I'm no urban planner, and Lord knows I have no inclination to be one. But whenever I hear my fellow diehard metropolitans talking up the Holy Grail of downtown dwelling -- something that seems to happen like clockwork every First Friday -- I inevitably shake my head in disbelief. I'll grant them points for being true believers, like those folks who actually buy the line that Phoenix's art scene rivals all others nationwide. (Uh, right, and Zell Miller isn't as mean as a junkyard dog on a four-foot leash.)
By their fruits, ye shall know them, saith the Book of Matthew. And just as there is precious little art that inspires me to hit the downtown gallery scene, so too is there precious little in the way of destination dining in the same area. Don't get me wrong, there are some standouts: Pane Bianco, Durant's and Fate are three I return to on a regular basis. And there are far more I'll eat at when I happen to be nearby for work or whatever. But more often than not, I'm hoofing it to Chandler, Scottsdale, even the west side for superior grub, though my druthers would have it otherwise.
This week finds me again taking the caravan out to far-flung (for me at least) DC Ranch in north Scottsdale, to enjoy the pinnacle in seafood fare in the Valley, Eddie V's Edgewater Grille. Eddie V's sits next to the much-ballyhooed Blue Wasabi Sushi and Martini Bar on Market Street in what is essentially a super-posh strip mall in the middle of the friggin' desert. There are three Eddie V's, two in Austin, Texas, and the one at DC Ranch, the name being a hybrid of the co-founders' nicknames, Larry "Eddie" Foles and Guy "Mr. V" Villavaso.
It's been more than two years since Eddie V's opened in Scottsdale, and it can still be difficult to get a table on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. From my experience, that popularity is wholly deserved. Waiters in white jackets and black ties serve well-heeled diners at linen-clad tables in the tastefully appointed dining area. Farther back, everything in Eddie V's smart, jazzy lounge is imbued with an auburn-tinged aura. Booths and tables where people can scarf and drink as they listen to singers belting out standards are full to bursting. Even finding a seat at the immense, curved bar sometimes is a challenge.
The bartenders on duty are slightly slow on the uptake when my companions and I finally secure barstools and order up a round of martinis and appetizers, which are half off in the V Lounge from 4:30 to 7 p.m. (save for Sunday and Monday, when it's happy hour all night). But they soon rebound by supplying us with a dozen flavorful Gulf oysters at .35 a bivalve. I hog the platter to myself, sucking down enough shellfish to end my reliance on Cialis for the foreseeable future. Next, we gorge ourselves on plates of humongous tempura-encrusted Georges Bank scallops, so plump and decadent that I could devour a bathtub-full, ask for a coup de grâce and die a satisfied man. Eddie V's "crab three ways" prolongs our descent into voluptuous overindulgence with a serving of lump crab in lobster-butter sauce, one of soft-shell crab amandine, and finally one of Jonah crab claws with a spicy dipping sauce.
By the time we devour all of these delicacies at the bar, our table is ready, and I and my salacious supper savants of Mikey the moocher, a gal pal of his we'll call Princess Lush, and my own Madame X, are led to our seats. Everything is served á la carte, though the portions are conducive to sharing, especially when it comes to the sides. Ever a conservative consumer, Mikey picks the surf and turf, Princess Lush the roasted Chilean sea bass, Madame X the lemon sole (otherwise known as flounder), and I the Pacific escolar, or butterfish.
Of all of our entrees, I'm delighted to say that mine is without peer. Madame X's lightly floured and seared "lemon sole," with lump crab and a lemon and chive butter sauce, is tasty, but lacks the "wow" factor. Princess Lush's almond-coated sea bass disappoints by being a bit too mushy. And Mikey's surf-and-turf selection tastes rather ordinary. Not that it stops Mikey from fulfilling his obligations as a member of the clean plate club.
The butterfish, though, is a paragon of piscatory perfection: two fillets of ichthyoid excellence in a Thai coconut curry coulis, seated atop sautéed bok choy, and crowned with a red relish of diced peppers and jalapeños. Amazingly, neither the sauce nor the relish overwhelms the escolar, which is firm and, true to its moniker, buttery. I'm quite tickled with the dish, that gill-bearer's flesh being the best thing I've eaten all night.
However, I'm not exactly doing backflips over some of the sides. The scalloped potatoes au gratin are adequate, but the creamed spinach is a true dud, sort of like nibbling on a casserole crafted from wet construction paper. Egad, it's bad -- avoid it like Phoenix tap water. But the crisp, fresh snap peas, mixed with sesame seeds and slices of garlic, are delectable. And my goat cheese salad, with arugula and shallots in a champagne vinaigrette, is another winner.
Dessert is utterly magnificent, a "Godiva cake" that is somewhat like a soufflé and takes 20 minutes to prepare, so order it ahead of time. Served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, it's similar to a round, half-baked brownie, creamy in the middle, with chocolate syrup poured over it. Just the Godiva cake is enough to inspire a return trip to Eddie V's on my part, even though it's about the same as walking a mile for a Camel. There's nothing like it served in or near downtown.
As I exit Eddie V's mulling the fact that the best dining seems to be on the fringes of civilization these days, I run into Jim Carlin, the mastermind behind the whole Blue Wasabi phenomenon, and he informs me that he wants to open a new dining and drinking establishment in the space that once housed Mark Tarbell's Barmouche. Sure, it may be a few months away and it's not exactly downtown, but it's a damn sight closer to me than DC Ranch. Hope springs eternal, I reckon. I'll keep my fingers crossed for Jimmy's sake, and mine.
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