Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Magic Chef: It's easy to get stale after you've been at a job for some time. Believe it or not, there are actually some Mondays when I don't bound out of bed, race happily to a blank computer screen and try to meet a Friday deadline.

It's no different for chefs, especially successful ones. After all, once they've perfected a menu and established a routine, it's easy to lose interest doing the same thing day after day.

That's why the multicourse, fixed-price meal at Christopher's is so remarkable. It's hard to say what's more appealing: the quality of the dishes, or the ingenuity behind them.

It's obvious that chef Christopher Gross isn't content to skate along on his reputation. A recent meal convinced me that he's at the absolute top of his form. Our dinner was the stuff memories are made of.

The family was here to celebrate my kid's high school graduation. We had offered to take her out to eat anywhere she wanted. When she learned that a car wasn't in the cards for a graduation gift, she decided to get even by seeking out the most expensive meal in town.

The kitchen started out pianissimo, with a single Belon oyster, the world's tastiest variety, followed by a bric, a small pastry cylinder stuffed with creme fraiche and touched up with a few grains of caviar.

The flavor assault got under way in earnest with a heady soup of morels and foie gras. The combination of earthy wild mushrooms and rich foie gras was exquisitely intense. My kid, who, needless to say, hasn't exactly been raised on a diet of morels and foie gras, took one taste, then closed her eyes and went into a swoon. Somehow, I don't think college dorm food is going to measure up.

The fish course followed: herb-crusted daurade adorned with leeks. It was succeeded by gorgeous sweetbreads rolled in chanterelles, gilded with a marvelous chive sauce. I persuaded my younger daughter, who's extremely skittish about eating anything unfamiliar, to give it a try. Ten seconds later, her sweetbreads were gone. No, I told her, I will not be making sweetbreads rolled in chanterelles at home anytime soon.

The kitchen continued lobbing in the heavy artillery. Lobster cannelloni was ravishing, a squid-ink-blackened pasta sheet rolled around lobster and scallops, all draped in a divine saffron sauce. Then came pancetta-wrapped lamb, a real knockout, gorgeously tender and meaty.

At this point, after two hours and seven courses, you'd think the meal would start winding down. Nope. There was a better-than-ever cheese course, with the likes of fourme d'Ambert, explorateur and Munster. Then a trio of fruity sorbets showed up. Finally, dinner reached a crescendo with Christopher's mighty desserts. I was bowled over by the chocolate cigar, hazelnut mousse in a tube of dark chocolate, accompanied by mesmerizing fig-armagnac ice cream. The cost of this special-occasion extravagance? Eighty-five bucks a person (without wine, tax and tip). But no one can complain about not getting 85 bucks' worth of value.

Christopher's is at 2398 East Camelback. Call 957-3214.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at [email protected] or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,