Trip to Scottsdale
Going on vacations with the parents is always a gastronomic affair, with this mini vacation to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area being no exception. We left a couple of days after Christmas and were back before the new year, with a little bit of sun (not really, but it was better than being in Seattle) and a couple of inches on our waistlines after all of this eating...
I always gave my mom a hard time for Cowboy Ciao's Stetson Chopped Salad. I mean come on, a salad. I don't get excited for rabbit food. This was the entire family's (minus my mom) time at the ever so talked about restaurant. I'm pretty sure my dad was fed up about hearing about this place for years and years.
I hate to say it, but Mom's raving was justified. It was an astonishingly good salad. And the main reason for that is that it's not really a salad. Of the eight ingredients in the salad, only one is green— arugula. The other elements consist of a range of things from smoked salmon to freeze dried corn to pepitas and black currants, all topped with a buttermilk pesto dressing.
It's prepared table side with a bunch of these random sounding ingredients that you wouldn't think combined well together just based on the description, but the flavors is harmonious and delicate. And more importantly unstoppably good.
On Mom's recommendation, Erin ordered the mushroom entree, which consisted of every type of mushroom you could imagine over a creamy chipotle sauce with baked polenta. A super rich and interesting meal for a mushroom fanatic like Erin.
And for dessert, we shared a pumpernickel bread pudding and an apple crisp a la mode (made with duck fat ice cream). It's unique enough to warrant a try!
The Orange Table
As we searched for a breakfast joint in the Scottsdale area, The Orange Table kept appearing in the top lists. After a look at their menu, we could see why. There were some unique and delicious sounding plates that made us want to definitely check The Orange Table out.
I dug into a chimichurri corned beef hash with fried eggs. I'd never seen chimichurri on a breakfast menu, but I know I'll be giving that a try back in our kitchen because it's a winner. Erin chowed down on the most daring pancakes we'd heard of: jalapeño pecan. The combo of super sweet maple syrup , crunchy pecan, and a decently hefty kick of spice from rings of jalapeño in the actual pancakes made these a fascinating and unusual start to the day. There's just the right amount of balance and flavor to keep you going back, but when you are finally done, you definitely notice the lingering flavor of jalapeño in the back of your throat.
While walking around Scottsdale on our first day, we stumbled across a cute little puffin statue to add to our growing collection of birds. At this gallery, the salesperson recommended a stop at The Mission, a former church renovated into a dimly lit, but nicely decorated restaurant serving "modern Latin" cuisine.
We stopped in for lunch where we split good tableside guacamole with pepitas and cotija cheese on top that reminded us of the guac from Rick Bayless' joint (still not as good as Boudro's though). Everybody but Erin got tacos. They were tiny, silver dollar tacos stuffed to the brim with complex fillings like grilled mahi mahi. Erin, with the smallest appetite, ended up with the biggest dish: a black bean torta with cheese and a fried egg on top of pan de yuca— basically a glorified and delicious breakfast sandwich.
The name fits the place. FnB is a cleaned up, shoe-shined, ninja with gritty character and personality. The restaurant is small, loud, and serves a short list of seasonal local food that your waiter will explain in great, friendly detail. For an appetizer the table split lamb meatballs with house-made kimchi and braised leeks covered in melted freshly made mozzarella and a fried egg for good measure. Voted one of Food & Wine's best dishes, we heartily agreed that this was the way to dress up an often lackluster vegetable like leeks. The dish definitely tasted best when you got a bite of the fried egg, so if we were the chef's we'd place two on top instead of just one. Not that we are complaining or anything.
I had no problem eating up and loving my fennel sausage pasta with ricotta (again, house-made), and Erin chose her staple dish: scallops. These seared scallops came with salsa verde, oranges, and sunchokes, an interesting looking, earthy veggie, prepared similarly to potatoes that we hadn't heard of before until recently. Each element was good on its own, but better when combined.
The Herb Box
Our final culinary adventure was a trip to the Herb Box (note that 3 of these 5 restaurants were in a stone's throw of each other). Funny enough, our waiter from The Orange Table happened to be our waiter here as well. Tip of the hat to Mom for both noticing and having the courage to bring it up.
Erin and I were suffering a bit of a role reversal. She ordered the braised short rib chili with cornbread dumplings, and I chose the vegetarian butternut squash enchiladas. Don't worry though, there were so many other flavors dominating the dish that the squash barely peaked out, so I couldn't complain. Other than that, the enchiladas were tremendous and had an unusual but welcomed crispiness. The salad that came with, although not Stetson good, was pretty terrific. Erin's was rich and a little one dimensional until you added the avocado and tomato sitting on the side to the mix. And of course any good chili can be made better by the addition of cheese, so maybe one should request some on the side?
Dessert was a pretty crazy (extravagant) event. Mom pulled an audible at the last moment and ordered three desserts because she couldn't decide on just two. It ended up being okay, because three desserts are better than two, always. Erin and I split the chocolate chip bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream and toffee sauce. And as a table we all shared the sweet 'n' salty, which is a collection of chocolate dipped goodies ranging from cookies to marshmallows to peanut brittle. It was as tasty as it sounds.
We had a great time, but we missed our Bonnie. Too bad she couldn't join us. We did pick her up some treats like a peanut butter puppy cannoli at a dog bakery in Sedona! I think she was happy to be sleeping in her own bed again...
Until the next vacation, we'll be trying to work off those calories, so we can do it all over again!