leaves against a raft of crisped sweetbreads on a gingery reduction
the color of garnets.
Not everything of McDevitt's works. Occasionally he falls
into the sweetness vortex, as with a "fiery squid salad"
whose silken squidlets would be better served with more fire
and less fruity papaya and lichee; or his caramelized Chinese-mustard
tenderloin, too caramelized for its own good.
While his plates are gorgeous, they are not show-offy, and
the quiet white table-tops in this long, putty-colored space
are set with the angular Asian dinnerware that all the best-dressed
restaurants feel a need for these days. Plump, perfect morsels
of quail, shrimp, and chicken inhabit a compartmentalized tray
with three sauces - vibrant peanut, hot chile, and red-curried
coconut - looking for all the world like an aesthete's sate kit.
Dramatically scored and burnished to bronze in the wood oven,
a whole pomfret may emerge cooked just enough to take off its
moist bloom. But underneath lies a trove of roasted vegetables,
including a small turnip so irresistibly browned that I ate it
long tail and all.
From such moments comes the happy, muted clamor that animates
what would otherwise be a subdued dining room, all warm sepia
tones and shadows. Its ornamentation is confined to a series
of enormous mirrors framed in bamboo and hung just above eye
level - a height that would trigger narcissistic meltdowns in
New York or Los Angeles. The assembled Scottsdale burghers, young
strivers, and rich snowbirds scarcely seem to notice.
Instead, they have the refreshing spectacle of McDevitt himself,
who is not too grand to be seen working like crazy in the open
kitchen. The staff follows his cue. Determined to oblige, they
will tinker with the nightly four-course tasting menu to indulge
a guest's whim, or dash from the next-door sushi lounge with
wines by the glass from the unpredictable list, chosen for the
tasting menu by resident wine buff Fukuda.
Fukuda's half of the Hapa universe connects to the restaurant
proper through a large rear doorway. The moody, gray-green sushi
domain is basically a ten-seat counter and a cluster of upholstered
rattan chairs. It may take some time for McDevitt and Fukuda
to fully work out the lounge's role; for now it is part bar,
part holding area, part sushi counter, part full-bore restaurant.
On a weeknight Fukuda, clad in faded jeans and white apron, pours
wine for patrons awaiting their reservations and serves a sushi
course or two to stray diners. When they clear out, he holds
one thin-rimmed balloon glass after another up to the lamplight,
trapping errant specks of dust with a soft, white cloth. He has
yet to find a steady audience for the ten-course, seven-wine,
neosushi extravaganzas that are his passion.
Maybe it's the $80 tariff that gives the locals pause, or the
heroic scale of all those courses, or the unfamiliar notion of
pairing sushi with wines. Given time, I'll bet Fukuda wins them
over. He has a sure, vigorous palate, and a grasp of how to pace
a complex, exciting meal. Even when I don't buy into his wine
matches (is Brillecart-Salmon Champagne really suited to slices
of albacore and bigeye tuna, ringed with soy onion salsa?), they
make me think. One course later, the Champagne clicks with Fukuda's
tuna tartare, which is buoyed with cucumber and apple, finished
with pine nuts, and served upon a lacy lotus root.
Fukuda knows when to go for broke. He molds monkfish liver
and avocado into a layered pâté that is unstintingly
soft and rich; then he rims it with shiso-leaf oil, dots on balsamic
vinegar reduced with soy, and crowns it with crunchy, Japanese
mountain-broccoli buds that rescue the dish from over-voluptuousness.
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