Yo, Vinnie!: As a restaurant critic, it's almost second nature for me to dispense advice about where to eat. Arouse me from the deepest slumber and give me 30 seconds, and I will glibly come up with a dozen restaurant choices, of all types, in any price range, for every occasion. But when it's my own nickel that's up for grabs, you can bet I give the matter the most thoughtful attention. I recently had a New York friend come to town, a cosmopolitan world traveler who's been everywhere and done everything. My task: choose a dinner spot for her and four other new-to-the-Valley Big Apple sophisticates. My choice? Vincent Guerithault on Camelback. I figured the inventive Southwestern food with the French touch would get the attention of even jaded Gotham palates. I was right. After almost a decade in business, this place refuses to just go through the motions or to rest on past plaudits. The appetizer list is the most imaginative part of the menu. The smoked-salmon quesadilla, swabbed with dill and horseradish cream, is rapturously good. So is the rich lobster chimichanga, stuffed with goat cheese and coated with a basil cream sauce. A duck tamale filled with chile and raisins, and a big California chile with wild mushrooms and glorious blue cheese sauce, exhibit Guerithault's ability to apply French flair to Southwestern ingredients. The main courses aren't quite so cutesy. The emphasis here is on quality, not intricate preparation. Vincent's veal sweetbreads are the standard by which I now measure this dish. He sauts them with blue cornmeal and moistens them in a full-flavored red wine sauce heavy with thyme. The kitchen knows enough not to fuss over grilled Maine lobster, focusing instead on the addictive lemon dill pasta that comes with it. Duck confit features superb preserved fowl, served with Anasazi beans. Try to find this platter in New York. And although you'd have to boil me in oil to get me to order from it, Vincent's also features a Heart-Smart menu section, for people who need to know precisely how many calories and how many milligrams of cholesterol they're consuming. But the human body can stand only so much health. The chocolate hazelnut cake with the homemade caramel ice cream was so good I could still savor it the next day, from my perch on the Health Club bicycle. The macadamia nut chocolate torte was intense enough to cause a swoon. My visitor got a particular kick from the signature cräme brle, fashioned in little taco cups in three different flavors. One element of Vincent's that may go unnoticed is the service. That's because it's so good you're barely aware of it. The busboys seem to know when you want bread and water about five seconds before you do. And when one of our group stepped away during the meal, a huge metal dome swiftly appeared to cover her plate to keep it warm. Vincent's may seem pricey for Phoenix, but my big-city companions were stunned by the $35 per person (without drinks) tab. And with reason: Go to a Manhattan restaurant, and that's about how much it'll cost to park your car. Vincent Guerithault is at 3930 East Camelback. Call 224-0225.
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