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.