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Mar 28, 2007 12:40 PM

Mary Elaine's (PHX)

Bradford Thompson is leaving...story here:

Do you think this a huge hit to the Valley fine-dining community?

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  1. How many people on this board have even eaten there?

    3 Replies
    1. re: IamJacksBrain

      I cannot count myself among those who have dined there - guess I only heard people going there for big occasions and have never had such an occasion to justify the expense.

      1. re: IamJacksBrain

        I have -- both recently and long ago when Alex Stratta was there. I was more wowed during Stratta's reign.

        I don't think this a huge blow -- just an opportunity to rethink the whole Mary Elaine's concept, which still has a 1980s feel to it.

        1. re: IamJacksBrain

          I have, on several occasions. Mostly, these were board dinners for our groups, but also just as a couple. Food was always very good, and the general service excellent. However, I have had some real problems with their wine service, Master Sommelier not withstanding.

          On my nickel, I'd opt for other establishments.


        2. I have reservations there next wednesday. I've always wanted to eat there and I'll be in town for a couple days. Thought I'd hit it.

          5 Replies
          1. re: lvmanager

            For the money, I'd reconsider going to Binkley's or Kai if you're looking for original, AZ fine-dining.

            1. re: azhotdish

              Heh - I also have reservations at Binkley's on Tuesday night.

              Another place that I've heard a lot about and wanted to try. Thanks for the head's up though.

              1. re: lvmanager

                Sure - I certainly hope you have a good time at ME.

                1. re: azhotdish

                  Thanks. I'm really looking forward to both.

                2. re: lvmanager

                  Binkley's is awesome. I was arguing with my sister the day before I went there about how you don't find as truly bold, distinctive, original flavors in non-Japanese food & he proved me wrong with every single dish. My favorite meal in a long, long time and my favorite non-Japanese meal ever.

                  azhotdish: So just don't worry about never having been to Mary Elaine's? With you recommending Binkley's (one of my favorite places ever) and Kai (being the other place I most want to go), it sounds like I'd fall in line with your preferences. Just wondering if we have to slam in a trip to Mary Elaine's before he leaves or if we're not missing out on something that is/was an absolute must AZ try.

            2. I doubt it will be too much of a hit on the Valley scene, mostly because it seemed to have such varied reviews from "stellar" to "good, but you could do just as good for a lot cheaper elsewhere in Phoenix."

              Frankly, I wish they would start up a new fine dining concept for the space. I just can't imagine Mary Elaine's having the long-term staying power like Durant's.

              1. I have been to ME's 2 times and found it to be at the same time great (wine list, food, fois gras) yet stuffy, dated and awkward.

                My menu (with me being a girl) didn't have prices, the decor was ornate and stuffy and it was very quiet in there.

                That said, the food and wine was great!!!

                Agree with Silverbear...could use an update.

                7 Replies
                1. re: HomeCookKirsten

                  Wow, really? No prices on your menu just because you are female? That's really strange and really outdated.

                  1. re: lvmanager

                    This is still a fairly common occurance in higher-end dining establishments. Yes, it's a hold-over, but then so are the "purse stools." I encounter it about 5-6 times per year. My wife hardly notices, as she orders what she wants and doesn't bother with the prices. I'm pretty much the same, with the exception of the wine - my big complaint about ME's. I got very burned once, and still remember that event vividly.

                    As far as the general service, well, I really enjoyed it. However, I am from the "old school," so it fit right in with what I have come to expect from fine-dining establishments.


                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      Yes, the no price thing and the purse stool made me giggle if anything...but it did contribute to the general "stuffiness" of the place.

                      I sort of felt like I had to whisper and not actually enjoy the food so much as respect it - which I guess isn't my style. I like to sigh/moan when food is SO great...and I like to have a bit of conversation/laughter at dinner.

                      I actually LOVE to get dressed up and eat amazing food that I can't re-create at home, so for that reason I really liked it (not to mention the specialness/expense), but I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time and couldn't really breath again until we were safely back in the car.

                      Hunt - nothing wrong with the old school. :)

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        OK. But what happens when the boss is a female and taking her clients out for a superb dinner? That just seems really odd to me in this day and age - especially for a Scottsdale restaurant.

                        1. re: lvmanager

                          Some high-end restaurants still have "priceless" menus but give them out only in situations of business entertaining when a host wants to send a clear message to his or her guests that they should order whatever they like. Handing out these special menus based on gender does seem antiquated in 2007.

                          1. re: silverbear

                            The first time I went I was clearly on a date...but still, it does seem antiquated to assume the guy is paying...

                            The second time it was a group of mixed company and no couples. I still got a menu with no prices, which I thought was even more odd.

                            I must look like a girl who doesn't pay???? :)

                          2. re: lvmanager

                            Great point. It is a bit anachronistic. I would hope that the staff could tell who the host/hostess of the dinner was, and provide them with a priced menu. However, as jcarnie points out, when one goes there, they know that it will be expensive, so it probably is not as big a deal, as it might be elsewhere.

                            Stored away, we still have many sets of menus, where mine had the prices, and my wife's did not. In many of these cases, the menus were printed with our names, done at the time of the reservations, so we knew who's was who's.

                            Possibly a theme for another thread, but how does everyone feel about items (say "specials") without prices? I've been to a few restaurants where the entrees were, say in the $45 range, and then there was a "special" without a price listed/stated. In one case, one of our guests ordered one, that came in at $150! OK, big surprise for me, as the host, but not something that I could not handle. The lesson that I have learned is to ask immediately, before any of my guests can order, so I do not have a bad case of sticker shock.


                    2. I had a great experience at Mary Elaine's the one time we ate there, but I prefer good food served a bit less formally. I enjoyed an experience that was different than what we usually do, and so I enjoyed the formal atmosphere. Kind of like good people watching. Just like I love Durant's for its was something quite different than you can otherwise find in Phoenix. That said, it will be nice to see something new in the space that I am sure will be great.

                      Hunt - I would love to hear your ME wine story if you feel like telling it.


                      11 Replies
                      1. re: barry

                        Maybe this sounds silly, but if you are eating at Mary Elaine's, are you really worried about prices? My husband took me there when I was 9 months pregnant with our first for our anniversary. He picked it randomly - knowing nothing about it (lucky me) - just saw in some 'Best of' list that it was romantic. I'm racking my brain, but I'm almost sure my menu had prices on it. Maybe they figured I should know what we were getting into in case the shock sent me into labor? :)

                        Definitely a special occasion restaurant for our budget, but we loved every single bite from the entire night. It did take us about 20-30 minutes to get over the fact that you have two to three waiters standing behind you, waiting to practially catch the crumbs from your mouth, but we couldn't complain about anything. In fact, I think we cracking up at the end of the meal because we were so stuffed and after dessert, they brought out some sort of cookies (which we had to try to not be rude), then after the cookies they brought out more mints and something else. We were comparing it to the 'bring me a bucket' scene from the Meaning of Life.

                        1. re: barry

                          I do agree with the formality at ME's, but then I rather like that. I tend to enjoy the total experience, when in a more formal setting. Now, I have had great food in boisterous places, but the experience is greater, when the other diners speak in conversational tones and the service is stellar. Maybe my hearing is failing as quickly as my wife indicates, but I like to hear the conversation at our table, and do not care to hear that from a table across the room.

                          Recently, we were dining at Viognier in San Mateo. It's very nice and usually quiet - though not at ME standards. The dining room was nearly full and there was a table of 8-10 about 5 4-tops from us. They were screaming and shouting and having one hell of a "good" time. After several attempts to quiet them, the hostess asked them to leave, as they were disturbing all of the other diners. Wow, what a difference, their absence made. Everyone quietly applauded the action. Ah, the "old school," coming to the fore, once again.

                          All that said, had it not been for a really poor couple of moves by the sommelier, we would probably have dined at ME's even more. I have moved at least three board dinners from there to elsewhere.


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            Bill, you are obviously a very sophisticated cat: What did the sommelier do that chapped you so much? Did he/she bring a different (usually newer) vintage, or -- worse -- have his/her thumb obscuring the date on the label? I hate when that happens ... especially when you call them out and they respond by saying, "Well, we're about to print/update the wine list, and trust me, this vintage is much better than the one you requested!" JK, BTW -- I speculate that the faux pas was much less ham-handed than the tawdry fraud I'm alluding to here, but I still would like to know what to expect the next time I encounter a dude wearing a cummerbund and a little cup attached to a silk ribbon lanyard around his neck.

                            1. re: misohungrychewlow

                              Well, we'd dined there twice before for business and had been impressed. For our anniversary, we booked a table. Service, ambiance, etc. were great. To start, we ordered 2 glasses of Tattinger (do not recall the details) @ ~$40/each. The sommelier suggested that they had a half-bottle of their special "Cuvée," so I went with his suggestion. When the wine came, it was a split (0.1875), so less than a half-bottle, it was Roederer Estate (CA), Cuvée Mary Elaine. OK, I'm not a sparkler snob, and the wine was fine - not as "toasty" as the Tattinger, but OK. That is, until the bill came. It was $250 for a split - $125/glass!!!!! I do not mind, and often seek out, the sommelier's suggestions. I had not inquired as to the price, but this was a substitute for ~$80 from their b-t-g selection. We had "established" some basic price-points. Were I the sommelier, I'd have made sure to mention the major price difference. Also, I feel "ripped-off" by any domestic spakler at $125/glass. Had this been just a dinner, I'd have called the manager over and given him a big piece of my mind. Since it was a special meal with my wife, I expressed my displeasure with the tip and have "voted" to not go back, though we've had a half-dozen times, that folk wished to dine there. I always stood firm and we went elsewhere. Amazing how the extra profit from silently selling me up has affected their possible take. As I am often asked for restaurant recs. in wine-circles, I make it a point to mention this little episode. One would think that a Master Sommelier would be more aware of how his.her actions could cause problems down the line.

                              As an aside, this has been one of only two problems that I have ever had with sommeliers around the world. The other was also in Phoenix.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                Ohhh, that is a bad situation. Like most business transactions, a good sales person is an educator and a profit generator and a customer service specialist. That is what I think a good sommelier should be.

                                I think a price difference of more than +/- 25% or so should be discussed or at least mentioned. Otherwise it is short term financial gain for possible long term loss of revenue and word-of-mouth recommendations. It plays into the fact that most humans don't want to feel cheap and ask about a price - esp on an anniversary dinner so the sommelier could take advantage. Am I right?

                                Or, if he really was a well-meaning sommelier and wanted you to have a better wine, the price difference should have been referenced at least as a courtesy.

                                Agree with your "vote" not to go back. Is it still the same sommelier there?

                                I had a similar (although not as costly) thing happen to me at Sea Saw the first time I went and it almost ruined me (sadly) for the restaurant. I don't make a lot of money (even less when this happened) but I enjoy good food and wine, so I ordered a $40 bottle of wine that I knew was a great wine but a good value. It was sold out and a new one was recommended and I didn't ask about the price. When I got the bill, it was $80. That increase was not acceptable, especially since I knew from looking over the massive wine list that they have 3 pages of white wines (or more) in their wine list in the original price range. It really turned me off.

                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  Bill, thank you for responding. Wow! That may be the most egregious skinning I've ever heard of -- kudos to you for being the gentleman and not spoiling your wife's evening, even while the bubbles from that -- split -- must have been boiling. It's even more shocking, given the unqualified accolades showered on this establishment over the years; why would they do this??? [You aren't twins with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Stephen Speilberg, are you?]

                                  My condolences and thanks again for passing along a valuable lesson -- but now you've whetted my curious appetite: Would you please share the other Phoenix-area sommelier experience you alluded to, either here or in another thread? Funny, eh? The valley is generally known as a reasonably friendly and easy-on-the-wallet place, but now it may add sticky-fingered sommeliers to the notoriously gouging taxi-cab industry to its reputation.

                                  1. re: misohungrychewlow

                                    "[You aren't twins with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Stephen Speilberg, are you?]" Most folk in the wine business mistake me for John Williams (Robin's brother), owner of Frog's Leap winery, but that is all.

                                    The other was Paola (nee Gross) at Christopher's Fermiere. A board dinner with new members and I ordered a Syrah for the table at about $100/btl. The server indicated that they were out, but the Sommelier, Paola, recommended another. I took that advice, assuming that we had established a price-point. The bill hit, and it was $225/btl, or $450 for one wine out of five. Again, with new board members, I just chalked this one up to their needing to make their bottom line. Have not dined there since.

                                    Really too bad, as I certainly liked the food at both, and the other service was faultless, though different types of restaurants. It's the old "fool me once - shame on you... " syndrome.

                                    Again, were I the sommelier, and I made a rec. after a client had ordered, or expressed intrest in, a wine, I'd whisper the price, should it be even $10 more, just to be sure. This would have solved both situations nicely. I made assumptions, based on my earlier conversations with the sommelier, or the server, and I was very wrong. In neither case was it a bank-breaker, but it left a really bad taste in MY mouth for both.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Have not been to Mary Elaine's in years, but have had great experiences. I will comment on the wine experiences in a minute. One of the things that make the wine episodes so appalling, is they fly in the face of way I have been treated at Mary Elaine's, and what anyone learns in customer 101. The first time we went, was as guests of my mother, who was staying at the hotel. Our daugters we very young (probably four and six), and I was somewhat apprehensive on how that kind of a party would be viewed at prime time. All I can say, is that the service was perfectly attentive and gracious, in a way that was nowhere near fawining. That treatment certainly made us want to return, which we have done.

                                      The wine incidents. Elsewere on the board there is a current thread on Tarblell's. Like many of you, my wife and I have been going there since it opened. For a few years, we certainly dined there at least monthly--often at the bar.

                                      I remember being a New Years Eve a few years ago. We ordered a bottle of white burgandy (around $100). Mark was at the next table entertaining friends. Before the waiter brought our wine, Mark came over to say hello, and inquire what wine we ordered. I told him our choice, whereupon he said "I think we have something you might enjoy more". The substitute was extrordinary, and the price on the check was the same as the original bottle, even though it was on the reserve wine list for significantly more.

                                      We continue to go to Tarbells. BTW, as others have said, the food is terrific, and the ambience and service are very good.

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        Bill Hunt, Paola is married to chef/owner Chris Gross so Gross it is not her maiden name ("nee Gross"). I am very sorry to hear of your experience and thank you for sharing it. I'll keep my eyes peeled from now on AND wish that I didn't have to.

                                        A couple of months ago, my son and his wife were dining at Christopher's Fermier Bistro and I called, during their meal, to send a bottle of wine to them. I know what they like and was VERY specific about my price level. Now, I'm doubly glad that I was so specific.

                                        Your experience at ME was appaling. You handled it graciously. I enjoy reading your posts.

                                        1. re: Sherri

                                          It was my understanding, that they had gotten a divorce, but that they still worked together. Maybe my info was incorrect.

                                          As for both of those events, were single incidents, though both made an impression on me - not just for these two locations, but others in the future, as well.

                                          In all of my years working with sommeliers around the globe, I have had very, very few bad experiences (could count on one hand), vs. many hundreds of great ones. (The few bad ones were recounted in a recent thread on sommeliers on the Wine Board).

                                          Glad that your wine experience went well, as it should.


                                        2. re: Bill Hunt

                                          I agree, though indeed, it doesn't have to even be whispered. I've had sommeliers bring back the wine list, say xx wine isn't available, but point to their suggested alternative on the list, with finger right on the price...