Archive for the ‘ Arizona Restaurants ’ Category

 

Beckett’s Table: The soul of culinary confection

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Written by: Terri Campbell

Opened in 2010 Chef Justin & Michelle Beckett, along with Scott and Katie Stephens, launched a ‘new’ vision including ‘old’ favorites.  Nestled between the elegance of the Biltmore area and the hip and trendy Arcadia neighborhood, Beckett’s Table is an upscale dining experience with a comfortable casual feel.  The restaurant owners and chefs strive to support local farms and the culinary community by creating gastronomic dishes inspired by the soul food of the south using local Arizona produce and other ingredients––right down to regional vino on their extensive and award-winning wine list, which is managed by Scott and Katie as the resident sommeliers.

The restaurant décor has a modern and cozy feel, with an inviting brick-lined bar, block walls, subway tile, distressed concrete floors, and leather-capped, comfy cushioned chairs.  In the cooler months of the year, the patio has an inviting fireplace for guests to gather around to share their stories.

As stated on the website, “Chef and owner Justin Beckett has created an eatery where you and yours can gather around his kitchen to indulge in a hearty assortment of seasonal, American dishes. The neighborhood restaurant is a safe haven for sophisticated foodies and families alike. Expect excellent food and service without pretension or fluff. Beckett’s Table is a special place to bring close friends and relatives to make lasting memories over incredible comfort food.”

Beckett’s Table has been featured on “Check Please Arizona” and “Table 42” In addition; the restaurant has won several awards and/or accolades including:

Best Comfort Food
Arizona Foothills

Top Chef – 2013
Arizona Restaurant Association

Arizona’s 50 Best Restaurants
Phoenix Magazine

Best Chefs America: 2013
Best Chefs America

Valley’s Top 11 Chefs
Arizona Foothills

We began our soulful culinary journey with a few cocktails and wine, then we moved on to several tantalizing appetizers and salads…eventually savoring several mouth-watering entrées and finishing with a couple signature desserts.

DRINKS

  • Legend City Cocktail- A tribute to Phoenix nostalgia named after the long-gone amusement park! This was a wild ride of Woodford Bourbon, House-Made Honey Syrup and Lemonade, Ricard, Peychaud Bitters and a twist of lemon.
  • Farm to Glass- An ever changing and always fresh; seasonal organics muddled and mixed into a happy beverage.  The special this day included a mix of lemon and bourbon topped with a grilled lemon garnish.  This tasted like I should be sitting on a porch with my granddad in a rocking chair. Old fashioned fun.
  • Palmaire- Beckett’s home, the little house located on Palmaire, was the inspiration for this magenta-infused cocktail.  Ketel One Orange Vodka, pomegranate liquor, pomegranate juice, house-made honey syrup and lemonade soda, garnished with pomegranate seeds & fresh mint.  A cooling summer delight.
  • Duckhorn Pinot Noir- A glass full of berries with a hearty finish.  Not your traditional Pinot!

APPETIZERS

  • Heirloom Tomato Salad – heirloom tomatoes, lavender, gina’s feta, puffed quinoa
  • Veggie Chopped Salad – seasonal vegetable gems, seeds, fruit, champagne basil vinaigrette
  • Deep Fried Deviled Eggs, hot sauce aioli, pickled fresno.  Sinfully delightful!



ENTRÉES

  • Red Rock Cod -quinoa tabbouleh, preserved lemon yogurt, chimichurri quinoa and pesto.
  • Scottish Salmon, garden vegetable ragout, pesto, blistered tomato.  Fresh to the last nibble.
  • Steamed White Bass, mcclendon’s select organic vegetables. A light but fulfilling and flavorful dish.  Try it with a touch of cracked pepper as a garnish.
  • The Special of the Day:  Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans with mushroom gravy- Comfort food at its best.  Our friend threatened to lick his plate after the last bite.  It’s just that good!



SIDES

  • Cheddar biscuits with apple butter.  In a word, YUM!  The apple butter in combination with the cheddar and bacon made this a culinary trip for the taste buds.  Savory, salty and sweet!

DESSERTS

  • Strawberry “shortcake”- maple bourbon ice cream, cookie crumb, praline.  Tasty, but… Where was the cake? It must be a play on words…
  • Toasted Coconut Cake, brown butter ice cream, coconut pudding, smoked cashew.  A moist mouth-watering sensation of the tropics.
  • Chocolate Dipped Bacon S’mores, caramel, house made marshmallow, whipped peanut butter, graham cracker.  I was not a fan of the chocolate covered bacon, but the combination of peanut butter with toasted marshmallows and graham crackers tasted like I was sitting around an old fashioned campfire. A flashback to childhood.


BOTTOM LINE: Beckett’s Table is a casual hip neighborhood restaurant with a touch of elegance…where, when you enter, you feel right at home.  Beckett’s Table, is a must when visiting the Phoenix area.

Beckett’s Table Contact information:

Phone: 602-954-1700
Address: 3717 E. Indian School Rd | Phoenix, AZ 85018
Email: info@beckettstable.com
Website: http://BeckettsTable.com
Hours: 5pm to 10pm Tuesday – Saturday – Sunday 5pm to 9pm

Here is an outstanding video on Beckett’s Table:

Talavera typifies fine-dining

Friday, June 20th, 2014

The Four Seasons is synonymous with luxury and uncompromising quality…the Scottsdale location in the northern part of the city embodies those guiding principles that make the brand so coveted. Nestled at the foothills of Pinnacle Peak (an iconic rock formation and historic North Scottsdale area), amid towering saguaro cacti and giant boulders, the resort embraces the desert’s rugged landscape through its thoughtful design. The property provides a desert sanctuary and momentary sojourn for its guests and visitors.

I recently embarked on a Scottsdale culinary journey and wanted to make sure that Talavera (The resorts fine-dining restaurant) was one of those stops. Scottsdale is well-known for its diverse and high quality collection of outstanding restaurants—as you will see and read, Talavera lives up to the community’s restaurant reputation. The seasonally-inspired dishes that are artfully presented, along with a world-class setting, make Talavera a destination that certainly summons the gastronomic enthusiast.

Scottsdale locals, as well as many tourists, will be familiar with the drive to the Four Seasons Scottsdale—it shares the same route as the historic Scottsdale dining attraction, Pinnacle Peak Patio. Since the six decades when the Scottsdale landmark was built, the area has grown up into one of the most coveted places to live in Scottsdale. The desert landscape and elevated surroundings of Pinnacle Peak certainly provide a sensational resort and dining setting for the Four Seasons and its Talavera Restaurant.

As soon as you enter Talavera and its adjacent lounge, you can feel the memories from Scottsdale’s frontier days, with its vibrant Southwestern décor woven throughout. The textures, materials and colors are a cornucopia of design elements…rustic, yet highly refined, in its Southwestern style. My girlfriend Terri and I remark at how intricate the decor was and that many of the design combinations were so unique that we would never have thought to put them together…yet they work with great synergy.

Terri and I were joined for dinner by another couple, which allowed us to try several dishes during our dining experience. We started the evening out with a few of their crafted spirits while we delved into the menu. Our cocktails included:

  • Springtime Lemonade – Ciroc, lemon, rosemary, simple and lemonade…a crisp clean concoction.
  • Sonoran Oasis – Absolute Pear, Canton, house lemon cello, orange juice and pineapple…a taste of the tropics and Italy all in one.
  • Hanger one cocktail – Sunizona, tomato, grapes, thyme and agave…a unique combination playing homage the Southwest.
  • Jalisco Heat – Partida blanco, strawberry with Jalapeno and lime. This was the biggest surprise and perhaps our favorite drink…the heat from the Jalapeno provided the cocktail a perfect yin and yang affect.

We then began to dive into the menu. First up was:

  • Iceberg wedge salad with avocado, lump crab, blue cheese and Nueske’s bacon…a seafood lovers delight.
  • White Asparagus Salad with Maine Lobster, corn panna cotta, chorizo and lemon truffle was a refreshing summer sensation with a Mexican flair.
  • Lobster & Corn Bisque with short rib croquette and charred corn was an interesting combination of surf meets turf, but with far too few lobster bites.
  • Roasted artichoke hearts with bacon and olives was a savory sensation.


Entrées included:

  • 8oz Buffalo Tenderloin wrapped in bacon with a purple sweet potato mash and a brandied cherry glacé. This filet was so lean and tender…the bacon and cherry combination set the dish off masterfully.
  • Chilean Sea Bass with a potato risotto, artichokes and braised oxtail. Tender white fish takes a dip in a flavorful potato risotto.
  • Diver Scallops with spring pea risotto and crispy pancetta was another savory surf meets turf combination…where the sea and land collide, creating an explosion of flavor.
  • Copper River Salmon with Oregon truffles, ramps in a mushroom broth was a delicately prepared dish full of gastronomic gusto.

Desserts:

  • Fresh Seasonal Berries with a frozen yogurt and honey Florentine was a perfect palate cleanser to a decadent meal.
  • Grilled Strawberry shortcake with a cheesecake mouse and caramel powder…need I say more.
  • I really wanted to try the Croissant crusted Crème Brûlée with berries and crispy orange, but no one else did and I just didn’t think I could finish it given the extraordinary dishes that preceded it.
  • We also had some locally roasted coffee presented in a large stainless steel French Press that was so aromatic and delicious.

Dining at Talavera really is an experience…in addition to having many wonderful entrees to choose from, they also have creative tasting menus and pairings to explore. You can dine both inside or out on the patio to take in the extraordinary views. We thought it would be a bit warm to dine outside, so we opted to stay in. In hindsight, we wish we had chosen the patio as the weather soon cooled off and was quite comfortable outside. After dinner Terri and I checked out the lounge patio where some excellent acoustic music was being performed. We then strolled the grounds and sat next to a mesmerizing water and fire feature, as a once-in-a-100 year “Honey Moon” rose over the mountains and illuminated the dark surroundings like a giant spotlight.

Over all, it was a fantastic evening had by all. Our only critique was that of the service…while our server was well informed and personable enough, he did seem quite busy and left us waiting much too long between courses. We did like however that the restaurant manager came by each table during the main course to make sure everything was satisfactory. If you’ve ever dined at Talavera Steakhouse at the Four Seasons Scottsdale location, please leave a comment below and share your experience or favorite dish.

Contact Information for Talavera Restaurant at the Four Seasons Scottsdale

Address: 10600 East Crescent Moon Drive, Scottsdale, Arizona 85262
Reservations: (480) 515-5700 | Open Table
Hours: [September-May] Tuesday to Sunday 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm [June-August] Thursday-Sunday (same hours)
Website: Talavera Restaurant
Attire: Resort casual

Sanctuary “elements:” Where Yin Meets Yang

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Written by: Terri Campbell

Arizona is recognized for some of the most amazing resorts in the world.  Sanctuary, located in the heart of Scottsdale is an upscale resort at the top of that list.

In addition to the breathtaking scenery, tranquil spa and modern classic rooms, Sanctuary houses the award-winning restaurant, “elements” and “Jade Bar”.

Atop Camelback Mountain with jaw dropping views of Mummy Mountain, “elements” has wall-to-wall windows that showcase the setting sun flickering on the swaying palms, an inviting negative edge pool, ambient music and private/secluded booths… a recipe for romance.

The decor has an Asian flare, clean and modern. This theme carries through the entire restaurant, from the bamboo accents to the Yin and Yang shaped salt and pepper dishes atop each table.

The menu consists of farm fresh American cuisine with an Asian influence. “elements” is home to Executive Chef and television personality Beau MacMillan. As stated by the Food Network, “Beau MacMillan inspires his staff with his passion for fresh ingredients. His ingenuity in the kitchen is stimulated by his belief that food should not be overworked, but rather appreciated for its simplicity and natural perfection.”  Chef Beau keeps things fresh by implementing menu changes that pair with each season (3-4 times annually).  We were fortunate enough to sample the brand new summer menu and all it has to offer.  We began our culinary journey of the menu with a couple of signature cocktails and tantalizing starters.

COCKTAILS

  • Jade Bar’s  Botticelli – American harvest vodka, aperol Italian bitters, freshly pressed lime and grapefruit juice topped by 2 oz. of champagne.  This beverage was a refreshing sensation of bubbly fun!
  • ‘elements’ The Fiery Mandarin – vodka, serrano pepper, orange zest, cranberry and lemon. A unique combination of sweet and spicy ingredients, which fits perfectly within the well-balanced yin and yang theme.

STARTERS

  • Hamachi Sashimi – the watermelon, jalapeño and yellowtail is a refreshing summer sensation of flavor to help cool the brazen Arizona heat.
  • Salt Roasted Beets – the Asian pear, roasted beets, sunflower seeds and creamy boursin cheese created a potpourri of texture and flavor.  A brilliant array of color designing an artistic masterpiece.


ENTRÉES

  • Bacon Wrapped Filet of Beef- titillating steak spice atop the tender filet, charred onion, oyster mushrooms with a balsamic chili glaze. A mouth-watering amusement ride for your taste buds.
  • Hawaiian Nairagi – the sticky rice, avocado, lobster and mango kimchee produced a cornucopia of seasonally inspired ingredients that beautifully accentuate the delicate fish.  Served medium rare, neither of us was familiar with this native Hawaiian fish, but we were particularly impressed with the mild flavor and tender texture.


SIDES

  • Brussels Sprouts and Pork Belly Hash- the al dente vegetables paired nicely with the salty savory pork.
  • Lobster Mac n’ Cheese with Mushrooms- richly decedent…a few bites was more than enough to satisfy the richest of palates.

DESSERTS

  • Honey Poached Apricots with citrus sponge cake, almond granola and orange sorbet.  Tangy and sweet with the granola topping to add a touch of crunch.  Another well balanced set of ingredients marrying the restaurant’s yin and yang theme.
  • Chocolate Stout Torte- dark chocolate mousse, malt crumble and salted caramel gelato, a chocolate lover’s dream.  But what drew us to this dessert was the Caramel gelato, a melt in your mouth creamy delight.


BOTTOM LINE:

The grounds, the décor and the menu items, were a visually appealing culinary journey.  The well-balanced unique and fresh ingredients piqued our senses creating a very memorable and romantic dining experience.   Sanctuary’s “elements”…it’s where Yin meets Yang.  If you’ve been to “elements” before, please leave a comment below and share your dining experience.

Sanctuary’s ‘elements’ Restaurant Information:

Address: 5700 East McDonald Drive – Paradise Valley, Arizona 85253
Reservations: 480.607.2300
Website: elements restaurant

Great Table 42 video on ‘elements’ restaurant:

Citizen Public House: Where comfort meets class

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Scottsdale, Arizona has long been a hotbed for innovative culinary cuisine and trendy nightclubs, especially clustered within the downtown/old town area. I recently received a suggestion from one of my readers encouraging me to try one of the latest gastronomic experiences, Citizen Public House (CPH). My readers rarely steer me wrong, my dining and cocktail experience at CPH was no exception.

Nestled in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, Citizen Public House does not have a flashy exterior or entrance, but what it lacks in glam and glimmer, it makes up for with vivacity. CPH is not fancy or pretentious, like some Scottsdale establishments…it just feels good. It’s a journey that begins with that first step over the threshold…the warmth of the staff in the open and airy space envelopes you. The tables and cozy seating niches flank the central focal point of the restaurant…the bar—also known as, mixology central. Here, the artisan cocktail makers create concoction you’ve likely never experienced before.  There are no everyday drinks from which to imbibe. Each cocktail creation has its own distinct personality and killer looks, the libations traverse the landscape from rich and warm, to light and tart. The bar resides underneath the building’s original large slanted wooden beams overhead. The interior is slightly modern with a mild industrial feel. While the floor plan is wide open, there is an intimate patio and semi-private dining alcove for larger parties.

Because creative cocktails are part of the CPH DNA, my guests and I decided we’d order a variety of drinks throughout the night and share each of them. One thing you’ll notice as you enter the restaurant is a cluster of barrels across from the bar…smaller than wine or whiskey, but similar nonetheless. The mixology professors have created a series of cocktails, which are age for up to six months in the barrels. In other words, they are blending various spirits together to make truly unique cocktails.

We tried two barrel-cocktails and really enjoyed the Boulvadier, we however would not order the Negroni again.

  • Boulvadier – Maker’s 46 Bourbon, Campari with sweet vermouth.
  • Negroni – Beefeater 24-gin, Campari and Sweet Vermouth.

We then tried several of their “house” cocktails:

  • The Persian – Absolute Wild Tea vodka, elderflower liqueur, sweet and sour, Persian cucumber juice, lemon peel served on the rocks.
  • Citi-zen – Absolut Pear vodka, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, sweet & sour, rock candy, lemon twist, served straight up in a martini glass.
  • The IM-Port – Jameson Irish Whiskey, Tawny Port, tobacco bitters, Guinness stout foam, smoked sugar rim on the rocks.
  • Real Irish Crème coffee for dessert…coffee, Irish whiskey with thick, rich, sweet cream on top.

The Persian was really good, full of flavor and uniqueness. The namesake “Citi-zen,” was good, but a bit on the bland side and we’d probably not order that one again. The IM-Port was the biggest surprise…none of us would have ordered it if it were not highly suggested by AJ (our server). As soon as the drink hit my taste buds, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it. But then, just a second or two later, as my palate began to process the wild mix of flavors, I was pleasantly surprised…enthralled even. My guests all had pretty much the same reaction and assessment. For dessert, many folks will order a Baileys with coffee, but at Citizen Public House, they make a real Irish Coffee with Irish Whiskey and a sweet extra rich cream on top…it was delicious!

The dishes to follow continue the adventure, each plate its own family of uniquely unexpected textures and tastes that command engagement of all the senses. Sophisticated, yet accessible, the menu invites guests to open their minds and palates.

The food menu is split into the following categories: Bar Snacks, Starters, Sandwiches, Entrees and Dessert. We decided we’d try at least one items from each of the four categories.

Bar Snack:

  • Bacon fat heirloom popcorn – chunks of bacon with popcorn tossed in bacon fat. Addictive…need I say more?

Starters:

  • Pork Belly Pastrami, which was a tender pork belly, rye spaetzle, Brussels sprout sauerkraut and mustard jus. A little on the fatty side, but tender and full of flavor.
  • Deep sea crab cakes with smoked red pepper aioli and celery root slaw…absolutely delicious!
  • The Orginal Chopped Salad so famous it has its own Facebook page. Let me tell you, this salad is a MUST! It has cold smoked salmon; freeze dried roasted corn, chopped arugula, Israeli couscous, Roma tomatoes, black currants, pepitas and asiago cheese. The salad is tossed/blended with the perfect dressing right at your table.

Sandwiches:

  • Truffle Grilled Cheese – White truffle scented mashed potato, Emmental melted onion, French bread with a simple field of greens. I thumbed my nose at this item, but the ladies I was with really wanted to try it, so I acquiesced and was so glad I did.

Entrées:

  • Pan seared scallops with Tender Belly Hampshire bacon, roasted corn grits, wilted snow pea greens and cola gastrique. Outstanding dish…highly recommend it.
  • Fair-Trade Short Ribs with a local coffee rub, roasted parsnip puree, dried cherry BBQ sauce and sautéed greens. Similar to the Pork Belly Pastrami in that it was a bit on the fatty side for my tastes, but this dish goes well with the CPH gourmet pub motif. No question full of flavor and I loved the roasted parsnip puree.
  • Featured special was a Sauteed Branzino (European Seabass) with beet puree, sautéed spinach, charred yellow tomato vinaigrette, fried leeks with micro celery. This dish was so artfully plated and an item I’d never had before. Branzino is thinner than other Seabass (i.e. Chilean) I’ve had and they prepare it with the skin on, and, in a way in which it is eatable. It was both unique and delicious.

Capping off the evening were desserts created by renowned pastry chef, Tracy Dempsey, celebrating several childhood classics in a grownup wardrobe.

Dessert:

  • Apple Turnover with apple crumble ice cream topped with a vanilla glaze…this was good, but the PB&B was better.
  • PB&B Pudding Jar – banana, caramel & vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers and peanut butter shortbread fingers. Decadent…enough said.
  • Real Irish Crème coffee for dessert…coffee, Irish whiskey with thick, rich, sweet cream on top. Stronger than Baileys, but equally intoxicating.

Service:

I usually don’t go out of my way to talk too much about the service at a restaurant, but in this case, I’d be remise.  My guests and I collectively agreed that AJ was one of the best servers we all had ever experienced. From his knowledge of the menu and its collection of complex ingredients, anticipating our needs before speaking a request, to his personality, passion, and downright enthusiasm for his job. AJ made sure our experience would not be one we’d soon forget…this gentlemen could write a manual on the craft of service.

Bottom line:

An evening at Citizen Public House cannot be contained within the word “dinner” or even in the phrase “dining out.” It’s a place where comfort meets class. The food and cocktail ingredients are as imaginative, as they are delicious.

If you’ve ever been to the Citizen Public House in Old Town Scottsdale, please leave a comment below and share your experience and/or favorite dish or cocktail.

Citizen Public House Restaurant Contact Information:

Address: 7111 E. 5th Avenue Suite E –Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Phone: 480.398.4208
Website: CitizenPublicHouse.com
Email: info@citizenpublichouse.com
Hours: Open 7 days a week 3 pm to 11 pm
Late Night: Thursday – Saturday ’til 1:30 AM

Mother’s Day at the Wigwam

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

As someone who has lived in Arizona off and on most of my life, I have always been familiar with the historic Wigwam Resort, but for whatever reason, a visit had eluded me. As a travel blogger on the road most of the time, it’s been years since I had been in Arizona during Mother’s Day—so, this year, I wanted to make it special for Mom. As most of us do, I researched online for the best places for Mother’s Day brunch. My folks live west of Phoenix in Wickenburg, so I was looking for a place that was fairly close to them…I (re)discovered the Wigwam.

The Wigwam has a fascinating history that dates back some 80 years and is tightly connected to Arizona’s Five “Cs,” Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate. In Arizona’s early days, Goodyear Tire & Rubber discovered that long-staple cotton extended the life of its tires, so the company bought 16,000 acres of Arizona land for cotton farming. The Organization House, built in 1918, was the first building on the Wigwam site and was established as lodging for ranch suppliers. Guests intimated that it would be a great place to spend a winter vacation, as did Goodyear executives whose families often accompanied them when visiting the farm. On Thanksgiving Day, 1929, The Wigwam officially opened its doors as a guest ranch. While this resort property in Litchfield Park has steadily grown over the past 80 years, a portion of the original structure, (The Organization House), remains as the cornerstone of The Wigwam’s authenticity and southwestern charm.

The Mother’s Day brunch at the Wigwam is a popular event (as I’m sure other holiday brunch affairs are), so, in an effort to accommodate as many people as possible, brunch is served in one of two large conference rooms.  The center corridor between the two dining areas acts as the buffet section, which is complete with a live piano player. The beautiful music emanating from the grand piano is mic’d into the dining rooms. Each buffet table, as well as each dining table, was adorned with vibrant and elaborate flower bouquets.  Reservations are required and as you check in, you’re escorted to your specific table depending on your group’s size.

It can be a challenge to serve quality epicurean food in a buffet setting, but the folks at the Wigwam did a marvelous job. The size and diversity of the food selection was also impressive…from poached salmon, King Crab claws, pork loin, prawns, salads, fresh fruits & cheeses, to omelets and pancake bars, they had something delicious for everyone. I was also extremely impressed by the fact that each time we went to the buffet, it looked as though it had hardly been touched. Each culinary display was refilled and kept manicured throughout the brunch. The wait staff was also top notch, frequently coming by our table to see if we needed anything, and, to remove unwanted dishes.  Of course, no brunch would be complete without dessert. Each dining hall had several beautifully arranged dessert tables with an array of items to indulge oneself.

After our lovely dining experience, my girlfriend and I parted ways with my folks and we perused the Wigwam grounds, which encompasses over 440 lushly landscaped acres. As we entered the reception area, we were struck by the elegantly crafted adobe-and-timber structure, accented in a rich palette of southwestern colors and materials. The main pool area is a desert oasis, complete with cabanas and 25’ water slide.

The Wigwam is a beautiful Arizona landmark and it’s nice to see this historic property looking far younger than its age. If you’ve ever stayed or dined at the Wigwam, please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear what your experience has been like.

Wigwam Contact Information:

Address: 300 East Wigwam Blvd.
- Litchfield Park, Arizona 85340
Phone: 623.935.3811
Website: WigwamArizona.com
Email: info@wigwamarizona.com

Amuse Bouche: Bistro offers French panache, gourmet petit déjeuner

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

The adage “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is one that resonates with me. I enjoy having at least one hearty and/or decadent breakfast per week; Sunday is typically that one day. While I’ve had many wonderful morning meals through my travel, breakfast is not one I usually go out of my way to write about…until now.

While in town visiting the folks for my mother’s birthday, I discovered a petite neighborhood bistro I thought Mom would love…Amuse Bouche. This relatively remote bistro is located in the western part of Surprise, Arizona in a somewhat nondescript strip mall—just the type of restaurant I like to seek out. What amazes me is how far foodies will travel when they learn of an epicurean local restaurant, which is what’s been happening ever since Amuse Bouche was featured in the New York Times, Arizona Republic and PBS’s “Check Please.”

My plan was to take the folks to dinner, but as I soon learned, Amuse Bouche only serves breakfast on Sunday. (Mom’s birthday). Given that my folks love dining out, and the relative proximity to their home, I was surprised that they had never heard of, or been to, Amuse Bouche. This added to my delight, as I know how much my folks enjoy trying new places.

As we arrived, we had to make our way through a deluge of people waiting outside for a table…thankfully I had made reservations. As we entered the diminutive setting we had a feeling of being in an authentic French bistro. If you’ve been to Europe, you know that the dining affair is often an intimate and communal experience, with tables close together and bistros all a buzz. The aroma of cinnamon, freshly brewed coffee and other breakfast scents filled the air, which created a delightful degree of anticipation for our forthcoming meal.

We started our breakfast out with some fresh and hot beignets, which, if you’re not familiar, are basically square fried dough balls sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. We enjoyed our beignets with some wonderful French roasted coffee.

We then shared the following items:

Smoked salmon eggs Benedict – poached eggs over toasted English muffin, wild smoked salmon with hollandaise sauce served with seasoned country potatoes.

Belgian Waffle - with fresh strawberries, bananas, vanilla whipped cream and brown sugar cinnamon syrup.

Corned Beef Hash Benedict – homemade fresh corned beef with onions, red bell peppers, and potatoes served with toast, two poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.

Quiche Lorraine – with bacon and Swiss cheese accompanied with country potatoes.

The meal was simply scrumptious and the overall dining experience authentic, which was certainly an unexpected “surprise” given the geographic location. As I indicated, when it comes to good food, no distance is too far for those who appreciate a culinary experience that is backed by passion, experience and execution.

The word “gourmet” is often an abused superlative, such as “Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches.” Refreshingly, Amuse Bouche Gourmet Bistro delivers its expectation of the word.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of dining at Amuse Bouche, please share your experience with my readers and me.

Amuse Bouche Gourmet Bistro & Catering Contact info:

Restaurant Phone: 623-322-881
Catering Phone: 623-680-7280
Email: info@AmuseBouche.biz
Website: AmuseBouce.biz
Address: 17058 West Bell Road, Suite 104
Surprise, AZ 85374

Flying V Bar & Grill

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

The signature restaurant at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is the Flying V Bar & Grill, which is situated to provide amazing golf course and city views.  The setting is warm, vibrant and inviting.  We were lucky enough to score an intimate table for two right next to the fireplace.  The service was impeccable; we must have had 4-5 people waiting on us at any given time. The food was beautifully presented, however our first night of dining the taste was not quite on par with all the other elements of the restaurant experience. For example, we started off with the lobster bisque with fennel, shrimp and chorizo fritter, which on an odd and snowy day seemed perfect. While the flavor of the bisque was quite good, it was served as a puree.  I don’t know about you, but I’m used to having chunks of fresh lobster in my lobster bisque.

Next up we tried the pan seared scallops with parsnip puree, arugula and fennel, which again had great flavor and presentation, but in this case the scallops arrived at our table at room temperature or below, so it had me concerned they might not have been fully cooked. The last thing you want to do is overcook scallops, but in this case they may have been a tad undercooked and/or just sat too long before being served.

As an entrée I tried the rainbow trout with quinoa, agave lacquered parsnips & carrots with a Spanish red pepper vinaigrette, which was artistically presented.  The color, contrast and flavors were outstanding. My only critique is that there was significantly too much raw garlic used, and personally I prefer using roasted garlic when I cook so as not to leave such a strong aftertaste.

My traveling companion (Rhonda) and I really enjoyed our overall dining experience, so we thought we’d give the Flying V Bar & Grill another chance by ordering a few other menu items on another night of our stay.

First up we tried the Belgian endive salad with mixed greens, cabrales cheese (a Spanish cheese, similar to blue cheese), avocado, pecans with an agave vinaigrette dressing.  This was quite good, light and refreshing.

Next we had the Ahi which was accompanied by vegetable posole, spinach, pine nuts with a casacabel chili sauce.  This was simply wonderful.  Perfectly prepared and full of flavor.

We were tempted to try another savory dish–maybe the ceviche or shrimp tacos, but opted to splurge on dessert instead.  Abraham (our server) convinced us to try the banana split.  I know what you’re thinking, and we were too…however we went with the recommendation and were pleasantly surprised.  The bananas were caramelized and slightly warm.  There was a single scoop of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with chunks of chocolate and toffee topped with fresh whipped cream.  It was pretty darn decadent and delicious.

The Flying V is very well known for something…the tableside guacamole.  While we did not try this appetizer, I’d be remiss if I did not tell you about the unique experience.  If you order this menu item your server will bring out a special cart and prepare a bowl of guacamole right at your table.  You can even pick and choose which ingredients you like most. This is a very popular item and we saw it prepared several times during our two visits to the restaurant.

Bottom line: The overall experience at the Flying V is quite good.  The ambiance, setting and services are stellar, but as I indicated I didn’t feel as though the food was quite on par with the other elements of the dining experience.  With all of my lodging and dining experience, part of me feels as though places with a captive audience end up resting on their laurels.

I should mention that I’m a bit of a culinary aficionado, both in and out of the kitchen, so my critique may be more heightened than the general foodie.

If you’ve eaten at the Flying V Bar & Grill, please leave a comment below and share your experience and/or favorite dish with my readers and me. If you found this post and review helpful, please share it with friends and family.

Flying V Bar & Grill Information:

Located at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort:

Address:
7000 North Resort Drive
Tucson, Arizona 85750

Phone:
(520) 299-2020
Website:
Flying V Bar & Grill
Menus:
Dinner
Dessert

Discerning palate gets pleasant ‘surprise’ at Vogue Bistro

Monday, January 7th, 2013

As a travel blogger and food critic, I’m always on a quest to discover locally run eateries that will surprise my discerning palate.  Located at the northwestern edge of the Phoenix Metro area in a nondescript part of Surprise, Arizona, I found Vogue BistroThe moment you step inside Vogue, a sense of culinary optimism stirs your taste buds with excitement.  The ambiance is warm and inviting with a local cosmopolitan feel.  The décor is stylish and sophisticated without being pretentious.

Vogue Bistro has an open layout, yet segmented into three areas…a bar/lounge, the main dining area, and the patio.  My friend and guest for the evening  (Susan from Chicago) sat on the patio near the fireplace, even though it was a chilly winter evening, the flexible walls, heat lamps and fireplace provided enough heat to make the space very cozy for the perfect dining experience.

Visitors and residents alike have come to expect a plethora of outstanding restaurants in the Phoenix Metro and Scottsdale areas, but in the far west valley of Surprise, the culinary options are mainly limited to large chain establishments catering to retirees and cluster communities—to find such a quality restaurant as Vogue Bistro was a wonderful “surprise.”

The menu is an interesting mix of traditional French foods (inspired by its French chef, Aurore de Beauduy) and American dishes, some fused together for something truly unique. It was my friend Susan’s birthday, so we used this as an excuse to indulge a number of dishes we’d probably not typically go out of our way for.

  • To start off, we both ordered a glass of red wine from the broad menu.  We enjoyed our wine with a classic French hors-d’œuvre of escargot, which was simply delicious.  The delicate Burgundian Escargot was baked in a puff pastry with herb and garlic infused butter.
  • Next up was the most unique and delectable plate of bruschetta I’ve ever had…toppings included a zucchini pesto, roasted yellow tomatoes, petite greens with sherry vinaigrette.
  • As we relaxed by the warmth of the fire we had to try one more appetizer that seemed perfect for the cool evening…French onion soup, another French classic.  I’m not a “French onion soup” connoisseur, but this was fantastic.  Unlike what I’m used to with a piece of French bread atop the soup, this seemed to have a thin layer of croissant-type pastry with perhaps some Gruyere cheese.

After a bit of digestion, our entrees arrived, both were from the daily specials menu:

  • Hawaiian Snapper with roasted fennel, Minnesota wild rice medley in a lemon-caper sauce.
  • New York strip steak with fingerling potatoes, caramelized chippolini onions & chives, eggplant, chili pesto in a Malbec red wine sauce.
  • Of course we could not leave without a palate cleanse, so we tried one of my favorite desserts… Crème Brûlé with thin wafer cookie, blackberries and a strawberry—a dessert that will answer aficionados’ prayers.

Vogue Bistro is run by the husband and wife team of Roman and Aurore.  Roman is a graduate of the Thunderbird School of International Management and knows how to handle the business side of the restaurant, while Aurore is a scholastically trained chef taking care of the back of the house. The passion and care this culinary power couple has for the restaurant business is clearly evident. We visited Vogue on a Wednesday evening and the place was nearly packed, so I would suggest making reservations to assure a seat at this wonderful dining establishment.

I’ve been to an array of amazing top-notch restaurants, casual to fine dining…I can say without question that Vogue Bistro stands with the best of them. I would also add that given the quality of this restaurant, and the ingredients they use, the prices are extremely reasonable. If you find yourself in Surprise, Arizona, do your palate a favor and stop by Vogue Bistro for a menu selection and dining experience that will be sure to impress.

Vogue Bistro Contact information:

Address: 15411 West Waddell Road, Suite 108
Surprise, AZ 85379
Map: Google Map
Website: VogueBistro.com
Email: info@VogueBistro.com
Phone: 623-544-9109

Liberty Market Restaurant Review – Gilbert, AZ

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Liberty Market Restaurant in Gilbert, AZ

Liberty Market Restaurant in Gilbert, AZ is an eclectic place where tasty food is served-up in a modern, refurbished building located in historic downtown Gilbert. The fairly new restaurant dons the original name of the building, “Liberty Market…”which, for more than 70 years, was a family-run grocery store that served the small farming community.

Liberty Market in downtown Gilbert

Liberty Market in downtown Gilbert

The Liberty Market owners kept the original shell/look of the building, which includes tumbled brick walls and a brick oven that is used to cook their wonderful pizza. Back in the 30s when Liberty Market first opened, the population of Gilbert was a paltry 800 people…today, more than 200,000 call it home. The downtown area has been completely restored with a number of restaurants, shops and a great little park that celebrates its history with an array of water features. The area is very pedestrian-friendly and worth a leisurely stroll after your meal.

The food at Liberty Market is fairly simple, but full of flavor. Lunch consists of sandwiches, salads and pizza. Dinner is a bit more robust with apricot glazed chicken to grilled halibut—and of course, pizza from their brick oven. I have never been to Liberty Market for breakfast, but they do have a nice coffee bar and some huge cinnamon rolls. At lunch you get your choice of sides (let me highly recommend the sweet potato salad…it’s D’Lish!).

Liberty also serves beer, wine and a nice selection of desserts.

Liberty Market bathroomsOh, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the bathrooms…yes, the bathrooms. The bathrooms at Liberty are a bit unusual with an interesting story behind them…apparently there are four restaurant partners along with the chief that run the place—each took the opportunity to design their own themed private stall (5 in all), even playing independent music. Once you’ve concluded your business, you exit into a common wash area. If you haven’t realized yet…these are communal bathrooms.

Bottom line…Liberty Market is absolutely worth a visit: www.LibertyMarket.com

Green Vegetarian Review – Tempe, AZ

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Even non-vegetarians will find a lot to like about Green Vegetarian.  Located on the border of Scottsdale and Tempe, Green is tucked in a rather obscure corner of a strip mall.  I had heard great things about the place and have tried to find it before, but without the exact address it can be a challenge (especially if you’re driving south).

At first glace, Green looks like a very small and unassuming place, but once inside you’ll find an eclectic mix of artwork and decor in an airy, inviting setting.

I was waiting for a friend to arrive and was pleasantly greeted at the front counter and offered something to drink while I waited (no pretense of payment, which was cool).

I had the coconut curry with faux chicken and brown rice (unfortunately there was no coconut to be found), which was quite good even with the missing key ingredient.  The vegetables were cooked to perfection and the medley of spices were outstanding.  Green offers up freshly made lime or lemon aid which is a great addition to mix with their two brewed teas.

Green also has a small market where you can buy tasty stuff to-go, like Honest Tea, which I’m a big fan of.

Chef Damon Brasch describes his cuisine as New American Vegetarian and has a quote on their site with the following words…”…this is where I learned to celebrate food.”  I just love the idea of “celebrating” food.  I really enjoy cool and unique places to eat—if you’re like me, you’ll LOVE Green Vegetarian (even if you’re not a vegetarian).

http://www.greenvegetarian.com

Post Review Comments: I had tried (numerous times I might add) to obtain some additional information and images to be used for this post, unfortunately Mr. Brasch and/or his store manager couldn’t be bothered to respond to my requests, which I find incredibly odd.  I even posted a comment on their Facebook page, but it was merely deleted.  VERY un-cool if you ask me, and will certainly weigh on my decision to ever visit Green Vegetarian again.  I am however a reasonable person, so if the folks at Green wish to rectify the situation, I’m happy to remove this portion of the post.