Matters of Taste: ShiftFLG Kitchen + Bar Encourages Culinary Exploration |

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GAIL G. COLLINS

Behavioral experiments have shown that people who share a meal trust each other more and work together more effectively. An informal survey of 2,000 people in the UK found that those who eat together more often socially, have wider circles of friends and greater life satisfaction. So there you have it, all the excuses you need to meet a friend and share a meal.

ShiftFLG Kitchen + Bar was consciously developed with these goals.

“We focus on hospitality and education in a laid-back atmosphere,” said Dara Wong, owner of Shift. “The idea is to change the mentality of a normal dining experience and try a variety of plates. For two people, we offer five plates.

The smaller portions encourage exploration and the ever-changing menu gives diners a reason to stop by again and again.

“We wanted to change the food scene in Flagstaff from meat and potatoes to a big-city twist,” Wong explained, reiterating the appeal of his neighborhood bistro. “Come in – even if you’re alone – and sit at the bar, watch the action in the open kitchen and enjoy small plates.”

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Shift maintains a local sourcing philosophy with an emphasis on quality. Executive chef Christian Lowe is especially keen to showcase these products, whether it’s Arizona-grown corn for polenta or microgreens. Raised on a farm in Virginia, Lowe holds degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management with world-class experience gained at the Amangiri luxury resort. Plus, she embraces the beauty and native cuisine of Arizona.

Although Shift’s menu fluctuates more than other restaurants, there are some standards, like marinated fries. The potatoes are brined before being fried to obtain flavor without losing their crispness. The breadboard swaps items, such as butter or cheese – currently, lavender butter and whipped Boursin – but remains consistent in character. Olives, smoked over hickory-fed hibachi, accompany the platter.

Menu staples, such as burgers and pasta dishes, alternate flavors with the seasons. The moco loco burger flaunts its Hawaiian roots, awash in sauce, a fried egg and puffed rice. A side of macaroni salad completes the island motif. Two or three types of pasta offer choices ranging from wild boar stew tagliatelle to spinach gnocchi to macaroni and cheese with adult indulgences – cavatappi with melted pepperoni, gorgonzola mornay and cheddar streusel.

For a light finish, consider a refreshing scoop of ice cream or sorbet, such as watermelon with goat cheese and a pea tendril, lovely to see and spoon.

Community is the lifeblood of a small town, and Shift embraces those opportunities. For Valentine’s Day, Shift has partnered with Mother Road Brewery to curate a menu associated with their craft beers. Shift hosts a monthly bake sale every first Saturday. Customers can buy a pastry for half price, and it will be donated to groups like men’s or women’s shelters, hospital divisions or a fire station.

Wong has the passion, and it carries over through his team to the guests. Creating an environment where people want to work is enhanced by good pay and appreciation that extends to life beyond work. General Manager Caitlin Wood, who brings a Midwestern work ethic to Shift to ensure the perfect dining experience, understands this passion.

Wong comes from an entrepreneurial family and earned a business degree from the University of Denver, but hospitality called louder. She needed a way to express herself creatively and pursued her aspirations with a culinary program at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts. This is where her love of baking and wine began. Wong holds a Level 1 Sommelier credential and Shift’s wine list reflects his flair with the bottles, spanning spots in Europe to Australia and neighboring California.

Last September, Wong expanded his empire by buying Vino Loco to serve as a companion business to Shift. The shop caught his eye for its nearby location and push, which can serve as a waiting room for Shift or a wine bar complete with plates from Shift’s kitchen. The rebrand with Shift is coming to personalize the spot as Oeno, a play on the Greek word for wine and short for oenophile, a wine lover. Let’s toast to that!

Although Shift’s reputation attracts both residents and tourists, Wong pays special homage to the former.

“Our success comes from the locals, and we like to build relationships with them, calling them by name. It’s like seeing our family, and that’s where the pride comes in.”

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