Archive for the ‘ Arizona Restaurants ’ Category


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
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:

7000 North Resort Drive
Tucson, Arizona 85750

(520) 299-2020
Flying V Bar & Grill

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
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:

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).

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.

The Seafood Market Restaurant in Mesa, AZ

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

The name “Seafood Market Restaurant” conjures in the mind’s eye a place that would specialize in just great seafood.  While this place apparently serves  fresh seafood, it does so with such an air of mediocrity that one cannot help but be disappointed–unless of course you don’t care about appearance, presentation, atmosphere and taste.  

If what you seek is a place that just serves “fresh” seafood, then this place will provide your palette with a level of sustentative adequacy.

I think what the “Seafood Market Restaurant” lacks is a sense of identity…and, a chef rather than a cook.

I don’t want to mislead the readers of this review…the food is not bad; it just did not meet MY expectations (or that of my date).  If a restaurateur is going to serve an expensive product, the presentation needs to match its cost.  The restaurant décor, atmosphere, flatware, dishes, presentation, etc. made me feel like I was in a small town restaurant that did not have to compete with anyone.

Example of the poor presentation

I would be fascinated to learn the background of the owner of this place…what motivated them to open, what or who inspired the concept, etc.  The general location is in a pretty nice area, so I wonder who they might be catering too that enjoys the place well enough to afford its existence.   Like so many amazing places in the valley,     this is NOT a place you would go out of your way for

The Seafood Market Restaurant website