Bottle Fatigue

No more "Chardonnays that taste like baseball bats"

Chef Gregory Casale of Scottsdale's Gregory's Grill has corked his bring-your-own-wine policy. The three-year-old restaurant will be closed the month of July as Casale tours Napa Valley wineries and meets with local purveyors to select what he calls "an exclusive collection of world wines." Gregory's will reopen August 1 with a short list of 30 wines that Casale promises will be like none other we have in the Valley.

"I want to continue the eclectic spirit of my menu through the wine list," he says. "These will be unique wines, from small boutiques. There won't be any of those Chardonnays that taste like baseball bats."

Hmm. I think he means "heavy" wines by that statement -- either that or wines with overwhelmingly oaky character. I'm looking forward to some new, creative tastes as the list evolves under the direction of Gregory's new certified sommelier -- Sean Macusick, stolen from Mary Elaine's and formerly of Marquesa.

While some diners may lament the passing of the value-added BYOB bargain, Casale notes that the change was prompted as much by his desire as by necessity. "A lot of our customers loved it, but too many people abused it," he explains. One guest, apparently feeling restricted by the grill's beer-and-wine-only permit, strapped a bottle of Absolut to his leg. Other diners would tote in oversize bags, then ask for empty glasses with no ice. When liquids "magically" appeared in the glasses, Casale says, his servers were instructed to top them off with water.

"The way some people reacted blew my mind," he says, laughing. "One guy stood in our doorway and screamed that we were rip-off artists. Other people would ask our staff to look the other way while they poured their smuggled alcohol. But if I allowed that, the liquor board could have shut me down."

Casale also got pretty tired of diners carting in $4 jug wines, then complaining about his $8 corkage fee. Especially when, as a complimentary service, he gladly consulted with reservation seekers about what types of wines would pair well with his food.

Given the high sophistication of Casale's dynamic menu, such customer behavior surprises me. And hopefully, even with the grill's new hard-liquor license (to include a limited selection of martinis and mixed drinks), these guests will be too cheap to come back.

If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked a Snake: Just two months after opening, the folks at VooDoo Daddy's in Chandler have a winner. It's alligator. Yes, alligator is one of the most popular menu items, says chef-owner Mondo. About 30 pounds a week leave the kitchen, he notes, in the form of marinated chunks dusted in corn meal, fried and served with tartar sauce.

The 'gator is imported from Louisiana, where it's a traditional dish. And it tastes just like . . . alligator. The white, flaky meat is reminiscent of flounder, I think, yet I've also seen it compared to chewy, gamy pork.

Alligator is just one of the many exotic edibles available in town. Looking for something different for dinner? How about a nice, juicy cut of camel? A gratin of giraffe or hot pot of hippo? Perhaps kangaroo, zebra, beaver, llama, caribou, goat, lion, musk ox or raccoon?

If you're into cooking such creatures, the folks at local specialty purveyors like Chez Eynard Ltd. and Gourmet Imports can set you up. Within about a week of your order, the Phoenix-based companies will rustle up virtually any type of game you desire. Although I have difficulty getting past the visual of poor Kanga and Roo sizzling on a platter, most of these animals come from game farms, rather than the wild, I'm told.

The information doesn't help me much, frankly, for while I appreciate novel food, I don't want it looking at me before I jab it with my fork. No, I'd rather let a chef handle the carcass and deliver the meal all clean and pretty to my table.

I've yet to find a local eatery dishing up zebra, but we do have creative cooks serving rattlesnake, duck feet (Gourmet House of Hong Kong, China Doll), and my favorite, Rocky Mountain oysters.

Don't tell my dog (he was just neutered, ouch), but those "oysters" are actually family jewels involuntarily separated from boy animals like cattle, sheep, buffalo, pigs and turkeys. Arizona's fry king used to be the Squaw Peak Steakhouse in Black Canyon City, which for 14 years hosted an annual Nutcracker Sweet Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry before changing ownership in 1995.

Now, Bobbitt-bent gourmets can enjoy the deep-fried goodies this Saturday and the last Saturday of every month at the Rock Springs Cafe, also in Black Canyon City. The bite-size battered balls are courtesy of lambs from New Zealand, and as many as 2,500 folks turn out for the testicular treats, says Rock Springs manager Richard Spain.

The delicacies are popular ranch food, adds Spain, who hails from a Kansas farm. Eat 'em plain, or dip them in seafood cocktail sauce -- and yes, they do taste like chicken.

Rattlesnake, on the other hand, does not taste like chicken, but like calamari, says Eugene Jarzab, chef at Rustler's Rooste in Phoenix. The hefty diamondbacks are imported from Texas, deep-fried and served with a hardly cowboy-like cucumber dip. The nuggets are very popular, Jarzab says, estimating he moves more than 60,000 pounds of snake a year.

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