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98 South is Back

We went to downtown Chandler for lunch today and saw that 98South was open so in we went just before noon. We were told by the GM, Adam, that we were the first official lunchtime customers as they had their soft opening for a week or so but only for dinner.
The place has a new coat of paint, new pictures on the wall, and the heavy drapery separating the front of the house from the back bar area has been removed. The idea, according to Adam, is to have a more open environment that focuses on food rather than bar-heavy revenue that was the focus of the past incarnation.

I had a BLT w/provolone and fried egg on rustic bread (Simply Bread) that was really tasty. Crisp, applewood bacon, flavorful tomato, and well cooked, over-med egg with all its gooey goodness. It came with a choice of sides (frites, salad, or green beans and potato salad). I misread the menu and thought I was ordering a side of green beans but got a surprisingly good green bean/potato salad side. The salad was lightly spiced with dill and poppy seeds and the sauce, which can be overly mayo-laden, was creamy and had a nice acidity lift.

Lill had a Panzanella salad that was a generous portion of mixed greens, bread cubes, roasted tomatos, and slices of parmegiano. She really loved it.

With two iced teas our bill came to $22 pre-tip.

The dinner menu, wine list, and cocktail list were enticing enough for us to make a res for Sat night. I'm especially happy to see a cocktail list that focuses on herbal, bitter drinks rather than overly sweet fruity concoctions.

The chef is Brian Ferguson. We were told by Adam that the chef's philosophy is to get very good, mostly local, ingredients and let the food speak for itself in a minimalist intervention sort of way. We think he succeeded along that line with the lunch we had today and we're looking forward to dinner this weekend.

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  1. Thanks for the review, Bill. Any word on 56 East?

    3 Replies
    1. re: themis

      I work in the same plaza as 56 East. No one has signed on the space yet.

      Thanks for the review, Bill. We weren't fans of the old 98 South but would like to try the new incarnation. Sounds promising.

      1. re: ziggylu

        ziggy, we really liked the old 98South early on but the food went down hill rapidly to the point that we swore it off, even just to go for a drink. Lets hope this place can maintain quality and bring in a good crowd.

        btw, the new owners of 98South have no affiliation (as far as I know) with the previous ownership team that held 56E and ZiKake.

        1. re: BillB656

          Completely agree with your comments on the previous incarnation of 98 South. It's a nice space and a great location so hopefully the new owners can pull it off.

    2. Thanks for the report, can't wait to try it, maybe after the farmer's market on Thursday...

      1. So we went back for dinner on Saturday night to celebrate our anniversary and were thrilled with the entire experience. From staff, to cocktails, to food, to music, to lighting, everything was really well done.

        Let's start at the beginning. Cocktails! We're big fans of old-school cocktails (fresh fruit, no pre-mix add-ins, bitters, etc.) and the variants at 98South were very tasty. I can't remember the names of the drinks but I had negroni-like mixture that was mostly gin with smaller percentages of sweet vermouth and Campari than a negroni would have. It was well balanced (and quite large!) and a nice start. Lill had a Sidecar-blend (brandy, lemon juice, cointreau) with a dash of bitters that she loved.

        For an app we shared the "French Picnic" plate of dried sausage, cheese, olives, cornichons, Dijon mustard, bread. Nothing too imaginative here but the ingredients were very good, they were presented nicely, and they were a nice pair with the drinks.

        For entrees, Lill had the duck breast with sour cherry sauce on a celery root puree. It was cooked more towards med-well than medium but the skin was wonderfully crisp, the meat quite moist, and the sauce was killer.

        I had the smoky pork chop w/fingerling potato (white and red). Both entrees came with crisp-tender green beans. Again, my pork was a hair over medium but no worries as it was flavorful and moist. Plating was clean and enticing.

        Adam hooked us up with a bottle of Jezebel Pinot (~$32) that paired nicely with both dishes and with the subsequent cheese course. It had a nice whiff of cow farm (we are in Chandler after all!) and earth, light pinot cherry flavors, a hint of bitters, and a nice acidic core. Not overly complex but a very nice match. Overall, the wine list is moderately priced (I think it tops out at $80 for a Jordan cab) and varied (from a variety perspective) but is more US-centric than I'd like to see. That said, I'm looking forward to try more of Adam's pairings as he was spot-on with this one.

        Cheese! Nothing like a pre-dessert plate of good quality cheese. Here we were treated with an array of perfectly ripe Brillat-Savarin, a crusted goat (can't recall the name) which had a nice tart farminess, Mimolette, and a tangy Bleu d'Auvergne. It came with some fennel-laced lavosh, green and red grapes, and some brandied raisins and nuts. We were quite content at that point.

        Our waitress, Beverly, brought us out palate cleansers of watermelon basil granita that was so clean and herbal. Nice touch!

        She then brought us a coffee and a dessert to celebrate our anniversary, a Bananas Fosters-type dish that was really a nice capper to the night.

        During the course of the night, one of the owners, Dave, stopped by to chat for a while. Nice guy and lives locally (which I really appreciate). Chef Brian dropped in to say Hi as well, emphasizing his philosophy of trying hard not to mess up quality ingredients.

        The music was a jazz trio playing standards at just high enough of a volume so as not to be distractive. We were seated in the middle of the room and the sound level was just right. I want to note the lighting as well that was pleasantly dim but far from dark with a candle on each table. I really like the fact that there wasn't those little hanging spot lights over each table that I'm finding so prevalent (and distractive).

        I also respect how the staff paced our meal. Some guests came in and were obviously there for a quick bite. They were served rapidly, turning over the tables pretty quickly. We were in no hurry at all and the staff sensed that right off. We ended up staying about ~3hrs and our service was leisurely without any gaps at all.

        We'll be going back...and soon.

        Disclaimer: The dessert was comp'd.

        2 Replies
        1. re: BillB656

          Thanks for the updated post. I'd like to get over and try this soon. We actually talked about going Friday night but didnt' want to drive anywhere and the wind was just strong enough to convince me I didn't want to ride my bike over so we walked over to Pita Jungle instead.

          Am going to try and get over there this week. Do they have music every night? Was there much fish and seafood on the dinner menu?

          1. re: ziggylu

            I'm not sure if they have music every night or not, ziggy.

            Chef Brian told us that he would love to have the restaurant be known for its seafood!Being from Boston, I tend to just skip over the seafood selections at most restaurants until I have them gauged a bit more. But given his intensity in stressing fresh ingredients we'll probably try seafood next time out. I recall a diver scallop app, and butterfish and halibut (I think) for entrees. There was likely 1 or 2 more seafood dishes but I just can't recall what they were.

        2. I wanted to pick up some tomatoes at the farmers market last night so we decided we'd go ahead and try 98 South while we right there.

          We didn't want a really big heavy meal so didn't get very deep into the menu. We ordered the diver scallop starter and the watermelon and calarmari starter. The scallops were perfectly seared and served with a vanilla infused cream corn. There was nothign wrong with the preparation but I found the vanilla corn combination to be a bit heavy for the scallops. Just a personal taste thing really. The calamari dish was very refreshing. Marinated calamari served with watermelon and jicama that had been dressed in some lime and chili oil.

          We didn't pick a very exciting entree deciding to split the vegetable platter. This was a combination of spring veggies: green beans, fingerlings, beets, summer squash, baby carrots and some oyster mushrooms. Steamed and tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. It was a bit unimaginative though I appreciate that the chef was trying to highlight some locally grown produce and all the items were well prepared and had nice natural flavor. The two ribbons of summer squash in the center of the plate were kind of sad looking. Two single mandolin cut slices of squash? Really? Vegetables are cheap. You aren't selling a lot of veggie plates anyhow. A few more ribbons of squash wouldn't be a bad idea, won't cost you more than a few pennies more, and would give you enough volume to be able to plate them in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion.

          We had the sorbet/gelato combo to finish. Four small boules of chocolate gelato, keylime and graham cracker gelato, blackberry cabernet sorbet and blood orange sorbet. The blood orange was my favorite. Very refreshing. Not made in house but all were still tasty.

          I was very disappointed when I asked for an espresso to finish with that they do not have a machine and don't offer espresso.

          The space is nice. Last night featured a female vocalist with a very lovely voice. We very much enjoyed listening to her over dinner. The lighting seemed a bit dim to me and in fact at one point someone complained and all of the sudden the room lit up. Now too bright, there was several minutes of fidgeting with the lighting while they tried to figure out an appropriate level. All part of workign out the kinks.

          We'll go back and try more of the menu. It was $57 for our dinner, including my glass of wine. I did think the entree price points were a bit high for the location with several entrees pushing past the $25 mark. I was pleasantly surprised that the seafood entrees however were around the $20 mark which seems like a good value if they are well prepared.

          I don't see us stopping in often for a full blown dinner but all the starters were appealing to us and if the entertainment is of the quality it was last night this would be a great place to stop in for a light meal and listen to some music. Of course, that's the old 98 South formula and they're trying to get away from that. We weren't customers of the old establishment yet we see this new place fitting the same mold so I wonder if they're going to struggle with customer expectations. (I actually didn't mind the old format - it was everythign else about the old place I didn't like however LOL) It's going to be interesting to see how things develop and change.

          3 Replies
          1. re: ziggylu

            Thanks for the report. Good to know the starters look interesting, that's probably the route I'll go too, light meal and wine. Sorry proprietors, it's not just you, that's how I usually eat out

            Incidentally, any good tomatoes yet at the Chandler farmer's market? McClendon's have been blah the last few weeks, then again it might be me- the hotter it gets, the more my tomato expectations rise

            1. re: yamalam

              I"ve been getting them from One Windmill both downtown and in Chandler. The last couple weeks have been really good. Thursday night we got there really late, around 6:55 so they were wrapping up and were pretty picked over. Not quite as nice but better than the grocery stores of course.

              I did pick up some of those Black Russians along with a couple other heirloom varieties from Seacat at the downtown market this AM. Was socially obligated tonight but am looking forward to trying them tomorrow.

              Also picked the first Sweet 100 out of my yard today. Looking forward to a home harvest in the coming days!

              Back on topic: Something to keep in mind, the starter list at 98 South is VERY seafood heavy. I don't mind this because I love seafood. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many options but non seafood eaters might find the selections frustrating(not true in the case of the entree selection which was nicely balanced across red meat, poultry, seafood and vegetarian). On the starter list, everything was a seafood option except the two salads offered(the caesar is offered with white anchovies but I don't really consider a caesar salad a seafood offering). There is also a cheese plate offered.

            2. re: ziggylu

              thanks for the review, ziggy. I hadn't even noticed how heavy the app menu is on seafood and like your idea about going for starters (and drinks). Too bad about that veg entree, I was tempted by the menu description.

            3. We went back in for another dinner on Saturday. The menu has changed slightly (fewer seafood entree options, different martini menu, wine flights added) based mostly on available ingredients.

              The martini menu shifted to more fruit-based blends for the summer heat vs. the more herbal/bitter focus of last time (which we really loved). Adam, the GM, told us of his plans to construct a deep martini menu with a solid core of old-school cocktails and innovative mixes. He tried out a new one on us that has a mango-vodka base and it was deliciously complex , dry (plenty of fruit flavor but no overt fruit sweetness) and refreshing. I'm looking forward to see the direction this approach takes.

              Back to the food. We started with the diver scallops w/vanilla-infused creamed corn and truffled micro-greens. I liked the balance and have made creamed corn and scallops at home numerous times. The scallops were nicely seared, moist, and tender as ziggy pointed out.

              Lill had the cappellini w/ sausage which she really enjoyed. The sausage was really sweet and the veg (tomato, greens, peppers) were chunky, crisp-tender, and tasty. The onions could have been caramelized more though but overall the dish was a hit and a bargin at $13

              I had the bone-in filet on truffled mashed w/heirloom carrots. Again, the meat was a 1/2 step over the requested temp (I have to learn to ask for 1/2 step lower here) yet was very tender and well seasoned. Very good dish yet a bit pricey at $29.

              We had the cheese course for dessert with included Carr Valley Menage (a grassy mixed-milk semi-hard cheese from Wisconsin), Fleur des Alps (full bodied, creamy, reblochon style) , mimolette (bland), and St. Pete's Select Blue (a tangy, creamy blue from Minnesota). The accompaniments included honeycomb, pear, grapes, and lavosh and made for a really nice dessert (although I wish they would replace that boring mimolette).

              Once again, service was attentve yet unobtrusive, the jazz trio was at just the right volume for an interesting background vibe, and I'm glad the boisterous, 8 top of girls-night-out martini drinkers left before our apps arrived. 8-)

              New weblink: http://www.98south.net/

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              98 South
              98 S San Marcos Pl, Chandler, AZ 85225

              1 Reply
              1. re: BillB656

                Would like to offer my wishes to the new operators of 98 South. I went there on Tuesday for the jazz jam and was very very happy with everything. The $20.00 3 course menu helped with the wallet and also let me see items I wouldn't ordinarily go out of my way to order. Music is loud on Tuesdays but I'm sure it's perfect on other nights. Can't wait to go back and try some of those martinis BillB is talking about! I love Mango!