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Everything posted by ronnie_suburban

  1. Thanks, Ron! ← George, I do not remember seeing a cannoli cake there, though I am not sure that I have seen one of those. Molto E ← Many have praised their cannoli, which are filled to order, so I thought it would at least be worth a shot. Another place that I was reminded of in this thread is Il Mulino in Highwood. They may be worth calling about this, as well. Il Mulino Bakery 530 Sheridan Rd Highwood, IL 60040 (847) 266-0811 =R=
  2. Not sure when you're visiting but Ambria, which is a fine recommendation on the high-end, is scheduled to close for reconcepting on June 30. It's not a long cab ride from Boka to Second City. I'd like to try it out because they recently hired a new chef, Giuseppe Tentori, who was previously the chef de cuisine at Charlie Trotter's for the last 9 years. Here's a blurb from the February 21 edition of Chicago Magazine's Dish: =R=
  3. G, You may want to give Pasticceria Natalina in Andersonville, a call. =R= Pasticceria Natalina 5406 N. Clark St Chicago, IL 773-989-0662
  4. One more shot from yesterday that I thought might be worth sharing . . . Sliced Brisket Sandwich at Smoque (proof that I was not low-carbing at Smoque ) =R=
  5. Molto e is right. The ribs yesterday (and at my last visit to Smoque) were fantastic. Last time, I went with the baby backs. Yesterday, I went with the St. Louis-style (spare ribs), which were out of this world . . . St. Louis-style ribs at Smoque A closer look at the St. Louis-style ribs at Smoque Interior view of the St. Louis-style ribs at Smoque These ribs were dead-solid perfect. They were piping hot and utterly delicious. The exterior had a great crust and the interior was juicy and smokey. They were tender but not soft, as the meat came away from the bone with a firm tug. It was a pleasure to eat them. I have to say that the ribs I enjoyed at my 2 most recent visits to Smoque have been the best ribs I've ever eaten in a commercial establishment. =R=
  6. Great shots, Eliot. FWIW, my recent brunch at Frontera was excellent and very distinctive. I had the Huevos Fronterizos and thought they were great. I too, wish it were a bit easier to get in there. But it's somewhat far from my house and the wait can sometimes be hard to deal with. Best restaurant in the US? I'm not sure but I'll leave that for others to decide. What's important is that the food at Frontera is carefully and thoughtfully prepared and remarkably consistent. My favorite meal there is lunch because it's usually a 'no-line' situation and I can sit back and enjoy myself, as the pace is a bit more laid back. Chicago is a great town for authentic, regional Mexican food and the fact that there is a bevy of great choices at every level of dining can sometimes obscure the significance of Frontera. But the door that was pushed open by Frontera was a supremely important one and the fact that so much great cuisine has emerged as a result, makes me appreciate it even more. =R=
  7. No answer you receive here will be as definitive as the one you could get by calling the restaurant directly. My guess is yes, but it's only a guess. =R=
  8. You should go back and read some of the 35+ pages of detailed accounts already posted on this thread. Those posts will answer your questions. =R=
  9. Our dinner reservations were at the fairly well-known Sea Saw in Scottsdale. Chef/proprietor Nobuo Fukada is something of a local legend (and is also the winner of the 2007 Best Chef-Southwest Beard Award) and as much as I'd heard and read about Sea Saw, looking back, I understand now that I didn't have a clear idea about what was in store for us. What I expected was a top-quality sushi/sashimi meal in a typical upper-tier, sushi restaurant. What I got instead was a glorious, hand-prepared Omakase, the likes of which I'd never seen before; a meal that was life-changing in many ways. After reading a few threads here about the highly-regarded Matsumoto, I wondered whether such a style of meal would be something I would enjoy. I knew I would appreciate it but the details didn't sound particularly compelling to me, from a culinary point of view. Perhaps someday, I thought, an interested friend will ask me to join him at Matsumoto and I will oblige. Of course, not too long after I had that thought, Matsumoto morphed into Chiyo and the opportunity, at least in its purest form, was lost. Frankly, I was only a little disappointed. The landscape changes quickly in the restaurant world and this wasn't the first time I'd lost out on a specific dining opportunity. I'd live. But my curiousity persisted. Since my friend kept referring to Nobuo's mastery over fish and seafood, I never quite put the pieces together in advance of my meal there. But once inside Sea Saw's small and intimate space, the picture started to clear for me. We sat at the counter separating us from the chefs, chatted a bit and sipped sake. Then, without even a mention of menus, Nobuo himself began to prepare our meals. With 5 empty plates in front of him, he began assembling our first course. This was not sushi -- not even close. Hassun On small, square black plates with matte finish, the components were carefully arranged. Like an artist creating a composition, Nobou transformed the plates, in just a few moments, from mere conveyers of food to something far more significant. The one in front of me looked like a painting and it was an exact match for the 4 other plates in front of my dining companions. It was simply remarkable. Nobuo described its contents. In the front left corner sat 2 fried, octopus suction cups -- crispy, satifyingly chewy and delicious. In the middle of the plate, facing opposite directions were 2 Japanese soup spoons. One held a small portion of briney soup made from mozuku seaweed and Japanese mountain potato. The other held a magnificent combination of fresh kumamoto oyster, topped with uni, sevruga caviar and wasabi oil. In the top, right corner of the plate was a demitasse filled with warm edamame soup, garnished with caviar, ginger-creme fraiche and gold leaf. Aside from being beautiful and provocative the plate's contents were absolutely delicious. What followed this auspicious opener was a mind-bending progression of courses that I could have never conceptualized in my wildest dreams. I was suddenly a judge on an episode of Iron Chef, although with this meal, there was no common ingredient, aside from Nobuo's brilliance. Sashimi Next up was a beautifully-composed plate of 'sashimi.' This was another square plate -- a white one this time -- which had 9, immaculately-prepared pieces of protein arranged in 3 perfect rows of 3. It wasn't all sashimi, as there was a portion of seared bluefin and a portion of seared duck breast too. Fresh sea bream, scorpion fish and a few others completed the plate, which we devoured methodically, from bottom to top. It was fascinating watching Nobuo and his sous prepare these masterpieces. As Nobuo arranged the primary components, his sous moved along with him, holding a small tackle box-like contraption with about 50 small compartments, each housing a different garnish. Both men used the contents of the box, plus a variety of sauces, freshly-grated wasabi and other components, to build the bites in each of the 9 positions on the 5 plates. It was an amazing process to watch and the results were visually stunning and incredibly delicious. Ondo Tamago An extremely tasty combination of sauteed long beans topped and dried shrimp followed. This was served in a small, earthenware bowl, topped with a soft-cooked Jidori chicken egg and then smothered with freshly-shaved black truffle. It was served with house-baked focaccia, which was removed from the oven and sliced at the exact moment our plates were set in front of us. I loved this luxurious dish. It was so rich and comprised of such distinctive, bold flavors. The focaccia was perfect for sopping up the delicious runny yolk and bits of dried shrimp at the bottom of the bowl . . . Karei Nanban Our next course was comprised of tender pieces of fried, black-back sole served in a brightly-flavored blood-orange vinaigrette that were resting in a cradle that had been formed from the fish's whole skeleton . . . which had itself, been fried to crispy perfection. I'd always wanted to try this delicacy and it did not disappoint. The fish and sauce were delicious and the crispy-crunchy bones were absolutely amazing. What a tasty combination and finally I'd gotten to try fried fish bones. Wow! Shabu Shabu The aromatic, complex and subtle Shabu Shabu which came next was actually served on paper (formed into 'bowls' inside wire-form holders), and then set atop individual burners in front of each diner. This was served with several select pieces of sea bream and Nobuo instructed us on how long to cook the fish before eating it. After we'd finished with our sea bream, Nobuo carefully poured the Ocean Broth (aka dashi) from each sheet of paper into a 'regular' bowl, garnished each with some freshly-grated bonito and served them to us. I loved the simple beauty and resourcefulness of the presentation and I felt special eating Nobuo's personalized rendition of this important dish . . . Ebi Next, a whole, grilled, New-Caledonian spot prawn was split lengthwise and served in uni sauce and garnished with uni and caviar. The minimalist presentation was dramatic, and the prawn was extremely tasty -- especially with the sauce and garnishes. It was another fantastic and innovative combination. Ishyaki Several slices of stunningly marbled Japanese Kobe beef, which had been marinated in a teriyaki-like sauce, were placed in front of me, along with an extremely hot stone. It was so well-marbled, it looked more white than red and I didn't even notice the marination until, as instructed, I placed a slice of it on the stone in front of me. As soon as I did, the meat began to sizzle and the sweet aroma of the marinade rose up to me. This was another absolutely amazing dish which delighted me in so many ways. I'd never had Kobe beef of this quality before and the preparation was magnificent. I don't think I 'cooked' each piece more than a few seconds on each side. That was enough and the flavors jumped out in ways I never could have anticipated. This was a magnificent dish . . . Foie Gras As a first dessert, we were served slabs of seared foie gras, which had been marinated in miso. The foie was served with red and white wine poached-pears and yamamomo (aka bayberries). I was definitely not expecting foie gras at this stage of the meal but this inspired preparation was savory and sweet, creamy and tart and signalled well that the meal was making a turn and winding down. Desaaru The final transition from savory to sweet was delivered with an array of satisfying and complex desserts including a creamy yuzu tart in a buttery shell, a lemon goat-cheesecake with orange marmalade, jasmine and pumpkin ice creams and soy caramels. It was a fantastic close to a great adventure of a meal. After dessert, we chatted for a while and I thought back over all the phenomenal courses we'd enjoyed. I was happy because I'd finally gotten to try so many things that I'd never encountered before -- and they were all quite delicious. It was clear to me that Nobuo, who'd been a great guide, teacher, host and chef for us on this night, was most deserving of his Beard-award nomination. Replaying the meal in my mind, I lost count of how many different techniques and ingredients had to have been used in creating it. When I realized that not one grain of rice had been served, it began to sink in just how thoroughly Nobuo had blown away my expectations, how truly remarkable it all was and how incredibly fortunate I was to be able to experience it. =R= Sea Saw 7133 East Stetson Drive Scottsdale, AZ 85251 480 481-9463 Thanks, once again, to Eliot Wexler for the great images that appear in this post.
  10. It is a testament only to my years of intense training and previous "research" trips that I actually managed to wake up hungry on Day 8 of our food-filled vacation . . . but I did Not even the supposedly hard-core molto e could keep up with us. Rather than meet us to break the 'fast' he politely recused himself. But it was another one of his great tips which led us to some of the best fried chicken (and waffles) I have ever eaten. Lolo's Chicken and Waffles is a small beige building with a painted, red-shingle roof which is located on an otherwise residential block which stands in the shadows of some large factories. It's one of those places which you can just sense, the minute you look at it, is going to be good. Or to put it another way, you'd be shocked if it weren't. And we didn't end up shocked. We arrived at 10:30 and were asked to wait outside the small building until a table became available. A few minutes later, the friendly host/waitress came out for us and led us to our table. Lo-lo's is an unusual space that, for a moment, made me feel like I was in New Orleans. Our table was in a long, narrow side room -- with concrete floor and brick walls -- that looked like it might have been exterior space at some point in the building's history. The tables and chairs are bare bones but comfortable and the walls are adorned with colorful jazz and music-themed prints. The menu at Lo-lo's is breakfast and lunch all in one. It is most definitely a fried chicken restaurant, offering variety of named meals which combine fried chicken and/or catfish with all sorts of side dishes, including their noted waffles. Also offered is a full array of more traditional breakfast fare, like bacon and eggs. We did not try the catfish but the fried chicken was simply fantastic. It delivered crunchy, flavorful skin and delicious, juicy flesh. So many 'great' fried chicken places offer well-fried bird that lacks flavor beneath the skin. This bird was, happily, not in that category. I don't know the process at Lo-lo's but their chicken tastes like it's been brined, marinated or pre-seasoned before being coated and fried. I'd confidently put Lo-lo's fried chicken up against just about any fried chicken I've ever had. I'm not sure it's the best but it's certainly in the highest category. The waffles were also wonderful. I was surprised by the relatively aggresive seasoning (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) they'd received but it really worked. Not only were the waffles hot, crispy and delectable but they tasted great alongside the chicken. We sampled a bunch of other sides too. The beans & rice, smothered potatoes and cornbread were all excellent. The mustard greens, which delivered a moderately spicy kick, were very good. The cheesy grits were well-prepared but needed quite a bit of salt to make them optimal (as is often my feeling about southern-style grits). Unfortunately, we didn't try the macaroni and cheese, so we'll have to save that item for next time. The same is true of the (cheesy) eggs as well as the bevy of breakfast meats (bacon, sausage, turkey-bacon, hot links) which are offered by Lo-lo's. The relatively uncommon combination of fried chicken and waffles, while not new to me, was what I wanted to eat at Lo-lo's, so I left the more traditional breakfast options untapped. However, if I'd spent a few more days in the area, I would have likely returned to try them because everything else I ate at Lo-lo's was so good. And, I loved the large, canning jars in which beverages are served at Lo-lo's. I opted for a diet coke, but I was tempted to go for the 1-quart serving of red cool-aid, which seemed like a very popular choice at Lo-lo's. All in all, we had a great meal at Lo-lo's. The food was fantastic, service was friendly and fast and their prices were very reasonable. We ordered a ton of food, so that we could sample it all and even with a 20%+ tip, our bill for 3 was around $35. As many times as I've been to Phoenix and searched out distinctive, local fare, I needed input from a long-time resident to find Lo-lo's. Now that I have, I can't imagine not making it a regular stop each time I visit Phoenix. =R= Lo-lo's Chicken & Waffles 10 West Yuma Street Phoenix, AZ 85003 602 340-1304
  11. The first time I ever heard of Pizzeria Bianco, it was March 2004. I was on an plane leaving Phoenix, reading Peter Reinhart's American Pie. As I read Reinhart's effusive praise for what he considers to be his favorite pizza, all I could think was 'turn this plane around, NOW!' I knew it would be a least another year before I'd get to try Bianco. If I'd only started reading that book at the beginning my vacation, I could have saved a year. When I returned to Phoenix the following spring, eating at Pizzeria Bianco was my top priority. In fact, I wanted to eat there so badly that I dragged my family to its door at 4 pm -- a full hour before it opened -- and sat, outside, in 100+ degree heat, waiting to be in the first seating. Bianco is small and has only 69 seats. Reservations are not possible for groups smaller than 6 and even with a larger group, reservations are not always available. In either case, we were only 3 and considering what Reinhart had written, plus the scores of other enthusiastic reports I'd subsequently read about Pizzeria Bianco, I was sure it would be worth it. Even though that visit suffered a bit because of the insanely-challenging, unseasonably-warm weather and a bit of "I might never make it back here" syndrome, it was still truly memorable. Chris Bianco had made his impression on me and I would never think about pizza in the same way again. Thoughts of his transcendant, thin-crusted, char-bottomed, neopolitan-style pies would enter my mind repeatedly over the next 2 years -- not only when I was eating other pizza but in many idle moments, as well. This time around, with friends in the area, we were a group of 7 and managed, with only minor difficulty, to obtain an 8 pm reservation at Pizzeria Bianco. Unlike last time, there would be no wait. And this time, the evening temperature was in the high 50's making it a perfectly comfortable night for us and an even better night for making pizza. So much has been written about Chris Bianco that I don't want to spend a whole lot of time repeating it. But the man is intense and clearly loves what he does. At first glance, seeing him shuttle pizzas into and out of the oven, he seems almost grouchy. But his countenance of intensity converts quickly to a welcoming smile as soon as one addresses him. Without missing a beat, he'll look up, flash a smile and say hello, even when buried in his work. On this night, before pizza, our group of 7 enjoyed some unparalleled antipasto, which included not only some representative sopressata and cheese but also a selection of locally-grown organic vegetables that had been wood-roasted to perfection in the pizza oven. Of course, there were a few more steps than roasting but just like at Pane Bianco, the 'simplicity' of the offerings at Pizzeria Bianco is not quite as simple as it seems. Pizzeria Bianco offers 6 pizzas and that's it. These 6 well-conceived and phenomenally executed pizzas are the foundation of the well-earned Bianco legend. On this night, our group decided to order all 6 and in order to maximize their glorious potential, requested that they be brought out 3 at a time. Our first 'pizza course' consisted of the classic Margherita (tomato sauce, fresh house-made mozzarella, basil), the cheeseless Marinara (tomato sauce, oregano, garlic) and my personal favorite, the Rosa (red onion, parmigiano reggiano, rosemary, AZ Pistachios). These 3 pies were piping hot and incredibly delicious. There is a balance to Bianco's pies that I've never experienced anywhere else. The toppings are boldly-flavored but applied in a 'less is more' manner, allowing the crust to be the star. And the crust, made from dough prepared daily by Chris Bianco's brother, Marco, is the best I've ever tasted. Like great bread, it has a fantastic aroma, a perfectly tuggable texture and a deeply complex flavor that develops in the chew, not merely the initial bite. In my experience, most Marinara pizzas are a complete waste of time and effort compared to the Marinara at Bianco which is, by far, the best I have ever eaten. It really does make even some very well-regarded, local-Chicago renditions seem like a joke. Every ounce of Bianco's Marinara has purpose. It's a showcase for the skills and experience of Chris Bianco. And the Rosa is even better! Our second 'pizza course' consisted of Bianco's 3 'meaty' pies, the Sonny Boy (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, sopressata, gaeta olives), the Biancoverde (fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, ricotta, arugula) and the Wiseguy (wood-roasted onion, house smoked mozzarella, fennel sausage). These 3 pies were also phenomenal. The superior-quality toppings were delicious in their own right and also complemented each other perfectly, working with the crust, not overpowering it or being obscured by it. To our Biancoverde, we added Prosciutto di Parma, which sent it over the top. Its salty sweetness was a perfect counterpoint for the fresh and peppery arugula. And I loved the aromatic fennel sausage on the Wiseguy, which is made to spec, locally for Bianco. The components on all these pies were fantastic and they were handled so masterfully that they were even better when combined. There's a synergy to the pizzas at Bianco that is virtually impossible to find elsewhere. I can't say enough about how great Pizzeria Bianco is. It's a joy to have this level care and artisanship applied to such inexpensive, accessible fare. Again, there are no shortcuts here, just dedication to a concept and lots of hard work committed to executing it. There is a pride of purpose at Bianco that is probably the biggest distinguishing factor between it and other places of its kind. The Biancos have made a commitment to doing the a huge portion of the hard work themselves and that single factor provides an unparalleled level of consistency and experience. Think about your favorite pizza place and consider how many different people have made their dough and cooked their pies over the years you've been eating there. Now think about how much better it would be if all that experience were in the hands of 1 or 2 people who'd dedicated their professional lives to making great pizza. That's why Pizzeria Bianco is so great and also why so few pizza places -- if any -- can ever hope to measure up to it. =R= Pizzeria Bianco 623 E Adams St Phoenix, AZ 85004 (602) 258-8300
  12. We had a breakfast in Phoenix which pretty much trumped all the breakfasts on our entire trip. It was had, appropriately enough at Matt's Big Breakfast on 1st Street. Matt's is another small place with limited hours. It consists of 2 small rooms and a counter, with seating for about 25-30. The delicious food at Matt's is pretty straightforward, greasy spoon-style with some important distinctions, that have to do with where they source their ingredients. For example, all eggs served at Matt's are sourced through Chino Valley Ranchers, which provides only humanely-harvested, cage-free eggs. Harris Ranch Beef Company is Matt's exclusive provider of all-natural beef. And delicious pork products served at Matt's, like bacon, ham and sausage, are sourced from The Pork Shop in nearby Queen Creek, AZ. We arrived at about 11 am and had a very short wait for our 5-top. Service was friendly and very accomodating. The breakfast special on this day, a chili-cheese omelet, had just been 86'd but our server begged the kitchen to produce one more on our behalf and her wish was granted. A couple of us ordered the extremely tasty Five Spot, which is one egg and 2 slices of thick bacon on a kaiser-like roll, served with hash browns. 'The Hog & Chick' was another winner. It was 2 eggs, over-easy (or any style) with a beautiful slab of salty-sweet ham (or bacon or sausage) and hash browns. The Chop and Chick was 2 eggs served with a seared, bone-in Iowa pork chop and hash browns. I really enjoyed the tasty chop. In fact, all the pork products we had were fantastic. I thought the breakfast sausage was the best I'd ever had and that includes even my own, home-made version. I can certainly appreciate a fancy breakfast and I do go out for it often enough. But I really love even more a hearty, greasy breakfast with well-cooked eggs and properly crispy hash browns. On this count, Matt's delivered big-time and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I'm told that they also serve a damned fine lunch but none of us tried it on this day. And, if I return to Matt's again, I'll probably stick with breakfast because it was so great. Who knows . . . there may be a lunch at Matt's in my future, but the place is named Matt's Big Breakfast, after all. =R= Matt's Big Breakfast 801 N 1st St Phoenix, AZ 85004 (602) 254-1074
  13. I had sizable expectations for our dinner at Binkley's Restaurant because I'd heard and read a lot about it and pictures I'd seen of their food -- many of them posted on this thread -- looked absolutely amazing. Binkley's is a cozy, fine-dining enclave located in the seemingly remote town of Cave Creek, which is about an hour's drive from Phoenix. Its chef and proprietor, Kevin Binkley, aside from being an affable and friendly guy is a seasoned veteran who's spent some serious time in kitchens at the French Laundry and the Inn at Little Washington. I'm told that his small, romantic restaurant is booked out solid, 2 months in advance and after experiencing a fantastically inventive and delicious meal there, it's easy to see why. We were a group of 10 and had the private room in the back of the restaurant all to ourselves. It was nice because we had 3 in our party who were under 15 years old and I too, can get pretty squirrelly at long, formal meals. This ended up being a non-issue because we youngsters were captivated by the meal, which was paced flawlessly. And service was friendly, not exactly formal. I'm not sure how to classify Binkley's and -- other than for reference here -- I'm not sure it really matters. Presentations are highly stylized and somewhat reminiscent of those at Alinea, although as far as I know, Binkley's does not use any custom serviceware. Still, there is a highly-modern, almost avant garde aesthetic to the plates at Binkley's. Flavor and ingredient combinations are fairly traditional at their core but from that foundation they quickly veer off into risk-taking territory. There are powders, foams and other components which are typically associated with the hyper-modern movement in cooking. As with other, top-tier members of the genre, these items are highly-distilled (in the cognitive sense) at Binkley's and used judiciously. We started with some champagne and a crazy procession of about 15 amuse bouches. Our host had requested that the kitchen send out each and every amuse they had to offer and the kitchen happily complied. We enjoyed a seemingly endless series of tasty and provocative one-biters which literally amused us, no end. A few of my favorites were the tiny, deviled quail egg which was spiked with wasabi, the signature foie gras 'dipping dots' with banyuls syrup, the tiny Swedish meatball with huckelberry sauce, the delicate and piping hot pommes souffle with 3 house-made sauces, and the sopressata with date relish and sunchoke chip. There were so many and they were all quite delicious but these are the ones which particularly stood out for me. After the amuses, it was time for salad, or should I say salads. As was the case with many of the courses on this night, 2 entirely different dishes were served, with half of us receiving 1 dish and the other half receiving another dish. The Hearts of Palm salad was delicious. It was comprised of fresh HoP, prosciutto, English peas, grape tomatoes, basil, roasted radicchio and pecorino romano and it was dressed with a balsamic glaze. The other salad, which featured tender and sweet slow-roasted Baby Beets and a delicious beet & rutabaga torteloni also contained watercress, asparagus, charred sweet onion and extra virgin olive oil powder. Next up were a couple of incredibly delicious seafood courses. The Butter Poached Lobster was sweet and succulent. It was served with kiwi, sugar snap peas, radish, a lotus root chip and a lemongrass vinaigrette. This was a great combination, not only flavor-wise but visually and texturally, as well. The Banyuls-marinated Skate Wing was tender and tasty and was accompanied by bread and butter pickle, a purple potato chip, wax beans, fried capers and sunflower sprouts. This was another innovative rendition which made use of some very untraditional elements and yet still tasted delicious. After seafood, we all enjoyed a delicious foie gras torchon, which was sliced into generous disks and served with a demitasse of warm foie gras and truffle cappuccino that was sensational, aromatic and addictive; a vanilla-black pepper biscotti and a red-wine poached seckle pear. Again here, the components worked so well together. The torchon was phenomenal and the other items with which it was served complemented the foie, flawlessly. The 2 fish dishes served as the next course were both outstanding and it was hard to choose a favorite. The Red-Wine poached Halibut was a real eye opener. I thought it was a bold move to cook halibut in such a manner but it really worked. The fish took the red wine surprisingly well. The halibut was also served with creamed spinach, saffron-cipollini onions, golden raisins, walnuts and beurre rouge. I had no idea, before eating this dish, how well the halibut would go with the red wine preparation and the sweet components on the plate. It was fantastic. We also tried a more straightforward preparation of Monkfish (one of my favorites), which was served with fingerling potatoes, early morel mushrooms, sweet peppers and blue lake beans. Here the earthiness of the early morels and fingerlings took the hearty monkfish to a new level, without obscuring it in the least. I was surprised, again, to see fish prepared so boldly and have the result be so successful. Next up was a delectable and intoxicating bowl of Porcini soup. It contained not only porcini but also curry oil powder and spring onion. This was just porcini-riffic and the curry and onion notes brought out the perfume of the porcini in a wonderful, unanticipated way. The other dish served in this 'funghi' course was an amazing and playful variation on an old, cafeteria favorite: chipped beef. This was a sinfully over-the-top rendition called Black Truffle Creamed Chipped Beef, which was heavy on the black truffle and served with hash browns and a poached quail egg. Words cannot even begin to describe this spectacular dish (at least, not mine). It was as good as the sum of its parts and exponentially better than that. Wow! The meat course saw magnificent plates of Venison and Veal delivered to the table. Rack of Venison au Poivre was served with vanilla spaetzle, candied kumquats, sugar snap peas, cashews and an inventively delicious black pepper brittle. Veal (squared) offered both tenderloin and short rib of veal with fiddlehead ferns, oven-dried tomatoes, baby turnips and sunchokes. I loved both preparations and again, it was hard to choose a favorite (not that anyone was demanding I do so). But, I am partial to short rib in any form, and for that reason alone, the veal won out. The short rib was fork tender and nicely fatty. The tenderloin, cooked en sous vide, was meaty and juicy. And, when it came right down to it, the juicy, medium-rare venison was fantastic too. Next, we enjoyed cheese plates which featured 9 different cheeses. Some I recognized, some I did not. It was fun sampling them and bridging the gap between the insane amounts of savory food we'd already enjoyed and (what would probably be) insane amounts of sweet food which were to follow. The accoutrements were nice, as well . . . pecan butter, crimson gold apples, orange marmalade and toasted baguette. Cheese was followed by a couple of refreshing pre-desserts, which were followed by a variety of 'main' desserts! 2 of the pre-desserts -- a smooth and tart blood-orange 'creamsicle' and a cute little mug of green apple soda -- were delicious and refreshing. I loved the wild rice krispy treat, which was fun and extremely tasty. The fresh raspberry, spiked with pop rocks and bound with chocolate was a sensational one-biter. The parade of desserts which came next was nearly overwhelming. There was an intriguing fruit soup with a base of sweet/tart, pineapple water, which was poured into its bowl, tableside, over a variety of immaculate, flash-frozen (liquid nitrogen) berries which, already positioned in the bottom of the bowl, awaited their dousing. It was so evocative of fresh fruit, it was uncanny and the individual components were easily distinguished. Floated on top of the soup was a fun fruit roll-up, flavored with apricot, blueberry and raspberry. There was also a fantastic coconut-milk ravioli with white chocolate powder, caramelized banana and some roasted banana ice cream that was right up there in Arlecchino territory. Another fantastic, fruit-based dessert consisted of succulent supremes of juicy-sweet ruby red grapefruit, served in vanilla sabayonne with almond madeleines . . . textbook madeleines. The 'chocolate' course was a wondrous plate that was effectively, a multi-faceted study in chocolate. There was a demitasse of velvety and rich gianduja hot chocolate topped with a house-made marshmallow, a chocolate croquette, white chocolate mousse and a dense and chewy chocolate brownie. I loved Binkley's because the food was delicious, inventive and extraordinarily unique. It took me by surprise a bit that such a phenomenal restaurant could thrive in such a seemingly remote location. But, I was informed that the very affluent Cave Creek isn't quite as remote as it appears. Nonetheless, it's clear that a chef of Kevin Binkley's caliber could draw diners to just about any location. There is an air of excitement at Binkley's that's palpable. It's like being in an arena in the presence of a great athlete or hearing a virtuosic musician give a live performance. Before dining at Binkley's, I didn't think of Cave Creek as a world-class dining venue. Kevin Binkley changed my mind and I'm pretty sure he's changing a lot of others, as well. =R= Binkley's Restaurant 6920 E Cave Creek Rd Cave Creek, AZ 85331 (480) 437-1072
  14. You can also find both of those items (and more - smoked meats, etc) at Zier's, in Wilmette. Great, great butcher (as are F&O and Gepperth's). They sell Tallgrass Beef at the various locations of Foodstuffs. ← Yeah, I linked directly to their "where can I get it?" page. I should have specified that. =R=
  15. Since the last time we were in Phoenix, the empire of Chris Bianco had expanded with the addition of Pane Bianco, a rustic, bare bones, carry-out only sandwich shop near downtown. As alluded to above, Chris Bianco is the force behind Pizzeria Bianco, which many consider to produce the finest pizza of its type in the US. We knew we had to try Pane Bianco. The interior of the narrow but deep space is no more finished than a typical warehouse. Even the magnificent oven, which is the heart and soul of Pane Bianco, is vented through the industrial ceiling with a single length of unfinished pipe, which runs straight from the top of the oven all the way out the top of the building. Pane Bianco does not offer indoor seating but there are several picnic tables in front of the shop, which appear to have been made by hand -- or at least in a very artisanal manner -- from whole sections of tree. The crowd in the seating area was fairly diverse. We weren't the only folks wearing Cubs hats and there were hospital scrubs, business casual attire and torn denim present, as well. Similar to Pizzeria Bianco, the choices at Pane Bianco are fairly limited and the primary focus is on creating unparalleled, superior-quality food. There are only 3 sandwiches on the menu, plus one daily special. Addtionally there are a couple of salads and -- at least on the day we visited -- a focaccia of the day as well. Unlike at the aforementioned Welcome Diner, beverages are also limited and the strange roster of offbeat choices (bubble up, house cola, hildon bottled waters) gives a slight whiff of pretense, even though the place is just about as bare bones as it gets. The beautiful thing about Pane Bianco is that the food is absolutely amazing. With hot, fresh bread continually coming out of the oven, it's a lock that your sandwich is going to be served on a round, individually-sized loaf of artisanal bread that is still warm and no more than a few minutes old. The same is true of the focaccia -- it is essentially baked to order and is topped with locally-sourced, organic ingredients. These important details have a huge bearing on the quality, which is remarkably high. We tried a couple of sandwiches which completely justified the 15-minute wait. I went with the Soppressata with Aged Provolone & Olivada, which was absolutely delectable. The imported soppressata was rich, fatty and funky like properly-cured pork salumi should be. The provolone was perfectly piquant and the olivada was a wonderful foil for these hearty ingredients. I also tasted the Housemade Mozzarella, Local Tomato & Basil sandwich, which was also great. Being March, the tomatoes were not perfect and I thought the sandwich could have used a touch of acidity but the house-made mozzarella was sublime and pretty much trumped any of the other ingredients we tasted. It's the apparent simplicity of Pane Bianco which makes it what it is. But like a lot of great things in the culinary world, the food at Pane Bianco isn't quite as simple as it seems. The ingredients are extraordinary and the freshly-baked bread and focaccia create a truly distinctive dining experience. Pane Bianco is built on a tight and noble concept and its success is a function of the tremendous amount of hard work being dedicated to fulfilling that concept. The intense level of care given to the food here plays a huge part in its success. There are no tricks or gimmicks. It just comes down to hard work and the vision of the proprietor, which is readily apparent in every bite of food served at Pane Bianco. There is no place to hide anything when you serve food like this. Shortcuts simply cannot exist when the food being served is so 'naked.' In a perfect world, every sandwich shop -- hell, every restaurant -- emulates Pane Bianco. But since it is far from a perfect world, Pane Bianco really manages to distinguishes itself. It's the shop that exists in spite of all the realities of the restaurant business. It's great to see such a daring vision find its audience. There is no question that I will visit Pane Bianco again the next time I am in Phoenix . . . and hopefully, more than once. =R= Pane Bianco 4404 N Central Ave Phoenix, AZ 85012 (602) 234-2100
  16. Well, thanks again for the tip. This entire mall is great, food-wise. The sandwiches at Postino -- and the bread on which they were served -- were both incredible. And Arlecchino . . . well, what can I say? There's a lot of good stuff going on at this corner. =R=
  17. For a brief moment I thought that I might actually get that chance to cook a Phoenix meal at my friend's house but due to various cirucmstances, the window closed as quickly as it opened on that opportunity. No worries. We'd hedged by holding onto our reservation at Zinc Bistro in Scottsdale and its time had come. After a short drive and a few 'lost in the gigantic stripmall' moments, we stumbled into Zinc just before the appointed time. It was 8 pm on a Monday evening, so the crowd in the attractive and dimly-lighted space was sparse. We sat at a table in an outdoor area that was essentially a patio within the restaurant's confines. The fare at Zinc begins at a point that is typically bistro but branches out immediately, uniquely and thoughtfully from there. On this night, we were in the capable hands of sous chef Jeremy McMillan, who was really on his game. We started with a few tasty appetizers which had us instantly swooning. The ample La Belle Farms Squab and Foie Gras could have been an entree at many restaurants. Here, this reliable combination was served with cippoline onions, a honey glaze and soft mascarpone polenta, which complemented the squab and the foie very well. We also loved the crispy skate appetizer, which was served with bacon sofrito, cider-apple gastrique, padron pepper, turnips and beurre noisette. The skate was tender and fresh and wonderfully crispy on the outside. The richly-flavored accoutrement worked very well with the relatively neutral skate. And it was refreshing having skate at a bistro that was not prepared in the typical, Grenobloise-style. As great as the first 2 appetizers were, the best one we tasted was the next one, which consisted of seared scallops atop roasted corn and 'arroz calasparra,' which had also been spiked with Spanish chorizo. This was so delicious, we were clanking forks over it. Our server informed us that we should not order any pork items from the menu because chef McMillan would be sending a special pork course to the table for us. A few moments later, a gloriously-prepared haunch of meat -- a perfectly-roasted, bone-in Berkshire pork loin was presented tableside and quickly whisked away, back to the kitchen. A few moments later we were each served a plate containing an amazing trio of fabulous Berkshire pork prepartions. The first was a large segment of the aforementioned loin, served with morels, bacon and a foie gras emulsion. Next to it, in the center of of the plate, was an incredibly juicy section of charred Berkshire pork fat-cap which was served with a brandy and apple syrup. On the left was a succulent grilled rib, served with a sweet and savory juniper marshmallow. Everything on this plate was absolutely delicious. I loved the loin and the rib but the fat cap was, needless to say, especially succulent. Entree-wise, we went mostly with steaks. The Prime Flat Iron steak au poivre with crispy shallot and brandy reduction was terrific and cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was served with pomme frites that blew away the frites at Bouchon, which I described upthread. I didn't love the unique seasoning blend that was sprinkled on them but they were made from fresh potatoes, cooked perfectly and served piping hot. We shared a second order of frites, which only had salt and pepper on them, and I enjoyed those much more. Another fantastic side was the Tennessee grits with bacon and mascarpone. Forget everything you know about typical grits -- these were transcendant. For her entree, my wife had the roasted chicken thighs with bucatini, corn and sherry. I love when dark meat is the default setting and these thighs did not disappoint. They were tender and juicy and their skin was delectably crispy. The buccatini and corn went very well with those terrific thighs. 2 of us ordered the Hanger steak which was lightly smoked, then grilled and served with bordelaise sauce, la ratte potatoes -- bound in bone marrow cream -- red wine reduction and crispy shallots. I loved the smokey note of this juicy, well-prepared steak. Hanger is one of my favorites and this was an excellent rendition. The potatoes were insane -- you could actually taste the marrow in them! We sampled a slew of delicious desserts which included an excellent chocolate souffle -- made with Callebaut chocolate and doused in chocolate sauce -- and a tiny and quite elegant pistachio cheesecake with chocolate which was accompanied by candied pistachios and peanut butter. The freshly-made beignets were also phenomenal. Speaking of desserts, here's a pic from this meal, taken by my pal molto e, that really moves me . . . Pistachio cheesecake on chocolate base with candied pistachios and peanut butter I loved the food at Zinc and -- even more so -- the personal touches which distinguished our meal from beginning to end. The touches were not indulgent manipulations, which are all too common these days. They were thoughtful variations on what one might typically encounter at a bistro and they were born in experience. These individuations made once completely-familiar dishes much better than they normally are. This is still bistro cuisine but it's evolved bistro cuisine. If Zinc Bistro were in Chicago, I'd be all over it. I'd love to experience this food on a regular basis. =R= Zinc Bistro Kierland Commons 15034 N. Scottsdale Road Scottsdale, AZ 85281 480 603-0922
  18. Our friend in Phoenix told us that we could get a great, unique meal at the Welcome Diner on Roosevelt Street and he was, again, 100% correct. The tiny place, which is located in a somewhat transitional residential neighborhood, looks a bit out of place, as there aren't really any other businesses in the vicinity. It has about 8 counter seats and some additional outdoor seating. Welcome Diner - 924 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix Inside the cozy Welcome Diner Welcome's hook is that they have an extremely local focus that extends from their ingredients to their packaging. Not everything is locally-sourced but it is a priority. Still, in addition to the regionally-produced brand of soft drinks, Cokes and diet Cokes can be had as well. Additionally, the cheese on the cheeseburgers at Welcome is Tillamook, which is not produced nearby. Another unique thing about Welcome Diner is their menu, which offers only hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hotdogs and house-made french fries, all sourced and processed locally. The hotdogs are fried in peanut oil and finished on the grill. The default condimentation is locally-produced yellow mustard and locally-grown raw onion. While certainly a completely different genre of dog from what one normally finds in Chicago, Welcome's dog was delicious in its own right. So too were their burgers, which are cooked to order and offered with a variety of locally-produced relishes and pickled products. The cheeseburger was very tasty -- more like home-made than what one usually finds at a restaurant. The french fries were utterly delicious and a lot of care gets put into their preparation. Not only are they blanched in oil first and then re-fried before service to create very crispy fries but also, as the proprietor explained to us, during some parts of the year, the potatoes are particularly starchy. During these times the potatoes are soaked in a vinegar/water solution overnight to reduce their starchiness. In either instance, the net result is fantastic. The fries at Welcome Diner are a true pleasure. Here's a lousy, out-of-focus picture of them, fwiw . . . Prices are very reasonable at Welcome, ranging from about $3 for the hotdog to about $5 for a cheeseburger, iirc. In any case, Welcome offers very good value. It's also an unusual place in that it's only open a few hours a day and only on certain days of the week. I'm told that it can also be rented out for parties and that a large amount of business is done on that basis. I can see why because the place is fun and is a reasonable size for smaller groups. During our lunch a very diverse group of people came into the diner. There were suits and ties as well as blue hair and facial piercings, all wolfing down the delicious, hand-prepared food, side-by-side. The guys who run the place are remarkably friendly and take their food very seriously. Still, there's nothing pretentious about Welcome. It's about as basic as it gets. I'm so glad we got to eat at Welcome. It was a great, unique experience and the food was not only inexpensive but delicious, as well. =R= Welcome Diner 924 E Roosevelt St Phoenix, AZ 85006 (602) 495-1111
  19. In 2004, while on our first family spring break in Phoenix, we were filling up the car when I looked up and -- across the street -- saw a sign outside a restaurant, touting their smoked prime rib. In every other way, the place looked dismissable but being something of a smoker nut, I was intrigued by the possibility that this divey-looking joint could offer such an item. 3 million people in Chicago, thousands of restaurants and I couldn't remember ever having encountered smoked prime rib anywhere other than my own backyard. Each day, on the way to the ballpark, we'd pass this place and I'd see that sign, reminding me that there might be something special here. Finally, I gave in to what I knew all along -- I had to try this place out. We decided to grab a lunch there. Yes, we were still in Phoenix, but once inside the wood-clad space beyond those swinging doors, you would never have known it. We were in a true Texas roadhouse. There were ballcaps and all sorts of genuine TX iconography all over the walls. Willie Nelson's Luckenback, Tx played on the sound system and Shiner Bock was the brew of choice. The place, The Texaz Grill, has since become one of our favorite spots in Phoenix, even though its food really has nothing to do with Phoenix. It was opened in 1985 by a couple of transplanted Texans as "Lone Star Steaks." A few years back, after being threatened with a trademark lawsuit by a big, KC-based restaurant chain with the same name, they changed their name to Texaz Grill. As their web site says: That first visit for lunch was met with bad news and good news. The bad news was that the smoked prime rib, which is available only until it runs out each day, was not even offered at lunch. The good news was that the items we did try on that first visit were sensational. And really, the unavailability of the prime rib was, in actuality, more good news. The day's production wouldn't be ready until dinner and serving something leftover from the previous day was simply not going to happen here. The only thing that's changed at Texaz in our years of eating there, is that it's now a cigarette-smoke-free facility (as is most every restaurant in Phoenix after Feb 2007, with a few exceptions). So, this year, when we threw those swinging doors open, we were not met with the familiar cloud of smoke we were used to. Instead, the savory and intoxicating aroma of chicken-fried steak filled the air, unencumbered. According to Texaz's web site, they've sold nearly 650,000 of their signature chicken-fried steaks since they opened. Again the roadhouse-like space was full of happy-looking diners and some great Texas music was playing in the background. We took a booth and began negotiations on our order. My son drew the long straw and ordered the chicken-fried steak. My wife ordered the smothered pork chops. I ordered the smoked prime rib (larger 'Mulligan Cut'). Entrees come with either salad or slaw and we knew to order the slaw, as it is simply great. The cabbage is sliced extremely thin and sauced heavily in a creamy-tangy-sweet dressing that I'm guessing contains a fair amount of pickle juice. Fries are available as a side but we all chose the mashed potatoes and gravy. The entrees at Texaz are, in a word, perfection. The Pork Chops - Southern Style are battered, fried and served piping hot. The peppery gravy served with them is a perfect accent for moist, tender, slightly-salted chops -- and the rich, lumpy mashed potatoes. The chicken-fried steak is even better. It's perfectly crispy on the outside, tender and juicy inside and well-seasoned throughout. Again the peppery gravy is a perfect complement to it. The slab of smoked prime rib is delivered to the table medium rare, as ordered. It's got a great amount of smoke (hickory and oak), it's just insanely delicious . . . as good as ever. The trimmed but still fatty cap is especially succulent but the eye is terrific too. There's a small paper cup of horseradish on my plate which I never even touch . . . there's no reason. We shared our entrees and ate as much as we possibly could but not one of them was finished (that was ok because we had a fridge at the hotel room). Beverage-wise, I enjoyed a couple of ice-cold Shiner Bocks and my wife and son ordered bottomless soft drinks, served in gargantuan plastic cups, with Pepsi logos on them. As full as we all were, we needed something sweet to finish off the meal. We asked our waitress which of the 4 offered desserts she'd order, if she could only order one. Without hesitation she suggested the Peach Cobbler. We took her suggestion and asked her to make it a la mode. We clanked spoons a few times as the 3 of us tore into that delicious cobbler. Being that it was March, I'm guessing that it was made with canned peaches but I didn't confirm it and it mattered not. You got the sense while eating this cobbler that it could have very well come out of someone's grandma's personal kitchen. It was hot, delicious and a completely appropriate close to this fine meal. If you're into this sort of food, I cannot recommend Texaz Grill highly enough. It is most definitely not indigenous Phoenix fare but it's exemplary for its genre and it's thoroughly enjoyable. It also happens to be a great value. Our meal, with a 20%+ tip was under $70. This food -- at this quality level -- is also something that, to my knowledge, is not so readily available at home in Chicago. For that reason alone, we always feels that it's worth a stop. That fact that it's truly excellent in its own right was a delightful surprise during our first visit and is something we've come to count on and look forward to, ever since. =R= The Texaz Grill 6003 N 16th St Phoenix, AZ 85016 (602) 248-7827
  20. Sunday morning in Phoenix and it's not that we can't bear the idea of eating brunch at our hotel -- the food there is certainly passable. But we'd like to bite off something a bit more meaningful before we head to our first Cubs game of the pre-season. Experience tells me that the food at Hohokam Park is not worth skipping a meal for. Based on a friend's reminder, we decide to hit Richardson's New Mexican Restaurant, where we'd enjoyed a lunch the last time we were in Phoenix. It's near our hotel, on the way to the ballpark and from what we remember, their food is distinctive and quite tasty. The place is dark and the dining room offers seating exclusively in adobe-esque plaster booths accented with minimally comfortable, black upholstered pillows. The tabletops are covered with attractive punched tin. And even though there's no one smoking, a sign on the door warns that no smoking section is provided. Nonetheless, we cross our fingers and take a round booth near the back of the restaurant. The offerings are pretty straightforward. We started out with a plate of New Mexican sausages which were really tasty. They were smothered with salsa verde and pinto beans. My wife and I both choose breakfast burritos, which are filled with eggs, nueske bacon (at least it's good quality if not exactly regionally representative) and again smothered with the requisite salsa verde and pinto beans. My son opts for one of the specials; tenderloin benedict with jalapeno hollandaise sauce. A few other tempting specials were also on the board, like blueberry pancakes and a mixed grill. The burritos were tasty and sastisfying. There's something about a big sloppy plate of New Mexican breakfast that really hits the spot, even though it may not be the most artistic plate one can enjoy. There's not a lot of panache here but the food is well-prepared and excellent in quality. I'm not much of a tenderloin fan but the benedict was really nice. The hollandaise delivered a slight heat and the flavor of the jalapenos really came through, which was probably in part due to the very neutral flavor of the tenderloin beneath it. Nonetheless, it was a solid dish. The breakfast at Richardson's, not surprisingly, reminded us a lot of the lunch we'd had a couple years back. They have their niche and the cover it well. There's a lot of grilled and smothered meat and other hearty fare being served here. But the meat is of good quality, it's prepared very well and the accompanying elements, which are, I'm told, decidedly New Mexican in their aesthetic, are delicious. Consistency is one of the most underrated aspects of a good restaurant, so it's nice to walk into a place you haven't been in two years and get exactly what you expected. Too often that's much easier offered than accomplished. My only complaints about Richardson's are quite personal. I hate cigarette smoke (especially around my food) and for a big guy like myself with a not-so-great hip, their booths are relatively uncomfortable. On this particular day, I don't recall anyone smoking during our meal (phew!) and I managed to squeeze myself into a part of our booth where I actually fit! I certainly wouldn't describe it as comfortable but I managed. Service was terrific. Our server was very friendly, well-informed and thorough. We never waited very long for anything, she anticipated many of our needs and she answered all our questions accurately, as we asked them. With Richardson's, it really is a case of what you see is what you get. Quality is excellent, portions are hearty and the food is tasty. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about New Mexican food to gauge its authenticity but I've never heard or read any protests about Richardson's claim of serving New Mexican cuisine, so I'm guessing that it is at least mostly authentic. And I'd definitely recommend the place -- especially for a Sunday morning breakfast. =R=
  21. Here's a bit more detailed take on my first trip to Arlecchino, which I alluded to above . . . With the possible exception of some great gelato I once enjoyed outside the Duomo in Florence, the Arlecchino Gelateria in Phoenix serves the best gelato I've ever eaten. Period. It is rich and dense and the flavors are simply unparalleled. Not only did I cap off my panini with a 2-scoop portion of delectable, creamy gelato but I also returned to Arlecchino 3 more times during my stay in Phoenix. I normally don't even like sweets, yet I found myself thinking about Arlecchino at all hours. I'd wake up in the middle of the night and think about which flavors I was going to try the next day. I became instantly obsessed. Arlecchino is owned by married couple Marina and Moreno Spangaro, who left Italy for the Phoenix area a few years back. Before they came to the U.S., Moreno was persuasive enough to arrange for himself an extremely rare, 2-year apprenticeship, learning the 'ins and outs' of gelato from the famed 'Maestro' in Trieste, Italy; Fabio Sacchetto. After agreeing that he would never open a gelateria in Italy or reveal the recipes without specific consent from Sacchetto, Moreno began working 14-hour days, without pay, learning the craft. Obviously, seasonality plays a huge part in Arlecchino's gelatos. This is especially true because they are made 100% from scratch. No bases, flavors, purees or concentrates are ever used. As far as Moreno is concerned, gelato which includes such ingredients is not really gelato at all. On my first trip to Arlecchino, I enjoyed a scoop of pistachio and a scoop of cortina (roasted almond with lingonberry). I could not believe how bright the flavors were, how rich and dense the gelato was and how satisfying the mouthfeel was. It was simply perfection. Over the ensuing days, I also enjoyed the gianduja (chocolate and hazelnut with cherries imported from Italy), mascarpone, lemon, strawberry, valentino (pomegranate) and many, many more. On our last day, a new flavor had appeared in the case: blood orange. Marina told us that it was the last batch of the season. Their friends near San Diego, who have a blood orange tree in their yard, had just sent them the last fruit of the season. The resulting product was singularly spectacular. I cannot express in words how tremendous this gelato was. It makes me sad thinking about how long it will be before I get to enjoy it again. But I know that someday -- probably next spring -- I'll have another chance. In the interim, I have begun my search for a suitable substitute but I'm not optimistic. =R= Arlecchino Gelateria 4410 N 40th St. Phoenix AZ 85018 602 955-2448
  22. I bypass the BK kiosk at the Las Vegas airport, even though it's the only food available. It's 8:30 am and I'm not quite ready for a burger -- especially a BK burger. And for whatever reason, breakfast, to which I would have succomb, is not being offered here. The flight offers way too much drama and most of it occurs before we even take off. First, everyone in the cabin is suddenly thrown forward when the pilot brakes hard in order to avoid another aircraft, no more than 20 yards from us on the tarmac. Once in-line for take-off, we're delayed again due to a light aircraft, on a photo shoot, meandering around the airport and refusing to vacate. Our flight crew was so green, they could barely read the scripted, pre-flight safety instructions or pour the drinks and our landing in Phoenix was more of a 'bounce' off the runway than an actual landing. Nothing like some good airport drama to work up the old appetite. A friend told me that there was a great, food-intensive strip mall at 40th Street and Campbell (only one shop here is not food-related, iirc), which used to be a post office. Now it housed, among other businesses (more on these later), a great wine bar/sandwich shop called Postino. It was Saturday afternoon in the desert. The sun was shining. It was 78 degrees F and Postino was comfortably full with an ecclectic looking group of folks ranging from their 20's to their 60's. The large doors which formed the main outside wall had been pulled open so that the indoor and outdoor seating areas blended together into one. Music was playing and it once again felt great to be on vacation. The food menu at Postino is very simple: a few aptly-themed starters like olives and cheeses, a handful of thoughtful salads and a couple of categories of bread-based selections -- bruschetta and panini -- offered with a fairly wide variety of toppings and fillings. Panini were offered on a choice of either focaccia or ciabatta. A few desserts round out the menu. The beverage program at Postino is well-conceived and distinctive. About 30 wines are offered by-the-glass at prices between $8 and $13 per. Within each wine category several varieties are offered: 3 sparklings, a dozen or so whites, a few more reds than whites and 3 dessert wines. The white and red wines are listed first by grape, then origin and vintage. I don't believe any grape was represented by more than one wine on the menu and that made the selection a unique and diverse one. The beer menu at Postino was also compelling. It lists nearly 2 dozen well-chosen brews; a diverse roster which covered a wide variety of styles and origins. All of these offerings are served on tap and priced between $4-$8 per mug. We each ordered a panini and a beverage. I had the 'Autostrada' (sopresatta, prosciutto, cappicola, mortadella, and provolone dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil) on ciabatta and a glass of LGO "Loosen" Reisling. My wife had the 'Prosciutto with Brie' (prosciutto with triple-cream brie, figs and arugula dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil) on ciabatta and a glass of Man Vinters Chenin Blanc. The little man had the 'Ham and Cheese' (Applewood-smoked ham with provolone and mozzarella cheese topped with tomatoes and dressed with Sierra Nevada mustard) and a Sprite. Wife and I also split an extremely tasty and well-conceived 'Mixed Greens' salad which was comprised of seasonal greens, dried cranberries, candied pecans, figs, gorgonzola cheese -- and served with Postino’s berry vinaigrette. The ciabatta on which the panini were served was excellent, noteworthy. It was hearty and crusty and dusty with flour. The crumb was moist, slightly sour and boasted a gorgeous network of unevenly-sized air pockets which revealed the craftsmanship with which it had been produced. It is baked at MJ Bread, which is a commercial bakery, just a few doors down from Postino, in this same strip mall. The 'fillings' on the sandwiches were also top-notch but the bread was the star of the show, by far. It was a very satisfying breakfast/lunch/snack and even though I was pretty full (and hadn't finished my gigantic panini), I still felt compelled to check out the well-regarded Arlecchino Gelateria, which is in the same building; located just around the corner from Postino. We'd heard and read such great things about it, there was no way we were going to skip it. =R= Postino Winecafe' 3939 East Campbell Ave Phoenix, AZ 602-852-3939
  23. We all have our own personal outcome/expectations formulas which, for better or for worse, affect the way we ultimately feel about the places at which we've eaten. Because my expectations for Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier were so high, I was nervous that I'd be disappointed by it. So far, our 3 earlier dining experiences in Vegas had been a mixed bag and while we'd enjoyed everything we'd eaten, with the exception of Lotus of Siam, none of it really exceeded our expectations. We'd saved L'Atelier for last and the moment had finally arrived. After a short walk through the MGM, we found ourselves in 'Robuchon corner,' where L'Atelier and the more formal 'Mansion' were located, right next to each other. Even though we hadn't specifically reserved seats at the counter, our request was accomodated and the 4 of us were seated at the counter right away. I'd made the reservations and really had no idea at the time that non-counter seating was even available. I suppose that a meal taken at a table could be just as enjoyable but that seemed to go against the grain of the entire concept at L'Atelier where chefs prepare and plate your meals directly in front of you at the counter and at the open kitchen, which is located directly behind the counter. Shiny blackish-gray granite, black tile and chrome surfaces dominate L'Atelier's sleek interior and there are accents of red throughout. Chefs are clad in black uniforms with red trim at the pockets, etc. The overall room is dark with zoned lighting focused on the kitchen, eating areas at the counters and tables. The space looks futuristic but in spite of that, also conveys a feeling of warmth too. In any case, it certainly is one of the most distinctively-designed restaurants I've ever seen. Here are a few fantastic images, captured by my friend John Sconzo (eGS member docsconz), at the meal we shared: The 'Discovery Menu,' is an approximately 10-course tasting menu and there is also an la carte menu which offers tasting portions of a couple dozen items as well as hot and cold appetizers and full-sized entrees. My friend and I each opted for the Discovery Menu (adding one course, the Langoustine, from the a la carte offerings) and my wife and son decided to create their own tasting menu by ordering and sharing several items from the a la carte menu. Here's the menu we had: L'Amuse-Bouche Honeydew gelee, peppered yogurt and prosciutto ham . . . nice, brightly-flavored, a perfect palate opener. Le Thon Rouge Bluefin tuna with tomato infused olive oil . . . clean, distinctive flavors which complemented each other well and showcased the tuna. Le Langoustine Crispy langoustine fritter with basil pesto . . . loved this crispy and tender bite of succulent langoustine. La Saint-Jacques Fresh Scallop cooked in the shell with seaweed butter . . . immaculately fresh and tender scallop accented wonderfully with the seaweed butter. Le Homard Maine lobster custard with curry scent and fennel foam . . . decadance made subtle, a wonderful combination. L'Asperge Verte Cappucino of green asparagus . . . this really was the essence of asparagus, just terrific. La Morille Crispy tart with fresh morels, onions and bacon . . . I enjoyed this simple tart quite a bit. La Caille Free-range quail stuffed with foie gras and served with truffled mashed potatoes . . . my favorite course, great, luxury ingredients which worked perfectly together. Robuchon's legendary pommes puree were all they were cracked up to be. L'Ananas Pineapple sorbet, passionfruit sauce and caramel mousse . . . light, refreshing and sweet -- but not overly so. A nice pre-dessert. Le Chocolat Sensation - Creme Araguani with oreo cookie crumbs . . . I loved the balance of this dessert. It was deep and rich but had enough sweetness for me, too. I also tasted a few of the items ordered by my wife and son. I have to say that I loved them all including the 'prosciutto' ham served with toasted tomato bread, the Norwegian smoked salmon with potato waffle and the Atelier-style spaghetti which was very similar to carbonara and done to perfection. Service was wonderful -- professional, knowledgeable and friendly. The concept of these luxurious but approachable dishes being served by the chef, at the counter, is a fantastic one. Rumor has it that the Robuchon team will be opening a L'Atelier in Chicago. I certainly hope it's true and if it is I definitely plan to dine there on a regular basis. This experience was fantastic on every level and easily surpassed my expectations over and over again. When it was all over, I was actually sad that it had come to an end. I certainly couldn't have eaten anymore but we'd had such a great time, I wished it could have continued. =R= L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon 3799 Las Vegas Blvd S Las Vegas, 89109 (702) 891-7777 Thanks again to docsconz for the fantastic images in this post.
  24. I think it was the Kids in the Hall who once referred to Las Vegas as 'a small dog, barking in the desert.' As I walked into the Venetian Hotel, I couldn't get that term out of my mind. Here was this empirically lovely hotel, which -- had I been deposited therein, unaware of my actual location -- would have probably impressed me, no end. Yet, the knowledge that I was in Las Vegas, so tainted my perception of the joint, that the more of it I saw -- the painted ceilings, the golden statues, the intricately-patterned carpets -- the more ridiculous it all seemed. Its opulence was so faux, so gaudy, it was essentialy mocking itself. A friend told me that Bouchon was on the 2nd floor and had described the exact location of the elevator I'd need to use to get there. That was good because the less time I had to spend navigating the cavernous hotel and walking through it, the more time I'd have to eat. As I hurried toward what I hoped would be a great breakfast, I will admit that the idea of a French-themed eatery, via California, being located inside this excessively Italian-esque hotel, did absolutely nothing to make the moment seem less 'Vegasy.' I wondered if people really did take this place seriously. Was I just some jaded old man? Did the Venetian possess a true beauty that was simply wasted on me? As the door of the restaurant came into view, my stomach began to growl and that, thankfully, ended my Vegas-morning introspection. Bouchon's space is cool and imitates, well . . . a bouchon quite nicely. The colorful tile floor is beautiful, and the zinc bar is dramatic . . . Images courtesy of Eliot Wexler. Service was a bit slow and my wife whispered to me, "even if we were in France, we'd have coffee our by now." Having already put my own mental machinations about such issues to rest, I very calmly reminded her that we were actually in Las Vegas and urged her to sit tight. Sure enough, only a few more minutes passed before our server appeared with a fresh pot of coffee and an apology. We gave him our order and when my son couldn't decide what kind of pastry he wanted, our server was more than happy to walk him over to the counter so he could decide by looking at the offerings. I tried the croissant, which was as good as any I'd ever enjoyed. It was golden brown and crusty on the outside and light and delicately layered in the inside. Because of its overall lightness, I think it would be accurate to describe it as ethereal. Yet it was also buttery and rich. My wife opted for the lemon scone. I am not normally a scone fan (they remind me of a cookie in which an ingredient or 2 have been forgotten) but this one was very tasty. My son had the cheese danish which was very straightforward and very delicious. The hot food came next and the best of the lot was the terrific Baked Egg casserole which included sun-dried tomato, bread cubes, cheese and lardon. It was served with a side of delectable and crispy-tender potato cubes, which we all loved. My Croque Madame, served on brioche and topped with a fried egg and Mornay sauce was also excellent and satisfying. I've heard great things about the frites at Bouchon but the ones that came with the CM didn't wow me. They were hot and crispy, yes but very, very dry and gave every appearance of having been frozen (which is not to say that they were, I'm honestly not sure). My son opted for the Breakfast Americaine and again it was very straightforward. The eggs were scrambled lightly, as ordered and the frites were, unfortunately, identical to the ones that came with my sandwich. The Hobbs bacon that came with the BA was very tasty and the Country sausage was densely porky and really delicious. I loved the flavor and the definition of the links and it comforted me to see that they took the varying shapes of the natural casings into which they were packed. We also tried the Boudin Blanc and it was delicate in texture and tangy and rich in flavor. It was a very good rendition that communicated fully the subtlety of this often mis-produced sausage. There were a couple other items that I wish we'd been able to try but we were quite full and even then, we left the better part of our 2 generously-portioned orders of frites behind. If there is a "next time in Vegas" for me, I'd definitely return to Bouchon . . . not only to sample more of the breakfast items but also to try out their lunch or dinner offerings as well. After breakfast, we treated ourselves to 'relaxing' gondola ride in the 'canal' just outside the front of the hotel. The deep, melodic voice of our gondolier singing opera mixed surrealistically with the sounds of traffic rising from the Las Vegas strip. It was one of the most bizarre moments I'd exprienced in quite a while and I knew that if I didn't eat something else soon, it could end up traumatizing me. =R= Bouchon at the Venetian 3355 Las Vegas Blvd S Las Vegas, 89109
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