Table for "Fore!"
The Grill at the TPC, Scottsdale Princess resort, 7575 East Princess Drive, Scottsdale, 585-4848. Hours: Breakfast and Lunch, 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 6 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 to 11 p.m.
Whiskey glass in hand, Dean Martin used to counsel folks about the perils of drinking and driving. "Hell," he said boozily, "don't even putt." Mark Twain warned about golfing under any circumstances. He called the game "a good walk spoiled."
Now is the time of year when thousands of players flock to the Valley to wear ugly plaid pants, whack a little white ball and fudge the truth. Most golfers routinely take a mulligan when they whiff on a drive. They concede themselves five-foot putts that would give Jack Nicklaus the yips. And they "forget" to count an extra stroke when their first attempt to get out of the trap only moves the ball to another patch of sand a few inches away. Let's face it: The average guy's scorecard records his true number of swings about as reliably as a Fife Symington loan application records his true financial condition.
This week the touring pros are in town, teeing up at the Phoenix Open. Awestruck duffers can only dream about shooting like Phil, Greg and Tiger. They can, however, eat like them.
Our local golf-course restaurants are getting increasingly sophisticated, catering to a demanding, affluent clientele. When you're paying a hundred dollars and up for a round of high-season golf, you have a right to expect more from a clubhouse kitchen than a Mel's Diner blue-plate special. And those expectations are met at The Grill at the TPC and Quill Creek Cafe. Those dining spots will make hungry hackers happy even if the only way they can break 80 is by calling it quits after nine holes.
For years, I've thought that the restaurant executives at the Scottsdale Princess resort do a masterful job. The Marquesa and La Hacienda are two of the finest dining destinations in Arizona. The new Grill at the TPC, the resort's latest restaurant effort, does nothing to shake my faith. This isn't merely a great clubhouse restaurant--it's one of the best restaurants in town, period.
The place has a manly, bourbon-and-water feel. The cigar-filled humidor by the entrance sets the tone. There's lots of wood, heavy white tablecloths and oversize wine bottles on display. You can view the 18th hole out the large picture windows.
The Grill isn't aiming to reconceptualize modern gastronomy, hook on to the latest culinary trends or attract thrill-seeking foodies. This kitchen deals in basics: steaks, chops and seafood. And, basically, they're magnificent.
Most of the menu's creativity is channeled into the appetizers. The wild mushroom and potato Napoleon is a lusty, earthy delight, zipped up with plum tomatoes. Griddled polenta cakes, covered with a vegetable ragout and ringed with sweet carrot oil, assault your taste buds with a blitzkrieg of flavors. Three large, moist scallops, sitting atop spinach mashed potatoes in an orange butter sauce, will stop conversation at your table. While none of the starters will cause you to loosen your belt, they will get you to sit up and take notice. So will the hot, chewy loaf of bread that accompanies dinner, served with a whole roasted garlic.
The main dishes will put the same kind of grin on your face you'd have if you just outdrove John Daly. The Grill is the only place I know of that offers both dry-aged and Cryovac-aged prime-graded beef. (Dry-aging means hanging beef in a refrigerated locker for about three weeks, an expensive process that most elite steak houses have pretty much abandoned. Most use the Cryovac, or "wet" aging process, which doesn't take as long and results in less beef shrinkage.) Is one method better than the other? Not really; it's a matter of taste. Dry-aged beef is likely to have a somewhat stronger flavor.
The dry-aged porterhouse goes for $34, but serious carnivores won't feel shortchanged. It's a mesmerizing slab of beef, teamed with a potato hash and smoked grilled peppers. Shooting par and eating this steak on the same day could be a lifetime highlight.
The quality is just as deep with other forms of animal protein, and the mixed grill gives you the opportunity to sample three of them at once. The thick lamb chop, fork-tender filet mignon and luscious smoked chicken breast are a high-powered trio, paired with wild mushroom mashed potatoes and roasted tomatoes. And the kitchen, knowing you've just come in from a full round of 18, doesn't stint on the portion.
It's hard to believe, but the seafood is as impressive as the meat. The restaurant claims that fresh fish is flown in daily, and I wouldn't dispute that claim. What's more, someone here knows how to prepare seafood. One evening's special, a gorgeously moist hunk of smoked shark, took my breath away. So did the side, mashed potatoes enfolding a crab cake. The seafood mixed grill is also outstanding: big shrimp, juicy scallops and a phenomenal piece of grilled ahi crusted with peppercorns. Whipped polenta and veggies round off this first-rate platter.
If you want to gild the main-dish lilies, urge your foursome to order the a la carte spinach side dish. This five-dollar splurge is sensational, pan-flashed spinach in a rich mascarpone cheese sauce, embellished with pine nuts and candied ginger. In other places, this plate would be a star attraction.
Desserts can hold their own with the other courses, no easy feat here. The baked cappuccino Alaska is cleverly assembled to look like a coffee cup, including a little chocolate handle. The ultrarich banana cream pie, spiked with shards of white and dark chocolate, restores this much-abused sweet to its rightful glory. But the main dessert attraction has to be the chocolate cigar, with toasted hazelnuts and cognac berry sauce, accompanied by a white-chocolate "matchbox" filled with white-chocolate "matches." This is the kind of dessert that wins awards.
If you've played an early-morning round, The Grill also puts together a pleasant lunch. Take off the a.m. chill with lobster bisque, sublimely accented with vanilla and brandy. In comparison, the one-dimensional onion soup can't keep pace. In both instances, however, the soups didn't arrive hot enough.
The wood-smoked chicken salad is a delightful midday option. It's hardly your typical salad: Juicy pieces of sliced chicken breast sit alongside greens covered with caramelized pecans, Maytag blue cheese and orange segments, all coated in orange oil. The smoked barbecued pork-loin sandwich also presses the right lunch buttons. Served on grilled bread, the meat is topped with caramelized red onions and a corn-and-pepper relish, and served with terrific French fries and refreshing sesame slaw.
The Grill should ease even the worst hacker's despair. Why not? Everything here is way over par.
Quill Creek Cafe, Grayhawk Golf Club, 8620 East Thompson Peak Parkway, Scottsdale, 502-1700. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
Quill Creek Cafe adjoins Grayhawk's Raptor golf course. Although it doesn't set its culinary sights (or its prices) nearly as high as The Grill at the TPC, I don't think any players will moan about finishing their golf day with a meal here.
The place looks great: curved white walls wrapping around booths; rustic wood tables (no white linen here); an open kitchen; and a wall of windows looking out on the course, a lake and the McDowell Mountains beyond. Check out the statue of a grayhawk that's perched by the entrance. When I first spotted it, I thought I'd found the Maltese Falcon.
The kitchen tries to keep things simple, figuring no one who has just finished hacking around a golf course for half a day wants to deal with too much culinary creativity.
Navajo corn chowder is an ideal way to take the edge off your appetite. The creamy tomato broth is flecked with corn and zesty pieces of chile pepper that bite back. Two other appetizers also work well. Beer-battered calamari are well-fashioned, tender, hot and crisp. Prime-rib sliders are wonderful, too, lots of juicy, thin-sliced beef topped with cheese and piled on little dinner rolls. Bowls of horseradish and gravy are provided for your dunking pleasure. Watch out, though. Two of these filling babies will make the rest of your meal superfluous.
Entrees should take the sting out of a bad round. Crispy prawn-and-basil won ton salad is about as wild as the kitchen gets. You get three butterflied shrimp embedded in a sesame-studded won ton wafer, tossed over greens and fruit salsa. I wish, however, the tame sesame dressing had been a little perkier.
Perkiness isn't a problem with the shrimp-and-pasta plate, the best main dish I sampled. Five meaty, sauteed shrimp come tossed over spinach fettuccine, embellished with lots of portabella mushroom, sun-dried tomato and artichoke, all coated in a rich tomato-basil cream sauce.
The kitchen does a decent job with steak, too. There's not much heft to the filet mignon--eight ounces seems too puny a portion for hungry athletes. But the beef is good quality, and it's topped with a chipotle sauce that doesn't get in the way. Thick mashed potatoes (they should have been creamier) help fill in the appetite cracks. There's no shortage of meat, however, if you order the baby back ribs. You'll get a full slab, lined with an intriguing prickly pear barbecue sauce.
Among the desserts, the banana rum pudding is a standout. Rich and creamy, it's cleverly enlivened with glazed pecans, sliced bananas and a chocolate cinnamon wafer. The adobe mud pie is also enjoyable, a towering wedge of ice cream on a chocolate cookie wafer, lined with a Kahlua chocolate sauce.
Golf is a humbling game. After a tough round, the prospect of a meal at Quill Creek Cafe won't restore your ego. But it will keep you from flinging your clubs, and yourself, into the lake.
The Grill at the TPC:
Wild mushroom and potato Napoleon
Quill Creek Cafe:
Shrimp and pasta
Banana rum pudding
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