Cafe Reviews

Good to Be Bad

If 2008 goes according to plan, then I just might find a big ol' sack of coal under the Christmas tree at the end of the year.

Lately, I've gotten so many holiday well-wishes that I've started to take them literally. Have a happy New Year? Don't mind if I do. Rather than racking my brain to come up with new, creative ways to discipline and deprive myself like I usually do come January, I'm going for a different kind of self-improvement: total indulgence.

Yep, I'm going with naughty instead of nice. Who wants to be the joyless girl who picks at a salad all through dinner, then skips dessert? Hell, no, not me. Passing on the food I really want only leads to big-time regret. Inevitably, someone else will order it, eat it right in front of me, and make me mad. That's no way to have a happy year.

So first things first: I resolve to eat more steak.

You might think I'm crazy, but I'm convinced that a giddy, steak-fueled protein high is an express route to happiness. A few months ago, I was having an incredibly bummed-out day — couldn't write, couldn't answer e-mails, couldn't even crack a smile. Then one of my friends suggested going out for lunch. Where to go? Oh, we considered a few mundane places, but it soon became obvious that we both wanted to go to Durant's. When it comes to stuff like this, it's even more satisfying to splurge with a partner in crime.

A few bites into a juicy New York strip, I was feeling so much better about things. (My Tanqueray Ten martini probably helped.) By the end of the meal, my friend and I were practically bouncing off the red velvet walls, laughing and carrying on like we'd just won the lottery. Steak does that to me.

On laid-back days, I'll get the steak salad at Lisa G. When I'm up for something fancier, a killer dry-aged sirloin at Capital Grille does the trick. There's no shortage of good steakhouses, but pretty soon there will be even more options, thanks to two nationally renowned chefs who've set their sights on the Valley. This spring, chef Michael Mina will open Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, while later this year, chef Laurent Tourondel will open BLT Steak at the Camelback Inn. I don't think I'll have a hard time keeping this resolution.

Foie gras actually tops steak in my decadence ratings, but it's not nearly as easy to come by. Whenever it's on the menu, I zero in on it immediately.

A few weeks ago, when I met up with a couple friends for a celebratory meal at House of Tricks, I wasn't the only one who noticed the foie on the menu.

"Do you guys want to get some starters?" asked one gal.

"I'm thinking about getting the foie gras," I replied.

"Mmm, yeah, that looks delish," said my other friend.

The problem was, I wanted one for myself, and wasn't sure how to politely tell my friends how selfish I am. What do you do in that situation? Somehow we agreed that we'd each get the foie. It's a good thing we did, too, because although the dish was exquisite — miso-marinated foie gras with Riesling-poached pears, crispy prosciutto, and a drizzle of black peppercorn caramel — it was tiny. If we'd attempted to share it, we'd each have gotten one bite. Absurdity, I tell you.

Which explains my next resolution: Get my own foie.

Fried foods are another treat. But I'm not gonna waste my resolution on just anything dunked in a deep-fryer. I'm saving all my love for the best fried dishes around. That means when I go to Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles, I'm gonna dig into that incredible fried chicken and not look back. At Mrs. White's Golden Rule Café, give me fried catfish. I'll head to Trente-Cinq 35 when I want good French fries (actually, they're Belgian frites), but I'll go to Delux when I'm hungry for sweet potato fries. And I won't set foot in Los Dos Molinos without ordering those crisp, golden sopapillas for dessert.

Even when it comes to carbs that aren't fried, I still know how to be a bad girl. All it takes is a visit to Au Petit Four, a wonderful little French cafe at the Esplanade. I usually stop by under the pretense of ordering an omelet or something, but the amazing croissants are the real reason to go — their light, flaky texture and buttery flavor is just scrumptious. And I'm always mesmerized by the offerings in the pastry case: pastel-colored petits fours glacés, custard-filled tarts topped with tender slices of apple, creamy chocolate-hazelnut cake, and bite-sized macarons that dissolve in your mouth.

Andreoli Italian Grocer is another favorite place for a carb fix. From fresh bread and homemade pasta to Italian sweets such as cannoli, tiramisu, and sfogliatelle with powdered sugar, almost everything on the menu validates my resolution to seek out the best starchy foods I can find. I'm never disappointed there.

My first resolution made it clear that I won't be trying a vegan diet anyday soon, but even if I did get tired of eating meat, there's still no way you'd get me to give up cheese. This year, I resolve to just keep on enjoying it as much as I already do. Whether served as an appetizer, as it is at Coup des Tartes, as a main course — namely, the grilled cheese at The Roosevelt Tavern — or presented at the end of the meal, as it as at Binkley's or Quiessence, cheese is one of my absolute favorite things in life. It's ridiculous that something so simple should make me happy, but that's entirely the point.

And if I ever say I'm giving it up, then you'll know I've truly lost my soul.

2611 North Central Avenue

Lisa G Café Wine Bar
2337 North Seventh Street

Capital Grille
2502 East Camelback Road

House of Tricks
114 East Seventh Street, Tempe

Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles
10 West Yuma Street

Mrs. White's Golden Rule Café
808 East Jefferson Street

Trente-Cinq 35
2333 North Seventh Street

3146 East Camelback Road

Los Dos Molinos
8646 South Central Avenue

Au Petit Four
2501 East Camelback Road

Andreoli Italian Grocer
8880 East Via Linda, Scottsdale

Coup des Tartes
4626 North 16th Street

The Roosevelt Tavern
816 North Third Street

Binkley's Restaurant
6920 East Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek

Quiessence Restaurant and Wine Bar
At the Farm at South Mountain
6106 South 32nd Street