A Major 'Shift': New Downtown restaurant bringing new style to the dining scene
By Gail Collins // September-October 2016 // Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine.
Recently, a friend identified herself as a "foodie". She is among well nourished, burgeoning company. Different from a gourmand, a foodie does not distinguish between elite eating and chasing down a fusion taco truck. Their interests range from indie bistros, novel menus, farmers markets and heirloom products to local sourcing plus much more. Foodies enjoy the thrill of the hunt for new ingredients and value authenticity. They want to learn new techniques and enjoy the challenge. Such rising passions fueled the Food Network, cooking classes, gastronomic travel, gardening and interdisciplinary food studies at more than 30 U.S. universities and colleges. The continuing craze even spawned Foodies! The Musical-a comedy revue on the habits and quirks of the foodie life.
According to Maxwell PR + Engagement, high concentration of the 79 million Millennials (aged 18-35) take the cake, as far as numbers, and self-identify as focused on food. Boomers rank second despite more disposable cash and time. The young and hungry set cuisine culture trends, organize living around food, eat ethnic or global meals routinely, seek artisan over brand products, align with organic or whole food movements and find self expression in fare. Overwhelmingly, the culinary paparazzi share all of it on social media. And in 2014, for the first time, money spent dining out surpassed their grocery budget. Simply put, this particular generation prefers the consumption of experiences, and they utilize food as social capital through exploration and education. Such open-mindedness has created a business opportunity for chefs that did not exist previously.
Enter Shift Kitchen and Bar. Their mission: To SHIFT the mentality of the "normal" dining experience. In the tradition of small plates, the kitchen serves food as it is made with the aim of sharing amongst diners. This new approach, located on San Francisco Street, is the brain child of Dara and Joe Rodger, who possess a few decades of hospitality practice between them. Dara claims "a passion for pastry and a penchant for perfection," and learned alongside Bobby Stuckey an Marc Vetri. Native Arizonan, Joe, has stood beside Jeremy Fox and Aaron London with a local stint at Tinderbox, which brought the couple from Colorado to Flagstaff again.
"Flag won out. The area had more of a need for the concept of an open center with upscale plating," Joe said. "We're ingredient driven and add imagination to create magic on a plate." A premium example is the coconut sorbet popsicle with honey meringue chips and sticks, coconut snow, blood orange gel and panda cotta cubes. The islands call through the rich coconut and tangy citrus droplets, teasing with textures in a light, engaging, barely sweepstakes's, refreshing climatix to a meal. "The garnish is playful, tying in memory in an approachable treat to "shift" people to a new level," Dara explained.
Shift sources locally, rounding up novel surprises with standard foods. The Blue Sky Farms melon trio tantalizes with watermelon cubes, lemon drop honeydew, sugar kiss cantaloupe balls, ribbons of melon flesh and house smoked guanciale (pig cheek) with smoked chèvre crumbles and snipped sorrel. The shop produces a great deal of fermentation and preservation to meet its menu needs. The whole is trickled with Fresno chile for a bit of kick. The result is a delicate, cool garden of complimentary tastes: salty, smokey, creamy, sprightly sweet and crisp.
Sous Chef Emily Shenker is growing the pasta program with skill from San Francisco's Flour + Water Restaurant and Brix. Her latest creation, corn cappelletti-a hat -shaped tortellini filled with creamy cheese and roasted sweet corn-is simple and simply wonderful. Scattered over the fresh pasta are corn, cherry tomatoes and nasturtium petals in a buttery broth for a bright bite.
From the counter seats, diners can engage the kitchen. Questions are welcome, such as: What is bang caudal? OK, that was mine. The dressing of olive oil, garlic, anchovies and chili is served over baby romaine and pecorino. "We enjoy offering diners a further education of food or product presentation," said Joe.
Dara holds a Level 1 Sommelier accreditation as does the barkeep, Connor Barrett. The cocktails are approachable with local beers on tap plus cider. Try wines by the glass with such distant terroir as the South American tanned grape. Overall, the small plates at Shift create less risk and more delight in trying are things. It's a welcoming, evolving, incentive format, especially for foodies.