This restaurant flew under my radar as I researched Phoenix. I found it as I left and made a reservation for when I arrived. Great choice in that regard - just a quick ride from the airport. And the reviews were off the charts.
Anhelo means "desire" or "longing". I read this review that said:
You can tell this young chef has fun. He is slowly settling in, starting to winnow closer toward his culinary identity, and plating food that can be pretty tasty. If he can hone his menu and tighten a few dishes while retaining what makes him different, his free approach may make him a fixture of the downtown dining scene for years to come.
That review was written 2.5 years ago. I tasted exactly the same thing tonight.
One example - the three main dishes were all on yellow purees (pumkin, sweet potato then carrot). When the duck was set down, I thought "Is this the same puree?" While each was done well, it shows a visual narrowness. Even the "monotony" of the same mouth feel over 3 dishes shows a lack of maturity. I get it - you know how to deliver a chewy/firm protein on top of creamy puree. It's not that any one dish is off - but the sequence for a tasting menu isn't right.
A number of dishes were heavy-handed with pepper too - most notably the dumplings and the risotto. I love pepper, but it left a strong lingering flavor on my palate that went too far. I asked the waiter about it to see if it was on purpose or a mistake. He said "Yes, the chef does love pepper." and explained that many of his dishes are more pepper-forward than would be typical.
There were other misses. I only had a fork for the initial yogurt dish as well as the ricotta dumplings. And no silverware at all for the pumpkin risotto. (Stole a fork from the table next to me.) But the waiter was delightful, friendly and welcoming, albeit a little absent. The duck was overcooked and underseasoned...but headed the right direction.
The wines were really good, but needed more explanation. The bottle was not even brought to the table for display - just a glass of wine set down with the name of the wine provided.
Even with all of that, I got my money's worth at this price point. It's solid cooking with well-sourced ingredients. But does taste a bit "under-ripe" for this level. Like you want to say to the chef "You're heading the right direction. You're getting there!"
Given the review from 2.5 years ago saying the same thing, it would be an interesting restaurant to watch, to see if it can progress to the next level in the years to come.
Replying to Steven Smith
What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.