Hype-Happy

Finally, a restaurant that actually cooks up to its reputation

My personal mantra in all things culinary and cultural mimics that wry, clock-wearing philosopher of yore, Public Enemy's Flava Flav, who was fond of advising listeners, "Don't believe the hype!" That ageless, pithy axiom can apply equally to Jay-Z's announced intention to resign from rap (not again!), as well as to anyone who tells you Donald Trump is a financial wizard (if you start out with a daddy as rich as Crassus, financial wizardry ain't exactly rocket science, bub).

This premise bears also on the cosmos of dining, where fawning boosterism is often the order of the day, so much so that whenever the title of "celebrity chef" is trotted out, my built-in bullshit detector clicks on and I start sharpening the long knives.

After all, are there any other types of chefs these days? Seems as if behind every bar menu in this town there's some bozo in a white shirt and cap getting ready for his or her close-up on the Food Network.

Bourbon and beef, now there's something to roar about!
Jackie Mercandetti
Bourbon and beef, now there's something to roar about!

Location Info

Map

Roaring Fork

4800 N. Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Central Scottsdale

Details

New Mexico fondue with lamb chops: $9.50
Green chile pork stew: $8
Beer tenderloin with whiskey shellac: $30
Toffee chocolate pecan pie: $7

480 -947-0795. Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 to 9 p.m.

4800 North Scottsdale Road (southwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Chaparral), Scottsdale.

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Such was my state of mind when I assembled a posse to ride on Robert McGrath's famed Roaring Fork restaurant in Scottsdale. I confess I was eager to jab my perfumed ice pick to the kidneys of this six-and-a-half-year-old Southwestern eatery, which has a name that sounds like the opening act at a reggae festival. (It's really a river in Colorado.) Along for the free grub they get when I'm paying with the company credit card were vodka addict Mikey and his date Jenny-from-the-Block, the esteemed Judge Jeffrey and his sultry lap-warmer Brenda, and, of course, Madame X, my own ravishing raison d'etre.

"You know, Stevie," said my pinko jurist pal as we sauntered through RF's front door, "I doubt you'll find a lot of fans of the New Times amongst this right-wing crowd."

Indeed, the interior of the establishment has that sort of moneyed cowboy decor, which would appeal to the late senator Barry Goldwater were he still with us. Lamps festooned with rusted barbed wire and chandeliers fashioned from elk horns hover above polished floors of dark Brazilian wood. Wrought-iron lasso sculptures sit on some of the tables, and affixed on the walls are taxidermied trout McGrath has caught on his many fly-fishing expeditions. Additionally, the bleached skull of an American bison sits above the long, burnished bar.

As to the political affiliation of the guests, I cannot say if Judge Jeffrey is absolutely correct, though I did hear one table of Republicans next to us talking about how they intended to "screw" Governor Napolitano over the prison standoff. Still, that's only one table, and my leather-bound, blues-lovin' magistrate tends to be just left of V.I. Lenin or Teddy Kennedy, take your pick. So his political antennae may be slightly skewed.

In any case, once we were seated, it was time for drinks, and the ever-anal Mikey put in his order for a Grey Goose Gibson from our waitress, while I selected a bottle of Dashe Cellars Sangiovese 2000, a Sonoma red created by this wine geek couple in Northern Cali. I was quite impressed with RF's wine list, as it offers a range of vino by the glass better than some so-called "wine bars" in this burg. The Dashe Sangiovese was nice and tart, with enough sophistication to make me go for a second bottle. During a subsequent visit, I enjoyed a glass of Tractor Shed Red, a Napa table wine that, despite its unpretentious title, even an oenologist could adore.

Essentially, our repast lived up to every positive tale I'd ever heard about McGrath & Co. Crimey, in the case of Roaring Fork, not only can you believe the hype, you could take out a home loan using RF's reputation as collateral.

Southwestern comfort food of the highest order is prepared here with inventiveness, élan, and all the care used in great French cuisine -- Frenchie fare being hautest of haute cuisine. And why the hell not? When the Frogs eat their comfort food (consider cassoulet or coq au vin), it's taken seriously as part of the grand tradition of French cooking. McGrath's genius is to do the same with the provincial dishes of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. He may not be the only chef doing this, but the results of his labors seem far more successful by comparison.

Of the appetizers we tried, the two our table devoured with the greatest relish were the New Mexico fondue pot and McGrath's ever-popular oven-baked kettle of green chile pork stew. We had our excellent waitress Terry bring us double portions of each, and let me tell you those starters disappeared tout de suite.

The fondue offered small lamb chops, butternut squash slices, and pistachio bread morsels. Of course, it was those tender lamb chops we all reached for first, dipping them into a mix of white wine and pepper jack cheese. We inhaled them until the bones were clean, the fondue juice slowly dribbling down our chins.

The small, squat cast-iron pots of green chile pork with flour tortillas were also wunderbar. Ah, how I savored that thick, meaty stew with its New Mexico chiles, its poblano, its jack cheese and its generous use of butter! I greedily noshed on our other appetizer of sautéed shrimp, tomatoes and ham over black bean cakes, but it couldn't match the green chile pork or the fondue as far as pure stomach satisfaction is concerned.

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