Sel: A Winning Recipe for Fine Dining
When asked to describe his restaurant Sel ( the French word for salt), Chef Branden Levine explains that it’s much like its namesake condiment, “It is global, simple and delivers a punch.”
Levine sets the bar high at his eatery in Old Town Scottsdale. He designs a contemporary American menu that changes about every two weeks so that diners will be served dishes based on the freshest seasonal ingredients available at the market.
Although he promises every menu will feature at least one fish, one steak and vegetarian options, anticipate being wowed by new selections. Repeating a dish is highly unlikely since Chef Branden’s strong suit is creating new dishes, mixing unusual yet complimentary flavors and varying their preparation and presentation.
There’s value in ordering the four-course prix fixe menu. You’ll have the opportunity to explore a wide variety of dishes at a reduced price. The cost is $80 per person. A vegetarian prix fixe menu is priced at $65 per person. You may complement your meal with wine pairings for $60.
Diners also have the option to go rogue by ordering à la carte, allowing you to either cut back on courses or select multiples from one or two courses. An assortment of supplement dishes are available for those wanting to stretch their dining pleasure to five or six courses.
Beverages are aplenty. An extensive wine list from all the major domestic and foreign producing regions and over two dozen labels by the glass, you’ll find a complement for every dish. Craft beers and season-inspired artisan cocktails are also available.
If you seek extra ambience and entertainment, ask to be seated at the stone-toped bar. You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the kitchen and be mesmerized by the choreography that goes into preparing the dishes. Or secure a seat on the outdoor patio and watch the world go by. That perch is especially fun on Thursday nights when the neighboring galleries are open until 9 p.m. for ArtWalk.
Chef Branden credits his mother as his greatest inspiration. Mom was employed in the restaurant business so, as a youngster, he would bus tables just to sneak back to the kitchen to watch the chefs prepare food. Levine was hooked – his career path determined.
Levine’s culinary credentials are impressive. After graduating from Johnson & Wales in culinary arts, he traveled the globe securing cooking positions, honing his skills at high-end restaurants in Kenya, Tanzania, Vegas with legendary chefs Charlie Palmer and Jacques Van Staden, D.C. and then his own restaurant, The Tavern, nestled along the Potomac River in the Virginia countryside. Lucky for us, his next stop was Scottsdale.
While serving as executive chef at nearby Cafe Monarch, Levine made a name for himself locally. Appearing on The Food Network’s Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell and Beat Bobby Flay he gained national recognition. Encouragement from his co-owners—wife May and sister-in-law Roselle Mansur — sealed the deal and Sel became a reality, opening in February 2016.
When asked what inspires his menus, Levine confesses that it just comes to him. “I know flavors,” he says, “I know what’s going to complement each other. Even if it’s an ingredient I have only tasted once, I understand the flavor profile and how they’re going to mesh. My strategy is to balance flavors – salty, sweet, sour and bitter.”
Chef Branden credits Valley interior designer Esther Boivin for the ultra cool environment. From the tall chenille banquette to the metallic blue pipes to the salt shakers cleverly wedged between the bathroom wall tiles, Boivin managed to create an elegant, modern and comfortable space. Providing a subdued backdrop — white leather chairs and place settings with soft blues and purples and crystal accents — allows the food to be the main attraction.
At Sel, Levine delivers a skillful approach to refined cuisine that make it work with today’s more casual approach to fine dining.
7044 East Main Street
Old Town Scottsdale