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Review: Cowboy Ciao - Scottsdale, AZ (w/ photos!)

One of the pitfalls of any long distance relationship is that you don’t get to spend important days together throughout the year. Outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas, J. and I have only been able to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other important days together only a handful of times. So, it was no surprise that we were, once again, unable to spend the day together on J.’s actual birthday. Since we couldn’t make a birthday celebration happen when it should have happened, J. was content to let me make arrangements for a special night out.

Since we had enjoyed Digestif so much, I suggested we head to their sister restaurant in the same area. J. was game for the adventure and I made reservations at Cowboy Ciao and requested a nice table for a celebration. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot right on Stetson Drive, just a few steps from the entrance to the restaurant. We made our way inside and checked in. The hostess told us we had a choice of tables: either something next to the window or a larger table in the center of the restaurant and slightly elevated. Well, why not be the centerpiece for a birthday celebration?

We were taken to our table and handed our menus. The restaurant was busy and bustling and I did have some concerns that the noise level would push the envelope. However, it was manageable. One thing that I didn’t like was the lighting. Like Digestif, Cowboy Ciao had these small, bright bulbs that were at odd angles and shining on the side of the face. It was a bit uncomfortable, but I was able to scoot over a bit to keep out of the light’s direct beam.

After surveying the menu, we turned to the wine list, which was phenomenal. Nearly 100 pages of wines from all price ranges and some of them were seductive, but I wanted to save myself for some muscat after dinner. J., however, was having an alcoholic beverage before, but opted for a Foret Organic Beer ($7.00) from Belgium. I had my Diet Coke ($2.00).

Our server returned with our drinks and took our order. We decided to split two appetizers: the Pork Belly Sliders ($12.00) and the Ultra Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($10.00). For our entrees, I went with the Stuffed Pork Rib Chop ($26.00) and J. ordered the Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry ($24.00) which was touted as Cowboy Ciao’s “signature dish.” We also got two Mixed Green Salads ($6.00 each) to go with our meals.

After ordering, we settled in to enjoy our drinks. J.’s Foret Organic Beer was presented in the bottle with a brandy snifter. J was in love with the first sip because it tasted incredibly fresh. The beer itself was light and hoppy and didn’t have an “over-processed taste,” according to J. I took a sip and thought it was quite smooth and quite unique because it tasted like it had just been bottled. A very refreshing way to start the meal.

We were then treated to our appetizers. The Pork Belly Sliders were brought to the table. Two of the sliders were nestled around a plate of homemade potato chips. A thick cut of pork belly, tomatoes, greens, and aioli were served on a French roll. J. and I each grabbed one of the sliders. I was somewhat disappointed. The quality of the ingredients were top notch but the tomatoes and the aioli, due to their abundance, overwhelmed the sliders. I could not taste much of the pork belly. J. had the same reaction. The tomato slice was about 3/4ths of an inch thick so the meat didn’t stand a chance. I really wish it had because I love pork, but this dish simply failed to deliver. We did, however, really like the homemade potato chips. Those were outstanding.


Our disappointment with the Sliders was immediately wiped away when we dove into the Ultra Grilled Cheese Sandwich. It was sublime on every level. The ultra cheese sandwich included prosciutto cotto, and Gruyere on French bread. Heaven. The sandwich was perfectly cooked with the meat and cheese hot and delicious and the bread giving a health crunch that rivaled the homemade potato chips from the sliders. J. said this was the best grilled cheese sandwich ever and I certainly agreed. The small basil and cherry tomato salad that accompanied the sandwich was cold, fresh and delightful. It really helped cut the richness of the sandwich. This was a must-try-again item.

J. and I had each ordered the Mixed Green Salad to break up the meal and I am glad we did. Each salad was a plate of fresh, crisp mixed greens with cherry tomatoes and bits of Gorgonzola cheese. J. had the Mustard Vinaigrette and I had the Pesto Buttermilk. These were quite good and we liked both dressings. I thought, however, that some croutons or some type of nuts would have given a nice contrast to the salad. Still, we were pleased.


We only had a slight wait between the salad and the entrees and I was very happy when my Stuffed Pork Chop arrived. A large bone-in chop had been stuffed with Shropshire blue cheese and then grilled before being put into a hot oven to bake. It was served with ancho bread pudding, apple jus, a raisin and fig compote and green beans. The product was exceptional. The pork, despite its thickness, was super tender and moist. The blue cheese had fully melted and was oozing out onto the other items on the plate. I was very happy with the meat and the cheese. The bread pudding was slightly spicy and salty and a good pairing with the raisin and fig compote that gave a sweet edge the dish needed. The green beans were good, but how could they not be sitting in all of those flavors? J. really liked the dish as well and found it to be a stellar production.

J.’s Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry was different than I envisioned it. A large plate was covered with a mushroom pan fry that included cremini, button, oyster, cepe, lobster, black trumpet, shitake, morel and yellow foot mushrooms in an ancho cream sauce all poured over triangles of polenta and topped with grilled portabellini, tomatoes and cortija cheese. The result was a very earthy and rich dish that J. was very enamored of. The amount of mushrooms and the polenta soaking up all the flavors made this a success for J. who devoured every last drop. I can see why this is Cowboy Ciao’s signature dish. It really was quite creative and spectacular.

After devouring our dinner, we decided that to celebrate J.’s birthday we would have dessert. The dessert menu was presented and I told our server we were having a belated birthday celebration and to recommend some desserts. He encouraged us to try the Pecan Brittle with Bacon or the homemade ice cream. After a small debate, we ended up with the Pecan Bacon Brittle ($5.00 for 3 ounces), the Strawberries and Cream Ice Cream with Sugar Cookies ($7.00) and the Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate ($9.00). I also ordered a glass of the South African Muscat ($3.00).

The South African Muscat arrived first at our table. The small glass contained about three ounces of the dark red liquid and the scent of currants filled the air. I took a sip and was pleased with the muscat. It wasn’t overly sweet and it did have a particular “wow factor” but it was a nice beverage to prepare myself for dessert.

My Strawberries and Cream Ice Cream with Sugar Cookies was quite large. Two huge scoops of the ice cream and two large sugar cookies were in a large bowl. The cookies were soft and had a wonderful vanilla flavor that paired well with the ice cream. The ice cream itself was rich, creamy and very satisfying. My only complaint was that the ice cream was far too soft and on the verge of being mushy. I think it would have been much better had it had a harder consistency. Still, I thought it was a great way to end the meal.


J.’s Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate was a beautiful presentation. A coffee cup was filled with a cinnamon and cayenne spiced chocolate pot de creme that was frozen and served with a chipotle creme sauce and a ginger cookie. J. struggled to get the first bite out but loved the spicy and cold mix. The taste was bold, J. said, and very clever in its creation. “I like that it isn’t overly spiced, but just enough to give some burn to my mouth.” The ginger cookie, however, was only “okay.”


The last part of our meal was the Pecan Bacon Brittle. Although they had brought us out the three ounce bag of the brittle, they also served us a small place of two pieces. J. and I both loved the smoky flavor of the brittle, but three ounces was enough for two people. There was so much going with the texture and various tastes that after the filling desserts, this almost was too much. I was glad I saved the small bag for another time.

We asked our server for our bill and the total was $113.35 including tax. Our server had graciously removed the charge for J.’s dessert as a birthday nod. Our server was professional and engaging and we were happy with his service. We paid our bill and headed back to the car.

All in all, we found Cowboy Ciao to be a very good choice for J.’s birthday celebration. With the exception of the sliders, we enjoyed our meals and would return.

On the way back to Arcadia, J. and I talked and then J. got quiet. There was a long pause before I heard the words, “So, when are we getting married?”

Cowboy Ciao
7133 East Stetson Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Dress: Resort casual on up.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday - 5 PM to 10 PM; Friday and Saturday - 5 PM to 11 PM.
Notes: Valet parking available. Reservations available through www.opentable.com
Alcohol: Full bar. Very extensive wine list.
Website: www.cowboyciao.com

Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com

Cowboy Ciao
7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

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  1. Great review Seth! We've enjoyed everything we've had there but our favorites are the mushroom panfry and the chopped salad.

    1 Reply
    1. re: scorpioscuba

      We love the panfry and the chopped salad too. That Cuppa Hot Chocolate is my husband's very favorite dessert. He also has to pick up a big bag of the brittle every couple months....

      We've always had a good experience at Cowboy Ciao...glad to hear that was the case for this particularly evening as well!

    2. Great review, as always. I see that you got the "quiet table." That is usually where Peter places us, as I always complain about the noise level. I guess that your ears are younger than mine, judging from the first few paragraphs. In all of our visits, we've never noticed the lighting. Do not think that much has changed, but maybe the din of CC has always caught my attention.

      I also see that some new items have been added to the menu, and most sound great. CC has always "rung MY bell," with regards to the food. Chef Bernie gets it.

      It has been far too long, since we last dined there. I plan on recitfying that before we begin traveling again. My recs. for CC are actually based on a dozen visits, that ended about 18 mos. ago, only because of personal schedules and other restaurants that we felt we had to do.

      Glad that it was a good evening, and that you enjoyed yourselves. It has been a fav. of ours (except for the db level), and we will be back. Your reviews of some dishes, new to us, tempt us even more.



      1. great review, seth!!! i love cowboy ciao. add me to the list of stetson chopped salad fans.

        that grilled cheese looks heavenly!!!!!!

        6 Replies
        1. re: winedubar

          stetson chopped if my fav...note my icon :)

          1. re: Jess321

            Are you the one that they quote on the menu, "I love that chopped salad so much I put it as my screen saver"?


            1. re: yamalam

              haha I wish! It took me a while just to figure out how to get the icon... I actually got the idea from the menu!

            2. re: Jess321

              They gave me the recipe when I was there last year!

              1. re: PopcornSally

                Care to share?? That is the most amazing salad!

                1. re: ButterflyWest

                  Just google it. I don't think it's the exact recipe, but it's pretty close. Same for the bacon cookies. I've made them, but they aren't the same to me by any means.

          2. That grilled cheese looks awesome! Too bad about the sliders though. I wasn't able to get them the last time I was there, I was looking forward to trying them though. Will pass on them next time for that grilled cheese!

            1. I love this place (who couldn't?). If you want some great pork belly on your next visit, definitely get the Abs of Squeel. It's fantastic, different, and the pork is absolutely the featured flavor, with the rest there to elevate it.

              The stetson chopped, the pork chop you got, and the cuppa hot chocolate is the perfect meal, in my book. Thanks for the review.

              1. Great review as always Seth. And are congratulations in order? ; )

                Scorpioscuba, I remember posting my first review on Cowboy Ciao last year, and you had just got engaged there. Must be something about CC!

                Add me to the fan list for the mushroom pan-fry (the recipe was in a past issue of Phoenix or Phoenix H&G - hope to try it at home sometime), and the unique chopped salad. Now I'm craving the grilled cheese. Time for a revisit.

                1. Thanks for the great report. I will say that I was not enamored of Cowboy Ciao on my one visit, partly because of the noise, partly because the food didn't grab me (we did have the much praised chop salad, which I thought was eh, and can't remember what else)...but that cheese sandwich definitely looks like it merits a return trip! It does look like, well, the best grilled cheese ever...

                  1. I just ate and you're making me hungry. I've *really* got to make it over to Cowboy Ciao some time. Give J. my best birthday wishes.

                    Oh... If you two *do* end up getting married, I'd be glad to make your cake as a wedding present.

                    1. Alright, I've been out of the loop for a few days. We've heard whispers before this, but it's still pretty damn disappointing to check the news from the past few weeks and read that Chef Bernie has confirmed his resignation from Cowboy Ciao (http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/d...). Really unfortunate for those who have had him in their backyard for the past 11 years, and knowing (personally) that the added distance will likely make my Kantak food fixes fewer and farther between.

                      Still will be pretty exciting to see what he opens up in Phoenix. We can also be pretty confident that Kasperski won't put anyone less than interesting and impressive at the helm of his restaurant.

                      Anyone know anymore details than what have been in the azcentral and chow bella articles?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: crsin

                        Oh, that is a major bummer! I feel blessed to have dined there as often as I have.

                        I wish Chef Kantak all of the best.


                      2. Call me a spoiler, but I have found dinner at Cowboy Ciao to be a heavy, gloppy mess. Oversauced and overhyped. I don't doubt Chef Kantak's talents, but I think that some of the Cowboy Ciao standards were due for an update.

                        However, I have very much enjoyed it for lunch.

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: ejs1492

                          We dined at Cowboy Ciao on March 31, 2009. Truly one of the better meals I have ever had!

                          1. re: ejs1492

                            Maybe I missed the decline, as it has been some time, since dining at CC, for us. Still, over the years, we have greatly enjoyed each meal (except for the noise level). Some of their "tasting events" rank up there with places with Michelin stars and costing 10x as much. That says something. We will miss Chef Bernie, and hope that he does well in his endeavor. We also hope for the best with CC, as Peter is a "class act."


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              There's never been any talk of a "decline," the food is as great as it has always been (hence my extreme disappointment at his moving to Phoenix). Ejs just isn't a fan of his food, and I can only assume never was.

                              1. re: crsin

                                Fair statement. I guess his style just isn't my cup of tea. I did love it for lunch but was totally underwhelmed for dinner, especially in lieu of the ravings from many people on this board whose opinions I respect.

                                Once again, I'm the odd-man-out! Story of my life....!

                                1. re: crsin

                                  There have been several other posts, presumably from those, who are also not fans. That is what I was alluding to. Probably used the wrong terminology, as I misused my terms.

                                  I have been a fan, from first taste, until last. Only complaint that I have ever had was regarding the noise level in the restaurant, but I have that abundantly clear over the years. Service, food and wine have always been near the very top, in my book.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Is this cowboy Cia a place you can take children? Any happy hour action here?

                                    1. re: palmtree38

                                      I'd say it depends on how well behaved they are and if you think they'd be willing to eat anything on the menu. As Bill mentioned above you, the noise level is pretty loud and the place fairly energetic (i.e., not subdued and formal), so I don't think anyone would notice or care if there are kids unless they are the bouncing-off-the-walls type--it's definitely an upscale restaurant, and people do go there for a "nice" meal (this includes special occasions, etc.). This is from an "outsiders" perspective...I'm sure someone with kids will be able to tell you if they find it "kid friendly" and "kid appropriate"

                                      1. re: crsin

                                        Sorry that I did not see this one earlier, but you have defined it well, in spite of my tardiness. Could not agree more.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          Three of us ate at Cowboy Ciao for the first time last week. We have lived in the Valley for three years and figured it was time to give it a try. I have to say hands down the WORST meal I have had in years. I really wanted to like this place but ugh! Service was average, nothing wrong with it really although she really could not answer any questions we asked.
                                          So many better places to spend your money these days, at least now I know.

                                          1. re: ronam

                                            oh oh . that does not sound to promising.

                                            1. re: ronam

                                              Sorry to hear this. We have been dining there, since Peter opened, and have never had less than a really good meal. The service was always very good.


                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                Is there dishes their that are real arizonian feel you could recommend?
                                                I have a extensive list of mexican to try out but wanted to get a feel arizona..

                                                Cowboy Ciao is on the higher end price wise?

                                                1. re: palmtree38

                                                  Looking for new updated reviews for Cowboy Ciao.

                                                  1. re: palmtree38

                                                    Anyone dine here since August to give feedback? What is their chop house salad? It does not state on the menu what is in it where the others include the items.