Fine dining is alive and well in Chandler thanks to Cork–a strip mall restaurant that boasts incredible small plates and a cool dining area that’s just as appropriate for a dress-up dinner date as it is for a more casual gathering with friends. Half of the restaurant is devoted to a laid-back bar area with a few oversize booths where diners can enjoy drinks and hang out. Part of the entry way to this area is a gorgeous class-enclosed wine closet showing off the restaurant’s impressive selection. The second half of Cork is more of a traditional dining room with intimate tables (accented with an adorable white flower vase that I’m pretty sure are from Ikea) and, again, large, lush booths. And Cork makes it so you can’t possibly forget where you are–there are cork accents everywhere, from the coasters to the wine list cover.
And the amazing food won’t ever let you forget your experience at Cork, either. We ordered four small plates (four to six are suggested for a party of two). The lollo rosse and dried apricot salad with bucheron cheese, strawberries, candied kumquats and meyer lemon-thyme vinaigrette screams summer. I wished the salad would have come with a to-go order of candied kumquats that I could nibble on later. Cork’s mac and cheese was an another-worldly dish, finished with barbecue pork belly, smoked bacon, chanterelles and cheddar. Though the menu changes regularly, this dish is a staple and we could taste why. It was incredibly decadent and rich, and the delicious barbecue taste of the pork belly added a welcomed sweetness to the dish. Next up, I had the pan-roasted halibut and dungeness crab cake with purple Thai rice, oyster mushrooms and coconut red curry. Each component of the dish, especially the plump crab cake, was yummy, and the dish also had a bit of heat courtesy of the red curry. And I felt the portion was quite sizable for small-plate dining. Lastly, I tried the veal loin and braised shoulder paired with creamed parmesan gnocchi, pancetta and spinach-almond pesto because our server said it was the best dish on the menu. Though I still think the macaroni and cheese is the best, I’d definitely order this tender meat dish again. And like the halibut and crab cake dish, I found this dish to be pretty sizable as well. Cork is closed on Mondays. 4991 S. Alma School Rd., Suite 101, Chandler, 480.883.3773, http://www.corkrestaurant.net/.