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Pizzeria Bianco, Sea Saw & Cowboy Ciao...are they as good as I've been told?

I'm heading to Scottsdale for a week on business. I've been told these are places not to be missed. Do you agree? Is there some place even better in your opinion?

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  1. I have been to some of the very best restaurant's from coast to coast. And Pizzeria Bianco is one of my favorites. A true gem that any community should be proud of.

    Some frown over the wait. I view it as part of the experience.

    1. i completely agree. i think they're 3 of the best spots in metro phoenix. but that depends what you mean when you say better. first - depending where you are staying in scotsdale the drive to pizzeria bianco could be prohibitively long. second - in general, how much driving do you want to do? being that metro phoenix urban sprawl suprassed that of los angeles county, you could spend over an hour in your car driving one way to get some place. do you want to do that? third - what do you mean by better? are you only looking at fine dining establishments? i think there are some excellent gems here and they aren't all fancy.

      1. Pizzeria Bianco -- Almost everyone, including me, thinks the food is outstanding. The controversy is about the long wait for a table. No need to rehash that debate gain. Here are some prior discussions:

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/346937
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/434252
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/96261

        Cowboy Ciao -- I like it, but think it gets overpraised sometimes. I've never had a bad meal there, but I've had many equally good meals at places that don't get as much buzz.

        Sea Saw -- no experience with that one.

        As for any place that might be better, that depends on where you're staying, how far you are willing to drive, how much you wish to spend, what type of food you prefer, and myriad other factors. Can you tell more about your dining interests?

        -----
        Sea Saw
        7133 E Stetson Dr Ste 1, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

        Cowboy Ciao
        7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

        Pizzeria Bianco
        623 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

        6 Replies
        1. re: silverbear

          I completely agree on all counts with silvebear.

          PB is fabulous and I don't mind the wait because I know it's going to be that way.

          CC is good but I wasn't blown away by it ( ate there just last week, Tuesday ). The appetizer scallop dish was right on point - 3 large seared scallops, cooked perfectly. Set atop beet risotto with dill cream and crumbled goat cheese. OUT OF SIGHT! My entree, the shropshire stuffed pork rib chop, left a little more to be desired. ( The shropshire blue cheese didn't belong anywhere near that dish, IMO. )

          SS - never been but look forward to it at some point.

          I would add Binkley's to your list. It is, hands down, my absolute favorite restaurant in the scottsdale/carefree/cave creek area. It might be a bit of a hike depending on where you're staying - but it's totally worth it. Think The French Laundry at reasonable prices. It's on a level all its own.

          1. re: azbirdiemaker

            Binkley's is a good call, if the OP is in North Scottsdale.

            You MUST try Sea Saw, and I must go again!

            Between Scottsdale and Phoenix D'town, three that come to my mind, that are closer are: Vincent's on Camelback, elements at the Sanctuary and T Cooks. All worth the shorter drive.

            However, as Michelin states, " a three-starred restaurant is worth the extra drive... ," or some such. Note to Michelin: please pardon the paraphrase.

            Hunt

            Hunt

            -----
            Binkley's
            6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

            T Cooks At the Royal Palms
            5200 East Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018

            Vincent On Camelback
            3930 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018

            1. re: azbirdiemaker

              Binkley's is totally worth the drive. Not to mention, seeing the beautiful desert in N. Scottsdale and Cave Creek.

            2. re: silverbear

              I'm with you, to a point. I have had nothing but great meals, and fun wines at Cowboy Ciao. Have had a few wonderful meals at Sea Saw, but not the omakazis [plural SP?], and have had good pizza at Pizzeria Bianco, but it did not quite live up to the buzz. Very good, but I have actually had better pizza (personal tastes, ya' know). I'd gladly dine at any of these. Need to get back to all, as it has been a few years (wow, can it have been THAT long?) to see how each is doing.

              As pointed out, Metro-Phoenix is 500 Sq Miles, and growing, so one could pick out locations that are hours apart, even though they "seem" to be in a much smaller area. Depending on you tolerance for driving, I'd do a MapQuest search for your hotel, and then these three spots. Also, Greater Phoenix Metro Area [GPMA] is experiencing a bunch of freeway closures. They build one and open it - shut it down to re-pave with rubberized surface and open it - shut it down to build HOV lanes and open it - shut it down to put in rubberized surface for the HOV lanes. They are in one of those phases on many, as I type, so some freeway driving might be very limited. If you plan on doing anything on the freeways, check for closures, either partial, or full. Surface streets are broad and usually flow well, but the freeways are in a constant state of flux.

              Once you get a geographical idea, do not hesitate to get back and ask for recs. closer to where you'll be staying. Phoenix has some great food, regardless of what folk in some other culinary-destination cities think. I easily compare it, in many respects, to San Francisco, Las Vegas, NYC and London. We've probably got as many James Beard Award winners, right now, as any place, save NYC in the US.

              Good travels and dining,
              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Thank you , Hunt - for reminding people - PB is good - it's pizza. Sea Saw - on parallel w/ Nobu and some others. Binkley's is its own experience, - and Cowboy Ciao is a genuinely regional treasure.

                1. re: Alice Letseat

                  Maybe the fact that it is pizza is what impressed me the most. Even though I can't imagine placing it in the same category of what most people think of in regards to pizza. Papa Johns, Pizza Hut etc etc.

                  Give me a endless supply of luxury ingredients and I guarantee I'll give you a memorable wonderful meal. Give me flour, yeast and water and my confidence takes a vacation. Chris Bianco pulls it off and I can't help but admire that.

            3. Sunny,

              I have been to both Pizzeria Bianco and Cowboy Ciao and would highly recommend them. The catch with Pizzeria Bianco is the wait. Plan on it, hang out at their bar next door, walk around Heritage Square and when it is time to eat your taste buds will be rewarded!

              Billy Bob

              1. If possible and you have a large enough group, Pizzeria Bianco takes reservations for parties of 6-10. You might be able to do that and bypass the wait. We did that last week (I made them about 2 weeks in advance) and we only had a 20 min wait before our name was called. They take reservations for 5,6:30, and 8.

                1. In line with the other places you mentioned, I would add Binkley's to the list. I believe it is one of the very best in AZ. When I was there, I overheard someone say they thought it was better than the French Laundry (at probably 1/2 the price). Not having been there, I wouldn't know. I just know I love it & think it is a great bargain for the food you get.

                  Folks also speak very, very highly of Kai which is next on our list.

                  1. I have eaten at all three places you mentioned-Cowboy Ciao on many occassions, See Saw just last Friday, and Pizzeria Bianco in August.

                    For me, the waiting process at Bianco totally ruins the overall experience. This has been discussed many times before on CH. I guess it comes down to how much time one has on their hands and is willing to wait for what in the end is really good pizza.

                    Cowboy Ciao has a very unique menu and an excellent wine list. I could spend an hour just reading the wine list. There are so many wines that you just don't see anywhere else and there are a lot of bargains to be found. It is so hard to decide what to order as everything is great here. If you are looking for a clone of Houston's you won't be happy, but if you want to experience food you don't see everyday (esp. in Scottsdale) and probably won't cook at home, Cowboy Ciao will not dissapoint. Some faves are the Soup, Mushroom Stir Fry, Chopped Salad, and the elk. But everything is great.

                    Went to See Saw for my wife's birthday on Friday night. When I made the reservation I asked about the omakasse dinner and was told no problem you will be at the kitchen counter and reserved for the omakasse. I made a mistake and did not understand that there are two omakasse choices-one a formatted 8 course menu that changes regularly and another that is whatever Chef Nobu decides to make you.

                    We were reserved for the set 8-course menu, $125 including wine pairing with each course. It was an incredible meal featuring very fresh ingredients (mostly seafood), small exquisite presentations, and sauces mostly composed of infused oils. I knew that it was going to be a good night with the very first bite- a cold, very fresh Kumomoto Oyster in its own liquid and topped with Sea Urchin. It was like taking a bite of the ocean. The parade of dishes went on from there. How can you not love a meal whose last course is a slab of fresh foie gras sauteed with asian pears? Best of all, after 8 courses we did not feel full or over fed, it was a similar feel that you get after a good trip to the sushi bar. Interestingly, dessert is not a part of the omakasse dinner and is an additional charge. Also, the wine pour for each course is very small, probably two or three sips at the most. In total, we had the equivalent of two regular glasses of wine-not much for a two and a half hour meal. There was no explanation of the wines and no bottles were every presented. The glasses came already with the wine poured. That is a little unusual & I did not get the feeling that there was anyone in the dining room with much knowledge or enthusiasm for wine. Most likely the pairings are done by Cowboy Ciao's sommelier (the two restaurants share the same owner, are next to each other, and share the same wine list).

                    The only thing that was a little disappointing, is that as we sat around the counter (14 people on this night) and the kitchen with Chef Nobu and three other cooks are just a few feet in front of us, we watch as the omakasse dinner that we had everything was prepared by the three young cooks. We had absolutely no interaction with Chef Nobu and he paid no attention to what we were eating, yet he was working for two hours just a few feet in front of us. On this evening he was completely focused on preparing a meal for a group of three and another group of two that looked incredible. Even though the meal we had was outstanding, we somehow felt slighted and that we were missing out on the best that the kitchen could do. Several times I even asked one of the young cooks what it was that Nobu was making, and most times got either a shrug or a one ingredient answer like "tuna"-which was obvious from the beautiful slab of ju toro he had just sliced a piece off of. Of course we all know that when you dine at a famous chef's restaurant you don't expect that the great chef personally prepared all or even any of what you are eating, but in most instances he is not cooking right in front of you, and for someone other than you. Imagine if you went to a Gordon Ramsey restaurant and watched Gordon cooking right in front of you, but not once make anything you were going to eat and never acknowledge that you are there. You would rightly probably think, "what an ass". We did not think this of Chef Nobu, but it did strike us as a little odd.

                    I don't know if this was an unusual night or is normal-I wonder if anyone else has noticed this. I do know that next time, which will be very soon, I will be more clear to reserve for Chef Nobu's personal omakasse, which I understand is more expensive. I think it will be memorable and how often do you get to have a James Beard award winning chef prepare your meal right in front of you? Actually, that is exactly what you get at Pizzeria Bianco, as well, for a lot less money and but a lot more patience required.

                    Sorry for the long response, but to summarize you have chosen three great dining experiences, so enjoy. Only other thing I would add, is if you have time try to get a table at Binkley's. When he is on, Chef Binkley raises his cuisine above anything else in the valley and on a par with the best of New York and Paris.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: dflack

                      To the OP...all of your choices are excellent and different ends of the food spectrum. I agree about adding Brinkley's if you don't mind the drive. It's incredible. For Sea Saw, make sure you ask for the omakasse (either the 8 course or the chef's choice and seating at the bar.

                      To dflack - your experience at Sea Saw is not at all unusual. We've enjoyed the 8 course omakasse a few times, and the chef is always there working on food. Sometimes, he is making a few things for us, but more often than not, he is working on dishes for another party. That said, we never felt slighted or that Nobu was rude. I do not know him personally, but he does not seem the type to make a lot of conversation. I did not notice him talking much even with the patrons he was cooking for. We very much enjoyed watching Nobu and the others preparing each dish right in front of us. On a few occasions we asked Nobu what he was preparing, and he was kind enough to explain it to us.

                      I was a bit surprised to hear that no one told you about the wine. Although they don't volunteer what each wine is, they always know when asked, and even brought over the bottle a few times when I inquired. Most importantly, I've found their pairings to be spot on. Each wine actually enhancing the food. It's one of the best food and wine pairings I've ever experienced. Oh, and I think Nobu considers the foie gras to be dessert, and it is one of the best desserts I've ever eaten. :)

                      Barry

                      1. re: barry

                        Nobu-san is a wine freak so it's not just an afterthought or a tacked on add-on from Peter or somebody else there. I'm pretty sure they are his pairings.

                      2. re: dflack

                        IMO Sea Saw is flat out the best restaurant in AZ and as good as anything of its type anywhere in this country or France (don't know Japan). Nobu is a genius and his wine knowledge is extraordinary. He personally does the pairing for his omakase and Chantel who probably served the wine is also very knowledgeable. If you ask or show interest both will be very helpful and informative re the wine.

                        1. re: dflack

                          Do not worry about the length of the report. It was very informative and appreciated, by me, at least. I've done Sea Saw, but it was too long ago, and he & Peter were really just getting things going. The meal was great, but he's made so very many changes, that my experiences really are not relevant any longer.

                          I'm with you on the wait at PB, and we actually got to "cut the line" last time, because our host, a physican, had saved someone's life, in the family. I wish that Chris Bianco would expand to a larger venue (but take his full talents with him to the new space). As stated, it's been hashed out, and some love it, but some (like me) just do not have the time. A half-dozen fine restaurants in New Orleans, are the same, and I just cannot spend the extra time, regardless of how interesting the "people watching" is.

                          Gotta' get back to Sea Saw, and you have helped me formulate a plan, when we go.

                          Thanks,
                          Hunt

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            I agree with the other posters -- Chef Nobuo definitely chooses the pairings. And when I've dined, if I've had questions or wanted further detail about what was being served and why, the servers have always answered every question handily, as well as the sous chefs. Everyone on the staff is exceedingly well-trained and hardly reticent about the quality of what they've prepared for you.

                        2. If one was forced to wait outside for 1+ hour, there's no better time of year to do it.

                          :)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: mamamia

                            Last Wednesday when we ate at PB, it was gorgeous. Probably in the mid-70s at 6:30. Can't ask for better weather. :)

                            1. re: Firenza00

                              PB is quite simply an amazing culinary experience. I understand if you don't have time to wait more than once a month or so, but for incredible food like Chris dishes up, in the atmosphere of Bianco's, makes it very worthwhile. Plus, this time of year, the wait is far from onerous.
                              When I was there last week, Jerry Colangelo showed up for a beer and a chat with Chris.

                          2. Thanks to everyone for such great responses! I am without a doubt going to be making it to Sea Saw now. Pizza Bianco does sound great, but the thought of combining the drive & the wait just seems a bit daunting to do alone. Maybe next trip...

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: sunnygordy

                              If you sit at the bar at Pizzeria Bianco the wait is not that long, especially alone. We have always found that if we go next door and have a glass of wine & appetizer our seats are available at the bar in the restaurant in usually about 45 minutes, which does not seem long if enjoying a glass of wine. (Great Prosecco on the bar menu) Hard to come to Phoenix and miss out on the Sonny Boy (a Pizzeria favorite)

                              1. re: travelchow

                                I know the Wiseguy is a big fav at PB, but IMHO, the Sonny Boy might be as near pizza perfection as there is.

                                1. re: azhotdish

                                  It is pizza perfection. I was there once and a couple from Italy was sitting next to me and they said it was as good as any they had in Italy. I heard Chris has turned down Iron Chef several times, I guess that's what makes him who he is. I think last year he was honored in Italy for his skills!

                            2. Pizzeria Bianco is great but it's definately a drive. If you're in Scottsdale, consider La Grande Orange. They have great pizza made with high quality ingredients, and it's on the edge Phoenix near Scottsdale.

                              1. The sandwich place next to Pizzeria Bianco is also fabulous. Super minimal, high quality menu. The sandwiches are also huge, so worth splitting.

                                Cowboy Ciao? A whole lot of hype. I just went last night, wanting to celebrate something special, and it was a whole lot of money for some overrated food. And the service was horrible. From the moment I walked in, the hostess was snotty, the manager was worse, and the server was incredibly unhelpful and unwilling. He didn't stop in once during the meal to see how it was, and let our glasses sit around empty without refilling.

                                As for the food... we had: the mushroom pan fry (their house specialty), the elk strip loin steak, seared ahi, and an order of ciabatta bread (yes, you have to order the bread separately for $3).

                                The mushroom pan fry: did not have any trace of the variety it boasted on the menu. It was a bunch of crimini mushrooms, with two morels tucked in and two slivers of shiitake. The worst part was, the morels, shiitake, and possibly some of the others, if they were there, were drowned out by a rich, spicy, creamy sauce. The sauce was tasty, but just not well-paired with the mushrooms, drowning out their unique flavors. The polenta, too, was really bland and dull; overall, uninteresting and unmotivating

                                This restaurant is known for being creative, but I'll keep the creativity off my plate next time. Because having a great sushi-quality seared rare ahi is one thing, but having this drowned out with yellow mustard (yes, yellow mustard), and then paired with arugula in a roasted red pepper vinaigrette with 4 different kinds of pickles (olives, capers, asparagus, and tomatoes) really just killed it. Mustard and pickled asparagus are suprisingly tasty together, but the rest... no thank you

                                The elk strip loin was nice, though. It was the one dish that came together; large enough portion for my lover to split with me, after my own order was deemed inedible. The sauces were great and actually worked with the dish; the herbacious and light reduction complemented the subtle gaminess of the meat, while the risotto was creamy, rich, and perfectly cooked (not soggy); and the crisp, simple vegetables were a great counterpart, taking in both the cream of risotto and the tang of the reduction.

                                And the bread was good. Hot and crusty, with a nice, airy, chewy crumb. Not quite ciabatta, more like french baguette in a ciabatta shape. But at the end of it all, I was also a little miffed at having to pay for bread in order to offset the saltiness of the entire meal.

                                The food cost $80 total. I think if you choose the right dish, it can be great; but if you pick a not so great dish, it wrecks the night because the servers just don't care about your dining experience

                                But, I am willing to try Sea Saw next time I have a special event, because it seems to be different enough, and maybe more carefully monitored (the chef works at that restaurant, i think), and because James Beard has never let me down.

                                But Cowboy Ciao? I don't think I would ever choose to go back, even on a business expensed dinner.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: oryza

                                  Sorry your experience at Ciao was less than satisfactory. The shrooms have never been a favorite of mine but there is a lot of good stuff on their menu, especially the chopped salad. Service is usually good so you must have hit them on a bad night.

                                  Sea Saw will never disappoint. It is completely separate and truly superb.

                                  1. re: oryza

                                    I think I have to agree somewhat with oryza about Cowboy Ciao. We dined at CC last month. While the chopped stetson salad was excellent, the other dishes failed to impress. We too had the mushroom pan fry and I agree wholeheartedly with oryza's account. My entree of a short ribs were too fatty while the polenta was tasteless and underseasoned. While I would return just for the stetson salad, I have to concur that the place is a bit overated. Now Sea Saw on the otherhand was excellent and I look forward to returning on my next trip to Scottsdale.

                                  2. The drive into Phx is most certainly worth the pizza.

                                    1. Yes to Pizzeria Bianco even with a two hour wait. The bar next door is fun and cozy and the staff is great. It's just part of the experience. I think Cowboy Ciao is totally overrated. The food is good, but not for the price and was expecting something fantastic because of all the hype. Wine list may be good, but if that's the only plus I may as well go to the owner's Kaz wine bar instead...