Inside Out caprese with burrata, charred cherry tomatoes, crispy basil, balsamic reduction and Parmesan tuile
When Tommy Plato, owner of The Gelato Spot, brainstormed the retro-inspired retreat that would sit directly above his popular Scottsdale sweets shop, he chose a name that reflected both punning playfulness and a generous dose of old-fashioned concept. Looking like a cross between a dimly lit speakeasy and the plush, wood-accented interior of a yacht, Second Story certainly sets the stage for a tall tale, with custom cocktails and elaborately presented dishes offering up enough lore to satisfy the most curious epicurean. But the question remains: Does it live up to all the suspense? Well, listen to this.
The narrative begins with an intimate balcony with seating overlooking Scottsdale Road; a lineup of classic and edgy cocktails; and the sensual pleasures of candlelight, great background music and the kind of upholstery that makes it easy for a guest to not notice the time and end up staying late into the night. Now enters the cast: GM and industry vet Tracey Clough, whiskey whisperer John Christie, and Executive Chef Josh Bracher (formerly of Posh and Capital Grille) and his like-minded crew—a handful of culinary up-and-comers who have worked for some of the city’s most interesting chefs, such as Kevin Binkley, Matt Carter, Josh Hebert and James Porter.
To reinforce Plato’s story motif, the menu is arranged as if it were discrete parts of a play or musical: salads falling in the section labeled intro, appetizers in the prologue, and entrees and other heftier dishes found in the plot and finale. Those who are following along closely will notice that desserts don’t make an appearance. (Spoiler alert...) That’s because Plato’s other venture, Gelato Spot Caffe, boasts a location directly below Second Story, making a post-meal trip downstairs a sweet reward. But let’s not skip ahead to the ending.
With help from his team, Bracher has put together a New American menu that’s outside the box—and promises to become even more avant-garde in time, as the Second Story cast continues to gel. An ahi poke Asian chopped salad brims with cooling ingredients like mango, lotus root chip, enoki mushroom and cilantro. Anointed with honey-ginger vinaigrette, it’s a perfect summer starter. As is the seared Caesar—a bundle of panko-crusted romaine, served with charred cherry tomatoes, Parmesan shavings and a schmear of Caesar dressing.
The Inside Out caprese turns a classic on its head, with deconstructed burrata composed of firm mozzarella, plus a fried basil leaf, charred tomatoes, balsamic reduction and Parmesan tuiles. And cornmeal tempura calamari, served with roasted red bell pepper hummus, greens, fava beans, lemon-herb extra-virgin olive oil and charred bread is busy, but satisfying. The best plot device comes in the shape of a thick, chowder-like bowlful of clams, Spanish chorizo, confit potatoes, baby corn and scallions that derives its subtle bite from kimchee. Next, sesame- and soy-glazed Chilean sea bass, nested on a bed of forbidden rice and spooned with a fragrant mélange of tomato and lemongrass, functions as a modern American hot pot, accompanied by ratatouille, English peas and snow peas. One of the most surprising plotlines is the half Smart chicken (a hormone-free, humanely raised brand), which is accompanied by a mashup of spring (fava beans, fresh mint, fried cilantro) and fall (sweet potato, crispy pancetta, orange-sesame-maple glaze).
And now we come to the cliffhanger. Anyone who’s left wanting more—and possesses a serious sweet tooth—will want to descend the stairs to the Gelato Spot Caffe to take on the nearly impossible task of choosing among dozens of flavors (many seasonal) of gelato and sorbet, such as creme brulee, limoncello, blueberry mascarpone, cheesecake brown butter port, lavender mocha and chocolate-salted pretzel. Selection made, it’s a blissfully sweet resolution to bring this tale of culinary adventures to an end. Here’s to Second Story’s next chapter.
Second Story Liquor Bar
4166 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Hours: Wed., Thu., Sun., 4-11PM;
Appetizers, $10-$20; entrees, $15-$30; happy hour fare, $10-$15; cocktails, $10-$12
What to Wear
Leave the shorts and flip-flops at home, and instead go for business casual.
What to Drink
Anything with whiskey; Christie’s julep is especially good.
Where to Sit
Sit at the bar if you’re a cocktail culturist, or at a table near the back for good people-watching.