Cafe Bink Review (Carefree, AZ)

Ate there this weekend.  The experience was great, but the food was just OK. First off, I would say the patio is a wonderful place to spend a fall afternoon.  Sitting in the shade, looking across Tom Darlington Road at the mountain vista is special.  The restaurant has a killer location, and atmosphere.

Me and my SO each had a bowl of soup, and split a sandwich.  She had the butternut squash soup, which she loved.  They presented the soup, as a bowl, with a crouton in it, then they poured the soup at the table out of a small tureen.  This is a classy service step (and one of the many things they do here, to "turn it up a notch" just a bit)).

I had the french onion soup, which was great as well.  This soup takes a long time to cook right (reduce the onions over and over), so not something I will make at home.  It was pretty good at Cafe Bink.  The flavors were balanced, if a bit salty.

We then split the corned beef sandwich.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the corned beef was obviously home made (in hindsight, I guess most of the items on the menu were probably made from scratch, as that is the Binkley way).  The sandwich was fine, but nothing amazing.

Finally, we split a baby order of french fries.  We are glad we got the baby, as it was a very large portion.  The fries themselves were pretty great.  Crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside.  The 3 sauces that came with them (truffle catchup, garlic aioli, and sauce vert) were not great.  The catchup was overwhelmed by the truffle, not balanced, the sauce vert didn't have much of a taste, and I didn't try the aioli (I am mayo averse).

Overall, while the quality of the food was all pretty good, I wouldn't say that any of the dishes were really outstanding, and probably not worth the high prices.  Nothing we had "wowed" us.

I have to give major props to the service.  We had our 14 month old in tow, and the staff bent over backwards to make us comfortable (the server even offered to have the chef make a special macaroni and cheese dish - off the menu for her).  I am the kind of person who is very self conscious of my child interfering with other peoples meals, and generally uncomfortable with taking her out.  The staff really put me at ease, and allowed me to enjoy my meal.  I can't say enough how their attitudes really enhanced our experience.  From what I saw, the service at Cafe Bink is excellent all around.

So bottom line, I can't exactly recommend Cafe Bink as a destination restaurant, it probably isn't worth the drive.  But, if you are already in Cave Creek, or Carefree, you could certainly do worse.  One thing is for sure, the staff will bend over backwards to make sure you have a great experience, and that  says a lot.

J&G Steakhouse - Restaurant Week 2009

We recently had a wonderful meal at J&G, when we were lucky to hit it during the Arizona Restaurant Week promotion.  I had heard a lot of great things about this place, so it was on my short list of places to try. We arrived on time, and our table was ready.  The space is beautiful.  It was hip, and steakhouse-like (dark woods, and big plush booths).  Our hostess seated us at a 4 top (there were 2 of us) in the far corner of the restaurant.  I wasn't thrilled with the table, but the wife was happy to be out of the hustle and bustle (we were both tired from a long day of kid chasing), so we didn't request to be moved.  The restaurant is focused on their view over the hotel grounds, and the valley.  It is a spectacular view, and most tables in the restaurant take advantage of it (our table did in fact have a view, it was just in a bit of an awkward location).  In the future, I would probably request a table "on the window", as this would probably improve the experience.

First thing I should mention is the service.  The afternoon of our reservation day, I received a confirmation call from the restaurant.  I always appreciate this, as it is nice to know they will be prepared for us.  I requested a patio table, and was told that they don't serve food there.  The hostess was professional, and very pleasant.  The rest of the  service was excellent throughout our meal.  Our waiter was attentive, and kept a perfect level of formality (not stiff, but not our friend either).  Our meal was perfectly paced, and our drink glasses never went empty.  Our waiter spent a lot of time with us, explaining the menu, and guiding us to make the best choices.  They also presented us with the RW menu right away, and didn't seem to treat us any differently for "dining with a discount".

I started with a cocktail, as I knew that this was one of the specialties of the house.  I got the "Hemingway Daiquiri", which was excellently mixed (including small bits of crushed ice).  It was strong, and really tasty.  I stopped at one, but likely could have drank quite a few.  I guess Hemingway knew how to drink, so I shouldn't have been surprised that his namesake drink was tasty and strong.

As with our other RW meals, we got one of each selection on the menu, to ensure we could try everything.  This is a good time in my review to comment on the quality of the options.  J&G selected their "greatest hits" to best represent their restaurant.  I think some other restaurants pick cheaper options, but I appreciate that J&G took this opportunity to showcase themselves in their best light.

The Caesar salad was great.  It was light, lemony, and fresh.  It was covered in shaved Parmesan, and was very large.  The Steamed shrimp salad was really special (our waiter informed us that dish has been on Jean-Georges Vongerichten's menu since his very first opening).  It consisted of 4 very large shrimp, cooked perfectly, with accompaniments of micro greens, funny long mushrooms, avocado, and a great vinaigrette.  I understand why this dish has stood the test of time, as all the ingredients worked so well together, and showcased their individual qualities.  It was a really great appetizer.

The entrees arrived.  The Steak frites was pretty good.  The quality of the steak was good (and it was prepared just as we requested), and the fries perfectly prepared  (they were somewhat pedestrian - but cooked perfectly - crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside).  The highlight of our meal was the Salmon dish.  It was the most perfectly cooked piece of fish I have ever had.  It was simply prepared (there was very little seasoning, which allowed the quality of the fish to shine through).  The side dish of creamed corn was spectacular.  Good corn is in season right now, and easy to come by, so,  Kudos to J&G for highlighting a great ingredient.  Both of the entrees showcased great cooking, using high quality ingredients.

Of the 2 deserts we had, the standout was the Apple Tart.  It consisted of a baked apple ring, on top of a delicate pastry.  The apple was a perfect consistency, with a strong caramel cinnamon flavor.  This dish is another of their specialties, and I understand why.  The molten lava cake was good, and rich, but nothing spectacular.  We make this a lot at home, so the novelty of this desert has worn off for us.  Both deserts came with ice cream, which was fine, if not spectacular.

Overall, our meal was a wonderful experience.  It is hard to beat the ambiance of the Phonecian, and the restaurant itself feels upscale.  The experience from start to finish was top notch.  All the food highlighted simple preparations of high quality ingredients.

One last comment, looking at the regular menu, the prices aren't exorbitant (for instance the Steak Frites entree is $18).  While a meal could add up quickly, it would be possible to eat here on a budget (if you are careful with your selections).  We absolutely loved J&G, and will likely be back for another meal.


What we ate:

J&G Steakhouse - Steakhouse

  • First Course (choice of):
    • Heart of Romaine Caesar Salad
    • Steamed Shrimp Salad, Avocado, Mushrooms, Champagne Vinaigrette
  • Second Course (choice of):
    • Slowly Cooked Salmon : Creamed Corn with Jalapeno, Lime and Cilantro
    • Grilled Black Angus Flat Iron Steak Frites
  • Third Course (choice of):
    • Apple Tart Tatin, Cinnamon Ice Cream
    • Warm Chocolate Cake, Caramel Ice Cream

BLT Steak - Restaurant Week Menu Review

We had our first (of 2 - next up J&G) Restaurant Week meals last night at BLT Steak.  It was wonderful. Our meal started with a complimentary Champagne cocktail.  It was placed in front of us as soon as we sat down.  It was interesting, basically sparkling wine, with sugar, and bitters maybe.  It was a nice touch, not wonderful, but certainly nothing to complain about, since it was complimentary.

Next up was the amuse bouche.  It was a small turine of chicken liver pate.  I am not a fan of liver usually, but absolutely loved this dish.  Everyone at the table was in agreement that it was wonderful, and we all basically fought over who would get to lick the bowl clean.

The next suprise were the Gorgonzola Popovers (which I should have known about).  This is the signature item at BLT, and has won raves from previous diners.  They are huge, very light bread puffs, with a perfect balance of cheese funk.  After finishing the popovers, and liver app, we all agreed that we were already full, and could probably leave happy now.

Of course, our meal hadn't even begun.  We ordered one of each off the menu, to ensure we could taste everything.   I ordered a glass of Gruet Sparkling wine (one of my favorites, and props to BLT for supporting regional purveyors).

The highlight of our first course was definitely the soup.  It was basically a squash soup, with crab, and the most amazing sweet cinnamon croutons.  All the tastes in the soup complimented each other, and the portion of crab was generous.  The tomato/onion salad was pretty good, but maybe a little pedestrian.  In this dish the quality of the ingredients really stood out - they used heirloom tomatoes (the skins were dotted, and different colors), and a nice balance of oil, and other ingredients.  It was a nice dish (but I would probably opt for the soup if given a choice, as it was much more special).

The standout for our main course was the fish.  It was a whole Sole, butterflied, and cooked to perfection.  The fish had a wonderful salty crust, and perfectly tender meat.  It was cooked to perfection, and among some of the best fish I have had anywhere.  The steak was also good.  The quality of the meat was clear, and the mushrooms that were presented with it in the cast iron skillet were amazing (and I am usually not a fungus fan).

The sides that came with the entrees were nothing special.  The fingerling potatoes dish had more onions than potatoes, and the carrots were fairly pedestrian.  Again, they weren't bad dishes, just nothing special.  If I had it to do over, I think I would have supplemented the meal with some other sides from the regular menu.

Deserts were a minor letdown.  The peanut butter mouse was super rich, and overwhelmed the rest of the tastes of the dish (namely chocolate, and banana from the ice cream).  I thought the consistency was fine (and the crunchies they put on top added a good texture).  The berry cheesecake was fine, but nothing special.  We all wondered if they used goat cheese to make the cake, as it had a little bit of a funky taste (in a good way), and a very soft texture.  We asked the waiter, and he said it was just regular cream cheese.

My final comment would be about the service.  It was stellar, and indicative of what we would expect if we were paying full price.  They changed out the silverware with each course, paced our meal properly, and most importantly, offered us the RW menu right away, with no attempt to upsell.  From the moment we walked in (the hostesses accommodated our request for an outside table), to the time we left (everyone thanked us for coming in), they treated us well.

Overall, I was very happy with this meal, and thought it was a wonderful value (actually a steal, as our final tally was $69 and I had a glass of wine).


Here is the menu:

BLT Steak - Modern American Steakhouse

BLT, or Bistro Laurent Tourondel, is the personal stamp of acclaimed chef and restaurateur Laurent Tourondel, named 2007 Restaurateur of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine. BLT Steak opened in Manhattan in 2004 as a revolutionary modern American steakhouse and was named one of Esquire magazine's "Best New Restaurants in America" shortly after receiving a two-star review from The New York Times. At BLT Steak, Tourondel elevates the classic American steakhouse with his signature style, French training and all-around finesse.

  • First Course (choice of):
    • Kabocha Squash Soup / Crab Relish / Canella Crouton / Chive Creme Fraiche
    • Early Girl Tomato & Onion Salad / Ginger Vinaigrette / Frommage Blanc / Mache Greens
  • Second Course (choice of):
    • Hanger Steak / Roasted Fall Mushrooms / Truffled Steak with your choice of either Butter Heirloom Glazed Carrots / Mesquite Honey or Fingerling Potato "Boulangere" / Pancetta / Stewed Cippolini Onion
    • Lemon Sole/ Brown Butter Caper Sauce with your choice of either Butter Heirloom Glazed Carrots / Mesquite Honey or Fingerling Potato "Boulangere" / Pancetta / Stewed Cippolini Onion
  • Third Course (choice of):
    • "Sugar Pie" Pumpkin Pie / Mascarpone Chantilly Cream
    • Cheesecake with fresh berries instead
    • Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse / Banana Ice Cream
  • Additional Items (choice of):
    • Navan Champagne Cocktail

Elements Restaurant Scottsdale - terrible service

This summer I had a terrible experience at Elements Restaurant (at the Sanctuary Resort) in Scottsdale, AZ.   The whole experience from the beginning to the end was awful, and never resolved to my satisfaction.  Here is a post I made to a private dining message board regarding the experience.  Rather than making a small accommodation to make us happy, they made it so we had no alternative than to leave.  To this day, I am still unhappy about the experience, and will never forget it.

Summer 2009:

I recently saw a pre fixe special mentioned in the local paper to Elements Restaurant (which everyone knows, is one of the top tier restaurants in the Valley). I had always wanted to try this place, but it is quite expensive, so without a special occassion, it was hard to justify. The pre fixe offering provided the impetus to make reservations (which I made through Open Table - which was linked to on Elements website). We invited one of my wife's co-workers to join us, as they had always wanted to try this place, but couldn't justify the price either.

When we got seated, and ordered the pre fixe menu, we were told by the waitress that it wasn't offered on the weekends. I was very surprised by this. As I mentioned, the main reason we chose to eat here, was to take advantage of the special menu (we were not prepared to pay full price).

I asked to see the manager (hoping we could work something out, and I could avoid further embarrassment with my wife and her coworkers). I explained to him, that there was no mention of restricted days on their website. At the time, I wasn't sure if I had missed the fine print (and immediately assumed I had, which put me on the defensive). I have since verified that the restriction wasn't listed anywhere (and still isn't - I was vinidcated! During the "altercation", I wasn't sure if I had misread the exclusions, but I hadn't! This was not my mistake!

The manager wouldn't accommodate us. Quite frankly, while he was polite, he immediately began to cover his tracks with a variety of excuses, and half truths (a big one, was - even if he wanted to offer us the pre fixe, he couldn't because the food isn't on the regular menu - which is an outright lie, every item is on the regular menu). We actually went back and forth with the manager for a few minutes (I will spare you all the gory details). But, the longer this went on, the more uncomfortable the situation became, so in order to quickly put an end to further embarrassment, we left. It is obvious to me, that they wanted to clear us out, so they could seat other people at our table (who would pay more for their dinner).

I would have liked for the situation to be resolved differently by the manager. I would expect he would allow us to order the pre fixe - "Well Sir, we normally don't allow the pre fix on Fridays, but I would be happy to make an exception for you this evening; Sorry about the ambiguity on the website".

Food for thought: -Even if we ordered the most expensive items off the pre fix menu, our total food cost would have been $54 (vs. the $39 for pre fixe) - not a significant difference; If I apply the math to what we would have actually ordered, the price difference becomes even smaller. -We would have more than made up for the price difference with the wine we were planning on ordering. -We had already spent money in the bar, while waiting for our table - which we wouldn't have if we weren't coming in for the pre fixe menu.

The next morning, I contacted the hotel manager (assistant manager was the only person available at the time), told him my story, and requested a call back from the General Manager, and the Food and Beverage manager. I haven't heard back from either of them yet.

Bottom line, this was one of the more embarrassing situations I have experienced in a very long time. If this was due to a mistake I made (ie. not reading the fine print closely enough), I would take my lumps, and go away quietly. However, this was not my mistake, and wasn't handled appropriately by Elements staff, and I  hoped they would have bent over backwards to make it right. In the hospitality industry, it is much easier to keep a guest happy, than change the opinion of an unhappy person.

No-one from Elements ever called be back (I gave them 4 days, which was plenty of time).  I finally called them and they still did not apologize (which is really all that I wanted from the beginning).   Bottom line, this place is not worthy of my hard earned money.  I would much matter spend my money at a place that values my business.  A follow up post I made to the same message board:

I really appreciate the feedback.  What I really want from Elements, is an apology.  At this point, I think there is nothing they could do compensation-wise to rectify the situation (even if they did bring us back for a free meal, at this point I wouldn't feel comfortable going back).  The damage has been done, and the longer it takes to hear back from them, the worse I feel about the situation.

I would expect a certain level of service from a restaurant of the caliber of Elements.  They obviously failed us on Friday, and their follow up has been poor as well.

I asked this question to a friend of mine (who writes about restaurants in the national media).  Here is part of his response: "I think your expectations are perfectly reasonable. In fact it's nice of you to give them a second chance at all. Many customers wouldn't and would instead go around badmouthing Elements for the rest of their lives — literally: People never forget a bad restaurant experience, especially if it's an embarrassing one."

It is true.  I will never forget this embarrassing experience.  It's too bad, as I have been looking forward to dining here for a long time.

It is true, that I will never forget this experience, and will likely continue to bad mouth Elements for the rest of my life.  Too bad they didn't resolve my problems quickly (as I would be happier to give them props).

Asia de Cuba - Mondrian Hotel - Scottsdale

May 17, 2007

Went there on a Sunday morning, for brunch (so it was a special menu). I found the food excellent. All the ingredients were top notch, and the combinations of tastes were great. Since we had a limited menu, we didn't get to try some of the signature dishes. The bread basket was wonderful, and my wife swooned over the scones (which she quickly hoarded and kept to herself).

The restaurant was very quiet on Sunday morning (which was actually nice, as we weren't looking for a scene), and the service was excellent. I thought the prices reasonable, as the portions are huge (keep that in mind, because we ordered way too much food).

From what I understand, this place can get quite busy on weekends, or other nights, and the nightclub in the Mondrian (which has really great decor) becomes exclusive, and is difficult to get in (if you aren't in the right crowd).

I would recommend AdC. Thought the atmosphere, food and service were all very polished. Not sure if I would wait hours to eat here, but they take reservations so I will plan ahead.

The hotel itself is pretty cool.  The lobby is all white (which seems to be their theme), with a ton of really cool design touches.  We always take guests to check it out.

Andreoli - Italian Grocer

Oct 01, 2007

Finally tried this place this weekend, and I am in love! I thought the service and atmosphere were both top notch. The place really feels like an old Italian deli. Very rustic. The order taker couldn't have been more nice an patient. He explained everything on the menu, and gave us as much time as we needed to come up with our order.

We decided to split the sausage sandwich, and the daily pasta special.

The sausage was wonderful, and reminded us of the sausage served on the pizza at Pizzeria Bianco.

The pasta bolognese was probably the best version of this I have ever tasted. It was just so meaty. It really tasted like beef, with some other delicate spices to round out the taste. This dish was expensive though (not sure, but it must have been north of $15). Being so expensive, I would probably hesitate to order it again (just because there are a few other cheaper options on the menu I still want to try), but I would say it was worth every penny. Really wonderful.

I am smitten with this place, and think it is a wonderful addition to the valley. I can't wait to get back, and dig into the menu a little more.

Andreoli's Italian Grocer 8880 E. Via Linda Scottsdale, Az. 480-614-1980

Phoenix Knife House

There is a really wonderful resource for Asian knives in the valley - Phoenix Knife House.  It is a unique place, we are lucky to have.  The owner (Eytan) clearly cares about what he does, and it is a pleasure to give him my business.

Eytan will definately let you try anything, and will also make some great recomendations (based on what you really need, not what will make him the most money). This store is a treasure, and we are lucky to have it (and need to support it!).

Oct 08, 2007

He charged me $10 for 3 knives (2 were small, one a 8" Chef's). More importantly, he told me he would teach me how to sharpen my own knives if I wanted.

I told him that he shouldn't do this, business-wise, but he just replied, (paraphrasing) that knife sharpening is his passion, and he wants to share it with the world.

Can't recomend this place enough, and my knives are sharp!