In part 1 of Primal(ish) in Scottsdale/Phoenix, I waxed poetic about Deseo, shared my disappointment with Carolina’s, complimented Bandera on their margaritas and ribs, and dished on my blue cheese ice cream indulgence at Sweet Republic.
Here’s the rest of my foodie adventure in Scottsdale/Phoenix, including the lovely Vincent Market Bistro, the hip NoRTH, and the happening Mission…
Vincent Market Bistro
Vincent Market Bistro is a casual bistro tucked away behind Vincent on Camelback, a fine dining establishment serving upscale French/Southwestern fusion. Vincent has established a bit of an empire under his name. In addition to the main Vincent restaurant, there is also a catering business, the outdoor Camelback market, a corporate delivery service (Vincent Van Go), Bleu – the happy hour lounge inside Vincent and, of course, Vincent Market Bistro.
The bistro is a rather small single room with an even smaller patio. Tables are pretty close together, so I could see it getting noisy during the lunch or dinner rush, but there was hardly anyone there during our weekday lunch. The space itself, although quaint, could use a little touching up to prevent it from veering from charming to rundown. However, the service staff was formally dressed, reminding us that it’s not just a hole in the wall.
After eating at Vincent, I’ve got a lot of respect for the owner. Everything on their lunch menu is less than $10. There were about 8 Specials listed, including beef bourguignon and lamb shank – the two I was debating between. The lamb shank won out because it was gluten free. The other item I was eyeing from their regular lunch menu was coq au vin, which is what my friend ordered, unfortunately not gluten free. My friend said it was delicious – very tender chicken. The lamb was also incredibly tender and the sauce was very tasty. The shank was served on mashed potatoes, which I sort of skirted other than a few sauce-soaked spoonfuls.
Why did this meal garner so much respect for the proprietor? He could have easily charged $15 dollars for those meals. The portions weren’t overwhelming, but were definitely more than adequate. The dinner entrees are all under $16. There’s also a 3 course $22 prix fixe menu. Clearly Vincent Bistro is about feeding people rather than money. You feel like you’re eating out of the chef’s kitchen, like friends or family might might have the pleasure of doing.
And why don’t more restaurants have a good, inexpensive house wine? Profit I guess. Here we had a 500ml carafe of a secret unnamed Pinot Grigio – quite good – for $10. The other wines on the list didn’t appear to be marked up much. So we enjoyed two filling and tasty lunch meals plus roughly 3 glasses of wine for $30. If that’s not reason enough to be happy, we were surprised with a couple of complimentary pot de crèmes, to round off the already fantastic experience.
Service was prompt, efficient and observant. The food was great. The prices more than fair. I was very much impressed – if we had a place like this here in Vancouver, I’d dine there all the time. I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t recommend Vincent Bistro to – what a gem.
I checked out NoRTH based on a friend’s recommendation of the melt-in-your-mouth beef short rib. NoRTH is a chain, owned by FOX Restaurant Concepts, along with several other restaurants (including Olive & Ivy, True Food, and Culinary Dropout). I’m usually not a fan of chains, but my friend had had several good experiences there, and the restaurant group owns some big names, so I figured I’d give it a shot. The one in Scottsdale is located in the Kierland Commons, a posh outdoor mall. Outdoor malls continue to be a novelty for me, especially palm-tree lined ones with misters, since they’re nonexistent in Raincouver. The concept is modern Italian cuisine, a sort of Italian trattoria.
I enjoyed the happening ambiance inside, and the more chill yet still in-the-loop vibe on the outdoor patio, where my friend and I dined. I also have an affinity for dining al fresco which I don’t get to do nearly enough. The patio at NoRTH fit the bill perfectly – it was fantastic to be able to dine outdoors at night, with misters instead of heaters, no Vancouver-style blankets in sight. As for the misters, I have a love/hate relationship with them. When they’re good quality ones and they work properly, they’re a godsend, otherwise they’re a pain to avoid, who enjoys randomly walking through sprinklers?
Service was a little slow, but our server was very nice and friendly. I gotta say, in general, the service in Arizona was great. I don’t know if I just lucked out or what, but all my servers were cheerful, and genuinely likeable and helpful. No attitude, no pretenses. Maybe because they deal with happy Canadian tourists all day?
Apparently you’re supposed to get bread and olives at the beginning, which for whatever reason we missed out on. Don’t care about the bread, but I do enjoy my olives. Really tasty sangria though (Primitivo, cassis, blackberry, raspberry & strawberry).
For the appetizer, my friend and I split a grilled artichoke with sea salt and lemon aioli. I tend to gravitate towards grilled artichokes at restaurants, mostly because I find them a bit too much of a pain to bother making them at home. For $12, the artichoke was miniscule, and whatever mayo dip we were eating, although okay tasting, did not seem like an authentic aioli. The artichoke was well-seasoned and tender. But for the price, I’d say the appetizer was disappointing – overpriced and nothing special.
For the main, we each had the braised beef short rib. It comes with white polenta, which my friend had. I subbed the polenta for the braised Tuscan kale, which was terrific. I loved the ease with which they allowed me to make the substitution. None of that no modifications nonsense. The server explained to me that there’s already chard on the beef, so I’d be eating meat sandwiched between kale and chard. That was more than fine by me. I appreciate and understand that the beef would go better with the polenta (confirmed by my friend). I’m grateful when restaurants like NoRTH allow me to exercise some free will and don’t undermine my intelligence by forcing me to eat verbatim off the menu. /rant The braised short ribs did indeed melt in my mouth – they were incredibly tender. The sauce could’ve been more flavorful though.
I passed on the dessert (again!). The only gluten-free item on the dessert menu other than gelato and sorbet was the butterscotch pudding, but it was thickened with cornstarch. Lack of gluten/grain free dessert options was a recurring theme – bad since I have a serious sweet tooth but good since I really should abstain.
Overall, dining at NoRTH was a pleasant experience. Great location, nice patio, friendly service, good food.
I was quite excited to visit The Mission. And as soon as I arrived, I knew I was in for a treat. First of all, the restaurant is next to a historical mission in Old Town Scottsdale – how cool is that? Second, the Mission is the definition of happening. It was cheerfully loud, crowded, and very dimly lit. The décor is a funky gothic/Latin mix – many black chandeliers, candles, mirrors, and a glowing wall of Himalayan salt blocks (!).
My friend and I sat inside to soak up the ambiance. Our server was bubbly and helpful, and service was fast. Still being on my margarita kick, I couldn’t believe the margarita list – there were 10 margaritas to choose from! We went with the server’s recommendation: I had a blood orange margarita (casa nobles crystal tequila + pressed lime + grand marnier + blood oranges) and my friend had a Primarita (partida + organic agave nectar + 3 pressed limes). I was hoping the margaritas would be even tastier than the one at Bandera’s, but surprisingly, although obviously still “good”, they fell flat. The juices are fresh pressed and the ingredients are organic. Perhaps it was because Bandera makes their own sours? I don’t know. But if I were to return, I’d either try their red or white Sangria (voted best in the Valley by Phoenix Magazine) or their Aguacate Margarita, which apparently contains half an avocado – yum!
The menu was exciting, French technique applied to Latin flavors? Yes, please:
“The Mission’s chef, Matt Carter, skillfully prepares modern Latin cuisine using a traditional “Plancha” style grill while infusing flavors over pecan and mesquite wood. Blending culinary influences from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, Carter showcases his passion utilizing French cooking techniques to create an original mix of rich flavor in each signature dish.”
We opted for 3 apps, 1 entrée, and a side in an effort to experience more of the menu. First up was the complementary salsa and corn chips. The salsa was delicious – very smoky with a little bit of kick to it. We then ordered the guacamole, which was made tableside. Now, if you want some plain smashed up avocado, head to Carolina’s. This guac is the real thing. I can’t remember how many ingredients she put in there – definitely over ten. The one time where more ingredients is better :) It was cool to see the guacamole made from scratch right in front of us. For $12, guacamole from one avocado is pricey, but the flavor was amazing, and the experience was fun.
Next up, we split the Chicken Anticuchos (skewered chicken + mole + raisin + balsamic + sesame + peanut + cocoa), and the Colorado Lamb Ribs Adobada (arroz chaufa + lamb chorizo + fried huevo). I would’ve put my money on the chicken (anything with cocoa…), but sadly, it was a disappointment. The sauce was okay, but the chicken was tough – not impressed. The lamb on the other hand, wow. Favourite part of the night – I don’t know what they put in that sauce but it was amazing, and the lamb was very tender.
For the main (below), we shared the Braised Shortrib (ginger tamarind glaze+ sesame oaxacan pasilla taro cake & brussels sprout salad). The side it came with had gluten, so I stayed away. The shortrib was good, but it didn’t blow me away. I was craving more of the lamb app and the guacamole.
As a side we chose the Taro Fries. I have no idea how this is considered a “side”. I’m not complaining, the more the merrier, but this could’ve easily been an appetizer for 4+. We doggie-bagged most of it. I’ve never had taro fries before, and they were very good. The texture was harder than I expected. The spicy amarillo aioli complemented the fries nicely.
Once again, no dessert for me. We were stuffed and it looked like the only primal-ish menu item was fried bananas, which I wasn’t really feeling like considering how full I was. Re-examining the menu now, they also have a Chapurrado, which Wikipedia tells me is a chocolate-based warm drink. It contains hominy, which although not primal, is a lesser evil. So I suppose I could’ve had that (assuming there was no gluten elsewhere), but the taro fries really finished me off.
I would say that with the exception of the lamb appetizer, I enjoyed the experience more than the food. But considering how much I enjoyed the experience, and that the food was still good, presentation was lovely, and the service was super, I was pretty happy overall. I wouldn’t mind returning to try some of the other menu items (perhaps their cheese plate, a salad, the chimichurri steak, and a dessert).
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery
Okay, so the Laurelwood is not in Arizona – it was the restaurant at the Portland airport on my stopover back to Vancouver. They have 2 locations in Portland, and one in Washington. For airport grub, I gotta say I’m pleasantly surprised. Their greens were organic, for goodness sake. The menu isn’t online and I don’t remember the names, but my friend and I each had a burger, both of which were tasty. And the poppyseed salad dressing was yummy. Service was fine and they have a sports bar to watch the game (in this case, people were crowding around watching basketball).
So that wraps up my Arizona trip. I’m very intrigued by all the Latin flavours, and excited about somehow getting my hands on more. The food was pretty great everywhere I went, as was the service. And there’s nothing quite like dining al fresco.
Are there any other places I should’ve tried? Please share your recommendations in the comments.