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Phoenix - are we fickle? [moved from Southwest board]

This article had me steaming this morning - what are your thoughts on Phoenix dining?

http://www.azcentral.com/news/article...

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  1. I was disappointed with this article and the headline in particular. Like much that appears in the Republic, it's excessively negative and seems to display an inferiority complex. It would be possible to take the same facts and the same quotes and turn them into a positive story about how Phoenix is a great incubator for culinary talent. Even if we eventually lose some chefs to high-profile resorts in Las Vegas or larger cities on both coasts, the fact is that Phoenicians benefit from the time these chefs spend here. We have a strong restaurant scene here and should be proud of it.

    1. i thought that article was trash...we have a huge restaurant scene here full of inventive and creative restaurants. if we have 'no food tradition' someone should tell the sonoran and indigenous peoples who've dotted the landscape for millenia, evidently what they've been eating and growing doesn't count.

      that writer sucks. clearly not a food person because they were 10 years too late on molecular gastronomy. marcel from top chef as a reference? how about ferran adria or heston blumenthal. please to be researching the subject matter at hand.

      clearly not a food writer, as both carey sweet and howard seftel seemed to delight at the culinary masterpieces from west of western.

      i'm with silverbear - we benefit from our proximity to the moneyed establishments in vegas.

      did we get the shaft in the james beard awards this year? i'd say probably. but we're still getting nods, and there are alot of beard winners and nominee's in the valley.

      why pick on bradford? surely someone wouldn't expect an award winning chef to stay at someone ELSE's restaurant for all eternity. tis the natural progression of things - to eventually have you're own place. it's not like he's bolting to cali - his wife is living there right now!!!

      hyperbole much? damn i hated that article :D

      1. Wow. One chef leaves from a restaurant that is dated and gets fairly mixed reviews and suddenly the good citizens of Phoenix are fickle beasts that can't "measure up" to Las Vegas or San Francisco. The article is defining the entire Phoenix scene based soley on what is happening with particular chefs at a few high end Phoenix restaurants. How is that fair to the entire Phoenix dining scene?

        Oddly, the article completely glosses over places like Durant's or Coup des Tartes, not to mention the fact that there are restaurants that may actually have improved with a change of blood in the kitchen (see my inquiry about Kai at Wild Horse Pass from yesterday). Then, there are all the little mom and pop ethnic places that serve stellar food but never get the Zagat's rating or the press that Mary Elaine's gets, but I am thrilled that they are pouring their hearts and souls into providing an excellent dining experience.

        What is interesting is how that article plays against a site like Chowhound. Even on the SF board, the list of little, out of the way places that aren't even competing with The French Laundry is long and valued. Phoenix has a great dining scene, but most of it is in strip malls or tiny spots that aren't as appealing to the eyes as Mary Elaine's might be.

        While the author of this article and the people wringing their hands about Bradford Thompson leaving town are busy fretting, the rest of us will be at El Napolito enjoying street tacos and thanking our lucky stars for the place.

        1. A chef leaving one job for another makes front page news? Pu-leeeze!
          Reporter Jaimee Rose deserves the "Paris Hilton Award for Responsible Journalism" for this vapid piece.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Sherri

            I'm very dissapointed, myself. I think there are some really great places around here. Yes, AZ is more casual than other states, but it's 106 FREAKIN' degrees here in the summer....no one wants to be too formal. Dining has changed tremendously since the 1950's when going to dinner was an event, and the 1980's when noir food was 'IN'.

            As far as the whole Ferran Adrià thing....that is SO 10 years ago. Yes, asparagus foam is neat looking, but that whole trend is over....at least on the East coast.

            In my opinion, Emmeril is WAY overrated and tired.

            I think that most people like it quick, like the article says. 7 course, 4 hour dinners are SO over.

            Vegas will always be Vegas and no one can compete with that.
            There are alot of great places if you ask me, people just have to be open minded as far as ethnicity is concerned. My best friend will NOT go to an Indian restaurant with me. I have no idea why, but she's not very adventurous. If it ain't Taco Bell or Carls Jr..she's not interested. I think that's the main problem with this state. We're such a diverse melting pot, but no one wants to try anything new.

            1. re: tattud_gurl

              Timid palates are not a uniquely Phoenician phenomenon. I grew up in the supposedly sophisticated Northeast and I had some friends in college and grad school with no sense of adventure whatsoever. I know some people like that in Phoenix, but I also have friends and coworkers here who are always up for a new adventure. I think it's just a matter of seeking like-minded dining partners when one has a choice.

              1. re: tattud_gurl

                The one thing the article doen't take into consideration is what a 'New, Young' and Vibrant city Phoenix is becoming.

                We are still suffering from Growing Pains...unfortunately the almighty dollar is what is driving these chefs out of town. It is only a matter of time when neighborhoods develop we will see the blossoming of new, independent restaurants.

                Phoenix offers so much more than a NY, LA or Vegas....we offer the opportunity for a chef to shine..."be a big fish in a small sea"....an opportunity to make an impact w/ out the competition of all the 'big egos' in a Major Market.

                Do you think Nobu Fukuda of Sea Saw would be nominated for a James Beard Award if he were in NY or LA....
                Or Kevin Binkley would be getting the same accolades if he were somewhere else?

                I think Phoenix is the land of opportunity.......these young chefs should capitalize on the opportunity!!!!

                We are fortunate to have so many wonderful choices in our town!

                1. re: ciaogal

                  I actually think that both Nobuo and Kevin would be getting their props in any city that you put them. I put both of their talents in the upper eschelon of chefs in the country.

                2. re: tattud_gurl

                  the problem with the national perception of the phoenix/scottsdale dining scene is that you can't trust your sources to be current and unpaid... terrible places like the Roaring Fork have people spilling out the door when the food is now boring, bordering on atrocious. Chelsea's Kitchen, Postino and La Grande can crank out some good stuff, but they are also super-busy by design, with more space designated for waiting than for dining. and the big problem is that Sam Fox has somehow become our culinary spokesperson, when his Olive and Ivy gets panned by the same newspaper's restaurant critic.

                  there's a sub-thread: who do you actually trust for Phoenix dining advice (besides Chowhound of course and your own palatte?) magazines, publications, blogs, etc.

                  1. re: blur

                    I think you have to be selective about the sources you choose for your trust. I have noticed that many, if not most, of the Phoenix food bloggers regularly post on the Southwest board. When taken in total, we all seem to be on the same page regarding the restaurants in the Valley. I use the bell curve to note that we all seem to be in the middle, but occasionally, there is an outlier than may or may not be trustworthy.

                    As for the newspapers and magazines, I guess it depends on the track record of the reviewer.

                3. re: Sherri

                  Amen. I happen to like Jaimee Rose, but for her likeable and fun fashion pieces and her darling lifestyle/trend articles - esp about home decor and entertaining. In my opinion, only someone who has seriously studied the Phoenix restaurant landscape has a right to write such an article and she wouldn't be the one for that job.

                  I was a journalism major and if I had turned that in to a professor, I probably would have failed. Why? Because it seems to me that every quote came out of a larger interview and was strategically used to help with an agenda. Meaning, it feels like she wrote the piece and the headline before she did the research and interviews. Yes, I know that happens, but it really shouldn't.

                  Jaimee - we know you can do better. Please do so.

                4. I think the article was elitist and shows the disdane the AZ Republic has for its own customers. I do think it raises some interesting ideas that I have thought about in other contexts.

                  "We have no roots in this town," says chef Gregory Casale, so it's hard to forge any kind of lasting culinary identity. "We all come from somewhere else."

                  I have lived in AZ all my life and have watched the growth in the valley. It isn't very often I meet a fellow native Arizonan. People tend to hold on to the places they left behind. For baseball this means that Chicago Cubs games sell out and the crowd is louder when Derrek Lee hits one into the pool than when Brandon Webb strikes out Alfonso Soriano. It creates both challenges and benefits. People naturally compare their experience in the valley to what they had back home and trying to win a battle against the nostalgia of someones hometown is a losing proposition. That factor makes it difficult for a restaraunt to connect with the residents here. Having people from lots of different places should mean we have lots of choices in restaurant fare. I have only lived here in AZ, so I don't have anything to compare to the culinary choices to, but in the last year I have eaten Salvadorian food and Eliana's, Jamacan food at the Irie cafe, English food at the Cornish Pasty Co., Guamanian food at Island Roots, Thai food at the Siamese Cat, Somalian food at Juba Restaurant, and middle eastern food at Byblos. Perhaps what we lose on the high end, we gain in more places average folks can afford to go to and perhaps that reflects that I am a casual blue jean wearing Arizonan and not part of the crowd that typically goes to a black tie establishment on a day other than my anniversary.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: armanaz

                    Hello, fellow AZ Native!!! :o)

                    I agree with your sentiment here. I think because Phoenix doesn't have a French Laundry or a Guy Savoy, this great city's dining scene often gets looked down upon. However, I will put up many little ethnic and mom and pop places against those of any other city in this nation.

                    Phoenix has a great dining scene, but it is a different scene than New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

                    Yay! for us.

                    1. re: Seth Chadwick

                      I moved here from Southern California, which would probably be considered one of the higher echelon locales for cuisine. However, I have found in my four years here in the valley that the restaurants that an average Joe like myself eats at ($15 or less for a meal) are comparable and oft times better than what we had back home in Orange County. I find that to be especially true with Mexican cuisine.

                      I completely agree that this article had an elitist tone, and I don't think it applied to 95% of the people who ended up reading it. I'd much rather read a blog, such as Seth's, than an AZ Republic review anyway.

                      1. re: Seth Chadwick

                        There are still a few of us AZ natives around. What do you think of Monti's La Casa Vieja selling their land? Do you think that was in part because it doesn't have community support, the last time I was there it wasn't exactly packed? perhaps that's because the food isn't as good as it once was. I tend to think the main reason was the offering price for the prime downtown Tempe real estate was just too much to turn down.

                        1. re: armanaz

                          The current plan is for Monti's to stay in business despite the sale of the site. Even after new development goes up, Monti's will lease back the oldest portion of the site and remain open.

                          http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/stor...

                          1. re: silverbear

                            I understand that they are staying open, but the place will change drastically with most if not all seating going to a patio. Perhaps that is better for Mill Avenue's young crowd. I think once the dad died that the food while still ok, isn't as good as before. Perhaps I have been their on bad nights. I'm not sure if the old customer's like me will fit in with the new hip patio dining atmosphere. I am curious as to how it will all end up.

                            1. re: armanaz

                              You haven't been in a while. The food has slipped to being institutional at best. I went there a couple of months ago and through the entire meal thought that I could have done much better at home.

                      2. re: armanaz

                        but we do have some amazing high end restaurants, remember we are the land of the 5 diamond resort now :D i can think of quite a few super spendy high end spots on the resort side : vu, a different pointe of view, wrights at the biltmore, kai, mary elaines for 5 mins more ;) but you get my drift. we DO have alot of high end well known spots out here. but by and large, they are at resorts.

                        1. re: winedubar

                          You are correct. We do have some great high end restaurants and I think that gets overlooked because they are, as you said, in resorts and we suffer from being buried in chains so the holes-in-the-wall and the resorts get overlooked.

                          I just get so tired of the Phoenix dining scene getting dissed by people who won't look for the good food that is here or by the people who want to make inapt comparisons (no, Phoenix does not have seafood that is fresher than what you get in Boston or Alaska, but thanks for asking).

                          1. re: Seth Chadwick

                            You know what, Seth? I think that problem is that the food here doesn't get enough props. I don't think people do enough to promote it.

                            I was born (back in 1969) and raised here and I didn't fully appreciate what we have or even know about it until recently. I'm also not some put ketchup on your filet, completely food unaware schmoe. I've had my subscription to Phoenix Magazine (only for the restaurant reviews) for a while now and have been reading Seftel on-line for years. I've been totally into food my whole life as is the rest of my family. With my dad being one of the owners of the Glass Door and growing up working there, we live for food. Everywhere I've gone, I've searched out the great places.

                            How could someone with that great an interest in it who was born and raised here so miss everything??? How could my entire family be so unaware? I just think people don't know!

                            As I'm thinking about it, growing up and spending most my time in Scottsdale (now called South Scottsdale??), might have made it harder to see what we have here.

                            Over the past years I've lived in Washington DC, Huntington Beach, Kauai and Oahu. Though I've been back about 5 years and knew there were some great restaurants here and love many of them, I still thought we were not even close to the same league as the coasts (SoCal, San Fran, NY, etc.). I even kind of had a moderate disdain for the state in that regard - felt AZ was pretty lacking in character in general - the land of malls, strip malls and chains.

                            It wasn't until I found Chowhound (about a month ago) from searching on Binkley's after an incredible meal and landing upon your review, that I started reading about the hidden gems & started actively searching out places.

                            Since then, I (and my wife as well) have had a complete reversal in my/our opinion of Phoenix in general. I came back because my family was here & always kind of felt that I was missing out on stuff (food for one) by living here. I've done a 180 and have a much, much greater appreciation for the food we have here and for the character of Phoenix in general. Searching recommendations out from the board and driving through different areas of the city has let me see that there is much more to AZ than the malls & chains. There is a ton of character in the little places you mention.

                            In fact I'm totally indebted to Chowhound. I've gotten rid of that nagging worry that I'm missing out by living here. I'm digging the city I live in and grew up in. I just want to find the next great place to go.

                            Recent chowhound inspired hits - Rito's, Fry Bread House, Pane Bianco, Lux, DaVang, LGO, Binkley's, Carolina's, Galileo's, Arlecchino's, Phoenix Ranch Market.

                            Firsts on deck - Marcellino's, Tarbell's, Tradiciones, The Roosevelt, Richardson's, Pizzeria Bianco, Lo Lo's Chicken & Waffles, Barrio Cafe, Cyclo, Blue Fin.

                      3. Curious article. I resonate with armanaz's comments about the diversity. Phoenix excels at places that are truly accessible, and can casually take you somewhere else. Also, for the most part it can stay hip with limited pretension (matt's, LGO, Lux, et al.). I'm sure Las Vegas doesn't have the options we do for fresh produce and markets either.

                        BUT... my question is... why is it a competition? I can gaurantee you that Dallas/Fort Worth doesn't have the great food I enjoyed during my year in Phoenix, but Phoenix doesn't have Cuco's Sandwich Shop plopped down in the suburbs serving the best cuban sandwich this side of an embargo (ok, miami).

                        1. Phoenix is an easy city to pick on culinarily because we don't have any obvious centers for great food, but there's plenty of great food to be found. The fine dining scene is similar in that it requires more effort to find.

                          1. Jaimee, Jaimee, Jaimee...

                            Stick to telling me where to buy this season's must-have espadrilles and too-cool-for-school stationery.

                            Leave the big stuff to Howard and Carey.

                            Best Regards....

                            p.s. Hey Hounds: does Mary Elaines even register on YOUR radar as the "gourmet mascot", as she puts it? I think by the recent discussion re: Mary Elaine's in the SW board, it doesn't.

                            1. 24 hours after reading the article, I am now beginning to see the silver lining here. While the article was disappointing, just look at the outpouring of local pride it has generated in this thread. To give some perspective, I lurked on the CH SW Board for a long time before posting. Part of my lurking was due to the clunky pre-CNET software, but another factor was that conversations about Phoenix were often dominated by condescending naysayers who didn't even live here. The oldest CH post I can find about Phoenix, from 1998, seems to be a conversation among non-residents who looked disdainfully upon the whole city:

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/93452

                              A thread like that would never occur today. People who appreciate the area and its food on their own terms have redefined the conversation and taken it in a more positive direction. Even as we fret about the Republic's misguided article, let's be thankful for the pride displayed here.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: silverbear

                                A positive and reasoned response, thank you.

                                I moved to AZ in the mid 80s and heartily attest to the non-dining scene here. My first high-end restaurant dinner menu featured the typical surf 'n turf and included a fish special which pleasantly surprised me. When I asked the waiter to name the type of fish, he answered "who cares, once you cut the heads off, they're all the same." Welcome to Phoenix!

                                How far we've come. Congratulations to all those brave souls working hard and making it without corporate sponsorship. They make our dining scene vibrant and delicious.

                                1. re: Sherri

                                  I moved here in the late '80s and sensed that Phoenix had just turned a corner in its culinary development right before I arrived. At that time, Vincent's and Roxsand were new, innovative, and were receiving national attention. Despite some setbacks, the net trend has been upward since then.

                                2. re: silverbear

                                  This is very true. On the old boards I did stumble across absolute hatred of Phoenix and its dining scene, but I think, like the article from yesterday, a lot of it is based on laziness. There were lots of places to go to in 1998, but people didn't want to spend the time looking for them. A lot of the restaurants I see mentioned on the SW Board for Phoenix metro were around in 1998.

                                  Unfortunately, we are still stuck with a populace that prefers corporate food over local things. Hence, why Chevy's and Cheesecake Factory had waits for tables for lunch today while I was enjoying a Straw Sandwich and Matzoh Ball Soup at Miracle Mile.

                                  1. re: Seth Chadwick

                                    Seth, I'm not sure if this was your intention, but I think your second paragraph might be construed as saying that PHX diners are more inclined toward chains than diners elsewhere. I hear that complaint from time to time, but I don't think it's correct. I spent most of last week in Baltimore on a business trip and stayed in a hotel near the Inner Harbor. I was dismayed at how many of the same chains we see here were dominant in that area. I found unique, charming places only when I explored more interesting neighborhoods. The same is true wherever I travel. If I look at the restaurants near the major malls, newly established suburban developments, and tourist sites, the choices are unimaginative from coast to coast. Even Times Square in New York is "chainy" these days. Nevertheless, if one explores less traveled neighborhoods and unglamorous storefront locations, the real bounty of each city is revealed. In that respect, I think Phoenix is no different than other major cities.

                                    1. re: silverbear

                                      sb,

                                      I did mean if for Phoenix, but not to the exclusion of other cities. Trust me, as someone who goes to L.A./OC often, I can't even begin to tell you how popular places like El Torito, Mimi's, etc. are. Lines out the door while great Asian independents in Irvine and great Mexican independents in Santa Ana struggle to remain open.

                                      Sad.

                                      1. re: Seth Chadwick

                                        Thanks for clarifying. Agreed that it's a national problem, but thank goodness there are forums like this one for those who seek alternatives.