Growing up, we loved everything potato-based. It was no chore for Mom to get us to chow down on French fries, mashed potatoes, and hash browns. It's hard to remember exactly when we found out that our other favorite, pasta, also came in potato form, but we do remember falling in love instantly. The pillowy little potato dumplings called gnocchi found a fast and enduring place in our hearts, but there's only room for one knockout dish, and this week we'll see if Rancho Pinot or Crudo has the best.
In This Corner: Rancho Pinot
The Setup: While the current Rancho Pinot location is more recent, Chef Chrysa Robertson opened the first Rancho Pinot Grill in 1993. It's been a favorite of ours for a long time and the rustic digs inside a strip mall off Lincoln Drive and Scottsdale Road suit the cuisine just fine: simple and soulful.
The Good: The ricotta gnocchi ($16) with a chunky lamb bolognese is a tough plate to go up against. The gnocchi is handmade with care and attention, and each bite is soft and comforting with a slight creamy tanginess from the ricotta. The portion of lamb in the hearty bolognese is generous. You'd have to really try hard to scoop up a bite that didn't have a piece of lamb in it. Plus, the herbs on top added a nice dimension of freshness to the dish.
The Bad: The sauce-to-gnocchi ratio was definitely sauce heavy. We would have liked to have a few more gnocchi on our plate and (later) in our bellies. The sauce itself was also very heavy, which is great for a winter chowdown, but starts to weigh you down as it gets hotter. We also didn't think pecorino garnishing the dish was a little overpowering. We wanted to taste the perfectly crafted gnocchi, not just the sharp cheese on top.
In The Other Corner: Crudo
The Setup: Guess who else recently went through a location change? From Old Town to East Phoenix, Crudo definitely upgraded, earning New Times' Best Move in 2012. The vintage-inspired Bar Crudo is the ideal place to drink a craft cocktail and order a plate of gnocchi while pondering life's mysteries.
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The Good: The nice basic potato gnocchi ($16) at Crudo really lets the potato shine. The thin tomato-based sauce was bursting with porky flavor due to the fattiness of the cut of pork used in the dish. The rapini that accompanied the sauce was a pleasantly bitter addition to the dish. We chomped down every piece of rapini off of our plate first.
The Bad: Rancho Pinot definitely squashed Crudo in gnocchi preparation. Crudo's gnocchi was by no means poorly made, but the smoothness of the texture and the subtle ricotta flavor of Rancho Pinot's just stood out more. Crudo's gnocchi was more on the chewy side. Also, if you like thick, hearty pasta sauce, Crudo's gnocchi dish is definitely not the one for you, as it is very thin. The pork in it was more fat than meat when we had it, which we loved, but could see how others might not.
And the winner is... Crudo. In terms of atmosphere and overall flavor of the dish with all of its combined elements, Crudo wins this one. It was a close call though because while Rancho Pinot makes a superior gnocchi, Crudo's sauce was a little lighter and more our style. Both gnocchi dishes are worth tasting and judging for yourself.