WHEN HARRY MET SALAD
It's prom night. We are witnessing a spontaneous fashion show as seventeen-year-old girls in strapless gowns glide through Remington's in the Sheraton Scottsdale Resort. We hear the rustle of taffeta and the slink of satin as they pass our table. It is a very pleasant sound. Seeing them dredges up memories of my own prom--a dismal country-club affair back in the era of Jethro Tull and Grand Funk Railroad.
These kids don't know how lucky they are. But that's all in the past. Here we are, my ever-faithful dining accomplice Goat and I, fully grown adults with money to spend and time to enjoy a leisurely meal. We have come to the right place. Remington's is a quietly elegant setting for celebrating a special occasion. And the food--well, I'll get to that.
Remington's offers valet parking, which we avoid. I park the car in the self-park portion of the lot and we enter through the lounge area where jazz vocalist Margo Reed regularly performs.
The dining room charms me immediately. We are seated in the first section, which features a dome-shaped ceiling painted to represent the Southwestern sky at dawn. We gaze at this pastel-hued firmament through a rough-hewn arbor supported by four Doric columns. It's really quite lovely. Best of all, the light in this room has the same effect as cheesecloth on a camera lens: Everyone looks a little better.
A tangled mess of delicate onion rings is brought to the table. They are lightly salted and a little greasy, but ever so good. I must refrain from eating too many and spoiling my appetite.
We study the menu. At present, it features classic American selections skewed slightly toward the Pacific Rim and Southwest. What it will be in the near future remains to be seen; our waiter tells us a new menu will be in place within weeks.
In fact, while ordering, we learn the process of change already has begun. Several listed menu items have been altered or are no longer available. That's okay. As usual, we have no trouble finding more than enough to sample.
We relax and look around as we await the deluge of dishes. There appear to be two other main dining areas. In the center room, wing-back chairs, candlestick lamps and a fireplace bring to mind a gracious Greenwich, Connecticut, living room. Outside, a canopied patio offers an unobstructed view of the mountains to the south.
Our few remaining onion rings are removed and rolls are brought. They are positively ordinary. They seem so store-bought I wonder why Remington's would make this kind of mistake.
The boys escorting the prom girls are an interesting lot. They look like the ROTC faction lampooned in Animal House. Later, some longer-haired youths enter with their prom dates. "Skaters," Goat whispers. I wonder if they are old enough to drive! Our appetizers arrive promptly. I love the country-style pø^atø¡e. Served with chopped egg and onion, carrot, cornichon, radish and miniature pieces of toast, I admire its chunky texture and peppery flavor. Why, it's even laced with pistachios. My only complaint is with the quantity of small, tart pickles: One cornichon is just not enough, no matter how you slice it. (Of course, this from a woman who keeps a jar of them in her fridge.)
The poached salmon is refreshing. Ample-sized Norwegian king salmon fillets rest on sour cream and caper sauce, surrounded by tomato and cucumber slices. Salmon lovers alert: Don't miss this dish. I like it, but I finally realize--the smoked version aside, I'm just not a salmon fanatic.
The topic of conversation at the prom table is Pretty Woman. Goat and I worry that young women have been wrongly influenced by the film. We hope they know there are other ways to meet rich men. (And, speaking of rich men, former Circle K czar Karl Eller also is dining here tonight; isn't he bankrupt?)
Our discourse is cut off when our waiter announces he will prepare Goat's caesar salad. (I have opted for the wilted spinach salad with hot bacon dressing.) He wheels a cart tableside and begins. Egg yolks, lettuce, garlic, pepper, Parmesan cheese and lemon are wielded with professional expertise. I note that this guy really cares about making a good salad.
Wait a minute, did I say good? Upon tasting, I discover Remington's caesar salad is excrutiatingly good. It may be the finest I've ever had. I am very sorry the plate is in front of Goat and not me. While he is a generous dining accomplice and allows me to sample at will, I could major in this salad.
The wilted spinach salad, however, is disappointing. The hot bacon and pineapple dressing is too sweet for my taste. The not-too-wilted spinach is clean, placed leaf over leaf and garnished with tomato slivers, sliced mushroom and chopped egg. It just doesn't compare to that ruler of salads, the caesar.
Our salad plates are removed. During this brief rest, our waiter stops by our table: "We're getting ready to bring you your entrø¡ees now. Would you like anything else to drink at this time?" For a second, I think I'm on an airplane. Still, I appreciate service like this: ever-present, friendly, yet not obtrusive.
The ~"special," a combination of veal and chicken medallions in a caper, lemon and artichoke-heart sauce, is exactly what you'd expect. I decide I'm just a sucker for capers and lemon. I hear those words and--like Pavlov's dogs--my mouth begins to water. I like it, but at $19.95, it's overpriced. In its defense, the meat is cooked to perfection.
The grilled sea scallops are a little more zesty. We get six or so of them served atop fiery watermelon and pineapple salsa in a ceramic scallop shell. What they lack in quantity they make up for with quality; I personally prefer tiny bay scallops, but these are fat and fleshy and tender. The combination of sweet-hot salsa and mollusks is brilliant.
Both entrø¡ees are accompanied by interesting vegetables. Attractive, buttery spaghetti squash, broccoli, baby beets and ripe tomatoes prove irresistible.
After this exhibition of eating, our waiter is not surprised when we tell him we wish to contemplate dessert. He wheels another cart to our table.
Funny, nothing looks too appealing to me. There is cheesecake with strawberry and raspberry sauce, a pecan-truffle tart, chopped fresh strawberries, kiwi, and papaya. (Whole berries are so much more attractive.) Sensing our ennui, our enterprising waiter tells us he can make us bananas Foster flambø¡e--but only for two people. Fine, we say. Go to it.
Now the bananas Foster cart rolls our way. Our waiter knows what he is doing: He tosses brown sugar, butter, bananas, fresh-squeezed orange and lemon, some creme de banana and white Bacardi rum into the pan in sequence. Twice he allows the pan to catch fire. Finally, the mixture is ladled over vanilla ice cream, and voiløça--dessert is served.
It takes mere seconds to consume. Yes, it's sweet and expensive ($6.00 per person, I learn--when the bill comes), but I love it.
More importantly, I love Remington's--though I don't love everything we sample. High school kids are smart these days. Remington's is a very romantic place. I know I feel a happy afterglow after dinner. I can't say how prom night climaxed, but I'd wager dinner here could turn any night into one enchanted evening.
I have one major problem with P.C.'s Cafe at Mountainside. I don't like its confining, high-tech look. In the nonsmoking section where we are seated, I feel closed off and isolated from the rest of the restaurant. For someone else, though, this may be the apotheosis of privacy.
How I feel about the food, however, is another matter entirely.
P.C. stands for Private Chef, a catering company owned and run by Elizabeth and Gregory Limbeck. P.C.'s Cafe is a show place for their culinary talents, an outgrowth of their successful catering business.
The menu, as at Remington's, offers classic American dishes. At first scan, I am disappointed. Then I notice a subtle, creative twist at work. Each dish has been played with or reinvented--modernized, if you will.
We start with two appetizers, Cajun rattlesnake and baked brie. This is my first experience with rattlesnake, but I like it. Served on a curled radicchio lettuce leaf with sour cream and tangy salsa, the meat is tinier than I expected: like little McRattler nuggets. Petal-shaped prickly pear pancakes accompany the snake meat, which is chewy and unidentifiable in flavor.
The baked whole mini brie is also very good. It's gooey and hot and topped with apple-raisin chutney and piøn¤ons. We slather it on round lahvosh crackers until we realize we'd better slow down. Our waitress packs up the rest of it for us to take home. Yum!
At P.C.'s, the dinner salad outshines the caesar salad. (Of course, this time I'm the one who orders the caesar.) The house strawberry vinaigrette is out of this world, though I'm suspicious of fruity dressings. Made with fresh strawberries, it's the perfect complement to a mixed green salad featuring leaf lettuce and radicchio. The caesar, in contrast, is just average.
But everything evens up when our entrø¡ees arrive. The petite prime rib is heavenly. A mixture of spinach, piøn¤ons, feta, rosemary, oregano and basil is stuffed in the center of a one-inch-thick slab of tender, pink roast beef. It will be hard to go back to horseradish sauce after this. Garlic potatoes are a nice accompaniment.
According to our menu, P.C.'s scampi pizza won a 1989 Scottsdale Culinary Festival award. It is easy to see why. Feta and Parmesan cheese top artichoke hearts and bay shrimp scampi in lobster sauce (can you believe this?) on a Parmesan cheese crust. That's a lot of cheese, but the subtle artichoke and shrimp flavors really come through. It's six slices of sheer artistry, but too rich to be consumed in one sitting. I opt to take half home for a delicious snack later.
Service is generally good. Our waitress is both informed and enthusiastic about P.C.'s offerings. Though visually overwhelming at first, we get used to her uniform: a confetti-splashed shirt with teal cummerbund.
(While we're on the topic of service, I don't normally pick on bus boys, but when you're sitting in an isolated booth, you notice things. P.C.'s aren't awful, they're simply untrained: One scuffs his feet; another points and says, "You done with that?" when asking to remove a plate. A little more supervision should remedy this situation.)
We succumb to the temptation of P.C.'s desserts. Key lime pie is actually lime meringue pie with a sugar-cookie crust. I love it. Homemade chocolate Kahlua ice cream is not so spectacular. It's chocolatey and smooth, but I regret not ordering the fantastic-looking apple dumpling on the dessert tray. Well, next time.
P.C.'s Cafe is an exciting find, especially for residents of the southeast Valley. Run, don't walk, to this restaurant. Besides, I like its initials.
Remington's, Sheraton Scottsdale Resort, Indian Bend and Scottsdale Roads, Scottsdale, 951-5101. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 to 9:30 p.m., seven days a week.
P.C.'s Cafe at Mountainside, 4025 East Chandler Boulevard, Suite 40, Phoenix, 759-8030. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
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