Cafe Reviews

IV League

Elisabeth has given me an IV bag, and while she had suspected I would like it, she's surprised at how very much. It's a thing we do, my sister and I, bestowing upon each other questionable gifts. (The IV -- the intravenous kind, not the Roman numeral -- is in retaliation, I think, for my most recent offering of herring-flavored gumdrops imported from Scandinavia.)

The novelty IV is the latest rage with the kids, she explains, having been surrounded by the accessory this summer while at, of all things, a Japanese language camp in Vermont. Labeled "sang-froid" (French for composure, as in blood mixture), the clear plastic bag comes from Transylvania. Elisabeth's fellow campers thought nothing was neater than filling the bag with water, draping it around their necks courtesy of a stylish rope necklace, complete with a comfy neck pad, and sipping their beverage through the long plastic tube poking from the bag's bottom. Tres chic.

Elisabeth is happy I like my IV, though confused at my glee. Being substantially younger, she missed out on the growing-up years with my brother, Carter, and me. She never got to experience a classic overnight stay at our grandparents', when Grandpa was a sales executive for Abbott Laboratories. He was always brimming with nifty medical gadgets; to keep us little ones quiet and happy after lights out, he would hook up (real) IVs next to our beds, fill them with water and let us suckle our little hearts out. The tube clip was effortless to switch on and off, so we drank and drank and drank . . . and raced to the washroom . . . then drank a whole lot more. It was a time of joy, and I'm getting all misty-eyed now, playing with the Transylvanian toy draped about my neck.

While I won't be wearing my IV in public (though I'd love to be the entrepreneur who takes this gadget into nightclubs -- an IV martini -- finally, a way to drink and dance at the same time), I do think it's the next best thing to little plastic bottles for keeping hydrated with honest H2O.

Really -- how many of us were able to stomach the recommended eight glasses of water a day before it became cool to cart around a 16-ounce jug of Evian, Dasani or Aquafina? I've always imbibed buckets of the crisp, cold liquid. Yet since bottles became trendy, I practically slosh when I walk.

And beyond the nightclub gimmick, I'm thinking that Joanne Longobardi, director of food and beverage at Eurasia Bistro, would like to hear from me. Head of operations for the new, surprisingly full-service restaurant inside the recently rebuilt Scottsdale Athletic Club, she's as reverent of the sparkling pure aqua as am I. Health is one aspect at this crisp cafe overlooking 11 fancy tennis courts and off the lobby of the pilates mat and circuit weight-training studios.

Longobardi appreciates water like wine, absorbing its nuances of clarity, taste and brightness. She even acts as a sommelier at Eurasia, recommending specific bottled waters to complement the casual American-Asian cuisine of her restaurant.

I can't get the image out of my head; instead of a sommelier's cup-on-a-chain, Longobardi could sport one of my IVs as she visits tables. Samples for the sucking: the l'eau down on what tastes best with an already excellent chilled rock shrimp salad over mesclun with grapefruit dressing, a juicy steak wrap in a spinach tortilla with jasmine rice and Thai peanut sauce, or divine homemade meatloaf with mashed potatoes and vegetable medley.

It's the water concept that got me in the door, in fact, curious about the success of a club geared more for pumping iron than pimping Chinese chicken salad. What I find is, while nobody's going to be making cross-Valley treks to explore this pretty expected menu (chef's or taco salad, grilled chicken sandwich, charbroiled salmon, steak and eggs, barbecue ribs), for a really inexpensive, classy-casual, made-from-scratch dining experience, Eurasia can't be beat.

This isn't just silliness. Longobardi has captured a good marketing hook with the water, but she's not being ridiculous about it. I admit I'm actually a little disappointed as I nestle at the bar, teasing friendly bartender Greg about the "H2O du jour," and he gives me no ammunition to make fun. There's no printed guide, he says, not like a wine list or anything, but he'll gladly set me up with a tasting if I like. He scurries through his cold storage to see what he's got, shoving aside bottles of wine and mixers for the dramatic array of liquor that would be more at home in a Zagat-rated restaurant than in one that counts on walk-ins from self-defense or step-aerobics courses.

"S. Pellegrino," he calls out. "Ty Nant. Perrier. Evian Natural Spring. She'll come down and pair them up for you." Longobardi, he means. Yet I'd already been coached that the five-spice calamari goes well with the Pellegrino, and the glazed chile-rubbed pork tenderloin brings out the charms of Ty Nant, and since I couldn't really taste the difference, I tell Greg not to bother.

Besides, Grandpa never siphoned me with anything fancier than Phoenix's finest, and I find Eurasia's on-tap model to be excellent. The restaurant uses a reverse osmosis system. Better yet, a glass studded with crystal ice and a slice of lemon is free. The plain stuff is good enough with a first-class French dip, mounded with beautiful ripples of tender, sliced sirloin of beef, gooey Swiss cheese and sweet, caramelized onions on a pillowy kaiser roll. I guzzle four glasses while working my way through the rotund sandwich, dipping beefy pulls in jus and slathers of real horseradish, slipping bites of crisp-skinned shoestring fries.

A Reuben can't be faulted either, lush with fresh, tender sauerkraut. Soups are homemade, and they taste it -- from a satisfying cream of potato to a casserole-fat cup of gumbo overflowing with andouille sausage, chicken, crabmeat and shrimp to a decadent cream-rich New England clam chowder choked with meaty shellfish, red and yellow potatoes, celery, carrot and lots of herbs. And I adore the firecracker spring rolls, three crispy bundles thick with pork, onion and Chinese cabbage, atop mixed greens with tart vinegared cucumbers.

The best place to sit at Eurasia, not surprisingly, is at the bar, noshing a first-rate half-pound Angus sirloin burger with aged cheddar and lots of bacon on an onion roll. The clutch of tables and a few scattered booths are nice at dinner, when, on weekends, couples spin to live music on the petite dance floor. But I find more fun shooting the breeze with Greg and listening to neighboring guests gripe good-naturedly about chef Ron Baermann's choice of a daily special. "Liver and onions?" a lady sighs. "That's good for us?"

Actually, it is, as the featured "Body for Life" offering that nods towards Eurasia's health club setting. It's tasty, too, with delicate slices of center-cut premium Strauss veal liver, lightly broiled medium-rare, decorated with par-boiled red jacket potatoes, steamed garden vegetables, fat-free sour cream and a side of fresh fruit. Paired with Scottsdale's tap water, it's delicious indulgence.

Elisabeth thinks I'm goofy, getting all blubbery over a stupid gag gift. But I wish I'd had the portable IV when I first haunted the grounds comprising the Scottsdale Athletic Club more than a decade ago, then in its original wood-shack structure backing acres of open desert. I used to ride my horse, the spectacular Wicked Native, in the wash behind the property, trotting him over from the Indian Trails Country Club stable across the road (since bulldozed to become the Scottsdale Pavilions mall). God, we got thirsty, stopping at the club to steal a sip from a garden hose in the back. That water, rushing down my throat in its warm, soil-perfumed glory, mingled with the sweat on my lips for a heavenly concoction that no Fancy Spring Source will ever duplicate.

Now Elisabeth wants to negotiate a trade. If I give her back the IV, she'll return the herring gumdrops. She'll even throw in the MOMA-designed fly swatter that another family member gave her.

Sorry, I tell her. While I'll gladly treat her to a plate of moist, perfectly oven-broiled New Zealand orange roughy at Eurasia anytime, with all the designer water she can drink, the IV is mine.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet