Wright’s Winemaker Dinners

For the past 27 seasons Wright’s at the Arizona Biltmore has been hosting Winemaker Dinners. To kick off the 28th I was invited to attend the Antinori Wine Company dinner. As it would turn out, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had in sometime. The physical characteristics of the Biltmore are perfect for an evening like this and the atmosphere brings out moments where you forget its 2017 and might instead be running into the company of Marilyn or some other of Hollywood’s greatest.    

We started the evening out on the patio of Wright’s with a Brut sparkling wine and canapes. As to be expected at any Waldorf Astoria hotel the service all night was top notch but friendly without pretention. The canapes were great to whet the appetite: Ahi Tuna salad, Charred Artichoke in a spoon, & a Foie Gras Cannoli. After some conversation and the tasty morsels we were ushered inside to our tables where we were greeted and told a little history to the night’s winemaker.

We started our 4 course meal with a very light but interesting squid ink linguini with cuttlefish. Nicely plated and given what we had coming our way it was the perfect amount. It was paired with the Guado Al Tasso, Vermentino which was very complimentary to the pasta and had a nice clean finish, very similar to a sauvignon blanc. 

My favorite dish was coming up and in all honestly I could have done a whole meal of this one dish. It was Guinea Hen Roulade and consisted of the hen with Italian sausage stuffed under the skin and topped with lemon preserve. Delectable and brought a huge smile to my face. I immediately though I could make this my new holiday dish as it had a very wintery feel to it. It came with 2 ricotta gnudi and in case you have no idea what that is, as I didn’t until this night, it’s very similar to gnocchi in consistency but creamier and with more flavor. I promise you, it is like no gnocchi you have ever tasted and I can only hope this dish and all its accompaniments become a regular menu item. It was paired with a beautiful Antinori, Scalabrone, Rosato.

Our final two dishes were a braised pork shank which, unfortunately at this point I was too full to finish but was fall off the bone and with wonderful agrodolce sauce. It sat among roasted cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and a really wonderful parsnip puree. It was paired with a Guado Al Tasso, ‘Super Tuscan’ a red which was the hit of the night. We had to end on a sweet note of course which was a black walnut peach torte set in an espresso cube with a vanilla bean chiboust crème and was just the right amount of sweet. This was served with Antinori, Muffato della sala, a dessert wine. With a very strong perfume & floral scent it was a nice ending to the evening and accentuated the peach in the torte.


There is a full calendar of the Winemaker Dinners coming up so you have plenty of time to get one on the books. They are held once a month and at press time there are different winemakers scheduled out through June of 2018. Dinners are $160 a person, plus tax and gratuity. They include a welcome reception, 4 course meal, along with the wine pairings.

For more information check out the Arizona Biltmore website or here.

2017 Chase Field TotDog!

Every year Chase Field and the Diamondbacks trot out some new options to the food menu to entice us to come enjoy a baseball game. They seem to get more and more ridiculous every year and by ridiculous I mean amazingly tantalizing. I won’t lie, it almost feels like they are challenging us. Last year we tried out a few of their new items and mostly all got thumbs up. This year I ended up buying tickets to opening day and among all the pageantry and excitement of what turned out to be an amazing game, I had to try one thing. It caught my attention from the moment they previewed it in the media. I’m talking about the TotDog. Don’t worry we have plans to hit another game and give you a bigger look at lots of different items but for today it’s all about the classic ballpark item kicked up a notch Dbacks style.

Everyone knows a hot dog is the perfect ballpark food which is why I enjoy how Chase Field continues to push the envelope on the staple. In the past they did their DBat corn dog which was easily a meal for 2-3 people and cost as much to boot. This year the TotDog is built for one, a very hungry one, but one none the less. I made sure to have little to no breakfast so that I could fully consume the foot-long dog and while my stomach had plans for other items in the park I found this dog filled me up completely for the day. The hotdog is indeed foot-long, covered in chili, green onions, cheese, sour cream, & the highlight of course is tater tots. It sounds like a lot of food because it is a lot of food but I look at it as a chili dog with a side of tater tots. Plus sometimes you just ignore the calorie count so nicely listed next to it in the menu. I’ll let you enjoy that glorious detail yourself if you choose to look. You can pick up your TotDog at the BigDawgs stand.

The interesting thing about this dog is that not only do you command jealous looks from people as you walk by but cost wise it turned out to be a “deal” I use the quotes because in fact most food in ballparks is overpriced but when you consider the plain foot-long hotdog was 10 bucks, the TotDog was only 11. You essentially are getting a side of tater tots and chili for a buck. I can’t promise prices won’t change but that works itself out in my logical brain to a “deal”. After taking the walk back to my seat and being stopped 4 times, no joke, by people wanting to know what I was eating and where they could get it, I sat down and started the fun task of how to eat it exactly. I recommend cutting it in half while you’re at the hotdog topping cart and have the flat surface for support. Then you can focus on not getting it all over you in your seat. No matter how you do it, it is worth it, and I hope it becomes a staple in the future.

Fresh Cold Milk Straight From The Local Dairy

As we continue to explore the Phoenix metro area and discover great new places for you to eat and experience, we noticed something. Lots of locals are working together and supporting each other. From restaurants to hotels and everything in between, we all seem to support each other. Fueling this great foodie economy and opening up opportunities everywhere you look. A few months ago we fell in love with Scooptacular ice cream and in our visit to explore all their wonderful flavors we learned that there is a connection with Danzeisen Dairy. It makes sense since they are not far from each other in the Laveen area and we all know we need great milk for great ice cream.

We set up a visit to their dairy and learned all there is into making those cold glass bottles filled with incredibly tasty milk. Pure love of this quality milk exudes from customers and there is plenty of reason for it. The dairy follows a family principal that if you make sure the cows are happy you are guaranteed to have a better product and ensure your customers are happy. That type of business model is proving to be popular with consumers and is driving an almost cult like following. The first time I ever noticed the glass jugs was while standing in line at the grocery store. The lady ahead of me was returning her jugs for the deposit back. It’s been a long time since I saw that happening and it must have been the look on my face but she immediately started telling me how amazing the milk was and that, “it will be the best milk you have ever had”. It is hard to resist when you have someone you don’t know getting super excited about something that seems so every day.

In addition to learning about the dairy and how they are using machines from the 50’s, which they think helps make the milk as creamy and delicious as it is, we also got a taste of all their flavors. There are the normal skim, 1% or 2% milk fat but even more incredible are the flavored versions. Chocolate, strawberry, and even an orange flavor await you in some grocery store refrigerators and if you happen to be lucky enough there is a root beer flavor as well. During the holidays they make an eggnog but it’s only for a limited time and this is definitely that time of year. Not everyone loves eggnog, even in my family it is split right up the middle. So here are a few ideas on how to use their creamy eggnog throughout the holiday season even if you don’t normally like it.

Eggnog pancakes – substitute milk or water with eggnog for a rich, fluffy stack of flapjacks.

Shaken, Not Stirred – Martini with eggnog, vodka, nutmeg.

Eggnog bread – adding eggnog to your favorite bread recipe gives you a moist, rich bread.

Let Scooptacular Cool You Down This Summer

My love affair began randomly at Lou Malnati’s, upon tasting their cookie dessert topped with the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had in my life. I asked them where this treasure came from and that was the first time I heard the name, Scooptacular. It was necessary to learn more and to taste more of course. A little investigation and we discovered Scooptacular is located in Laveen and not only do they make their own ice cream there but they have a great little shop. One very hot day in July my business partner in crime and I set out to get our hands on some ice cream and we were pleasantly surprised to find a great local success story along the way, and of course a new favorite flavor.

Nindi Wadhwa started his shop 6 years ago when he realized that there really wasn’t much selection in Laveen for family outings. He and his wife couldn’t find many options to take the whole family out. South Phoenix is full of your typical strip malls and restaurant chains for the most part. One day they drove by an empty shop in one of those malls, which was once inhabited by a Cold Stone, and they thought it would be pretty cool (pun intended) to open up their own local ice cream shop. If you can’t find what you are looking for, why not make it yourself. One thing led to another and now they not only have 2 stores (the second is in the SanTan Village in Gilbert) but you can also find their ice cream in multiple restaurants throughout the valley. Some Fox Concepts restaurants, Beckett’s Table, among other local restaurants use Scooptacular ice cream for some of their desserts. It is truly a great example of working within your local economy and utilizing word of mouth to find success. Keeping it local has also allowed them to become deeply ingrained in the community; hosting events and fundraisers all in an effort to bring the community closer together.

 

As for the actual ice cream, we embarked on a tasting extravaganza and oddly both my business partner and I ended up agreeing on the same favorite flavor. Nindi is willing to try anything when it comes to flavors and some work out and some just become great stories. During baseball season they developed a hot dog flavor (it had actual hot dog pieces in it) that didn’t go over so well except, the neighborhood kids started daring others to try it so it became infamous in its own way. But you probably won’t be seeing it again anytime soon. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Laveen Concrete Mix, which is named because of a concrete factory located down the street. It has caramel ice cream with graham cracker crumbs and chocolate “rocks”. It’s only available in the Laveen store and it is worth the drive. These flavor experiments have also helped to create some social buzz. For example, during Thanksgiving 2012, the local CBS affiliate did a story on the Turkey flavor ice cream they had created and the story went national. Trending the day before Thanksgiving as the #3 story nationwide is not a bad way to start off a business.

IMG_8707 (2)For us at WhereShouldWeEat.com, our new favorite is Taro. Yes that’s right, the root vegetable! Surprisingly, it is very addicting and trust us when we say it is worth trying for yourself. It is a lavender purple color and has a distinct taste like nothing else you have ever had. The smell and flavor both reminded me of the Jelly Belly buttered popcorn flavor, which may sound unpleasant for an ice cream but it was amazing. There is a lot in store for the future of this local ice cream hidden gem. We can’t wait to see what new flavors are up next and where we see them expand! For more information on Scooptacular visit their ingredients page HERE.

St. Francis New 2016 Summer Menu

St. Francis has always had fresh delicious vegetables as a mainstay on their menu but the recently updated lunch menu brings it to a whole new level. Chef Aaron Chamberlin refreshed the menu to not only focus on the seasonal ingredients but also to infuse it with the light, yet rich mesquite and almond wood flavors from roasting in the oven that is synonymous with St. Francis’s dishes. The oven is the centerpiece of St. Francis and how it gets those flavors into its food; it is a custom wood-burning oven that uses mesquite for its smokiness and almond for its heat. We were recently invited to enjoy a tasting of this new menu and if I didn’t know better I would think everything was picked right out of the garden just for our dishes. St. Francis is located on Camelback just east of Central and has become a mainstay in Uptown Phoenix. Serving up not only the freshest ingredients but also a comfort level akin to cooking with some friends at your house, all while being provided top notch service. So let’s dig into the new menu.

 

Carrot Ginger Soup

We started out with the Carrot Ginger Soup not only for the strange soup craving I was having but also the think velvety texture of the bowls coming out of the kitchen on tray after tray. It seemed to be quite the popular dish even on this relatively warm day, a precursor to the summer scorching we all dread. But don’t let the heat scare you away from this wonderful soup. Creamy and smooth the ginger is muted so as not to hit you with that sharp ginger taste, it’s simply a secondary flavor to the strong carrot. It coats your stomach and tongue with each spoonful. A perfect way to start your experience through the St. Francis garden. I easily could have had a bowl of this and walked away content but then I wouldn’t have gotten to experience the beauty of the summer squash plate.

 

Whole Roasted summer SquashThe whole roasted summer squash plate incorporates colorful, oven-roasted baby squash topped with roasted red pepper and romesco sauce, local goat cheese and toasted almonds. I admit I always fought finishing the vegetables on my plate growing up; however, maybe it’s my ever changing taste buds or just how this dish was prepared but I had no problem this time. The squash was cooked with such perfection keeping the crisp bites and slightly charred outsides along with the soft insides. Definitely attempt to get a little of each ingredient in one dish as the sauce, cheese, and almonds add to the squash without taking anything away from the base flavor.

 

Romaine Hearts SaladFor the mains, my lunch guest enjoyed the Romaine Hearts salad while I enjoyed the French Onion Hamburger with a “simple side salad”. The Romaine Hearts salad had bacon, apples, endive, and a buttermilk cheddar dressing along with its namesake Romaine. Fresh, crisp, and refreshing this salad would make both veggie lover and meat lover happy. Just one of many things that makes St. Francis so great is that there is something for the vegetarian, gluten intolerant, or meat lover. For me, summer always makes me crave salads like the one my partner had but on this occasion I needed a juicy burger. Having always loved French onion soup, I couldn’t pass up the description of the French Onion Burger. Close your eyes and imagine these ingredients in a thick juicy burger; smoked bacon, gruyère, crispy onions, arugula, and a French onion dip spread. I was so happy with my selection I didn’t want to eat it all so that I could enjoy it at dinner too. Who needs ketchup and mayo when you have french onion dip as a condiment?!

The burger itself probably would have been perfect alone as it was as moist and juicy as any burger I’ve ever had, but I’m not complaining about any of the toppings. In fact, this one is going in my favorite burger list and that is an honor from this burger lover. One last note is that you have a choice of fries or a “simple side salad”. I chose the latter and I don’t know if it was the ingredients or the light oil based dressing but I could have ordered the side salad as a dish all its own. I look forward to trying out more on this new menu all summer and this side salad will probably become my staple side dish.French Onion Burger

Lou Malnati’s Expands Into Phoenix

Lou Malnati's ExteriorA classic Chicago icon has landed in the valley. The Phoenix metro area is a prime area for Chicago transplants and so it comes as no surprise that the pizzeria best known in Chi town is planting some roots here. In fact, the pizza maker has been shipping their pizza out of state for some time and Phoenix is their top ship-to location. We got a sneak peek at their first expansion outside of Chicago and you might be surprised by the look and feel of the place. Don’t worry the pizza is still the same and even shares the same cheese supplier from a Wisconsin dairy farm.

The building itself looks different then their other locations mainly because they want to blend into their surroundings and Lou Malnati's Interiorinfuse a little bit of Phoenix. Located in the Uptown shopping plaza they use a lot of the retro refurbishment look, from the huge lighted cheese sign in the main dining area to the picture of Sky Harbor back when there was a terminal 1. The plaza itself has been in the process of revitalizing that section of uptown Phoenix and in doing so choose to bring a retro flare to the shops and restaurants. To say the plaza has been a huge success is an understatement, from locally based Flower Child to New York Shake Shack and now a little Chicago added into the mix is a testament to Lou Malnati's Interiorthe kind of pull Uptown Plaza has in the market. Lou Malnati’s has built a fantastic looking establishment with a big patio, nice bar with comfortable leather stools, free Wi-Fi, and no matter where you look there are little nods to the original. No matter if you are a Lou Malnati’s fanatic or this will be your first experience, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Of course you don’t come to Lou’s just for the ambiance, you’re here for the pizza andLou Malnati's Stuffed Spinach Bread other selections on the menu. To start things off I tried the Stuffed Spinach Bread. It looks a lot like a little banana bread loaf but instead contains spinach, garlic, onion, and tomato and is served with a side of marinara sauce. Not too big for an appetizer but really perfect to get this carb loading event started. Primarily you will taste the spinach but moments later you are struck by the wonderful garlic and onions. While it is encased in the same crust as the pizza, its flavor spectrum is different from the pizza allowing you to begin your meal with it. O.K., but seriously you are here for the pizza.Lou Malnati's Deep Dish Deciding which pizza to order was pretty simple, as I can’t remember the last time I had a deep dish pizza. I went with the Lou Malnati’s Classic deep dish. With sausage, double cheese, roma tomatoes on Buttercrust. Yeah, that’s right, Buttercrust. That’s not my joining of words but instead a trademarked word Lou Malnati’s uses to describe their crust. They aren’t joking or exaggerating, it’s a perfect word to describe the flakey buttery crust that houses all the sauce and cheese and sausage deliciousness that is contained inside. It’s heavy, for sure, but worth every last carb.

Finishing things off was the Chocolate Chip Pizza, which was in a small ramekin and just the right size to get a little sweet before departing this food journey. Gooey in the middle and a little crispy on the outside like every good cookie should be, the ice cream melted nicely only to mix with the whipped cream on top. The surprise was that the vanilla bean ice cream was made by a local ice creamery called Scooptacular. My next mission is to find this ice cream genius and purchase a full pint. But for now it’s time to go take a nap on the couch.

 Lou Malnati's Pizza Cookie