Summertime Blues

August has brought angst for lovers of Scottsdale's Café Terra Cotta. The classy, casual Southwestern restaurant closed last week. After almost a decade of wowing Phoenicians with chef Donna Nordin's creations (the best garlic custard in the universe), the eatery fell victim to increased competition.

Guess we'll just have to make the drive down to Nordin's original Tucson location to get our fix from now on.

Seasons Close-Out: Star chef James McDevitt (Restaurant Hapa) was brought in to tourniquet the financial hemorrhaging at Scottsdale's upscale Seasons restaurant, sprucing up the menu with touches of the creative Pacific Rim cuisine that's made his Restaurant Hapa such a success. The touch was too little, too late. Seasons has also closed.

Expect more closings to come in the Valley. An unprecedented boom in restaurant building locally over the past few years, paired with today's uncertain economy, has taken a bite out of many restaurants across the country, says Merrill Lynch restaurant industry analyst Peter Oakes. Consumers are being more restrained with their dining-out dollars, and restaurant owners are struggling with higher costs for such basics as dairy and meat. Restaurants hit the hardest appear to be higher-end and fast-food establishments, Oakes says.

Oaxacan Can You Sea: Restaurant Oceana chef-owner Ercolino Crugnale is known for his incredible collection of fine fresh seafood. Now he's bringing Oaxacan cuisine to north Scottsdale. Mezcal is scheduled to open this December at the restaurant-rich Kierland Commons, embracing Mexican-style food using what Ercolino calls pre-Hispanic cooking techniques.

"Before Spain conquered Mexico, Mexican food had little or no culinary fat," explains Ercolino. "The conquistadors brought cheese, lard and oil along with frying and sautéing cooking methods." He plans to fly in ingredients from the Oaxaca and Merida regions of southern Mexico.

Adventurous diners can expect specialties like spicy calamare tacos with jalapeños, tomatoes, garlic and cilantro; and cuitlacoche enchiladas with rare corn mushrooms and tomatillo salsa. Entrees will highlight exotic sauces, such as negro chicken mole and the chile rellenos mole.

Chalk It Up to Boredom: Kudos to the staff at Rosati's Pizza at Scottsdale and Shea for brightening up the standard chalkboard menu of specials. The young crew has been busy with the eraser, offering diners in the mood for something a little different items like Italian Bee, or Eatball Sandwiches. Cooks wanting something from the grocery can pick up great deals on Live Oil, and Fresh Toes (tomatoes, of course)


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