Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Trip Report: There is No Arizona

Last week I traveled to Scottsdale for a conference, and The Folk Singer came along to make certain that the pool was well tended to while I sat through meetings and presentations. It was the first trip out Southwest for both of us, and I would say that we were both surprised how comfortable 105 degree temperatures can be when there is zero humidity. After the conference ended each day we joined our new acquaintances at a few of Scottsdale's finest eateries, and overall I'd say that we were pleased with each of our meals and with the city overall. My only suggestion would be to open up the architectural color scheme outside of tan/brown/etc.

Also, what's up with all of the gluten free options?

The Mission came highly recommended on both the interweb and by the hotel staff. This place was hopping on a Wednesday night in September, a notoriously slow time for the region. Cadres of both young and old crowded around candle lit tables filled with margaritas of varying colors, and the crowd forced us to dine on the back patio, which was a welcome 75 degrees after the sun went down. We began with a bowl of guacamole prepared tableside and to our desired heat specifications. Main courses included tacos filled with crispy fried fingers of mahi mahi topped with crema tinged with chopped olives and a remarkably tender and flavorful chimichurri marinated hanger steak. The disappointment of the night was surprisingly the dish that had been the most touted. Pineapple glazed pork shoulder was awfully dry, like chewing a spare rib that had been left on the grill for 6 days such that it was reduced to dehydrated shreds. To make matters worse, the $32 "serving for two" (the only option) could not have been more than 7oz. of pork. But that let down notwithstanding, our entire table agreed that we would return if given the choice.

We explored other eateries Scottsdale, most of them in the Old Town area. We had lunch at The Herb Box, a split level establishment with a gourmet market on the bottom and full service restaurant on the top, that specialized in salads, wraps, dips, etc. Short rib tacos for me; brussel sprout and pancetta flatbread for TFS; both of us were pleased. The valets at the resort tipped us off to Frank & Lupe's, a locals' favorite haunt for no frills Mexican fare. This might have been our favorite meal of the trip. We sat on the outdoor patio sipping frothy and perfectly balanced margaritas and dined on poblano cream chicken enchiladas, tamales covered in New Mexican chiles, and sopapillas.

After the conference ended on Friday, we made the drive up to Sedona to check out the red rocks and taste a few wines. Turns out that we arrived 1 day too early for the Sedona Winefest, but we were still able to taste at a small shop in town and visit Page Spring Cellars on our way back to Scottsdale. Speaking in generalities, I would say that the Rhone varietals of Arizona fall short of their California neighbors, but that could be a personal matter of taste. We did, however, find an interesting bottle of sparkling with a pronounced vanilla aroma and flavor that should make for an interesting ice cream float in the near future.

Our dining schedule built up in anticipation until we made it to Pizzeria Bianco, which was our final meal before flying home. Proprietor Chris Bianco has earned a James Beard award and unending praise for his wood-fired Sicilian pies. After reading about the notoriously long lines during peak hours, we decided to arrive before the 11:00am opening time for lunch, and we waited under the canopy out front with about a half dozen other folks until the hostess raised the window shades.

The former machinist shop has lofty ceilings, brick walls, and is dominated by the large cistern oven which takes up nearly 1/4 of the restaurant. There are only 42 seats. The menu is equally minimalist - 3 salads and 6 pies with add ons available. The waiter suggested that we split a salad and pizza, but I told him that we came to play, so we ordered 2 pies: (1) the intentionally simplistic Margherita pizza, to which we added glistening slices of prosciutto draped over the top, and (2) the Rosa, a white pie featuring crushed pistachios that John T. Edge has called "the best pizza he ever ate."

This was very, very good pizza. The dough was so fresh that your taste buds left no doubt that you were eating first and foremost bread. The base of the pizza stayed horizontal under the toppings, but it was more pliable than crispy; the crust, on the other hand, had a hollow crunch like a log collapsing in a fireplace. The Margherita was probably the best specimen that I have ever experienced, and that assessment is notwithstanding the prosciutto, which TFS pilfered off of most of my slices. The parmigiano reggiano and crushed pistachios gave the Rosa a rich and nutty (maybe too much) taste, but the thinly sliced red onions helped bring a little sharpness and sweetness to the party.

But was this the best pizza I ever ate?  I don't know. The pizza style was very similar to Ancora, except that Pizzeria Bianco does not have that charcoal taste that I think sometimes overpower the pies at Ancora. Domenica's pizza is not as "rustic" as Pizzeria Bianco (for lack of a better term), but that does not make Alon's pies any less good. I love Pizza Delicious too, but Mike & Greg's pies are in a different genre.

I guess that my overall assessment is that the young guns of New Orleans pizza are ready to play with the big boys.

1 comment:

Slow Southern Style said...

Funny, I lived in Scottsdale for 3.5 years and only ate at one of the restaurants you mentioned. I liked the Orange Table, good sandwiches in Old Town.