By Heather Hoch
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By Laura Hahnefeld
Next up is a severely gorgeous hostess, who makes it clear that, without reservations, we're just an inconvenient pair of diners who'd be lucky to warrant even takeout attention. She makes a big deal out of "discovering" a table to squeeze us in. I'm miffed, until I study the crowd around us and realize: Furio is hot. We really were fools to think we could just stroll in off the street at 6:45 on a Friday night. Unless we want to eat at 5:30 or after 9 p.m., we'd better follow the rules and call in advance. Okay, fine.
Casale is cracking the whip here, servers, bartenders, even busers are smooth, adult and attentive. A manager checks in so often it's difficult to believe I'm in a club and not at one of the Valley's premier resort restaurants.
Another resort-worthy touch: The next-door bar never interrupts our evening. The drapes are gossamer vanilla curtains so elegant yet effective that it doesn't even matter that the little lounge (just a dozen seats) is entertaining its guests with sports television. It's hard to believe we're eating in such a tiny space -- a single wall of booth seating and just a handful of tables under black-painted exposed-duct ceilings -- because each room feels so much like its own individual destination.
7210 E. 2nd St.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Central Scottsdale
Shrimp and bay scallop wrap: $7.50
Dusted hearts of palm: $6
Ricotta and sausage calzone: $8.50
Mascarpone and porcini ravioli: $9.50
Seared halibut: $18
Grilled NY strip: $18
Osso buco: $21
Cappuccino cheesecake: $7
Strawberry zepolis: $6
Hours: Lunch, daily, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Limited menu, daily, until midnight.
And it's not just me getting all gushy. One dining companion (a former Manhattan restaurant manager) is so immediately smitten it takes three hours to drag him out of there. Another companion (another former restaurant manager and current nightclub junkie) calls me the next day, babbling like a hyper puppy about how much he loves the place, its immense flavors and funky mix of music (Gypsy Kings, Sinatra, jazz, acoustic guitar).The appeal spans the ages -- dining side by side are black-clad club crawlers and silver-haired couples in coordinated pantsuits. Guests at neighboring tables think nothing of leaning in and asking each other about entrees, yet sound is moderated so skillfully that we can't eavesdrop without being obvious.
"The only tomato thing I like to sip is a Bloody Mary," one supper companion announces. But he's never sampled Griffin's superb take on tomato soup, a vibrant recipe stocked with tasty jewels of just-firm diced rutabaga, zucchini, shallots and shaved fennel. He sticks to nursing a caramel appletini (SKYY Vodka, Apple Pucker, butterscotch schnapps, sweet and sour, and fresh apple juice).
I'm going into sugar shock, though, after finishing a glass of Sangria (red wine, vodka, sugar, lemons, limes, strawberries, peaches, apricot nectar, oranges and nectarines), so it's time to switch to something lighter from Furio's short but well-rounded wine list.
A floral Elk Cove Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley) goes well with a dish of sautéed shrimp, baby spinach and shiitake mushrooms in a light herb cream sauce, jazzed with lots of thyme and served over a bed of exquisitely al dente linguini. A plate of five fat ravioli sparks the cream sauce with fresh tomato chunks and big slivers of garlic, the blend robust enough to stand up to pasta infused with black truffle, then stuffed with mascarpone and tidbits of woodsy porcini.
And Blockheadia Sauvignon Blanc (California) lends to mild fish the aromas of gooseberry, grapefruit, orange, lime and ripe honeydew. Griffin knows his seafood, treating humble halibut like royalty, the flaky fillet seared and served over brightly bitterish artichoke hearts, caramelized fennel, and braised endive sprinkled with roasted red pepper and parsley. An appetizer of fiery chili-papaya-glazed shrimp and bay scallops is gutsy, presented with spoons of shallots, capers, tomato, ginger and cucumber to be wrapped in pleasantly leathery leaves of lettuce.
For meats, it's red, perhaps a Merlot or Syrah. Though there's really nothing required to set off a stunning plate of tender osso buco, which arrives with the often overlooked fork needed to rescue the bone marrow, and resting atop wild mushroom risotto as creamy and firm as the best I've eaten in Italy. Grilled New York strip is presented expertly medium rare, singed on its edges, pooled with thick, wonderfully restrained cabernet sauce and paired with chunky boursin whipped potatoes.
One dining companion is concerned because I've called him for an impromptu dinner and he's wearing jeans. Yet Furio can be casual. There's nothing lower-level about the flavors, however, such as pesto pizza with homemade mozzarella, roasted red peppers, artichokes and sautéed mushrooms, or a buttery-crusted calzone gorged with zingy ricotta and highly herbed Italian sausage. I eat a simple spinach salad with my fingers, thanks to impressively fresh baby greens with crisp stems; I savor bits of chopped red pepper, a blissfully well-balanced, warm shiitake and shallot vinaigrette, and a cake of crumbly, thick goat cheese encrusted with pine nuts. Even a salami sandwich is above ordinary, since this meat is layered on marvelous crusty Tuscan bread with lettuce, tomato, red onion and a light black olive aioli.
Teetotalers can cap a meal with cappuccino cheesecake, fluffy textured and nicely sour under a mantle of real whipped cream and fresh berries; or zepolis, dainty, handcrafted fritters topped with strawberries and dusted with powdered sugar.
We decide to drink our desserts, no surprise, as a Café Furio (coffee, Kahlúa, Bailey's Irish Cream, Tia Maria, amaretto, chocolate syrup and whipped cream); or a toasted almond (espresso, Frangelico, amaretto and whipped cream).