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There aren't too many big-time, special-occasion restaurants in the Valley. Add Wrigley Mansion to the list.
Biltmore Grill and Patio, Arizona Biltmore, 24th Street and Missouri, Phoenix, 955-6600. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.
2501 E. Telawa Trail
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Category: Historic Landmarks
Region: East Phoenix
About a year ago, I had dinner at Wright's, the Arizona Biltmore's new, top-of-the-line restaurant. It wasn't a happy experience: Overpriced and dull are just two of the adjectives I'd use to describe my meal there.
I have a suggestion. Have Wright's executives study the operation at the Biltmore Grill and Patio, the resort's more casual and less expensive restaurant alternative. There they'll find a kitchen that knows how to deliver first-rate fare at a reasonable price.
Of course, "casual" and "less expensive" are relative terms. No, you won't find a tuxedoed maitre d' and a $5 cup of coffee at the Biltmore Grill and Patio, as I did at Wright's. But you won't find gum-chewing waitresses or Formica-topped tables in this bright, airy room, either. The tables are lined with linen and cloth napkins; plants and flowers furnish a cheery note; and well-trained, khaki-clad servers sweep breadcrumbs away and replace silverware after each course. Most appetizers come in at $6 or $7, and entrees hover around 15 bucks. (It's an all-day menu, too--the same dishes and prices at lunch and dinner.)
Most important, you get your money's worth, as long as you keep away from the $3.50 mineral waters, $4 beers and $7.50 glasses of wine. The food here isn't trendy or exotic. It is, however, meticulously prepared and immensely tasty. And at this time of year, we locals pretty much have the place all to ourselves.
Start off with luscious baked oysters, three plump critters embellished with crab, cheese and spinach. In comparison, roasted mushroom caps stuffed with herbed goat cheese aren't quite as scintillating. You may want to ignore the calendar entirely and opt for the broth, a deeply aromatic grilled-duck gumbo, thick with sausage, rice and okra. And in this informal atmosphere, it seems perfectly okay to dip in some of the warm, crusty sourdough loaf that accompanies the meal.
The main dishes clearly indicate that someone in this kitchen is paying attention. Carnivores should head straight for the pepper-crusted filet of beef, a half-pound of juicy, butter-soft, red-meat perfection. It's been trimmed of every milligram of fat, too, so there's no waste. Paired with roast red-skin potatoes and sauteed spinach, this is as good a bistro-style steak platter as I've run across in town. The veal meat loaf is another hearty source of animal protein. It's a big slab, coarsely ground, moistened with a rich onion gravy and teamed with excellent mashed potatoes and green beans.
Plump Louisiana crab cakes are equally noteworthy, served right out of the skillet, still shimmering with a crispy golden sheen. A spoon-lickin' crayfish sauce adds to the fun, as does the nifty side of pecan rice. Another bayou-scented dish, shrimp and andouille sausage, also hits all the flavor buttons. Watch out for the zesty kick; the ingredients haven't been toned down for resort guests. But the chef has the good sense to let the lovely grilled swordfish pretty much speak for itself. It's adorned with perky citrus salsa that complements, but doesn't overpower the fish.
Desserts end the meal on the same high note. The cherry cobbler is outstanding, and it benefits from marvelous homemade ice cream. The intense chocolate, the fruity strawberry and powerful vanilla suggest to me that the Biltmore could profitably operate its own ice cream shop, just like the Phoenician. The fudge-brownie walnut pie is irresistible, fashioned with a fudgy top, a molten interior, ice cream and caramel sauce. It's plenty for two. And so is the three-layer chocolate cake--it's very big, very rich and very, very chocolaty. Good coffee makes it easy to wash down these sweets.
And when the meal's over, here's a digestion tip: Stroll around the lush grounds, catch the piano entertainment in the magnificent lobby and pretend you can afford to stay here.
Rack of lamb
Biltmore Grill and Patio:
Shrimp and andouille sausage
Fudge-brownie walnut pie