Since Kirk is still really busy, and Cathy deserves a day off, Ed (from Yuma) has a post today that wraps up recent food adventures in Phoenix, Arizona. Hope you enjoy. Come back tomorrow for something completely different.
After an afternoon of enchantment and befuddlement at the Phoenix Art Museum, Tina and I were looking forward to a special meal to conclude our stay in Arizona's capital city. It was dark when we arrived at Tarbell's, located in a large strip mall at the southeast corner of 32nd and Camelback:
As soon as we were seated in a tasteful dining room with white linen clad tabletops, we were handed menus and a wine list. Slices of crunchy French baguette accompanied with a superb olive oil arrived quickly. Truly outstanding smooth, fresh and flavorful olive oil, as good as or better than any Tina and I can remember:
The wine list was very extensive – and for that matter very expensive, listing numerous bottles of French Burgundy and Bordeaux with prices of several hundred dollars apiece. The kinds of wines I’d choose after winning the lottery. Unfortunately I had not hit the Powerball jackpot, so I appreciated the range of less expensive choices, including the first page list of Tarbell's most popular wines. Our primary waitperson was great at going over the list and helping us select something that would match our menu selections without completely busting the budget. We ended up ordering a bottle of 2009 Prophet’s Rock Pinot Gris from the central Otago region of New Zealand:
Considering that I had never heard of this part of New Zealand, at around 45° south latitude at the southern end of the southern island of that nation, I was amazed at the quality of the wine. While dry, the full-bodied and well-structured wine had layers of flavors with a fruity and flowery nose. As good a white wine as I have ever drunk – and as our server had predicted – it matched seamlessly with the variety of dishes we had ordered. I should add, at $76 it was the most expensive bottle of wine that I have ever purchased in a restaurant. But well worth it.
Much like the wine, this was truly outstanding. The long slices of cucumber, the chips of pickled carrot, and the beautiful halfmoons of watermelon radish added crunch and flavor to the wonderfully fresh salad greens. We were also impressed by the perfect dressing for this salad; again, the olive oil was spectacular and the dressing had just a hint of salt but minimal, if any, vinegary tang.
While not as out of the world spectacular as the greens, this was a fine rendition. The thin crouton slices were dry, crunchy, and still flavorful. The baby romaine leaves were fresh and crisp. The dressing was lightly applied and tasted more of Reggiano Parmesan than anchovy.
Although some pieces of the cephalopod were a little chewy, the non-greasy tempura coating added crunch and flavor. But what truly distinguished this version of fried squid were the accompanying sauces. The green sauce on the left tasted very cool and green – cilantro and lime flavors predominating. The red sauce on the right, by contrast, was spicy hot with chilies and tomato. Our taste buds debated over which was the best, but it was one of those conflicts both sides win.
Wow! As nice fish dish as I can recall eating. Ever. The redfish was perfectly cooked, still moist and flaky. The micro greens, sliced radishes, and shredded carrot added a beautiful chromatic and textural contrast to the two fillets. This was all served on top of cellophane noodles in a perfectly seasoned mussel broth. While this sounds like a lot going on, everything went together very nicely. It took great restraint to keep me from licking up the brothy bits left on the plate.
On the downside, this dish seemed a mumbo-jumbo to me. While the mussels and the curry sauce were excellent, I couldn't quite understand how they were connected to the rice cakes, cabbage leaves, and scallops. The plate itself was not especially attractive.
These rare scallops were obviously fresh and redolent of scallop flavor. Like the rest of the meal, they matched the New Zealand Pinot Gris. Yum.
At this point, I need to stress how wonderful the service at Tarbell's had been throughout the entire evening. Never stuffy and formal, never chatty and intrusive, every individual who served our table in any way performed her or his job in a friendly and professional manner. The primary waitperson who took our order was exceeding patient and helpful. She returned to the table 2 or 3 times while Tina and I wrestled with our dinner choices, making important contributions to the meal’s success. In addition, the runners and bussers were equally skillful from beginning of the dinner to its conclusion. We were never bothered and never abandoned.
Usually, Tina and I will share a single dessert, if we have any at all. This evening was an exception. Warm chocolate cake covered with chocolate sauce and topped with pistachio gelato sounded irresistible to me, but our helpful waitperson said the southern bread pudding with bourbon sauce was award-winning and not to be missed. I know when to order two desserts – in this was that time:
I can't add much to that picture. The cake ($9) was warm, dense, and chocolatey, and the chocolate sauce only intensified those characteristics. The pistachio ice cream and diced pistachio nuts added a nice contrast.
I can't imagine that we looked like people who needed 3 desserts, but it was a nice gesture. Unfortunately, we had to take the cheesecake back to the motel because neither of us had any appetite or stomach capacity left.
Overall, Tina and I tuly enjoyed our meal. The food, the wine, and especially the service were all outstanding. We'd love to return. Another dinner here would be almost as good as that winning lottery ticket. Well, almost.
Tarbell's, 3213 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix AZ 85018, 602-955-8100. Open every evening, (except major holidays and Super Bowl Sunday) 5 PM-10 PM (9 PM Sundays). Website