Food Fight

Is there a patent on New Mexican food?

Al Gore invented the Internet. That we accept. But who would have thought that Richardson Browne, feisty owner of Richardson's Cuisine of Phoenix, has a patent on New Mexican food?

What else would explain his bizarre attacks on the owners of Carlsbad Tavern in Scottsdale and Blue Adobe Grille in Mesa? The two Santa Fe-style restaurants have been on the receiving end of Browne's tirades, the owners say. They say Browne has hazed customers in their parking lots and made obscene phone calls to their restaurants. Then, last week, says Blue Adobe owner Paul Bigelow, Browne sent a fax telling him to "please fuck himself" for "stealing (Richardson's concept) lock, stock and barrel."

Blue Adobe has been open for four months, and its menu is similar to Richardson's -- but that's like finding more than one Mexican restaurant serving tacos. "I don't even know the guy," says a bemused Bigelow. "But I don't think he can claim a monopoly on red and green chiles, or pecan smoking."

Carlsbad partner Andrew Capriola has been dealing with Browne's wrath since his place opened -- with many of Richardson's key employees in tow -- five and a half years ago. "He drives through our parking lot flipping people off," Capriola says. "He's a bitter old man, with overpriced food and a staff that hates him."

Browne did not return New Times' calls, but his wife, Barbara, confirms his aggressive behavior. "The restaurant is his baby," she says. "He's eccentric, and like most artists, maybe on the verge of insanity. He's actually a lot calmer now than he used to be."

Barbara Browne, in fact, is the one who sent me the fax in the first place, unsolicited, saying she wanted to set the record straight because people were stealing her husband's concept. She, too, believes that other restaurant owners have ripped off the Richardsons and copied specific menu items, like the green chile potato and tomatillo toast.

At least Browne is equal-opportunity -- and bilingual -- with his insults. Yes, graduates of Spanish 101, that chalkboard in the restaurant's foyer a while back read in español: "Food critics can kiss my ass."

Lay Out the Welcome Matney: Forget formal dining. Celebrity chef Eddie Matney has returned full-force to the funky flair that made him such a culinary star when he descended upon the restaurant world more than a decade ago.

Last weekend marked the grand opening of The Bar, replacing Matney's fine dining room and its gourmet seven-course, $70 prix fixe tasting menu (the tab soared to $120 per person with paired wines). Matney also debuted an updated Bistro, with a renovated interior and new menu, in his flagship eatery adjacent to The Bar.

The new concept is more in keeping with the casual but highly creative mood with which Matney wowed Valley diners at his first restaurant, KousKooz, in the late '80s. Decor is influenced by Aztec and Moroccan designs, with lots of warm yellow, rust and blue tones. In The Bar, guests can lounge on chaises that look almost like huge slippers, or swivel on oversize stools. The Bistro sports hand-blown glass lights, high-back leather chairs and pillars decorated with photo collages of Matney and his wife, Jennifer (why not -- this is a chef, after all, whose Web site features a singing and dancing cartoon of himself, and who sends party invitations featuring his face fashioned out of fruits and vegetables).

While the Bistro still focuses on New American cuisine, Matney will change his menu monthly, "to share his passion for creating bold new recipes." Guests can even request customized meals -- if Matney can make it; he'll do his best to accommodate, he says.

Matney's been working overtime, it seems, preparing two dozen new appetizers and a half-dozen sandwiches for in-bar dining. Some of the more intriguing choices include truffled fingerling potato skins, sumac grilled lamb chops, horseradish mashed potato shrimp, garlic cornmeal calamari and saffron red chile mussels.

 
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