I recently appeared on an episode of the Arizona PBS ei8ht show “Check Please! Arizona.” The concept is quite simple, three diners are sent out to each of three different restaurants and then gather with host Robert McGrath to share their experiences.
Scottsdale’s Posh Improvisational Cuisine, St. Francis and Tee Pee Mexican restaurants of Phoenix were chosen and meals were eaten. I must say that getting random people together to dine and discuss makes for an interesting cross section of culinary opinion.
As I’ve written before, St Francis is a great neighborhood restaurant with exceptional service and tasty food. I have enjoyed each of my visits to this local Phoenix spot and would wholeheartedly recommend a visit to anyone looking for a well rounded local dining experience.
By all accounts, Tee Pee Mexican restaurant should have been great but my experience just wasn’t very impressive. The food was good but not special, the service was adequate but didn’t impress and the ambiance was typical kitschy family Mexican. It’s unfair to negatively judge a restaurant on one visit so I intend to return and do a full review in the future.
On to Posh Improvisational Cuisine. As always being at the counter at Posh is an exceptional experience. The food is stellar, the service is on par with some of the best restaurants in the country and sitting at the counter immerses you in a culinary ballet that unfolds before your eyes.
Over-all appearing on Check Please! Arizona was an interesting experience that i’d recommend to anyone interested in broadening their culinary horizons, sharing their experiences with the public at large and participating in the process of making “television.”
Narcisse Champagne lounge and Tea room held a baptism by bubbly as it were with their official Grand opening on January 27th amidst fanfare befitting North Scottsdale’s newest “it” spot.
Owners were on hand to greet guests, explain the concept and give tours to hundreds of VIP guests and Local Media personalities alike while champagne flowed freely courtesy of several distributors.
Tasty hors de ouveries, miniatures of full sized menu items, including white prawn with sweet and sour papaya, mint and chile and a tender ribeye with beech mushrooms, pearl onions and horseradish mashed potatoes were passed by attractive staff attired in risqué garb.
Not being one who frequently partakes in the bubble it was nice having knowledgeable people on hand to answer questions about several of seventy-five varietals available for purchase by the glass and to keep my champagne flute full.
Wandering throughout the establishment was a performance actress who I can only surmise was meant to be a bubble, uttering not a word nor offering anything more than a blank gaze, this apparition in white amused and confused guests, offering them bits of cloth and balls of cotton from her stash (I’m still unsure where she fit in but suffice to say, she was cool).
•a bit of advice-Never return an empty champagne bottle to the ice bucket upside-down! It shows an utter lack of respect for the prestigious beverage you have just consumed, and worse yet, a tactless disregard for the companions you have just shared it with.
With the opening of Narcisse, the “Beautiful people” of North Scottsdale have a new place to see, be seen and enjoy what once caused the blind Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Perrignon to exclaim “come quickly brothers, I’m tasting stars!”
The last thing on my mind after judging the first annual Arizona Taco Festival on Saturday was eating anything else, so of course I awoke bright and early Sunday morning and headed down to the Hotel Valley Ho for the very first cupcake festival in Arizona dubbed ‘Cupcake Love-in.’
This event was the brainchild of cupcake divas Kelly Garcia (Butter& Me) and Tracey Dempsey (Tracy Dempsey Originals) who decided the Valley needed a little ‘Peace, Love and cupcakes!’ The Love-in benefited Singleton Moms, Safe Haven for Animals and from my first cake to my last was it tasty beyond words.
Hosted by ‘Cupcake Queen’ and ABC 15′s Sonoran Living Co-host Andi Barness, this festival had everything from sweet to savory, simple to elaborate and there was even a Clown (Local Chef, author and Phoenix Magazine food critic Gwen Walters incognito).
Did I eat cupcakes? Yes, in fact somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen (don’t worry Mom, they were LITTLE). Some of my favorite included a spot on, traditional Red velvet offering from Liberty Market which ticked all the right boxes, moist with perfect cream cheese icing and just a hint of chocolate (unlike some of the others that were far too sweet or chocolaty).
Never one to follow in the footsteps of others, Posh Restaurant’s Chef Josh Hebert whipped up a sweet and savory ‘improvisational’ Red curry coconut milk cupcake with pineapple frosting that was a tasty break from the norm while the Crybaby Ranch crew impaled their offering on skewers and set them in AstroTurf. This creation was dubbed ‘Strawberry fields’ and was my favorite presentation of the day.
One of the most daring offerings of the day was a chicken & waffles cupcake by Barb’s Bakery that perched a (store bought?) chicken nugget atop fluffy maple butter-cream drizzled with maple syrup, all resting on white cake. I thought this was a great idea which tasted good but missed the mark. (I really wanted to love this one but the white cake just didn’t work for me)
My favorite offering of the day had to be the Crackerjack from Modern steak with it’s moist and flavorful cake stuffed with popcorn butter-cream and topped with homemade crackerjacks.
I spoke to the Chef who explained how it all came together from making popcorn flour to steeping the unpopped kernels in milk for the Creme anglaise and painstakingly making sure that the depth of flavor permeated the entire cupcake (best cupcake I’ve ever eaten). Sadly, this taste delight isn’t available on the menu as it was explained that the process is too labor intensive for everyday preparation (a weekly dessert special perhaps?)
Local foodie Susie Timm and Yelp Phoenix territory manager Lindsey Fosse sat (with several others), in judgement of the days competition (there must be winners and losers of course), and by the looks of the picture below, were only at the beginning of the 120 or so tastings of the day.
What food festival is complete without an eating competition? Jeff Krauss of Truckin’ Good Food took on the likes of Rodney Hartwig, Chefs Wade Moises (Adobe Restaurant) and James Porter (Le Petite Maison) along with a little 12 year old girl (who looked to be a stiff competitor), for the crown of ‘Cupcake champion.’
The winner having, downed ten cupcakes, was Rodney Hartwig who donned his pink crown and proceeded to wow the crowd with his cupcake dance (please keep your day job Rodney).
This was a wonderful event and a break from the normal (though TiVo’d) Football filled Sunday and I can honestly say that I’ve had my fill of cupcakes (along with a very long, sugar induced nap) for a while. I hope the Cupcake Love-in becomes an annual event and if it does, I’ll certainly be attending next year!
31 Teams from across the Valley of the sun put their best taco inspired foot forward and produced a wide range of tasty tacos for a crowd of thousands.
In an unmarked, heavily guarded tent at the back of the venue 30 or so Valley Foodies, Bloggers and taco lovers sat in judgement of the days offerings having been Certified earlier as ‘Taco Judges.’ (I was proud to be among this group).
The tacos were judged much like standard Barbecue competition entries in that there were three categories (appearance,taste and tenderness) which earned a score between one and ten. There were four main (chicken, pork, beef and seafood) and one ‘anything goes’ category into which teams could submit entries.
I personally tasted and judged in excess of eighteen tacos of varying styles, sizes and flavor profiles and I can honestly say that the one thing I longed for but found to be generally missing was SPICE! Some teams elaborately decorated their boxes in hopes of earning an extra point or two while others bet that their flavors and style would shine through. There were even a few tacos that totally perplexed judges as pictured below.
I had a few favorites including a perfectly cooked lobster taco and a smoked pork taco served on a crepe and splashed liberally with foie gras aioli (which I later found to be from Petite Maison). A multitude of styles and garnishes were presented to us but I found myself longing for one perfectly prepared Baja style taco, simple, humble and delicious.
At the other end of the venue was a tent that must have contained tequila from at least twenty vendors who happily poured samples of their spirits. (I’m so glad I wasn’t asked to be a tequila judge, a little more time in that tent and I would have been wrecked!) This is where my “Certified Taco Judge” badge came in handy as shot after tiny shot of this Mexican staple was poured for my cohorts and I. Not only were some of my favorite tequilas represented but a few that I had never seen or tasted before, there’s a trip to Beverages and More in my near future.
Did I mention the Mexican wrestlers? That’s right, Lucha Libre anyone? Yes, there were wrestlers beating the tar out of each other in the squared circle built out in the open air, to the enjoyment of everyone.
All in all, the Arizona Taco Festival was a smashing success and I’m already looking forward to next years event.