A Plateful of Prada

Dining has become so darn pretentious, like a version of "ChefsGone Wild"

Or consider the arugula Bianco selects for his tuna, red onion, kalamata olive and lemon sandwich. Bianco has long boasted that he's been a proponent of using only the freshest market ingredients possible. At one point a few years back, he was so avid about freshness that he told me he was thinking about serving weeds he'd just pulled from sidewalk cracks (I don't know if he really did it, but if he did, I'm assuming they were nice, edible weeds). This arugula is peppery, almost crisp, with velvety leaves, a classy complement to the pristine quality tuna, imported from Portugal.

There's no question that the idea of savoring food is something to celebrate. Whenever I eat at Ruby Beet, the only thing I think about is my beautiful lunch, and it makes my entire day better. Chalk it up to relaxing ambience, as well as delicious food: the charming historic home of brick and wooden floors, the rustic wooden tables, the big bowl of green Granny Smith apples and the wild flowers. It s always quiet; the servers pad softly, gently offering more fresh-squeezed lemonade or Henry Weinhard's root beer, served frosty in the bottle. I can see the kitchen from where I sit -- the 100-year-old Silva House still feels very much like someone's home, and the cook space is open, airy and flooded with windows.

Also give credit to the no-nonsense recipes. When the menu says Nicoise salad, that's exactly what we get. The plate holds the classic blend of tuna, green beans, hardboiled egg, potatoes, olives, fennel, tomatoes and lettuce. There's vinaigrette dressing, and some bread. It's fancier than usual, of course, with the fish the best from Siciliy, green beans of the crisp French variety, the eggs straight from a local farmhouse, the expertly oven-cured tomatoes, and the bread slabs of handcrafted grilled olive loaf.

The Beet goes on: Marjorie Hoskins (left) and Karen Dawson, owners of Ruby Beet.
Jackie Mercandetti
The Beet goes on: Marjorie Hoskins (left) and Karen Dawson, owners of Ruby Beet.

Location Info

Map

Pane Bianco

4404 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85012

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Nicoise salad: $9
Farmer's Market salad: $11
Roasted vegetable sandwich:$9
628 East Adams (in Historic Heritage Square), 602-258-8700. Hours: Lunch, Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Pane Bianco
4404 North Central, 602-234-2100
Hours: Lunch, Tuesday through Saturday, 11a.m. to 3p.m.

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Ruby's aptly named Farmer's Market salad showcases what makes Slow Food so special. The dish changes constantly, but I'm fortunate to get a rainbow of lettuces, Niman Ranch bacon, Maytag bleu cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes, local organic apples, sweet corn, baby beets, strawberries and Young's Farm chicken tossed with lemon shallot vinaigrette. A roasted vegetable sandwich is earthy, too, layered with meaty Portobello mushroom, house-roasted red peppers, zucchini, fennel, fresh Italian mozzarella, oven-roasted tomatoes, local organic basil and lemon shallot vinaigrette on multi-grain bread. And I don't even need the balsamic vinaigrette dressing for my panzanella salad -- that's how good I find the imported prosciutto si Dan Daniele del Friuli tumbled with thyme-infused garlic croutons, roasted fennel, caramelized mushrooms, oven-roasted tomatoes, asparagus, artichoke hearts, little white beans and arugula.

I've got to work more for my food at Pane Bianco. I'm not going to find peace fighting the crowds who line up to order, then squish into the parking lot seating. But I've got a trick: I call my order in ahead, then find my oasis on a bench at the Circle of Life monument fountain in Steele Indian School Park just across the street from the bakery. I might eat a sandwich of homemade mozzarella, locally grown organic tomatoes, sea salt, a splash of olive oil and fresh torn basil on a big round of golden rosemary-flecked focaccia (fashioned, of course, from organic flour and filtered water). It might be soppressata (a pressed Italian sausage), aged provolone and wood-roasted peppers. It could be, as it was thanks to a recent daily market special, one of the most blissful sandwiches I've ever enjoyed: a salty bit of bliss with Serrano ham, mozzarella and basil. Another day, another treat: a crispy focaccia flat capped with cherry tomatoes, smoked ricotta and montasio, a piquant aged cheese.

Pane Bianco doesn't offer dessert, but the slow mood is complete with specialty fresh fruits like apples from Willcox, and Fort Bowie peaches.

Finally, food is food again. And now, we can all live happily ever after. At least until the next trend arrives.

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