Second Helpings

Hell No, We Won't Go: The 1998-1999 Valley restaurant season has been remarkable. Eddie Matney, Christopher Gross and Mark Tarbell have all undertaken new ventures. Michael Monti, Paul Fleming and the Marco Polo folks are starting up big-time steak houses. The growing northeast Valley has attracted Coyote Grill, Tomaso's 2000, Brokers, Bistro Provence and Leccabaffi. Ethnic restaurants are springing up everywhere, from the three Chinese restaurants at the Chinese Cultural Center to Indian restaurants on the west side and in Mesa. Downtown is bustling with brew pubs like Leinenkugel's and Tommyknockers. Resort restaurants like The Chaparral and Pinon Grill have undergone major redesign. The swanky Wrigley Mansion is up and running once again. The number of new restaurants is simply staggering.

But one thing remains constant. I won't go to any of them during their first two months of operation. And neither should you.

Why not? Because it's almost certain that the restaurant won't have its act together. The staff won't be fully trained. Hostesses won't have a clue. The wine list won't be ready. Suppliers will send the wrong goods. The kitchen won't have the pacing worked out. The computer system will go on the fritz. The espresso machine won't work. The list of potential disasters is almost endless.

That's why, in the theater, productions have previews. The preview audience knows that the director, actors, set designers and playwright are still working things out. The play is unpolished, a work-in-progress. So preview tickets are sold at a discount.

Restaurants, however, don't have previews. You'll pay full menu price while the owner is getting everything into shape.

Not too many restaurants get worse after two months of practice. But they often get substantially better. People occasionally tell me that they've hated new restaurants I've liked. When I ask them when they went, nine times out of 10 they say it was right after the place opened.

When it comes to hip new restaurants, you can be cool, or you can be smart. But you can't be both.

Your Goose Isn't Cooked: Do you think all the Department of Agriculture does is give money to farmers not to grow food, and water down organic produce regulations?

Wrong. Sometimes it makes intelligent decisions. For example, the department has recently lifted its ban on the importation of uncooked goose livers--foie gras--from France.

Raw poultry imports have been banned for nearly 30 years. But now the agriculture department says French birds are free of Newcastle disease, a fatal poultry virus.

But don't rush out to your favorite gourmet restaurant looking for French foie gras just yet. Many of the Valley's top chefs are not impressed with what is coming over. And it's incredibly expensive, about $44 a pound wholesale. For the moment, our chefs prefer to use the duck foie gras produced by an American company, Hudson Valley.

--Howard Seftel

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

 
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