Vinnie Vidi Vici

What a difference 15 years makes. It was 1986, and the Valley's cuisine consisted of steak, spaghetti and, on a wild night, maybe a burrito or nachos. But that same year, Vincent Guerithault hit the scene, opening Vincent's on Camelback, and bringing with him such never-heard-of French-Southwestern tastes as duck tamales -- classic duck confit melded in corn masa and cilantro beurre blanc. We were stunned.

Today, such exotic fusion food is everywhere. Yet, as a standing-room-only crowd proved Friday night, the French-born Guerithault still is considered the master. More than 100 Vincent fans gathered to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his eponymous restaurant, applauding his contributions, sharing stories and stuffing themselves with his food.

Not bad for a guy who got his start cooking rice and beef for cats and dogs -- French restaurants, it seems, welcome pets, and someone had to cater to the furry friends. And better still for someone who, by his own admission, was fired from his first Valley job, as chef at Oaxaca at Pinnacle Peak. If the stories are to be believed, he was let go for naively telling his employer that he was working on plans for his own eatery -- and for his involvement in an on-premises pie fight.

And what a difference celebrity makes. When Vincent's first opened, and for many years following, his supporters were treated to lavish anniversary parties, studded with the well-walleted glitterati who sucked down free food and drink as a thank you for dropping buckets of cash for dinner at the restaurant. This year, though, celebrants saluted Vincent's by shelling out $200 per person for the privilege to toast the restaurateur's success.

Not that the deal wasn't a bargain -- the evening included a jaw-dropping 15-course dinner paired with wines. Delights included squab with foie gras sauce and Chateau Margaux '67; Maine lobster with Yukon gold potatoes and Gewürztraminer Trimbach '97; and lamb with mild garlic and Chateau Mouton Rothschild '67. By my count, it works out to just $6.60 per tasting.

Still, that's $200 more than celebrating Vincent's cost us some 15 years ago.

Hi, I'm Bob, and I'll be your dinner tonight: From the department of too much information -- Ruth's Chris Steakhouse names its live lobsters. There I was the other night, peering into the bubbling tank in the foyer of Ruth's at the Seville, and attached to the lobsters' claws were tags reading Adam, Thomas, Pamela, Pete and Peky.

My waiter told me the personality assignment was for tracking purposes -- the chef likes to know how long a lobster's been lurking in the tank so at an appointed time, Butch can be made into bisque.

Uh, the tossed green salad will suit me just fine.


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