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Critical Notes: Elin Jeffords, whose New Times column gave birth to serious restaurant reviewing in the Valley 17 years ago, is back in the dining-out-for-pay business. After her seven-year stint here, Jeffords moved to the Arizona Republic, which she left with some acrimony in 1991. Since then, she's occupied herself as a food and travel freelance writer and restaurant consultant. Now she's back to weekly critical eating at the Scottsdale Progress and biweekly munching at the Mesa Tribune. It should be entertaining to see how she fares in the East Valley restaurant scene, where Vincent and Christopher have yet to open branches. Pounding the eat beat in the culinary wastelands of Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert offers about the same challenge as covering ice fishing in Gila Bend.

Grape Fest: Oenophiles should be all smiles now that the Arizona Biltmore has jumped into the wine-tasting business. Its sommeliers have put together a dozen tastings from the 8,000-bottle wine cellar, featuring several themes. Novices might want to compare several types of white wines. Specialists can sample one winemaker's Cabernet Sauvignon from different vintages--that's called a vertical tasting--or compare different winemakers' varietals from the same year--a horizontal tasting. The least expensive tasting, comparing Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chenin Blanc, is $8. The costliest one offers sips of heavy-hitting, 1982 first-growth Bordeaux. For $80, you can linger over a Chƒteau Lafite, Latour, Haut-Brion, Mouton Rothschild and Margaux. Quite a step up from the old days, when my pals and I would horizontally plan a weekend Ripple, Thunderbird and Boone's Farm tasting. For more info, call Chris Jones at 955-6600, extension 2507.

This Is a Holdup, Hand Over the Grease: A gang of Dallas thieves recently burglarized a string of restaurants. Their haul: seven tons of greasy scrapings from griddles and deep-fat fryers. Police say the hot oil has a street value of about 13 cents per pound--it's used in the cosmetics industry and for cow feed. At least, I hope that's where it's going.

All the News That Fits: This isn't exactly a restaurant item, but it's too good to remain in the archives. When he was a young reporter, Mark Twain's editor told him never to report anything he couldn't personally verify. Ever the obedient employee, Twain filed this report:

"A woman giving the name of Mrs. James Jones, who is reported to be one of the society leaders of this city, is said to have given what purported to be a party yesterday to a number of alleged ladies. The hostess claims to be the wife of a reputed attorney."
And readers wonder what's happened to hard-hitting journalism.
Restaurant News: California Pizza Kitchen is closing down its location in the former Galleria, although management says it plans to reopen there once the shopping mausoleum is renovated as the Sportsplex. In the meantime, Valley fans of the trendy, pioneering pizza chain can get their fix at the chain's new Biltmore Fashion Park location, which is scheduled to open the first week of May.

 
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