July 26, 2014
by Terry Ratner
0 comments

bad trip

Stingray close upSam Fox’s FLOWER CHILD
5013 North 44th Street
Suite B2025B
Phoenix, AZ 85018
602.429.6222

I spent an hour with my counselor this afternoon which can only be described as a crying frenzy about an unexpected catharsis concerning my childhood trauma. Afterwards I felt cleansed, as if I had been baptized, completed a yoga weekend with Deepak Chopra, or visited St. Tropez for a weeklong spiritual cleanse.

After the session ended, I needed to refuel, but didn’t feel like cooking. My consort suggested we try Flower Child, a new restaurant created by Sam Fox who felt that none of his other 14 eateries fit the concept of healthy, fast, and casual. Sorry to break the news Sam, but that void still exists.

We walked into the Child and noticed a crowd of ‘foodie wannabees.’ If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I entered THE HENRY by mistake. The establishment appeared modern and clean, similar to the generic feel of CULVERS, another fast food diner, but something crucial seemed to be missing at Flower Child—real people. Yes, this is another Fox place where like people gather. Gazing around at the patrons, I noticed there wasn’t any age range. Everyone seemed to be a blank-faced millennial, feeling like they were dining in style, when in reality they were at an upscale McDonalds.

A station near the front door allows you to peruse the menu and order salads, vegetables, grain plates, wraps, or bowls. It’s like a ‘do it yourself’ project. I asked the question “Is your chicken organic?” I received this answer. “It’s natural and that’s the same thing.” We all know that natural is meaningless and organic is meaningful. I wondered why these employees aren’t knowledgeable about health. Isn’t that a major part of this venture?

We ordered the Flying Avocado wrap with grilled chicken, smoked Gouda, romaine, tomato, and avocado hummus (guacamole). I asked the cashier to hold the tomatoes because of my consort’s severe anaphylactic allergy to this fruit—or is it a vegetable. It’s actually the fruit of the tomato plant. I finished our order with a side of red chili glazed sweet potato and an organic tofu and mushroom pho. We were handed a sign with the number 26 to place at our table while waiting for our food.

The Flying Avocado wrap came chock full of cubed tomatoes, which were sent back for obvious reasons. I took a bite of the sweet potato side dish that looked appetizing, especially after rejecting my main course. What I tasted was a yam smothered in an overly salty sauce. At that point, I lost it and told the manager what had occurred. She asked if we wanted to substitute and I declined.

The Pho, according to my consort was edible. He called it “white boy Pho” because it had no ethic zing. It’s served with a plate of condiments, large branches of Thai basil, bean sprouts (6) (I know because I ate all six of them) and four jalapeno peppers.

We left hungry and disappointed. At home, we cooked salmon patties on the grill. Not farmed / sustainable salmon, like Fox serves, but the real thing. I whipped up an organic potato salad side and we feasted like royalty.

I don’t recommend this restaurant to people who desire healthy, delicious, creative food. Unfortunately if you’re after a place that delivers on things like taste and affordability—keep looking. Perhaps in future endeavors, Fox should think more about fulfilling his customers’ needs than filling a void with fluff.

FYI: Their menu features Gluton Lite, whatever that means and Local Produce. Does that mean they buy their greens at Fry’s? Also note: whole grain wraps are offered as one of the main healthy entrées. Doesn’t Fox know that whole-grain foods are not always healthy?

FlowerChildHeartsChart

July 21, 2014
by Terry Ratner
0 comments

Blazing Trails

JI BarJuniper & Ivy
2228 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA
(619) 269-9036

In Little Italy’s north end, in what used to be a sprawling roofing materials warehouse, now houses San Diego’s newest hotspot for foodies—Juniper & Ivy. This mammoth-sized restaurant features an open kitchen, outdoor and private dining perched above the main bar. It’s a new venture for Top Chef star Richard Blais.

My vacation, like so many others to San Diego, happened to fall during a full moon. I felt like a werewolf in heat and needed to spice up my evening with some amazing fare. My consort, Richard, picked me up at the hotel and blindfolded me saying, “I have a surprise for you this evening.” I told him I was starving and I hoped it would include food.

When we pulled up at our destination, he took off my black satin eye mask and escorted me inside. We sat at an intimate table for two, sandwiched between a pregnant woman with her husband and a couple celebrating their 44th anniversary. The acoustics were thin and we had to lean over to communicate. An ambitious cocktail menu kept us busy for the first few minutes.

We ordered two 15 Love cocktails, featuring Pimm’s No. 1 liquor. A little too much ice in the glass caused us to order two additional drinks. Tasty, but not economical. Our waitress took her time and finally brought us an Amuse-bouche of Gougeres, a puff of pate a choux pastry flavored with cheese (Gruyère). Immediately after tasting this dish, I revealed to our server, “I am reviewing this eatery. May I please have more?”

JI FoodFinally, we feasted on appetizers and small plates, beginning with an order of blackened Baja shrimp toast with avocado, Japanese cucumber, and a taste of orange. Their small plate of small roasted beets with caramelized yogurt, white peacock kale, apricots and pistachio nuts disappeared within seconds.

Next came the bone marrow topped with crispy oysters, ranch dressing, and pickled celery. The rich bone marrow, an unctuous savory dish, evil and delicious at the same time.

From their Pasta Starter section, we ordered Corn Agnolotti, a tender ravioli filled with wild mushrooms and dressed with Huitlacoche (a corn fungus delicacy). The Carne Cruda Asada, affectionately called Meat Toast, featured beef tartar topped with a row of sunny side up quail eggs, cotija cheese and jalapeno. I hate raw meat, so I ate the three quail eggs and left the beef for Richard.

The full moon demanded that I complete the meal with a decadent confection. We order peaches on bourbon soaked pound cake with a pecan sorbet. A demi spoon feeding frenzy and a mini sword fight followed as we each tried to get the last bite.

We were pleasantly satiated, but not stuffed to the point of discomfort. There was plenty of room for a digestif, a Brandy Alexander. We toasted each other and Richard Blais, an executive chef actually working in his kitchen. Imagine that.

BlazeHearts

June 25, 2014
by Terry Ratner
0 comments

bottom feeder

Stingray close up

Stingray
2502 E Camelback Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85016
(602) 955-2008

After discussing where to eat for thirty minutes, we settled on Stingray, a Japanese restaurant at the Biltmore. On previous visits, I’d sit at the bar during happy hour and devour the eel rolls with a Sunomono, translated to “cucumber salad.” Not to be confused with Sudoku, a number puzzle,  or pseudomona, a deadly bacteria.

My last two visits to Stingray were flirtingly spent with single buff guys sitting at the bar enjoying drinks. In fact, my girlfriend and I had to snipe a couple of barstools because the place was packed. An aquarium behind the bar features colorful tropical fish for additional eye candy.

We decided to eat at a booth in the lounge rather than the open misted patio because even though it was 8:0smile emoticon Oh, by the way, this is the first ‘happy face’ ever to surface on my computer. So, I’ll keep it there.

Two drunken young ladies sitting at the bar were sufficient entertainment for us during our dinner. I doubt the management had a reasonable drink cut off for the establishment, because their drinks kept coming.

My consort did the ordering. We started the night with Tuna Tataki, a half-seared tuna with a ponzu sauce (soy, lemon and onion vinaigrette).  I took one taste of the dish and pushed it away like a spoiled child because raw tuna does not happen to be a favorite of mine. However, my friend, a sushi connoisseur, cleared the plate in four bites. Using my chopstick chops, I dipped the ginger in the soy and wasabi sauce which disappears within seconds

Lobster ceviche, marinated with bell pepper, red onions, jalapenos, mango, radish sprouts, and yuzu (citrus) scooped onto butter lettuce leaves tickled my palette and left me panting for more. The next surprise came with an assortment of fresh sashimi, pronounced like the Flaming Lips’ song, Yoshimi, yellow tail, salmon, tuna, shrimp, and a dollop of crab salad on the side arranged over sushi rice. I’ll admit to eating a few chops of crab with rice, but again my companion ate the majority of the fish.

By this time, he realized that perhaps he was ordering more for himself than for me, so he motioned to the waiter and ordered the lobster dynamite, which he remembered we enjoyed on a previous visit over a year ago. To clarify, that is when we were dating, lovers—a time when we couldn’t take our hands off each other. I would have eaten a dead skunk if it was served in Japanese fashion with enough sake. I would have swallowed the rawest fish on the menu; I would have faked a foodgasm.

Things are a little more realistic now.

I picked at the top of the lobster with my shrimp fork, tasting a fiery aioli sauce mixed with oyster mushrooms and onions. A bit rich for my taste, but this time I decided to be a good girl, a good sport, and act as if I loved it.

We topped the night off with an eel roll. It was obvious to me at that point that my consort was trying to mollify my anger and my unsatisfied hunger with one of my favorite rolls; however this dish was just plain boring to both of us. It lacked the usual gooey sweetness of eel sauce.  I glanced over and noticed my companion with his glasses over his nose, studying the menu, hoping to find a quick last minute dish to satisfy his now ravenous friend. I turned to him and said, “I’m full. Let’s get out of here.” Needless to say, the bill swelled to triple digits, like the heat outside because of my friend’s difficulty finding fabulous flavorful fare.

Thinking back to that evening, we should have ordered sake.

StingrayHearts

June 1, 2014
by Terry Ratner
0 comments

virtuous vittles

hands virtu2VIRTU
3701 N. Marshall Way
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(480) 946-3477

A certain hide-a-way restaurant, tucked inside the Bespoke Inn in Downtown Scottsdale, lives up to its name—Virtu. If excellent cooking is a fine art and the food possesses the quality of being rare, beautiful, or otherwise appealing to a connoisseur, then indeed this eatery is named appropriately.

I visited the Scottsdale restaurant twice since it opened. The first, a romantic dinner date, occurred a few months back. The noise overwhelmed us initially, but after a couple of Astral Tequila Blancos served with a side of Dante’s Sangrita, we no longer had to speak loudly to hear each other. Instead, we whispered, feeling each other’s soft breath and lips against the tip of our earlobes.

When we revisited the restaurant in May, we brought along another couple to experience the wonderful food and libations. I ordered a Kir Royale cocktail—champagne and crème de cassis in a flute glass. My consort and guests ordered a Dirty Martini with Kalamata olive juice. Our appetizers consisted of grilled octopus with arugula and lemon chick peas. They must have massaged the octopus for at least 40 minutes to obtain such delicate tenderness. The pork rillette (pate) with pickled fiddleheads and shimeji mushrooms tasted creamy and rustic. Plump juicy caper berries were used as a condiment complementing the dish. The third starter, grilled asparagus garnished with bacon candy, melted in our mouths and caused us to salivate like Pavlov’s dogs.

We shared the pan seared branzino with calabrese peperonata and crispy leeks. We inhaled the light and flaky perfectly prepared fish along with the Italian sides. Our friends had the grilled flat iron with Moroccan spiced king oysters and the pan seared scallops with baby artichoke confit. At the completion of the meal, all was gone except a lingering aroma and four satisfied palettes.

We ordered the chevre cheesecake with nilla wafer crust and slices of Meyer lemon. This dessert started a spoon war between the four of us. We ended the meal with a glass of Bracchetto, a sweet and sparkling wine that tickles your tongue.

It isn’t the main protein on the plate that I’m raving about, but the synergy of the combinations between the star and its supporting casts. Both the food and the service are trendy. The ambience, intimate and sexy, makes for a perfect setting for that special date.

I don’t want to label this restaurant because that would create boundaries. It looks as though the edgy executive chef, Gio Osso, hovers around cuisines and dishes of the Mediterranean, including France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco with a soupcon of Asian flourishes. I hope he continues to tweak the menu by creating new flavor profiles and tantalizing dishes.

VirtuHeartsChart

May 31, 2014
by Terry Ratner
0 comments

tv dinner at 30,000 feet

airline foodTwo key points to consider when choosing your International airline include comfort and food.

My first trip to Paris from J.F.K. airport was on a 757-200 British Airways (BA) Airbus.  The seats in Economy Plus (better known as World Traveler Plus) seemed comfortable with plenty of leg room compared to a coach flight. A clean linen towel was placed over the headrest and we were given blankets wrapped in cellophane, giving the allusion of cleanliness, to keep us warm during the 7 ½ hour flight to Paris.

We grabbed a late lunch in New York before boarding our 9:30 PM flight, but the packing, taxi ride to the airport, plus checking in and walking to the gate worked up our appetites.

My companion chose the beef with mushroom sauce. His description of the meal was, “It looks and tastes like rubber.” I chose the pasta with cheese sauce served with zucchini bits, a stale inedible roll, a wilted salad, and a slice of lemon cake that tasted like grains of sand. Apparently this is a new recipe for spaghetti; the cheese sauce consisted of bleu cheese salad dressing. I ate about five bites of the noodles and even tried the zucchini that tasted sour before deciding to hold off on eating until I reached Paris. After an urgent trip to the bathroom, I felt better.  I’m not sure how BA can get away with their disgusting food offerings. Perhaps they need to find a new caterer.

My seat on the 757 had a 47 inch pitch with a 20 inch width, which allowed me to relax and sleep comfortably for a couple of hours during the flight. Luckily once I arrived in Paris, both the quality of food and the excitement of the city itself seemed to compensate for my lack of sleep, nutrition, and calories.

On the plane from Paris to London, I cornered a flight attendant and asked her where to eat at Heathrow airport. We were given the name of a Japanese restaurant, Wagamama, and we both consumed a huge lunch before departing London for Phoenix. I wasn’t taking any chances this time.

Our plane back to Phoenix, a 747-400, was a larger, older model. While walking to my designated seat, I stepped on and crushed two plastic cups that were in the middle of the aisle. I guess the flight attendants forgot to clean up before we boarded. The seats measured out smaller, a 38 degree pitch with an 18 ½ width. Not much leg room or an ability to be comfortable during the long flight home to Phoenix. On the upside, our seats were limited to two instead of the four crowded seats located in the center of the plane. Dingy doilies, the size of a handkerchief were on each headrest along with a dirty ragged blanket and pillow. To make matters worse, my window shade was stuck shut. The seatback T.V. screens were small in comparison to the individual iPads offered on our flight to Paris. This plane’s interior was noticeably shabby and in serious need of repair.

On our flight back, the lunch menu consisted of one appetizer—a bland and unsavory potato salad. The main courses, a seared fillet of British beef or roasted corn-fed chicken was difficult to look at, let alone eat. The only portion I ate consisted of a mashed sweet potato which held me over for the duration (10 ½ hours). My companion pushed his tray aside after two bites.

I talked with a flight attendant about their quality of food and why they were still flying the antique 747 plane. She assured me that they were about to retire this model and buy some new ones, however she had no answer concerning BA’s quality of food. I think if more travelers voiced their opinions to the airlines, they would have to change their ways. (Send your email to CEO: keith.x.williams@ba.com). After all, we pay high prices for International airline tickets and in turn we should be cared for, which includes our comfort, a healthy environment, and nutritious food.

Before we booked our tickets, several people said, “British Airways are the best. You must fly with them.” I hate to think of what their competitors offer, or maybe they used to set precedence and need to live up to their current seared reputation.

FYI: I do have one complement about the old 747’s: the restrooms are still small with the usual odors, but seem to have more leg room than most other planes. How sad is that?

HeartsChartBA

May 5, 2014
by Terry Ratner
2 Comments

the french connection

central bistro storyCENTRAL BISTRO
3160 East Camelback Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85018
480.646.8560

April 20, 2014

What upscale restaurant occupies the northwest corner of Camelback Road and 32nd street? Here’s a hint: It’s housed in a shopping plaza next to a Mexican fast-food place and a popular hamburger hangout and screams ‘aphrodisiac” waiting to be savored and shared with a lover.

If you guessed Central Bistro, you are correct. Its unique features include large windows overlooking a decked patio and an inside design combination of red brick surrounded by lush wood accents. This bistro arouses the senses beginning with elegant tempered glass doors that lead into a sleek bar and lounge; the perfect place for you and your date to sip on Limoncello Sours before dinner. The candlelight atmosphere enhances your romantic tete-a-tete and after the second drink, anything is possible.

The lure of this eatery isn’t just its décor and intimacy, but also the cuisine—an Italian French fusion. Servers assist you with wine paring with a choice of more than 250 labels to choose from.
We chose to dine at Central Bistro on Easter Sunday, but not because of any religious connection. We were two couples who hadn’t seen each other for a while and we wanted to carry on a conversation without the backlash of a full house. Only six tables were occupied, so we didn’t have to scream across the table at one another. Our server, Shelby, was polite and friendly. While we looked over the menu, she came by the table offering an assortment of lemon, orange, or grapefruit slices to flavor our filtered water. Unfortunately we were unable to taste the added fruit and ended up ordering a bottle of Pellegrino sparkling water.

Each time we answered her questions, she replied with an affirmative “excellent” a word that seems to be popular with all food servers. We offered her an alternative response, so she used our word, ‘trendy’ for the rest of the evening.

We started with a ‘trendy’ appetizer, a tower of Avocado and citrus aioli. It offered sizable lumps of crab and wontons which seemed to be the perfect starter dish for spring, not overpowering, just light and crisp. Our friends ordered an arugula and wedge salad and couldn’t stop raving about their choices. For a main course we decided to split the veal chop served with whipped potatoes, grilled asparagus in a bed of burgundy wine sauce. We both cut into the chop and disagreed as to whether or not it was cooked medium or rare. My boyfriend loved it and I rated it ‘mediocre.’ The buttery potatoes melted in our mouths and the grilled asparagus disappeared within three minutes. Our friends split the sea bass served on a bed of artichoke hearts with fingerling potatoes and garnished with arugula and lemon vinaigrette. Their main course didn’t last long on the plate. We didn’t taste it, but since they were unanimous in their opinions, we gave it a thumbs up.

Dessert consisted of a lemon mascarpone cheesecake and an ‘on the house’ vanilla panna cotta. The cheesecake melted in my mouth. I took a small spoonful of the brulee and inhaled scrapings of the vanilla bean which made me cough like crazy, but no one noticed. They were too busy finishing off the scrumptious desserts.

HeartsCentralBistro

 

April 22, 2014
by r2gyi5
2 Comments

notorious burgers

Gangsta Girl 4April 19, 2014
NOTORIOUS BURGERS
8777 North Scottsdale Rd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85253
480.947.3180

Scottsdale’s culinary scene includes two new concepts at the Shops of Gainey Village. Jim Maggiore and his wife, Christina, converted the former McCormick and Schmick’s site into a burger joint and seafood restaurant. On one end is Cuttlefish focusing on coastal Italian cuisine with a contemporary menu. Its counterpart, Notorious Burgers serves handcrafted burgers and craft beers while boasting a mobster theme focusing on the family aspect of the mafia.

FYI: Joe’s experience stems from his father, famous Phoenix restaurateur, Tomaso Maggiore, who has owned Tomaso’s at 32nd Street and Camelback in Phoenix since 1977.

There’s nothing better than biting into a great burger and letting the juices drizzle down your lips and chin. We stopped at Notorious Burgers for a late lunch on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a dimly lit establishment with contemporary furnishings. The tavern area and a whiff of cleaning solvent is the first thing you notice when you walk through the door. The bar is separated from the dining room by a half wall, which is handy to lean against if you’re sitting on one of the black cushioned chairs that lack a back.

We were both famished, so we quickly decided on the Lucky Luciano’s Truffle Burger (stilton bleu cheese, bacon, micro arugula, and wild truffle mushroom demi) and an order of sweet potato fries with aioli dressing.

Our friendly server, AJ, acted as bartender as well as waitress. Questions about the quality of meat and servings were asked and respectfully answered. It wasn’t a secret that I was there to review the restaurant. DinnerSlut  doesn’t ambush, but instead talks with servers about the true purpose of her visit. My expectations are always high, especially after exposing myself as a reviewer and being specific about my likes and dislikes.

The burger and fries took about 30 minutes before they were served. I’m not sure why because there were only three other patrons in the restaurant sipping on drinks.

OUTCOME
A burger served without seasoning, or juices, overcooked and tasteless. The only flavor I could savor came from the blue cheese; even the bacon was thick, tough, and rubbery, lacking any crispness or piquancy. I never tasted the truffle, which has an earthy distinctive aroma. And the arugula scattered on the burger was nothing more than a distraction for what was missing. The sweet potatoes were flavorful and crispy, not too greasy and tasted good when dipped in aioli. It was the only edible food on the table.

We talked to the manager, Vincenza, about our experience and she seemed concerned and eager to correct the problem with their burgers. Although this is their main entrée on the menu, they also offer lamb and turkey patties. A waiter who was sitting next to us eating lunch walked up to our table and told us about the milkshakes and the organic cotton candy offered on the menu. He made a point concerning the ‘organic’ cotton candy. This seemed an oxymoron to us, offering a solid sugar item with an organic twist.

Trying to satisfy children’s taste buds as well as connoisseurs of food is not an easy challenge for any eatery. The manager talked with us and mentioned that they were about to change their meat distributor. What I admired about the restaurant was the openness of the staff and their receptiveness to constructive criticism. We promised to give Notorious another chance in the near future.

HeartsChartNotorious2