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Restaurant of the Week: Sel

If you are looking for a unique, inventive, four-star dining experience in Scottsdale, then it doesn’t get much better than Sel.

For over three years, Chef Braden Levine’s signature restaurant in Old Town has delivered an unparalleled culinary treat for those who love fine cuisine and looking for a different kind of upscale restaurant. Levine is a renowned culinary master, with over 25 years of experience and numerous television appearances, and Sel is his labor of love. As a foodie, to watch Levine work is a thing of beauty, as the level of passion and meticulous care he puts into each dish is — like the insane amount of oversight he has over his intimate kitchen — nothing short of spectacular. 

Levine’s culinary career in Arizona began with what he would help to become our gold standard of fine dining, Cafe Monarch, and the myriad contributions from his tenure there as Executive Chef can still be felt when you visit today. But Levine (who runs Sel alongside with his charming wife May) left to forge his own thing, something funky and eclectic where Monarch was stately and reserved. With its white walls, modern art, and downtempo house music, Sel is as evocative of Levine’s native Florida as Cafe Monarch is of the Old World.

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The one constant in both restaurants is the four-course prix fixe menu. At Sel, you choose from a series of options for each course for $90 (there is a vegetarian option for $80). Dessert is optional, but recommended (in another near-unprecedented feat, Levine is also quite a master in this realm as well). And while the menu constantly evolves, one thing is for certain: you are almost guaranteed to be taken on a journey with each bite.

Each dish that Levine serves up at Sel bursts with raw flavor and originality. He sources nothing but the freshest and rarest ingredients from the finest purveyors he can find, and what he does with them in the kitchen is nothing short of magical. You will find yourself stopping after each introductory bite and taking a moment to process the sensory jolt you’ve just induced.

The latest menu included such delectable creations as BBQ Quail with sous vid heirloom tomato and smoked leek puree; Beef Tenderloin Tartare with duck fat confit crispy sunchokes; Seared Chilean Sea Bass with miso glaze and Vietnamese pho broth; and a mouthwatering Grilled Gold Canyon Ranch Prime Filet Mignon with Swiss chard-white truffle gratin, crispy potato fritter, black trumpet mushroom, and bordelaise.

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If you are feeling really extravagant, they also offer additions like caviar, seared Hudson Valley foie gras, and certified Japanese Kagoshima A5 Wagyu. All are spectacular. One supplement I would argue is essential is the Roasted Blue Point Oysters. Served with fontina creamed spinach, chili-uni butter, and warm mignonette, they might be the finest interpretation of Oysters Rockefeller I have ever tasted.

It’s hard to articulate just how impressive all these dishes are. From presentation to inventiveness to sheer flavor, each of Levine’s creations is destined to impress. You also get the feeling that while quality is certainly uniform at Sel, no two dishes are the same. You are in for a unique journey each time you visit.

Now, if you are not quite in the mood for a four or five-course dinner, you can also order à la carte. So if you and your date want some version of the Sel experience but wish to save a little time and money, you can split a fillet or Levine’s unparalleled Strawberry Shortcake dessert (a must for any visit). And given the wonderful cocktail menu and hip atmosphere, Sel is also a tremendous option to simply grab an upscale drink at the bar. (They have also begun serving a Sunday Brunch, perfect for gourmands who long for a better brunch alternative or anyone who just wants to experience what a Branden Levine burger tastes like.)

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The wine selection at Sel is also just as eclectic and excellent as you might expect. The optional $70 wine pairing is hard to turn down, as each glass exquisitely compliments the fine culinary creations on display. New resident sommelier Hoke (whose vast knowledge and genteel demeanor local oenophiles may remember from Virtu) is also adept and finding unique glasses from across the globe to elevate one’s evening.

Bottom line: If you want a first-rate fine dining experience in Arizona that is also independent, impressive, and innovative, it doesn’t get much better than Sel.

For more information about Sel restaurant in Scottsdale, visit selrestaurant.com.

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