Dara Wong Encourages a Shift within the Eating Expertise – Flagstaff Enterprise Information

As a Flagstaff local, I like going to a restaurant that maintains a local dining feel but is also unique. Shift provides exactly that kind of experience.

No fooling, April 1 marked a big day for Shift Restaurant: its fifth anniversary.

Conveying a different approach to the “normal” dining experience, Shift’s pastry chef and owner Dara Wong says her mission is to shift her patrons’ palates by offering a small-plates-style restaurant with bold flavors, a locally-driven menu and artfully composed presentations.

Born in Boulder, Colorado and raised under the culinary influence of her Asian father and Jewish mother, Wong says her passion for cooking started in her home. “My mom baked all the time and my dad cooked a lot, so my siblings and I were all exposed to their heritage and how food brings our family together.”

With a degree in business management from the University of Denver, Wong, also graduate of the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts, says she always knew she would start her own business. “When I was younger, I thought I would work in hospitality. But after working at hotels, I didn’t like how I couldn’t put my personality out there. Cooking lets me do that.”

And her customers love it.

“As a Flagstaff local, I like going to a restaurant that maintains a local dining feel but is also unique. Shift provides exactly that kind of experience,” said Courtney McCarron of the Health Services Advisory Group. “Dara’s restaurant mirrors her personality and she and her staff have created a dining atmosphere that is inviting, upbeat and inclusive. I don’t just go there to eat but for the customer-focused dining experience.”

Working alongside Wong is Shift’s award-wining Chef De Cuisine George Murkowicz, a Scottsdale native who launched his career at age 17 under the tutelage of Chef Matt Carter at Scottsdale’s French Zinc Bistro. Eventually moving to Santa Barbara, Murkowicz worked his way up to executive chef at Scarlett Begonia, then found his way back to Arizona to work at L’auberge in Sedona and finally, Shift.

“Shift is one of the coolest places to work,” says Murkowicz. “We get to change the menu seasonally and be creative. We have the best team on Earth, bringing exciting ideas to the table. We have a lot of fun here.”

Wong has a notable history in the culinary arts and has worked with legends such as Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan McKinnon-Patterson of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, as well as chefs from New York and Philadelphia.

Finding pastry to be her passion while in school, Wong moved to Vail, Colorado, and worked at Sweet Basil. “Soon after, my past partner, Joe Roger, brought me to Flagstaff and I was hired as manager for Tourist Home. We then opened Shift.”

Now running the restaurant as sole owner, she describes the background of the name. “Shift is meant to change the mentality of the normal dining experience. Everything is made in-house and we have a passion for presentation, so we’ve intermingled the casual with the fine-dining experience. “

Shift serves American small plates, Asian dishes and a lot of Italian. One of Wong’s favorites is the charred eggplant pasta, served with a variation of grapes, a creation developed by Chef George. “We change our menu often, so it’s more seasonal. It keeps us on our toes,” she said.

Examples include Pickled French Fries with a secret sauce, Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Smoked Ranch, Charcoal Roasted Beet Root, Blistered Eggplant and Vegetable Ash Cappaletti.

“Shift Kitchen and Bar is just what this town needed,” said Curtis Chance of Chance and Sons Electric. “It’s a shift in the concept of dining out, where the meal, the service and the atmosphere are a true experience.”

Chance says Shift is his favorite place to take his wife, Lindsay. “Shift allows for well-rounded dining. We talk more and enjoy more. It’s our favorite place to be adventurous and try new things because we know they will be prepared so well. It’s where we took our friend to celebrate her cancer remission and where my wife told me I was going to be a father again.”

A full menu of wine, beer and cocktails complement Wong’s creations. “We’re all over the board,” she said. “We try to match the wine with the food so we have New and Old World Wines such as Italian, French, Argentina, California and Arizona.”

A bake sale takes place once a month on the first Saturday with a line-up of four kinds of croissants, three variations of Danish, quiche, burritos, cookies, quick breads, espresso drinks, and morning cocktail specials. FBN

By V. Ronnie Tierney, FBN

For more information, call Shift Restaurant at 928-440-5135.

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