Lorna Thayer, Jack
Nicholson, Karen Black
in "Five Easy Pieces" (1970)
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RESTAURANTS IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN, Part One by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR:
Do White Bordeaux Deserve Their Price?
by John Mariani
IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN
every city everywhere, Phoenix has been hurt by a lousy economy,
and, since this is a big resort city, its hotels and restaurants have
taken big hits. There have been some notable closings, like SeeSaw and
Digestif, hotels in foreclosure, resorts cutting rates in high
season. Still, hope springs eternal in the restaurant business (I just
read an article that showed how much cheaper to open a restaurant in
hard times than in good times), and Phoenix/Scottsdale and the
surrounding territory seem to be
showing a good deal of resiliency. Here are some new places I
If the Martians landed and wanted to be taken to a typical
restaurant of 2010, they would do no better than St. Francis, which in
its look, its vibes, and its mix of food pretty much sums up the way
Americans like to eat when they go out these days. As you can see
from the photo to the right, it's a sleek, very casual place with an
open kitchen and simple décor, but the food is serious, the
friendly, and the whole experience (save a high decibel level)
infectious fun for a modest price. There's also a mezzanine level and
The place takes its name from the neighborhood land deed that dates back to 1936, and owner Aaron Chamberlain also trained as a chef in San Francisco. He has worked under some formidable masters, including Michel Richard, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nancy Oakes. He calls his style "wood-fired cuisine" and there's a good deal of that on the menu, from flatbread with black Mission figs, melted leeks, arugula, and goat's cheese to a well-fatted roasted pork chop with polenta, sweet peppers and whole grain mustard salsa. Food comes sizzling to the table, smelling good, looking great. There's a "forbidden rice bowl" with seven vegetables and sweet and spicy dressing; a hearty seafood soup (left) with shrimp, mussels, and fish, with good country bread for dipping; his pepper-crusted flat iron steak with creamed spinach, crispy potatoes and red wine sauce was tremendously flavorful, a paragon of this style of beef cut and cookery.
In the same vein the desserts are not for those restrained in their diet--warm sticky toffee pudding with cream gelato, and a chocolate hazelnut parfait both demand you finish every bit of them, maybe with a dessert wine from a solid list.
So bring on the Martians. They'll phone home good reports.
St. Francis is open nightly. Appetizers run $6-$8, main courses $12-$20.
People used to say you had to go
the Barrio to get good Mexican food in Phoenix, but that's not always
the safest of areas when the sun goes down. Which is at least one
of the reasons Gallo Blanco--slang for "white guy"-- has caught on so
fast and hit so big, for
it is located in the old Clarendon Hotel but is anything but a hotel
dining room. It is, in a word, funky, with deep colors, concrete
floors, bare tables
recycled from scrap wood, high counter chairs, and blaring music. Mexico
chef/owner Doug Robson, of Franco-Anglo-Vietnamese
background, doesn't want to do fancy, he just wants to do awesome.
Gallo Blanco is open daily
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dinner starters run $2-$12, main
open for dinner. Starters run $8-$15,
main courses $15-$34, with a fixed price dinner at $39, with 2 wine
Binkley's casual restaurant Binkley's
reigns in the region as one of its finest dining experiences, with
Kevin and his wife Amy preparing artful cuisine each night for
a intellects willing to head up to Troon North and pay a good tab for
the dinner, accompanied by an exceptionally strong winelist.
Those not so inclined towards a very serious evening out can get a
remarkable facsimile at a fraction of the price at the new Café
Café Bink is
open Tues.-Sat. from 11 AM-9 PM. Dinner starters run $9-$25, main
Le Colonial is open for Lunch
Mon.-Fri.; Dinner, nightly. Dinner entrees run $9-$13, main
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
by John Mariani
Bordeaux is justly famous for its magnificent red wines but the region also makes a few good whites. Fewer still rank with the better white wines of Burgundy, yet the prices for some white Bordeaux can match those of all but the most illustrious Grand Crus.
I exempt from this discussion Bordeaux’s enchanting dessert wines, Sauternes and Barsacs. In fact, under the famous 1855 classification of the white wines of the Gironde, none were dry.
Up until the mid-1980s, Graves, where most of the better known whites come from, made such a wide variety of styles—light sauvignon blancs, overly herbaceous sémillon, wines that were oaky or oxidized—that buyers had little consistency to base decisions on. Then, in 1987 the northern communes were given a higher classification of appellation, “Pessac-Léognan,” which challenged vintners to upgrade their facilities and wines.
Quality has improved overall, though, with so short a track record, it is difficult to accept the contention of those in the industry who insist the better white Graves need a decade to mature. To me, that is very risky business, since few of even the great white burgundies get better over ten years. And who has the patience to wait that long for a white bordeaux?
Recent tastings of several of the best-known Graves whites did little to change my mind about wines whose fans actually celebrate their “flinty austerity,” which is another way of saying they have minimal fruit, lean body, and a short finish.
Château Lynch-Bages, owned by the AXA Insurance Group, makes a Fifth Growth red wine many believe should rank higher. But the 2006 Blanc de Lynch-Bages seems little more than an expensive afterthought, selling between $40-$70. One on-line wine site finds “fruit, citrus, young, acidic, white, nutty, mineral, nuts, lemon, Mediterranean and subtropical fruits.” I’ll agree with it being white, but the only Mediterranean reference I taste is that it’s no better than a modest pinot grigio at one-third the price.
Carbonnieux Blanc 2006 ($30-$45) is indeed austere, like a performance of John Cage’s 4’ 33”, in which the pianist sits at the piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds and plays nothing. There is only an aroma if you imagine it, only flavor if you squint your eyes, and were it not for its alcohol, you might mistake it for mineral water.
Of those whites I enjoyed, Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux 2005 ($75-$135) is 100 percent sauvignon blanc and made to express that varietal’s floral, citrus and vegetal character. The high 14 percent alcohol helps rather than hinders in this case. This is not a lush Loire-Valley style sauvignon blanc, but there are mineral nuances here that make it a stand-out for bordeaux. I do not, however, think it is getting any better after four years of age, so drink up now.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte 2005 ($70-$90) is made from 90 percent sauvignon blanc, 5 percent sauvignon gris, and 5 percent semillon, and shows the kind of upgrade Bordeaux whites have gone through. Here is a wine pleasingly plump, balanced with enough acid to be refreshing while still delivering richness. It also has a lovely finish of minerality that adds to its being excellent with seafood.
For me, one of the great white bordeaux is not even from the Graves district. It is Château Monbousquet, a St.-Émilion whose Grand Cru red brother has built a high rep all its own since Parisian hypermarket magnate Gerard Perse bought and completely renovated the vineyards in 1993.
I tasted the Monbousquet blanc 2004 by chance recently when I asked Emilie Garvey (right), sommelier at the New York Financial district restaurant SHO Shaun Hergatt to choose a good white wine for our dinner. “It is a wine that is extremely allocated and difficult to get,” said Garvey. “It’s certainly not typical of Bordeaux whites, which have a lean, crisp, flinty flavor from the shells in the soil. Monbousquet has a fat, creamy, buttery taste and texture I think is the richest style in the market right now.”
She’s right: the wine was a revelation—a white bordeaux not shy about its body. In the nose, in the first sip, and in the finish, here was a wine that showed the fullness of sauvignon blanc without the grassiness that can cripple the fruit. But that’s only the beginning: the blend has 35 percent sauvignon gris, 5 percent muscadelle, and 5 percent sémillon, each bringing nuance and floral flavors to the wine. Only about 450 cases are made each year, so the 2006 and 2007 vintages are bargains at about $40-$70 a bottle.
By the way, Emilie Garvey was only able to obtain three bottles. I drank one. Now she has two. So hurry.
TWO WEEKS AGO SHE CALLED
TO SAY HER HUSBAND REFUSED TO BE HUNG WITH CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS
Kerrville, Texas, prosecutors may charge a woman with "911 abuse" for calling 911 thirty times over six months for non-emergency reasons, including a call to complain that "her husband did not want to eat his supper" and that the woman was screaming "about things that happened two weeks ago."
HMM, WE'VE ALWAYS HAD
BEST SUPPERS IN GRIMSBY, OR MAYBE IT WAS PORTHMADOG--ALWAYS JOLLY GOOD
FOR SOME BLOATERS AND MUSSELS ROLYPOLY.
✉ Guidelines for submissions: QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes. When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below. John Mariani
Jan.7-9, the annual Chef’s Food &
Wine Festival takes place in Albany, NY. Chefs from dozens of
restaurants in the capital area, and wine from more than 50 American
and foreign wineries will be featured in the ballrooms of the Crowne
Plaza. Visitors can enjoy wine pairings, seminars and cooking demos.
Tix start at $50 pp. Call 518-434-1217, www.albanywinefest.com.
* Jan. 18 in Chicago, ChicagoOriginals will celebrate
Restaurant Week. Member restaurants create special, 3 and 4-course
menus for only $29.10. Some restaurants will also offer great
bottles of wine for $29.10. Restaurants incl. Cafe Bernard, Cyrano's
Bistrot, Dinotto, Hemmingway's, Le Titi De Paris, Bistrot Bourdeaux,
O'Brien's, Restaurant Michael, and Co-Si-Na-Grill. Visit the websites
of each restaurant for their special menus. Visit
* Jan. 20 in New York City, Chef Eric Fréchon from Hôtel Le Bristol in Paris brings his
cuisine to Daniel restaurant,
incl. champagne and hors d’oeuvre cocktail reception, 5-course dinner
with wine pairings, autographed cookbook from Chef Fréchon,
autographed menu from Chefs Fréchon and Boulud, gourmet gift,
and chance to win a two-night stay at Hôtel Le Bristol. $350 pp,
tax and gratuity included. Tickets must be purchased with an American
Express card. Call 212-933-5262 or visit www.danielnyc.com.
* On Jan. 21 in Boston, The Greater Boston Food Bank presents "Super Hunger Chef Challenge," an Iron Chef-like cooking showdown between past Food & Wine “Best New Chef” winners Mary Dumont & Gabriel Bremmer. Judged by former “Best New Chef” winners Jody Adams, Michael Leviton and Barbara Lynch. $200 pp, proceeds to benefit The Greater Boston Food Bank. Call 617-598-5050.
* On Jan. 23, Castle Hill Inn & Resort in Newport, RI, is presents
the return of Long Trail Brewing Company for the its annual
beer dinner. Brandon Mayes of Long Trail will lead guests
through each selection paired with Executive Chef Jonathan Cambra’s
5-course dinner. $85 pp. Call 401-848-0918.
* From Jan. 29-31, The Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, CO, presents the 8th Annual “Salute to Escoffier” Weekend, celebrating Auguste Escoffier and benefitting the Education Fund of the Colorado Restaurant Association. Events incl. cooking demos, a wine luncheon, and Grand Buffet—a progressive dinner of 5 courses with more than a hundred offerings. Packages start at $449 pp. Visit www.broadmoor.com or call 719-577-5775.
``````````````````````````````````NEW FEATURE: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linking up with four excellent travel sites:
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences."
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).
Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!",
is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with
children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle
McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family
travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide
its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and
practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy,
safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children
who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of
adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; email@example.com; www.nickonwine.com.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.