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Going to Cowboy Ciao 11/23 -- what to avoid when ordering

After looking at so many wonderful post for phx area I have decided to go to cc for dinner next Sunday. There is only one problem, the whole menu looks good--right down to the bacon chocolate chip cookies which I'll take to go. I am dining alone and will not be able to doggie bag it since I'm leaving with a tour group to Mexico the next day. So, to narrow down my choices, what should I avoid or what is just average and not worth ordering? I'll probably eat on the light side most of the day so that I'll have a good appetite. BTW, is the dress casual, business casual, chaps and boots? I was planning to wear jeans and casual cotton blouse. Thanks

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  1. You literally cannot go wrong. I've never been disappointed with anything that I've ordered there. The only thing I've found a little odd was the abalone steak which actually had a pretty decent flavor, but I would probably avoid unless you're vegetarian or happen to really enjoy abalone mushroom and/or the other ingredients.

    My personal favorites are probably the blue cheese stuffed pork chop, along with a stetson salad, and the cuppa' red hot chocolate. A lot of people love the mushroom pan fry, as well, although stear clear if you're not a mushroom fan (it's pretty 'shroom intensive). I've only been once or twice since they've changed the menu a bit a couple of months ago, so can't advise on most of the new items. However, I'd suggest just ordering whatever sounds good to you that night, and it's likely to be excellent. Have also made several great meals just out of multiple items on the grazing menu.

    Dress is business/"resort" casual. You would not look out of place in jeans.

    1 Reply
    1. re: crsin

      Mushroom pan fry definitely if you love mushrooms and the stetson salad is very good as well. I also wore jeans, boots, and a nice shirt and didn't feel out of place. I would research some of the restaurant week reviews for some help or look at feastinginphoenix.com for a very thorough review as well.

    2. My wife and I did a Saturday night sleepover, from Tucson, totally built around Cowboy Ciao. I've never read a better menu. We did the Stetson Salad, the mushrooms, the pork chop (and I can't remember my entree. Also did the cuppa and the bacon chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Everything was fabulous. The 'shrooms are very, very rich! Blue jeans and a sportcoat for me, and I'm sure my wife wore something casual. Have fun; I'm jealous!

      1. The dress is "smart casual," with people in nice jeans up to, and including, me in my blazer. Have never seen anyone in shorts, but could just have missed that.

        As to what to avoid - well, I've not tried everything, nor have we been really recently, so Chef Bernie's menu has probably changed. Still, everything that we have had, and that our guests have had, have gotten really good reviews.

        My suggestion would be to go with what you feel like having. The portions are adequate, but not overwhelming. One should be able to do an app., a main, and still have a little room for dessert. The two of us have made a fine meal with 4 apps., passed between us, and NOT had room for dessert, even some of the ancho-chili chocolate dishes, that are so good - or the flourless chocolate cake, which is also very good.

        Order for your tastes, and enjoy. Also, with their wine-flights, you can possibly get some lovely matchups.


        1. If they still have the scallop app on beet risotto with goat cheese and dill cream, it's a must-have. Literally one of the very best things I've ever eaten.

          3 Replies
          1. re: azbirdiemaker

            This seems like such a good menu and I want to try it in December. I do find the menu and the names of the items a little precious however.

            1. re: The Old Man

              Peter and Chef Bernie have a lot of fun with the naming. If you ever get a chance to read his newsletter, it is wonderful. I never know when he's removed his tongue from being firmly in his cheek. It DOES read a bit like James Joyce, but great fun, none the less.


            2. re: azbirdiemaker

              Oh-h-h, have not had that one. I guess that it's been too danged long, since I last dined there. Gotta' rectify that soon!


            3. I don't like the mushroom stir fry. The polenta is very bland, and the dish is skimpy on mushrooms. If you want to try this signature dish, go with the appetizer size because the other entrees look really good, especially the pork loin.

              2 Replies
                1. re: Firenza00

                  A curious combination of too salty (sauce) and too bland (polenta)

              1. I really enjoyed CC. I started w/ the crab and avocado salad w/fennel. The fennel was overdressed but was still good and the crab avocado stack was great. Nice chunks of crab and perfectly ripe avocado. For my entree I had the short ribs on pecan, nutmeg grits with cherry barbeque sauce. The ribs were smoky but moist and tender. At first I thought the grits were too heavy on the nutmeg but when I tried them with cherry sauce and the meat all the flavors came together. The cherry sauce was more like a sour cherry compote, I need to learn how to recreate it for my enjoyment at home. For wine, I ordered the featured wine makers wine flight. I loved the presentation but the wines were a little young than what I'm used to. I lost the little slip of paper so I can't recall each wine. The pours were generous. I ordered the bacon chocolate chip cookies to go, even w/out the bacon they were great but the bacon added a nice texture and flavor. They kept well so I had a nice little snack on my tour.

                BTW, stopped in at Aperitif beforehand for Absinthe happy hour. Grant, the bar tender, was knowledgeable about Absinthe, Aperitifs and wine and was very generous with tastes. I had the best time experimenting with his suggestions.

                3 Replies
                1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                  Sounds great. I really enjoy their short rib preparation, too. Thanks for reporting back.

                  I assume by 'Aperitif' you mean Digestif?

                  1. re: crsin

                    In all of our dining at CC, we have never tried the short-ribs. Gotta' get back by and give them a try. We love short-ribs and have had some great examples in/around Phoenix. Chef Bernie's take would be interesting to us.

                    Thanks for mentioning these,


                    1. re: crsin

                      yep, digestif, I am a little loopy from my trip.

                  2. Am I the odd-man-out for being completely underwhelmed by Cowboy Ciao? Yes, the wine list is incredibly approachable and fabulously entertaining. But I found the atmosphere lacking, the service good but not worth writing about, and the food over-sauced and greasy We had the pork chop, short ribs, stetson salad and cheese plate. Our entrees had clearly been sitting under a heat lamp because the server didn't time things right.

                    I liked the stetson salad but thought the portion was too small for sharing and it should have been served colder. People get religious about this salad and I am not sure I know why. The short ribs were described by my wife (a short ribs fanatic) as "okay...Zinc Bistro's are better" and the Berkshire Pork Chop was substandard compared to the one at Noca, and similarly priced.

                    Maybe we ordered the wrong things, maybe my expectations were too high after reading so many favorable reviews, or maybe it was an off-night, but I don't get it. We were there two weeks ago and I have no real desire to ever go back.

                    I know, I know, I sound like The Grinch.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: ejs1492

                      Now, I do agree on the general ambiance (noise especially), but the food has always been excellent. I hope that Peter has not spread himself too thinly. Chef Bernie has always come though for us. I hope that this has not changed.

                      For us, every dish was unique, and well prepared, plus served with the right reverance.

                      Still, it has been awhile, so maybe what I remembered is not there any longer. This would make me sad, indeed.

                      I have to apologize, in advance, as I have been a fan of, and have touted CC on this board. These recs. have come directly from the wonderful food, service and wnes, that we have experienced. If I did it. I am sorry.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        No need to apologize...we didn't go based on your reviews alone. Cowboy Ciao has almost been "untouchable" on this board and I felt like a heretic for not loving it. Again, could have been an off night and we may have ordered poorly.

                        Regardless, their wine flights were inredible and the glass of Green Chartreuse that I had over at Digestif before dinner (even thought it's an digestif) made the night memorable.

                        1. re: ejs1492

                          Sorry that it did not do IT for you. Still, I'm glad that it was not totally at my behest, that you dined there. While I don't find it the ultimate venue (Peter knows how I feel), we've always had great meals.

                          As for what to/not to order (the theme of this post), we've tried much of the various menus. Now, some of our earlier favs. are probably now in restaurant history, but we've really never had a bad dish. Maybe we just got lucky?

                          Thanks for allaying my fears,


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            Fear not Hunt, we're both addicted to Noca so we can agree to disagree on Cowboy Ciao. ;-) We both agree that the wine list - and flights - kicks ass.

                            Any I never once cursed your name during - or after - our meal at CC.

                            1. re: ejs1492

                              Even under your breath?

                              I am relieved,


                            2. re: Bill Hunt

                              No, I agree, I've never had a bad dish there either. Also, I've been within the past couple of months and there's absolutely no change in the restaurant (quality, etc.), so I'd likely claim "off night" for your visit, ejs. That, or it's just not for you. It's interesting how certian foods and restaurant can 'wow' one person, and just not stir much of a reaction in another...just different tastes/preferences. As far as service, it's always been great for me...very casual but very attentive, informative, helpful, professional, well timed. For me, the service and the atmosphere are really inherent and important aspects of CC, both are very fun, relaxed, and slightly off-beat, which compliments the fun/offbeat menu very nicely. Again, this is clearly a personal preference thing, and your view of the restaurant will obviously depend on what you're looking for. I've never left the place not fealing entirely impressed, and completely satisfied with a great, inventive meal and a fun time. I'd suggest giving it another try.

                              1. re: crsin

                                Very apt description, and in keeping with what we experienced in the past. I like the "off beat," as that describes CC well.