Taste of the Southwest: Aside from Coyote Grill, I can think of two other Valley restaurants at which judicious ordering can get you a topnotch Southwestern dinner and a dollar or two change from a twenty. One is Z'Tejas Grill at Fashion Square, Scottsdale and Camelback roads in Scottsdale. But you'll probably have to forgo appetizers. Starters like the Santa Fe roll, a flour tortilla rolled up with smoked trout, jack cheese and beans, are tasty, but not very cost-effective. If you must nibble on something, spoon up some corn chowder, fragrant with bits of roasted corn, onion, mild poblano pepper and a dab of chipotle cream.
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The entrees, though, are the real stars here. Grilled meat and fish dishes are outstanding, and reasonably priced for what you get. The achiote-seared halibut is a gorgeous slab of fish, topped with aromatic smoked shiitake mushrooms in a lively mustard sauce. Voo doo tuna, a blackened piece of barely cooked ahi tuna perked up with a piquant soy mustard sauce, also displays the kitchen's versatility with fish. Angus beef tenderloin stuffed with roast peppers, jack cheese and pumpkinseed pesto, coated with an ancho chile cream, is a carnivore's dream. So is the pork tenderloin, stuffed with chorizo and cheese and smoothed with roasted garlic cream sauce. You can even get a main dish for under $10. The roasted pork Navajo taco sports tender meat doused with an ancho mole. The other Southwestern spot is Sam's Cafe at Arizona Center. (There's another branch at Biltmore Fashion Park.) You can afford to spring for the hearty poblano chicken chowder. Then look for wonderful chicken-fried tuna steak smothered with creamy jalape¤o gravy, or citrus-marinated rib eye served with chile mashed potatoes and a fruit salsa. Desserts are also first-rate, particularly the flan made from yams and the cinnamon bunuelo, a crisp tortilla filled with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. The Joint Is Jumpin': A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, newspaper recently reported this unusual restaurant tale: It seems a gentleman was refused a seat in an upscale establishment because he lacked a tie. He was so annoyed that he returned to his car, then marched back into the place with a set of battery jumper cables fastened around his neck. The quick-witted doorman looked him over and announced, "You may enter, but don't try to start anything." Put This in Your Pipe and Smoke It: Restaurant News, an industry trade paper, reports some strange liberties being taken with the spinach at a Reno County, Kansas, jail. What's going on? Desperate inmates, who are suffering under a cigarette ban, have been squirreling away spinach at meal time. Then they go back to their cells and dry it, wrap it in squares of toilet paper and start puffing. Officials aren't happy. One told a reporter, "It smells terrible. You can't print what it smells like. When you don't have tobacco, you do what you have to do."
When It Rainiers, It Pours: Disappointing news for the anonymous reader who sent me a newspaper clipping highlighting the gourmet fare available in the principality of Monaco. Despite the obvious local news angle and interest, New Times editors have refused to authorize a "Best of Monte Carlo" column.