COOK'S TOUR

My wife, Paola, and I rarely get to dine out together. Since we spend the vast majority of our time in the restaurant, that's where we dine most often. But when we do dine away from the restaurant, we don't go to critique. Rather, we always search out a place where we can relax.

We have a routine of sorts. Sundays, we like to lunch at Los Dos Molinos. This is most certainly one of our favorite places. Of course, Los Dos isn't a new find; it's been written up in all the best magazines, such as Condā Nast Traveler (which gave it a three-star rating), Food Arts and Gourmet.

The food is really fantastic. It's a marked contrast to what we do, since it's very spicy--or maybe I should say damn hot! But heat isn't all the appeal of the food at Los Dos; it has a lot of the backbone flavors of well-made cuisine. When I visit Los Dos, I am a little envious of Victoria's energy. She's the chef and owner, and works day and night preparing all the food with much enthusiasm. It's easy to see that she genuinely loves her work. Most of the time you will find one or two of her daughters--Sandy, Cheryl, Loretta or Antoinette--her husband and her brother in the dining room. The staff is great, the service is attentive and there are so many wonderful dishes to enjoy here!

We usually start off with a "machaca pizza"--a crisp tortilla with machaca beef seasoned with spice, cooked slowly and topped with tomatoes, green onions and cheese. It's a great idea, especially for larger parties. Paola enjoys the guacamole. Another great starter is the blue corn tamale. It's just terrific.

Each time I visit Los Dos, I order the carne adovada enchilada style with beans; it's my absolute favorite. Sometimes, Paola and I will order the red chili plate, which consists of several pieces of slow-cooked beef in a red chili sauce. It's served with tortillas and accompanied by rice and beans.

One last note: A trip to Los Dos is not complete without an order of sopaipillas, either with just honey and sugar or with "the works," ice cream and whipped cream. Not only are they delicious, but they knock the heat right out of your mouth.

Well, if by chance we want just a light snack, we jump on the motorcycle and head for Duck and Decanter. Paola usually has a sandwich of avocado, ham, lettuce and tomato. And to help her research for the ever-growing list at Arizona Cafe and Grill, she might try a new beer. For me, it's always a sandwich of salami and prosciutto with a glass of the Duck's red wine of the day. It's so relaxing on the weekends to sit on the wonderful patio and listen to the music--sometimes, one singer accompanied by a guitar, sometimes, several performers at one time. We like it so much that we have been given the opportunity with our partner, Guy Coscas, to do a sort of sandwich/deli/wine shop complete with a market and an espresso bar located very close to Christopher's. It's still in the planning stages; we'll see maybe in August.

On occasion, we find ourselves strolling through the Biltmore Fashion Park and stop at RoxSand's for one of its many choices of wine by the glass and a lamb and rice tamale with peanut sauce. I inevitably order two because Paola always nibbles at one. We enjoy simply walking in and eating at the bar. Another of my favorites there is the goat cheese salad with roasted garlic, as well as the pizzas.

If the night winds down earlier than expected and we're a little hungry, we buzz down Camelback to Tarbell's, where chef de cuisine Mark Bloom and sous chef Joe Levito grill up some great food. Paola adores the grilled Portobello mushrooms and I enjoy the grilled sirloin. It is always most enjoyable if Mark Tarbell, the owner, has time to break away from the dining room to sit and share a bottle of Echezeaux and a little shop talk. We highly recommend Tarbell's as a wonderful, very relaxing place to spend or finish an evening.

Another great place for a quick bite is a very little place on 14th Street and Garfield. It is a delightful Mexican takeout restaurant. You order at the counter and when it's ready, you can enjoy your food at picnic tables. The name of the place is Rito's, at least I think so, because I've never noticed a sign.

Paola and I share a couple of tacos and usually two green chili burritos with beans and some bottled water. Yes, we do drink water sometimes! There's not a wide selection of beverages available at this particular place, just sodas and soft drinks. If you are there around four or five o'clock in the afternoon, you can grab a dessert from one of the ice cream trucks that pass through the neighborhood.

Now there is no danger that you will get this place confused with Los Dos; it's much simpler and the food doesn't have the same robust flavors. It does, however, have food that is well-made and very tasty. (Keep in mind Rito's is only open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.)

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