Saturday, November 11, 2006

Around Scottsdale

I was in Scottsdale last week for a meeting. I ended up going to the same restaurant two nights in a row with mostly different groups of people: Bloom, which serves what they call "New American Cuisine" in an upscale-moderne setting in a shopping mall. (Most of Scottsdale is a shopping mall, so this is not surprising). The place was very popular, and I was glad we had reservations. Someone who was there the week before said that it was almost empty the prior week--the migration of retirees apparently starts November 1. I was with a group of very nerdy people (we're color scientists/engineers), but they handled us well, even when on the first night everybody drank iced tea. The second night I went with more of the foodie/wine crowd, and that was a bit more fun.

On the first night, I had a glazed tenderloin of pork, which wasn't bad, but the glaze was a bit boring, sweet and not much else. For dessert I had the "bars of sin," which are really good: hazelnut praline cookie with a layer of chocolate mousse, covered in chocolate. On the second night I started with the lobster bisque, which was decent, followed by the ribeye steak on roquefort mashed potatoes and sauteed green beants. That dish was quite successfull. The steak was good, thick, and properly cooked (rare, like I asked for), and the potatoes had a roquefort flavor that wasn't overwhelming. For dessert I had a piece of rich chocolate cake, which had some guilt-inducing name. They have a fun wine list; I had a glass of Green and Red Zin with dinner.

Bloom is part of a "restaurant concepts" company, and does have a corporate sheen to it like those restaurants often do, but I thought everything was well done, and I'd go back if I were in Scottsdale again.

On Saturday night a few of us went to Char's, which is a blues club in Phoenix. We saw the Bad News Blues Band from Tucson, who were great. You can still smoke in a bar in Arizona, but the ventilation was good, so I didn't stink afterwards despite sitting behind a table of smokers. They have Fat Tire on tap. I guess you can get food, which they call out to the pizza place down the street.

Prior to going to Char's, I wandered around downtown Scottsdale (mostly sellers of turquoise jewelry and art galleries selling one of four genres--proud Indians, luminous southwest landscapes, cowboy sculpture, and not-abstract contemporary--I think abstract is dead in the storefront retail art mart, at least in Scottsdale...), and happened upon the Greek Festival going on at the civic center. They had the usual Greek music and a Greek dance company from Chicago. The weather was amazing--it was around 80 degrees as the sun went down and the moon came up over the stage. Yes, they do have food at Greek festivals, so I had some Saganaki (flamed cheese) for a starter, and then had a plate of lamb and rice for dinner, and some loukomades (fried balls of dough covered in honey and cinnamon) for dessert. Opa! I took some pictures with my phone; I'll upload them and post them if they're any good.

On Sunday morning, I went to El Encanto Mexican Restaurant in Cave Creek. Cave Creek is a town in the foothills north of Scottsdale that really plays up the cowboy town thing. If you look on the rental car map it looks like it's just a bit of a drive north, but you really do drive a while. That's OK, once you get past the Scottsdale sprawl the scenery is beautiful, as the desert foothills start rising.

El Encanto reminds me a bit of Fidel's in Solana Beach, California. It's a large, restaurant with a big outdoor patio surrounding a duck pond, and a lot of people make the drive on Sunday morning for brunch. The parking lot is large enough that I had no trouble parking. There was a wait for a table, but since I was alone and didn't want to wait the extra time for an outside table, I ate at the bar. The margarita was pretty good. For lunch I had a chile relleno lunch plate, which I think was $6.75 or something--very reasonable. In AZ/NM when you order a chile relleno it's a bit different than the California version I'm used to--the batter is a lot thicker and fluffier, which I prefer. I liked the food a lot, good atmosphere, I'd go back.

After lunch I visited the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. It's not a huge museum, and had mostly traveling and temporary exhibitions. I like the building a lot. It's not an over-the-top "statement" like a Gehry building or something, and fits into its context very well. I guess it was adapted from a cineplex, and the scale of the exhibition rooms reflect that. The Byron Kim exhibition was cool, as was the Border Film Project. After the soul-deadening experience of walking through the art gallery district, it was good to see work that had something behind it. If you do go, make sure you go down the little garden path by the entrance, which leads to the Knight Rise installation. I would have liked to have been there at sunset. Sunset was as I flew out, and it was one of the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen--the sky was blood red.

Flying Fish and Twenty-Five for $25

This month is another Twenty-Five for $25 deal, where 25 restuarants offer a 3-course meal for $25 Sunday through Thursday, all month except Thanksgiving. Some of them offer a 3-course lunch for $12.50--a great deal. I decided to take last Wednesday off, so after the kids went off to school we took the ferry over to Seattle, and went to lunch at Flying Fish in Belltown. Flying Fish isn't a typical seafood restaurant--it's more of a bistro that serves a lot of seafood. It's got an industrial-y glass front, with an interior of concrete floors, open beams, and a mix of bright colors.

We both started with the smoked salmon cake. It's not like a crab cake adapted to salmon, but rather a patty of smoked salmon, dill, and scallions, pan-fried. It was juicy and good. It was served on a bit of fennel salad.

For a main course I had wok-blackened marlin served with a "risotto cake", wasabi cream, and baby bok choy. It was quite good. Debbie had tamarind-glazed tofu, served with a bunch of vegetables. It wasn't bad, but I wouldn't order it again.

For dessert I had a peanut butter-chocolate concoction which consisted of peanut butter cream or mousse with a layer of chocolate on top (like a ganache but harder, not sure what you call that). This dessert was great. Don't order it if you like huge desserts, because it's quite small, but rich. The chocolate and peanut butter mixed together to make a nice contrast of texture and flavor, like what you wished a Reese's was like. Debbie had the warm grappa-glazed chocolate brownie, which was good also.

A couple of people on the NWSource website didn't like the food. They also thought the $12.50 lunch had excessively small portions, but I have no idea what they're talking about. It wasn't huge pile of food, but it was certainly enough for me. I liked all of it, and the service was good. If you're expecting a "traditional fish house" go somewhere else, but if you want a moderately priced and interesting lunch, I'd try the one at Flying Fish this month.