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4 Nights in Scottsdale

Hello all,

My wife and I will staying in Scottsdale for 4 nights to celebrate my birthday. FYI, we will not have a car, and plan to take taxis where needed. I've already done a good bit of research on your board, but do still have a couple of specific questions. But first here is what we currently have booked:

Thursday Night: We arrive a bit later, and have not yet decided if we will eat in LA before leaving, or once we get to Phoenix. If in PHX, we are thinking probably something chill. Any suggestions?

Friday Night: Kai

Saturday Night: Noca

Sunday Night: Cowboy Ciao

As I said, we will not have a car. We are staying at Sanctuary and plan to spend our days relaxing and being pampered, so at this point I doubt we will leave during the course of the day except for dinner.

We spend a lot of time in California, and a lot of time in NYC, just so you know, and are interested in places that are particularly representative of the PHX area, Arizona, and the Southwest in general. Hopefully without sounding snooty, I'm not so interested in things we can readily eat well where we spend most of our time (e.g. sushi in LA), but as I said in places that really help give one a great flavor of local PHX dining.

I realize Kai is a hike, but from all the reviews it seems like Kai and Binkleys are the "best" two restaurants in the PHX area. Having had the pleasure of eating both at TFL and Alinea, and in keeping with the idea that something locally influenced would be most desirable, we opted on Kai for my birthday dinner. Any reason we should consider otherwise? (Please don't take this to be a snub of Binkleys, I am sure it is fantastic, but it does seem particularly SF/Napa'ish, at least from the menu).

Noca seems to be heavily Italian influenced, which is something we eat a LOT of when in NYC, but the reviews were so overwhelmingly laudatory it seemed a shame to miss it ... especially when compared to FnB. Any other suggestions?

Cowboy Ciao seems to me to be the quintessential example of something I could only find there, and it seems like both a heck of a lot of fun and good eats to boot. Anything we should consider instead?

I'm also looking for suggestions, as I said, for Thursday night. I know there is Elements at the hotel, but it seems to be in a bit of a funk from some of the reviews I read, and while the menu doesn't look bad, it doesn't look exciting or new to me ... seems like the type of place one could easily find on the West or East coast. We might move CCiao to Thursday, but then that opens up our Sunday ... we're not super interested in TCooks, Lon's, Vincents, etc, we've done Bianco before, and Mastros/Ocean Club has several locations in SoCal.

Gosh ... reading back through this makes it sound far too snobbish, which is not at all what I am trying to do. Basically we just want great food that is not easy to find elsewhere.

Please do let me know your thoughts, and we look forward to giving you a trip report when we are back.

Thanks!

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  1. Go for Richardson's Rokerij. It's a short hop down Lincoln and a little south on 16th.Not far off the street which Sanctuary is on, and has great New Mexican style food. It's a board favorite, and it's open late so time is not an issue.

    Delux for a burger and a beer if you want casual yet tasty after your trip. Also open late

    -----
    Delux
    3146 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

    Rokerij
    6335 N. 16th St., Phoenix, AZ 85016

    1. How about going across the street to the BLT Steak at the Camelback Inn? Hanging out on the Patio for Cocktails with a nice view of Camelback mountain is quite nice and also very "Phoenix". The food is good + (I've had three great meals and one "eh" meal).

      -----
      BLT Steak
      5402 East Lincoln Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85253

      1 Reply
      1. re: Random987

        Ah, I forgot to mention we have a BLT here in LA. You're right, though, quite good food.

        I think we might shy away from steakhouses in general, this time. You know, the more I think about it the more SW fare seems like it ought to be the ticket.

        Thanks!

      2. Looks like a good lineup to me. Although I know you said you don't have a car, you might want to consider it with the amount of taxis you'll take since it will get quite expensive, Kai alone will probably be $75 each way. If you do want to take cars consider looking into ExecuCar if you want sedans or make sure you get Discount Cab - I've found they have cheaper rates for long distances when I have a long cab ride home on the weekends.

        Rokerij would be great for the night you get in - they're open until midnight and have a really dark, cool, intimate, southwest feel. Less expensive and they have a large list of small plates to choose from.

        Delux is in the same strip mall that houses Noca so after Noca it's a lively place to go grab a drink - they have about 40 specialty beers on tap and are open until 2 am 7 nights a week.

        And although you're not sold on Elements make sure to have a drink around sunset in the Jade Bar attached to the restaurant. Jade Bar has great cocktails, quality ingredients, etc.

        You don't sound snobby...just specific :)

        -----
        Delux
        3146 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

        Rokerij
        6335 N. 16th St., Phoenix, AZ 85016

        Noca
        3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

        1 Reply
        1. re: AnonymousWaitress

          Thanks for the tips ... I will look into whether it makes more sense to hire a car for the weekend or take cabs/town cars.

          Rokerij seems like a cool spot, and is in the mix for Thursday if we don't end up eating in LA. And I might have to pop over to Delux for a drink after Noca on Saturday night, depending on how much I've already consumed.

          And thanks for the tip on Jade; I'd read that elsewhere, but now it is a "must do", especially at sunset.

        2. The food at Barrio Cafe is worth checking out...

          We've also been really into the food at The House at Secret Garden lately... I think that's one of the most underrated places in the valley right now.

          Quiessence farmer feast is also a favorite...

          You'll find lots of mentions of all of them on the boards here...

          -----
          Barrio Cafe
          2814 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006

          Quiessence
          6106 S 32nd Street, Phoenix, AZ 85042

          The House at Secret Garden
          2501 E Baseline Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85042

          1. UPDATE:

            So I think I've decided to change Kai for something else; something a little less formal/fancy, and certainly something closer.

            Any suggestions?

            24 Replies
            1. re: a213b

              You would not go wrong at FnB, and really, I have taken the most jaded foodies there and they were charmed. Or The House at Secret Garden, which is a gem. Or, since you said less formal/fancy, you would also do really well at Cafe Bink, Kevin Binkley's a la carte outpost -- beautiful patio, excellent cocktails, and classic bistro fare with pitch-perfect execution. It's low-key and nothing on the menu disapoints.

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

              Cafe Bink
              36889 N Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree, AZ 85331

              FnB
              7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

              The House at Secret Garden
              2501 E Baseline Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85042

              1. re: themis

                Well, our experience at FnB was anything but stellar. Other than the fact that they had small plates, and some AZ wines on the list (oh, least I forget the good service), not one dish made the cut. Nothing was in any way interesting. Now, that was on our first trip, but we were expecting something with excitement, or innovation, and found neither.

                We will give them one more go, but when nothing is worth eating, I am not holding out any hope.

                I just do not see what the hype is. Maybe it was just a very bad night, when nothing was good.

                Were I faced with hiring a limo down to Kai, or dining at FnB, I'd hire the limo in a heartbeat, and expect to be wowed.

                Hunt

                -----
                FnB
                7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  The wow's in the wisdom and the subtlety, Bill. It's in Charleen's ability to extract full, honest flavor from every ingredient. It's in combinations of flavors and textures that are smart without getting cute. It's because every item on the plate is treated with the utmost respect and allowed to speak with its own voice. The wow's in the fact that not only did all of those vegetables just come out of the ground, but they actually taste like it... harder to come by than it should be, even at big name establishments.

                  I don't mean to suggest that it's superior to more overtly creative and process-heavy cuisine. It's different. It's a little more humble and grounded. And it takes just as much skill to make that rutabaga shine with just a few simple supporting ingredients as it does to assemble a fine dining dish with a dozen components. It's not an intellectual experience, it's a soulful experience. To give a jazz analogy, FnB isn't about where the notes are, it's about where the notes aren't. If you go in looking for flash and wow, you're going to completely miss the point.

                  There are plenty of restaurants (maybe not quite so much in Phoenix) that do food like Kai (and I like Kai!). But a place like FnB is a far rarer bird.

                  -----
                  FnB
                  7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                  1. re: Dmnkly

                    I just missed all of that. Nothing was registering on my palate. Maybe because we arrived early, the kitchen was just starting up. I found one dish, that I would even consider ordering again, and that was so far down my list, as to almost not be noted.

                    FnB left both my wife, and me flat. We scratched our heads, and that was even overlooking some major gaffs by one of the owners.

                    This is a good reason why a professional reviewer does 3 - 4 trips. There can be irregular dishes. Still, with nothing to "remember" them, does not bode well.

                    We both left unimpressed, and had just done several Michelin starred (one a 3) restaurants before, and several right after.

                    Whatever magic they might possess, they missed it that visit, and in a big way. Just not impressed, though the server was good, as was the local wine list.

                    Maybe we'll have time to give them another try, and attempt to clear our minds of that first visit. Hope that the management gets things right then too.

                    Hunt

                    -----
                    FnB
                    7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      If you are going to try it again give it a go when they have the lamb on the menu - IMO that is the best thing that I have eaten there - regardless of which way they prepared it and sides with it

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Bill... I completely understand. At the risk of reading between the lines, when you used words like "excitement," "innovation" and "wowed" to describe what you were missing, I was left with the impression that you were either expecting a very different kind of restaurant, or were a member of the Steve Plotnicki "haute cuisine is the highest form of food and everything else is secondary" school. If I was a little overly aggressive in parsing the text, please simply take my recommendation to get back there.

                        (Incidentally, I'm sorry, there's one bit I don't understand... what's the significance of having eaten at Michelin-starred places before and after FnB? They seem to have broadened their criteria *somewhat* as of late, but FnB isn't really a Michelin type of place. Not challenging... I just don't understand why that's relevant.)

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                        FnB
                        7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                        1. re: Dmnkly

                          For me, the significance is that the food just did nothing for me, where all of the restaurants, just before, and just after did - with two exceptions - every dish. Each was a positive adventure, in itself. Nothing at FnB was enough to even get more than a "ho-hum" from me.

                          As far as the service (which was the best part of the evening), and the restaurant, I did not expect it to at a rarefied level, but DID expect the food to "sing," based on all the recs. here.

                          OTOH, there are plenty of places lauded here, and on other boards, that I just do not get. Plus, there are restaurants that are on my Top-20 list, that many others do not get. That's the great thing about individual tastes - I like some, but not others, while another poster might disagree completely.

                          Hunt

                          -----
                          FnB
                          7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            Bill from my prior post regarding the food at FnB it is clear I agree with your assessment. It is also true that different diners have different palates.

                            And, when you said “… FnB was anything but stellar. …not one dish made the cut. Nothing was in any way interesting. …but when nothing is worth eating, I am not holding out any hope. I just do not see what the hype…” your description was clear and concise and there are no lines to be read between.

                            Please continue to be discriminating in your restaurant reviews, which to paraphrase, is when one uses ones cognitive and sensory capacity to see fine distinctions and perceive differences between , in this context, food that tastes really good and food that doesn’t.

                            We expect Chowhound to be a more reliable guide to great food than most paid for professional reviews in local magazines and tabloids where often the writer knows the owner, is receiving a free meal or simply writes puff pieces. So, keep your reviews honest.

                            In addition, honest food reviews is part of what distinguishes great Chowhound boards from lesser boards.

                            -----
                            FnB
                            7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              You like what you like, Bill, and you shouldn't tell it any other way. I don't mean to suggest otherwise. What I'm getting at, and why I bring up Plotnicki (who's the epitome of the phenomenon), is that looking back through some of your posts, you mention that you do fine dining almost exclusively when you travel, and that you always recommend the same unless the person to whom you're recommending is on a tighter budget. The implication, of course, is that the fine dining, upscale, more creative restaurants are the better ones... or at least the ones that appeal to you. Refinement just isn't FnB's thing. So what I'm trying to zero in on is whether your distaste for FnB is a function of the food, or more a reflection of your tastes, in that you seem primarily interested in high-end cuisine. You like what you like and there's nothing wrong with that. But it would certainly go a long way towards explaining why a place like FnB might not do it for you. I'm curious if there are other similar restaurants -- perhaps some farm to table type places -- that you *do* feel possessed that spark that you found missing in FnB.

                              -----
                              FnB
                              7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                  2. re: a213b

                    I just stayed at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort where Kai is and we had app's and drinks from Kai's at the Lobby Bar.
                    Average on the app's and I would NOT recommend eating or staying at this resort.

                    What about J&G Steakhouse at the Phoenician?

                    1. re: Beach Chick

                      I'm just curiosity how your stay was over Memorial Day Weekend? I know yourself and Rubee were talking about it recently. I've recently won a gift cert for either Wild Horse or Talking Stick and have not decided on where to go.

                      1. re: Da Beebz

                        My room had used condom package, spiders, stained duvets..if that's your thing Da Beebz, then the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort is for you..

                        I would stick with Talking Stick..looks nice and new.
                        Orange Sky restaurant menu looks fab.
                        Have fun and report back!

                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          Hm-m,

                          Never stayed there, but you do not paint a pleasant picture.

                          We have talked about going down there, staying, dining and playing a few rounds of golf, as they ARE a few mile away from us. Now, I am not so sure about those plans. Maybe I will just bid on a limo, at a charity auction, and only dine?

                          Sorry about that,

                          Hunt

                        2. re: Da Beebz

                          Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to get together with Beach Chick. I'm hoping she had my wrong email or lost it, and not that she decided meeting up would be too crazy ; )

                          Sorry to hear about her stay, that's disappointing. We actually really enjoyed the resort. Our rooms were clean and service was friendly. My girlfriend Beth was visiting from Boston, so we spent one day at the beautiful Aji Spa including lunch by the spa pool, and one day lounging at the resort pool while E took the shuttle to the casino. Had great service from Tim at the Lobby Bar for cocktails (loved his Old Fashioneds) and a nice dinner at Ko'Sin (enjoyed the bourbon tasting, and favorite dish was the lobster mac and cheese).

                          For our first time to Kai, the three of us were joined by another Chowhound - BillB656 and his lovely wife - and dinner was amazing. We started off with cocktails at the Kai bar. I loved the Mesquite Bean Martini with bourbon and the new Pima Bear. Great service from Erin. At dinner, we ended up ordering a la carte (if doing tasting menus, everybody has to order), but the sommelier kindly paired each of our courses with some wonderful wines. I'll post details later on a Kai thread. Amuse was a stone fruit gazpacho with balsamic pearls. My first course was a tomato-goat cheese-mascarpone tart which sounded simple, but was anything but (thanks for rec Bill!) paired with a white bordeaux. Second jamón ibérico de bellota, house cured gravlax, buffalo tartare and more (link below to menu with all the ingredients in this one!) paired with a sparkling rosé, and main a tender buffalo tenderloin paired with a Chateauneuf du Pape. For dessert, E and I shared the Mexican chocolate-chile soufflé. Fabulous meal. I can't wait to go back and try The Journey one of these days. We finished by the lobby firepit with a lovely sake and a Kracher dessert wine, thanks to Bill. Wonderful stay.

                          Menu

                          http://www.wildhorsepassresort.com/pd...

                          I've been to the Talking Stick Resort for a couple of visits (not stays) and that was very nice also. Orange Sky (good meal there for Restaurant Week last year) and 270 Degree lounge is a gorgeous space with beautiful views. E preferred the casino here to the one at Wild Horse Pass.

                          Old Fashioned at the Lobby Bar, Mesquite Bean Martini at Kai, and my second course:

                          -----
                          Kai
                          5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226

                          Orange Sky
                          9800 E Indian Bend Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85256

                           
                           
                           
                          1. re: Rubee

                            Bummer on the meet-up. That sounded like fun!

                            Hunt

                            1. re: Rubee

                              Hey Rubee..

                              I was crazy busy with hosting party after party for my husband who had a milestone b-day at the resort and to be honest, I completely spaced.. : (

                              We left the resort on Saturday to host another Aloha party in Tempe..between the horrific room, service and overall experience, all we wanted to do was get the hell out of that resort..

                              We had a great experience with Julia at the Lobby Bar with drinks and app's from Kai's...so all was not lost.

                              I'm so happy that you all had a great time...glad somebody did!

                              Menu and what you had sounds so fab!

                              I'm in AZ a couple times a year and we'll be heading up to Enchantment resort in Sedona in the summer and I do hope we can connect..

                              Your such a beloved poster on CH along with Bill Hunt and I'm sorry we didn't connect to have a drink or at least to say HI..

                              Mahalo

                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                No problem Beach Chick! I know we'll share a cocktail one of these days : ) So sorry to hear about your experience. You did the right thing by checking out and salvaging the rest of your trip. We'll be in Sedona this summer some time too, I'll keep you posted. I won a gift certificate to Fournos - looking forward to checking it out for the first time.

                                http://www.chow.com/restaurants/54481...

                                1. re: Rubee

                                  Wow..this place looks fantastic!

                                2. re: Beach Chick

                                  Did that aloha party involved the huge bucket of mai tai's - need to see a picture of that gallon drum you were going to concoct of them heh

                                  1. re: Dapuma

                                    hee hee
                                    The Aloha party was a blast and that bad boy 3 gallon container from Costco was almost empty..it was the first hot Saturday..
                                    Mai Tai's were strong and excellent..

                                    You Arizona folks are something else...the BEST that know how to party!
                                    ; )

                                3. re: Rubee

                                  Thanks Rubee for your report! I went to Kai several years ago based on recs from this board and my spouse and I were so glad we did. Well worth the trip from Scottsdale for us for such unique food.

                              2. re: Beach Chick

                                Never have stayed at the resort, but have done several events there. Each was good, but did not transcend "event level."

                                Now, Kai's has been a totally different story. The food, wine and service have been excellent, with few weak points. In our cases, the apps. have shown brightly, and the mains have been great.

                                We even dined there the last night of last "season," and they were hitting on all cylinders, though they were shutting down the next day. They did not hold back.

                                Hunt

                              3. re: a213b

                                The House at Secret Garden and Cafe Bink might be pretty far for you as well - although I really enjoyed The House at Secret Garden. FnB is great and you'll find plenty of info on the board. Lots of local ingredients used and a large focus on highlighting local produce and an all AZ wine list which is not as scary as it usually sounds to people from outside of Arizona.

                                I'd also suggest The Mission or Los Sombreros if you want something a little closer and casual where you can still sit down, have a few drinks, and go for more southwest/mexican. Both are somewhat casual - Los Sombreros more so but also more unique to AZ. I'd also suggest Lon's at the Hermosa if you want something a little more high end. I'm sure you could find something similar to The Mission in LA but it is one of my absolute favorites so check out the menu.

                                Kai is raved about on the board so don't discount it outright (I wasn't impressed for the $ and found the food too heavy and rich but I may have ordered poorly as general reviews are excellent).

                                -----
                                Cafe Bink
                                36889 N Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree, AZ 85331

                                FnB
                                7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                                The House at Secret Garden
                                2501 E Baseline Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85042

                                1. re: a213b

                                  Attempting to add place links:

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

                                  The Mission
                                  3815 North Brown Avenue, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

                                  Lon's at The Hermosa
                                  5532 North Palo Cristi Road, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253