California Foodie Visiting Scottsdale for Spring Training 2012
- singleguychef Jan 24, 2012 03:27 PM
Hey fellow chowhounds!
I'm a big baseball fan and I love trying new foods, even doing my own food blog. I'm going to be in the Scottsdale area for my first spring training trip in March. I will be in town for 7 days and will be going to a game every day!
Still, I want to slip in a few choice eating adventures in between, especially at night. I've been reading this board for a few weeks to get some ideas so the following is a few of the places I'm thinking of checking out.
I want to get your feedback to my list, especially when it comes to these criteria:
1) Is this place worth a trip for someone from the San Francisco Bay Area?
2) Does this place require reservations and how far ahead should I make them? If I'm by myself, can I just walk in?
3) Is the attire at these places OK with jeans and a baseball cap, which I'm thinking will be my attire for the week (maybe even shorts depending how warm it gets)?
And just for some location information, I'm staying at the Wingate by Windham at North 87th Street in Scottsdale. I'm visiting by myself for the first part of my trip, and then later part a buddy is joining me. (For the time when I'm with my buddy, I'm looking for places that are easy walk-ins so we can make decisions depending on how we feel that day.)
I'm going to games by the Giants, A's, and Cubs, so that means spending the day at Scottsdale Stadium, Phoenix Public Stadium, and the Mesa stadium for the Cubs. Any suggestions for food around these stadiums will be great as I feel I may be going there early to park but then end up having to wait with nothing to do before the 1 p.m. game start.
And finally, here's my list of places I'm considering:
Binkley's (I actually already went ahead and made a reservations for 1 for this place. Can I go in jeans?)
The Breakfast Club
Citizen Public House
The Herb Box
True Food Kitchen
I'm also planning to check out the Phoenix Public Market on Wednesday night. I also know that the Devour event is happening the weekend I'm there, but unfortunately I'm going to games during the days and the Devour event is only during the day.
Let me know if I'm missing anything!
Thanks in advance!
Jeans at Binkley's is fine.
In general March is the busiest tourist month of the year in Phoenix because of the weather and spring training (over 1.5 million tickets sold to spring training games last year, many/most out-of-towners) so maybe make reservations ahead of time if you're SURE you want to try a particular place.
I would add Barrio Cafe to my list if you like Mexican (see uhockey's report from last fall on Binkley's, Barrio Cafe etc).
I was originally thinking of Barrio Cafe then I read some comments about how it might be losing its touch?
Also, for clarification, I'm not a big fan of Mexican food. I'll eat it, but it doesn't really excite me. However, my buddy who will be joining me later does like Mexican food so we may go to a couple of places.
Jeans at Binkley's is fine, but probably not a baseball cap and tshirt.
Around Scottsdale stadium there are tons of restaurants - search for Old Town Scottsdale and use that as a guide, the stadium is right in the thick of things.
I like Chelsea's Kitchen but it's not really close to any of the places you mentioned and personally not something I would go out of the way for. True food is tasty if you want something really healthy but again nothing I would consider destination dining.
I'd also look into The Mission, Posh (for high end in Old Town, they have countertop seating overlooking the open kitchen so perfect for a solo diner) and Los Sombreros.
Los Sombreros Cafe & Cantina
2534 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257
3815 North Brown Avenue, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
7167 East Rancho Vista Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
I thought about the Mission (but see my response to willyum above about Mexican food). I wondered if it might be that much different than the fancy Mexican we get in San Francisco's Mission district. Could I do walk in at the Mission if I decide to go with my friend, who does like Mexican food?
Depends on the day and where you're coming from- if you're coming in right after the game at Scottsdale Stadium, you may be battling lots of other like-minded fans, otherwise, if you go early in the week, and earlier in the night, walk in is fine. The food is really good there, but definitely not the Sonoran Mexican AZ is known for
FnB you must make reservations - do so in advance
I would make two changes:
I prefer Daily Dose over Breakfast Club (about two blocks south of breakfast club on Scottsdale road) - Daily Dose also has HH deals from 4-8 every day - also have a long bar to sit at for a solo diner
Chelsea's Kitchen is just ok to me (others may disagree) if you want to stick within their same family i like L Grande Orange pizza (if you like sourdough crust) and wings for a bit of a just walk right in if you feel like gourmet pizza wings type deal also they have beer / drinks you can grab out of the cooler and take over to your table (chimay etc) or for a place more similar to Chelsea's Kitchen i would take Cowboy Ciao over Chelsea's Kitchen and the price points are fairly similar - you would want to make reservations at chelsea's kitchen or CC also
The Breakfast Club
4400 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
4020 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ
7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
I did end up going to Daily Dose once for breakfast before the Giants game at Scottsdale Stadium. Parked super early in the morning near the stadium and then walked to Daily Dose for breakfast and there was already a crowd gathered! Luckily, the wait was only 20 minutes (funny how when you're on vacation you don't care how long you wait, especially when the sun is shining outside!)
I sat at the bar with a friend and ordered the crab breakfast. It was a crab cake that was nicely pan-fried on top of an omelette that I think was filled with spinach? I don't remember now but I thought the omelette was nicely done. Served with toast and fresh fruit. (My friend got the stuffed portabello that was sitting also on top of an omelette.) I can't say the food was mind-blowing, but it was filling. A lot of people came in for some morning antioxidant drink with alcohol that sounded fun, but I thought it was too early to drink. Seems like a happening place and a good standby for breakfast and lunch in the area.
they have some good brunch drinks, i like the dr hendricks myself
they do a lot of stuff with their turkey sausage which is very good and local or housemade not sure, i usually get something with that in there i like the White - Out which is just an eggwhite omelet cheese and turkey sausage and their pancakes are good (honey wheat or gingerbread) IMO
Agreed on subbing in Daily Dose. Also, I would get rid of Liberty Market- it's good, but a really far drive from where you are at- not worth the drive. I heartily second (third, fourth, fifth?) FnB, but you should make a reservation soon. Another great restaurant for dinner in Old Town is Cuoco Pazzo. Just do a search for it on the board here, and you'll see everyone raving about it.
There's really not much worth mentioning around the Mesa stadium other than De La Cruz Bistro, which is pretty darn good if you already happen to be in that area.
By Phoenix Muni, you can go either way, into the Arcadia area for Chelsea's or LGO as has been mentioned, or the other way into Tempe and check out House of Tricks. Mill Ave in Tempe has tons of casual bar-type places with halfway decent food so walk-in come as you are works just fine there. Before we leave the Arcadia suggestions as is though, I will make my usual plea that you visit The Grind- hands down the best burger I have ever had, also a pretty cool bar scene.
+1 on Cuocco Pazzo as well
and if your watching ball games and thristy for some great craft beers you will have a field day
If you are at/near the biltmore and wanted burgers instead of True Food then Delux Burger is very good also has good beer selection - havent been to the Grind for a burger but that is down the street off camelback closer to scottsdale and also gets very good reviews on here i am sure you would be happy either way
and if your drinking at daily dose i would recommend the Dr Hendricks :)
Many feel that Pizzaria Bianco might be best on Earth, but it is in downtown Phoenix.
I'm sort of like you, as when I am in SF, I seldom think pizza, though have grabbed one at Wolfgang's, for lunch, from time to time.
Though not is Scottsdale, per se, NOCA is right near the "line." They remind me a bit of AME, Luce, the old Restaurant Bacar, and a bit of the old Michael Mina's (St Francis) thrown together, but in a more casual setting.
In Scottsdale (Old Town), I am a fan of Cowboy Ciao.
For Italian, Marcellino's (just across the street from Cowboy Ciao) has proved to be very good. There were some aspects of their original location, that I liked, but even with the expansion/move, they seem to be doing good things.
I have been less impressed with many Scottsdale restaurants, such as FnB, and others, but they DO get good reviews on the board. I feel that there are too many "cookie cutter" restaurants, that are rather a "concept," and that is usually not my thing.
We're in SF about 20 times per year, and usually have at least one night, where we get to pick our own restaurant. The next night, I dine alone, at the restaurant of my choice, but wife has a catered dinner at her meeting.
We love Farallon, AME, Luce, Restaurant Gary Danko, and a few more, but do try to add something new (usually on my solo night), each trip.
Most of all, travel safely and enjoy!
re: Bill Hunt
Thanks Bill for your recommendations. It sounds like you tend to dine in the high-end spots when you visit San Francisco. I'm actually more of the opposite. When I travel, I don't like to get fussy and dress up for dinner, so I do look for more sophisticated dining but in a casual, fun atmosphere. Which is why I think FnB appeals to me. I'm on the border for Cowboy Ciao because I've heard mixed reviews,although I may just go for what sounds like a funky decor!
I'm a part-time Bay Arean (living in Berkeland borderlands), so I think I have a handle the kind of place you're describing.
Noca, FnB, Citizen Public House, and any of Bianco's places would top my list of places to get good food in a non-stuffy atmosphere. Of that bunch, Noca is probably the most formal/polished in terms of service--more or less on par with a place like Zuni Cafe in that regard. This is not to say that the folks at the other places are slouches, or that you'll feel outclassed at Noca.
As you point out, good pizza (and good Italian food more generally) is easy to find in SF, so a stop at Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco, or Italian Restaurant (Bianco's latest venture) maybe doesn't need to be your highest priority.
623 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004
4404 N Central Ave Ste A, Phoenix, AZ 85012
3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016
7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Citizen Public House
7111 E. 5th Avenue, Suite E, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
I think that you did hit that nail, squarely on its little head.
While we do dine "down-scale" on the road, most dinners are at the upper-end of things. Makes no difference, whether we're in San Francisco, Hawaii, New Orleans, or other location. Dinner is usually a more formal experience, at least for us.
That is one reason that I seldom post to threads on some other boards, that I frequent, because the OP is looking for more "neighborhood," etc., and with few exceptions, that is know what I know.
Most of all, travel safely, and enjoy greatly!
You are correct. For us, "fine dining," is what we gravitate to, regardless of where we travel. Now, that does not mean that we eschew "local favs.," though they are usually down the list a bit.
Since we are usually traveling on business, a jacket is part of the luggage, regardless of where we end up, so attire is never much of a consideration.
Most of all, ENJOY!
re: Bill Hunt
took some friends to Cowboy Ciao for the first time tonight and had a very average meal there
their proteins were a bit over for their steak and pork dishes, the stetson chopped salad tasted a bit off and had less flavor and the korean bbq rib was not quite as flavorful as normal
First time i would have said if it was my first time there i wouldnt go back
Maybe they are having some kitchen issues since there have been some mixed reviews on it lately - not sure normally they are A+ to us all the time
after today i would say go with fnb / cph over CC if you were debating between the three
>> you should really consider Kai, which is rather unique to Arizona.
Kai is a great foodie choice but 1) it's a long drive from most of these other (northern) places and 2) they have a bit more rigid dress code than baseball cap and jeans. For sure they likely won't let you in wearing shorts.
Here's a clip from their web site re: dress code:
"Kai maintains a smart business casual dress code. It prohibits hats, T-shirts and shorts for both ladies and gentlemen, including open-toed sandals for men. Dress hats for ladies are acceptable. Denim is not preferred."
Those observations are correct. Kai is not a "casual" place, so dress would be a major consideration. Also, their proximity is not really good, though they are worth the drive.
As we live in North Phoenix, unless we are staying down there, and playing golf, we always book a limo, for the trip down (we love our wine, and do not ever plan on driving), but it is rather "down South," at least for us. For unique, fine-dining, it is not to be missed, but one needs to account for the miles, and be ready for "fine dining."
Great time of year to be in Scottsdale and the Valley of the Sun! Unfortunately your hotel isn't walking distance from Scottsdale Stadium and not in the pedestrian-oriented section of downtwon Scottsdale, so that makes things a bit more difficult. You are in north Scottsdale near the Kierland and Scottsdale Quarter area.
A few thoughts on your list, first, and then some additional recommendations:
The Breakfast Club - totally fine, but nothing special. Weekend mornings it's swamped with the club kids, many of I don't think have yet been home.
Chelsea's Kitchen - average. I'd head to LGO, Postino or Windsor (none of which are near any off the ballparks) first.
Citizen Public House - I adore CPH and they are walking distance from Scottsdale Stadium. Dinner only. Lots o' bacon and very focused on their cocktails.
FnB - A must. Must. Must. By then their new ventures (Baratin, Arizona Wine Merchants and Bodega) may be open which means you could stop in for a bite during the day as FnB is dinner only. All of these places are walking distance from Scottsdale Stadium.
Liberty Market - cute neighborhood place but far from your hotel. Go to LGO instead.
The Herb Box - not exciting, but solid food. Really nice place for brunch outside on the weekends (live music, on the AZ Canal). Walking distance from Scottsdale Stadium.
True Food Kitchen - I like it because I eat out a lot and I feel like there are lighter, tasty alternatives, but I don't know that it should be on the short list for an out of towner.
I concur with others' recommendations for The Mission, Cuoco Pazzp, Posh and Binkley's, although The Misison is the only one you could go to straight from a baseball game (again, walking distance from downtown Scottsdale).
You might also want to check out Distrito at the new Saguaro hotel - very close to Scottsdale Stadium -- and the new, casual, Barrio Queen Tequileria in downtown Scottsdale (by Chef Silvana of Barrio Cafe). Barrio Queen also does a great breakfast. Silvana's higher-end, more composed entree restaurant next door is Silvana Bistro. Neither Barrio Queen or Silvana Bistro take reservations.
You should also check out the Saturday Scottsdale Farmers Market in downtown Scottsdale.
In north Scottsdale near your hotel, good places to visit are:
Deseo at the Westin Kierland - not a baseball attire spot, but not fancy like Kai. They happen to have a good local dines deal today. A good gastropub is TK's Tavern at Scottsdale Quarter. For local beer, check out the Scottsdale off-shoot of Four Peaks Brewery (the Tempe location is the best!). Chef Carter of The Mission has a great French bistro, Zinc Bistro, in the Kierland Common shopping area.
Hope this info. helps.
re: Bill Hunt
+1 for Deseo, great, great Mojito bar with really fresh ingredients, aka call your own Mojitos. Definitely casual enough... sometimes they do a whole roasted pig too and you can sit at a great open kichen bar to watch them work. I haven't been there in a while so I would love to hear a report back.
Hmm, the mojito bar at Deseo sounds fun. What's parking like going to a resort? Is it valet only? Or is parking out front? Wondering if we could go after a game in shorts and drink at the Mojito bar, and if it's good, stay for dinner without reservations? What do you think? I like that it's close to my hotel.
At that resort, you have a ton of "self-park" spots, plus a valet.
That is fairly common in the Phoenix-Metro Area, though some of the older resorts have more structured parking, but usually have valet too. A good example would be Different Pointe of View at the Hilton Tapatio, Camelback Inn and mostly elements restaurant at the Sanctuary Resort.
Most resorts do have valet, as do many of the higher-end restaurants. Luckily for me, my wife's car is usually right out front, unless it's for an event, where everyone brought out the Bentleys, the Ferraris and the Aston-Martins. Then, she might be in the second row, though regardless of the event, the lads at the Ritz-Carlton always have her right in front. Now, if I drove up in her car, there is no telling where it would end up, but they know her well.
Shorts, eh? Not sure about that, but then I have never been so attired. Normally, I am in slacks and a jacket, but might have an Hawai`ian print shirt. However, Phoenix is a very laid-back venue. Going back to when wife was in interviews here, I looked on-line, when I first accompanied her down. I noticed that two "prime" restaurants listed "Gentlemen are required to don formal attire." "OK," I thought, "can I get by with a dark suit, or do I need to pack my tux." Tails were out, since I had not lived in New Orleans for 20 years, where "formal" WAS white tie and tails. Our host laughed, and suggested that I call for clarification. I did, and the response was "well, collared shirts for gentlemen ARE formal." Different time - different place. Phoenix is first, a "resort venue." Though I normally have a jacket (always in SF), I am often over-dressed. Still, I wonder about the shorts at Deseo. I would call, as they might well be adequate. I just do not know.
I also did make it to Deseo specifically for the muddle bar in the afternoon. Had an easy time with the self-parking to the right of the resort when driving up. First off, such a beautiful resort with an incredible view of the golf course in the back. Lots of people sitting outside just enjoying the weather. I went to the muddle bar next to Deseo and ordered a special mojito during their happy hour. Bartender super friendly and all the staff really welcoming even though I wasn't staying at the hotel. They let me walk around outside with my drink. The drink itself was mixed really nicely, with most of the traditional mojito ingredients but topped off with champagne. I returned to try one with Contreau and it was good but not as clean tasting as the first one. It was nice just sitting outside and drinking, but I wished two things:
1) I wish the muddle bar had a small bar menu. Would have been nice to snack with the mojito.
2) I wish there was a better view of the sunset. The outdoor seating all seemed to face north when the sun was setting just to the left of that. Still relaxing, nonetheless
Unless things have changed, the muddle bar at Deseo's does have a food menu. That's where I always get their ceviches. Their bread/rolls are delicious, too. they also have those Kobe meatballs (grinding Kobe seems like a waste to me).
Did they add a different bar? The bar I'm talking about is at the bottom of the stairs/elevator just before you go into the main restaurant. There is no view of outside from this bar.
Just want to also thank you for your detailed reviews, singleguychef, much appreciated!
The Huarache (Mexican flatbread?) de Hongos with huitlacoche, black truffles and corn shoots at Distrito was insanely good and a trip there may be worth it for this dish alone. Their cuisine is apparently a take on Mexico City style food, so not your typical of what we get in AZ or CA. Mostly a shared small-plates arrangement. Food was all very good, the margaritas could've been better (stronger and more flavorful re: the tropical ingredients).
I second the mojitos at Deseo. Also try their "ceviches" which are more like sashimi in a very tasty, acidic sauce and not at all like a soup. They are excellent.
4000 N Drinkwater Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Gosh, I love the PHX board!
Everyone has given you such great suggestions..my fave's are:
Lon's at the Hermosa...breakfast/lunch or dinner
Durant's..old school at it's best
T. Cooks at the Royal Palms resort...even for drinks and listening to Dwight on piano.
Carolina's Mex..super dive and super good
Carlos O'Brien's..great happy hour
Nello's for pizza
Thanks everyone for your great feedback! A lot to consider, and as expected, I can't go to all my favorites since I'm primarily planning dinners and will spend most of the lunches finding parking and getting ready for the ball games.
But here's my revised list. These are the places that I've made reservations for:
3) Citizen Public House
These are places on my list of potential places to check out spur of the moment, depending on what's happening, and without reservations:
1) Daily Dose
2) Deseo (mostly for the mojito bar)
3) The Mission
4) True Food Kitchen
5) Pizzaria Bianco
I'll post my reactions after my trip in March!
I encourage you to interact with the staff a lot at Posh and Binkley's. They're great servers who overall seem to be very passionate about their jobs and food. FnB falls into that category as well but it's a little faster paced so there's not always quite as much of an opportunity.
We ate at Mission last night. Prior to sitting at our table, we sat next to a couple, who food and wine write--or perhaps only one does--for a Central Coast CA paper. She used to write for a more famous wine publication. They were returning after a very much praised first meal earlier in the week.. Our meal was worth a trip back as well. Pan Latin flavors and a few PL ingredients as well, done very tastefully and with restrained innovation. Peruvian Clam soup, duck confit empanadas, pork shoulder , table side guacamole and a delicious pumpkin bread pudding were favorites. The iceberg lettuce-based salad was good, but I'd try a different one when we return. The black cod dish was very good, but I am biased towards the Asian flavored prep....with sake kasu/miso tones. Many places seem to try to do Latin and Mexican upscale or fusion....most of them are lost in some impression or image of high spice and high priced twists on basic formats. Crab or lobster burritos or fillet Mignon steak tacos or something. Mission for me, was quality--sometimes more expensive types--ingredients handled well. I'd put it on your list for sure. That said, I am biased towards foreign flavors and "form factors" and take that over American/French styled--though hi quality--food experiences.
Enjoy your meals!
My daughter lives in Tempe and actually works at the spring training stadiums. I am also going there for some games and she keeps talking about a restaurant called Christopher's, and maybe one side of it is Christopher's Crush? She hasn't been but really wants to go. Any thoughts from all of you in the Phoenix/Scottsdale/Tempe area?
Christopher's Crush is essentially the bar/lounge section of Christopher's, the restaurant. I've eaten there a few times, but I've yet to venture beyond the simpler bistro type fare, all of which has been very good. If you're into well prepared French bistro- and/or brasserie-style food in a sleek upscale setting, then Christopher's is a good choice.
Interesting. I've not experienced bad service on any of my visits. I can think of one hiccup due to confusion over who was to take my drink order, but that was corrected immediately.
The few menu items that I've had (boudin noir w/frites, burger w/frites, pied de cochon en croûte) have all been quite good.
The only complaint that matches with my experiences is the one about prices. Nothing is inexpensive there. That said, I've never left hungry or felt ripped off.
I'm a fan of Christopher's too. We visited for the first time in January. Highlights were the mushroom soup with foie gras and rabbit special for me, and E raved about his truffle-infused filet. Since then, we've been back for Valentine's Day (loved that they offered an a la carte menu and not just a limited prix-fixe), and most recently just this past Friday for Happy Hour. We were full with the 1/2 price HH menu (pics below), but had to order the Friday dinner special of pied de cochon en croûte you mentioned and am glad we did - absolutely delicious. I'll be back on a Friday just for that.
I'm so glad you enjoyed yourselves there. Like I said above, even though the prices put Christopher's outside of my workaday rotation, the food has never disappointed me.
My hat's off to you and E for being able to polish off a pizza, a burger, and the pied de cochon all in one evening. That's some truly heroic eating. :-)
Another recommendation for Christopher's from me. Haven't been back for some time, but dinner this past Saturday was superb. Mushroom soup with foie gras, the duck entree, lamb chops & risotto side were all perfectly done. Service was just right as well. Way to go Christopher & staff!
I'm back from my spring training trip to the Scottsdale area. Had a lot of fun just hanging out sitting and watching baseball all day (weather was cold like San Francisco the first couple of days but warmed up nicely to around 70 degrees by the end).
I had some great dinners in Arizona, several of them quite memorable. I should say that I tend to lean toward upscale and seasonal dining, similar to what I get back here in the San Francisco Bay Area, so not sure if I really stretched myself or got the true picture of Arizona cuisine. Still, I enjoyed the tastes!
Here are some of my write up and photos of my eating adventure. (Because of Chowhound policy on photos, I have to reprint the entire review in order to include the link. Sorry if it's too long for some of you!)
Here's my look at Citizen Public House, which is a noisy spot but I'm still thinking of its pork belly pastrami starter! One of the best dishes I've had anywhere for a long time.
"I’ve found my last meal.
You know that game where people talk about what would be their last meal before they die? I’ve had a few ideas go through my head over the years, but after dining at Citizen Public House in Scottsdale, I can say without a doubt that my last meal would be this restaurant’s version of pork belly pastrami.
An often-ordered starter, the pork belly pastrami ($12) is a luscious dish of thick cuts of fatty pork belly that have been cured like pastrami, served perfectly crisp around the edges to encase the fatty and tasty interior. But it’s not just the two slices of pork belly pastrami that satisfy, it’s also the accompanying shredded Brussels sprouts, sauerkraut and mustard jus that provide a delightful tang to cut into the richness of the pork belly.
The pork belly pastrami is one of my favorite dishes I ate during my spring training (baseball) trip to Arizona. Citizen Public House is a bustling restaurant in the heart of the 5th Avenue drag of boutique shops just north of Old Town Scottsdale. The décor is slightly old tavern meets contemporary pub. (For dinner I ordered an IPA that worked well with my meal.)
After the pork belly pastrami, nothing could really compare but the dishes that followed still satisfied with quality ingredients mixed with expert combination of flavors.
The kale Caesar salad ($12) was a rich green plate of Tuscan kale tossed with grape tomatoes, croutons, and parmesan cheese all dressed in an eggless Caesar dressing. Underneath the salad was a slab of warm Scamorza cheese that I didn’t expect to find in a salad.
My main course was the Applewood Smoked Duck ($24) because I always order duck when I see it on a restaurant menu. The Maple Leaf Farms duck breasts were cooked nicely, and the flavors reminded me of Thanksgiving dinner with the addition of Bing cherry compote. What I really enjoyed about the dish was the rosemary millet under the duck, which was the first time I ate millet (often used in bird seed). At Citizen Public House, the millet is cooked until it’s creamy like polenta or risotto.
After the pork belly pastrami and duck, I barely had room for dessert. But I left Citizen Public House with a smile because of the delicious meal combined with a fun environment and fantastic service. If you’re ever in Arizona, you must drive – must, I say – to Citizen Public House to order the pork belly pastrami. Simply heavenly."
This is my visit to FnB, which I totally love in terms of the set up of the room. I got to sit at the big bar counter to watch the chefs in action.
"The food is clearly on display at Scottsdale’s FnB restaurant, which has attracted national media attention as one of the best new restaurants when it opened more than two years ago. In the center of the restaurant is a large counter bar allowing diners to watch the chefs working in the open kitchen.
I got a front-and-center seat when I visited for dinner during my trip to Arizona. Scottsdale, a resort town with golfing and high-end shopping, has a number of restaurants producing amazing food.
FnB made me feel at home because its approach to dining mirrors many of the restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a changing seasonal menu, an emphasis on local ingredients, and a flair for flavors by Chef Charleen Badman.
One of the best examples of that was the lamb riblets starter ($14) I ordered. Lamb ribs are marinated with fennel seed, sherry vinegar, honey and Aleppo, which provides a nice mix of spicy, tart and sweet. The riblets were roasted nicely creating crusty edges but a tender meat inside. The flavors reminded me of Vietnamese grilled meats, and the thin cucumber slices again reflected an Asian influence. But when I chatted with Chef Badman as she cooked in the open kitchen, she said the cucumber was just a cooling device to complement the ribs.
Other dishes were pleasing flavors that weren’t bold but still provided me with a light dinner, which is appreciated while traveling. The fennel salad ($11) was a beautiful burst of color with the grapefruit slices mixed with watermelon radishes, avocado, olive and mache. My main course of rock shrimp pasta ($26) was a bountiful meal of perfectly cooked shrimp in a light sauce of garlic, Meyer lemon and herb crumbs.
Sitting in front of the open kitchen has its hazards, such as when the chefs made a crème brulee and would caramelize the sugar top by using a cow branding rod, which created a whole lot of smoke, filling up the entire kitchen. But the real dangers were all the sweets the kitchen prepared for a nearby bakery – and for some reasons these sweets were always placed right in front of me, teasing me.
Speaking of sweets, I ended dinner with dessert and tried the popular butterscotch pudding ($8). I’m a big fan of butterscotch pudding, and FnB’s version was a pleasant cup of pudding topped with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg. I’ve had more silky butterscotch pudding in my life, but FnB’s version is a sweet ending for a delightful dinner that was focused on the ingredients."
Here's my review of Binkley's, which as you can expect, was my most plentiful dinner with all the little amuse bouche and in-between tastes that came from the kitchen as part of the tasting menu.
"If there’s ever a destination restaurant in Arizona, Binkley’s would be that place. That’s because it’s really the only reason I can think of driving more than 17 miles after a plane ride for dinner.
With nothing more than the GPS app on my iPhone guiding me through the dark desert night, I eventually found Binkley’s Restaurant in a tiny strip near a tamale spot in a town called Cave Creek north of Scottsdale, Ariz.
From the outside it looks like any strip mall restaurant – the sign a bit flashy for the refined elegance found inside. From the moment I was greeted at the door, the service at Binkley’s was a standout, with multiple friendly servers bringing dishes after dishes to my table.
Binkley’s is the well-known restaurant from Chef Kevin Binkley, whose whimsical play on dishes using liquid nitrogen, gels, and foams would stand up to any kitchen in Manhattan or San Francisco. But this is Cave Creek, and Chef Binkley makes a worthy effort to put the little town of Cave Creek onto the nation’s culinary map with his emphasis on fresh and local ingredients.
The menu works in two ways: the traditional ala carte choices on the right or multiple options for tasting menus on the left. What I like about the tasting menu is that you decide what you’d like to eat from the ala carte side, with the portion sizes reduced to be appropriate for a tasting.
Chef Binkley makes his tasting menu special with the abundance of amuse bouches and in-between tastes he sends to the table. I ordered the five-course tasting menu ($89) and even before I got my first course I nibbled on six different amuse bouches that was like eating food for tiny people, such as the tray of three teeny weeny sandwiches (a Sloppy Joe, Vietnamese bahn mi and New Orleans-style muffaletta) and a tiny doughnut with bacon butter.
Some of the amuse were a delightful opener such as a tasty pear soup and a playful “ham and cheese” dish with home-made Canadian-style bacon and a truffle tater tot with a delicious cheddar cheese foam. But some weren’t as successful, like a plate of pickled vegetables and pretzel ball (the pickled vegetables were more salty than sour and lacked much crunch) and a sunflower stem with curry dipping oil (the oil didn’t have a distinct curry flavor). Still, it was an entertaining way to get a peek at the chef’s playful approach to the dinner ahead.
For my main courses, an appetizer of oysters three ways was also mixed, with a refreshing raw oyster with granita but a smoked oyster appeared mostly shriveled. Another starter of Serrano ham-wrapped frog legs was a winner, with the ham pan-fried to a crispy texture that nearly crackled as I cut into the tender frog legs, the richness of the ham cut by a fava bean and caper vinaigrette. I also loved the sunchoke and artichoke gratin, where the vegetables were covered by Hollandaise sauce and then torched for that roasted tinge.
The course of Nantucket bay scallops were light and beautifully plated, and my main entrée of five-spice pork tenderloin was an interesting plate of contrasting textures, from the tender pork medallions to the jelly cubes of root beer to the paper thin slices of pineapple that felt like I was eating a candy wrapper.
Again, as I waited for the above courses, the chef sent more in-between bites – some amazing while others were just OK. There was a bacon lardon on top of a puff pastry filled with an egg yolk, but the yolk was barely detectable although the puff pastry was nicely made. A mulled apple cider “bomb” was a burst of apple cider mixed with prosciutto cream and lemon zest, and an orange anise soda had a nice flavor but lacked much fizz for a soda shot.
A definite eye opening near the end of the meal is the complimentary pomegranate drink served with pin-small Elderflower lollipop. What gets the diner’s attention is the pomegranate drink is placed on a color light platform that turns the cup of liquid into a lava lamp.
My favorite dish has to be Binkley’s signature dessert, simply listed on the dessert menu as “raspberry.” I wondered how exciting a plate of raspberries would be, but with my server’s encouragement, I went ahead and ordered it and totally do not regret doing so.
The raspberry plate included several items prepared different ways, including cream-filled raspberries, luscious blondie cubes, refreshing grapefruit slice, candied ginger, solidified vanilla cream pearls and crunchy pistachio. The server pours a raspberry consommé around the plate and then adds liquid nitrogen for that “special effect” of watching a calming smoke roll over the raspberries like San Francisco fog. The plate was a delightful end to a fantastic dinner show.
Oh, there were more little bites as well like a delicious and cute teeny weeny cinnamon soufflé with crème anglaise and a plate of chocolate truffles, pate de fruit and vanilla meringue.
A tasting dinner at Binkley’s leaves you feeling pampered, with the service extending to even a next-day voicemail left on my phone by the restaurant hostess thanking me for visiting and hoping I will return again. Chef Binkley definitely leaves a memorable experience, tempting you to come back. While not every dish is effective, all will leave you amused and talking.
I also got a chance to visit the Phoenix farmers market on Wednesday, which happened to be the Food Truck Mania, so that was a lot of fun. Got to try Short Leash Dogs, which seems really popular but to me it was good but kind of "meh" compared to what I find in the Bay Area. Plus, I'm not a fan of the fact it comes wrapped in a flat bread instead of a bun. Makes it harder to eat.
"On Wednesday after sitting through nine innings of the Oakland A’s and Dodgers game that ended in a tie (such is spring training where nothing counts), I went to check out the nearby Phoenix Public Market.
This gathering for local farmers opens later on Wednesday for the after-work crowd, and luckily on this particular night it coincided with a casual food truck festival, Food Truck Mania. I love to check out farmers markets and street food whenever I travel, so this combination in one spot was a gift from the baseball gods.
Joining me were my friends Debbie and Craig from Sacramento, who just watched the Giants game in Scottsdale. We explored the farm stands for a bit, looking at the lovely root vegetables and home-made guacamole and tamale. But there weren’t a lot of stands, and we weren’t in the mood to cook back at our hotels.
So we zoomed into the food trucks, with about a dozen parked in the perimeter of the public market. There were a lot of unusual trucks, like Japanese-Mexican, Caribbean and Filipino, and a lot of deep-fried foods. I was actually hoping Debbie or Craig would try the fry breads, which seems particular to the area, but they filled themselves up with fried chicken, fried frog legs and tacos so they filled up and gave up on the fry bread.
But we all saved room for a hot dog from Short Leash Hot Dogs, which I had read about before coming to Phoenix and which had the longest line of all the trucks. Short Leash makes artisan hot dogs and sausages and create combinations of toppings from mango chutney to fried pickles.
I ended up just making my own combination, topping a chicken sausage with sauerkraut, ketchup and chipotle cream cheese. Instead of a bun, the hot dog comes in a flat bread, which I actually found harder to eat.
The sausage was good, but nothing I can’t get back in the Bay Area. I did like the chipotle cream cheese, which was warm and creamy. While nothing spectacular, the hot dog was a good value at $5. (I actually think Short Leash is probably more known for its deep fried jalapeno poppers that look like corn dogs.)
The public market also has a store attached to it called the Urban Grocery and Wine Bar, which sells a variety of produce and specialty items as well as sandwiches and pastries in its deli section. The tiny shop with the funky décor reminded me of Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District.
We left filled and satisfied, especially since I also ate a chicken jambalaya bowl and ginger pork carnitas taco along with the hot dog. Despite the unusually cold weather in the Valley of the Sun, it looked like local Phoenix residents are big supporters of food trucks and local artisan food, and that’s always a good thing to learn about new cities you’re visiting."
Another detour I took that was fun was checking out Sweet Republic in the afternoons for ice cream. Really good quality stuff on par with the artisan ice cream makers here in San Francisco.
"You can count on the desert to get hot enough to warrant a trip to the ice cream store, even in the waning days of winter. And when in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, there’s no better place that Sweet Republic.
Sweet Republic opened in 2008, and quickly caught the attention of local and national media (Bon Appetit named it one of the 10 best ice cream shops a year later) for its quality ice cream with exotic flavors – the most outrageous being Honey Blue Cheese.
During my spring training trip in Scottsdale, I visited Sweet Republic twice to get a cool break from the warm afternoons. Sweet Republic should be in a chic area of downtown Scottsdale but instead it’s in a tiny strip mall in the north part of town.
The flavors are definitely enticing, from the basil lime sorbet to the honey blue cheese. (The honey blue cheese actually tasted like a rich caramel.) I tried the watermelon sorbet (refreshing with bits of chocolate) and lavender (creamy and herbal). On another trip, I went for the famous Toffee Banofi ($6.70) featured on the Food Network.
The Toffee Banofi is an ice cream and banana sundae that’s topped with whipped cream and salted butter caramel sauce. Everything in the sundae was perfectly done, from the Madagascar vanilla ice cream to the light and crunchy waffle cup.
Sweet Republic is the type of artisan ice cream shop you see everywhere in the Bay Area (not surprising that one of the co-owners worked briefly at Berkeley’s former Eccolo). But in Scottsdale, it stands alone for its quality and innovative flavors, drawing fans far and wide in the Valley of the Sun."
I wanted to also mention that I went to Distrito after a game for a late lunch with a friend. I'm not planning to post a full review, so just a few thoughts:
I thought it was a fun spot, with really interesting mod decor with a nice outdoor area. There was a band playing while I was there for lunch and I really enjoyed the band and having live music with the food.
Service was generally good, except they do employ a few super young people and this sometimes shows in the inexperience because they sometimes look like a deer in headlight if you ask them a question that might be off the script they studied. Still, all friendly.
For the food itself, my friend had the Mahi Mahi tacos and he said he really liked it and it was done well. It was served with cooked beans that came in a small cast-iron skillet.
I got the chicken torta that came with sweet potato fries (I'm not really sure because I don't eat fries). The torta wasn't what I was expecting. For some reason, I was expecting something more flattened but instead it was like a burger (I'm talking about the bun, not the chicken, which was typical chicken breast.) There was avocado and lettuce and tomato and some other sauce, but it was really difficult to eat for some reason. So it really didn't leave a great impression. Maybe I didn't order right at Distrito? Anywho, it was OK but not as memorable as other meals I had in Scottsdale.
Here are my final posts on two very different places ... POSH and Rito's Fine Mexican Food.
First my thoughts on POSH:
At POSH restaurant in ritzy Scottsdale, they encourage the picky eaters to come in because every meal is designed specifically to your dining habits.
Under the direction of Chef-Owner Joshua Hebert, the kitchen team creates meals like sous chefs competing on Iron Chef America. The website calls the dining “improvisational.” At the beginning of the meal, the diners select which ingredients of the day they do not like, and then a meal is designed around what’s left.
When my friend Ken and I were in town for spring training games, we dined on a Saturday night, circling around a bit trying to find the restaurant, which sits alone on the ground floor of what looked like a new condominium (I later found out it’s called the Optima Camelview building).
After getting settled into our table, we sat for a while without menus before our server came by to explain how things works. You start by choosing the level of the tasting menu you want (we went with six courses for $70) and then you fill out the survey form. Ken doesn’t eat red meat so he crossed out all the meat options, and was left with vegetables and seafood.
I wasn’t in the mood for red meat, so I crossed out the Wagyu beef, but I was game for any of the other options that included kangaroo and rabbit. There’s also a section for any particular dislikes, and if you’re a longtime reader of this blog you can guess what I wrote: “No deep-fried foods, onions or eggplant.”
You don’t really say what you do like, because it really depends on what the kitchen has on hand from the market. But because you don’t have a say on what you want to eat, every course that arrives at the table is a surprise.
Over the next two hours, Ken and I marveled at the beautifully plated dishes that were placed before us. I can’t say that the courses that I had showed any progression or connection as an overall tasting menu, but it was inventive and intriguing.
All my dishes offered something new, but there wasn’t a dish that really knocked my socks off. Each dish had something that I thought impeded the dish from being a success. For example, the soft-boiled duck egg with my red oak salad was a bit too cooked and cold, failing to provide a rich ooze to the salad. And a pan-fried frog leg used a breading that I didn’t like, something that created a tougher coating serving like an armor to the nicely cooked frog leg meat. But I enjoyed the white asparagus on the plate.
I tasted kangaroo for the first time, which had the gaminess of lamb and was served with a purple potato puree that was unappetizing and looked like paste. Still, the dish was brightened by the pickled red beets. And my desert, while pretty with the spun sugar creation on top, was basically a slice of roasted pineapple with a scoop of citrus sorbet.
Ken, I felt (and he agreed), seemed to do better with his primarily seafood and vegetable tasting menu, starting with a light and beautiful artichoke heart salad and his favorite dish of the night – a soft shell crab with roasted carrots and ginger caviar.
Ken also got to try a dish made of shad roe that’s left in the sack and pan-fried. He was wary of trying it, but it wasn’t as bad as he thought (nor was it amazing). He also had a dish made of welt snails, which taste similar to clams. For dessert, he lucked out with a wonderful plate of chocolate mousse and dark chocolate (he let me take a bite and the mousse was rich but light).
With the changing and customized menu, it can be difficult for the servers to remember every ingredient on the plate. But I give them credit for trying, and for the professional service throughout the night.
While Chef Herbert’s dishes didn’t tantalize my taste buds with every note, they were excellent starting points for our table conversation about food and ingredients, making me feel like a judge on the Iron Chef America panel.
And here's Rito's:
I squeezed my food hunting during my recent spring trip to Arizona down to the very last minute, including a quick burrito run on my way to the Phoenix International Airport.
Just a few minutes away from the airport in a residential neighborhood, Rito’s Fine Mexican Food is an unpretentious burrito shop in an old home, across the street from a school playground. I had read about Rito’s in a Los Angeles Times primer for spring training, but I wasn’t the only one who knows about the place.
As I waited for my food with my friend Ken, several people came in to place their orders or pick up phone orders even though it was just after 10 a.m.
Rito’s has a limited menu, focused on some of the basics of beef tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas. As for burritos, it only offers one – a simple bean burrito for $4.10. No chicken, no guacamole, no lettuce, no sour cream. Just a tortilla encasing some beans and rice.
While I’m used to more specialty burritos in California, there was something to say about the simplicity of a plain bean burrito. The beans were good, but nothing special. I believe what makes Rito’s burritos so popular is probably the home-made and super fresh tortilla.
Soft to the touch like a paper towel, the tortilla is so popular that I saw one person come in buying only packages of tortilla. I’ve never had a tortilla so fresh and authentic.
thank you SO MUCH for the report. Especially in a destination like Phoenix, locals get asked every day by visitors for suggestions, yet rarely hear feedback. (FEEDback....LOL) Your impressions of FnB, Citizen PH, and BInkleys are bang-on(well, they match mine, anyway), and I think the posters should take a bow for accurately matching the diner to the dinners. Your final list would NOT suit most of our visitors, but I'm so glad you were able to sample some of the best we have to offer.
Thanks KAYLO. Yes, I have to emphasize again how valuable reading the Phoenix board prior to my trip helped me with my selections. The descriptions by local Chowhounders of the restaurants really helped me immensely in visualizing the meal and deciding if it was a match for me.
BTW, I still have two last posts to put up next week. One is on POSH and the other is on Rito's! Two really different but good eating experiences.