BEST AFTERNOON TEA 2007 | Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Every so often, we like to wave our little pinkies high and take in afternoon tea at one of the posh spots in the Valley. This year's fave? The venerable Arizona Biltmore — as much for its history as for its heavenly finger fare. (Well, the salmon mousse with mascarpone cheese on a mini fish bouchee did put it over the top.)

The Biltmore opened in 1929. That's modern history to the Brits, given that the custom of afternoon tea dates to the 19th century, but for us, anything before 1950 is downright ancient; in fact, the Biltmore claims to be the state's first resort. We love any reason to skulk into the lobby and hang among the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture, taking in the tasteful décor (not to mention the hotel guests they're great for people-watching) but we'd clocked so much time at the lobby bar we figured it was high time to get some tea.

We were glad we did. So that you don't interrupt that lobby bar buzz, may we suggest the Biltmore Royal Tea, which includes tea sandwiches, scones, French pastries and a Kir Royal alongside your tea. We sampled the Bombay Chai, while our companion (a real Brit herself) insisted, as always, on the Original English Breakfast. "Breakfast" was served with the aforementioned salmon sandwich, as well as an assortment including beef tenderloin, ham and watercress, and cambolza cheese with wild berry compote in a coupelle tart. (Try saying that three times fast, after a Kir Royal!)

The sandwiches were followed by spiced currant and apricot scones, as well as banana bread. And then, dessert, which included pistachio truffles, bittersweet chocolate dipped strawberries and (our favorite) a pot of gold peppermint mousse.

After our afternoon tea, we were ready for an afternoon nap, but alas, we had to head back to the office. We did so feeling much more civilized, thank you very much.

Whether you're 6 or 60, young lady, there's nothing better than a tea party. And that's why we are so in love with the English Rose. Their "Nursery Tea" is just right for our little one — complete with a three-tiered tray, bearing beautiful PB&J and cheese sandwiches, fresh fruit, and cookies. Even lemonade in the china teapot, if that's what precious prefers. The regular tea fit us perfectly, too, including chicken and walnut salad and cucumber sandwiches, with petit fours for dessert, if you still have room. Best of all, although this little English outpost in the desert is tiny, and positively packed with breakable trinkets, the staff will welcome your whirling dervish with open arms and a big box of dress-up clothes. Let us correct our previous statement: There's nothing better than a tea party when you're wearing a bright orange flower-trimmed straw hat, wrapped in a hot pink boa.
We practically floated out of the Mandala Tearoom, and it wasn't just because we were so buoyant, after sampling the black pomegranate iced and hot orange detox tea. The bare-bones, relaxed vibe of this self-described "urban tearoom" seeped into our karma, making us feel like we'd just been in tree pose for a week. We do have to admit that we opened the menu warily, expecting a list of nuts and seeds. And while Mandala does offer a list of raw foods (we're sure they're quite tasty, although we weren't brave enough to sample them) we stuck with the organic, cooked stuff. (Still all vegetarian, much of it vegan.) We loved the Mandala Macro Platter, a complete meal with adzuki beans, brown rice, and sautéed veggies. And the sauce on the curry vermicelli rice noodle bowl was downright decadent.

Maybe it was because we'd cleared our head and our palate, but we've got to tell you, this is the best tea we've ever tasted. Full-bodied, but not too strong, we drank cup after cup and wondered how this place gets by with just one loo.

Courtesy of Bistro 24
If holding a stiff drink in your hand is more your cup of tea, then the Ritz-Carlton is for you. Around the world, the hotel chain is known for its signature, afternoon tea service. But on Thursday and Friday afternoons in Phoenix, the hotel's "salon de thé" takes a twist. Jeffrey, the Ritz-Carlton's tea master, has created a line of tea-infused cocktails and mar-tea-nis for the hotel's high-tea-turned-happy-hour, called "Tea with a Twist." When the traditional tea service ends at 5 p.m., the real fun begins. Tea master Jeffrey, who is also a jazz singer, and Nicole (the popular pianist from My Florist Cafe) team up with percussionist E.J. Rodriguez (from the Deborah Harry/Jazz Passengers CD Live in Spain) to fill the Lobby Lounge while you get your drink on with delights spiked with high-quality oolong, sencha, and jasmine. Now that's what we call high tea!
What we love about the food at this cool downtown tavern is how quirky and unexpected it is. (It's not unlike the watering hole itself, which resides in a restored, century-old house, where indie rock blares from the sound system and craft brews flow from the taps.) If your idea of bar food is fries, greasy pizza, and hot wings, you're in for a surprise. Owner Matt Pool's notion of what goes well with beer is pretty eclectic, from top-notch deviled eggs and chips with homemade dips to kicky beans and franks, and an assortment of stellar sammies. Our favorite is the Honeymooner, a grilled bologna and cheddar cheese sandwich with a crisp, buttery crust, followed by the Norcino, stuffed with layers of Italian meats. The Roosevelt also does an awesome panini-style grilled cheese with homemade tomato soup, as well as an impressive hot pretzel, and a cheese plate with selections that change often. Indeed, it all tastes great with a cold one, but we'd be hungry for this place even if it weren't a bar.
Lauren Saria
The ratatouille omelette at Vincent's Market Bistro.
More than 20 years since Chef Vincent Guerithault first dazzled Phoenix foodies with his ground-breaking menu — which combines traditional French cuisine with distinctively Southwestern touches — his restaurant still sets an example for fine dining in the Valley. Nowadays, of course, Guerithault's fusion cuisine is considered classic, unlike so many restaurant trends that have come and gone over the past couple of decades. Duck tamales with Anaheim chiles, corn ravioli with truffle oil, shrimp beignets, and house-smoked salmon quesadillas — honestly, we can't see ourselves ever tiring of this stuff. Same goes for the upscale but unpretentious atmosphere, and service so gracious that they'll hardly let you out the door without a bite of dessert, even when you're too stuffed to order it. Indeed, it's hard to turn down a free slice of fruit tart, but if you're really smart, you'll plan ahead and leave some room for the wonderful chocolate soufflé. It's so warm and intensely flavored that you'll float out of the restaurant on a cloud.
Lauren Saria
The ratatouille omelette at Vincent's Market Bistro.
No, you really can't have too much of a good thing. Chef Vincent Guerithault clearly knew he had a winning formula with his long-running Saturday market, which takes place during nonsummer months in the parking lot outside of his eponymous fine-dining establishment. So, a few years ago, taking the idea a step further, he opened Vincent's Market Bistro, right on the same property, giving fans of the market — and folks who weren't up for a fancy feast next door — the chance to enjoy casual French fare all year long. Serving breakfast, lunch, early dinner, and weekend brunch, the kitchen turns out lovely salads, grilled fish and meat prepared Provenal-style, perfect omelets, and traditional dishes like tartiflette (a baked crock full of potatoes, Reblochon cheese, onions, ham, and bacon), as well as classic coq au vin. Complimentary croissants and dessert are thoughtful touches that turn any meal here into a delightful occasion.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Just because it's gourmet doesn't mean it's pretentious. On the contrary, Pizzeria Bianco's menu is streamlined and simple, with only six kinds of pizza and 10 add-ons. These rustic pies don't try to show off with outlandish combinations of exotic toppings. Instead, they're all about the best, freshest ingredients available, from handmade mozzarella to local, organic vegetables. And the crust? Just incredible, the perfect balance between crisp and chewy. Chef-owner Chris Bianco mans the wood-fired oven himself, so every pizza's up to par. Clearly, the guy's turned pizza-making into a Zen art, and that's why foodies from across the country are clamoring to get here. Among locals, though, Pizzeria Bianco's surprisingly controversial — besides crowds of adoring fans, there are plenty of folks who get their panties in a bunch about the lengthy wait (sometimes an hour or two, sometimes three or more). "Why should we wait that long for pizza when we can get something just as good in our own 'hood?" they say. Well, we've tried all the alternatives, and though there's plenty of decent pizza in these parts, none of it could take the place of Bianco's distinctive pies. There's just no comparison. And really, the wait ain't so bad if you go next door to Bar Bianco for a cheese plate and a bottle of wine. At least there's hope of getting a table if you hang out long enough. Just imagine if Pizzeria Bianco required reservations — then the waiting list would probably be a month or two! We can't stand the thought.
Back East, there's no shortage of great little local joints where you can grab a quick slice or two, suck down a soda, and get on with your day. But for some reason, the Valley's got a severe shortage in that department. (Sure, there's plenty of pizza to be found, as long as you're hungry for a whole pie.)

Good thing there's Mamma Mia, a fast, friendly pizzeria with just a handful of seats and a small counter in front of the brick oven.

Of course, they have whole pizzas, subs, strombolis and pastas, too, but we can't think of a better place for a cheap, tasty slice when we're in a hurry.

Run by New Jersey natives, Mamma Mia serves up an exemplary piece of pizza, with a thin, crisp crust, primo sauce with a bit of tomatoey sweetness, and just the right amount of cheese, all bubbly and lightly browned. Every neighborhood should have a spot like this.

Does the absence of red sauce on a pizza make any difference? You bet it does. White pizza's a class unto itself — a distinctly craveable dish that seems simple, but is hard to find done as beautifully as Miele's fine pie. Here, the crust is crisp and flavorful, thin but still sturdy enough to hold a gooey, bubbly layer of melted mozzarella dotted with globs of creamy ricotta. A few delicate shreds of fresh basil add an aromatic touch that complements the subtle flavors of the cheese, and there's enough garlic on there to make your tongue tingle. While our pizza's still in the oven, we usually start off with an order of Miele's doughy, hot-out-of-the-oven garlic knots, just to get in the mood. Sure, they're filling, but once the white pizza arrives, we get lost in garlicky bliss. How blissful, you ask? Well, let's just say that we've never had to worry about leftovers from Miele's.

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