First Taste: Fat Cat

Will the third time be the charm for Fat Cat?

After two unsuccessful stints as 98 South — closing in 2008 and again, under new owners, in 2009 — the downtown Chandler fine-dining restaurant has reopened as Fat Cat.

And even though it’s been less than two months since the most recent closure, the changes are noticeable.

Gone are the dark walls, the heavy curtains and the loud live jazz music that seemingly repelled more customers than it drew.

In their place: a light, contemporary color scheme, subtle up-lighting to highlight the high ceiling and large pieces of colorful artwork.

Best of all, the jazz music playing on overhead speakers is at a noticeable but unobtrusive volume on opening weekend.

The space is still organized roughly the same — four-person tables in the front, a lounge area in the back — but the revamped bar features art-glass pendant lights, a large mirror and a pair of hi-def TVs.

The menu, too, is not so much completely new as greatly improved. That’s to be expected given that chef Brian Ferguson and his kitchen staff are the only retainees from 98 South.

Now part of the new ownership group, Louisiana native Ferguson is intent on restoring the quality of cuisine he envisioned before the most recent 98 South owners forced him to “dumb down” the menu.

A few dishes, such as the American wagyu burger with truffle aioli ($8) and coffee-spiced hangar steak ($8), will look familiar.

Also back among the eight appetizers are scallops with sweet corn and vanilla bean sauce ($10, pictured at left), although they now come popcorn-crusted and garnished with popcorn shoots.

Ferguson showcases his Southern heritage with cornmeal-fried oysters with champagne cream ($8) and grilled shrimp with grits and Creole barbecue sauce ($8).

The nine entrees get playful with “Pork and Beans” (a braised pork shank with white bean cassoulet, $25) and “Spaghetti and Meatballs” (beef, pork and veal meatballs with pappardelle, $17).

An otherwise ordinary bone-in filet mignon ($34) arrives with the bone split lengthwise to expose the roasted marrow. A smoked pork porterhouse rests on a pillow of bourbon-whipped sweet potatoes ($22, pictured below). Instead of chicken, Fat Cat offers roasted rock hen with duck confit ravioli ($20).

Perhaps the most intriguing entrée is hassenpfeffer ($28), a traditional German rabbit stew, served with a leg and rack, as well as a stuffed saddle.

The menu is still a work in progress as Ferguson continues to look for suppliers for some of his harder-to-find ingredients.

Wines by the glass already are changing — they’ll all be from Sean Minor Wines, probably by the time you read this — but there’s a full list of bottles, about half of them domestic, also available.

Besides beers from fellow downtown Chandler business SanTan Brewing, tap handles include the superb Belgian ale Tripel Karmeliet. Among bottles is Abita’s Turbodog from Louisiana.

Fat Cat
Where: 98 S. San Marcos Place, Chandler
Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Prices: Appetizers $6-$10, salads $7-$10, entrees $17-$34, desserts $7
Info: (480) 899-4400 or www.fatcataz.com

First Taste reviews are based on initial visits to new restaurants. Full reviews only are written after a restaurant has been open at least a couple of months.

Photos by Darryl Webb/East Valley Tribune

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One Response to First Taste: Fat Cat

  1. Gene says:

    Eeewww-weee! Shrimp and Grits! That’s the type Lousiana cuisine I’ve been craving. . . Gotta get me some tonite!

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