By Heather Hoch
By Lauren Saria
By JK Grence
By Eric Schaefer
By Robrt L. Pela
By Eric Schaefer
By Laura Hahnefeld
By Laura Hahnefeld
8700, 8700 East Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale, 994-8700. Hours: Dinner, Monday through Sunday, 6 to 10 p.m.
Isaac Newton proved mathematically what people know instinctively: Bodies at rest tend to remain at rest. That's why most people prefer to live near work, make friends close to home and marry the guy or girl next door.
That's also why we like to eat out in our own neighborhood.
But despite a natural inertia that makes me as susceptible to movement as a saguaro, curiosity about a rejuvenated 8700 galvanized me into motion up toward Pinnacle Peak. The restaurant is now run by Todd Hall, an inventive chef who took over a few months ago.
Both the room and our prosperous-looking fellow diners had the air of understated elegance. The motif in the nonsmoking area is wrought iron: Wine stands, planters, sconces and table-top candleholders indicate a real devotion to heavy metal. Plush banquettes furnish seating around the edges, while French-style chairs of brocade surround the center tables. The spare white walls are lined with spotlighted reproductions of the masters--including a C‚zanne landscape, van Gogh country scene and Modigliani portrait.
And my wife reported an opulent women's room, fit for a sultan's harem: marble walls, white satin sofa, an inlaid wood table and a bronze statue of a woman with a lyre standing between the sinks.
Fortunately, the same attention to detail also spills over into the Southwestern-accented food.
I'm convinced that most restaurants can be sized up even before the appetizers appear. Not by their fruits, but by their breadbasket ye shall know them. At 8700, we got a wonderfully aromatic assortment of fresh bread. Particularly outstanding were the rosemary-infused asiago cheese roll and distinctive blue-corn muffin.
The appetizers that followed did nothing to upset my hypothesis. Saut‚ed veal sweetbreads, rich and heavy, came with fragrant wild mushrooms and pancetta, unsmoked Italian bacon. It all nestled next to some dense and filling Indian fry bread, a novel Southwestern touch.
At the lighter end of the appetizer scale were two small quesadillas filled with duck confit, smoked tomatoes and jack cheese. It was tasty, but for $6.50 you get only a few bites.
Best of all, I thought, was the pheasant sausage with a corn cake in a cassis sauce. Here, size and flavor worked together. The three sausages were a bit dry, but the intensely fruity cassis moistened them up and made good dipping for the corn cake.
The main dishes at 8700 are cleverly marketed under a variety of headings, making it seem as if there's something for just about everyone. Which there is. And it's all beautifully presented with an almost Japanese eye toward color, texture and arrangement. In the section marked "American Comfort Foods," we couldn't resist the game hen baked in Indian red-rock clay. (Avoid this dish if it's made with Play-Doh.) It arrived resembling a large loaf of bread, with the "8700" logo branded into the clay. The waiter cracked it open at the table, revealing a juicy whole bird wrapped in parchment, filled with outstanding blue-corn stuffing. At $11.95, this choice is a tasty bargain. But don't bother with the gravy bowl of hazelnut sauce: It's not only unnecessarily sweet, it's just plain unnecessary.
From the "Lighter Side" of the menu, we sampled poached salmon with julienne vegetables. The salmon was silky smooth, and the veggies absolutely scrumptious in a tomato basil sauce. I wish there had been more of each, but "lighter" evidently refers to both calories and portion control.
The seared ahi tuna under "Featured Items" sounded intriguing. It came barely cooked, the center almost sushi-raw, and rolled in crisp sesame seeds. An asparagus spear stuck through it like Ishmael's harpoon. I loved this flaky, tender hunk of fish. But my dining companion had a legitimate gripe. He'd ordered the fish medium. "All our tuna is sashimi quality," the waitress replied rather testily, when he pointed out the pink interior. But that's not what he wanted, so he sent it back for some more cooking.
Also from the "Featured Items" we chose rack of lamb, two thick, juicy chops wrapped in kataifi, shredded Greek pastry dough. The kataifi nest of herbed barley was blended with red chili pesto, a clever alternative to rice or potatoes. If you're not sated yet (which is likely--portions are not of belt-loosening quantity), don't miss the incredible carrot cake. It was sweet, moist and heavy, wrapped in thin phyllo dough, and topped with three inches of decadent cream-cheese frosting.
Almost as good was the cräme br–l‚e, smooth and creamy, a somewhat lighter way to top off the meal. But don't do more than visually check out the ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and chocolate. It's stunning to the eye, less so to the palate. The accompanying pastry shell filled with chocolate mousse was nothing to swoon over, either.
The imaginative food and subdued decor give 8700 a classy feel. But the third element of fine dining--service--is still a bit out of whack.
It took us a half hour to get our menus, another half hour for our appetizers to arrive. (To the staff's credit, we got several unsolicited apologies.) These things happen, but I got the feeling this wasn't an aberration. After we placed our orders, including an appetizer each, the waitress practically scolded us for not sampling the soup or salad. She extolled the new chef's virtues at such length that I began to suspect he'd hired a dependent relative. And the correct response to a customer's complaint about undercooked fish is, "Let me take it back for you." 8700 is a sophisticated, big-time place. So cut the chitchat, improve the pacing and let the food do the talking. It's worth listening to. The Vistas at Oaxaca, 8711 East Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale, 998-2222. Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 11 p.m.