Monday, January 10, 2011

SPENDING THE FIRST WEEK OF 2011 IN ARIZONA



I started off 2011 with a 4-day visit to the Phoenix area.

This is the first time I've been there in Winter and, to my surprise, it is cold in Phoenix in early January, especially when it is dark. Temperatures were in the low 40s overnight and no warmer than the low 60s at the warmest part of the day. I spent my entire visit in jeans, wearing a jacket.

But, it was nice to be away and to visit with friends. It seems that each year, more of my friends move to or vacation in the Phoenix area.

Friends from Connecticut, Silky and David, are spending the month of January in Scottsdale. I stayed with them.

Right from the airport, Silky and I headed to Last Chance for a day of shopping. I know I've blogged about Last Chance before, but, in case you've missed it, it is at Last Chance where all Nordstrom returns and overstock items eventually turn up. Silky and I made two visits to Last Chance in our four days together. Just to give a timeline as to how long it takes for items to wind up at Last Chance, I found several things that were in my Nordstrom late last July. The deal at Last Chance is that there are no returns and one must inspect items closely for flaws, defects, or damage. Sometimes an item is faded, sometimes a button is missing, sometimes there is a rip; in the case of shoes, they often have been worn and returned and can show signs of wear. That said, a lot of merchandise is in perfect condition but simply out of season by the time it is returned and it just winds up here. I spent about $40 and came home with two backpacks, several tops, a purse, some jewelry, and socks!

The doors open at Last Chance at 10 a.m. Both days, we spent about three hours shopping and came out with bags laden with goodies. On our second visit, another friend, Arlene, came with us. Arlene is new to the Phoenix area. This was her first Last Chance encounter. Here are Arlene and Silky waiting for the doors to open


...the area in front of the doors is filled with merchandise to keep people occupied while they wait for 10 a.m. (great bargains here too, of course).

We spent a day with former Californians, Marcia and Charlie in and around Gold Canyon, which is south east of Phoenix.



Some of us played golf



while the others ventured off to the Queen Creek Olive Mill



for a tour ($5 per person) and lunch.



Queen Creek Olive Mill is Arizona's only working olive farm and mill. The olives are grown in groves close to the mill. At the mill, they hand craft their extra virgin olive oil from the olives they grow. Our tour guides described olive cultivation in Arizona. The detail that interested me most is that insects and mold are not a problem here because of the intense heat; therefore, the olives are grown without the use of any pesticides.

The Olive Mill has a large marketplace that features the Queen Creek Olive Oils (can be shipped), locally made baked goods that are made with olive oil, and many packaged olive specialty foods.

For lunch in the Mill's Tuscan-inspired eatery, the three of us shared a Vegetable Antipasto Plate which was accompanied by Grilled Olive Oil Bread. Silky and Marcia ended their lunch with scoops of gelato.




On my last afternoon, we stopped at The Phoenician Hotel to visit their Cactus Garden. The Garden is open to the public and there is no cost to visit. Just tell the guard at the gate that you are going to the Cactus Garden and he will give you a visitor's pass for your car. You can park with the valet at the hotel entrance or self-park in their garage.

The Cactus Garden covers two acres and features 250 varieties of cactus and succulents. It is at the base of Camelback Mountain.










Each time I visit the Phoenix area, there are new restaurants to try and old favorites to revisit. The restaurant scene is lively and overall, I am rarely disappointed. This visit, I loved every restaurant meal I had.

Our first dinner was at Renegade Canteen, which was voted one of the best new restaurants for 2010.



We were delighted with our meal and the attentive service. Renegade describes its food as "Western American Cuisine" but I feel it much more than that. The dishes are creative, innovative, and are made with the freshest of seasonal ingredients. Renegade prides itself in its selection of wine. Many wines are from lesser known California wine regions; our server shared his expert wine knowledge with us in helping us make our selections.

To start, we had a Caesar Salad which was garnished with Dry Jack Cheese and Jalapeno Cheddar Croutons and a Spinach Salad dressed with a housemade Bacon and Honey dressing, Candied Pecans, and topped with a Coddled Egg.




David ordered the Daily Special of Rack of Lamb. It was 6 good-sized chops on a bed of Creamed Spinach.



Silky went vegetarian with the Tagliatelle with Mushroom Meatballs, prepared with Truffle Butter, San Marzano Tomatoes, and Parmigiana Cheese. Her dish looked spectacular and was delicious. I've never seen nor tasted meatballs made of mushrooms and I'm looking forward to a return visit to enjoy a whole serving for myself.



My dinner choice was the Blackened Catfish which was accented with a Cajun-inspired mix of Crab, Shrimp, and Crawfish. It was accompanied by 'Nawlins Rice."



For dessert, the three of us shared the Meyer Lemon Cake which was artistically perched on thinly sliced apples and garnished with fruit sorbet and a cookie. Delicious!



Prices are very moderate at Renegade Canteen. Our meals with a glass of wine each were about $35 per person before tip. Most Main Dishes are priced between $15 and $20; Steaks are in the $35 to $45 range, depending on cut, but, unlike many pricey popular steakhouses that serve a "naked" steak on your plate, Renegade's Steaks are served with your choice of sauce and a vegetable side dish. Renegade is a big restaurant with several dining rooms. The dining rooms are beautifully furnished and small enough to not be noisy.

Another night we tried Blanco, the Fox Concepts Group's relatively new Mexican Restaurant.


While we loved the American/Mexican Food, we found the noise level to be too high; we could not hear one another across the table.

We had Fish Tacos, Beef Tacos,



and a Guacamole Cheese Crisp.



The Cheese Crisp is a Pizza-like creation made with a mix of three cheeses melted on a crisp flour tortilla and topped with the diner's choice of such toppings as Guacamole, Chicken and Poblanos, Shrimp and Corn, or Short Rib and Avocado. Silky ordered the Guacamole Cheese Crisp for her dinner. David started his meal with the spicy Guacamole.

We drank beer with our meal. I'm told by friends that their Margaritas are not to be missed (the Blood Orange Margarita sounds tempting to me!)

So, good food, very reasonable prices, but too much noise at Blanco.

Another evening, we dined at Chompie's, a New York style deli and bakery. It's a favorite of Silky and David and has now been added to my list of must-visits when in Phoenix/Scottsdale. Even getting there early in the evening, there was a line waiting for tables (no reservations). Chompie's has four locations in the Phoenix area and serves Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner daily. All their breads, bagels and pastries are baked in house.

Silky and David both had Pastrami Sandwiches.



I had a Tuna Melt.




The sandwiches are huge and are served with your choice of French Fries, Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, or Fresh Fruit. There are all-you-can eat dill pickles on the table. Yum to Chompie's!

We took a lunch break on one of our shopping days at Chelsea's Kitchen. Arlene and I both ordered the Brussels Sprouts Salad and loved our meals.



Silky thought her Casbah Salad (Seasoned grilled chicken, dates, and chickpeas on chopped lettuce) was ordinary.



We all liked the free freshly-baked cookies that we were offered on our way out. Arlene eats at Chelsea's Kitchen regularly and her teenage daughter and her friends also dine here. I liked the atmosphere and the food. Silky most likely won't return.

Before I headed to the airport, we stopped for a Pizza lunch at Humble Pie.



David and I had the lunch special: Our choice of an individual pizza with soup or salad. Silky ordered Bruschetta and shared pieces of our pizzas.



I was introduced to Humble Pie by other Phoenix area friends; it's my favorite of pizza in this area...creative combination pizzas and interesting tasty salads and other dishes. I like it's lively atmosphere too.

David had the Roasted Mushroom Pizza and the Strawberry & Gorgonzola Salad.

I had the Artichoke Pizza with a Chopped Salad.



Humble Pie is deservedly a popular spot.

2 comments:

mary ann said...

Funny how the first thing I thought of was the Tuscon shootings when I read your headline. But we had some great times at Spring Training. Your pal Silky is gorgeous! I'm full just from reading your restaurant reviews.

Mortimer said...

Wonderful report and photography. My first stop would be Chompie's, and I would also have my farewell meal there. The other restaurants sound great, and I would try each of them. Wonder how much weight I would gain from a stay there. And, of course, Last Chance is a must for me. Probably would see some of my shoes there! Thanks for sharing this exciting adventure! Mort