Kirk and Cathy are too busy resting or working, so today Ed (from Yuma) is busy writing.
The Musical Instrument Museum is a marvelous new Museum sitting out in the desert just off the 101 outerbelt northwest of Scottsdale:
In the Main Lobby, a large display features the motto of the Museum, pictures of people making music, and screens showing music making in action:
When you enter the museum, you are given headphones. Whenever you come up to a screen, the headphones let you listen to whatever music, whichever instruments are being played on the screen.
While there are areas devoted to Arizona music, famous musicians (like Elvis, Pablo Casals, “King” Sonny Adé), mechanical music, and special exhibits, most of the Museum is organized geographically. On our previous visit to MIM, Tina and I explored African and European music and were amazed by the range and depth of the presentations.
On this visit, we began with the Asian area – which like Asia itself – is huge. To give you a specific example of how the museum works, look at this picture of traditional Korean bells and gongs:
These amazingly large devices are modern versions of traditional temple instruments. The screen between them shows similar bells and pyeongyeong being played.
Just to the right of those, is an area that shows instruments from Korean Court music and folk music:
While many of the instruments in the museum are modern versions, you can see that some of them are historical. The museum explains and dates all items, so you don't confuse something made in 2009 with something made in 1009. On the screens, you can see several different short clips of the instruments being used in performance.
I was especially taken with these old Tibetan horns, which were so large that I couldn't get all of them in one photo:
After a morning wondering through Asia, we were hungry, and fortunately the MIM has a nice eatery, Café Allegro, which tries to use fresh, local, organic ingredients whenever possible.
I had the marinated chicken salad:
The chicken had a pleasant lime/cilantro marinade, the lettuces were very fresh, the chunks of tomato extremely flavorful, and the cauliflower, pepper, and zucchini added nice contrast. Sad to say, I don't remember the tomato vinaigrette (?) but I do remember really enjoying the salad.
Tina ordered the chicken breast sandwich:
She liked the pesto sauce and the freshness of the veggies. And the lightly battered sweet potato fries were excellent, flavorful and crunchy.
All in all we had a very good time at the Musical Instrument Museum.
MIM, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd, Phoenix AZ 85050, (480) 478-6000.
For dinner that evening, we had reservations at Tratto, also known as Tratto Bianco because it is owned and operated by pizza superstar Chris Bianco. After we returned from the long weekend, we found a story in the New York Times about him, the health struggles that forced him away from flour and ovens, and the opening of his latest restaurants. Worth reading.
On a previous visit to Phoenix, Tina and I had lunch at Pane Bianco, his sandwich shop in central Phoenix, so we were eager to try his latest venture. He opened a new Pizza Bianco in the Town & Country Center in Phoenix, and right next to it a trattoria, connected by two food preparation areas. This one on the pizza side:
this one on the Tratto side:
Tina and I began our meal with a delightful vermouth cocktail:
which gave us time to look over the simple one-page menu:
and to enjoy the complimentary pecans, walnuts, green olives, and cheese:
Let me apologize for some of the photos in this post. I forgot to do an exterior shot, and the restaurant was packed (we arrived before 5:30) so this is the only interior shot I can use:
If you are interested in looking at the interior/exterior, I recommend the Tratto website.
Also, as evening wore on, the ambient light decreased, so some pics are substandard – even by my standards.
Anyway, back to the food. We started with a salad – lemon cucumber, celery root, parsley, and red onion with a pleasant mild creamy vinaigrette:
Interesting and subtle. It's amazing how much taste parsley can have when it is not overwhelmed by other ingredients.
The bread, I love good bread and this was superb. A crunchy crust with a slight charred flavor reflecting a super hot oven; the crumb was excellent as well:
To accompany the dinner, we selected a Renato Ratti Nebbiolo (2014). While made from the same grape and from the same general area as a Barolo, this wine was fruity and not overpowering, going well with all our courses:
The next dish tasted a whole lot better than it looks in this picture:
The pasta, four long and thick candeles, had a nice firm chew, but the real hero of the dish was the pork Genovese sauce. The slow cooked onion based sauce was full of rich and tender braised pork. A real treat, something I've never had before, but something down-home and comforting nonetheless.
The lamb was one of the two mains that we ordered:
Again, much better than the picture. Braised leg of lamb had been placed in an extremely hot oven to sear the exterior, adding another dimension to the overall flavor. The large chunks of meat were fork tender and tasty. The fennel and radicchio added some texture and contrasts, and I'm sure the anchovy/lemon sauce contributed also.
The other main was a small chicken with a honey/chimayo chili glaze seared in one of those hot ovens:
It was extremely moist and wonderfully flavored. Since we had ordered so much food we went into a triage mode and saved most of this great chicken for our next night's dinner in Yuma. Day-old and cold, it was still great chicken.
As a side dish we had large slices of zucchini – again showing the effects of the oven – served with squash blossoms and mint:
It was okay.
The dinner concluded with a pear poached in port with a small scoop of Gorgonzola on the side:
It was a simple classic conclusion to our Tratto meal. While not everything was amazing, I was impressed by the quality of ingredients, the excellent service, and the food that felt 100% "authentic" and very innovative at the same time. Tina and I left full and smiling.
Tratto Bianco, 4743 N. 20th St. at Town & Country, Phoenix AZ 85016, (602) 296-7761
Just as they were opening at 11 AM, Tina and I drove up, parked the car, and came in through the side entrance:
The restaurant is a large, festively decorated space with high open ceilings:
but the weather was so nice we sat outside in the patio area:
As we were looking over the menu, we ordered a glass of white wine to share and were very pleased that our helpful young server brought it out in two glasses: In fact, we were thoroughly happy with the service at Buck & Rider even though our waitress confessed it was her first day on the job. She smiled a lot, worked hard to do well, and kept our water glasses filled.
The fried calamari with Thai dipping sauce showed up first:
This was good. The tender rings of baby squid were nicely crunchy and went well with the sauce. A pleasant amount of chili heat. At first I thought that came from the dipping sauce, but as we worked our way down to the bottom, we discovered a bunch of deep-fried jalapeno slices:
The gumbo followed the calamari, and the server split it into two bowls, so this is a half portion:
There is a lot to like here. Look at the thick dark roux, which was redolent with the flavor of filé. The sausage was excellent. In fact there was really only one shortcoming – a couple of my shrimp tasted off. They weren't terrible, and Tina said hers were okay, but still . . .
The meal ended on a better note with the smoked trout salad (again, this is a half portion):
Good stuff. The trout was nice and smoky, the lettuce fresh and crisp, and the avocado sweet and creamy. Pieces of olives and fennel added some complexity to the excellent preserved lemon vinaigrette. Tart enough, but not acidic. A good lunch overall.
After lunch, we were reminded that we were in the big city. We had parked adjacent to an area that said "FREE CHARGE." It took me a few seconds of puzzlement (if you're charged, how can it be free?) before I figured out what that meant. Anyway, when we came out, we found our RAV4 parked next to 2 Teslas on one side and a Bentley on the other. "Toto I don't think we're in Yuma anymore."
Buck & Rider, 4225 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85018, (602) 346-0110.
For dinner that evening, we went to Crudo, a place with a contemporary approach to Italian food. It fronts on the backside of a shopping area and presents a green and rustic exterior:
Inside, it is spacious, clean, modern, and well lit:
The seating along the sides of the room, where we sat, combined booth and chairs in a way that allowed for large groups or couples like us:
Upbeat 60s, 70s, and 80s soul tunes played in the background adding to the ambience. Tina and I chuckled because Buck & Rider had virtually identical music. Pleasant and friendly.
Our server, likewise, was pleasant and friendly as well as extremely competent and helpful. She brought us glasses of ice water, which were kept filled throughout the dinner, and Tina and I split a glass of vermentino while we looked over the menu:
The entrée items are divided into four categories, crudo (raw), mozzo (cheese), cotto (cooked), and griglia (grilled). While you could just order one or two entrées by themselves, any three choices per person were available for $35, four for $45, and five for $55. And it made no difference which categories.
As we were trying to sort things out, our server told us that the restaurant was offering a charcuterie plate as an appetizer, so of course, that's where we started:
And what a good start it was. Closest to the camera was a mild chicken liver mousse topped with the dice of pickled vegetables. Smooth and crunchy with a nice balance. On the right side of the plate, pork rillettes lay on apple marmalade. Again a pleasant combination. On the left, rustic pork pâté was covered with mustard sauce. A garlic aïoli and pickled peppercini slices sat on either side. Very tasty and enjoyable. The sauces complexified but did not overwhelm. Of course, the crunchy toasted slices of Italian bread went well with everything.
Speaking of going well with everything, we selected an unusual white wine to accompany dinner:
Luisa from the Friuli region of northeastern Italy is made with the rare ribolla gialla varietal native to the region. It tasted smooth and fresh, its fruit flavors and minerality going with the entire dinner.
Our two raw plates showed up at the table next. This is the albacore:
The tomato, cucumber, citrus and olive oil topping highlighted the freshness of the fish.
But the rich slices yellowtail were even better – controne, a flavorful Italian dried chile, gave some spice, bits of bottarga added a fishy saltiness, and chopped chives provided color:
After eating sushi and sashimi for over 30 years, these presentations were delightful.
The squid ink risotto tasted much better than it looked:
The dish had a good spicy seafood flavor, chunks of tuna adding taste and texture to the slightly al dente rice.
The house-made gargati pasta and mussels were served in a sauce made from uni and tomatoes and topped with basil and mint leaves:
Another unusual preparation that worked.
The semolina gnocchi was next:
The dumplings themselves were like little soft pillows, and the main flavors came from the topping of braised lamb neck and nectarine. Again an unusual flavor combination that enchanted my palate.
The dinner concluded with pork belly with smoked tomato agrodolce along with creamy polenta:
Another amazing plate. The richness of the polenta and pork contrasted with the sour/sweet spicy agrodolce that reminded both Tina and I – with our German backgrounds – of well prepared blaukraut.
We were stuffed and we were delighted. Overall a great meal. At a fair price:
Crudo, 3603 E. Indian School Rd., Suite B, Phoenix AZ 85018, (602) 358-8666.
Kirk and Cathy have better or more important things to do than post at mmm-yoso!!!, so today here's the first post from Ed (from Yuma) about food and adventures on his and Tina's recent trip to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.
On our way up, as usual, we had lunch at Sofia’s in Gila Bend:
Nice decor at the little restaurant:
The chips and salsa are always good:
We enjoy the three taco combination plate with the customer choice of any three tacos. On this visit Tina had two hardshell hamburger tacos (what tacos were for most of us back in the 60s and 70s) and a soft carnitas taco:
And I ordered a simple green chili burrito:
Sofia's is good Mexican food and service, often by Sofia herself.
Sofia's Mexican Food, 530 West Pima, Gila Bend, AZ 85337, 928-683-6382. Open Daily.
In the Past, Tina and I have focused mostly on the museum’s extensive collection of modern works and Spanish colonial art. This time, however, we wanted to explore the Asian section of the museum. They were having a special show for the art of Martin Fan Cheng:
This painting could be from a food blog:
These trout in a stream look photographic as well:
I was amused by a 1976 painting by Lu Yanshao that uses traditional Chinese techniques to picture "Electric Power Station in a Mountain Village":
We loved this contemporary cerulean ceramic bowl:
Completely different is this bodhisattva:
The museum explained that this holy figure is dressed in women's attire since achieving the status of bodhisattva allows one to transcend sexuality.
But my favorite item is in the permanent collection of the Museum, a remarkable piece entitled "Mass (Colder Darker Matter)":
It is like a giant mobile made from pieces of charred wood hung on nearly invisible wires and strings. As you move from place to place, it changes. Interestingly, the burned wood is what’s left of a rural church that ignited when struck by lightning. To me, this installation seems both ominous and numinous.
Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85004-1685 (602) 257-1880
This new pizzeria, featuring rustic 900° wood ovens and house made mozzarella, was our choice for our first dinner in the Phoenix area. The exterior seems pretty ordinary, but it is nice to see a doggie friendly patio in front:
The interior was brightly lit, tastefully simple, and full of customers:
Thursday Night NFL was on the TVs in the bar and numerous animated conversations were all going on simultaneously, so it was LOUD. Sitting outside on the back patio would have made conversation easier, but all the tables there were taken as well.
Of course, they have 36 beer taps and an extensive collection of bottled beers and wines as well. Tina and I had a couple of their lighter beer offerings:
As soon as we tasted our locally sourced Farmers Salad, we understood why the place is so popular:
This was extremely unusual and extremely flavorful. Batonettes of fresh mango and jicama dominated, with wafer thin slices of watermelon radish, a sprinkle of radish sprouts, small strips of red onion, and cilantro leaves all contributing. The cumin lime dressing was a superb match, tempering the sweetness of the mango and giving a nice flavor boost to the usually bland jicama. Amazingly good.
We ordered two different pizzas. I wanted to try the very basic Senza Formaggio vegan pie with mushrooms:
Tina and I wondered if we would like this at all, but it was very tasty. The focus was clearly on the wonderful crispy crunchy crust highlighted with the nicely herbed tomato sweet sauce and olive oil.
Tina was intrigued by the idea of the Spanish pizza with real Spanish chorizo, sliced almonds, Spanish black olives, and a mild harrissa sauce:
Tasting it was a real experience. To the eye, it looks like a pepperoni based pizza, but to the mouth, the flavor panorama was entirely different. The crunchy almonds were good, and the crust was magnificent.
We told our friends who were letting us use their North Scottsdale timeshare about Craft 64, they tried it, and Greg told me it was the best pizza they had ever eaten. Your results may differ, but it is damn good (can I say that?).
Craft 64, 6922 E. Main St., Scottsdale, AZ 85251, (480) 946-0542
Kirk and Cathy are busy today, but Ed (from Yuma) has had some free time lately, so here's his post from a recent road trip.
A friend of Tina's from grad school was retiring at the end of May, 2014, so we were in Phoenix for the weekend. On a previous trip, Tina had already located a Mexican seafood restaurant that she was sure I would enjoy – Playa Hermosa:
We arrived fairly early before the restaurant had begun to fill up, and I was immediately impressed by the brightly colorful decor:
The chairs were almost too beautiful to sit in:
Even the tabletops were decorative works of art:
The chips and salsa showed, however, that there was more to Playa Hermosa than met the eye:
The fresh chips were accompanied by a fiery red salsa full of chile seeds and an avocado/cilantro green salsa that was mild and smooth.
We also ordered margaritas ($5.99) that were very attractive, flavorful, and effective:
The menu featured a wide range of seafood choices and preparations. Tina chose the camarones culichi (shrimp in green sauce – $13.99), and I decided on the fish and shrimp combination with the poblano sauce ($15.99).
Both meals began with a ceviche de pulpo tostada:
Very tasty. The octopus was perfectly tender and the citrus flavor of the juice was not overpowering.
Tina's shrimp came in a little boat of a complex and tangy salsa verde – it was creamy and elegant, highlighted by green chili and citrus notes. We understood why one of Tina's friends had recommended this dish:
It came accompanied by tortillas, excellent vegetable rice, chopped lettuce and tomato, fresh red onion rings, and slightly refried pinto beans that Tina especially appreciated:
I also loved my dinner:
Next to the same side dishes, my lightly crusted, perfectly grilled fish was topped with numerous shrimp and a truly outstanding ranchero sauce dominated by grilled fresh poblano peppers:
The tender flaky fish was perfectly prepared, and the only real shortcoming of my entrée was that the shrimp were a little overcooked and chewy – as were Tina's.
While we were eating a small mariachi band came in and began playing people's favorites. At first they stood between our table and most of the rest of the restaurant. At that point they sounded better than they looked:
They soon moved throughout the restaurant and we enjoyed their performance.
In fact, we enjoyed our entire meal. Our server was really superb, explaining dishes from the menu, always noticing when we needed something, and being professional and friendly throughout. While the decor and entertainment might make this place seem like a tourist restaurant, virtually everyone in the restaurant – except of course for Tina and me – seemed like a local. We would happily return.
Mariscos Playa Hermosa, 1605 E. Garfield, Phoenix AZ 85006, (602) 462-1563
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.
Tina had chosen the field greens salad ($9):
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.
I had wanted to see how Tarbell's would present that old warhorse, the Caesar salad ($11):
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.
Speaking of old warhorses, we decided to have an order of fried calamari ($15):
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.
Tina's entrée was Mr. Fish of the Moment ($38), Acadian redfish:
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.
I chose the scallop entrée ($38), four seared scallops accompanied by rice cake cubes, napa cabbage leaves, cilantro sprigs, and mussels with a creamy curry sauce.:
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.
The upside, and it was a huge upside, were the scallops themselves, perfectly seared:
Yet not overcooked:
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.
The bread pudding and bourbon sauce was also excellent ($9):
Along with those two, our waitperson brought us the vanilla cheesecake with rosemary caramel sauce (no charge):
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
Kirk is still busy, Cathy needs a day off, so Ed (from Yuma) does the food blogging here today. About a lunch that he and Tina had recently in Phoenix.
Back in 2010 when I told Tina that Chris Bianco’s Pizza Bianco
had just been named the best pizza in the United States, she said, "I used
to eat at his restaurant all the time when I lived in central Phoenix."
"Huh, you stood in line for 4 hours for pizza?"
"No, his other restaurant was my neighborhood sandwich
shop." So if we were spending a weekend in central Phoenix, a visit to Pane
Bianco had to happen:
The understated exterior of the restaurant was matched by
the funky/shabby hipness of the interior. Having once aspired to being
funky/shabby hip, I felt right at home:
The lunch menu listed a few "bar bites" for around
$5, and sandwich and salad choices priced between $9 and $12. The other side of
the menu had a limited selection of sodas, beers, and wines as well as the
sparkling water we chose ($3):
I'm surprised I'd never run across Mountain Valley sparkling
water before as it was pleasant tasting and refreshing. I also enjoyed the
rustic looking tabletop.
We selected 2 sandwiches, both of which came with an
interesting potato salad composed of thinly sliced potatoes, chopped apples, cabbage,
shredded red cabbage, sliced red onion, and minced parsley. The mustard seeds,
other spices, and light dressing gave it all kind of a central European flavor.
The salad is in the foreground of this picture of the sopressata sandwich that had
been Tina's favorite back in the day:
As you can see, the excellent salumi had been sliced paper
The sopressata was wonderfully matched by the aged
provolone. This was not your standard waxy tasteless Italian cheese, but a full
flavored partner to the sausage, dry and a little bit crumbly. The woodfired
onion was a nice touch as well. My only complaint – and really my only
complaint about the whole meal – was that the homemade focaccia was a little
tough and chewy as if it had been baked the day before. Nonetheless it was
altogether a satisfying sandwich:
Our other lunch selection was the "market sandwich,"
featuring lamb that had been braised overnight:
We both thought the sandwich was unusual and interesting.
The tender meat had a pronounced lamb flavor and was topped with chopped
cabbage and roasted red pepper strips:
In both cases the sandwiches were perfectly simple and
focused – no mayo, no mustard, no catchup, no sliced tomato, no pickles; just
very good basic ingredients.
Pane Bianco, 4404 N. Central, Phoenix AZ 85012; (602)
Today Kirk is really busy. Cathy is busy. But Ed (from Yuma) recently got back from a weekend in Phoenix where he ate food.
Tina and I were in Phoenix to look at stuff in art museums,
go shopping, and eat some interesting food. On Friday night, we got a
reservation for Bink's Midtown, the newest restaurant of Kevin and Amy Binkley,
who have gained a reputation for innovative culinary approaches.
It took us a couple of minutes to find the location which is
in a converted old house and is not located at a street corner nor in a strip
mall. At night, this sign should help you find the restaurant:
In addition to a large patio area, whose 8 – 10 tables were
fully occupied when we arrived at 6:45, the restaurant offered 2 or 3 sizable
rooms decorated with vegetable/plant paintings along
the white walls and white butcher paper atop white linen on the tables. While the
focus was clearly on the food, not the decor, the rooms were cheerful, tasteful,
and utilitarian although a bit noisy when all of the tables were occupied.
The emphasis in the restaurant is on fresh local produce. A list of dishes featuring local produce comes attached to the main menu
with a clothes pin. Cute and functional, I gotta say:
The produce-centric items were divided into Cold, Hot, and
Salad sections, with a couple of soups at the bottom:
The wine list was a single page divided into whites and
reds. While a modest list by fancy restaurant standards, many choices in both
categories would have satisfied us. Some wines were also available by glass and by
After talking with the helpful server, Tina and I decided on
one item from each produce section as well as an appetizer and a main course,
all of which we would share. We would start with a carafe of white wine, but we
wanted a Pinot Noir from Oregon (Purple Hands) to accompany the duck. Our white
wine choice, an anonymous riesling from Alsace, was the first thing to show up
at our table:
It was a good match for most of our dinner as the wine
opened with fruity and flowery notes, but had a smooth dry finish, making it
The beet produce plate arrived next:
We were delighted. The thinly sliced cool yellow
beets were accompanied by salted hazelnuts, blueberries, chunks of feta goat
cheese, and a few baby greens. The dressing was a mild olive oil and berry
vinaigrette. Two major interplays dominated the dish. There
was a sweet salty balance, the berries and beets playing off against the cheese
and nuts. Similarly there was an interesting textural variation with the
crunchy hazelnuts at one polarity and soft berries and creamy feta cheese at
the other. Wow! An outstanding beginning.
We were about halfway through the beets when the arugula and
fig salad landed on the table. About a minute later, the duck breast flew in
from the kitchen. A cast-iron bucket of mussels found a spot near the middle of
the little two-top, and a cast-iron serving tray filled with the slices of
summer squash gratin plopped down on the one small part of the table not
already occupied by food, utensils, and wine.
The chaos seemed overwhelming at that moment. Where to
start? How to eat all of these things at once? I was on the verge of a foodie
meltdown when Tina decided we should do some prioritizing. The cold salad could
wait for later. No point in attacking the duck without the Pinot Noir to go
along with it, and there was no point in requesting that wine since
there was no place for it anywhere on the small table anyway.
So we concentrated on drinking the pleasant riesling,
finishing the wonderful beets, and savoring the mussels and the squash while
they were hot and fresh from the oven. The perfectly prepared mussels were
bathed in a light creamy curry sauce with pronounced lemongrass flavors:
Although that picture doesn't show much – black mussels at
the bottom of a black cast-iron bucket are not the most photogenic food items –
the mussels were outstandingly tender and fresh. The accompanying bread was
slightly sweet and had an interesting texture: firm, but not chewy or crunchy.
I wished I had more of it to soak up the flavorful broth.
The summer squash gratin was also very nicely done. While
the menu described it as a "purée," the serving tray contained thin
interleaved slices of yellow and green squash:
The slices were perfectly cooked, not soft and not raw.
Overall, the dish emphasized their flavor, and the Parmesan stayed in the
background. If this had been served as a side dish in a steakhouse, I probably
wouldn't have paid much attention to it, and that would've been a shame,
because it was splendid. So good that I had to remind Tina to eat some of it before I gobbled it all up.
At this point, we got the attention of a waitperson who cleared
some table and brought over the carafe of Oregon Pinot Noir (and appropriate
stemware) (sorry, no picture). Now Tina and I could turn our attention to the
remaining 2 items.
The sizable arugula salad had a lot going on:
The arugula itself was mounded on top of strands of
spaghetti squash, covered with shredded pecorino Romano, and dotted with halves
of black mission figs, chunks of dried apricot, and pieces of pecan. The menu
says there was a horseradish/honey dressing, but I didn't notice it. To me, the
emphasis in the salad was on the ingredients, and each bite was a little
different than the one before. As with the beet appetizer, sweet/salty tastes
and a range of textures predominated.
Finally, we turned to the roasted duck breast, still warm
enough to make for pleasant eating:
We had requested the duck to be medium rare and were both
pleased that it had not been overcooked. The crunchy skin accented the smooth
rich flavor of the waterfowl. The seasoning was perfect for my palate; first the savor of duck breast
filled my mouth, and then the notes of Chinese 5 spice contributed to a long
and complex finish. The Purple Hands Pinot Noir was a perfect match, having
enough earthy body to stand up to the duck.
Although the simultaneous arrival of most of the dinner was
a bit disconcerting, and the noise made it sometimes hard to converse, Tina and
I really enjoyed our night at Bink’s. The food preparations were all tasty and
most of them were very imaginative as well. We also appreciated the emphasis on
local and seasonal produce. Considering the quality of ingredients and the
skill of preparation, the price of our dinner for 2 seemed like a good value
for a special meal:
Next time, we will order a fewer dishes at a time and take
more control of the organization of the meal. The originality of the
preparations and quality of the food really deserve a more leisurely pace, and
each plate is worthy of a diner's attention and focus.
Bink’s Midtown, 2320 E Osborn Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016; (602)
388-4874; Open 11Am (10 on Sunday), closed 10 pm (11 Fri & Sat).
Kirk needs a break and Cathy is reeeallly busy, so today ed (from yuma) is posting about some place not in Yuma or San Diego.
Knowing that we were going to be in the Phoenix area around Presidents' Day, Tina and I thought about some places to eat. Both of us, as it turns out, were hungry for Vietnamese. A little research on Chowhound turned up a list of Vietnamese restaurants.
The one closest to where we were going to be was Pho 43 Express on 43rd Ave in the Maryville district of Glendale. We figured we'd give it a try.
The restaurant is a stand-alone building with plenty of parking in a neighborhood of multiple ethnicities -- so far, so good:
The large number of family members (no school on Presidents' Day) let us know that this was a family restaurant, not a pho factory like some of the assembly line SD pho restaurants. The folks were friendly.
Looking over the menu, we realized that this was primarily a noodle House, with bun, pho, hu, and mi dishes predominating. That made ordering easy. A large combination pho and bun bo hue.
The garnishes arrived first and were all on one plate. There were plenty of bean sprouts and shredded cabbage, abundant mint and basil, lemon wedges, and a few jalapeno slices:
Although a few leaves of basil were blackened at the edges, we had plenty.
The first soup to arrive was the bun bo hue:
I thought it was a pretty decent bowl of soup. The nearly spaghetti size noodles were nicely cooked. They still had some pull and were not all clumped together. There was enough chili spice and a slight taste of the sea underneath the meat flavors in the stock. Kirk, of course, would have deemed it insufficiently funky and reached for the shrimp paste. But he wouldn't have found any on the table: The beef in the soup was good (though not memorable), but the meaty highlight of the dish where the pieces of pork leg. Look at this: And here's another:
Loved all the tender pork meat and the abundant tendon.
Still, I think we liked the pho even more:
Again the noodles were extremely well prepared. Separate and not overcooked. The stock rich, slightly sweet, with a nice anise flavor. The jalapeno slices and basil contributed nicely.
Unlike the bun bo hue, this soup had very little tendon and not much brisket. On the other hand, it was full of crunchy tripe and had remarkably flavorful rare steak:
I was impressed by the slices of rare steak. Normally that is my least favorite, and to my palate, the least flavorful pho meat. Here, it was really good and steaky. Amazing.
We also had good homemade lemonade:
To be honest, I was pretty impressed with this little restaurant. Maybe we just got lucky, but the pho was better than most that I've had in San Diego. And I would order the bun bo hue again as well.
I have not included prices because I'm sure that the carry out menu that I carried out is out of date. That large bowlof dac biet pho must cost more than five dollars, and the bun bo hue has got to be more than $4.90. However, I'm sure they are still incredible values.
Pho 43 Express, 2844 43rd Ave, Phoenix AZ 85009, (602) 269-3383. Open 8 am - 8 or 9 pm every day but Tuesday.