By Heather Hoch
By Eric Schaefer
By New Times
By Rachel Miller
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch and Lauren Saria
By Robrt L. Pela
By Heather Hoch
In the old days, when the West was being settled, development took a predictable course. First came the explorers. Then came the hunters and trappers. Next came the ranchers and farmers, with the tradespeople following on their heels. Finally, teachers, lawyers and doctors moved in, and a community began to take root.
These days, however, in our corner of the West, growth takes a different course. First come the land speculators. They hook up with on-the-make politicians and developers. Bankers get into the act. Soon, sprawling, look-alike housing tracts and ugly commercial strips spread across what was unspoiled desert. The final step in modern community-building: an influx of Italian restaurants.
That, more or less, is how north Scottsdale has taken shape. And, as if to prove my point, Tomaso's 2000 opened at the busy intersection of Bell and Scottsdale roads about a year ago.
Why here? Willie Sutton used to rob banks, he said, because "that's where the money is." Restaurateur Tomaso Maggiore's new place is in north Scottsdale because that's where more and more of his customers are. Give him credit for recognizing that the Valley's center of restaurant gravity is starting to shift from the Camelback corridor, where the original Tomaso's is still enjoying a two-decade run, to this burgeoning part of town.
What kind of customers live in the neighborhood? Clearly not the kind the proprietor originally hoped for. During Tomaso's 2000's first few months, both culinary expectations and prices were high. The menu carried dishes like risotto, ostrich, veal baked with buffalo mozzarella and pork tenderloin braciole, the meat rolled with fancy Italian cheeses, currants and pine nuts, then braised in a tomato wine sauce. A simple grilled chicken entree cost $21, while veal parmigiana hit $23. Filet mignon reached $26.
The neighborhood, apparently, didn't embrace either the menu or the prices. So Tomaso's 2000 switched gears. These days, prices are way down -- nothing on the regular menu goes for more than $18.95. The pasta platters range from $8.95 to $11.95.
Prices aren't the only part of the operation being trimmed. The menu has been severely scaled back and now is pitched entirely to mainstream palates. You'll find one lamb entree (lamb chops), one fish platter (grilled salmon), and, surprisingly, no beef at all. Instead, the kitchen focuses on a thoroughly predictable assortment of chicken, veal and pasta dishes, prepared the same way they were in the year 999. When I first heard the name, I thought Tomaso's 2000 would be delivering cutting-edge cuisine. But after several visits, I believe this place might be more aptly called Tomaso's 1000.
Still, just because the fare is tried-and-true doesn't mean it can't be very good. Heck, it could even be inspired. Like too many Valley Italian restaurants, however, Tomaso's 2000 seems to be settling for very good.
The place makes a very good first impression, even before you enter. That's because there's an herb garden outside the door, where you'll sniff the scents of oregano and basil. Inside, the assault on your sense of smell continues -- the air is heavy with garlic and olive oil. It's as effective as Chanel No. 5.
The fanciful interior falls just short of kitsch. You get the feeling you aren't dining in an Italian restaurant so much as you're dining in a place that's designed to suggest an Italian restaurant. You can't miss the cues. There's Michelangelo's Creation of Adam painted on one wall, and what looks like a take on Raphael's Galatea on another. On the walls leading to the restrooms hang the usual Godfather and Sophia Loren pictures and posters. Red draperies and white cafe curtains adorn the windows. And above it all, the ceiling is painted with pillowy white clouds and a sunny blue Italian sky.
There's no harm nibbling on the ciabatta in the bread basket while you wait for appetizers. But be careful before you spread on the butter, which is infused with so much garlic your socks may involuntarily roll up and down.
The appetizer list looks exactly like every other Italian restaurant appetizer list in town. Can't any Italian chef in Maricopa County do starters other than fried calamari, bruschetta, stuffed mushrooms, tomatoes and mozzarella, baked clams and antipasto? Can't Tomaso's 2000 risk fielding just one appetizer item that everybody hasn't eaten 10,000 times before?
That's not to say that the appetizers aren't competently done. Butter-soft carpaccio, thinly sliced raw beef drizzled with olive oil and lemon, and touched with capers and shaved parmigiano, offers a pleasing mix of flavors and textures. Bruschetta, grilled ciabatta heaped with tomato and accented with garlic and basil, is uncomplicated fun. Less successful is the smoked salmon bruschetta, which has one ingredient -- smoked salmon -- too many. In cooking, as in architecture, sometimes less is more.
That's how I felt about the antipasto. The prosciutto, the provolone, the mozzarella, the tomato, the roasted peppers -- we've all been there, swallowed that. But the plate also held a breathtaking caponata, a Sicilian eggplant salad, good enough to build a meal around. Why couldn't the rest of the appetizers create this kind of excitement? The baked clams come close, due to the vigorous addition of olive oil, garlic and herbs, as well as a touch of bacon.