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We choose cheese: selecting from Taleggio, Reblochon, Fourme d'Ambert, Camembert, Stilton and Tete de Moines. We pick pizzas, chomp on cheeseburger and fries, and crave a croque monsieur (a French ham-and-cheese sandwich grilled on a toasted baguette). But what makes our witching hour so wonderful is "little tastes" -- pté, smoked salmon, tuna tartare, white bean hummus and roasted tomato served on toast. And if we're lucky, the kitchen lavishes us with "leftovers." These are Christopher's specialties that some poor soul was unfortunate enough not to order during regular dinner hours -- sole meunière on Thursday, veal cheeks on Friday and rabbit in mustard sauce on Saturday.
Paired with selections from Christopher's list of 100 wines by the glass, these are snacks with real sustenance and style.
Unless we reserve the ultra-luxe private dining room at the Phoenician resort, in which case we're treated like the royalty we think we are. Every wish is granted, in regal, tantalizing style. The place looks just like a castle, too, replete with Renaissance-era decor, barrel-vaulted ceilings, brick archways, European antiques and a full wall of wines. It's the perfect place to host a gala for our favorite 16 other well-to-do pals, all for a mere $2,000 minimum.
The room does double duty as a wine cellar, servicing the Phoenician's elite restaurants. And this means our custom menu is as good as -- no, better than -- what our fellow guests are enjoying at Mary Elaine's. Better because it's ours, all ours.
Ah, it's good to be king.
This private party room is a little hole in the wall. It's a hidden hole in the wall, in fact, behind a door set invisibly into the paneled wood wall of the tiny bar called Dick's Hideaway. Making it to Dick's Hideaway is difficult enough on its own -- there's no sign outside. And there's not even a doorknob for the private dining area.
But seek and you shall find a completely charming, comfortable room seating up to 25 people around a grand, copper-topped table and at comfy booth tables lining the wine-bottle-lined walls. Dishes are the non-stuffy sort, featuring creative New Mexican fare like chimayo chicken (stuffed with spinach, sun-dried tomato, poblano chile and asiago cheese); pork tenderloin (marinated and pecan-grilled with red and green chile jelly); and even posole (hominy and pork in red chile broth). Prices are down-to-earth, too, with a room minimum of just $500.
The speakeasies of yesteryear had nothing on this place.
Love is in the air with appetizers such as the foie gras over creamy polenta with beet slices, fresh berries, and a port reduction. Entrees quicken our heart with delights like seared Chilean sea bass with shrimp pot stickers and crisp chicken in a spicy crayfish broth, and Italian Cowboy veal chop garnished with Sicilian green olives, peppercorns and artichoke hearts.
After dinner, we cuddle on the desert-landscaped patio, spooning in the glow of a fireplace and splashing waterfall. Our whispered sweet nothings are seconded by the faraway howl of a coyote. What's not to love?
But, hey, we'll lie about our affiliations if it gets us seated for the surprising sustenance served here. This is old-style class all the way, rich with tableside presentation and a grande dame atmosphere of ornate chandeliers and brocade fabrics. Food is over-the-top classic. Remember appetizers like beef consommé (stocked with root vegetables, tomato concasse and fresh basil), or prawns Provençal, sautéed with garlic and pimientos? Entrees even sound elegant: Lobster Lord Randolph, truffled and flambéed in Courvoisier; and duckling aux framboise with raspberry bigarade sauce. Sunday brunch is something special, too, served with unlimited champagne and made-to-order omelets, eggs Benedict, carved prime rib, smoked salmon and retro-but-loved deviled eggs and thick-sliced pté.
For creative, quiet, unexpectedly elegant dining, Palm Court is our best frond.
That's only $1.59 to $1.75 per person for such delights as green chile mushroom phyllo pockets, baked pesto Brie en croûte, smoked salmon with artichoke hearts and cream cheese, and cold noodle sesame ginger chicken with oriental vegetables. Healthful platters abound, such as salads -- chef, Caesar chicken, albacore tuna, Greek, antipasto or crispy Parmesan chicken. Then there are balsamic portabella mushrooms and sherry-glazed roasted onions with rosemary flatbread, or crispy scallion shrimp won tons with tamari dipping sauce.
Why take a chance on the perfect party? Just order the perfect platter from Flancer's.