Reviews - back from Phoenix/Scottsdale (long)
Ok fellow SW Chowhounds, 1st, please this request - tolerate this write up as best you can for I am no Seth Chadwick (no stab Seth, you the man) and excuse any spelling errors. After all the great reccomendations many of you were so gracious to give some asked for a follow up report. I figured the best way for me to do this was just go day by day. That way I won't forget anything and I get to remember each wonderful experience.
Monday 6th - My wife (Nicole) and I arrived at Phx. airport around mid morning, coming from NC (4+ hr flight) we were already hungry. After we got our luggage and rental car I had just the place in mind and it was on the way to Royal Palm Resort where we were staying - Au Petite Four. We tried two different kinds of Pannini sandwich and split a round dark chocolate pastry, all were great. The fruit sweetened iced teas were very good as well. The owner waited on us and since it was about 11 and not very busy yet she talked to us a bit and I told her how good reviews from this site (and my love of pastry) steered me to her restaurant. Very good way to begin our week!
Early Happy Hour - while Nicole was window shopping in the Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall, I discovered a little piece of heaven called the Yardhouse. 114 draft beers, Have fun honey, take your time! After 3PM, all Pints were $3.25 and 1/2 price apps. I started with a old favorite, Flying Dog Ale then moved on to some high gravity selections drinking one in the process that became my new HG favorite - Nimbus Monkey Shine.
Nicole joined me after a bit and had some kind of fruity martini and we had a surprisingly good plate of chicken/spicy pinto nachos. The Manager came over and talked beer for a while with me and checked on us a couple of more times, he said their San Diego location had 250 taps. I think they need a new place on the NC Coast.
For dinner we had reservations at Richardson's. I can not say enough good things about this establishment, I absolutley loved it. This is my kind of place from A-Z, if I lived in the area I would eat here several times a month. This was also I felt the best meal for the $ we had all week. I had a combo platter that consisted of a blackened steak quesadilla, grilled shrimp with their wonderful chili sauces on top, New Mexico sausages and beans and rice. I washed it down with Chimay Cinq, which they serve on draft (I am a self confessed beer nerd). It came with a very good house salad that was served COLD (+). Nicole ordered the carne adovada and a Prickly Pear Margarita, both were superb.
Being from NC, we take pig very seriously and I am going on record and saying that I have never had swine any more devine. This dish was pork perfection, the spice of the sauce was just right and the meat was cooked perfectly. I even thought their beans were the best I had ever had. Service was excellent as well. I will be back.
Tuesday 7th - Started out with breakfast at La Grande Orange, I thought after having dinner here later in the week that this place was the Swiss Army knife of restaurants.
Anyway for this meal, everything looked and sounded good on the menu so we decided to try a little bit of everything. We ordered the omlette of the day which was Scheiner's sausage, fingerling potato, onion and a mild white cheese, a order of their pancakes and a big ole strawberry muffin that was calling to me. The omlette was great, served with sourdough toast I think (Nicole ate that up with some jam). The pancakes were good, thin, almost a crepe and served with honey and the muffin was packed with slices of sweet berry and wonderful. We both had different coffees and they were very good. I would be a regular here as well, great variety of excellent food and drink.
We had breakfast kind of late and went to the Heard Museum which took several hours so we skipped lunch.
Dinner was at somewhere Nicole had wanted to go for a long time but we never have been in the vicinity of a Trader Vic's until this week. Being very hungry we went full course with this meal and did not regret it one bit. Everything, food and service was excellent and Seth you were not kidding about their fried foods - perfection. They need to start a school on their techniqe. We started with drinks of course, Mai Tai for me and Pina Colada for the lady. Surprisingly, I thought my drink, although very good was lacking in the rum department. I do regularly consume alcoholic beverages so my taste might tend to sway to the strong side. I mentioned this to our lovely waitress and my next drink, Vic's Rum Punch (?) was to my taste. To begin we ordered the sampler platter, all very good but the short ribs were very lean, tender and just enough spice and the best crab rangoon I have ever had (chunks of crabmeat) stood out. For entrees we both decided to try items cooked in their hardwood fueled, chinese oven. Nicole, with the Managers helpful guidance ordered the Halibut with soy/wasabi asian inspired glaze served with a fragrant fried rice cake that she devoured and vegetables. I did help finish the large portion of fish and it was wonderful. I selected the Duck breast with dried cherry sauce, I like duck, but have probably had it less than a dozen times. This was the best I had ever eaten. For desert we split the fried banana fritters with vanilla bean ice cream and hot dark rum sauce, this may not sound that great but it was the best dessert we had our entire trip. Their was no seperation between fruit and the light coating, one bite of the fritter and I new exactly what Seth was talking about. This is another reason the crab rangoon was so good, not greasy at all - they have this form of cooking perfected. With drinks a meal can get pricey here but this was a special occasion (we were on vacation celebrating Nicole putting up with me for 14 years). I would come here a few times a year because it is a little different and my wife loves this type of food.
Wednesday 8th - Day trip to Sedona, we got an early start and were planning to have breakfast at The Eggery which I had gotten reccomendations for and had seen the sign for right off Camelback Rd. Must have moved because it wasn't in the strip center where the sign was. "No problem", I said, we will grab something on the way. No trip is complete without one BAD EXPERIENCE - so we drive a while not seeing much that catches our eye. I need caffeine, enter - It's A Grind Coffee Shop (West Carefree Highway), it's never a good sign when you walk in a Coffee Shop at 8AM and you are the only person there beside employees. We proceed to the counter where young lady with big attitude, "D Bomb" her name tag says does us the pleasure of acknowledging our existence. My lovely wife, ready to walk out already ask her what are your coffees for the day? She gets a arm extension and a finger point to several of those push button pump style coffee dispensers, no verbal answer. Oh boy, freshly brewed I said - one medium and Nicole asked for a small. We basically wiped out their pastry case by taking a crumb cake and cranberry orange muffin (both from a box mix). I tried the dispenser marked STRONG and it was the color of tea. I think you get the picture, this place sucked. I would never return and I would tell everybody I know how bad it was in hopes that it would go out of buisness and something decent could take it's place.
Sedona is a tourist trap but it is also beautiful. We thoroughly enjoyed our 3 hour Hummer tour and got some beautiful photos. We also met and enjoyed talking to some of the shop owners while others annoyed the hell out of me by acting like used car salesmen. We had planned to eat a late lunch at Cafe Elote, Jeff Smedstad's (sp?) new restaurant. As luck would have it, this day was his 1st serving dinner and he wasn't doing lunch. So I got to meet Jeff but not to eat his food. We are starving at this point and end up at Oaxaca Mexican which was packed, no need to waste time here - very average and overpriced. I guess looking back we should have tried Cowboy Club? I never got a good vibe on to many places here.
After the drive back and the average, but filling mexican food sitting in my stomach like a brick we decided to get cleaned up and see what we felt like. The Hummer ride had left a nice fine coating of red dust all over us. All refreshed, Nicole suggested we grab a pizza at LGO, she had looked over their dinner menu and said several sounded good to her and she saw they had Sierra Nevada on tap which would make me a happy boy. We went there and had the Roasted sweet corn and tomato pizza with fresh basil and goat cheese, washed down by a nice big cold pitcher of Sierra Nevada. The fresh dough was outstanding, the ingredients top notch and prepared perfectly. This hit the spot after a day of dissapointing food and drink. Note - Their pizza chef is a machine, we sat at the chef's table and watched this guy work some while watching a close D'back's game as well. He has funky black hair, like a mohawk with scrolling shaved on the sides and some serious ink. While talking with the line Manager he said on one really busy night they kept count and he turned out 410 pies in 4 hours. Dessert next door at Arlecchino, Nicole had a flavor that was a combination of toasted almond and lingonberry. I had pistachio and dulce de leche, I am no gelato expert but this was without a doubt (here it comes again) the best we ever had. We enjoyed talking to the serbian gentleman who said he was a partner in the store, he kept giving us samples until I think we tried at least half the flavors.
Thursday 9th - Late breakfast at the Original Pancake House, what a melting pot of people this place was - Buisness men, teenagers, fathers with kids, familys, groups of women planning on what sale to hit and couples of all ages. Yeah, I know, no credit card is a pain. I get points and cash back too but when your food is good and resonable I will pay with cash, and I personally like the no cell phone rule. Now if they could do something about drivers on the damn things all the time....... Ok, so I had the Dutch Apple baked pancake and their signature hashbrowns. Nicole ordered Chorizo scrambled with cheese and eggs, pancakes on the side. The apple thing, delicious, I really liked the sides and top - crunchy, sweet cinnamon sauce and plenty of tender perfectly sliced apples. The middle got a little doughy. I think you could probably do just fine with Jr. size which is $2+ less. The hash browns were good - redskins with paprika, a few other spices, onions and bell peppers. If they had been crunchy it would have been about as good a hash brown potato as I had ever gotten in a breakfast place. Nicole's chorizo scramble was very good, I traded a slice of Apple pancake for a few bites. Shopping in Scottsdale and Old Town Scottsdale, I paid Gilbert Ortega's electric bill for at least one store for the month on this day. No lunch as breakfast was late and quite filling.
Cocktails and appetizers back at the Royal Palm during the Manager's Reception. Couple of Amstel Lights for me, BIG glass of red wine AND a Bikini Martini for Nicole some friendly chatter and we are off Dinner at Los Sombreros - I will never eat SW/Mexican food again in NC (Ok, at least a month). First Richardson's now this, Nicole who is giggling like a teenage girl has ICED TEA and orders the Carne Asada Tacos. I order a Patron Silver Margarita and finally decide on the Lamb Adobo, oh my, this sauce ranks among the best things I have ever put in my mouth. I eat every morsel of tender lamb shank then try to sop up the sauce with the last tortilla. Beans and rice definetly a notch above what I am used to getting served. Nicole said that her tacos were - you guessed it, the best she ever had.
Friday 10th - Breakfast at Harlow's, I have the Eggs Max with Chorizo which has to be the best hangover breakfast ever in addition to being delicious. Nicole must have been yearning for home because despite my suggestions, she ordered biscuits and gravy. In her defense she asked our waitress about her selection and she reassured her that they were homemade and very good. Maybe good for Arizona, not good for the south. Nicole actually used the B word (Bisquick). I think the gravy made one go down but that was it.
I liked this place, I worked in Commercial Construction growing up and later partners in a buisness and this is the kind of blue collar, no nonsense place I would frequent many early mornings to start my day or meet one of my Supers at to sort out some problem.
They should really do something about all the old hag waitresses though.
Desert Botanical Garden - to freaking hot to think about eating lunch. Go back to resort, cool off at pool get ready for last Dinner at Cowboy Ciao. I was expecting great things from all I had read about this place and it lived up to them. Being our last night and the fact we had skipped lunch we were quite hungry. We started with a glass of wine and the chopped salad, only thing that could have made it better was the temperature it was room temp. and I prefer my salad to be cool. Nicole had the Short ribs with Cherry BBQ sauce served with pecan grits which I think where actually polenta. I went with the Blue Cheese stuffed Pork Chop with raisin/fig/apple compote over Ancho bread pudding. Both dishes were presented nicely, cooked perfectly and tasted exceptional. For dessert, we each picked one - Nicole choose the PB pot pie with PB/Honey Ice Cream, this was sinful but so rich I don't know how one person could eat the whole thing so I HAD to help her finish after I had polished off Bread Pudding with dried cherries, cranberries and nuts topped with mandarin orange Ice Cream and warm Brown Sugar sauce. Fantastic meal from start to finish, service was top notch. I remember commenting to Nicole that this meal and Trader Vic's ran almost exactly the same to the dollar. Two totally different restaurants, Trader Vic's being more of a fun place to go with friends but just as serious about their food. Both had excellent service, the manager was very friendly at Vic's (offering suggestions on other places to eat) the one at CC seemed like a nerd who wanted to think he was special because of his title, he did not come by our table.
Saturday 11th - I remembered reading about a Coffee shop that served empanadas, dug through my trusty knapsack and found a sheet I had printed off - Inza Coffee. We were up early to pack and get the most out of our last day. The friendly staff were just getting things going when we got there, We selected a cheese and sweet corn pastry, a beef/rice empanada and a chocolate croissant with our two coffees (not from pump style dispenser). Everything was excellent, they even warmed our food and brought it out to us. So - Inza Coffee = GOOD, It's a Grind = BAD
Fueled up we go back and finish packing, check out and head to Old Town Scottsdale for a last bit of shopping. We wanted one more taste of the NM/SW cuisine that the area had to offer so we took the suggestion of the lady who had taken a lot of my money that week, a very nice salesperson at Gilbert Ortega who reccomended Frank and Lupe's.
They sent us off right, I ordered a Patron silver Margarita (made with fresh squeezed lime juice). Nicole had the Chicken Enchiladas with Mole (excellent sauce) and I had the Fish Taco which were very good as well. Everything just had a good homemade flavor to it and the warm soapapillas with honey were a nice touch.
A few things that I'm left with after my first visit to Phoenix-
* You are very fortunate folks to have so many great choices in a close proximity.
* Scheiner's sausage makes a good product. I tried different types at various places that featured it and they were all very good.
* I now pity the fool that tries to serve me some green chemical infused swill from a bottle. I only get Margarita's at places that I know make them the right way, now I'm going to start talking junk to the places that don't and try to shame them into doing it properly. Tequila is finally getting it's props, I think it's main ambassador needs to upgrade as well. No more mixes!
Thanks for all your input guys & gals. We had a great time and look forward to coming back, I'll keep an eye on this board so I know what is going on. If ever you need help in Raleigh or along the NC or SC coast, don't hesitate to ask.
We gave our friends/family only a couple of week's notice that we were coming to Phoenix, so had our names on the wait list for Binkley's (our back-up was Trader Vic's). They called on Friday with a cancellation, so we lucked out. Wow. What a great menu. We loved this place. I'll have to write up a short trip report with the details on our meal at Binkley's (also some other good eats over the weekend - great pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and corned beef hash at The Original Pancake House in Scottsdale, and tasty shrimp tacos and chicken green chile salad at Bajio's at Happy Valley).
Great write up, RoQ. I am glad that Trader Vic's is still mastering the deep fryer (and I know JK will love the review as well). You really hit some great places and that gives us a great rundown so that we know some of our favorites are still churning along in a very good way.
Hope to see you back here soon!
re: Seth Chadwick
Darn right I loved it! I'll definitely pass the word around at work (I wait tables at Vic's) that you enjoyed yourself. The halibut and wood fire oven duck breast are a couple of very popular items (indeed, the halibut is the most popular item on the menu and the duck is our chef's favorite), but my favorite is the rack of lamb.
Your Mai Tai was lacking in the rum department? My goodness. Rum is the primary ingredient, with a 2 ounce pour.
Great reviews. You missed one of the best restaurants in town at your hotel. T Cooks at the Royal Palm. It is one of the best restaurants in town, and many people make a special trip to eat there.
You obviously hit some great spots, it is just funny you missed one of our local gems, and you were already at their location.
As an aside, I am not as blown away by Binkleys. It was very expensive, and the constant flow of amuse bouches became tiring (too much of a good thing).
Wife is interested in Cowboy Caio, so maybe that will move up to next on our list of places to go.
Thanks. I am a local and would highly reccommend that you go to Binkley's in cave creek nest time you visit the area. it is a bit of a drive, about 40 minutes, and you need reservations well in advance, but I think it is the best place in the area for dinner. I really liked Au Petite Four also.
Nice write-up, glad you enjoyed your time here. I have to admit I laughed out loud at the "old hag waitresses" comment about Harlow's, because I've never, ever heard a comment similar. To the contrary, and perhaps it's due to the fact that Arizona State isn't back in session, I've often found myself eying the staff as they carry big plates of huevos rancheros to the hungover and packed house. I'd also venture a guess as to the average age to be ~21yrs, so I'll be sure to avoid it during the summer!
I totally agree with AZB, I thought your write-ups were perfect -- straight to the heart of the matter; the food. I'm glad you guys did so well for yourselves here! And happy to hear someone with your expertise compliment the pork prowess we have going on in the valley Next time, Barrio Cafe for Silvana Esparza's cochinita pibil, slow-roasted for 12 hours.
I'll go ahead and take you up on your offer, I'll be in Hatteras later this month. Where should I go for Carolina barbeque?
I have been to the OBX quite a few times and almost moved there several years ago so I know a few good spots. I have personally tried Pigman's BBQ for lunch (good-very good) and JK's which is more upscale for dinner which is excellent for ribs/chicken and everything else they do (steaks, etc.) The down side is they are both Nags Head or below (Kitty Hawk) which is good drive for you. There is a Bubba's BBQ in Frisco that is a lot closer but I have not tried it. Ask over on the South board for some feed back. If you get down to Kitty Hawk, have lunch or dinner at the Black Pelican. Everything is good and they make the best Coconut pie you have ever had. If you like beer the Weeping Radish is a can't miss (German Restaurant & Brewery) .