Expense Account

Truffles no trifle

Entrees weren't quite as decadent, but close. Four Story Hill Farm duck breast came with meatballs of duck sausage, drizzled with sticky Clementine honey glaze. Cocoa nib mole was a spicy foil for the gamey flavor of slow-poached lamb loin. Tender fennel-braised veal shank hardly needed a knife; and moist, roasted wild striped bass tasted almost sweet, with an aromatic touch of porcini essence.

White truffles from Alba, Italy, are only in season the last few months of the year, and Mary Elaine's showcases them with three menu items. I tried the Vialone Nano risotto, a smooth, thick bowl of short-grain rice, made extra creamy with melted bone marrow and mascarpone. It was simple and subtle, the better to savor the earthy, faintly garlicky flurry of paper-thin truffle shavings on top. One pound of white truffles goes for about $2,000 these days, so the delicacy turned a humble bowl of risotto into a $150 extravagance.

Which brings me to the most obvious point about Mary Elaine's rarefied aura: the expense. While precious ingredients like Iranian Sevruga, foie gras, or truffles can help justify the cost, those only get you so far. Honestly, I don't know how any chef's genius cooking could compete with Mary Elaine's long-standing reputation for high-roller prices.

Lifestyles of the rich and famous: The only thing missing from Mary Elaine's dated notion of elegance is Robin Leach.
Jackie Mercandetti
Lifestyles of the rich and famous: The only thing missing from Mary Elaine's dated notion of elegance is Robin Leach.

Details

Sautťed foie gras: $27

Potato tart: $21

Duck breast: $47

Lamb loin: $49

480-423-2530, »web link.
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 6 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.

6000 East Camelback Road (The Phoenician)

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How high, you ask? Oh, somewhere close to $200 a person for three courses, wine, and gratuity.

My friend summed it up best as she sipped on her luscious cream of Jerusalem artichoke soup, one of the cheapest things on the menu at $23: "I feel like I'm eating a bowlful of money."

It's hard not to think about money when you eat here. You start to wonder what makes something cost twice as much as it would at other "expensive" restaurants. You start to question whether it tastes twice as good. You start to think about the award-winning chef, and how the sheer prestige of eating your exorbitant meal is somehow stealing his thunder, putting pressure on every plate that comes out of the kitchen. And even if money's no object, you might decide that Mary Elaine's service and food just aren't getting the truly opulent surroundings they deserve.

Or then again, maybe you don't think that at all, because you've spent more than a grand and you really, really want to believe it was worth it.

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