Ambitious downtown Phoenix restaurant plan on the front burner

[Source: Howard Seftel, Arizona Republic] — At a time when the recession is taking a toll on Valley restaurants, a hugely ambitious dining project is coming to downtown Phoenix.  An acclaimed Scottsdale chef and his partners have finalized a deal for a five-restaurant complex.  Bernie Kantak, who for a decade has kept Cowboy Ciao in the foodie spotlight, will house his one-of-a-kind restaurants at 246 S. First St., on the northwestern corner of Jackson Street.  Why downtown?  He’s attracted by lower rents — about half of what he would pay in Old Town Scottsdale, Kantak says — as well as the belief that the area is poised to flourish when the economy turns around.

For more than two decades, Phoenix has been trying to get real nightlife in the heart of the city, and a critical restaurant mass may finally be developing.  Kantak joins two other high-profile chefs who have recently located downtown. Wade Moises left Sassi, a high-end Scottsdale Italian restaurant, to open the Pasta Bar, and Matt Carter (Zinc Bistro, the Mission), is widening his scope with Nine05, a modern Asian restaurant, and Canteen, a gastropub.

Kantak and his partners, whose restaurants target a variety of tastes and budgets, are aiming to open all their doors by the end of the year.  Here’s the line-up for Jackson Street:

  1. It will be a less-pricey version of Cowboy Ciao, showcasing eclectic fare with a Southwestern accent.
  2. Set up in a separate bar area inside Restaurant 1, this down-home spot will offer Southern-comfort fare like barbecue and fried chicken.
  3. Look for an a la carte menu focusing on higher-end beef and seafood at this Italian steakhouse.
  4. Kantak says this rooftop patio will provide a stunning view of downtown Phoenix.  Meanwhile, the vibe will be Latin American, with the spotlight on cocktails, ceviche and tapas.
  5. This basement wine bar, hewed out of river rock, will concentrate on nibbles and drinks. You can expect to enter via a sort of “secret” passageway, perhaps a phony phone booth.

After a spate of closings, it’s refreshing to see such an ambitious project for downtown.  The casualty list includes some of the liveliest, most established independent venues whose demise is shocking dining experts.  Since the end of the year, at least 50 Valley restaurants — and counting –have closed.  Among recent downtown closings were Palatte, Café Labella, Fate, and Sweet Pea Bakery.  On the other hand, several more restaurants have opened downtown, including Vinery Two Fourteen, 214 W. Roosevelt St.; Hanny’s, 40 N. First St.; and Pasta Bar, Sens Asian Tapas and Sake Bar and Turf Restaurant, all in the same building at 705 N. First St.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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