Second Helpings

Home on the Range: I'm not sure if "Cowboy Ciao" is the kind of restaurant name that's going to lure many customers. It sounds a little too cutesy, doesn't it?

Initially, I imagined someone named Rocco in the kitchen, jangling the spurs on his boots and wearing a fringed shirt. What would he be cooking? Thoughts of bean lasagna, T-bone Parmesan and linguini with barbecue sauce danced through my head.

When I reviewed this place about a year ago, though, I discovered the name was a lot more fanciful than the fare. The Southwestern-accented dishes had some Italian touches--a Chianti marinade, a side of polenta, a Gorgonzola walnut sauce for the pasta. But nothing was over the top. And just about everything was bursting with flavor.

I went back again a few weeks ago, and I'm even more impressed, both with the creativity and the execution. You simply won't see Cowboy Ciao's one-of-a-kind fare anyplace else in town.

Meals start off with a freebie mound of garlicky, white bean hummus, served with tortillas. Appetizers include skillful creations like a Southwestern-style carpaccio, slightly seared beef coated with peppery spices and teamed with pecorino Romano. And don't overlook the daily soup. One recent special bowled me over, a ravishing butternut squash broth drizzled with cheese and studded with pine nuts.

Main dishes are just as deftly done. The filet mignon, marinated in Chianti, is first-rate. So is the plump chili lime game hen, served with a cranberry-pecan salsa. My favorite, though, is probably the mushroom pan fry: shiitake, cremini, button and portabella fungi, in a lip-smacking ancho cream sauce touched up with cotija cheese and poured over grilled wedges of polenta.

Cowboy Ciao's inventive wine program also helps separate it from the restaurant pack. The restaurant offers several interesting wine flights, a trio of three-ounce glasses that generally ranges in cost from $8 to $15. It's a good opportunity to try reasonably priced wines from around the globe that don't make it onto too many lists, like an Argentinean Malbec, a MYller-Thurgau from Oregon and a Heron Merlot from France.

Cowboy Ciao is at 7133 East Stetson in Scottsdale, at the corner of Sixth Avenue. Call 946-3111.

Culinary Weekend: Looking for a grand time? Well, if the two of you have a grand to spare ($990 to be precise), consider weekending at the Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs from Friday, September 25, to Sunday, September 27.

The swanky Different Pointe of View restaurant is hosting two days of cooking classes, gourmet eating and wine-tasting. Big-name chefs from around the country will be sharing the spotlight with the resort's Jeffrey Beeson.

The package includes two nights' lodging, a jazz reception and dinner on Friday night, a Saturday morning tour of the restaurant's garden, morning and afternoon cooking classes, a five-course Saturday night dinner with wines, and a champagne brunch on Sunday morning. If you prefer to sleep in your bed at home, the cost is $590 a couple.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at hseftel@newtimes.com or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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