Tag Archives: Restaurant Journal

Strategies for Arizona Restaurant Week 2010

Put on your eatin’ pants. It looks like 114 Phoenix restaurants and 43 Tucson restaurants are participating in Arizona Restaurant Week, September 18-26.

The participating restaurants have put together three or four-course prix fixe menus, some with extras thrown in, priced at $29 or $39, excluding tax, tip and beverages (unless noted otherwise). If you’re headed to Tucson, eight of the 43 restaurants are offering $19++ menus.

Given that Restaurant Week is dinner-only, you have nine dining opportunities. How will you spend them?

We’ve scanned through the Phoenix list and have come up with a few strategies:

(click on the restaurant name to look at the Arizona Restaurant Week menu)

History Buffs

Photo © ericeatsout.com

Let’s say you’re in the mood for a side of Arizona history thrown in with your meal. You’ll want to check out Durant’s, the venerable old-school, clubby restaurant that opened in 1950. Even older than Durant’s, Stockyards (opened in 1947) is “Arizona’s Original Steakhouse.” Or you might try Avanti if classic Italian sounds more your style. Opened in 1974, Avanti is still owned by the two original partners from Sorrento, Italy. Even though El Chorro Lodge is sporting new owners and a $$$$ makeover, El Chorro grandly takes its place in Arizona history — it first opened as a lodge and dining room in 1937. And yes, the older-than-old-school relish tray and famous sticky buns are part of their prix fixe menu. (All $29++)

Fun & Funky

You think old-school is old news and you want high energy! Fun! Buzz, baby! Head to Cowboy Ciao, because even with wacky menu names like “pig & puddin,” the chow is seriously delicious. Eye-candy hangout Culinary Dropout is another option, and the slackers are even throwing in a wine cooler. Or try tapas new comer Iruña (from a been-around chef) for a little Spanish olé flavor in a hip setting — at least the menu isn’t the predictable steak/chicken/veg. (All $29++)

Stealth Health


Photo © FRC

Restaurant Week can wreck havoc on your good diet intentions, but it won’t if you hit up these restaurants. Calistro California Bistro ($29++) even has some gluten-free options as does True Food Kitchen ($29++), and TFK is tossing in a hummus starter, too. Ko’sin ($29++) at Wild Horse Pass has the local veggies down pat, and we’re even putting Roka Akor ($39++) in this stealth health group because they’ve got butterfish tataki and grilled salmon on the menu.

Chef Groupie

It’s no secret we have rock-star chefs in this valley, and three of the hottest chefs are serving up foodie dream menus for restaurant week: Josh Hebert at Posh Restaurant (the ORIGINAL improvisational chef; $39++); inked Chris Curtiss at noca Restaurant ($29++), and Aaron Chamberlin at St. Francis ($29++). We’re including the original *hot* chef — Mark Tarbell — on this list, too. (If you don’t remember when Tarbell was the hottest chef in town, perhaps you should stick to the Fun & Funky category.)  Tarbell’s ($29++) simple menu only includes one choice for each course, but his butterscotch tart with caramelized pancetta might be worth the trip alone.

Final Thoughts

We would have recommended FnB, Renegade Canteen or Christopher’s Crush, but all three are conspicuously absent this year. Maybe that’s a statement in and of itself.

Also, if you’re hoping to snag a glass of wine included with the price of the meal, you might want to consider 5th & Wine ($29++) or recent “Best Comfort Food” winner Cafe ZuZu ($29++), but, oddly, Cheuvront’s Wine Bar doesn’t include vino. Really? Go figure. In all, 27 of the 114 Phoenix restaurants are throwing in a glass of vino with the deal.

Lastly, if you’re seeking value above and beyond the great deals all of these restaurants are putting forth, you might want to consider one of the resort restaurants on the list, like Bourbon Steak (Fairmont Scottsdale), BLT Steak (Camelback Inn), Deseo (Westin Kierland), Lon’s (Hermosa Inn), Prado (Intercontinental Montelucia) or Talevera (Four Seasons). It’s near impossible to eat at these resorts for less than $40 on a regular night with just two courses. (All $39++ with the exception of Deseo, $29++)

Regardless of your ultimate strategy, you’ll want to make a reservation as the ones we’ve listed are likely to fill up fast.

And remember to be a good diner, too. Don’t ask for substitutions (you can do it, just this once) and tip well.

So, put some elastic in your eatin’ pants and let the feasting begin.

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Chicken Showdown – Zuni vs. Bouchon

Zuni-Bouchon

I knew it would come to this. It was unavoidable.

In the course of planning a trip to San Francisco followed closely by a trip to Yountville, I immediately thought “chicken” — a perfectly logical connection.

Well, it is if you connect the dots: San Francisco is the home of Zuni Cafe and Yountville is the home of Bouchon.

Within the span of three days, I had the rare opportunity to sample arguably two of the world’s best roast chickens.

Zuni-Chicken-2

Who could pass that up? Certainly not me.

First, Zuni’s roast chicken. It takes an hour from order-to-table. Normally, waiting an hour for food in a restaurant would be insane, but Chef Judy Rodgers has been serving her roast chicken for more than two decades, and no one seems to mind the wait.

Partly because the rest of the Zuni menu is full delicious distractions. Like an heirloom tomato and cucumber salad surrounding a pile of creamy burrata or a plate of whisper-thin Serrano ham slices paired with garden-fresh black-eyed peas and paprika oil.

Bouchon-Roast-Chicken

Thomas Keller is fanatic about chicken, too. His Bouchon bird sports gorgeous mahogany skin and a chicken jus that would go over just as well if served in a glass — to drink.

But Zuni’s chicken comes with an outrageous bread salad studded with currants and pine nuts. The bread is buttery and crisp when it arrives at the table, but by the time we get to the last piece, it’s soft and chewy from soaking in savory chicken jus.

Zuni-Chicken-3

Bouchon has killer bread, too, but it comes before the meal.

Pain d’Epi (“ear of wheat”) baguettes are placed on the white butcher paper tabletop along with a saucer holding salted butter, white bean puree drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and two toasted baguette slices.

Bouchon-Bread

Zuni’s chicken serves two and costs $48. Bouchon’s chicken serves one and costs $26.

Both chickens have been brined, resulting in juicy, moist birds. Both birds are high-heat roasted with lots of herbs.

Bouchon’s chicken has crispy skin; Zuni’s does not.

But Zuni Cafe has a secret weapon — one that tries desperately to sway my opinion about who has the best roast chicken.

Zuni-Cafe-Wood-Oven

Smack dab in the center of Zuni Cafe sits a wood-fired, brick oven. I guess it’s not really a “secret.” You’d know it’s there even if you didn’t see it, although it’s impossible to miss. Smoke permeates the room, even wafting out onto the street.

So is it really fair to declare one bird over the other? Given the opportunity, I’d ecstatically sit down to another plate from either restaurant.

Both restaurants have cookbooks with pages that painfully, minutely, spell out the detail the making of the chickens. My own roast chicken recipe borrows the Bouchon technique of high heat.

Now that I’ve sampled Zuni’s smoky version, I’m contemplating a date with the smoker box on my grill. But it won’t be the same.

Sometimes the best way — perhaps the only way — to experience the real deal is to go straight to the source. The Zuni Cafe roasted chicken wins by a log.

Zuni-Chicken-1

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Strategies for Arizona Restaurant Week

ARW09-LogoI just wrote about a few tips for saving money when dining out. Now here’s another huge tip, but it’s only good for a week and only if you happen to be in Arizona:

Indulge in Arizona Restaurant 2009 Week, starting Saturday, September 19  through next Saturday, September 26.

Every participating restaurant is offering a three-course dinner menu for $29 — excluding beverages, tax & tip.

With 114 Phoenix area restaurants participating (plus 33 in Tucson), a little strategic planning is in order to make the most of the week.

Here are a few strategies to get your game on.

Click on the restaurant name to see the menu choices, and special ad-ons the restaurants are offering either as gratis or for additional fees.

bistro-24--lambThe Adventurer:

You’re the type that loves to try new restaurants so naturally you’ll want to scope out the newest places in town. Try Acua, the restaurant that took over the Canal space at the Scottsdale Waterfront (so new the paint might still be wet) and Asian-flavored Nine-05 (from Zinc Bistro & The Mission folks) and the contemporary Avalon.

The Romantic:

Woo is the name of the game for you. You want to treat your special someone to something intimate, charming and memorable. You’ll want to try Coup des Tartes (bonus points for BYOB), House of Tricks, and Sassi. Both Coup des Tartes (Phoenix) and House of Tricks (Tempe) are cozy restaurants in quaint cottage houses. Sassi (far North Scottsdale) is a palatial “Italian villa” with incredible views from the patio.

The Loyalist:

CheuvrontsYou like sticking to the tried and true. No need to gamble on the unknown, especially when it comes to hard earned dollars. Besides, your favorite restaurants will appreciate your support during restaurant week. I can’t tell you which ones are your favorites, but I’m pretty sure that with 114 restaurants on the list, several are your old standbys. I’d be surprised if Tarbell’s, or Cowboy Ciao or Aiello’s wasn’t on someone’s list.

The Old World Traveler:

Your palate hasn’t met a cuisine it didn’t like, but you’re smitten with the charms of the classic cuisines of the world. You’re going to put Los Sombreros (Scottsdale) on your list because they know how to plate up real, central Mexico, Mexican food. And for a taste of France, hit Metro Brasserie (OK, so they’re more modern French Bistro but their classic frisee au lardons is 2nd only to Christopher’s and unfortunately, Christopher’s isn’t on the AZRW list). Want Italian? Try the elegant Ristorante Tuscany (J.W. Marriott, Desert Ridge, Phoenix). Spanish? Prado is a must, at the Montelucia Intercontinental resort.

The Foodie:Coup-Des-Tartes-chilean-sea

You like avant garde, cutting edge ingredients and techniques. You salivate just contemplating the thought of a freshly shaved truffle, a drop of 100 year-old balsamic, or a pool of demi-glace spiked with Belle de Brillet. Of course noca is on your list, probably at the top. When I compiled this list, noca’s menu hadn’t been posted, but you know and I know that it doesn’t matter. Whatever they do, they will do it well and with plenty of “wow” factor. Bourbon Steak ought to be high on your list, too. Even though it’s part of a super-star chef empire, the local man behind the stove is cooking up a storm with local ingredients.

Bottom Line…

No matter which approach you take, Arizona Restaurant Week offers something worth trying.

It’s especially a great opportunity to hit restaurants that sit on the high end of the dining dollar scale, like Roka Akor, Sushi Roku, and Deseo.

One last tip: regardless of which restaurants you ultimately choose, you might want to make reservations. I’m certain that many of these will sell out. Arizona Restaurant Week is a great opportunity to discover new favorites. And give some much-appreciated love to some old flames. Let the dining begin…

———————————————————
Photo credits (courtesy of Arizona Restaurant Week 2009):
Top right: Bistro 24
Middle left: Cheuvront
Bottom right: Coup des Tartes

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5 Money Saving Tips for Dining Out

Fortune-Frugality

Frugality.

Not the most exciting advice from a fortune cookie.

Yet very few of us are immune to the economic woes of the past couple of years. One of the drawbacks of tight times means there is less discretionary income for fun things like dining out.

If you love restaurants as much as I do, cutting back on the number of restaurant visits is painful.

What’s a restaurant junkie to do? Here are a few tips that might help ease the pain.

1. Check local publications for coupons. Local newspapers, guides and the like often run coupons from local restaurants. Consider the 50 cents for the local newspaper as a good ROI for nabbing a 2-for-1 or $-off coupon.

2. Dine during happy hour or late at night. Most restaurants offer specials during hours that aren’t normally busy — yeah, who wants to eat at 5 or 10 p.m. but a deal is a deal.

3. Stick with the appetizer or starter section of the menu. Sure the portions are smaller than entrees, but would it kill us to eat a little lighter? Sometimes the most interesting items are tucked away here anyway.

4. Share an entree. Most entrees are big enough for at least 1-1/2 portions or even two. A small house salad and half an entree generally satisfies most people. I tend to overeat anyway, so this is an easy way to self-impose portion control.

5. Dine in small, independently owned ethnic restaurants. Now is the time to try that Ethiopian or Peruvian restaurant we’ve heard about from our foodie friends. Most often, the food is inexpensive yet packed with vibrant, exciting flavors. And it gives us an opportunity to explore another cuisine.

Bonus Tip:

Sign up for email newsletters from your favorite restaurants. Smart restaurants know that diners who sign up for email communications are potentially loyal fans, and they often send special offers just for their email subscribers.

I just received a $5 off coupon in an email from one of my favorite restaurants. Since the most expensive entree at this restaurant is $15, that’s a pretty good deal.

Following your favorite restaurants on Twitter is another way to find out about specials.

Tell me, did I leave out one of your favorite money saving tips? Leave a comment.

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Park City Eats – Chimayo

What is the difference between a Southwestern restaurant and a Mexican restaurant?

Price. I’m kidding. Sort of.

Menu

There are differences between Mexican and Southwestern restaurants, but there are also strong parallels. There are all kinds of different flavors of Mexican restaurants because Mexico itself is very diverse.

Northern Mexico shares ingredients with our American Southwest: Corn, beans, squashes, chiles. These ingredients are also Native American ingredients. No wonder  “defining” cuisines gets confusing.

Margarita

Chimayo, located on Main Street in Park City, is a Southwestern restaurant that draws heavily on Mexican and Native American ingredients — with some American West mountain ingredients tossed in  — prepared and presented with haute French techniques.

Bread

That’s why you’ll find elk and berry reduction sauces right along side enchiladas and guacamole. Or a spinach salad ($16) with watermelon and chards of carnitas (twice-cooked marinated pork).

Salad

Spice-rubbed chicken breast (served supreme style — a French presentation with the first joint of a wing attached) is stuffed with goat cheese and served with a pressed rice pilaf painted sunny yellow from turmeric and studded with green beans ($28). The menu description says “Nacho Grande style” with nary a tortilla chip in sight.

Chicken

Enchiladas ($27) get haute treatment, too. Roasted vegetables (red pepper, onions, carrots, corn) are rolled in hand-made corn tortillas and served atop highly seasoned black beans and a duo of sauces (tomatillo and roasted tomato).

Vegetable-Enchiladas

You might be shocked at the prices ($27 for enchiladas?) I’m not.

First, this is Park City, a ritzy mountain town on par with Vail, Aspen and Jackson Hole. Second, the quality of ingredients and the amount of labor that goes into each dish is extraordinary.

You wouldn’t blink at a fancy French restaurant serving bouef bourguignon — an inexpensive cut of beef — for $30, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a haute Southwestern restaurant charges $28 for a chicken dish — an elaborate chicken dish.

At the end of August and through October, most of the high-end restaurants in Park City print 2 for 1 entree coupons in the local paper, taking a bite out of the sticker shock.

Chimayo
368 Main Street
Park City, UT
(435) 649-6222
chimayorestaurant.com

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Park City Eats — Purple Sage

Menu

The romance of the American West is alluring and I can’t seem to resist restaurants that belly up to the bar with “Western Cuisine.”

Purple Sage, smack dab in the middle of Park City, Utah’s Main Street, calls itself “An American Western Bistro.”

What the heck is Western cuisine? I think of it as a cross between cowboy cooking and Southwestern foods — steak, game, trout and barbecue, chiles and corn.

I think of restaurants that started the movement. Although both chefs have since sold their restaurants (their concepts live on through their cookbooks) I think of  Mark Miller’s Red Sage, Robert McGrath’s Roaring Fork.

Blackened-Scallops

Purple Sage’s cuisine fits neatly in the gussied up American Western cuisine. Starters like barbecue chicken tamales and blackened sea scallops ($14, pictured) capture the spirit of the West (albeit with the modernity of flown-in seafood.)

The scallops, dusted with red corn meal and spices and drizzled with barbecue sauce, surround a mound of greens dressed in chipotle vinaigrette, smoky from chipotle and bacon. The scallops are plump, juicy and just barely done, the way they should be.

Meatloaf

Grilled veal meatloaf ($24), smothered in a tomato-green chile sauce, features two slabs of firm yet tender meatloaf studded with poblano chiles and onion. I only wish the sauce had come underneath the meatloaf instead of on top, so I could see the perfect diamond-shaped grill marks.

Meatloaf2

Meatloaf wouldn’t be the same without a pile of mashed potatoes, and these are laden with garlic, butter and cream. The accompanying Brussels sprouts are flash fried in butter, resulting in crispy edges, taming the usual bitter taste. It’s a lot to swallow, portion-wise and price-wise. At least the generous portion means there’s enough to take home for another meal.

Halibut

Pan-seared halibut ($17) is geared toward a lighter appetite. Topped with peppery arugula salad, the fish sits on top of hominy “hummus,” a textured mix of pureed hominy, cumin, chile powder and lemon.  Utah pan-fried trout is another “light” option, not counting the jalapeno-lime butter sauce.

Desserts include home-style chocolate bundt cake, root beer float and butterscotch pudding — exactly what you might expect, given the theme.

Park City is a mountain town in the West. It should — and does — have a restaurant that embodies it’s location. Plenty of Asian and Italian restaurants pepper the historic Main Street, but Purple Sage makes the scene seem a bit more authentic amid the glitter and glam of this former mining town-turned- “suburb” 20 miles east of Salt Lake City.

Purple Sage
434 Main Street
Park City, UT
(435) 655-9505
purplesageparkcity.com

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Portland Eats – Beast

Beast-Exterior3
That’s Beast, a blood-red doll-house of a restaurant, snuggled between two much larger buildings in northeast Portland.

Getting a reservation at Beast can be murder, as one would expect at a restaurant whose chef just landed a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef 2009 award.

Pomeroy took some heat recently in cyberspace from a food writer (who defies her self-written “all around nice girl” bio by brutally lambasting Pomeroy), about a quote she made in the Food & Wine article. Pomeroy said she doesn’t eat the meat in her favorite $5 bowl of pho because she doubted it was raised “sustainably.” I’ll admit the statement was a gaffe, but I’m not sure the punishment equaled the crime.

Chef

I have no idea how Food & Wine actually selects their 10 best new chefs every year. They say that it’s bestowed, after much searching and vetting, to up-and-coming chefs who’ve manned their kitchens for 5 years or less. How they skipped over Chef Kevin Binkley of Cave Creek’s Binkley’s Restaurant is beyond me (and any other rationale person who’s ever eaten there), but that’s another post.

This is about Beast, or more specifically, brunch at Beast because we couldn’t get a dinner reservation on short notice. In fact, the next dinner opening was two months from when we called.

Communal seating is not for everyone, but if you don’t mind sitting next to complete strangers (most likely kindred spirits in love with food as much as you are), Beast provides an added bonus of meeting interesting people. Like the young couple we met, who are contemplating a move to either Portland or Phoenix, and the quality of the restaurants might be the deciding factor.

Of course I attempted to make a persuasive case for Phoenix. Portland may well be known as a “foodie” town, but Phoenix has equally compelling, chef-driven independent restaurants that keep my heart palpitating throughout the year. In fact, the valley has several Food & Wine Best New Chefs, including a female chef, Deborah Knight of Mosaic (2002), not to mention several James Beard winners.

But back to Beast. Or Beast’s brunch. Once everyone is seated, French pressed coffee is offered (included in the $28, four-course brunch), or for an additional $5, a mimosa, or $12, a glass of sparkling rosé.

Crepe

The first course might be a folded crepe, crispy on the edges, covered with bourbon caramel sauce, a dollop of whipped cream, and accented with fresh figs, toasted hazelnuts and sugared bacon thin enough to see through.

Hash

The second course may look diminutive, but it’s filling. Slivers of duck, cubes of roasted potatoes and onions and fresh garden peas co-mingle to become a heavenly hash, topped with an elegantly poached egg and buttery hollandaise that would be equally divine if served straight up in a glass.

Salad

Cleansing the palate of the last traces of the mouth-coating hash is a sprite sherry and balsamic dressed mound of frisee, with three bites of artisan cheeses from a local cheesemonger. I notice I’m the only one at our table who also devours the nasturtium. It was almost too pretty to eat, but since the bottom of the flower was splattered with the lovely dressing, it didn’t stand a chance of getting left behind.

Tart

For the finale, a petite blueberry and fromage blanc tart with a teensy scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Of the four courses, this was the weakest link, with too few blueberries and too little fromage blanc. Was it really even in there? Still, the pastry was buttery and darkly caramelized on the bottom, so it did have redeeming value.

Toilet

Chef Pomeroy and her all-girl staff plate all the courses on top of a large butcher block in front of the tiny, open kitchen, moving like well-choreographed dancers. Watching them is part of the experience. But the real joy is tasting the carefully crafted flavors on the plate, sitting with like-minded folks, and soaking up the glow from a newly-anointed rising star.


Beast
5425 NE 30th Avenue
Portland, OR
(503) 841-6968
beastpdx.com

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