Panzon y Frida — A Different Kind of Mexican Restaurant
I was recently invited to a media event to check out the menu offerings at Panzon y Frida, a new Mexican restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale.
We live in a city where Mexican is everywhere, and it tends to run over each other in sameness. So I was interested to see what this new venue had to offer.
When I first arrived, I asked what the menu concept was. When you know what was in the chef’s head and heart, it helps you understand the story they wish to tell with their menu. In this case, the menu is a tribute to the tempestuous relationship of Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. (Panzon was Frida’s nickname for her lover.) The two artists were big entertainers, and the chef created recipes that she imagined might have appeared at one of their soirees. Knowing that helped me to approach the menu, which isn’t your “typical Mexican” with an entirely different perspective.
Here’s a seasonal ceviche garnished with watermelon radishes. When your restaurant pays tribute to two famous artists, it automatically raises the bar. When you’re paying tribute to food these artists might have served, it moves up a couple of notches. That food has to be art in itself. This is something I really enjoyed about this menu; that detail was not lost. Old favorites were there, just “arted up” a bit into beautiful presentations.
This was one of my favorite items, the fish cakes. Embedded in the crust is maguey worms, which are most famous for being added to bottles of mezcal. I was so intrigued by this presentation I spent much of the evening afterward researching edible “bugs” in Mexican cuisine and discovered that further south, where Diego and Frida lived, they’re actually quite common and have been eaten for centuries. So I learned something about food history in the process of trying a new recipe.
This was my favorite presentation, bone marrow with asparagus, mini tortillas, and chimichurri. Bone marrow is a big athlete food, but chefs in that world are far more practical and far less artistic with their presentation. This was refreshing.
My favorite dessert was the popcorn ice cream! I see this is included in their Arizona Restaurant Week menu, so if you’re participating in that with this restaurant as a choice, I highly recommend it. Served with roasted corn, sweet tomatoes, and herbs, it’s a nice blend of sweet and savory. Not too rich, not too salty, just enough of both.
And if you question its place on this menu, remember the premise of this restaurant. Corn and tomatoes are both native to the Americas. Diego and Frida lived long before our obsession with the super sweet and all things chocolate and it makes total sense that they’d pull this together for friends. I didn’t see of my companions complain about this dessert; in fact, they devoured it. It was a nice dance on the taste buds.
Of course, I enjoyed this all over a delicious cocktail, a sage margarita. I think Frida liked it too. A little about this art, it was painted in Mexico. Each board was painted separately, sent to Scottsdale from Mexico, and pieced together as a rustic mural. It’s really fun and helps to pull the concept together.
So many options, but I want to give you a reason to consider making this a stop on your Arizona Restaurant Week tour. Go discover some of them yourself! Throw your expectations of Mexican food away, brush up on the Mexican art scene and Mexican history before you go, and be curious. I think you’ll enjoy it.