Cafe Reviews

Celebrity chefs Eddie Matney and Christopher Gross stake their names on new restaurants

Let's hear it for the home team.

Eddie Matney and Christopher Gross are two of the area's best-known celebrity chefs, and each opened his own namesake restaurant — Eddie's House and Christopher's — in May.

Each has had a namesake place before, but because other cities' celebrity chefs are breaking into the Valley dining scene with high-end corporate restaurants, I have to give props to these Phoenix culinary luminaries for amping up their own star power and playing off longtime strengths.

Matney has been out of the spotlight (relatively speaking) until recently. In the past few years, since shuttering Eddie Matney's, his Biltmore-area eatery, he's teamed up with the Suns' Amaré Stoudemire on the opening of Stoudemire's Downtown and worked for The Golf Club Scottsdale, where his cooking could be appreciated only by members. For a while, you'd see Matney on TV or catch his name on the roster of a culinary event, but you couldn't seek out his food until Eddie's House opened for business.

Meanwhile, Gross hasn't gone anywhere at all. Christopher's Fermier, his French bistro at Biltmore Fashion Park, was closed for only a matter of days, just long enough for Gross to drop "Fermier" from the name, print up a reconfigured menu, and move into a chic new space at the same shopping center.

Reinvention clearly isn't new to these chefs. Whether you're unfamiliar with their cooking, or an old-school fan of Matney and Gross, Eddie's House and Christopher's will either inform or remind you of why these two are among this city's biggest names.

The northwest corner of Indian School and Marshall Way has had a revolving door for restaurants, but something tells me Eddie's House will be more than just a temporary tenant — the place is abuzz, even on summer weeknights.

The vibe here is expectedly homey but upscale, with wrought-iron chandeliers and high-backed armchairs punctuating the earth-toned dining room. A cozy bar hugs the front corner, while farther back, counter seating leads to an open kitchen. There's plenty of action there, but the rest of the room is just as bustling. Somewhere in the crowd, you'll probably spot Eddie Matney himself, mingling with guests in his white chef jacket.

Fans of Matney's Mediterranean-influenced New American cuisine won't be disappointed here — the menu includes a number of his signature dishes.

I enjoyed East-Meets-West, which paired a lightly seared slab of tuna with a delicate halibut filet. The former was done up Asian-style, coated in white and black sesame seeds, and resting on a bed of sautéed bok choy. The latter, veiled in Parmesan, was served with creamy asparagus risotto.

EHC (Eddie's House Chicken) was a playful spin on KFC, with meaty wings in a whimsical ceramic "bucket," next to a roast chicken breast. The accompaniments were just as memorable as the moist, tender bird: bacon-studded corn-asparagus succotash, and tortilla scalloped potatoes — miraculously, the flavor was just like a real tortilla.

There's no tasting menu at Eddie's House, but you can get a fine sampling of Matney's culinary prowess by ordering a few starters instead of an entree. I loved the juicy mint-pesto grilled lamb chops, teamed with irresistible cumin hummus, as well as the fattoush salad, tossed in a dazzling lemon-sumac-mint dressing.

Mo'Rockin edamame was a sassy Middle Eastern twist on the traditional Japanese bar snack, while Mo'Rockin shrimp were in a class unto themselves. Think plump shrimp in not-too-spicy chile beer sauce, topped with honey dough balls to sop up the flavors — a great mix of textures and tastes.

The "serious lobster bisque cappuccino" (not really cappuccino, but served in a big cup) celebrated the deep, savory essence of lobster, with just a touch of cream; actual lobster meat tasted that much sweeter in contrast. And on the night I ordered "Dueling Tartares" — which changes frequently — it was diced tuna dressed in spicy soy sauce, alongside chunks of beef tumbled with sweet corn and sesame oil. Delicious.

Though the food at Eddie's House was beautifully prepared and presented, one thing that didn't quite jell was the service. Food came out in a timely manner, but one night, my flaky server was too distracted to check on my table when we needed drinks, more food, or our bill.

Hopefully, the kinks will get worked out before the housewarming cools off.

I totally appreciate the wine-centric theme of Crush Lounge, the sleek bar area at Christopher's new location. After all, sommelier Paola Embry had her own in-house wine bar at Christopher's Fermier, and I'd expect a thoughtful wine list to go with James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross' French bistro-style cuisine.

But, I swear, wine had nothing to do with my good mood after my first meal at Christopher's. (Besides, I was driving!)

To be honest, I'd been a little apprehensive before my visit — I liked the old place, Christopher's Fermier, as it was, so I was hoping things wouldn't change too much at Christopher's.

Turns out, I liked it more.

Customers encounter a cool-looking open kitchen as soon as they're led past the hostess station. (Crush Lounge, full of cushy seating and sexy photography, is off to the other side.) The kitchen counter's surrounded by plush suede seats, with a row of clear glass lamps above. The dining room is decorated with more suede and embossed leather in deep chocolate shades, and a few pumpkin accents. Dark wooden panels stretch across the high ceiling, and glass walls divide the room to create more intimate seating arrangements. (One of these sections is called C144, a 12-seat restaurant within the restaurant serving a nightly tasting menu.)

And I can't forget to mention the restroom, where the highlight is a long, narrow sink filled with river rocks. There's no faucet, but if you put your hands below the mirrored panel, warm water will rain down on them.

Gross hasn't drastically changed the menu from what he'd been offering all along at Christopher's Fermier. There are a few new items, including pied de cochon (pig's trotters) with sweetbreads, as well as many old favorites, such as the Alsatian onion tart; the mixed grill salad with steak, chicken, and a lamb chop; and hanger steak with sautéed shallots.

Service here was professional and prompt, which is what I'd expect from Gross' long-running operation.

My dining companion and I nibbled on curried duck fries throughout our entire meal — they were skinnier than typical shoestring fries, ultra crispy, and piled in a deep bowl. We couldn't stop ourselves, and the portion was so generous that we never did end up finishing them, although we tried. We also enjoyed a plate of tender roasted beets and asparagus, as if that somehow justified those fries.

Roasted poussin (Cornish game hen) was plump and moist, served with roasted shallots and whole cloves of garlic — so flavorful. And smoked truffle-infused filet mignon was outstanding, cooked to a perfectly juicy medium-rare. The heady fragrance of truffle was just potent enough to enhance the caramelized, lightly seasoned meat. I swear I'll be back to eat this dish again, as soon as I can.

For dessert, we ordered another of Gross' signature creations, the chocolate tower. It was a cylindrical mesh of hardened chocolate filled with satiny chocolate mousse. Appropriately, the sculptural dessert was presented on one side of a plate, because I had to knock it over and destroy the pretty thing to eat it.

I'm all for makeovers, but I'm glad Matney and Gross haven't abandoned their tastiest classics.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig