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Christopher's

m
mwest9 Jul 8, 2012 11:36 AM

We went to Christopher's for the first time this weekend and I really enjoyed it. Does anyone else from the board like this place? I really like this style of food, not really sure what to call it, a contemporary version of French food with West Coast influences?

Regardless of how to label it, there is a bunch of stuff on the menu that I love. I had the duck confit salad with aged truffled goat cheese and sherry-infused cherries beside mixed greens. The confit was a thigh piece with crispy skin and moist meat, nicely done. I had a Ponzi Pinot Noir from Wilamette Valley that was a good match for the the dish. My wife had the steamed mussels in white wine, a well executed version of a classic preparation with sausage, tomatoes, fennel and onions in the broth with a side of herbed grilled bread. She had a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile that was quite good. We also got a side of their truffled fries, tasty and perfectly cooked.

I loved sitting at the kitchen bar and watching the open kitchen working as a professional and efficient team, handling issues with poise and decor. There's something reassuring to me when the kitchen appears to be running well and it all results in high quality food combined with good service. I think there is something to be said for experience, and to be able to maintain such high standards for what seems to be so many years.

People don't really talk about Christopher's that much lately, is it because he's been around for so long or do people not go there or don't like it? Curious to hear others' experiences there, if people like it as much as I did.

edit: I did find tucked away in another thread from this past spring some talk about it, dapuma is not a fan, but hohokam and rube are. Anybody else wanna weigh in?

  1. ipsedixit Jul 8, 2012 12:16 PM

    I've been there a couple of times for lunch.

    It's ok, nothing I would go out of my way for. I think the place shines when it comes to more basic, simple dishes (e.g. seafood, roast chicken) but loses its focus when it tries to be more daring (e.g. truffle infused steaks, mushroom and foie soup)

    1. l
      Lolaclaire Jul 9, 2012 06:38 AM

      I LOVE Christopher's. Have been there frequently for the $20 lunch special! Love the bread and butter they give you - I could make a meal of that! Love the duck fat french fries...

      1. m
        mwest9 Jul 9, 2012 11:58 AM

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/774470 Dapuma's thread from spring 2011. So it sounds like there were some service and kitchen issues from two different 'hounds at that time.

        These things can change from night to night so who knows if I hit them on a good night or if those problems from last spring have been resolved, but I thought the service was professional and prompt and that the food came out right on schedule (not too fast to be rushed nor did we have to wait any more than a pleasant pace).

        And to ipsedixit's point, it could be that I liked Christopher's because their style focuses on the execution of simple or classic dishes instead of being super-inventive or creative. As a cook, I'm most impressed with perfect execution using high quality ingredients, much more than I am with unusual dishes.

        And yeah, their bread and butter were delicious, that's the kind of stuff that makes me happy in a restaurant.

        Its not inexpensive, but I felt like it was good value for what we received. Like we often do, we sat at the bar during happy hour and that helped a lot with the prices. They do happy hour 7 days a week 3 - 6 PM at the kitchen bar with half priced drinks and a handful of food items (soup, pizzas, salad, apps). I would've been disappointed too, if I had received poor service or food that wasn't up to par.

        1. uhockey Jul 9, 2012 02:36 PM

          Interesting - I just asked elsewhere about recent experiences here. I just moved to Phoenix and I have to say I really like the menu, but many of the items I'm interested in would be better served to a group (the foie/boudin pizza, the sous-vide foie, etc)

          Considering the restaurants.com gift certificates I have to imagine they aren't turning the best of business, but considering they've been around for years I don't imagine they are doing 'poorly' either.

          Looking for a good excuse to go, but will probably wait until I know some locals so I can go with a group willing to try some of the more adventurous optons though I do admit the frisee w/ egg salad, duck confit salad, lobster pot pie, chicken, lamb, and duck 2 ways all sound good as well.

          http://endoedibles.com

          1. f
            fledflew Jul 9, 2012 11:39 PM

            I like the place. I end up there a few times a year. As stated by others, the menu isn't especially daring but I think they execute the standards very well. Everything that has ever come to my table has been perfectly prepared, seasoned, and plated. I've been to other restaurants that are sometimes a little sloppy when it comes to meat temps and plating - I've never experienced that here. Reasonable prices and the service has always been satisfactory. I wouldn't order the lobster pot pie again. Everything else I've ever had there I'd order again. If you don't have a large party, I suggest sitting at the bar. The tables are usually a lot quieter and can even be a bit stuffy, er romantic sometimes. Not sure why it doesn't get a lot of love here on the boards though. It seems like there are only a dozen or so restaurants that get mentioned repeatedly here. When was the last time someone mentioned Voltaire? Oh yeah, if you're looking for solid classic French in Scottsdale, Voltaire's the place. They're closed for the summer, but definitely check them out in the fall.

            1. j
              jsaint Jul 11, 2012 05:58 PM

              Christopher Gross, the chef, won a James Beard award for best chef Southwest in 1995, so he's a very talented chef. He's been cooking in AZ for a long time, not sure why doesn't get more respect.

              1. a
                au lait Jul 12, 2012 04:08 PM

                I too am a fan.

                It’s almost embarrassing the number of times I’ve eaten between his three locations.

                But, as ipsedixit notes, as it is in any restaurant, knowing what to order make the difference.

                One example, the veal cheeks: fork tender, melts in the mouth and so flavorful.

                Also, the restaurant has one of the best wines by the glass lists in the city.

                13 Replies
                1. re: au lait
                  uhockey Jul 12, 2012 04:58 PM

                  I need to recruit some folks to go try some of the foie preps along with other highly praised items.

                  http://endoedibles.com

                  1. re: uhockey
                    Dapuma Jul 12, 2012 10:56 PM

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/774470

                    I still have not found any good French food in Phx, I have given up hope

                    1. re: Dapuma
                      uhockey Jul 13, 2012 09:13 AM

                      Difficult for me to gleen much from those reviews other than service issues from 15+ months ago. I'd never order steak or salmon at a French restaurant (or any restaurant, personally) and "burned" on a pizza is highly subjective to someone who digs char (and has never craved a McRib.)

                      I thank you for the contribution, but will check it out for myself at some point for sure.

                      http://endoedibles.com

                      1. re: uhockey
                        p
                        PHXeater Jul 13, 2012 02:39 PM

                        I wouldn't say there's "great" French food in Phoenix but Christopher's, Zinc Bistro, and Voltaire (for very, very old school) are definitely passable. Although the only time I was at Voltaire Sandra Day O'Connor was sitting at the table next to me and as a political geek I almost swooned so perhaps I'm biased.

                        1. re: PHXeater
                          uhockey Jul 13, 2012 06:17 PM

                          I hadn't even seen Voltaire yet - no foie gras seems odd for oldschool french, but definitely goes on my list as well.

                          http://endoedibles.com

                          1. re: PHXeater
                            Dapuma Jul 14, 2012 07:18 AM

                            Voltaire is like being transported into 1973, which is the last time the decor has been updated - it is kind of like going to your great grandma's house

                            The clientelle is like hanging out with Golden Girls, although my wife and I made reservations there for NYE one year (since we can walk home) and had no idea what we were getting into, we were the youngest people in there by 35-40 years - when we walked in we exchanged looks like, what are we getting ourselves into, and are we in the right place

                            That being said we made the most of it and ended up having a pretty fun night , i think i posted a review of it at some point, wouldnt go there again but it was a very memorable experience, the food was largely forgetable

                            Petite Maison had a bad meal there for RW a few RW's ago

                            I have not been to Zinc, however have heard some good things about it - I think i have put off trying it because that is the last French place in the Valley for me to give a shot to and if i don't try it there is "some" hope for french food here ;p

                            1. re: Dapuma
                              ipsedixit Jul 14, 2012 12:01 PM

                              Have you been to Sophie's Bistro? If Voltaire was great-grandma. Sophie's would be grandma. It's certainly passable french for the valley.

                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                Dapuma Jul 14, 2012 11:41 PM

                                Sophie's menu looks interesting - is there anything specific you would recommend?

                                1. re: Dapuma
                                  uhockey Jul 15, 2012 09:18 AM

                                  I concur - and wonder the same.

                                  http://endoedibles.com

                                  1. re: uhockey
                                    ipsedixit Jul 15, 2012 12:05 PM

                                    Dapuma and uhocky,

                                    I enjoyed the coque au vin, steak frites, and the cassoulet.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit
                                      uhockey Jul 15, 2012 03:08 PM

                                      Okey Doke - the Cassoulet had my attention as well. It goes on the list.

                                      http://endoedibles.com

                                  2. re: Dapuma
                                    m
                                    mwest9 Jul 15, 2012 02:53 PM

                                    I know someone who used to cook there, and while it was years ago, he said the lobster bisque was always exceptional. I've not been to Sophie's yet, but its on my list. I love a good lobster bisque and there is a very good one up in Sedona at L'Auberge resort.

                                    Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician closed not long after I moved to PHX, so I never made it there, but it looked to be pretty high-end French. I probably won't go to Voltaire because of how it is described and I wasn't that impressed with Petite Maison, either (or Zinc Bistro for that matter) so I know what you are talking about with the lack of really good French food in the Valley. I do like Vincent's Market Bistro but the Southwest/French fusion in the main dining room, plus the mixed reviews it gets (some love it, some find it disappointing) doesn't encourage me to eat there.

                                    1. re: mwest9
                                      Seth Chadwick Jul 15, 2012 04:20 PM

                                      I will speak in defense of Voltaire. Yes, it is old school and the average age is up there, but the presentations are simple, classic and we had a great time.

                                      As I have said before, it was a nice change to be overhearing conversations about life after WWII and how wonderful Coco Chanel was over hearing people blather into their cell phones at a very elevated speaking volume level.

                                      It isn't Melisse in L.A., but it has always been an enjoyable experience.

                                      Zinc Bistro's food is very good. Too bad the FoH people are consistently angry, rude, or inept.

                    2. Bill Hunt Jul 14, 2012 08:03 PM

                      I've been to various for Christopher, and all have been OK+, though never really getting beyond that. Good, but never great.

                      The recent incarnation is good ++, but still fell short of any greatness.

                      Hunt

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                        uhockey Jul 14, 2012 09:39 PM

                        Thanks Bill - your opinion is always valued.

                        http://endoedibles.com

                      2. misohungrychewlow Jul 14, 2012 10:28 PM

                        Christopher has been here for a long time , still excellent but under the radar like Eddie and Mark and Vincent ... Christopher's happy hour offerings are terrific so I expect the dinner menu is too -- but so many of us do not have the time or see the value in spending the evening there -- and a lot of money -- for a meal. These talented chefs continue to explore ways to connect with us.

                        1. Rubee Jul 20, 2012 08:11 PM

                          I''m a big fan of Christopher's. We even decided to venture out for Valentine's Day this year, and were impressed. They were out of the wine we ordered and suggested a bottle of a similar style that was quite a bit higher priced on the menu, for the same price. Nice. They also offered an a la carte menu and not just a limited prix-fixe, which is one of the reasons I chose it for a busy holiday. In addition to Valentine's Day, I've been there for both Happy Hour and dinner.

                          Some of my favorites are signatures like the burger, lobster pot pie, and mushroom soup with foie gras, and I've never been disappointed with the specials.

                          Thursdays: Pied de cochon en croute with mustard sauce:
                          http://twitpic.com/9arw6l

                          1. uhockey Aug 8, 2012 08:58 PM

                            Group of us going for the Julia Child Restaurant menu on Saturday if anyone is interested. Feel free to e-mail me (see profile for addy)

                            http://endoedibles.com

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: uhockey
                              uhockey Aug 18, 2012 10:59 PM

                              http://endoedibles.com/?p=3326

                              The Gist: http://christophersaz.com/

                              The Why: I guess I could pretend that the fact that Christopher Gross is a former Food and Wine Best New Chef winner and Beard Award winner for Best Chef Southwest were the primary reasons for my interest in his “Christopher’s and Crush Lounge” at the Biltmore but in all reality these things were only secondary in importance to the fact that Chef Gross’ restaurant has no less than a half dozen dishes featuring foie gras on the menu. Add in the fact that Chef Gross, probably the only chef in Phoenix to actually cook with Julia Child, was offering a special prix fixe menu celebrating Ms. Child’s 100th anniversary plus the chance to dine with my friend Aileen and her sister (thus sampling the majority of the menu) and I couldn’t really think of a better way to spend the evening.

                              The Reservation: Made by Aileen via opentable two days prior for 3 people at 6:30pm.

                              The Space: While I have heard some complain that Christopher’s is inside a swanky shopping mall I counter that commentary by noting that the best restaurant in the United States shares the same dubious distinction and with Chef Gross visible front and center of the open kitchen with wrap around bar I was impressed by Christopher’s the moment I walked in. Bathed in light from the outside at first and then dissipating to a romantic glow as the sun set both the lounge and the dining room at Christopher’s have a modern but refined feel with white tablecloths, fine service ware, and comfortable seating abound while the walls are minimally adorned with single flowers, wooden art, and mirrors. Full throughout most of the evening – largely a middle-age or older crowd – but with good spacing between tables the noise level was modest and even seats juxtaposing the kitchen and restroom area (complete with fantastic waterfall sink) were spared excessive noise.

                              The Service: Arriving moments after the two ladies who were already seated when I walked in the doors I was led promptly to the table and handed off to our captain, James, en route and as soon as I met him I knew we were in good hands. Pleasant, descriptive, whimsical, and efficient James did a great job of working with my friend’s allergies while additionally being sure water was always filled and bread was replenished as necessary – an admirable feat as he was probably the only captain on our half of the dining room thus quarterbacking at least four back servers working perhaps twenty tables without ever missing a beat.

                              The Food: Three 3-course prix-fixe meals, bread service, plus an a la carte appetizer, side, and dessert.

                              Baguette and Salted Butter: Present on the table before I even arrived the bread was as good as one would expect at a French bistro in France, though not quite as lovely as a warm baton from one of Paris’ best bakeries. Crusty and thick on the exterior with a medium crumb the butter was also quite excellent – a soft and smooth cow’s milk blend with subtle sweetness topped with sea salt.

                              Wood Oven Pizza with Foie Gras, Andouillette, Boudin Noir & Goat Cheese: An 8-slice oblong pie clearly focused on decadence I must say that I was hesitant to order pizza in a French restaurant but much like some of the shock and awe creations at Picard’s Au Pied du Cochon in Montreal this $26 dish worked astonishingly well. Beginning first with the lightly charred crust – sturdy and smoky with a great chew – and moving next to rich and lightly brined chevre I was immediately impressed by the quality of the base and moving on to the trio of offal things only got better as the creamy melting liver, briny blood sausage, and onion-laced crumbly pork all melded into a complex flavor that was at once mineral and pungent but also slightly sweet thus preventing it from being overly rich (even if it was entirely audacious.)

                              Terrine of Mousse of Foie Gras served w/ Brioche: My first course of the prix fixe was a nearly 2 ounce slice of creamy foie gras topped with Hawaiian black sat served with golden brioche, greens lightly dressed in vinaigrette, and three dots of reduced Balsamic. A very traditional preparation, particularly next to the pizza, this was my third foie gras course of the day and although the least ‘unique,’ a very smooth and well sourced product served in surprising portion for a $40 prix-fixe.

                              Escargot en Croute w/ Garlic Herb Butter: Another appetizer selection and as a lucky recipient of one of the six snails this was my favorite of the three first courses we received as the rich burgundy snails were cooked to a melt-in-the-mouth texture while an ample topping of thyme and rosemary tinged garlic butter sat beneath crispy puff pastry adding a more butter, but also a lightly crunchy textural element. Another French Bistro classic done very well – Julia Child would have approved.

                              Frogs Legs with Garlic Herb Sauce and Sauteed Spinach: The third appetizer, and another shocking portion given the price, this plate consisted of three large and plump amphibian hind-quarters lightly coated with egg and flour before a pan searing rendered them slightly crisp yet entirely juicy. Suffering neither from too much salt nor too much of the oily sapor that sometimes maligns frogs legs and served over sautéed spinach with garlic, parsley, and white wine there was a lot of balanced flavor on this plate and all of it was excellent.

                              Pied du Cochon with Brussels Sprouts, Mustard Seed, and Smoked Bacon: For our main courses Aileen opted for the Steak Frites while her sister chose the Dover Sole Meuniere and while I didn’t taste the former but quite liked the simplicity of the later I was more than happy with my choice of two flaky pastry shells stuffed full of crispy trotters alongside caramelized sprouts and a sauce of smoked bacon and fresh mustard seeds. Intense and savory, well balanced with the pungency of the sprouts, and just a touch of earthy heat from the mustard this was another bistro style dish slightly reimagined that impressed even despite my overall distaste for mustard, an ingredient that here acted to enhance the salty pork rather than mute it as is sometimes the case.

                              Daily Gnocchi with Onions, Belly Bacon, Taleggio, and Cream: For $8 this was an absolute steal of a side dish as there were no less than fifteen tender dumplings swimming in a pool of bubbling cheese and cream tinged with bacon and onions. Admittedly getting full at this point in the day, particularly as I’d eaten 3/4 of the pizza myself plus a few slices of bread I made sure I finished each dumpling, particularly those where the cheese had browned to form a bit of crunch, but I still regret sending a good portion of the creamy cheese mixture back to the kitchen rather than applying it to another slice of baguette.

                              Gateau Marjolaine with Dark Chocolate Sorbet: For Aileen’s dessert she opted for the Gateau Marjolaine after confirming no allergens and paired with a tuille sporting impressively bitter dark chocolate sorbet and a fresh strawberry the cake featuring alternating layers of chocolate ganache, almond meringue, milk chocolate, vanilla, and coffee cremeaux would be no less impressive than the sorbet. At times sweet and at others bitter with a creamy mouthfeel punctuated by a slight crunch from the meringue this was simply a delightful dessert that would have only been better if it had been paired with coffee.

                              Profiteroles with Vanilla Bean Gelato, Chocolate Ice Cream, and Dark Chocolate Sorbet plus Chocolate Sauce: Another high quality interpretation of a bistro classic, the other lady at the table opted for the profiteroles and with the chocolate ice cream I tasted nicely textured and closer to milk chocolate than the sorbet while the chocolate sauce was thick, rich, and intense I personally felt the choux itself could have been a little more crisp, though perhaps some of the ‘sog’ was related to being in Arizona where even in a nicely air conditioned restaurant ice cream tends to melt quickly.

                              Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Bean Gelato: My prix fixe dessert, and another enormous portion, was this rustic apple tarte tatin with buttery caramelized apples juxtaposed against a crisp pastry shell alongside drizzles of crème anglaise, salty caramel, and a tuille cup filled with rich vanilla bean gelato. Now three for three in the frozen confection department this was a lovely representation of “French Apple Pie” and while I still prefer America’s take on the dish this was certainly a memorable dessert teaming with butter and not overwhelmingly sweet.

                              Chocolate Mousse Tower with Berries, Espresso Crème: Having joked with James that it seemed odd not to serve the dish that Chef Gross prepared with Julia Child as part of her tribute menu he had to agree but for $10 extra it would have been foolish to pass on this lovely cylinder of white and dark chocolate stuffed with light chocolate mousse and berries as a supplemental dish. Topped tableside with a light espresso cream and nicely balanced with fresh blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries against the lightest chocolate tones of the evening I can certainly say this dish is worth the praise it receives and a great deal of impact on the palate for something that sits quite lightly on the stomach.

                              The Verdict: A truly outstanding meal with great dining buddies, excellent service, and pleasant environs I must say I remain shocked to this day that Christopher’s does not garner more praise from local gourmands, epicures, and ‘foodies.’ While perhaps not as whimsical as Binkley’s or refined as Kai nearly everything we had at Christopher’s that evening was executed with skill and style while portions and quality far outshined the price point. Certainly we dined on a ‘special event’ budget with the Julia Child menu but all things being equal the menu is no more expensive than many high end steakhouses and satellite outposts in town where the “chef proprietaire” has likely not entered the kitchen in years. All things being equal Christopher’s far exceeded expectations and I have no doubt I’ll be back – ideally with friends in tow to tackle the sous vide lobe of foie, duck two ways, mimolette and mushroom pizza, and perhaps a soufflé or three.

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