GO SUSHI finds niche in Flagstaff

Northern AZ’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

When it comes to drama, it’s better on the stage than in the kitchen. Just ask Charlie Chortabtim, who has worked in television and under a Michelin-starred chef. As executive chef for Hyatt, he ran culinary teams and suffered under the tyranny of secretive chefs, but it all brought him to Flagstaff for a bit of fun and artistic innovation.

“I’m focused on food,” said Chortabtim, describing his vision for Go Sushi, located in the Sherwood Forest Shopping Center on Milton Avenue. “Every dish has to ‘wow.’ If it’s a California roll, it has to be the best in Arizona. This inspires me!” His eyes flashed as he leapt from his chair, telling a story of a couple who confessed to paying $500 for sushi in Las Vegas yet confirmed that Go Sushi was better. “I’m honored.”

Partnered with Apple Krathinthong, the Asian eatery stole onto the scene last April. Both restauranteurs had previously worked at Pato Thai, where they garnered an understanding of the local palate. For several months, the partners readied Go Sushi, engaging customers with previews, tastings and menu play.

The ambience also ramped up as Chortabtim cut metal sheets for the ceiling and strung lights for a Zen garden feel. The irregular bar is polished to highlight the grain, and behind it, shelving and iron art create bento box intrigue. Cheap décor or found objects, like a bird cage, mix with higher end lighting to reflect an inimitable charm.

The last effort was building a team of five line chefs. Chortabtim said he prefers newbies with a passion to learn, “You don’t bend bamboo.  Previous experience just gets in the way.”

“I’m tough,” he admitted. “It’s serious training and rough at the start, but I’m proud of their progress. In a year, they have trained from zero to difficult skills.”

As if on cue, Chef Shawn Hongeva produced a mountainous sushi roll, dubbed Indiana Jones. The colossal mass is built on wrapped big-eye tuna and premium grade salmon, crab, avocado and cucumber with pango scallops, resembling boulders that could tumble down as in the movie. Strewn with the house sauce—a scratch sriracha mayo—and tobiko eggs (flying fish roe), the plate presents a delicious spectacle.

“I’ve learned a certain kind of finesse and flow,” Hongeva said of his sushi instruction, “fine-tuning technical aspects to be efficient.”

Quality matters, and ingredients are flown in or Krathinthong heads to Phoenix in pursuit of the best. The red curry is a creamy, fragrant example of the drive for authentic elements.  The classic dish of coconut milk, lemongrass, shaved chicken, slip-thin carrots and green beans is Thailand in a bowl.

Chortabtim takes the time to be artistic, a trait he learned while apprenticing under Suzuki Jin. The Michelin-starred chef has been described as intense in his training and traditions, slicing a daikon radish so thin one could read through it. Exposure to a “Korean kid, who was modern in his skills,” Chortabtim explained his niche style as combination of their strengths.

When Chortabtim is focused on food, innovation can strike anywhere—even the shower. That explains a fusion roll called Titanic. The crowd-pleaser is nearly crowd-sized on an enormous boat-shaped plate. Rich with crab, spicy tuna, eel, cream cheese and avocado, the whole is wrapped in a tortilla and deep fried with a drizzle of house sauce. Or try the Aribiki Izakay, featuring imported, Japanese sausages nestled in sautéed onions and shitake with melted mozzarella cheese and a tangy sauce.

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Butterfly Burger: An elevated experience from Chef Lisa Dahl

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, February 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

The humble burger appeal lies in its affordability, portability and customizable form. But who created the hefty handhold? Some believe a meatball stand owner flattened his product and served it between bread slices, while others think the concept is owed to a hotdog substitution in Hamburg, New York. Still, Texans believe it evolved from a breakfast patty with glazed onions sandwiched between French toast. Regardless, these ideas helped build a $129-billion industry and the best burger.

Lisa Dahl’s posh Butterfly Burger in Sedona is the latest comer to a hungry market.  A sleek, marble bar with amber lighting and rose-gold mirror present a lux lounge billing more than 40 bourbons and spirits, accessible via the rolling library ladder. Exotic faux alligator booths add classy contrast to rough-hewn planks of mushroom wood, cobblestones and bold, butterfly imagery.

Of the couture lounge, Dahl said, “The popularity of a burger made well and elevated experience isn’t for the masses—it’s indulgent and sublime with a top shelf cocktail and jazz setting the stage for a sultry experience.”

Dahl is a successful stalwart of the Red Rock culinary scene. Her 20-year career began with Dahl & DiLuca Ristorante Italiano—still drawing national attention—adding Cucina Rustica, Pisa Lisa, Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill, and in September, Butterfly Burger, becoming the area’s largest restaurant group. The James Beard House featured chef is self-taught, claiming Top Chef in Arizona at the 2018 Foodist Awards. Recently named in the Best Chefs of America Hall of Fame Award by National Elite, Dahl gathered wide attention grilling against Bobby Flay on the Food Network and appearing on Travel Channel’s Food Paradise.

Hailing from the Midwest, where the family vied to barbecue the best burger on a Sunday, Dahl still tests her skills. She entered the Scottsdale Burger Battle with a Latin version of the American model to win the People’s Choice award in 2016, and in 2017, she earned 2nd Runner Up.

When it comes to the title of Burger Master, Dahl said, “I take it about as seriously as a heart attack.” In 2018, she netted the Judges’ Choice with a funky, mushroom-rich entry. The logistics and prep of the contest are difficult, and she was thrilled to, “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” in her wins.

Dahl believes flavorful, well-made burgers are worthwhile. This is evident in 8-ounce patties served medium rare, though marinating and further prep delivers moistness even when well done. The burgers are cooked over wood, an active challenge that sears a patty perfectly. A higher consciousness for meat in feed and humane treatment also matter to Dahl.

Butterfly’s menu boasts a dozen signature burgers with whimsical titles. The art is in the layering of ingredients. The Butterfly Burger begs a bite with Manchego, all-natural pepper bacon, guacamole and chipotle aioli on an artisan bun. The Oui Oui Monsieur is a patty melt, smothered in charred onions, Gruyere and Dijonnaise sauce on grilled caraway rye, served with a side of onion jus.

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