Updated: Feb 6, 2019
Tucked away in the quaint and whimsical Melrose District of Phoenix lies a true culinary gem- Restaurant Progress. Walking up to the restaurant you are greeted by a welcoming aged brick façade with large windows and a small entryway that opens up to an intimate dining room. A well stocked bar beckons your attention to the left, with the open kitchen concept directly behind. From the front of the restaurant you can barely glimpse a rustic and romantic patio setting, with greenery and perfect natural lighting.
After being greeted and seated a few things stuck out- one is the uniqueness of the menu offerings- the menu hosts locally sourced and fresh daily herbs, veggies, and meats. And and how well educated the staff were- the staff were remarkably well versed in descriptions and flavor profiles- on both: drink and food choices. I am a strong believer that the quality of the food can be pre-determined by the knowledge of the staff; the better the staff is trained, the more dedicated and thoughtful the executive chef, which in turn translates to more flavorful, creative, and delicious dishes.
After ordering and receiving our cocktails is when the magic really happened. We started to relax and ease into the atmosphere. The chefs were in the background calling out orders, the clanking of pans, and the hustle begins- knowing our food was being prepared with the utmost attention to detail. The bartender is behind us was mixing up a batch of cocktails for the table next to us. The servers were sweeping table to table ensuring everyone was enjoying their meals and maintaining an understatedly energetic ambiance to the restaurant. Laughter and celebrations could be heard coming from the patio as we sat and enjoyed each other’s company. The setting is absolutely ideal for an intimate date night, or a unique celebratory gathering. Chef TJ Culp has done an amazing job creating a space with enough fluidity to accommodate any and everyone’s culinary preferences.
The First Course:
We ordered the Ahi Tuna Carpaccio which was even more than we could have expected! The server presented a base of an amazing sashimi grade ahi tuna with a miso vinaigrette, sliced serrano peppers, sliced shallots, chives, and cilantro garnished over top. The first bite literally leaves you asking for more. There were so many flavors bursting from each bite- there was the smooth, cool, and soft texture from the tuna, mixed with a nice spicy sweetness of the peppers and the vinaigrette. It was a perfect blend of savory and sweet flavorings, and soft and crunchy textures. It left us craving more and eager for the next dish.
We were delighted to be presented with a Berkshire Pork Belly that had a delicious Austin maple glaze. On the side of the plate was a farrow and kale mix, with brown butter almonds and thyme to garnish. As well, we ordered the Seared Duck Breast which was absolutely beautiful. The plate had a decadent salsify purée on the bottom, with roasted grapes, and topped with a rare seared duck breast, and garnished with a few pieces of locally grown organic kale.
To say we were impressed is an understatement. Initially biting into the Pork Belly, I was nervous- I had confidence in the chef, but know how overpowering the maple can be. But when you get all the elements on the fork, the dish takes you away into a sweet savory heaven. The meat was remarkably tender and the farrow and kale added a nice earthy element to the flavor profile, topped with the crunch from the almonds and this dish was perfect.
The Seared Duck was another genius creation. For those who have tried duck in the past you know to expect a rich dark breast meat, and a lean almost chewy texture. It is also common, since the duck does not store much fat in the breast for it to dry out very easily when cooked. This could not be further from the case at Restaurant Progress. The chefs masterfully combined creamy and tender textures with bright pops of flavor from the grapes and sherry honey jus. The kale helped to add an earthy bitterness to balance out to fruity sweetness. Duck is usually a dish I am weary of due to it’s need for such meticulous techniques in preparation, but I took a chance per our server’s recommendation was not disappointed in the slightest. It was the highlight to the meal.
To round out the evening, I always like to indulge in dessert... I have a huge sweet tooth and prefer to order a few options if available, but you know- sometimes you feel like following your diet; kind of. This evening in particular we ordered the Carrot Cake. I love a good Carrot Cake- when executed properly you can anticipate an incredibly sweet, messy, and textured dessert that is bursting with flavor. Restaurant Progress’s was no exception. Imagine the most decadent melt-in-your-mouth cake plated over an incredible spiced butter rum sauce, that was perfectly balanced with the cream cheese whipped cream frosting. It was a delightful balance of savory and earthy flavors, with the sweet tartness of the cream cheese, and the texture of the carrot and pecans added the perfect “crunch.” It was by far one of my favorite desserts found in the greater Phoenix area to date.
As a conclusion to the masterminded genius of Restaurant Progress, one is left in complete wonder that a concept like this hasn’t existed in Phoenix before. Restaurant Progress embodies everything that a restaurant should- it is warm and inviting, it is sophisticated yet without a shred of snobbery, and offers a unique and stimulating array of flavors in each and every dish. The staff is small- which means they all must work together in perfect harmony to ensure all steps of service are being delivered and the restaurant flows smoothly- they were flawless.
If you have yet to experience the culinary delight of this establishment, check out their Instagram! Chef Culp and his staff deserve the utmost praise in the conception, development, and execution of his establishment. Keep doing what you are doing Progress!