Second Helpings

Some Like It Haute: What's the Valley's best Mexican restaurant? Italian restaurant? Chinese restaurant? You can make a case for at least ten restaurants in each category.

But when it comes to high-end, gourmet dining, there's only one contender in town: Christopher's.

I recently revisited chef Christopher Gross' flagship restaurant (not to be confused with his next-door place, Christopher's Bistro), and left almost woozy with admiration.

The small room is plush and elegant; the sharply trained staff is smooth and knowledgeable; the wine list is the best in town. And the food is out of this world.

You can order ala carte. But the wisest plan of action is to go with the seven-course fixed-price dinner. Come with good company and armed with plenty of conversation--you'll be here for about three hours.

Dinner gets under way with a disk of silky-smooth, house-smoked Irish salmon bathed in basil oil, and topped with creme fraiche and a dollop of osetra caviar.

Next up is one of the world's great gourmet treats: foie gras, prepared both as a mousse and sauteed whole. Accompanied by a glass of Sauternes, it's a heart-stopping thrill.

The foie gras is a hard act to follow, but the chef managed to find one of my weaknesses: sweetbreads. They're rolled in chanterelles, and the flavor is sublime.

At this point, you may want to loosen your belt a notch for the fish course, a combination of lobster meat and sea scallops in a creamy chive sauce. Then comes the meat dish, a couple of thin, velvety sirloin slices, lightly smoked, served with fareki (a Middle Eastern grain) and elephant garlic.

Dinner begins to wind down with a cheese course. The kitchen offers three samples, ranging from mild to sharp: tete de moine from Switzerland, reblochon from France, and a somewhat overrated American cheese, Maytag Blue. (I'd prefer Stilton or Roquefort.)

Finally, dessert. We were lucky to hit a night which featured the stunning hot and cold chocolate--a combination of ice cream, cake and souffle. Wow.

The $75 tag? Only those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing could complain. In addition, the chef will pair each course with wine for an additional $40. Or you could do your own wine mixing and matching.

When I got my bill, I noticed we hadn't been charged for a glass of wine. After I alerted the manager, he thanked me for my honesty and said it was on the house. Is this any way to run a restaurant? You bet it is.

Christopher's is at 2398 East Camelback. Call 957-3214.
Who's Minding the Store? While Christopher's runs as smoothly as a Swiss timepiece, another restaurant in the Gross empire, ACG (Arizona Cafe & Grill, 3113 East Lincoln Drive), seems to be heading downhill, fast. I was shocked by the mediocrity. $10.65 for a chicken salad that consisted mostly of lettuce and tortilla strips? $16.95 for a slab of pork ribs with mushy meat and no flavor zing? The cajeta crepe dessert was downright incompetent. The waiter set down a hot plate with an ice cold crepe. Somebody needs to start paying attention here, and soon.--Howard Seftel

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

 
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