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Scottsdale Area - Unique?

NYC hound visiting Scottsdale in a couple of weeks with the wife on business and we'll have two free nights for dinner. Will be staying at the Fairmont Princess and will have transportation. I've done some searching on the SW board here and hope "yous guys" might be able to provide some guidance. Good wine list a plus.

Ideally, we'd like to find something that we can't really get here in the Big Apple: Excellent southwest fine dining or some variation thereof. So places like Italian Grotto, Frazier's (pizza) Voltaire's ("old") Humble Pie (more pizza!) and Village Tavern (noisy!) appear out of the running. Methode Bistro's menu does not appear to be anything special.

NY Times had some recs from their "36 Hours in Scottsdale" travel piece some time ago and one of the mentioned restaurants, Fusion, did not appear to have a particularly ground breaking menu to me.

That seems to leave us with:
Vincent's on Camelback,
Binkley's or Tonto at RM in Cave Creek,
Cowboy Ciao, Sophies, or perhaps Rancho Pinot Grill.

Are Binkley's and it's 6-course tasting menu or Tonto at RM truly "destination restaurants" i.e. worthy of leaving your home for perhaps a long drive?

TIA for your input!

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  1. Binkley's is definitely a solid choice and one you won't regret.

    I would put in my recommendations for the following two places which is something out of the ordinary for you:

    La Hacienda is an upscale Mexican restaurant right there at the Princess. It it slated for closing in April, but my recent meal there was outstanding and offered lots of tastes that surprised me. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/493355

    Although a bit of a drive for you (and outside of Scottsdale), Kai at Wild Horse Pass is worth every mile and then some. It is a high end Native American restaurant in the southeastern part of the Valley, but it is exquisite. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/393933

    Cowboy Ciao and Rancho Pinot are also excellent choices.

    6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

    5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226

    La Hacienda
    7575 E Princess Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85255

    1. Binkley's definitely is, and it's not that much a drive for you. Kevin Binkley worked with Kevin O'Connell and Thomas Keller. The food is on par with what you would see at Alinea or Per Se. http://www.binkleysrestaurant.com/

      I have, frankly, never heard of Tonto -- but locals would have less reason to seek out resort venues far from our own neighborhoods.

      Kai is on par, serving indigenous foods, highly unique menu and elegant service, but it's a haul from where you're staying.

      Cowboy Ciao's wine list can't be beat, and they probably fit your bill. I would also propose T Cook's at the Royal Palms, just over the Phoenix border. It is a gorgeous resort; the food or ambiance have never disappointed me. http://www.royalpalmshotel.com/phoeni...

      I have to say, some of your proposed picks are puzzling, as they aren't anywhere near southwestern and certainly not unique from a NYC perspective. Do you mean that you are also open to upscale Italian and French venues as well?

      4 Replies
      1. re: themis

        Thanks Seth and themis! The list I presented was mostly from looking at some previous posts - I realize some of them might not have been quite upscale. Italian and French, unless it has a unique SW influence would be out.

        1. re: scoopG

          Oh, well then. Vincent's and Sophie's are both classic French. You should take them out of consideration.

          1. re: themis

            I would disagree regarding Vincent's. They are actually French with a unique SW influence.

            They might wish to hit Vincent's market on Saturday morning, great place for breakfast and lunch. Good people watching.

            1. re: duck833

              My apologies, you're right. I guess I have only ever seen their nouveau menu.

      2. I can't say enough about Binkley's. I'm sure you would enjoy it. I haven't been to Kai yet, but I have heard great things. Vincent's is unique in that he uses French technique with southwestern ingredients. It will remind you more of a French restaurant than anything, but it is certainly different.

        Rancho Pinot Grill would be a great choice for you. Southwestern ingredients prepared very well. Their wine list is great, although certainly not the size of Cowboy Ciao (which I also enjoy), and offers excellent variety and depth.

        Another "destination" restaurant not mentioned yet is Sea Saw. Your post doesn't mention Japanese, but the chef just won the James Beard Award Southwest, and the omakase menu is amazing. It is a very small restaurant, and you sit at the kitchen bar watching them put together your meal right in front of you. I can't recommend it enough.

        Have a great trip.


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

        Rancho Pinot Grill
        6208 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ

        1. scoopG,

          I think your list is a good one, but I'd add SeaSaw (right next to Cowboy Ciao), as it is unique and wonderful.

          Did Methode Bistro a few months back, after much buzz and great recs. It was truly nothing special, food or service-wise.

          As far as Tonto vs Binkleys, well for me, at least, it is no contest. Binkley's wins.

          Sophie's is really good for a FR bistro mid-scale dining spot. We love it, but it pales to the others in the list. I'm also of the same mind with Rancho Pinot Grill - nice, and we enjoy it, but it is nothing out of the ordinary.

          We are great fans of Vincent's and his SW take on classical FR cuisine is something that one does not find every day. We've always had excellent food, service and wine, but they know my wife well, so I have to admit that I/we have a bias. It is still the location for our board meetings, candidate's dinners and a ton of "special occasions," plus we dine there about 1x/month with no good reason, except that we really like it.

          Only complaint that I have with Cowboy Ciao is the noise level, but Peter (the owner) knows how I feel about that. Still, the food has always been excellent and I love the wine lists and wine flights.

          Binkley's has always impressed me, except that it's a ways away from me, so we do it, when we have a meeting up in that area. Binkley's IS a "destination restaurant," IMO. We dine well, around the world, and Binkley's holds its own with the best - and it's closer (still not close to me) than French Laundry, Greenhouse (Mayfair), or Stella! (New Orleans). It's a bit down-scale in the setting, compared to the above, but the food and service cover that.

          Two more possibilities would be elements @ The Sanctuary and T. Cook's @ The Royal Palms. Both are good, but maybe not totally unique. Hey, we could also add Deseo @ Westin Kierland and Lon's @ The Hermosa Inn.

          Still, you have a very good list.


          Deseo: Westin Kierland Resort and Spa
          6902 E Greenway Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

          Lon's At the Hermosa
          5532 N Palo Cristi Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253

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

          1. Binkleys is good as a destination, but not if you are looking for something uniquely southwestern. It is probably similar to what you would find in NY in a lot of respects.

            I agree with Lon's, T Cooks (more mediterranean). Others to consider are Los Sombreros down near Tempe, and Atlas Bistro (a BYOB off a good wine shop)

            Los Sombreros Cafe & Cantina
            2534 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257

            Atlas Bistro
            2515 N Scottsdale Rd Ste 18, Scottsdale, AZ 85257

            1. Cheers to you for seeking out what you "can't really get" at home. That said, from many great options above, Lon's and Los Sombreros are authentic, regional picks -- white tablecloth and bare wood table, respectively. Kai would be unique for you, but it is quite a haul from the Princess, even if you timed your reservation to avoid rush hour traffic on the 101, I imagine it would still be a good 45 minutes. Forgive the sobering thought, but unless you are dining at La Hacienda and only need to find your way back to your room, take care with your wine consumption -- AZ DWI laws have been tightened and are enforced.

              3 Replies
              1. re: yasouyiayia

                I really like your first sentence. Recently, someone posted a request for authentic Philly Cheesesteak in New Orleans. They got three recs., but complained that none was as good as what they got everyday in Philadelphia - duh! I try for regional cuisine and even regional wines (in some unlikely places) in my travels. That is why I eschew Morton's, Ruth's et al. I want to find out what the chefs in that particular area are doing, especially with regards to regional cuisine and ingredients. I can get Morton's in 50 cities.

                Also good to point out the potential problems with alcohol consumption. Being a wino, I often cab-it (cannot imagine what Pricess to Kai's and back would cost), or hire a limo, when traveling from my inn to a great wine destination. That is one of the reasons that we have not dined at Kai - it's just too far from us, and we've not taken the opportunity to stay there. Maybe a golf weekend and Kai in the Summer.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  As an aside Mr. Hunt, the golfing at Whirlwind is still very good in the summer; last year we did four events during June-July, and all were excellent.

                  Food wise, Silvik Grill in the clubhouse is among some of the best "19th hole" food in town.

                  1. re: azhotdish

                    This is good to know. I have a golfing, foodaholic, wino buddy, who wants to do this. Wives play golf, but are more into spa treatments, wine and food, but WILL play with us, if we make it worth their while. Glad to know that Whirlwind is still doing well. From other sources, it got good reviews, so I figured we could do a long weekend, when the rates fall.

                    Thanks for the info,

              2. Thanks everyone for all your recs! Will probably scratch Cowboy Ciao off the list due to the noise factor. It's all in the hands of the boss now. I will report back on our experiences!

                3 Replies
                1. re: scoopG

                  I understand your concern, re: db levels, at Cowboy Ciao. We'd likely dine there much more often, as we love the wines and Chef Bernie's take on many dishes, but Peter needs to hang tapestries, put in foam ceilings and carpet, especially for old ears. Great restaurant, but too loud for me. Still, I buck up, and go because everything else is great. Personally, I want to hear what my wife and any guests have to say. That is part of the enjoyment of dining.

                  Enjoy, and do please post back on your experiences - safe travels,

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Well, one person's "noise" is another person's "energy". I guess it all depends on exactly what you're looking for in a dining experience. I happen to like the overall atmosphere (which I guess includes the noise) at Cowboy Ciao.

                    1. re: boingo2000

                      You are so correct. For me, I like to be able to actually carry on a conversation, without shouting. However, I see that I am in the minority, if current restaurant concepts are any indication.

                      Personally, I do not need loud people and surroundings to convince me that I am having fun. Give me good food, great wine and interesting conversation and I am pleased.


                2. Thanks all. I can report that the Mrs. has winnowed the great list down, with the main idea to explore what we might not be able to get in the Big Apple; so that means no to See Saw and Binkley's for this trip. After looking at sample menus online she's come up with:

                  Vincent on Camelback
                  Lons at the Hermosa

                  We figure we can try La Hacienda for lunch maybe at our hotel.

                  Are we missing out big time by passing up Los Sombreros, Rancho Pinot Grill or T. Cooks and the others like Atlas etc...? The menus at RPG and TC look like what we might be able to get here, even though T Cooks looks like a divine setting.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: scoopG

                    Los Sombreros is a favorite of mine, but it's definitely not in the same category of restaurant as the others at the top of your list. It's fairly casual and not what I'd think of as a fine dining, destination restaurant kind of place.

                  2. Like so many others, I would strongly recommend Kai. It really fits your request for "not found in New York" and excellent. Don't be put off by the drive. You can always stop on the way back for a glass of wine at the Kaz world wine bar!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: zebcook

                      Thanks zebcook (and seth!) How could she have missed this? The menu looks quite exciting and like nothing here, so it is now on the top of the list. Maybe we can splurge for a car service! Our free nights are weeknights (Tues & Thu) so it certainly looks do-able. That leaves Vincent and Lon's fighting it out for the other night. Thanks again all!

                      1. re: scoopG

                        I have been to both in the last 6 months - service at Lon's was stellar, service at Vincents was less than expected - especially for a James Beard winner. Go with Lons

                        1. re: scoopG

                          Given a choice between Lon's and Vincent's, I would choose T. Cook's. I don't think NYC has a Southwestern/Mediterranean menu in a restaurant nestled amongst palm trees, bougainvillea and orange trees.

                          For full disclosure, I have only been to Lon's for brunch and I had a bad experience at Vincent's so you can take my words in that perspective.

                          I am glad, however, that you moved Kai to the top of the list. I think it is a superlative experience.