1: Seasonal Dinner at Rancho Pinot
One of the great tragedies of food in the 21st century stems from the speed of the news cycle. What you read yesterday feels old today, and we're always on the lookout for where to eat tomorrow. In the quest for the new, for the next shave ice or matcha, classic but good eating can go unsung.
Rancho Pinot is one such epicenter of classic eating, and one of our greats. For 25 years, Chrysa Robertson's restaurant has been churning out food that masterfully harnesses the desert seasons. Her eatery is ruthlessly itself. Old-school lighting vexes all your attempts at iPhone photography. You won't find avocado toast or any evidence of compromising food so it'll be on-trend. Robertson doesn't stoop to the bar. She sets it.
Earlier in her career, Robertson learned from some big names in American food. One of those is Los Angeles's Nancy Silverton, who was then cooking at Campanile and has since appeared on Chef's Table. In turn, Robertson has mentored some of her own impressive talents. The stoves at Rancho Pinot were a formative stop for Charleen Badman, chef at FnB.
What the hell am I talking about? Let me explain.
If you check out Rancho Pinot in spring, you may have the option to order fried squash blossoms. These are one of Italy's great dishes, and they are eaten widely. In Italy, often, they are delicately breaded and lightly fried, with the dainty spirit of the flower preserved.
Robertson flies at a different altitude. She stuffs blossoms with goat cheese and house ricotta. She puts a heavy fry on them. Bends and ridges of crisp-fried breading are edged with a dark brown.
Fork into them, and there's crunch ... and then molten velvet ooze. Robertson cuts through the cheese's fat and the oil's heft with acid from small tomatoes that have been halved, and with greens that have some vinegar. Just about every flavor and textural element lives in the dish.
Pushing the framework of the more traditionally common versions of the dish, Robertson creates her very own, a memorable take better suited to her huge personality. The dish has finesse, power, charm.
Some union of these three attributes is what distinguishes a meal at Rancho Pinot. There is refinement, sure, but there's this added layer of deliberate rusticity that gives the place its character. This character oozes from the clean wooden bar and the open kitchen, the waitstaff and the hokey Western picture wall.
Eating at Rancho Pinot, you know you're in the heart of the Southwest.
Grilled quail with polenta at Rancho Pinot is a stupefying plate. You feel like the Hound from Game of Thrones ripping into compactly flavorful meat and slurping a leg bone the size of a toothpick. But the flavors, of course, eclipse those of a simply roasted game bird. Polenta is soft. Greens bring some herbal tones. Peach mostarda layers on acidity, fruit, and funk.
Rancho Pinot. 6208 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale; 480-367-8030.
Monday to Saturday 5:30 to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday.
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1: Seasonal dinner at Rancho Pinot