Tag Archives: cuisine

Food, Wine and Art: Sonoma Showcase Festival

Food, Wine And Art: Sonoma Showcase Festival

Two days full of wine, art, food and jazz await you at the Sonoma Showcase Festival. Vistancia is hosting the festival Saturday, Nov. 20 and Sunday, Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The fun kicks off Saturday with a performance by jazz star Scott Cossu. Other Jazz musicians playing throughout the weekend are Marc Antonie, Eric Darius, Dulce Vas, Sans Moi, Johnny Rawls, Sillan & Young, Euge Groove, and Nicole Pesce.

While listening to smooth jazz you can sample smooth wines. Wineries from all over the Sonoma area will be hosting wine tastings. Along with sampling the wine, you can chat with the winemakers themselves! They will be on hand if you have any questions about the wine, or how it is produced. If you find that a certain wine tickles your taste buds, you can purchase it right on the spot!

Wine isn’t the only highlight of this festival; several local, celebrity and Sonoma-based chefs will show off their delectable cuisine.

Duskie Estes, a competitor from the Food Network’s The Next Food Network Challenge will be there along with Scott Tompkins and Eddie Matney. They will each be giving a presentation and demonstration on how to prepare their signature dishes.

Finally, if wonderful food, music, and wine isn’t enough, more than 100 vendors will be present, selling everything from wine accessories, to jewelry, to kitchen cutlery, to in-home spa treatments. You will definitely be able to find something that sparks your interest.

    If You Go:
    General admission tickets are $27.50 per day or $49.50 for the weekend.
    General admission and wine tasting is $49.50 each day or $88 for the weekend.
    Vistancia is located north of Happy Valley Road and west of Lake Pleasant Parkway in Peoria, Ariz.
    www.sonomashowcasefestival.com

Orange Sky At Talking Stick Resort - AZ Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

The Cuisine And Atmosphere At Orange Sky At Talking Stick Resort Make For A Perfect Pairing

Orange Sky at the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale serves up class from the time you enter the restaurant, all the way to the dessert course. Guests board an elevator and are whisked to the 15th floor, where city and mountain views greet diners. The hostess escorted us down a long corridor, past private rooms that looked ready to host lively dinner parties, to our table, which was the definition of elegance. A high-backed couch separated us from the hallway, adding a feeling of privacy.

Our, not one, but two servers made us feel as if we were the only four people in the restaurant. For appetizers, we feasted on the roasted local beet salad and the overflowing antipasti plate. The rich color of the roasted beet salad, complete with black mesa ranch goat cheese, truffle oil, white balsamic and local greens, mirrored the rich flavor of the beets, but it was still sweet and light enough to be a perfect summer treat. The antipasti plate was as packed as possible with duck confit, prosciutto, eggplant caponata and grilled ciabata bread. It could have fed an entire table of hungry diners.

As soon as dinner was served, we could not wait to indulge in the rich spread. The shrimp and scallop steaks, wrapped in jalapeno bacon, lived up to their names. There was nothing small about either. The twin tournedos of char-grilled filet of beef were as appetizing as they looked. The walnut-shallot crusted, roasted half rack of lamb was the favorite. The juiciness of the lamb next to the sweetness of the crust made me, previously a lamb neophyte, a convert.

If the lamb was the star of the evening, the sides comprised a formidable supporting cast. The bowl of smoked, cheddar-whipped Yukon potatoes was an airy, golden masterpiece. The roasted sweet carrots tasted as amazing as their deep orange color looked on the plate. As we continued our trip around the culinary color wheel, we sampled the steamed asparagus. Its crunch made a wonderful contrast to the softer textures of the potatoes and the carrots.

As dessert approached I didn’t know if I could go the distance. But then our server showed us the selection and we ordered three. After a rich meal of lamb, beef, carrots and whipped potatoes, nothing tastes as refreshing as the warm, lemon semolina cake with raspberries and blueberries. If you’re a chocolate lover, you will find nirvana in the chocolate mousse, layered with an orange liqueur-soaked cake and ganache on a thin chocolate cookie.

As we finished our desserts, we watched the sun set over the Camelback Mountains and cast an orangey-red glow over the Valley. We made our way onto the patio just as the orange sky gave way to city lights. Like our secluded table, the patio and the large dining room also offer panoramic views, but with a more vibrant, animated atmosphere. The fantastic views, the cuisine and the elegant ambience will keep you coming back to Orange Sky.

If You Go:
Orange Sky
9800 E. Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale
480-850-7777
www.talkingstickresort.com

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Downtown Phoenix After Dark - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

Great Cuisine Helps Lure People To Downtown Phoenix After Dark

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. As recently as five years ago, Downtown Phoenix was practically deserted in the evenings. It was a place people came to during the day to work, but left as soon as 5 p.m. hit. Now, Downtown Phoenix has finally become a destination for concerts, sporting events and a happening nightlife. Much of its new found popularity is attributed to the innovative restaurants that have begun springing up, drawing in customers before and after events.

“The Downtown Phoenix cuisine is becoming a center of good food, farm-to-table concepts, and a variety of locally owned restaurants,” says Douglas MacKenzie, director of communications for the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau. “From before a game or concert to late-night dining, the culinary scene is eye-catching and mouth-watering.”

Indeed, most of the restaurants open downtown can’t be found anywhere else. Cheuvront Restaurant & Wine Bar has been open since 2003, so owner Ken Cheuvront has witnessed the downtown makeover firsthand.

Cheuvront says the restaurant attracts most of its customers from the arts community, especially those who attend the opera, the symphony and the theater. Five years ago, he started advertising in playbills and giving to arts organizations.

“Now that more and more people are coming downtown for their entertainment needs, we see people before or after their events,” he says. “Our demographic is 35 and up, but we think of ourselves as hip.”

District American Kitchen, the full-service restaurant inside the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, draws in theater patrons before and after shows with its live weekend entertainment.

“Theater people come to dinner before the show, then come back after for jazz music on Saturday nights,” says general manager Heinrich Stasiuk.

He says the restaurant also appeals to theater patrons because it intentionally offers dinner items that can be prepared quickly without sacrificing quality, since diners often have time constraints.

Jonathan Cullen, general manager of Kincaid’s Fish Chop & Steakhouse, says his restaurant sometimes offer discounts to those who attend the symphony.
Downtown restaurants also benefit from First Friday, the art walk that takes place on the first Friday of each month.
“First Friday is huge for us,” Cheuvront says. “Those are our biggest nights of the month. That’s a huge benefit to us.”
While the arts certainly bring a lot of people to Downtown Phoenix, so do other big events, especially professional sports games. With the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks playing right next door to each other, sports fans are constantly moving through the downtown area — and of course they’re hungry.

The Phoenix Convention Center houses what Executive Chef Jesus Cibrian dubs an “upgraded food court” called Metro Marche. It incorporates various stations serving several kinds of food from Asian to American, and it’s open to the public, not just convention attendees. Although most days only two or three stations are open for lunch, Cibrian says if there’s an event taking place, they open more and extend the hours.

“We are what the guests want us to be,” he adds. “We are a chameleon.”

Not only does the convention center provide great food for the community, it provides the community with more business. Since the expansion, the convention center has drawn large numbers of convention-goers to the downtown area and to area restaurants.

“We always contact the heads of the conventions in town,” Cullen notes. By doing so, he says he attracts many convention attendees.

Another recent addition to the flourishing downtown area is Arizona State University’s newest campus. Thousands of young adults travel downtown to take classes, and many of them live there, as well. Many nearby restaurants, particularly Pasta Bar, which is only a block away from the campus, regularly see students as customers.

Even those pricier restaurants with a bigger focus on happy hours benefit from the younger demographic.

“We have a lot of employees from ASU,” Cullen says, even though most students can’t afford to dine at Kincaid’s.

Of course, a lot of downtown dining business still comes from those 9-to-5 professionals. Johnny Chu, owner of the Asian tapas and sake restaurant, Sens, says most of his customers are businesspeople on their lunch breaks or stopping by after work.

One of the biggest changes to the downtown landscape in recent years has been the addition of the light rail, which opened in late 2008. Although it was a nuisance during construction, restaurant owners agree it has ultimately brought more people and business to Downtown Phoenix.

“We were down to 30 percent of our sales” during light rail construction, Cheuvront acknowledges. “People couldn’t even get into our parking lot. But it went back up. Last year was the best year we’ve ever had.”

Chu agrees that the light rail brings more business downtown.

“On the weekends, most of our customers take it in from Tempe or Mesa, so they can avoid a DUI on the way home,” he says.

Wade Moises, owner of Pasta Bar, sees a similar trend.

“A lot of our regulars take the light rail,” he says. “They tend to take it downtown and come here for an inexpensive night on the town.”

So with some help from the new and improved dining scene, Downtown Phoenix has become one of the hottest destinations in the Valley.

“Downtown Phoenix is a little different than downtown in other cities,” says Cullen, who has watched the evolution since Kincaid’s opened 10 years ago.

“We’re in the beginning, growing stages of it. We’re finally starting to see downtown develop into what it’s going to become. It’s been good to see it happen. Everything is moving in the right direction.”

www.cheuvronts.com | www.districtrestaurant.com | www.kincaids.com | phoenix.gov/phxpccd.html | sensake.com | www.pastabaraz.com

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010

foreground desert tray with coffee press and cup out of focus in background

Regions Bistro & Bar Highlights Recipes From Around The Country

With a brand new location in Scottsdale, Regions Bistro & Bar is serving American comfort food in style. In fact, it’s serving the type of homestyle cooking that would make Mom proud. Every month, one page in the menu changes to represent food from a different region (get it?) of the United States — from New England to the Pacific Northwest and everything in between.

Part of the menu remains constant, but this twist on cuisine and cocktails keeps things interesting and customers coming back each month. In case you don’t see your favorite region’s culinary dishes, the restaurant takes suggestions for future menus.

The ever-changing menu isn’t the only thing that hooks patrons. I was intrigued by the modern, sophisticated atmosphere from the moment I walked inside. Regions truly has something for everyone. The lounge, complete with a bar and televisions, is a great place for socializing and enjoying the happy hour specials. Meanwhile, intimate dinner seating, along with private dining areas, provide a cozier experience. The restaurant’s impressive happy hour specials with half-price drinks and small plates every day from 3-7 p.m., make it even more appealing.

The cocktails provide tasty enjoyment and amusement with creative names such as the Tree Hugger, the Flirtini and the Face Lift.

After checking out the lounge, our party moved into the dining area and began to examine the menu. It does indeed feature traditional American comfort food, but we could tell it was going to be a step up from what we were used to. For appetizers, we decided to sample steamed Oregon mussels from the regular menu and fried green tomatoes and okra from the monthly regional menu, which featured Mississippi soul food. The mussels, which were steamed in pinot gris, garlic, shallots, butter and cream, were impressive even to those of us who had never tried them before.

Next, of course, were the salads. While the traditional Caesar salad and American chop salad were exquisite, the table favorite was the wilted baby spinach salad, complete with toasted almonds, couscous, feta cheese and, the star of the salad, bacon vinaigrette dressing. It was a unique flavor that gave a tangy punch to the taste buds.

Finally, it was time for the main course. The overwhelming favorite was, not surprisingly, the epitome of comfort food: mac and cheese. But this was no Easy Mac. The pasta was mixed in a creamy sauce and topped with lump crab and more cheese, creating the most grown-up, sophisticated mac and cheese any of us had ever tasted. If crab isn’t your thing, it can also be prepared with shrimp or chicken, and no matter what, it’s sure to be a winner.
A close second for our table was the grilled wild Alaskan king salmon with corn relish and lemon butter sauce. It was perfectly grilled, tender and full of delicious flavor.

Although it was difficult to imagine being able to eat anything else, we knew we couldn’t leave without sampling dessert. After much discussion, we decided on three desserts: fresh fruit creme brulee, New World trifle and the regional dessert of the month, Mississippi mud pie. All three were absolute perfection and we left the restaurant feeling satisfied.

So the next time you’re craving some good old-fashioned comfort food, consider feasting on American comfort food with a twist. No matter how many times you visit Regions Bistro & Bar, there will always be something new to try!

If You Go:
Regions Bistro & Bar
9343 E. Shea Blvd., Suite 100, Scottsdale
480-657-2600
www.regionsbistro.com

Old favorite Steamers has new owners and some new tricks

It’s always fun to visit a new restaurant, but every once in a while it’s just as entertaining to revisit an old favorite — especially one that’s just received a revitalizing jolt in the arm. So is the case with Steamers.

A long-time occupant of the upper level of the Biltmore Fashion Park, Steamers is now under new ownership. Doug Czufin and Bruce Lazarus, who also own the adjacent restaurant Sam’s Café, acquired Steamers late last year and set about changing the menu and freshening the décor.

Change is good, but not if it alienates customers. Fortunately, Steamers should have no problem keeping old customers while still attracting new ones. The Steamers dining room still has its yacht-clubby feel with dark woods and brass accents. The biggest change to the décor can be seen in the bar area, which now has a more modern and streamlined look to appeal to the happy hour crowd of professionals from nearby office complexes.

Another change is the food. Czufin, who also serves as corporate chef, has infused Steamers’ traditional seafood fare with lighter options. One of those new options Steamers is promoting are the lobster lettuce cups, a crispy leaf of lettuce filled with lobster meat, avocado and vegetable slaw. They can be purchased as a lunch menu item or as a dinner appetizer. Other delicious appetizers to choose from include a tuna tartar stack made with yellow fin tuna tossed in a ginger soy sauce and stacked with tomatoes, wasabi guacamole and tossed greens; and the jumbo crab cake concocted from Maryland-style and sweet jumbo crabmeat, baked and served with crème fraiche.

For dinner, you can pick traditional seafood dishes served in new ways. For example, the Chilean sea bass is steamed and topped with a ginger-soy sauce, and it sits on a bed of fresh spinach and white, sticky rice. Sole menuiere consists of a cut of sole lightly dusted, sautéed and placed atop a generous pool of lemon-caper butter sauce.

Some dishes are better left alone, and Steamers knows when to do that too. The restaurant offers a selection of crab legs, but the best bang for your buck — both quantitatively and qualitatively — are the ruby red jumbo Alaska king crab legs. Big, meaty and tasty, I tried not to think about what monster-sized crabs the legs came from.

Knowing that dessert is the crowning glory of any good meal, the new Steamers hasn’t skimped on the sweet treats. The must-haves include a chocolate s’more soufflé made with rich chocolate, a hint of Grand Marnier and served warm with a marshmallow crust; the thick and flavorful crème brûlée with fresh fruit; and the pleasingly sweet and tart Key Lime pie.

So if you haven’t gone to Steamers lately, plan a return visit. And if you’ve never gone to Steamers, make it a point to add it to your list of favorite restaurants.

If You Go:
Steamers (Out of Business)
2576 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
(602) 956-3631
www.steamersgenuineseafood.com

 

Arizona Business Magazine

February 2010

BLT Steak Offers Fine Food In A Classy, Yet Casual Setting

BLT — Oh, there’s bacon, lettuce and tomato alright, but not in the way you would expect. BLT Steak actually stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel, named after its famous chef and the master behind the magic of this great dining experience. As part of the BLT Restaurant Group, the Scottsdale location is one of many restaurant ventures with homes in cities from New York to Los Angeles, and even San Juan, Puerto Rico. One thing that remains constant at all the restaurants is Tourondel’s devotion to fine ingredients, with simply prepared cuisine served in a relaxed dining atmosphere.

BLT Steak is known for its signature modern American steakhouse menu that is supplemented by weekly blackboard specials. The restaurant recently celebrated its one-year anniversary at the renovated Camelback Inn and continues to impress guests with great dining in a casually elegant setting. Chef De Cuisine Marc Hennessy has created a blend of American fare with a French twist, also paying homage to the location with hints of Southwestern seasonings and flavors.

After much discussion, my dining companions and I finally ordered some appetizers. We opted for the crabcakes and tuna tartare — little did we know that this was only the beginning of course after course, bite after bite of delicious dining. The crabcake, complemented by remoulade and radish salad, tasted delicious. But our table was simply blown away by the tuna tartare. The tuna was served on a plate of ice — a detail that would ultimately seal the deal as the table favorite — resulting in a pleasant, chilled taste, packed with the flavors of avocado, soy-lime dressing and a whisper of wasabi. Divine. Did I mention this was only the beginning of our meal? Our knowledgeable and friendly server, Jeanie, also brought out a chicken liver pate with crunchy, toasted bread and a fine assortment of antipasto.

Next, we were surprised with some massive carbohydrate creations. Giant Gruyere-crusted popovers, coupled with butter and sea salt, were brought to our table. The sheer size of these concoctions was intimidating, but once you broke through that crispy layer and unearthed the airy, warm, soft bread center, all fears disappeared. I indulged in one whole popover, though I really did try to stop myself, knowing that a full meal awaited.

We rounded out our starter selections with crispy field greens, flavorful roasted beets, and beefsteak tomatoes that impressed our table even further. What was next we wondered? The answer: more great-tasting food.

Sauteed dover sole, 8-oz filet, 14-oz New York Strip and braised short ribs were our entree selections. Just as the popovers had thrown us for a loop, so too did the entrees and the accompanying sides. We were lucky to sample a true assortment, everything from potato gratin and grilled asparagus to stuffed mushroom caps. We certainly got our daily dose of vegetables, even if some were served with bacon, as was the case with the brussels sprouts. As one of my dining companions noted, “the only way to do brussels sprouts is with bacon.” I can’t argue that one. But bacon or no bacon, every dish left us wanting more — and wishing we had the room in our stomachs to accommodate it.

The fish was buttery and light, simply melting in your mouth with each bite. Of course, we had to sample some signature steaks at a restaurant with the entree in its moniker, and we weren’t disappointed. The New York Strip had a zesty tang thanks to a peppercorn sauce. The filet’s medium-well cooked flavors were complemented by my choice of red wine sauce (FYI there’s myriad sauces to choose from), and the braised short ribs also were well received.

Alas, our meal was slowly coming to an end. Despite the fact that not one of us thought we could muster another bite, we simply couldn’t leave without having dessert. Our commitment to the full dining experience was rewarded by the three desserts we selected: a warm chocolate tart, a peanut butter chocolate mousse and a blueberry-lemon meringue pie. The tart was incredibly rich, but was paired well with the coolness of a dollop of pistachio ice cream. The peanut butter chocolate mousse, served with banana ice cream, was an interesting mix with a great balance of flavors. And last, but certainly not least, I surprised myself with my personal favorite of the night. Normally, anything chocolate wins in my book, but the fresh fruit flavors of the pie and the tartness of the lemon sorbet were a perfect ending to a meal fit for a king. For a truly satisfying meal, excellent service and an overall pleasant dining experience, BLT Steak doesn’t disappoint.

If You Go:
BLT Steak Scottsdale
At Camelback Inn, A JW Marriott Resort & Spa
5402 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale
(480) 905-7979
www.bltscottsdale.com

Arizona Business Magazine

January 2010

BRIO Italian Restaurant Interior Scottsdale, Arizona

BRIO’s Italian Cuisine Livens Up The Palate

For a taste of l’Italia, immerse yourself in the soothing ambience, hearty portions and tantalizing pasta sauces at BRIO, Scottsdale’s latest Italian enterprise. With locations throughout the United States, BRIO’s newest home in the Valley can be found in the shopping, dining and entertainment destination called the Scottsdale Quarter.

There’s nothing like a good Italian meal, and along with the rich menu, the Old World Tuscan decor and exhibition kitchen, BRIO offers a warm, casual atmosphere to enjoy your meal. It also lived up to its name by offering vigorous and vivacious taste combinations.

The first stop on our Italian experience was the bruschetta quattro, a tantalizing selection of homemade bruschetta with ingredients ranging from roasted red pepper and fresh mozzarella to a divine shrimp choice topped with lobster sherry sauce, Fontina cheese and charred tomato cilantro relish. Next, the spicy shrimp and eggplant drowning in a black pepper cream sauce had just the right amount of kick to wake up the taste buds.

We then sampled several salad selections, including the chopped salad and the Caesar salad. The table’s favorite turned out to be the simplest one, skipping fancy elements in favor of fresh field greens with Gorgonzola, pine nuts, tomato and a dash of balsamic dressing.

Then it was time for the main course, and BRIO did not disappoint. We selected several menu items in order to try to get as much variety as possible: penne Mediterranean, Gorgonzola-crusted bistecca, chicken scallopini and the lasagna Bolognese al forno. We expected large portions, but were we in for a surprise. The lasagna was served on such a large plate that both hands were needed to hold it up. The enormous dish of oven-baked pasta with layers of Bolognese meat sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses was enough to feed a family of four. The steak, or bistecca, was tender and moist, and the penne truly had me thinking I was in Sicily enjoying the fresh pasta at a ristorante along the sea.

Of course, we couldn’t leave BRIO without satisfying our sweet tooth with some dessert. We opted for the dolcino sampler, an eclectic mix of sweet delights served in espresso cups known as dolcinos. The sampler included three types of creme brulee and they were downright delicious. Tiramisu, chocolate cake, key lime pie and strawberry panna cotta were among the other delectables, and the delicate portions let you savor the flavors without overindulging.

From the laid-back ambience to the generous portions and polite service, BRIO is sure to win over yet another city. Perfetto!

    If You Go:
    BRIO
    Scottsdale Quarter: 15301 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
    480-607-1100
    www.brioitalian.com
Prime Bone In Ribeye

J&G Steakhouse Makes The Former Mary Elaine’s Location Its Own

Over the past two years, the dining scene at the Valley’s top resorts has undergone an extreme makeover. The most high profile of those makeovers took place at The Phoenician, where that staid first lady of dining for 20 years, Mary Elaine’s, was shuttered last year. Now occupying the spot where Mary Elaine’s once stood is the far trendier and far less formal J&G Steakhouse.

Gone are the high-backed chairs and linen tablecloths. In are butcher-block tables and modern designs. Out is French cuisine; in is a new take on steak and seafood. But one thing has remained the same — those fabulous views Mary Elaine’s was so famous for.

The restaurant’s interior is swathed in purple and gold, a palette the establishment’s owners say was inspired by steak and wine. A tempesta onyx wraparound bar welcomes patrons as they head into the main dining room. There are also two private dining areas and the terrace has oval banquettes and fire pits.

J&G Steakhouse, which opened in December, is the creation of Michelin-starred chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He has developed a menu in which the classic fare of a big city steakhouse is re-imagined with a modern twist.

After getting over the initial wonder of how the space that had once housed Mary Elaine’s has been transformed, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of food on J&G Steakhouse’s menu. For a steakhouse, it has a generous selection of seafood.

Our dining party started the meal with J&G’s specialty cocktails. While most of the drinks were variations of more familiar libations, such as a grapefruit gimlet, others were of the kind I thought went out with the Rat Pack. Case in point is the Sazerac, made with 100-proof Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Pernod Absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters and Angostura bitters. You don’t want anyone lighting a match around this drink.

The appetizers were an unexpected treat. Many restaurants fail to find a balance with their appetizers; they are either afterthoughts or so good they overshadow the main menu. At J&G, the appetizers are inventive and tasty. The restaurant succeeds in not overwhelming the main courses by keeping portions small. Of the four appetizers we chose, every one was a winner. Special mention goes out to the savory French onion soup, the rich sweet corn ravioli in basil butter and the salmon tartar, served diced with warm garlic toast and mustard oil.

With so much good seafood on the menu, we couldn’t resist splitting our orders into two meat dishes and two fish entrees. First up was the 8-ounce filet mignon, which, good thing for a steakhouse, did not disappoint. The milk-fed veal porterhouse was also a treat. Normally, I won’t eat veal because I don’t like the taste, but J&G’s rendition of the cut may make me a convert. The first fish entrée was a roasted striped bass encrusted with chilies, herbs and lime.But the true star of our evening at J&G was the sautéed Dover sole grenobloise. Carved tableside, the sole was light and flavorful, and was a wonderful alternative to the meat dishes.

Like many steakhouses, J&G is a la carte, so if you want side dishes you have to order them separately. The sides at J&G are pretty straightforward fare, but they don’t take a backseat to the entrees. Of particular note were the roasted mushrooms with herbs — if you have a large party, make sure to double your order.

AJ’s Fine Foods Best of the Best 2009 presented by Ranking Arizona

Best of the Best Awards 2009: Entertainment

Entertainment Honoree: Wine Specialty Shops

AJ’s Fine Foods

AJ's Fine Foods - Best of the Best Awards 2009 presented by Ranking Arizona

Photograph by Duane Darling

AJ’s Fine Foods provides an unparalleled shopping experience that delights the senses. As Arizona’s leading gourmet and specialty store, AJ’s offers the highest level of customer service and attention to detail. AJ’s Cellar Masters are on hand in every location to recommend new varietal experiences and to suggest the perfect wine to pair with a steak or fish dinner. Every year during the Summer Wine Spectacular, Cellar Masters personally taste, evaluate and rank more than 200 wines from around the world to bring only the best to AJ’s.

Owned and operated by Bashas’ Family of Stores, AJ’s operates 14 stores in Arizona. AJ’s has been voted Best Place to Work by its members three years in a row. For more information, visit www.ajsfinefoods.com.

22402 S. Basha Road, Chandler
480-895-9350
www.ajsfinefoods.com

Year Est: 1985 
Wine Tasting: At Desig. Locations
Principal(s): Bashas’ Family of Stores


Entertainment Finalist: Restaurants: Southwest/Eclectic

LON’s at the Hermosa

Built in the 1930s by cowboy artist Lon Megargee, LON’S at the Hermosa has a rich history and melds artful American cuisine and spectacular views to create a truly unique dining experience. LON’s diners can enjoy awardwinning, artful American cuisine on a romantic patio or by one of the glowing fireplaces. In addition to the warm ambience, LON’s is the proud recipient of the AAA Four-Diamond award. The menu at LON’s offers a memorable culinary experience, which captures spirit, creativity and warmth using bold flavors and compelling combinations that reflect a contemporary take on a multitude of foods originating in the Western Hemisphere.

5532 N. Palo Cristi Road, Paradise Valley
602-955-7878
www.lons.com


Entertainment Finalist: Restaurants: International

T. Cook’s at Royal Palms

Under the direction of Executive Chef Lee Hillson, Royal Palms Resort and Spa features the awardwinning T. Cook’s restaurant — serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Located in the original 1929 mansion of the Royal Palms, it creates a residential dining experience that’s comfortable yet elegant. Enveloped by palm trees, citrus, flowers and fountains, T. Cook’s is a true oasis in the desert. Receiving the highest ratings from both national food critics and locals for its select seasonal dishes, the menus feature a wide variety of creative dishes from the Mediterranean and exotic surrounding regions.

5200 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
602-808-0766
www.royalpalmsresortandspa.com


Best of the Best Awards 2009 presented by Ranking Arizona

sushi platter

Sushi Roku Blends Trendy With Traditional For A New Dining Experience

At the heart of the new W Scottsdale, Sushi Roku is taking the dining world by storm. With various locations in the Los Angeles area, as well as one in Las Vegas, this contemporary twist on Japanese cuisine has arrived to make its mark on Arizona territory.

The architecture and decor are a sleek combination of modern design and traditional Japanese accents. The bar area is comprised of concrete and a large, natural tree-root that sits at its base. Dark wood floors, an elliptical sushi bar flanking the dining area, and a dim, candle-lit atmosphere lure you in. No, this is no ordinary sushi place, but rather a total dining experience.

Sushi Roku dishUpon entering the restaurant, staff members enthusiastically greet diners, yelling out “Irasshai!” This warm Japanese welcome was the beginning of the flavorful journey that we were about to embark on. We began the evening with some traditional starters, including edamame, as well as a unique offshoot of the well-known favorite, edamame hummus, served with vegetable wonton chips. The edamame were warm, crisp and salty — just the way I like them. The hummus was also a hit, complemented by the flavor-packed chips. The standout from the appetizers was definitely the Kobe beef skewers. The tender, moist beef was offset by a punch of spice that woke up the taste buds.

Dining in a restaurant with sushi as part of its namesake made our dinner selection a no-brainer. We began with a natural choice for sushi lovers: the oldie but goody, California roll. After sampling a wide array, including caterpillar, softshell crab and salmon sashimi, we were still hungry for more. We decided on the katana roll, and the signature dish was well received; a combination of tuna, yellowtail, spicy tuna and shrimp tempura, it had just the right amount of zest to please. But the pièce de résistance of the sushi selections was the baked lobster roll. Covered in a creamy miso sauce, the roll had a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth taste that was a perfect balance of flavors — not too spicy, not too bland, but just right. Side tempura dishes of eggplant, sweet potato and carrot made eating vegetables a pleasure rather than a chore. Sure they may have been deep fried, but it still counts in my book.

No meal is complete without dessert and to my delight, it didn’t disappoint. Though we enjoyed the frangelico creme brulee, there was a clear winner in my eyes. A chocolate lover at heart, the lava cake was the perfect ending to a satisfying meal.

Sushi Roku can be described as part trendy sushi bar, part elegant dining excursion. All in all, Sushi Roku is a fusion of great tasting Japanese cuisine, sleek design and a hip presentation of meals. As the staff pleasantly says when you leave, “Arigatou!” Thank you! And we will indeed come again.

If you go:
7277 E. Camelback Rd.
Scottsdale
480-870-2121
www.sushiroku.com

The multilevel Estate House offers elegant and cozy dining.

Estate House Provides An Evening Fit For The Upper Crust

With the sounds of trickling water and candlelight dancing across the tables, the Estate House in Scottsdale is as inviting as your own home. The multilevel restaurant includes a lounge, as well as indoor and outdoor dining, facing the beautiful Waterfront area of the Arizona Canal. Plants climb up the elegant columns, unique chandeliers exude soft lighting and whimsical wall embellishments make up the Euro-Sonoran décor. All these elements create a lovely backdrop for a relaxing meal.>

The contemporary French cuisine was complemented by soft jazz music, floating delicately throughout the restaurant, adding to the intimate ambience. Our evening began with a delicious amuse bouche, a chilled parsnip soup served in a shot glass and topped with a crunchy panchetta. The bread basket proved too good to pass up and selections such as blue cheese rolls and baguettes were warmly placed on our plates. It was hard to say no the second time the basket came around, but alas, some room had to be left for dinner. A delicious wine and cocktail list enticed the taste buds even further, including a crisp pear martini made from freshly pureed pears. Yet, with such a plentiful menu in front of us, simple water allowed us to savor the rich taste of the food itself.

With several ambrosial appetizers to choose from, our party decided on three starters with varied ingredients to please the palate. The wild mushroom robiola strudel was the hands-down favorite of the table, but the others were praised as well. Interesting elements in the dishes, such as a habanero tangerine mousse served with the chilled pomegranate duck breast, were found in each course. The tangy mousse was an unexpected flavor when biting into the duck, but proved to be a tasty addition.

Small surprise details were found throughout the meal, keeping your taste buds on their toes. Even if you don’t enjoy eating greens, the salads were very well-prepared and tasteful, with choices for the pickiest of eaters. The grilled marinated feta salad was a delicate mix of romaine hearts, lemon oregano marmalade and a touch of olive oil. The baby herb salad was also a favorite with a muscat vinaigrette dressing, and roasted walnuts and grapes that together make eating your veggies a fun and flavorful experience.

After all these courses, we realized that we hadn’t even had entrées yet! Luckily, our appetites were re-invigorated when we set our eyes on the delectable plates. The consensus among the table was that the shiraz molasses braised short rib was the most appetizing, yet the chef spared no expense when it came to the other dishes. The filet mignon was tender and juicy. Full of strong flavors of sun dried tomato and roasted garlic, the handmade tagliatelle was a great pasta dish. Butternut squash puree and garlic braccoli rabe complemented the entrees nicely, and rounded out the French feast. Conversation was hard to keep up with because the myriad of delectable foods kept our mouths full.

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, dessert menus were placed on the table. While freshening up with warm hand towels, we decided to sample several desserts. All the delicacies were regarded as perfect endings to the satisfying meal and declared “rich” and “delicious” between bites. One standout from the sweet treats was the gianduja raspberry torte, an exquisite mélange of chocolate and raspberry. A warm, hazelnut chocolate cake was served with a chilled shot of raspberry sorbet that was infused with a hint of mocha. Divine.

The wonderful presentation of the dishes and friendly service matched the understated elegance of the restaurant. Whatever the occasion may be, from a romantic rendezvous to a corporate event, Estate House is the perfect place to go.