By Heather Hoch
By Lauren Saria
By JK Grence
By Eric Schaefer
By Robrt L. Pela
By Eric Schaefer
By Laura Hahnefeld
By Laura Hahnefeld
Describing a shrimp spring roll would also alert us that we're actually in for summer rolls, cold and wrapped in soft, translucent wonton wrapper instead of hot and deep-fried. The two rolls are pleasant regardless of title, though, stuffed with scallion, carrot, celery, vermicelli, cucumber and peppery threads of radish sprout. Cut and dip them in a spicy sweet-and-sour sauce dotted with black sesame seeds.
Ahi "sushimi" is really tataki, too, the raw fish flash seared, splayed and partnered with more sweet sauce plus baby greens in a light oil dressing.
There's no confusion with toasted ravioli, except how I'm going to snake my dining companions' portions without getting slapped. These starters are favorites at Marco Polo, and they're equally welcome here, bringing four golden-crusted, ricotta-stuffed bundles with a side of chunky marinara. And just because cannelloni isn't often presented as an appetizer doesn't mean it shouldn't be -- this is another difficult-to-share dish of a single pretty crepe stuffed with a moist mince of chicken, veal, steak fillet and herbs in a gutsy rossa bianco sauce (rich tomato and cream).
4175 N. Goldwater Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251-3822
Region: Central Scottsdale
Chilean sea bass: $23
Tuna mignon: $21
Chicago rib chop: $27
Veal Milanese: $14
480-946-6555. Hours: Lunch, Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m
Better menu descriptions might have swayed our party from ordering the only two boring items we trip over. When the wording says -- in cosmopolitan crispness -- "Chilean sea bass -- grilled," it's not being coy. The soft fish has nothing but the barest edge of marinade, sits in a slick of beurre blanc, and -- that's it. "Halibut -- steamed" rests in the same sheer butter, accented only with a spattering of roasted red pepper chunks. Good fish, competently cooked, but no spark.
And how many of us will immediately understand what tuna mignon à la sotto fiammo is without a little guidance? My waiter explains it's ahi rolled in a black pepper crust, served rare, but he doesn't explain that it's been charred, on what tastes suspiciously like wood plank. While I still like the result, such cooking treatment changes the whole nature of the beast.
Hint: study beforehand and impress your friends with the casual announcement that chicken spedini, of course, is breast skewered, rolled in Italian bread crumbs and broasted (pressure fried) with risotto Milanese.
A New York steak is firmer ground, an ample piece of beef that's been sliced and topped with roasted red and green peppers, red onion and a healthy blanket of zesty Gorgonzola. Wonderful, juicy stuff.
Café Blue's kitchen errs on the side of rare -- tuna mignon is stark raw in the middle, and a Chicago rib chop ordered medium-rare is just about blue in its center. Okay with me, I like my stuff that way, but fair warning. It works to our advantage on a New Zealand rack of lamb served requested medium; the mound of chops is still moist. Lamb isn't the best dish here, though, just vaguely interesting until it's spruced up with excellent mint vinaigrette or bordelaise sauce (Bordeaux wine, meat stock and herbs).
It's a good thing I like my aforementioned Chicago chop -- at 24 ounces, it's got me eating for days. The monster, bone-in rib has been charred and comes with plenty of au jus for dipping.
In an interesting twist, side dishes are shared affairs -- our server delivers a platter of Italian roasted potato chunks, steamed cabbage, Swiss chard, broccoli and cauliflower, with refills as needed. I don't care that variety is limited -- the veggies are expertly crisp and swim in a stunning puddle of butter topped with Parmesan and spiked with red pepper. Dip the sea bass in this, and I'm happy.
Challenges with descriptions occur again at dessert, when our server describes "Irma's" cheesecake as being New York-style. Not. This is hardly cheesecake at all, but a flurry of whipped cream on an Oreo crust that, with some digging, unearths a slim ribbon of firm cake within. Gold Brick ice cream isn't really, either, the vanilla bean ice cream missing the traditional pecans in its hardened fudge topping. Fine, but not what was expected.
Lunch makes for an easier adventure, all the more impressive because the restaurant's only been open for midday dining for a week when we stop in. More items come with descriptions, including a delightful crispy Peking duck salad with Oriental vegetables in a hoisin-orange dressing. Penne is also highly pleasing -- buried under an avalanche of sweet, crumbly sausage that's plate-scraping satisfying, and more of that excellent rossa bianco sauce. A dainty plate of veal Milanese is a show-stopper, too, coated in a brilliant, herby crust and bewitchingly moist inside. A side of Italian greens tossed with balsamic is the perfect partner.
Missteps aside, it's hard to put a damper on our time at Café Blue. If the biggest problems are lack of signage and some menu rewrites, I'd say that there's a lot to be happy about here.