Thursday, September 23, 2010

Restaurant Week: Blanco

Our tour goes a little Mexican today as we discuss the food and drinks at Blanco.  The concept for this restaurant is clean, fresh Mexican fare and great tasting mixed drinks.  The bar is the centerpiece of the layout of this eatery.  The industrial glass garage doors let lots of light in during the day, contributing to the fresh, clean vibe. 

They were running a special the day we visited including 2 margaritas and 2 "appetizer" entrees for $25.  We bit.  Drew had the margaritas and said they were pretty good.  We settled on the braised short rib and avocado cheese crisp and the nachos con queso blanco.  The braised short ribs on the cheese crisp (much like a quesadilla, but better) were phenomenal in the flavor department.  They were just the right texture and combined very nicely with the avocado and generous sprinkling of cilantro.  It was so good, we almost forgot to take a picture.  The nachos were nothing really special and left us wishing we had ordered another option of cheese crisp (the chipotle shrimp and corn sounds really good). 

We stopped in for lunch and were surprised by very large portions!  Very great lunch spot, but we will have to go back for dinner sometime.  The Restaurant Week menu looks amazing!

Pizza with panache

So, I have mentioned a local recreational cooking school around here via my Baking Course posts (I promise, I have more of them!), but I have not mentioned some of their one-off classes which are phenomenal.  I have attended the fresh pasta workshop and the fresh pizza workshop.  Most recently, I had the pleasure of taking my foodie friend Tara with me for the pizza workshop.  The teacher, Julie, is an authentic Italian chef with quite the credentials.  But it is her lifetime of experience the students benefit from most in these classes.  She is a wealth of knowledge and is ready and willing to answer all the questions we have. 

I have been wondering for a long time why pizza recipes call for corn meal for dusting.  I learned at the class that the cornmeal acts as "little wheels" to help the prepared pizza dough to transfer from the pizza peel to the the hot stone in the oven.  Genius!

On the menu for the class were:
Fresh Pizza Dough
Pizzas: Margherita, Quattro Stagioni ("Four Seasons"), Smoked Salmon w/ Goat Cheese; and Carmelized Onion, Mushroom and Fontina
Calzones: Four Cheese and other creations of the imaginations of the students
Flatbread from the Grill

Needless to say, we ate well that night as we learned a lot about traditional Italian pizza and were encouraged to get in the kitchen to make our own combinations.  Julie teaches the foundations of food, leaving lots of room for variation and playfulness.  My favorite combination of the night was the Carmelized Onion, Mushroom, and Fontina.The class is interactive and is a great way to meet new friends interested in food (as we did!).    As for pictures, Tara's talented techie husband helped us out by creating a link to the pictures from the class.  Thanks, Spencer!

The best part of the evening was the opportunity to take some fresh dough home to make pizza for our families.  Tara and I jumped at the chance and Drew was thankful!  The next night, while I did some things around the house, I sent Drew to the store to come up with his own toppings for our pizza.  He did great, bringing back fresh mozzarella and pancetta.  I threw some marinara down, added these toppings and some very thinly sliced red onions and we were set!  The results were amazing (that's it pictured above).  We are going to be having pizza regularly around here, I think!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Restaurant Week: Culinary Dropout

Apparently one of the places to see and be seen in Scottsdale on a Saturday night or Sunday morning is Culinary Dropout (evidenced by the high number of groups of people asking the staff to take pictures of them, maybe the paparazzi had the night off).  Drew found this restaurant through some online research and it sounded interesting to him.  The concept: laid back vibe, no uniforms, comfort food.  The resulting experience: a place that says it doesn't want to be fussy, but ends up being a fussy type place for hipsters to hang.  Don't get me wrong, it was just right, just not the "underground, subversive, aren't we so different" place one might think. 

We started with an order of house made potato chips with onion dip, some olives, and prosciutto.  The chips are wonderful, but the dip tastes more like a ranch dip than onion dip.  The olives and prosciutto are part of their "make your own meat and cheese platter" antipasti menu and I love this concept!  They could not have picked two greater suckers for this, we could have eaten solely from this part of the menu. 

I ordered the artichoke salad with asparagus, endive, and Parmesan.  Let's just say this salad was divine!  I love a good salad and crave them quite often.  The downside to ordering this salad is that I have a new crave-able salad and no way to get it when the craving strikes!  The vinaigrette on this salad makes it out of this world, but they could leave a little off because the salad gets a little soggy after it sits for a little while.  Drew ordered the pork belly Cubano sandwich and was very pleased with the results.  He didn't find the pork belly as salty as he was expecting. 

For dessert, our server brought out their salted caramel custard, my new favorite.  I haven't stopped thinking about this dessert since I had it.  The dessert comes topped with house made caramel popcorn - wow!  The caramel topping is the perfectly prepared caramel sauce, salted and just the right thickness.  And the custard itself - sublime, creamy, not at all eggy.  Oh, I need some more of that, stat! 

You too can enjoy one of the carmel custards as part of Culinary Dropout's Restaurant Week menu.  They have a 3 course meal for $58/couple including a glass of wine each.  Sound's like the perfect date night to me!  It's a great way to check out Phoenix magazine's Best New Restaurant for 2010.

Note: sorry there are no pictures to ogle.  The Dropout's outdoor lighting was less than perfect for photo-taking.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Restaurant Week: Bourbon Steak

Next on the list of the taste tour that is Phoenix is Bourbon Steak.  The Michael Mina steakhouse is located on the property of the Fairmont Scottsdale.  We have seen other Mina restaurants while travelling, but we could not pass up the bar menu burgers and duck fat fries (voted best in the valley). 

We are early diners (made painfully obvious by the fact that we arrived at the restaurant before the kitchen was open), so we pretty much had the place to ourselves for most of our visit.  We were in good company though with the bar staff of Kyle and Mike.  All of the bar menu drinks are made with fresh squeezed juices and are expertly made with care by the friendly bartenders.  I ordered a Lemon Drop that tasted like a glass of ice cold lemonade and Drew had a Dark and Stormy upon Kyle's recommendation.  The rum drink is popular at the bar (and must be made with exceptional ingredients because Drew's attempt to recreate it at home this evening was less than successful).

We chatted with Kyle and Mike while waiting for the food to arrive and were rewarded for our wait with the most exceptional appetizers EVER!  I have heard about duck fat fries for a while and I was ready to experience them first hand.  These were amazingly crispy and flavorful.  Each order of fries comes in three different flavors with three dipping sauces.  The first is flavored with paprika, the second truffle oil (the ladies love truffles), and the third rosemary and other herbs.  I can't remember the dipping sauce combinations because, honestly, the fries don't need them - they speak for themselves just fine.  We also ordered red onion rings that were perfectly prepared and elegantly presented. 

Then the burgers.  I ordered the Salmon burger done banh mi style (carrots, cilantro, jalapenos, lettuce) - oh so good!  Drew had a make your own creation beef burger with jalapenos, mustard, and grilled onions.  We didn't really discuss the food much because we were too busy eating!  Other options on the bar menu look great too!  Next time I might jump out there and try Mina's lamb burger. 

If you are still planning on booking a flight to Phoenix, definitely stop in to Bourbon Steak during restaurant week because they are featuring a $39.00 prix fixe menu that looks fabulous.  Wish we could head back to Phoenix just to try it!  I hear that while you are waiting for your food they give the duck fat fries out for free!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Restaurant Week: Z'Tejas

Sad news met us when we got to Phoenix last week:  we were a week too early for Restaurant Week.  As some of you may know, we travel for the express purpose of filling our bellies with good food.  Often we are restaurant-starved in the desert and so each new city brings on new culinary adventures.   Phoenix is no exception.  Everywhere we went while we were in Phoenix, we met someone who suggested the place we had to go to get...Mexican food, breakfast food, pasta ("better than in Italy," one man added), etc.  It seems there is no shortage of beloved eateries in the greater Phoenix area.   Although we were there too early this year, you still have time to book a flight because all this week I am going to be reviewing the places we enjoyed.   I am not a travel agent, but I can plan an amazing vacation for your tastebuds!

First stop is Z'Tejas.  This is a must stop location for us when passing through Phoenix.  It is a restaurant with locations in Texas, Arizona, and California, but the Scottsdale location wins hands down on the quality of food and the friendliness of the servers.  The food is always exceptional and the margaritas were voted by the locals the best in the valley.  

We started with a Trio of Salsas (house, spicy, and green) and some guacamole; a great way to start the meal.  Also included with all orders is a skillet of cornbread that does the Texas tradition proud (with a hint of sweet).   Drew also started off with the 6th Street Margarita (their house) because he says it is one of the best restaurant margaritas out there (more on the liquor part of our Phoenix trip here). 

Our meals were the Smoked Chicken Enchiladas and the Seafood Enchiladas.  As always the Smoked Chicken Enchiladas were great!  I call them Texas on a plate.  The seafood enchiladas, while good, just don't do it for me, but Drew liked them.  I would recommend the Barbacoa Enchiladas, but I hear the Chile Relleno is amazing.  It is so hard to try something new at a restaurant when you only get to eat there once a year! (Sorry for the blurry pictures, they were taken on Drew's cell phone and I spared you from the truly horribly blurry ones!)

Don't forget to save a little room for dessert because the cobbler with seasonal fruit is amazing!  Also on the list of must-haves is the brownie - it is sublime (for a brownie).

If you are heading out to Phoenix for restaurant week, you won't find Z'Tejas listed among the participants.  This is likely because they have great food at affordable prices everyday and they have one of the best happy hours in the valley.  Even if you stop in for appetizers, drinks, and dessert, you won't be disappointed.