Second Helpings

Menu Blues: A few weeks ago, I received a call from someone complaining about a dish he'd had at Citrus Cafe, a wonderful French restaurant out in the wilds of Chandler.

What was the problem? He didn't like his steak. This got me thinking about something I see plenty of: people ordering dishes that the chef probably has little interest in.

Citrus Cafe is run by a French couple. They don't have a printed menu; they prepare a daily list according to what's fresh and available. Over the years, I've enjoyed a variety of authentic French entrees there: rabbit, veal kidneys in Dijon sauce, leg of lamb, bouillabaisse, loin of pork, sweetbreads in puff pastry.

Tell me, who would come to a homey French cafe for a slab of steak? It makes no sense.

I've got lots of similar examples. Check out the menu at Razz's. The small entree list includes creative efforts like black-bean paella (a South American bouillabaisse) and bah mie goreng (an Indonesian-themed noodle dish). Why, then, would you come here and order a grilled New York sirloin for $18.95?

Let's look at Ventura Grill (see Cafe review on page 79). You don't need a Phi Beta Kappa key to figure out that this place is a grill. Just about everything on the menu is grilled. A big sign over the kitchen says "Grill." Unlike Citrus Cafe or Razz's, this is exactly the kind of place I'd come to order a New York strip, grilled fish or grilled poultry. But would I come here for the steamed mussels, which appear to be a menu afterthought? No way.

Or look at Morton's, a high-end steak house which features prime cuts of beef. Along with steaks, it offers swordfish, shrimp and lemon-oregano chicken. My question is: Who in his right mind would come here for seafood or lemon-oregano chicken?

Lots of restaurants put stuff on the menu to lure the one member of a group who otherwise wouldn't be willing to come. That's why the Salt Cellar serves teriyaki chicken, why Cafe Terra Cotta has a vegetarian plate, and why Austins Steakhouse serves fried catfish fillets.

But common sense should tell you that these dishes aren't getting high priority in the kitchen. My advice: If you find yourself in a steak house, eat beef; in a seafood restaurant, eat fish; in a French restaurant, eat something that's spelled with an accent mark.

Safe Mex: What keeps people out of Mexican restaurants? Calories. In this health-obsessed age, many diners shrink before tacos, burros and enchiladas the way vampires shrink before a crucifix.

Blue Burrito Grille, though, has raised a following by offering lots of Heart Smart dishes--dishes that derive fewer than 30 percent of their calories from fat. I revisited the place recently and liked what I ate. The green corn tamales, machaca-chicken burros and blue corn enchiladas prove that there is life without lard. (However, I'm still not crazy about the fish tacos--there's barely enough fish in them to bait a hook.)

Blue Burrito Grille is located at 3118 East Camelback. It's opening up a Scottsdale branch, too, next to Harkins Shea 14 complex, on Shea just east of Scottsdale Road.--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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