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Jun 3, 2007 11:33 AM

Mary Elaine's Report (PHX)

Hi Hounds

My wife and I celebrated our anniversary at Mary Elaine's last night thought I'd report back as I know this place has been in discussion the last while on the board. It was very interesting reading back through this thread ( now that I have some experience to share.

First things first - the meal and experience were both fabulous. Top notch, best in the Valley in four years of trying everything we can. The service was exemplary, the food extremely well prepared, creative and inventive - on par with places around the country we revere like Michele Richard, Bouloud and others. I had a lot of fun with the wine list and the view right at sunset over the southern half of the valley couldn't have been beat.

We started with a half bottle of Nicolas Feuillette Brut and it was perfect - just the slightest hint of fruit but otherwise very dry and clean. Longer, more interesting finish than say a Tattinger or Cliquot. The amuse was a little bite of house-smoked salmon with the tinniest-tinny haricot vert arranged alongside creme fraiche with caviar. Just perfect flavor and size.

My wife started with an asparagus Veloute with smoked mussels and this curry paste concoction that was, as she put it, "essence of India." The soup was cool and refreshing and the mussels (3) were wrapped up with a little caviar in little packages. Very creative and balance flavors - a great start. I had a grilled octopus salad with frissee, warm potatoes and squid. The octopus was sliced into matchstick sized bites tossed with perfect little potato and olive bites, topped by the dressed frissee and then a few crispy calamari rings on the top. Reminded me a little each of Greece and Barcelona.

The next half bottle was a Charbono (2005) from Robert Foley. Big, bold extracted flavors - very fun. Worked well with my Buffalo Tenderloin with short rib/potato hash and mustard greens, all topped with a quail egg .... a beautiful rich demiglace alongside. Not a typical spring flavor, but extremely well prepared and presented dish. My wife had the winner, though - Dover Sole Fricassee with peeled grapes, roasted hazelnuts surrounded by a coconut cream froth/emulsion. The fish was light and crispy, dressed up away from the foam to stay crunchy. It had these peeled celery stalks that were melt-in-your-mouth and the aromas from this dish were just amazing.

To wrap up, my wife had a three-cheese plate (Spanish blue, an aged domestic cheddar that was terrific, and this French triple cream that was the smoothest cheese I've ever had) served with a variety of crackers and a relish plate including quince paste, fig compote, almond brickle and a mustard gelee that was really cool. I had a chocolate souflee cake with bananas foster ice cream and the staff kindly toasted us with a sweet procesecco for me and a tawny port for her cheese. Little bon-bons to finish and a nice little box of chocolates to take home with us.

In contrast to some of the takes in the previous threads, we found little touches like the purse stool to be welcome, not stuffy. The quiet and dignity of the restaurant desirable, not something to be feared. We sighed, moaned and shared bites across the table just like we always do. The only criticism we'd have is that the piano player was a little cheesey . . . singing soft rock just wasn't right for that. Keep the feel and have just instrumental or classical or just nothing. Listening to Gershwin is great but it just didn't feel right. All in all, it was an outstanding meal and Top 20 in the country dining experience for sure, if not higher. The food was spot-on, as good or better than anything else we've had in the valley.

The true differentiator, though, is the service. Nothing in Phoenix can compare to the setting and class of this place. We love Michael's and Binkley's, where the food is equally fantastic, but to really dine refined and elegantly . . . Phoenix doesn't have anything else like Mary Elaine's that we've run across. The closest we've had was the Ventana Room in Tucson. If you want great food but are willing to sit next to drunk golfers in shorts, Binkley's is fine. If you want an elegant evening with seamless, professional service with lovely silver, gorgeous china and that type of setting, this is the place to go.

Happy eating to you all!

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  1. My wife reminded me that I forgot to mention a couple things, relative to some of the earlier discussion on this restaurant. I'm not sure if they rennovated or not, but we found the decor fairly up to date and in line with the style they're going for. Also, both my menu and my wife's were the same with all prices listed. We are both in our 30's and while a few tables were older than that, in general the patrons were quiet diverse.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pgerding

      Thanks for the report. I'd always been hesitant about going there, in case the food and atmosphere was stuffy. The octopus and cheese plates sound very compelling.

    2. Thanks for the review. What's the dress code like these days, and how would you say the average patron was dressed? I was always curious about this aspect of ME's.

      2 Replies
      1. re: mamamia

        For men: Jackets recommended, but not required.
        For women: Business or evening attire.

        1. re: mamamia

          Of the six or seven tables, all men but one had a coat on and two of the coats had ties. The women all looked dressed up a bit compared to your usual nicer spots.

          I agree with the general dismay on the casualization of attire. LV is an exception, though at some spots you still see some folks fancied up, like Andre and the really high end spots. But hey, a $500 pair of Hugo Boss jeans versus a $200 polyster suit . . .?

        2. Very nice review/report. I was one of those who experienced problems with ME's, but on the wine end only.

          As for the accouterments, and the other aspects of the service (except the wine), were excellent and greatly appreciated. I like fine-dining in a quiet, elegant setting, and ME’s filled that bill. I also found the food to be very good, though not as “inventive,” as you did. This was, however, some years, and a chef, or two, ago. Maybe it’s time that I relax my stand, and give them one more go.

          Again, your post is greatly appreciated,

          7 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Agree! Thanks for the report!! To be fair, it's been a few years since I have been there, so it may be time to head back.

            I am also that many years older, and the menu now has prices, so it may be an overall better experience.

            The food was always great, and in a resort town, we do have more than our fair share of underdressed vacationers, so a classy, dressy dining destination IS appreciated.

            1. re: HomeCookKirsten

              how long until it's doomsday for mary elaine's?

              1. re: ccl1111

                Interesting question, especially since the Marquesa just bit the dust. Unfortunately, I find that the restaurant scene is being "dumbed-down" far too quickly, and not just in Phoenix. Looking at the New Orleans board, I see that most of the "formal" dining spots, now "suggest coats for gentlemen." I am still scarred, when, at about age 12, I had to wear a paper tie, while dining with my parents at Galatoire's, circa '60. Last trip down, pre-Katrina, it was sport coats "suggested" at all of the old-line restaurants. Heck, I still travel in a blazer, and pack a tie, when going to Hawai`i. I will miss the ceremony, but may be alone in this.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  The only time that I truly do not miss the idea of wearing a jacket to dinner is midsummer.

                  1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    I understand your pain - and mine too. I grew up in the Deep South, and jackets were the norm for all but the most "family-oriented" spots. "Gentlemen" were also schooled to NEVER take off their jacket. I suffered through many hot, muggy evenings.

                    Recently, I broke my own rule in PHX, when we dined on a patio at an early hour. The heat was unseasonably high, and I just could not stand it anymore. Off came the jacket! My wife was surprised, but relieved, as she had been urging me to do, from the time we were first seated.


                  2. re: Bill Hunt

                    We just returned from a short trip to New York City, and I was amazed by the informality of restaurant diners. Jeans were everywhere. I asked our concierge about the relaxed dress code, and she said jeans are the new...pants. We ate at Gramercy Tavern on Friday night (excellent, by the way), and I couldn't believe how many people were dressed like they were going to PF Changs. It reminded me of Las Vegas, where casual attire is acceptable in almost every restaurant. I was one of the few wearing a jacket. I was just surprised to see it invaded New York.


                    1. re: barry

                      Same observations that I have made in San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia. DC still seems to hold to the old-school, but it's probably changing too.