Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman: Let's dip into the mailbag and give the readers their 32 cents worth.

One correspondent, a proprietor of a west-side restaurant, thinks I am too hard on that section of town. She was responding to a review I wrote about Sebastian's, a fine-dining place out in the boonies, on Deer Valley Road off 19th Avenue. I thought the fare was quite good, but I questioned whether the neighborhood could support it.

The letter attacked my "shallow viewpoint" and unwarranted "assumption that all of us who reside in the northwest Valley area are simply desert rats too unsophisticated to appreciate anything more than a mom-and-pop-type restaurant. Residents in this area are no longer trailer-park people who place their daily bets at the racetrack. In fact, [the west side] reflects the upper-middle-class professionals who are familiar with fine dining, many of whom have settled in this area as an alternative to the overpriced Scottsdale area."

She continues: "Many of us have relocated to Phoenix in the hopes of establishing a better life for ourselves and our children. Many of us have staked our life savings, devoting numerous hours and grueling effort to our business. We are the pioneers of the '90s. Our obstacles are many. We have to contend with, at times, overwhelming difficulties that could put us out of business overnight. Please don't be one of them."

I think my correspondent is confusing the message with the messenger. I certainly don't think that west siders aren't affluent or sophisticated enough to support fine-dining, white-linen-tablecloth restaurants.

But the fact is, for whatever reason, they don't--at least, not yet. Two recent examples: Sfuzzi, an upscale Italian chain with a Scottsdale location, recently closed its Glendale branch; and spiffy Nina L'Italiana Ristorante tried expanding to the west side, but soon gave up on its West Bell Road operation.

Take a drive along West Bell Road, the commercial hub of the northwest Valley--it's lined with representatives of every midscale-restaurant chain on Earth. (Of course, so is much of the Camelback corridor.) These corporate managers know their market. When upscale national chains (such as Ruth's Chris Steak House) or high-end local entrepreneurs (such as Christopher Gross) open up west-side operations, that's when we'll know things are changing.

Another letter, this one from the proprietor of Pierre's Pastry Cafe (7119 East Shea in Scottsdale), chides me for dwelling on the fattening nature of her shop's luscious pastries in Best of Phoenix write-ups. She says the message I'm conveying is, "If you go to Pierre's, you'll become a fat pig."

Her point is well-taken. Sure, this stuff is fattening. But so what? People who eat sensibly can occasionally indulge themselves with no horrid long-term effects. France doesn't have nearly the number of grossly obese people America does, and there's a patisserie on every corner.

Pierre's French pastries are, without doubt, the best in town. Instead of poking fun at their calories, I should have saluted the quality and effort that go into them.--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,