Gregorian Enchantment: What's the best restaurant in town? There's no indisputable answer. But right now, after a memorable revisit, my list of top contenders would have to include Gregory's Grill.
Gregory Casale, a young chef with a very promising future, calls his fare "new world cuisine." I wouldn't. I'd say "around-the-world contemporary" better suggests the many global accents and touches found in his up-to-date dishes.
Food like this may be hard to categorize. But it's easy to describe: Imaginative, robust and delicious are three adjectives that come swiftly to mind.
Appetizers range all over the culinary map, but the chef seems to be at home everywhere. He heads south to find inspiration for his Country-Fried Oysters ($8), lusciously tossed over tasso-flecked grits. Asia is the source for the seasoning punch in the Five Spice Crispy Quail ($7.50), freshened with a sharp ginger chutney. Grilled shrimp can be a starter snooze, but these crustaceans come in a broth scented with saffron and fennel, teamed with a savory bread pudding ($9). The tower of roasted veggies and goat cheese ($6.50), ringed with basil oil and served with parsnip chips, also gets the meal off to a quick start. Well-heeled gourmets will note the pan-seared foie gras ($15), paired with a strawberry rhubarb compote. And traditionalists can enjoy beef tartare ($7), which is almost impossible to find elsewhere in the Valley.
The main dishes display real originality and explode with flavor. The kitchen has a way with fish. The pan-roasted Alaskan halibut ($20) is a dream come true, draped with a fragrant, cashew-studded coconut curry sauce that's good enough to eat with a spoon. Pepper-crusted mahimahi ($20) shines, as do the inspired sides it's served with: a riveting spoonbread, studded with crawfish, and a luscious succotash made from roasted corn and sugar snap peas.
Carnivores should opt for the signature entree, beef tenderloin ($24). It spends three days marinating in beer, soy and ginger, and that's why it's so remarkably tender and remarkably tasty. Tandoori-spiced pork tenderloin ($19), accompanied by an Indian-style biriyani dotted with raisins and pistachios, operates on all eight cylinders. And the boneless beef short rib ($19), braised in a Bolognese sauce and served with homemade gnocchi, is just as impressive.
Perhaps the best way to get a taste of everything is to come on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. That's when the restaurant offers a four-course tasting menu that gives you lots of tastes. At $25 (plus tax and tip), it's a good deal.
One more plus: Gregory's Grill is BYOB. Instead of paying restaurant markup for wine (typically double the retail price), you're charged an $8 corkage for each bottle. Beer drinkers are tagged at three bucks a glass.
Gregory's Grill is at the southwest corner of Scottsdale Road and McDowell, in Papago Plaza. It's open for dinner only, Tuesday through Saturday. For reservations call 480-946-8700. -- Howard Seftel
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